Clouds gathered in the green hills north of Haven. The strong grass and rumors of wet air reminded them why that dry, mucky place had seemed so hateful.
They traveled in silence, because perhaps words seemed so heavy.
The first night, they camped in the open , near a little water. The 2nd night, they camped near a low hill as great clouds scudded over the sky. They didn’t make a fire. Somewhere out there were the Wyld Hunt.
The place was a desert. Distant hills showing. A line of camels walked across muddied sand like a ruined oasis. The sun felt distant, like it was evening.
Behind them, a young man, clad like a night-fighter greeted them from beneath white hair. He introduced himself as Brink. It turned out he was Wizard to the Night Driver. Predictably, Grayn wasn’t there.
After some confusion, Brink said the Night Driver would like them to stop by a town called Waymount, and find a woman named Apple in a strange forest, and help her.
Brink explained they were in a dream, which he had just figured out how to do, and that’s why he was reaching out. It didn’t explain why his face was covered or why he hid behind his white hair, or why his badge was a real wagon wheel, burned in the sand.
Meanwhile, Onyx and Chain wandered off toward the camels, and as Onyx leapt atop one, they work in camp in the early morning.
The next day, in the afternoon, they reached the town of Waymount. It had a small mountain with a little town of leatherworkers and smelters gathered around it. A large shield-wall hill sat Waterward of the town (West), with a massive crack in it large enough to admit a wagon-train.
In town, they got rooms from Sandy (barmaid and whore) at the Public House. They choked down some of the Public House’s sub-par food and its rotgut liquor (aside from the fuzzy pink wine which was weird but good). Sandy offered Lord Chain any kind of services he might require. She told them about the upside-down trees past the shield-wall, in a ‘kind of forest, I guess’.
Brother Splendid went off to find supplies. Onyx wished for a player. The group gathered an extra bottle of fuzzy pink wine and headed for the shield wall.
They found the lovely Apple next to her red apple wagon, with her ass, Little Ass. She was playing a spicy tune on guitar, and singing and old song when they pulled up.
She shared pretty blond smiles, and the world’s most delicious rustic apple sauce, her weird apple-related inventions, and a story about the Grove Mistress in the apple orchard, and her pet, Greenie (who in town they said was large as a house and squashed anyone that came to the orchard), who seemed lost past the Orchard at the waterfall in the low hills. The Grove Mistress had flown into a rage and threatened to kill Apple, so she fled. She needed those apples. The Night Driver wanted some of those apples.
Off they went, deciding to go first to the Grove Mistress because, presumably, that would maximize the trouble they could get into.
There were mists among and around the apple orchard. The south side of the orchard, the trees were rotting into a swamp. The north side of the orchard looked broken and burned and ruined. In the center of the orchard was a kind of house made of apple branches and roots (alive).
As they approached, they learned from Grayn’s father that there was a powerful spirit among the trees, and that she had taken shape in the apple house.
They heard her weeping as they came, slowly to the orchard, weapons sheathed, with the apple trees whispering around them through their leaves.
Sanction and Chain went into the scalloped doorway to find the beautiful Grove Mistress bent over the cenote within, weeping into her hands. Spotting them, and espcially Chain’s blue armor and hair, she picked up a rod and flew into a rage, accusing them of being with the burning axe-wielders. her rod gathered to itself sticks and leaves, making a massive, gleaming, vegetable sword that would surely slice through flesh.
Sanction calmed her, and they spoke. Her story came out slowly, that she lived here with the Beast, who was a spirit of grass. It was he who fought the Wyld Hunt when they came here. He was injured by something terrible, and fled. He would not return to her, and she seemed unwilling or unable to go to him at the waterfall where he was dying with a blade in him, the iron killing him.
Without the grass, the trees would quickly succumb and perish too, and the grove would leave the world.
Sanction and Chain promised they would do their best to get to the Beast and do what they could for it.
Nodding, the Grove Mistress said she knew the best thing would happen, and she dissolved into a pile of dead apple tree leaves.
The ruins of old buildings among the apple trees bore mute witness to the group re-gathering, and preparing to get to the waterfall and convince a wounded beast the size of a house – perhaps with cucumbers – that they were really only there to help.