The afternoon had grown quite late, and the group was still attempting to move the wooden plinth – but now two of their number were trapped as trees. Caelik, in accordance with the terms of his bargain with the Leansidhe, attempted to shed some light on Cianwen’s mindset, but she was dismissive of his words. Meanwhile, she approached the party one by one again, speaking of what she could offer them. All refused her except for Tandem – who, fearing he would be trapped as a tree forever, and lured by the promise of the Leansidhe’s power, gave his fate over to her entirely…
Aiowyn, although now given a human face, found that he could still speak the language of trees – and so he attempted to converse with Braeda, who was right beside him. She had long been sleeping, but awoke at his insistence. When the situation was explained to her, she apologized for the entire debacle, insisting that the plague upon travellers had been unintentional – for when she had searched out the Leansidhe years before, she had deliberately met the fey deep in the wilderness, far from any innocents who might be harmed if a magical battle occurred. The nearby road had not yet then been built. However, Braeda was unable to offer much help; after all, the Leansidhe already owned her fate.
Eventually, the party discovered a loophole. Although the Leansidhe was bound to protect her trees, she referred to the change of form as ‘destruction’. However, she refused to simply change Braeda back to human form – indeed, although she seemed desperate to make some sort of bargain, in the face of the war that would soon sweep over the land, she stated quite bluntly that she could not break the enchantment on Braeda without receiving a fair offer in return. After more bargaining, Asandar agreed to shoulder the burden, offering three favours to the Leansidhe, provided they would not violate his morals. Caelik and Shogarr also agreed to help Asandar complete these favours, provided that fulfilling a favour didn’t take longer than a year.
With this assured, the Leansidhe turned Braeda back to human form with a quick snap of her fingers. As soon as this was done, the plinth also shimmered, transforming back into the form of Cianwen, who immediately collapsed, her strength worn thin by using her own soul to power such strong magical wards for centuries. As soon as Cianwen was carefully carried ten feet away from the plinth’s location, nearly two hundred more trees also vanished – and were restored to their previous forms.
Cianwen, like Braeda, apologized for the harm that had been done to travelers. Despite her weakness, she immediately attempted to restore Aiowyn and Tandem, who had not been turned back. After a few minutes, she managed to restore Aiowyn, but as Tandem had made a bargain with the Leansidhe, there was nothing she could do for him. He was doomed to remain as he was, until the Leansidhe wished otherwise. In thanks, Braeda also offered magical repayment: wards, placed upon either the party or the party’s gear, individually. She began by offering a Sun Blessing to Asandar – who had assumed the burden of owing the Leansidhe three favours.
When she turned to examine her work with magical sight, her attention was caught by the sky, instead. After looking at it only briefly, she insistently asked which nation the kingdom was at war with, but had not heard of Cortel. When she was told that Cortel had been formed by the king of Corath, she was incredulous, claiming that if that were true, then demons would have long since overrun these lands. Claiming that something was obviously wrong – and looking concerned for Cianwen – instead of continuing to place wards she gave Aiowyn a token-stone, stating that she intended to find out what was going on, and would return to offer the rest of the wards later. She crushed a powerful magical gem in one hand, and instantly teleported away with Cianwen.
The party was left with some two-hundred former trees, whom they rounded up to herd back to Gis Galen – arriving shortly after midnight. At the same time, they met Suula, a gnomeling who had been imprisoned less than a decade ago when he had been hired to discover what was happening to the travelers, and offered his services in thanks to the party for rescuing him (while trying to figure out what he was supposed to do now). A shifter monk, Yashir, decided to do the same – for he had been imprisoned the longest of any of the ex-trees, and was now very much adrift.