UP: Great Lakes
Racing with the moons, search parties continue their efforts night and day to discover the whereabouts of a young woman named Evie Vandergellen.
Miss Vandergellen, a gardener/botonist, was snatched Sunday during a hike with friends in the Hidden Valley, Felucca. Sources state that Vandergellen has been researching the legend of "The Death Willow.", a tree-like creature featured as the villain in numerous children’s tales. Evie had recently recovered clues which stated that The Death Willow had supposedly once laid siege to explorers in this quiet valley west of Trinsic. Upon learning this, she immediately set about organizing an expedition to the area.
At a town meeting in River’s End recently, Vandergellen revealed the reasoning behind her quest to unlock the mysteries of the myth. "It is my hope that I might find some seeds there that might be used to regrow these trees. While I understand that they are quite deadly, I believe that their power might be harnessed for good purposes. We could generate mills, make some sort of power source from them, perhaps even deploy them as defense methods."
When one of the townspeople, Richard Cypher, asked, "What if they cannot be controlled?" the scientist gave a tongue-in-cheek response which now seems almost darkly prophetic: "Then, bury me next to my grandmother and kill the trees." In an even greater twist of irony, a witness claims to have heard Cypher inquire of Vandergellen, as they set out that fateful evening, where her grandmother was buried. Again, the young woman scoffed at his concern.
As a backdrop to all of this activity, a bizarre cult entered the scene. Now identified as the Plentyn o’ Coeden ("Children of Mother,") the naked, bald cult members have tried on a number of occasions to obstruct investigatory efforts made by Vandergellen and her assistants. Her lab and much of the Hedge Maze, where she is employed as caretaker, was vandalized only a day before her abduction. Though some thought the culprits were merely mischievous bunnies, some feel that the shredding of seed sample bags and their contents throughout the maze was no accident. Plentyn members arrived through special portals, dodging in and out of the growth of corpsers, reapers and slithering serpents to attack citizen patrols who’d come to "weed out" the problem.
A book, Misguided Roses, has been recovered from the Britain Public Library which explains in depth the founding and evolution of these wayward priests of nature. It further defines the deity they worship, an ancient tree of undisclosed location believed by the cult to possess magical powers and great knowledge.
These attacks by the Plentyn warranted that extra precautions be taken when Vandergellen and her companions embarked Sunday evening for the ill-fated journey. Heavily armed, with strength in numbers, they gathered at Evie’s make-shift laboratory in the western section of the Hedge Maze and made their way into Felucca, regrouping outside the concealed entrance that would take them through the mountain cave into the Hidden Valley.
Eyewitnesses have reported that the scouts for the group were aghast to find the valley literally covered with contentious plant life, giant spiders and a sea of serpents. The grounds were so thick with these formidable foes that it took a great deal of effort for the first wave of adventurers to clear a path while the others jammed together in the narrow cave.
The travelers had barely rested when the Plentyn o’ Coeden arrived in large numbers. In a bloody and vengeful confrontation, the cult members attempted to force Vandergellen’s group from the valley. It was during this time that one of the savages, identified as Samuel, took hold of Evie.
"You fool! Dealing with that which is best left alone! Infidel! Outlander!" Onlookers’ efforts were ineffectual as Samuel taunted them with the words, "You have no power to touch me." He opened a portal, pushed Evie through, then tossed out a handful of what appeared to be large seeds of some sort before passing through the portal himself.
A group of terrifying trees suddenly sprang up from the earth. Investigators allege that these magical trees are descendents of the very Death Willow Evie had been researching. According to writings discovered by analysts of the cult, a few seeds had been culled from the fallen Death Willow. These seeds have somehow been cultivated and altered by Plentyn members. Scholars refer to them as Warder Willows, while cult members themselves have called them "Guardians of The Mother."
The small tower which stands in the far end of the valley was combed thoroughly by Evie’s party. In the basement, they discovered what appears to be the private study of an alleged cult member. More reference books as well as correspondence of cult members was recovered there and provided clues as to the location and intent of the cult to kidnap and, eventually, sacrifice Miss Vandergellen.
Diligent efforts by search party members uncovered a temple on a jungle island west of Fire Isle. From this temple, passage is accessible into the Lost Lands. As the group employed the portal, they found themselves in another unnerving confrontation with cult members and the elements of warfare they dispatched again: giant spiders, serpents, corpsers, reapers and the abominable Warder Willows. As they fought their way through a long narrow pass, they were besieged by cult members, commanded by Evie’s abductor, Samuel. With superhuman strength, he held them at bay in a jaw-dropping display of strength. At last, they felled him.
A search of his body produced more in-cult correspondence related to the kidnapping as well as two personal items of Evie’s : a pair of gloves and sandals. Witnesses confirmed that these had been on her person at the time of the kidnapping.
As rescue efforts resumed yesterday, Evie’s whereabouts remain unknown, with precious little in the way of leads. One fact that seems to hold out confidence was found in a letter from one cult member to another. It seems that the sacrifice must take place on a certain date and time, based on astrological criteria. Thus, Evie’s friends find themselves pressing onward, ever vigilant in their efforts to find her, praying that the shifting moons and stars will be on their side, affording them the necessary time to save her before it is too late.