Many years ago, something strange happened in the town of Mthymos, hidden deep within the Ba-Adenu forest…
One evening, after the sun had disappeared beneath the far horizon, a mist crept across the land. But this was no ordinary mist. Any who were unlucky enough to be out of their homes when the mist arrived—and there were many that first night—fell victim to the mysterious and malevolent fog. Their bodies were ravaged, left broken and misshapen, only vaguely recognizable as human. Those fortunate enough to have been indoors, in well-sealed buildings and homes, were spared the cruel fate but were left to witness the aftermath the following morning. Not all were killed by exposure to the mist, and those souls were even less fortunate. They were ravaged husks of their former selves, often bearing horrific physical mutations and minds that had been driven mad. It was not immediately evident to the remote townsfolk that the strange mist was to blame for the horrors they witnessed, but with time and increasing incident night after night, it became clear to the remaining community what actions they must take if they were to continue to survive.
So they took to the trees. Slowly, the people rebuilt their community and their lives amongst the branches and vines of the great forest trees. Carpenters and farmers alike labored to construct shacks and huts on platforms, connected to one another by tenuous rope bridges. It was a life far harder than even that of the forest-dwelling village, but it was a life nonetheless.
It was as these townspeople were piecing their lives back together that Blaine wandered through and offered his assistance. Hailing from the City of Bridges, the odd nomadic tinkerer found a new home in the fledgling town, now referred to by its denizens as “Treetops”. With the help of his expertise, Treetops grew into more than just an arboreal shantytown. Blaine helped construct actual buildings that hugged the trunks of the massive trees, multi-tiered platforms, and, of course, a network of expertly-engineered bridges.
On an evening much as the first in this tale, a young man wandered into the now flourishing village of Treetops. As he navigated through the ruins of Mthymos, he took in the ghost town and the remains of the former settlement. Working off of a prior recommendation from Trent, a friend in the area, the young man made his way to the town’s best-known tavern, The Sealed Door.
Quiet and unassuming, Risso took a seat at a small corner table in the tavern and enjoyed a dinner of laak stew while observing the crowd. He intended to ask around to find the whereabouts of Jackson, a certain rogue Aeon Priest, but to start he was content with taking stock of the room. For being a small town, there were a good many interesting people to watch. There was Draal, the owner of the establishment, slinging pints and chatting with customers. There was the regular crowd, stealing just enough time in the tavern for a round or two between getting off shift and heading home. There was a raucous group of men, reveling in the thrill of what Risso gathered to have been a successful laak hunt earlier that day. And, he noted with curiosity, there was a figure in a dark cloak who seemed to linger in the shadows of one corner or another. For a reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on, the figure made Risso uncomfortable.
As he watched, another interesting figure entered through the airlock: a bronze-skinned man in casual clothes, a worn leather work apron… and a pair of bronze metal and leather wings affixed to his back. Risso watched with interest as the winged man ordered a pint at the bar, then made his way over to the hunting party revelers and gave a toast.
The night wore on and people moved about the room, but the two odd figures always seemed to catch Risso’s eye. The man in the leather apron spent some time with the hunting party, then continued to mingle with various patrons throughout the room. The black-hooded figure ordered something from bar, which they left on an empty table at the back of the tavern. The hood then approached the hunters. By the stance and body language, Risso finally guessed the hooded figure to be a woman. He saw “her” buy a round for the group, scrawl something quickly on a sheet of paper, then turn and leave the tavern. Then, seemingly in unison, nearly all of the tavern’s patrons settled up their tabs and made their way out into the night.
Curious to see where the hooded figure was going, as out of place in this town as “she” seemed, Risso also took his leave of the Sealed Door and attempted to follow as inconspicuously as he could manage. After a few minutes traversing various bridges and platforms, however, the figure was lost to the shadowy darkness and he was left to wander the ropes on his own.
That was when Risso first noticed the roiling mist that had crept in along the forest floor. At its highest, it reached about halfway up the stairs leading to the lowest platform. Being a newcomer to the forest, and growing up in the relative isolation of his town in the Plains of Kataru, he knew nothing of the horrors the mists caused. So he descended the closest staircase to investigate, removing a leatherbound journal from his satchel as he walked, intending to record his observations.
Rienn, cloak pulled tight around her and hood up to mask her face, watched from a bridge two platforms over as the strange young man descended the stairs. She couldn’t decide if he was dim-witted, suicidal, or both. Everyone—even outsiders—knew what the mists did to those they touched. They had all heard the stories. So why was the kid going so eagerly to his own demise? She watched from the shadows as he continued down the stairs, finally realizing he had no intention of stopping. Upon that realization, she began to move to intercept him. But she was too far.
Risso descended into the mists, marveling at their peculiarity as they swirled around in currents seemingly of their own making, surrounding him. As he bent to record his thoughts, the first wave of pain wracked his body. It felt as if his blood were boiling and his bones were being turned to jelly. He felt the sickening stretching and cracking throughout his body as it began to be rearranged.
As Rienn sprinted across the last platform, she saw the tanned man in the leather work apron leap over the handrail of a far bridge. And a pair of wings unfurled from his back, allowing him to glide down toward the kid. They reached Risso at nearly the same moment and managed to pull him back onto the lower platform mere moments after he entered the mist, but they could see the damage already done. Aside from the physical mutations—satyr horns protruding from his skull, grotesquely lengthened fingers, legs that now resembled squid tentacles, extra eye stalks growing from his shoulders, and cat’s-eye pupils—he was catatonic and completely unresponsive. Blaine and Rienn quickly made their way, with Risso supported between them, back to the Sealed Door. After getting Risso situated in his room, Blaine ran to get Jainnes (Jaime), the town physician, while Rienn remained behind. By the time the two arrived back at the room, though, Risso was awake and appeared completely normal, with no sign of any mutations. Jaime gave him a thorough physical and could not find anything out of the ordinary. Though odd, Jaime could not explain the phenomenon and gave Risso a clean bill of health, telling him he should get some rest and to let her know if he needed anything later. Before returning to bed, Risso realized his journal had gone missing. Fearing it had fallen to the ground amongst the mists, he set out to search for it immediately but was restrained by both Blaine and Rienn, promising that they would look for the book in the morning after Risso had gotten some rest.
The next morning, Risso located the journal at the bottom of his satchel, apparently overlooked in his haste the night before. Risso, with the help of Blaine and Rienn, went about his original business of trying to locate Jackson. The consensus of information he got said that Jackson was on a protracted trip away from Treetops and no one knew precisely when to expect him back. His assistant, Lex, however, was due to return to their shop later that morning from making a supply run with the village’s hovercar. As they waited for Lex’s return, Rienn convinced Risso to accompany her on a job she was doing—fetching an artifact for a scholar that had hired her—at a new archaeological find site in the Lambent Fields. Blaine volunteered to come along as well, primarily out of concern for Risso’s safety.
When Lex finally arrived Risso had a short meeting with him, and Blaine agreed to send out a mechanical owl messenger to intercept Jackson letting him know Risso was requesting a meet. Then the three gathered their supplies and departed Treetops for the Lambent Fields.
The small party made good time on their first day travelling. It was a largely uneventful day, until they made their way into the clearing. As they traversed the footpaths through the Ba-Adenu Forest, they were ambushed by a hunting pack of laaks. The three dispatched the lizards in short order, but not before Risso took a laak bite in the shin. After the scuffle had ended, he decided to keep the tip of laak tooth that had broken off in his flesh as a memento of his first “battle”.
After a few more hours of travelling, as the sun was sinking low on the horizon, the three decided to make camp for the night, leaving themselves plenty of time to string up hammocks high enough in the trees to be clear of the mists. In the quiet hours of the morning, the group’s sleep was interrupted by a yelp and a soft thud. Blaine awoke to see one tie of Risso’s hammock severed and Risso himself lying dazed on the forest floor, manifesting the same mutations as the night before. As Rienn and Blaine watched, a dark shape moved in the mists across the clearing. It was large. And it was moving toward Risso.