By Jeff Quick
The High Forest is dense with nothingness. Unprepared wanderers can travel for days without finding a friendly face, or even an unfriendly one. Because of its forbidding reputation, people who don't know how to treat nature responsibly tend to stay out, minimizing the danger to the local ecology.
As a result, the Caretakers of the Emerald Enclave are more concerned about internal threats to the forest than external threats. There are sufficient external threats, true. But as balance-loving worshipers of nature can tell you, evil entities are not the only threat to nature.
More than a year ago, the Emerald Enclave began discussions with Turlang, a great treant and de facto ruler of most of the High Forest. The Chosen of Eldath and Mielikki requested that they be allowed to send representatives to the wood to see if they could be of any assistance. Since the High Forest is said to be under the direct protection of these two gods, Turlang gladly accepted representatives in their name.
So the Caretakers constructed a portal from Ilghon to a cave mouth near one of Turlang's homes and sent two Caretakers to assess threats to the forest: Kressna Pisacar (LN female human Drd9) and Naeva Waterborn (N male moon elf Drd5/Brd5). After several months of travel and observation through the High Forest, the two druids came to a sobering conclusion: The chief threat to the High Forest's long-term safety is Turlang himself.
Turlang has spent the last 400 years pushing the boundary of the forest north, toward the Nether Mountains. While druids would normally applaud arboreal expansion, it must be done with an eye toward long-term consequences. After some study, Kressna and Naeva have come to believe that pushing the High Forest north creates more problems than it solves, borrowing trouble the forest wouldn't have otherwise. The treant's expansionism has become a threat to the entire wood.
The main instance of this threat is Turlang's behavior around Hellgate Keep. Having pushed the treeline past the Hellgate Keep crater, the treant claims to have sealed off the area. The Caretakers believe that this so-called "sealing" has made both the treant and his protectorate a target. If the High Forest did not cover Hellgate Keep, the baatezu trapped within would be less of an issue and easier to keep out. Instead, they're already in it and not shy about recklessly using fire magic.
Further, Turlang has become fixated on destroying the baatezu and tieflings he has contained in a long, slow siege. He takes his fight against the Hellgate Keep fiends personally and as an affront to all he has created, while forgetting other problems -- mainly the pillaging orcs streaming off the Spine of the World mountains.
However, one does not simply tell a treant that he is mistaken and then carry on, especially one who takes his duties so seriously as Turlang does. Using all their diplomacy and reasoning, Kressna and Naeva are attempting to redirect their ally as a vine up a trellis. They tell Turlang tales of the wood to the west and south, toward the Dessarin and Larch Hills, where they believe expansion would be simpler and less troublesome. They also discuss with him the malignancy of war and how it affects surrounding nature. They hope that with enough indirect cues, Turlang will allow them to take over the "war effort" in the north, and go back to planting trees in safer areas.
Turlang, however, is fixated on his current plans and will not be swayed by pleasant alternatives. Further, he has suspicions that the Enclave druids who come in the name of Eldath and Mielikki are trying to steer him away from where he is most needed in the High Forest -- away from the trees he has worked so hard to plant and nurture.
The situation is not quite tense, but not as cordial as when the druids first arrived. As diplomatic entrappings drop away and both sides' true positions become clearer, residents of the forest are beginning to pick favorites. Turlang and the Caretakers probably will not come to blows over the matter, but the repercussions of a conflict between the forces could be as damaging as a natural disaster.
What might push it over the edge is the portal the druids use to travel between the High Forest and their home island. The portal is situated squarely within territory controlled by Turlang and is guarded by some of Turlang's best agents. Originally this was done to honor his esteemed guests, but with Turlang's increasing suspicion about the Caretakers' motives, his agents eavesdrop as much as they guard.
The druids themselves know that they have increasingly less freedom to speak openly in the High Forest, but they must remain to continue the delicate negotiations with the treant while helping the fight against pressing forces within the wood. They hope that they can get through to the treant before his shortsightedness brings trouble none of them can contain.