Star awoke gradually. Something felt wrong… very, very wrong. But before she could figure out exactly what that was, she heard the noise - choruses of high-pitched giggles.
"I think she's waking up!" said a tiny voice.
Quickly Star opened her eyes and sat up. Beneath her was the flat expanse of a giant purple toadstool, which itself was in the centre of an alpine pond. Surrounding the pond was lush greenery, and although she could not yet see exactly what was laughing at her, she knew she was being watched by many pairs of eyes.
Very soon she realized why.
Star was buck naked - not a shred of clothing or a single piece of equipment was on her person or anywhere in sight… and neither was Grimerald. Her immediate reflex was to cover herself, but the giggles reminded her that she had already been observed for an unknown period of time, so she decided not to bother. The tiny voices called out rhymes, chants, and jeers in numerous languages, only a few of which she could understand - one of them being Giant. Presently a pixie darted through the air to approach her.
"You! You there!" it cried in Giant, consumed with amusement. "I've got a poem for you! I wrote it myself."
Star glared at the little creature. "Y'know… that's great… really… but I'm in a bit of a tough spot a'th'moment."
"Yeah, we put you there!"
The giggles erupted again. The pixie went on: "So here's my poem. 'All your silver and all your gold won't make you happy or let you grow old.'"
"Wonderful," Star muttered, crossing her arms, watching the pixie flit away.
Another fey creature appeared at her feet, this one with the body of a grasshopper. "Choose only the treasure you cherish the best, the other will be the price of our test," the grig recited.
"What… what?" Star snapped. "What does that mean?!"
"Look under the toadstool," it whispered in suggestion before disappearing again.
Accordingly, Star leaned down to take a look. Suspended there all around the perimeter of the toadstool, ten feet below, were her possessions, each affixed to the ends of impossibly thin strands of sticky white material.
"Spidersilk," she whispered. She recalled the last rhyme she had been offered and thought she understood the nature of this 'test'. She would have to choose what to rescue. Groaning, she curled up into a ball. Steadily her anger rose until she finally leaped up and screamed out, "WHO DID THIS TO ME??!"
"All alone, bare as you were born, if I'd had my way you would also be shorn," one of the pixies cried, and the giggles erupted once more.
Another sing-songy voice calling out, "Such a senseless little creature at hand, she's not an elf, nor dwarf, nor man."
"I'M A GNOME!" Star screamed, far past being at the edge of her patience with these infuriating fey.
"What's a gnome?"
She pointed both fingers at herself. "THIS is a vera' ANGRY gnome!!!"
"Very naked too!" giggled a small voice.
Star roared, stomping her feet in fury. "WHERE'S MY BADGER??!?!" she screamed.
"I didn't see any badger!"
Star quickly realized they were genuinely ignorant of her companion. She hadn't, after all, seen him get transported away. He could be anywhere… or dead. Overwhelmed, she collapsed back down onto the toadstool and burst into tears. The miniature crowds inhabiting the greenery around her grew silent.
Finally, she decided there was nothing to be done but try her best to get her equipment back. More than anything right now, she wanted to hurt somebody. She leaned down once more to look at her hanging equipment, and for a moment she was caught between choosing Aurawing and her clothing. She decided her sword was the obvious choice, and reached to grab the spidersilk strand, pulling it up until she had her the weapon in hand.
Immediately, one of the fey cut the strand on the far end, sending her armour quickly to the bottom of the lake. The rest of her items stayed where they were. She made a closer examination of how her things were suspended around the toadstool. Aurawing had been to the north, her armour across at the south end. At the northeast was her clothing, and opposite it, at the southwest, was her backpack. Her lance and shield were across from one another, at the northwest and southeast respectively. She looked to her clothing next, deciding she could stand to give up her pack. It didn't contain anything of tremendous value, although it would have certainly been helpful for her survival out here in this unknown wilderness alone, but without clothing she didn't suppose she would get far out in the elements.
She pulled up her clothing and, as expected, the strand across was cut; her backpack plunged into the lake.
Finally she had to choose between her lance and her shield. She really, really wanted to keep her lance… but she didn't have Grimerald, so it would only be so much use. Besides, she had one weapon, and without her armour she needed a way to defend herself. Groaning, she pulled up her shield, and down went the lance.
Muttering angrily to herself, Star climbed quickly into her clothing, to the disappointed groans of a multitude of tiny fey creatures.
"SHUT UP!" she roared.
Some of the fey took up an insipidly repetitive, yet oddly catchy chant, but Star couldn't understand it, as it was in the Sylvan language.
[To those of you who speak Sylvan: "Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger! Badger!…."]
The pixies fixed a rope ladder to her toadstool; the other end was attached to a tree. She could easily escape now without having to brave the water, but could she let her other possessions go so easily? Enraged all over again by the dilemma these awful little beasts had put her in, she brought her sword down in a furious arc, hacking off a large chunk of the toadstool. Bright pink jelly oozed from the wound.
"Stupid fey," she muttered. Peering over the edge, she tried to spot her armour, backpack, and lance. There they were, about 60 feet down. Well, that didn't seem so hard. She quickly fixed her sword and shield to her person - there was no way she would leave them unattended - and began to slip into the cool water.
"Stray you not into the water, the snake in there will make you hotter!" offered another tiny poet.
"Snake," Star sighed. She looked carefully around, but didn't see any such creature. Deciding to take her chances, she plunged down and began to swim.
The attack came at her immediately. Before she knew fully what was happening she was badly singed by a cloud of scorching steam. It came from the first head of the enormous Fen Serpent; the second head tried to fix an evil eye on her, which unnerved her greatly, but she managed to ward off the fear. She did, however, retreat immediately from the water.
A fresh bout of fey laughter followed.
At a loss once again, Star nursed her fresh, burning wounds and looked around to see if she could spot anything of note. There was a broken tree nearby, looking as if some large creature had plowed right through it. Giving up on her lost equipment for the moment, she climbed the ladder to go investigate.
Around the tree were giant-sized footprints made by bare feet at an unwieldy-looking gait. An ettin??
"HRASH HLAAAANG!" Star screamed out.
Only echoes responded.
The fey seemed to have departed, now that she was no longer doing anything amusing to them. She looked around for anything that might possibly be useful. She found a thick, curved piece of a branch from a tree and decided it would make a fine hook for equipment-fishing. She might at least get her backpack.
Being that the toadstool was only about 10 feet from the shore, she decided she could sacrifice the rope ladder. She lay a sturdy limb across the span and hurried across, then used her sword to cut the ladder down.
When she had a long enough segment of rope, she affixed her makeshift hook to it and lowered it down toward the backpack. There was a brief tug, and the rope went slack. Pulling it back up, Star stared at the frayed end in despair.
"Stupid snake!" she snarled, throwing down the rope in disgust.
Star walked back across her bridge and returned to the woods, searching about, trying to find some answers. This place was unfamiliar in so many ways. The trees were strange, the fey were strange, even the birds were strange. And when she found more footprints in the mud, footprints made by other giants, these too were unfamiliar types.
She looked around desperately, wanting to find someone anyone, even one of those horrible pixies.
"IS ANYONE GONNA HELP ME?!" she yelled.
She found some edible plants to keep up her strength and then, with nothing else to do, began to follow the ettin's tracks.
Star, by Mandy
Fey dialogue provided by Tim