A normal forest might be nurtured by Ents or Treants, or be the home to a tribe of Dryads. It might, perhaps, be under the protection of a flock of Swanmays, an Erlking, or even a Unicorn. If it is a very old, powerful forest, it might be protected by Leshy or other forest spirits, or a Virava, or ‘forest mother’ (similar to a Hamadryad).
The Dark Forest of Eyrie isn’t a normal, healthy forest. It is a forest which has learned sorrow, and hate, and it is protected by twisted, Ent-like creatures called Leshak.
A Leshak resembles a 6-limbed humanoid preying mantis with thin, stick-like arms and legs, and glowing yellow eyes. At first glance they can easily be mistaken for trees, especially in a forest. Their bodies are made of wood, strong and flexible, with long, knobbly, twig-like fingers and twisty, root-like feet. The middle limbs can be used as legs or as arms, and are equipped with hands and fingers. Leshak are 3 – 5 m (9 – 15 ft.) tall, and strong enough to lift a full grown human in one hand. Their main attack is a raking blow with their fingers, which cuts flesh and also slams the target back.
(Neutral Evil, Large construct)
Init: +3; Senses: darkvision 20 m (60 ft.)
AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16 (+3 Dex, +6 natural)
HP 64 (8D10 + 20)
Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +5
DR 5/silver; Immune construct traits, magic
Weaknesses vulnerable to fire
Speed 10 m (30 ft.)
Melee 2 claw attacks +12 (2D6+4)
Special: Screech, Earth-hold
Str 18, Dex 17, Con—, Int—, Wis 17, Cha 1
BaseAtk +8; CMB +12; CMD 25
Organization solitary or gang (2–4)
Immunity to Magic (Ex) A Leshak is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance, with the exception of spells and spell-like abilities that have the Fire descriptor, which affect it normally. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against the creature, as noted below.
- Warp wood or wood shape deals 2D6 damage to the Leshak.
- Repel wood drives the golem back 20 m (60 ft.) and deals 2d12 points of damage to it (no save).
Screech (Su): As a free action once every 1D4+1 rounds, a Leshak can voice a blood-curdling scream. Any humanoid or magical beast within 6m (20 ft.) takes 6D6 sonic damage (Will save DC 14 halves the damage).
Earth-hold (Ex): The primary drive of the Leshak is to plant more heart trees, and to feed existing heart trees. As such, when a Leshak is within reach of a heart tree, rather than using its claw attack, it will grapple an opponent and attempt to pin them to the trunk of the heart tree. Strengthened by the proximity of the heart tree and by following their prime directive, a Leshak doing this gets +3 to its grapple checks both to initiate and to maintain a grapple or pin an opponent.
Leshak are sustained by eating the fruit of the heart trees, magical plants which are found nowhere else in Europa. They grow as graceful, pretty trees very much like apple trees in shape and size. Their bark is pale, and their leaves are a vibrant, deep green. They flower for the first time after a year as an unremarkable, though fast-growing seedling. A heart tree grows as much in a month as another species might grow in a year, and by the end of the first year of growth is a sizeable tree. Once a heart tree begins to flower, it can be fed – indeed it must be fed at least four times a year in order to fruit. The Leshak feed a heart tree by bringing a sentient creature, a humanoid or magical beast, to it and pressing the creature against the roots and trunk of the tree. The heart tree will quickly grow bark and roots over the creature, and will drain its life force and digest it’s body over the course of about a week. Any creature touching a heart tree’s trunk must make a Reflex save (DC 14) to move away before the heart tree begins absorbing them; once the heart tree begins absorbing its victim, it causes hallucinations and euphoria. The victim can make a Will save (DC 14) once each round for 3 rounds to pull away from the heart tree before they have been covered by bark or roots. Once the victim has been covered by bark and rootlets, the victim remains alive for 7 days. During this time the victim may make once Will save per day (DC 18) to attempt escape; on a success, they must succeed at a Strength check (DC 15) to escape. This Strength check may be repeated up to four times before a new Will save must be made, as the victim falls back under the spell of the heart tree.
Heart trees flower throughout the year, and can bear fruit in any season. The flowers are large, creamy white in colour, with a scent something like jasmine, mangoes, and cinnamon. The fruit of a heart tree, which is only borne once the tree has been fed, smells at the same time like the most delicious thing you can imagine and like something slightly rotten. The flesh of the fruit is delicious and juicy, and is dotted with several small, round seeds, about the size of a persimmon seed. Any creature eating the fruit of a heart tree becomes sleepy and contented, and will lie down wherever they are and fall asleep for 1D4 hours (Will save to resist, DC 13); on waking, the victim will crave more of the fruit and will be fatigued until they can consume more of it. If someone eats the fruit but resists the urge to sleep, they are not fatigued, but do feel the craving for more fruit.
A dragon which eats the fruit and seeds of a heart tree and then falls asleep becomes infected with a magical disease which slowly transforms them into a Leshak over the course of a week. The dragon will be unable to stomach any food or drink other than the fruit of the heart trees, not even water or healing potions; anything else will cause the dragon to vomit it straight back up. The dragon’s hide will become dull, then woody in appearance, and its limbs will elongate. This disease can be cured with a Heal, Remove Disease, or Remove Curse spell. After a week, it will slip into a deep, dreamless sleep; on waking, the dragon will be a Leshak, controlled by primitive instincts and by the will of the Virava. Its sole food will be the fruit of heart trees, and its primary drive will be to feed the heart trees with sentient creatures, and to plant more heart trees to extend the forest.
Origin of the Leshak, and History of the Dark Forest of Eyrie
Long ago, the Virava of the Dark Forest fell in love with a human. He was a wizard of considerable power, a guest of the Emerald Clan dragons who came to study with them and learn from them. The Virava met him as he walked in the forest, birdwatching and gathering spell components. She was beautiful and gentle, and a powerful magical creature in her own right, but he was the first human she had ever seen. She watched him from the shadows of the forest for weeks before finally approaching him, shy as a wild deer.
The wizard fell in love with the beautiful Virava, and she with him. For ten years the wizard stayed, and learned from the Virava as well as from the Emerald dragons with whom he lived. As tokens of her love for him the Virava gave him rare and powerful spell components, and in return he brought her music and stories from the outside world, and rare seeds which he bought from traders. The Emerald Clan supported him, not least because she shared the spell components given to him by the Virava with his hosts and their other students.
In time, the wizard left Eyrie to continue his studies, but he always returned. Every year, in the spring, he would come to the Dark Forest and spend a few months with his love in her forest home. He brought her trinkets from the outside world – brightly coloured feathers from exotic birds, leaves and seeds from trees that grew far away from Eyrie, pretty stones and gems, music which he learned in far-away places. They planted trees together, and watched them grow. Every year, he grew older, while his forest-born love remained young as the spring. Forests do age, but very, very slowly.
Perhaps something happened, out in the world, to turn the wizard to a dark path. Perhaps his studies delved too far into forgotten magics which even he did not fully understand, or perhaps he simply sought to live longer so that he could be with his Virava for all time. No one knows. But when he returned to the forest one year, he returned as a lich – an undead horror which consumed the life of others to prolong his own. He brought with him the seed for the first heart tree.
He presented it to the Virava as a wedding gift, telling her that he had found a way to become immortal, and to keep their love alive forever. Together, they planted and nurtured the seed, and the wizard stayed for that full year with her, hiding his true nature from her. At the end of the year, when the tree flowered for the first time, the wizard invited a few guests to witness their wedding beneath the tree. To the horror of his bride-to-be, at the height of the wedding ceremony he and his guests sacrificed a pair of unicorn foals to feed the heart tree, inducing it to fruit for the first time. The wizard told his bride that the ceremony under the heart tree made her immortal, like him, by linking her life force to the heart tree in which he had hidden his mortality from Death. They would both live for as long as long as there were heart trees in the forest. He seemed surprised when instead of being grateful, the Virava drove the him and his guests from the forest, angry and horrified, grieving for the unicorns.
Although she mourned the unicorns, the Virava still loved her wizard. Even though he showed no remorse, she couldn’t bring herself to kill the heart tree which kept them both alive, but she couldn’t bear to see him either. She told him to leave and never return, and she closed the borders of her wood to all outsiders. Then she ate the fruit of the heart tree and lay down to sleep forever, since she could not die. The forest became darker, and the Virava’s ongoing nightmares killed all outsiders who entered it. New heart trees grew throughout the wood, the seeds carried by birds which ate the fruit of the heart tree.
Unfortunately, the Emerald Clan dragons and their students had become used to having easy access to the powerful spell components available from the heart of an ancient forest. The Emerald Clan sought some way to either regain the trust of the Virava or at least convince her to open the forest again, and so they began sending questing young wizards into the woods to seek out the Virava and regain her help. None succeeded. During this time, the first Leshak were born when a young dragon entered the forest and ate the fruit of the heart tree. The Leshak, following its inbuilt drive to reproduce, planted more heart trees and fed the existing heart trees with the lives of sentient creatures, then fed the fruit to foolish young dragons to create more Leshak.
The Emerald Clan noticed the danger, and took steps. They banished all birds from the Dark Forest using magic, and burned a barrier zone – a kind of ‘fire break’ – around the Dark Forest. They have kept the forest in check for generations, but they have been unable to either heal or kill the forest.
The Virava herself has been suffering nightmares for centuries now, and they have driven her half mad. She can see through the eyes of any forest creature, if something draws her attention, but she cannot differentiate between waking reality and nightmares. She is afraid, and angry, and hurting. The Leshak tend her sleeping form, feeding her the juice of heart tree fruit to keep her alive.
Her history is known only to herself, to the lich who was once her love, and to the magical beasts and forest fey native to the forest. While no unicorns remain in the forest, it is still home to creatures such as cerynitis, huldra, bandersnatch, peryton, bog nixies, hippogriffs, and a phoenix(which is unaffected by the anti-bird magics of the Emerald dragons).
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