Conversation died a few hours ago. It’s hard to ignore the building foreboding when every hamlet and village you pass is deserted. At least here, you tell yourselves, people were smart enough to leave. Yesterday, the hamlets you had passed were littered with those folk who thought that two days ride from the Fortress was a safe distance. Two days ride is a long way for a peasant but clearly not for whatever hellish beasts eviscerated them in the streets.
You can’t help but smile despite the trepidation. You got here first. No other adventurers are going to pip you for the Emerald Queen’s head. It’s about time though, you and your companions were due for a serve of ‘in the right place at the right time.’
Travelling north along the Regent’s Way, you were finally traveling towards Leblon, The City of Empires, ruled over by nothing less than the dragon, Irius. Just before you had reached the town of Highriver, you encountered a messenger heading south. He told you of the landing of the Fortress of the Emerald Queen in the farmlands northwest of here.
The news boggled the mind.
The tale of the Emerald Queen
The tale of the Emerald Queen is a fictional children’s story – the casting out of the seventh daughter of a lord enraged at having no sons to continue his line. His castle had stood in the recesses of the Nachtwald, the great forest that buffered these lands from further distant mountains to the south. He threw his seventh baby from the tower, only in passing did it seem odd to him that the baby’s broken remains were not found at it’s base. It is said that the spirits of the Nachtwald were sickened at the heartlessness of the act and the limbs of the forest caught her as she plunged and whisked her away and sustained her as she grew. But wild nature pays no heed to the human-constructed ideals of civility, manners and decorum. The Wilds are just that: wild and unrestrained – and raised by whatever spirits inhabit the Nachtwald’s recesses, the seventh daughter nurtured her sense of revenge in a way only untamed nature could. Eventually, sixteen years after she was thrown from the tower she returned to her father’s castle to gain revenge. At one point she had been his daughter, now she was only a Lady of the Forest.
The weak wills of the guards fell to her enchanting words, and as she proceeded through the grounds, nature followed in a titanic wave engulfing, strangulating and breaking the castle asunder with the sheer power of earth and sinewy tree-root. Eventually she found her family: but she did not save any of them and they died each in their own macabre ways. Finally she reached her father cowering on his throne as the very room around him began to be ripped out of the ground by the Nachtwald. He did not recognise the enchanting girl who stood before him commanding such power – not until she sent him flying through the very window she had been thrown through those many years ago.
At that point, with the ending of that lordly family, the castle finally relinquished its place in the Nachtwald, raising its entire strangulated ruin up out of the soil it became airborne, the Nachtwald itself repelling the castle from the earth refusing to let it call the forest home. The daughter became its Queen, The Emerald Queen, becoming the font of the forest’s retribution on those who would harm it’s balance. Her floating castle is said to patrol the depths of the Nachtwald and sightings of it were often put down to the hearsay of woodsmen bored with their lot in the life.
Yet the story has a home in almost everyone’s hearts. Successful families rarely treat their daughters with any favouritism for fear of later finding themselves at the hands of Nature’s Wrath.
On your way
But to hear that it had been sighted, let alone LANDED, was truly bizarre. At first you laughed at the messenger but quickly stopped as he showed you the decree from the Lord of Highriver, a call for adventurers to vanquish the Emerald Queen in the defense of all the citizen of the South – Reward: 15,000gp and a magical heirloom from the House of Highriver. No small sum…and the glint of the challenge was already there in your eyes…the Emerald Queen, she was supposed to be immortal, certainly at least ageless and the castle would be littered with the old treasures and relics of her previous family…certainly normal looters wouldn’t have gotten in there! Word will have been sent to Leblon as well, and soon many adventurers would be on horseback…or something WAY cooler, you think ruefully. However, your location gave you a lead if you rode hard, and ride hard you did.
As you had gotten closer the threat of this ‘Emerald Queen’ became apparent. The story made her out to be wild but at least directed by some sort of judgement. But the bloody raids on hamlets by bestial, almost demonic creatures did not sit at all right with the image of the natural violence she meted out. One night you faced some of these creatures, hounds comprised only of black oblivion whose bite chilled your soul. They felt like something more from the Abyss rather than from the depths of the Nachtwald. Maybe the ‘Emerald Queen’ wasn’t quite so green after all…certainly her judgement, if she had any, seemed to be clouded red by a bloodthirsty desire for wanton destruction…
Breaking yourself from your revery you look up at the weather closing in and take your bearings. The sun dips to the horizon, peering out from underneath the threatening stormclouds. For these few moments, the world is once again lit up, the colours of this lush farmland revitalised once more, and there silhouetted in its radiance is the sentinel figure of a titanic castle of fantastical proportions. Its outer walls and towers are overgrown with vines, like tendrils of a great beast engulfing its prey. The form of the castle is still clear and apparent…sorta. Looking up above the castle’s (hopefully) abandoned defenses you look at the truly mind-boggling sight of the castle’s keep. It’s masonry is shattered, broken and ripped asunder, but a ‘new’ keep of gargantuan limbs of twisted root spiral upwards like an intertwining staircase, bits of the original keep clearly seen, trapped within it. Its height appears to terminate in a bizarre flowering of strange decaying flora, but it’s hard to tell from the almost impenetrable haze of INSECTS buzzing around its upper heights ceaselessly. The Fortress exudes malignant power and her domain seems far from green…instead it looks like decaying and rotting deadwood, although it is blatantly clear from the destruction she has wrought that her powers are certainly not the things decaying…
It is set in your minds now…even the staunchest storybook protagonist defense advocates amongst you can see this puppy needs to be put down. Although… this puppy might need more than a poisoned apple to put her to sleep… and she probably won’t have an oven you can push her into…and none of you are particularly charming or Princes…but these thoughts do not bother you. Your thoughts are for greatness, and also the tiny pinprick of hope that by the end of this you may, just MAY, have commandeered a FLYING FUCKING CASTLE! You all seem to have that thought at the same time and murmur ‘fuck yeh.’ in unison…
…the sun clings to the horizon like a man to the edge of a precipice, but its time is numbered and its light is weak – a single guttering torch in a long cold corridor. As you see that the front gates to the castle stand boldly ajar, the sun loses its last fingerhold and day is lost to the world for now, leaving you to face the Emerald Queen of children’s stories in the moonlit hours and, as the distant rumble of thunder roils across the countryside, it appears you will also be doing it wet.
This ain’t gonna be no foam party.