You would think that dryads would be naturals at stealth.
But there is no forest here; even though the undergrowth has sprung back up since the Paradise ritual destroyed all the farms, it is nowhere near as tall as your new friends. And the young dryads are full of energy from the more recent ritual empowerment of the growing things of the land; not exactly in the mood to hunker down and crawl quietly as if they were low-lying fruit bushes.
So you go with deception. 'Comtessa Silvianne Garton' becomes a carefree Mill'enese lady, a young minor daughter of someone or other, out for a stroll with her small pet forest. Nothing to worry about here, go about your business...
The whole area is practically swarming with Mill'enese patrols; Baugherstadt, Bernsteinkuste and Grande Phillipe all have their own groups of suspicious, uniformed guards. Whilst some of them are Mill'enese, especially the pistoleers, they are drawn from all over the place - Flembic swordsmen, Tritoni archers, Gnoll siege engineers, human Kamakuran spearmen, Malathian musketeers, Fidelian axemen, and endless Free Islander recruits.
However, there are few avians, no dracoscions, and no natives whatsoever - not even 'new' ophidians that were recently some other race.
They treat 'Comtessa Garton' warily, but respectfully, as long as all you do is head cheerfully towards the coastline. You tell a lot of stories about having a nice picnic by the sea, about taking the 'boys' to see the ocean for the first time, and carefully act like a properly spoiled, airheaded young child of a decedent, and probably inbred, 'nobility'.
Thus you find yourselves at Fischer's Pocket, a small and unremarkable stretch of coastline; and there is a mokosh, probably Lyzar rather than a Free Islander, in the uniform of the Mill'enese Army under Hendrick Van Rhychard, who strides up as you begin to look around.
"I'm sorry, miss, but this area is dangerous. Been a lot of rockfalls round here lately. Prob'ly the Time of Destruction messing with the oceans. I hear the beaches at La Belle Rihannon, just a little further on, are lovely this time of year..."
He moves to take 'Comtessa Garton' by the arm, in a paternal kind of fashion. She shrieks in a girlish voice: "Get your dirty paws off me!" And the dryads move in to attack, as she looks around in a hurry, to see if someone else had been watching - she hadn't been able to keep a really good watch without breaking character.
Yes. Bother. There was movement over there; another couple of mokosh and three humans, same uniform, one of the mokosh starting to run and take a message. She cries out some kind of girlish exclamation of horror to attempt to keep her cover, and hisses in a much lower voice, "Seeds, break off and get that runner, you see that one over there? Out of sight of the others, if you can, but bring him down."
The three humans cautiously show themselves, advancing on the ongoing battle. "Madam, are you okay?" one of them calls out.
'Comtessa Garcon' plays her role to the hilt, telling them how the boys are such good boys really, oh no, I can't watch, isn't that awful, you're not going to hurt them are you? The small squadron continues to advance with evident trepidation - they want to save their friend, who is being playfully eviscerated by the Scout Support Squad, but they are obviously fresh recruits, and obviously got last pick from the sword rack, and they're not convinced they can take five awakened dryad warriors on their own.
To complicate their decision, 'Comtessa Garcon' heads over to them, shying away from her 'pets'. She asks them very sweetly to rescue her and take her away from the grisly scene, and they are very relieved to comply.
The other mokosh... where is the other mokosh?
She dallies and pretends that it is very difficult to walk in her elaborate dress and shoes - which is not entirely false, although she has chosen them for as much practicality as is possible under the circumstances - and finally Sharpened Seeds are heading back towards her. As they bear down on the party, the three Mill'enese soldiers decide discretion is the better part of valour and leave quickly.
Regrouping, you start down the twisting cliff path that will eventually lead you to E.R.F. II, the darkpowder mill you are here to destroy. However, it is not long before Solaine's sharp ears pick out a disturbing noise. It sounds like... marching. Heavily armoured marching. Coming up the path towards them.
She looks for alternative paths, possible exit routes, but there are none that are particularly appealing; the cliff face brackets the path above and below, and it is a long way down. So she plasters on her best smile and hopes to brazen it out.
These hopes are unfortunately dashed when the first heavily armoured Black Lions Enforcers round the corner and immediately open fire. They're not bad shots; she's going to have to do something about that wound quite soon. She backs off, lets the dryads charge in. The narrow path is an advantage for the 'boys', but she leans out as far as she dares, and sees the snaking line of Black Lions - Jacob Donskoi's men - extending back along the cliffside.
Her fifteen dryads, sturdy as they are, don't stand a chance.
Perhaps they have been shortsighted enough to not cut off the path from both directions. Perhaps they have just accidentally run into a regular patrol that walks this route. Perhaps she can get out of this bottle-neck before the other squad arrive.
She is some way out of sight and probably out of earshot from where the dryads are holding off the Black Lion advance when she runs into trouble. These Black Lions are much quieter, and have been waiting in ambush around this corner. She supposes surprise is all they have, because their weapons are terrible. But she sees a pair of wemics disappearing around the corner, presumably to take news back to the next line of her retreat.
She has to fight off the two scared-looking boys who start the ambush; it's not that difficult, given the disparity in their skill with the sword, even though her skirts are quite impractical and that gunshot wound is becoming troublesome. She could probably kill the whole squad, single-handed, even while distracted; there are about twenty of them, but they haven't been issued with pistols and only a couple can get to her at a time.
But she has just dispatched one off the cliff path and given one a nasty gut wound he's unlikely to recover from, when the crack of a musket rings out from somewhere above her, and they're a pretty good shot too.
Staying in this fight is hopeless. Climbing up is hopeless. She looks uneasily over the edge, where she has just swept the other boy. Another musket shot; she is beginning to feel dizzy from the pain.
Nothing for it, then. She feints, ducks backwards, and disappears over the edge.
The drop to the ledge that she had identified is jarring, but survivable; her move appears to have confused her assailants enough to stop them from firing, at the very least. She begins to search for her next move - over there, a trail of newly grown fruiting vines - and begins to descend, cautiously.
When there is no more musket fire for some time, she finally lets herself pause and tend to her wounds.
The situation is quite hopeless. With the patrols alerted, and the dryads likely all dead, there is no way that she can make it close to E.R.F. II alone.
She quietly takes off the ridiculous, bloodied disguise and chucks it over the edge - hopefully they will think 'Comtessa Garton' has fallen to her death - and begins to make her way slowly down the cliff-side. She won't be able to get back through Mill'en; it's probably time for a long swim to Amun-Sa.
Well, sir, it's true that no-one in the Grand Phillipe or Bernsteinkuste Defence Forces really took this 'Comtessa Silvianne Garton' lady seriously enough, to start with, sir.
I mean, sometimes daughters of good families do get strange notions in their head, begging your pardon, sir. And a small grove of dryads isn't that eccentric, is what I'm saying, sir, compared to some of the things we see from time to time, sir, which you wouldn't want us to pursue, on account of it probably making their parents quite upset, sir, when we kill their pets, by accident, or even in self defence, sir...
So our dear departed sergeant, gods bless him, sir, when she gets up to Fischer's Pocket, where we know no-one's meant to be poking around, sir, he goes up to them and he says, very polite like, that she might want to go up the coast a bit. Maybe to La Belle Rihannon, the beaches there are very nice this time of year, kind of thing.
Then, sir, with not a moment's warning nor a finger's lift of provocation, sir, the bloody trees damn near bit his throat out, pardon my Kamakuran, sir.
And I'm afraid, sir, that the lady was still very convincing; we have a lot of trouble, sir, with young girls and exotic pets, over here, sir. They tend to pick up all these tiny delicate lizards, sir, and adorable gigantic kittens, and all kinds of things, and sometimes they turn nasty, that's just the way of it, sir. So when she asked to be rescued, the rest of the lads were happy to oblige, but I stayed back to make sure someone was watching out, sir.
I beg your pardon, sir? I did raise the alarm and get everyone else out of there, sir. And I did volunteer to go with the Black Lions, sir, they just didn't much want a Millenese Army Recruit cluttering up the place, they said, sir. Thank you, sir, may I continue?
Oh, you mean the other dogboy? He'd gone to take the message first, sir, but we reckon the second pack of dryads got him, sir; we didn't find him in time, I'm afraid, sir.
You'd have to ask the Black Lions exactly what happened next, sir, but it sounds to me like they did get all fifteen dryads, sir, I've been down that path and there isn't much room to manoeuver, sir, so they couldn't get too many at the front at once, and it twists and turns like a bastard, sir, pardon my Kamakuran, there isn't a good place to set up a ballista or a musket line, sir.
And do commend those boys in the Black Lions Recruits B, I'm not surprised she'd got a sword and shield, sir, she could have had twenty up those skirts and no-one would be any the wiser, sir; and I was part of the search under the cliffs afterwards, sir.
I don't think she's dead, sir. Thinking about it afterward, and I don't think I could have spotted it at the time, sir, the girl moved more like a wemic than a human, sir; could have easily climbed down that cliff, once she'd ditched the dress, sir, and we found the dress, and it was pretty reinforced, sir, and a potion and a circlet she'd dropped, and what looked like a bunch of surgeon's tools, and there was plenty of blood on the dress but we never found a body, sir.
But we've upped the patrol frequency in the area, sir, and there's been no sign of anyone skulking around again, sir, so I think we were pretty successful anyway, the couple of poor bastards that bought it notwithstanding. Sir.
Some woman calling herself 'Comtessa Silvianne Garton', posing as a young minor daughter of some family or other, presents herself as out for a stroll with her small pet forest; fifteen young-looking dryads who follow her every command like overgrown, woody puppies.
She gaily admits that she is heading to the coast, apparently to give the 'boys' their first glimpse of the sea, and no-one really feels like stopping her.
Unfortunately, then she decides that Fischer's Pocket is the part of the coastline she would like to introduce them to. The Millenese Army recruits - 2nd Platoon try to move her on gently, but her 'pets' take exception to this and brutally savage them, leading to the deaths of their Lyzar mokosh sergeant and one of their Free Islands mokosh.
The Black Lions set out in force to take this menace down, only to find that 'Comtessa Silvianne Garton' is rather a menace herself; the Black Lions Recruits B lose two good men to her swordplay, and the Black Lions Enforcers lose one to her 'pet forest', before Black Lions Musket A manage to get a couple of shots into her, and she falls from the cliff - hopefully, to her demise.
There is a minor altercation in Fischer's Pocket - apparently some spoilt young daughter of the nobility decided that she would take her pet forest out for a walk in a restricted area, and her pet dryads took exception to the guards attempting to gently move her on to a more appropriate sunbathing location.