Centuries passed with Deng as the master druid of the Neblina Forest. But try as he might, Deng could never truly change the image of the forest. It still had an air of secrecy to it, and fear kept most people away. Deng did not mind this, though, in the end. He was still willing to allow the rare visitor a chance to walk its paths. One day, a new visitor came to the forest out of desperation just like he once had when he was a young boy.
The visitor was an elf woman named Riuying. She was a medicine woman and an herbalist from the nearby settlement of Silverton. A plague had gripped the Red Coast to the far west, and much of her medicinal supplies were being taken by the knights of Namland as they wished to keep good relations with the neighboring country. Riuying’s stock of medicine was expiring just as the plague reached Silverton and her friends and neighbors began to fall ill, too. Riuying had heard rumors of the Neblina Forest, and one such rumor was of the magical mushrooms that grew in the thicket.
Desperate for medicine, Riuying risked entering the forest not knowing what she would find. She was initially lost; Deng’s path had not come to her yet. After an hour of searching and hoping, Riuying came upon a black cat. The cat introduced himself as Tom and was meant to guild Riuying to wherever she needed to go. Riuying was scared at first but Tom the cat was being very polite. She had heard that the forest was strange, so the idea of a talking cat was understandable to her. Tom led her to a glade at the southern end of the forest where she found countless plants, herbs, and fungi growing next to a clear brook.
The plans in the glade were exactly what Riuying needed! With Tom’s permission, she began to gather the plants and explained she was going to create medicine to save her town. At this, Tom shapeshifted and revealed himself to be Deng. Riuying was scared at first. The stories of the dark elves were filled with horror and violence. She fled from him, dropping many of the ingredients she had just gathered. As she ran, she heard Deng call out to her.
“I promise, the paths in the forest will always be open to you. Please return and gather what you need!”
Riuying was ashamed as she ran, stumbling over vines and roots until she escaped the Neblina Forest and found herself back in the fields. Her journey back to Silverton took three days, and for three days Riuying was miserable. She had lost most of the medicinal plants she needed and could only make a few small potions with what she had left. But what bothered her the most was that she had cried out and ran away from the kind man who offered her the medicinal plants. It was an awful thing to do to someone who had been very charitable to her. Riuying tried to justify herself. Deng was a dark elf, right? Dark elves are wicked, but he seemed so very nice. Riuying figured that he had been in the form of a cat at first because he didn’t want to frighten her. She must have offended him so!
Riuying came to Silverton and made the potions she could before deciding to make the long journey back to the Neblina Forest to gather more ingredients and, more importantly, beg Deng’s forgiveness. She found him in the glade already, having fallen asleep while reading a book. Riuying gently woke him and apologized, and was surprised that Deng immediately forgave her on the condition that she kept the secret of the forest glade and helped him plant new growths whenever she was here.
Riuying came back to the glade many times over the next three years. Every time she arrived, Deng met her there and the two worked together to gather what she needed. They tilled the land and created vast and beautiful gardens of herbs and mushrooms. Once when Riuying came to visit, she found a small cottage had been built for her by Deng, just in case she needed to stay longer. The two spent as long as they could together, watching the stars and telling stories.
After a while, Riuying came to visit Deng. This time, she did not bring her medicine pouch with her. Her purpose for the journey from Silverton was purely to see him. Riuying had long since fallen in love with Deng and felt that she needed to declare her feelings for him. To her surprise and great joy, Deng confessed his love for her first. And to Deng’s surprise, when he left the forest for their wedding in Silverton, not a single person there cared that he was a dark elf. He was openly and warmly received into Riuying’s family with no reservation whatsoever.
Deng and Riuying (who he called ‘Raven’ for her strikingly dark hair) moved into the master druid tower in the center of the forest, and Deng accompanied Riuying when she delivered her medicine to Silverton. It was a rare sight to ever see the two apart.