As the party came back to the Nentir Inn they carried Xairus to his room and laid him down in his bed. Then went to bed, determined to make their way to the wall first thing in the morning. Andraste woke up, and realized that in place of the headache from last night, the arrow the spell had shown them now existed in her mind. As the rest of the group headed to breakfast, Tryn decided to see how Xairus was doing. Rather than looking rested, he looked far worse. His color was pale and a cold sheet of sweat covered his body. He writhed and moaned as if gripped in delirium. Tryn went out to get a cleric as Andraste and Bristlethurn rushed to Xairus’ side. Bristlethurn tried to apply all of his healing knowledge to relieving Xairus’ pain, but it was to no avail. Andraste, studying him very closely, realized the disease was actually magical in nature. Some foul magic had him in its grip, there was no use trying to heal him. As the cleric arrived and began a healing chant, Xairus’ eyes suddenly came open. He gripped her arm with an icy hand and rasped, “You’re wasting time…get to the wall…watch out for the woods…they’re dangerous…” He then closed his eyes and slipped back into his delirium.
Unfurling the map that Xairus had given them, they realized they had a choice to make: they could either travel straight to the crack, journeying three days to reach the wall, or they could avoid the forest as much as possible, but add a day to their journey. With Xairus’ fevered warning still ringing in their ears, they decided it would be better to take the road. For three days they had a peaceful journey down the King’s Road, finally when the arrow in Andraste’s mind pointed due south, they headed into the woods. At first the woods themselves were a mirror of the peace they encountered on the road. Sun beamed down through the trees and a soft breeze kissed their cheeks. Though the woods were quiet, they could hear the soft sounds of a few animals scurrying about. Yet as they journeyed further and further south the trees seemed to grow darker and more menacing, the sunlight seemed to be choked out, and the ground beneath them grew wet and boggy. Andraste reached out with her mind, she could feel the magic of the wall humming in the air ahead of them. As she looked around, she realized that the trees themselves also hummed with magic. Their roots had dug down deep and absorbed the magic of the wall. As the last vestiges of light disappeared from view, the group made camp while Andraste and Bristlethurn examined the largest of the nearby trees. Bristlethurn could tell that the trees had not yet absorbed enough magic to be able to move, but that they were angry. Some kind of outsider had been through here before, and the forest did not seem to appreciate these new outsiders, whatever their intentions. With the sunlight fast disappearing, the group saw little choice but to make camp here in the midst of the angry trees. Bristlethurn did his best to mollify the tree with fertilizer and care, and the heroes determined in what order they would keep watch. Most of the group decided to rest in their tents, but Andraste and Bristlethurn decided to rest in the branches of the tree.
In the dead of night, just after the third watch, Andraste heard a shuffling coming from the woods. Blowing a whistle, the heroes arose to face the mysterious intruders. At first it seemed as if some kind of humanoids were coming out of the woods, but as the dwindling firelight hit them it revealed what instead was a mass of vines and leaves twisting and writhing in the shape of humans. As the party drew their weapons and prepared for battle, a large mass off plants walking on four viny appendages shuffled slowly behind. Bristlethurn’s eyes grew wide, “Watch out! It’s a shambling mound!” But it was too late, Styx charged in with a roar and struck the nearest vine being. The plant beings retaliated, swiping with vines and throwing orbs of lightning at him. As the rest of the group joined the battle, the shambling mound wrapped two limbs around Styx and pulled him into its body! “Come and get me, you stupid planty things! I’ll burn down yer whole forest!” Tordek’s taunts enraged the plants, and they focused upon him while Styx struggled out. Vines wrapped around Tordek, pulling him to the mound, while one of the vine beings dug the roots at its feet deep in the ground; the vines popped out of the ground and wrapped around Styx and Tryn. Styx broke out of the vines while Andraste confused the shambling mound into attacking a vine being, and Bristlethurn’s bear tried to find a place to bite the writhing vines to no avail. Tryn broke out of her vines, but another vineman gripped a vine around her middle, slinging her into the middle of the plants. The shambling mound enclosed its arms around her, and she too was entangled within it’s body. Tordek managed to struggle free, wounded and cursing as he fell. Tryn struggled, trying to find her way out of the mess of vines, but they dug in, and she could feel the blood flowing down the vines as her strength slowly left her. She tried to cry out, but the edge of her vision was clouded, and everything seemed to get fuzzy and far away. Seeing her comrade in trouble, Andraste put a great deal of concentration into her incantation. Reaching deep into the consciousness of the shambling mound, she pulled the image of Tryn out of its mind. As the knowlege of its trapped prey was forgotten, its vines relaxed and Tryn fell to the ground, bleeding but alive. Bristlethurn chanted prayers of healing through his totem, knitting Tordek and Tryn’s wounds closed, and the group resolved to fight on.
Styx cleaved through one of the vine beings, but the shambling mound got its arms around him and he was once again grabbed by it. Tordek and Andraste focused on keeping the mound distracted while Tryn and Bristlethurn tried to destroy the other vinemen. Styx worked his way out during the distraction, clutching his side; and the shambling mound flailed its vines against Tordek, who hid behind his shield. Andraste used her telepathic prowess to force the shambling mound to attack one of the vine beings and Styx’s axe bore down upon it to finish him off. The shambling mound pulled Tordek in, then reeled around to attack its final remaining vineman while Tryn’s bolts stuck inside of it. A final bite from Bristlethurn’s bear finally succeeded in tearing the vines apart. The shambling mound roared, and flailed its vines, but now the entire group was upon it. Bristlethurn’s bear bit at it, Tryn’s arrows stuck into it, Andraste drove telepathic spikes into its mind, and Tordek hacked and slashed at it. A final blow from Styx’s axe seemed to sever the mass of vines at the heart of it. The mound disintegrated into a mass of vines, leaves, and plants upon the ground. With a wicked grin, Tordek burned the remnants of the deadly foe. It still being a few hours before dawn, the group headed wearily back to their tents and tree. The battle had been hard fought, and they would need to rest in order to make it to the wall with all their strength.