Part I: The Grove.
Imagine a world where evil is captured inside an old ent. Where the elves and satyrs, dryads and ents live in harmony together as Fey. Imagine then a very large tree.
In that tree, near the top branches, sits an elf.
She is reading a book.
Reading about water magic, she was just a regular scholar in the arts of magic. Her face was maybe a bit stern, but that was because she always had trouble with the incantation of an water illusion, a so-called Fata. Water was not her element, and neither was air, both elements were used in the incantation she was reading about.
Suddenly, she felt a soft breeze, warm and tingling on her skin. Alerted, she put the book down and looked around.
In the air between two thick branches the Spirit Stag stood watching her. As soon as he saw she had noticed him, the stag spoke. "Xantara, protector of the Earth, you are summoned to the Rite of Renewal."
After the stag faded from her sight, Xantara closed the book. She carefully made her way down to the passageway she climbed up from, and returned the book to the library and stopped by the desk of her Master in the Arts..
"Master, I have been summoned. The Spirit Stag just appeared to me."
The elf turned around and looked at Xantara. "Ah, my best wishes. We had expected this."
"Yes master. At my testing, you found out that I had ritual powers."
"And that you have a strange affinity with the West, and with the earth." Master Kyros smiled at his apprentice. "It is good that you are allowed to participate. Observe and learn."
Kyros o Lysander stepped closer to Xantara and put his hands on her upper arms.
"Perhaps it is best if you stand with the Ents, and call with them upon the element Earth. It is your element. I do not think your power would fully develop itself if you would be forced to concentrate on Water."
Master Kyros let go of her arms and looked at Xantara. "You will do fine. Now go tell your father the good news."
Exiting the large Oak trees and walking along the passageways that were grown from the trees, Xantara headed on home. Her father, a guardian of the trees, had been home for a few days in a row, and was often gone for longer periods of time.
The house of the family of Xantara was grown, like all of the houses of the Fey, from a tree. When Xantara stepped inside, the green leaves and the thick branches let enough light filter into the inside of the house.
Her mother, Betha, sat in a comfortable position, and listened to Calum read about the Pact of the Center to her. Calum's melodious voice had a hypnotizing timbre, and immediately swept Xantara back to the beginning of the Grove, when four Fey, a satyr, an ent, a dryad and an elf formed a pact that was the beginning of their current way of life.
Calum stopped reading when he noticed Xantara.
"Xan, you're home early."
"I have good news."
Betha stood up from her comfortable branch, and poured them all fresh water from a clay jar.
"The Spirit Stag appeared to me."
"Oh, Xan, that is good news!" Betha put down her mug and hugged Xantara tight. Then she started fuzzing over her attire. "You must wear your best robe, and ofcourse in water blue, which will go well with your eyes. Oh, I am so proud!"
Calum put his arm around his daughter's shoulders. "You are the first in our family to be able to help with the Ritual of Renewal. I am very proud of you my daughter, maybe even more then when you went to study with Master o Lysander."
"What did he say? Did you tell him the good news?"
"He was happy for me. And he said I should hurry home to tell you the good news."
Xantara looked up at her father, and then hugged him tight. "I am so glad you are here to share in this wonderful news."
"I am too, my daughter."
Wearing indeed the dress her mother had chosen for her, Xan descended down the passageway. The deepblue dress was straight, and had transparent sleeves, to emphasize, as her mother said, the ritual some more with grace. On the branches of the giant trees and in the passageways, elves stood and watched the participants to the Ritual of Renewal descend to the forest ground. Everyone old enough to know the Legend of the Grove, knew exactly why this day was so very special. And almost everyone watched as the elves that were summoned by the Spirit Stag started their journey to Ironbark.
Arriving at the foot of the huge tree, Xantara looked up once more, and waved at her mother and father. They were quite visible, because of her mothers' bright white hair shining in the sun.
As she was walking along the paths, Xantara joined a group of elves who were also summoned for the Rites of Renewal.
"Hey there. My name's Rogelio. I'm a scout;" a male elf introduced himself and adjusted his pace so that he ended up walking next to Xantara.
"Xantara Adamina." Xantara nodded. "I'm an apprentice mage."
"Really? How interesting. I've always been fascinated by magic."
"I'm focusing more on earth magic. Most elves learn water magic, mostly. Just like satyrs are best in fire magic."
"You have a little bit of ent in you then?"
"Oh, no!" Xantara laughed. "I am not that tall and strong, am I?"
Rogelio smiled at Xantara, and she looked at their surroundings. "I will be with the ents in the Rites. My master, Master o Lysander, suggested that I join them, because my link with the earth is that strong."
"So that's why I've not seen you before at the Rite. You're always with the ents."
"This is the first time I have been summoned. I'm actually kind of nervous." Xantara stroked a lock of hair so it was tucked behind her ear again.
Rogelio smiled. "You will do fine. We all will do fine. Because everyone who has the least bit of ritual powers in him, or her, will be summoned, will be there! And after the Rite we return home as free people again, not oppressed, nor evil, but happy and free!"
After the Rite was completed, Xantara thanked the ents that had stood around her, and welcomed her in their midst. She could barely see Ironbark, nor anything that was happening around him, but she knew that the ritual leaders and Treesong among them, had successfully renewed the ward around Ironbark that kept the Evil inside of him.
The ents and dryads and satyrs all took their own roads, and their own pace, homewards, and soon Xantara found herself surrounded by elves once more. Everyone was tired from the ritual, and there was little speech. But there was among them, Xantara thought, a great feeling of satisfaction and gratitude, that Ironbark had made the sacrifice contain Evil for another Renewal, granting the Fey peace.
Her family was waiting for her to return home, for when Xantara stepped through the opening in the branches and leaves into her home, Calum and Betha immediately stood up, and ran to hug her.
"You must tell us all about it!" Calum spoke as he hugged his daughter, and Betha poured them all fresh water from the clay jar. When they sat down Xantara told them about the rite. How the elves had met the first dryads, satyrs and later even ents on the road. How each had gone to their appropriate place inside the ritual circle. That she had barely caught a glimpse of Ironbark, but that the ritual had gone well.
"I don't understand, Xan. Why couldn't you see Ironbark?"
"Because she was standing with the element earth, between ents thrice, four times her length," the voice of Master o Lysander boomed in the house. "Hello, Xantara, my apprentice."
"And more;" Xantara said, smiling; "some of the ents were as large as the old willow tree down by the waterside."
"That big!" Kyros exclaimed; "You must have felt lost!"
"No;" Xantara said, as she turned to look at her mother. "I felt quite at home."
As they were all seated with bread and clear spring water before them, Master o Lysander looked at his bread. "I know Xantara has never told you about her studies. I believe she barely speaks of me at home. She does, however, speak of you, quite often and quite fondly."
Calum shifted in his seat, and folded his hands before him.
"When she was born, you named her Xantara, meaning 'Daughter'. And when the day of her Naming approached, I first ran into her. As such things go, I knew that there was something special about her. I first approached you to ask if I could test her for her abilities. And I told you that she had a small ritualist ability, as well as magic abilities."
Kyros paused, to sip from his water.
"In the hope that Xantara would, like her father, become a guardian, you named her 'Adamina' on her naming day. Adamina, meaning 'protector of the earth'."
"I have, in my studies of basic magic, always had a hard time learning some particular elements of magic." Xantara stepped in. "While I had to study for years to even be able to conjure a small drop of rain, small displacements of sand and earth came naturally. "
"You must understand;" Master o Lysander continued; "that Xantara performed these things while working with her Master in the arts. I have to - guide - her gently, to be able to perform these things. They were a sort of test. The actual solo perfomance of magic like that takes on years of study and perfectioning. Causing it to rain isn't something any apprentice can or is allowed to do. It takes many years of carefully balancing the powers in nature before you can understand how to form a cloud. But it is the same with moving the earth. Years and years of study is required. Both are, actually, at virtually the same level."
"So, what you're telling us is...what?" Bertha asked.
"When working with water, something that should come naturally to elves, Xan has a very hard time making a spell work. But when working with earth, these things come as natural to her as breathing. And that;" Master o Lysander looked at each parent intentively; "is why Xan was with the ents during the Rite of Renewal."
Calum nodded slowly. "So, how are her studies going?"
"Well, Xantara has been studying with me for four Renewals now. I'd say she's nearing the point where she chooses which branch of magic she would want to study. Her basic knowledge about magic is as charged up as it's going to get. And I fear that if we make her study Fata's for another Renewal she might run off and become an ent instead."
However, it was only just before the next Rite of Renewal, that the Test of the Apprentice took place. After all, another Renewal of studying basic magic isn't too long a period of time for an elf. And it really got Xantara to rehearse her practical spells again.
The day of the test, Xantara woke up at dawn, and she slipped into the white robe that had been prepared for the Test. Her father had returned from his roams through the grove the previous night, and was to be present at the ritual. But this early, both he and Betha were still sleeping.
Xantara stepped outside quietly, grabbing her spellbook, and descended the pathways swirling around the enourmous treetrunk. When she reached the forest floor she looked around and found a nice place, where she nestled herself in between the roots of the tree so many of her kind lived in and with. She took a few moments to connect her mind to the earth and the trees around her, slightly cocking her head to the left. Then, she opened the book, and started to re-read the spells she had studied for so long.
It wasn't until a few hours later that her stomach began to rumble, and Xantara climbed all the passageways for breakfast. Master Kyros would also join them for breakfast, and afterwards they all would travel to a specially prepared location to test Xantara.
Betha and Calum didn't even look up when Xantara re-entered their home. She had a habit of wandering off passageways and tracks, but that was just how Xantara was. They never worried about her, and they knew it was only necessary for Xantara to have her quiet moments.
After breakfast, Xantara and Master Kyros o Lysander went into Xan's room, where he braided her long brownred hair. They locked eyes in the mirror, and Xan looked up at her Master in the Arts.
"You are soon no longer my apprentice, my dear Xan. Five Renewals."
"They seem to pass in a flash, don't they?" Xan mused.
"Yes they do, they do indeed." Master Kyros shook his head. "No matter, we've no time for a trip down the memory tree."
In a small procession, with Kyros leading just half a step in front of Xantara, and her parents following behind, they walked to a special place in the grove, near one of the oldest trees. No-one lived in this part, but Fey could come and go as they would wish. Xantara had once been there when she was sworn in as Kyros' apprentice. As she looked up at the enourmous branches above her, she felt awe wash over her, and a love bloomed in her heart. She and Kyros joined hands, and stepped to the enourmous trunk of Old Man Willow. Together, they greeted the tree in its own language, and thanked him for creating a magical space where they could work in. When they stepped back respectfully, Betha handed them a bowl of clear spring water, and Kyros and Xantara offered it to the tree as another token of gratitude. Only then did they turn to the other wizards and mages present. They were also dressed in robes, but these were black. Their faces were hidden, and only one of them turned to Xantara.
"I, Xantara Adamina, am here to prove that I have mastered the basic elements of magic. I have learned for many years, and am confident that I prove ready."
"Who speaks for you, who taught you, who will be bonded with you through years of study?"
"I do." Kyros lay his hand on Xantara's shoulder.
"When you enter the test, you will be in great danger. Be wary that if you do not master the spells sufficiently, you might fail or fall. To choose an element of magic you must be found worthy, and this test has never been easy. Only the best have ever survived, and so it shall be also with this test."
"I am ready." Xantara answered.
The mage in black extended a hand towards Betha and Calum, and they both kissed Xantara silently on the cheek. Then she turned back to the mages in black, who had started on a great wall of woven magic.
"None may answer but you. What see you?"
Xantara studied the wall that closed off the space between Old Man Willow and the tree next to it, a hundred yards away. The effort streaming into it must have shown on the mages' faces in sweat, but their faces were hidden by their hooded robes.
"You are weaving with all four of the elements. Water, showing clearly the place we elves dwell, in the part which is closest. Earth, closer to the ents. Fire, closer to the dwellings of the satyrs. And air, showing where the dryads dwell. The raw magic seems intertwined, woven to a wall." A flicker caught her eye. Then it was gone again. "You are just weaving this wall with water. There are others." Her mind was racing. "There are other mages, weaving what they do best.
Satyrs weaving fire. Dryads, air. And ents, earth, there."
Xantara pointed straight to where an ent was indeed weaving his earth magic, invisible for Xantara. Behind Xantara, Kyros smiled. The mage nodded.
"Good. This is a first lesson of passing. All mages must work together, at all times, to do the greatest works of magic. Peace brings prosperity. Love brings unison." He paused.
"Now, you must enter in between the four walls, and find the item. Using that item, you will make a goblet filled with pure water. When you have the goblet, you will return to us."
Xantara grabbed her spellbook firmly under her arm, and approached the wall. For a second she admired the intertwining flows, before she disappeared through the substance.
Kyros turned around to Calum and Betha. "We can just wait now. They will know if something happens." To the untrained eyes of Calum and Betha there was no wall, but just forest in which Xantara just vanished.
Inside the walls of magic, it was dark. Carefully, Xantara felt for the magic she just passed through, but there was just a big open space of nothingness. She could smell, hear and see nothing. All she felt was the forest ground under her feet. For a few moments she remained still, remembering what the magician had said about failing and falling. When she was sure there was nothing she could hear or smell, she carefully started to weave a small fire, focusing the magic on her hand. A small fireball appeared just above her hand, and the first thing Xantara saw was the ugly half-eaten face of an undead.
She fed raw firemagic into the ball, sending it straight at the surprised undead before it could draw its sword. In an inferno of sparks, the ball hit it, and the undead ignited, shedding more light on the surroundings as it burned.
There were no living trees. A few dead trunks lay on the ground, but the sky was as black as pitch. Xantara turned around. Old Man Willow still stood. But he was dead, and no sap flowed in his veins any more.
The undead fell to the ground, and stopped moving. His remains still gave off a bit of light, and Xantara took some dead twigs, to feed the fire. She had to find the item. She looked around herself. The cube of magic she entered had been a hundred yards wide, and surely no longer on any of the other sides. But the walls were gone now. She was trapped inside a very extensive illusion. She looked up and saw blackness. It was as thick as mist, and hid some of the remaining branches of Old Man Willow.
Xantara suddenly thought of Ironbark. All the Fey live and die with Ironbark. Carefully wrapping dead grasses and weeds around a long branch, she created a torch, and navigated carefully according to how Old Man Willow stood. Without the stars, and other great trees to navigate by, she had to rely on the shape of the great willow tree on which way she had to go to find Ironbark. Some of Old Man Willow's branches had broken off, but the shape of the trunk didn't change easily. Soon, Xantara was on her way.
In the flickering torchlight, Ironbark was an eerie shape, surrounded by the dry black mists. Xantara carefully approached the ancient ent, keeping an eye open for any other undead there might be. There was no wind, and the ent itself didn't move either. Slowly, one step at a time, she approached. When she was only a few feet away, she noticed that in the tree there were large black birds. One by one, they opened their eyes. The flickering torchlight reflected in the red eyes, they shrieked a horrible cry. Xantara put the torch upright in the earth, and opened her spellbook. Before the first bird let itself drop from the branch onto her, she had found the complicated spell, and she wove strands of raw magic in the birds. These fell promptly asleep, just as the spell had intended, some dropping from their branches. Xantara took the torch again, and lay a hand on the rump of the ancient ent. She tried to communicate with his heart, but it had no effect. The noble ent that sacrificed his life for the Fey, had died a horrible death. The evil that had been contained inside had torn itself free, through the bark, ripping out half of the ent's trunk in the process.
With tears in her eyes, Xantara thanked the old ent in her heart for all the Renewals he had given the Fey. As she looked up at his branches, there was a reflection of the light of her torch. She could not quite make out what it was though.
Xantara walked around Ironbark, and could see that it was up high in the highest twines of the ent. She tried a levitation spell, but the thing was too stuck to get a real grip on.
Making sure the torch was securely in the ground and that it would burn for a little while longer, she hoisted up her robe a bit, to put her foot on what looked like a steady branch. Her fingers carefully touched twines and crannies of the old ent, and she found herself among the few sleeping birds that hadn't fallen out of the ent. She took care not to wake them up, and avoided them.
In the crown of the ent, in one of the highest branches, she closed her hand around the thing. It was a stone of some sort. Honeybrown it was, with little sparkles in the heart of it, that shimmered in the torchlight.
Xantara took a corner of her robe, and tied it around the stone in a knot. Again avoiding the birds, she climbed down, and grabbed the torch again.
Supposedly, this was the item she needed to find. She was on the right track, at least. But her thoughts were interrupted by a grunt and the creaking of twigs. From all sides, shadowy figures were approaching the light. She panicked. She wasn't armed, and one undead on fire was a thing she could easily avoid. But more than one could ignite the dead leaves on the ground and her as well. Fire was clearly not an option.
Her eye fell on her spellbook. Ofcourse. All mages learn how to protect themselves and leave nature intact. Browsing through the pages quickly, she found the incantation, and started to chant, weaving air around her in a protective shield that would hold all blades from her body. The undead were, in a way, startled. They stopped for a second, before approaching her again. But Xantara was resolute. She left the torch where it was and, while still chanting to keep the small sanctuary intact, she set out to return to Old Man Willow. She kept a good pace, and soon the undead were tagging behind in their slow pace.
The darkness made it very hard to continue fast though, and suddenly she tripped over a dead branch. Her breath was knocked out of her, and she felt the sanctuary pop out with a small headache. Stopping an incantation that abruptly was never pleasant.
When she returned to Old Man Willow in the dark, she first made sure she couldn't hear any undead coming, before carefully probing the stone. She was growing weary, and spending the night here was not an option. Her weariness was also the reason she at first didn't notice the trickle of magic bouncing back at her from the stone. Xantara realized that it was her magic, but enhanced. This was the item with which she could create the goblet!
Carefully she wove earth with water into a goblet, through the stone. With Air she shaped it, simple but elegant, large enough to be able to hold it in two hands. With Fire, she hardened the form so it wouldn't fall apart. Then, through the honey-coloured stone, she wove pure water magic, into the inside of the goblet. With a soft tinkling clatter, the water materialized.
Xantara sighed. She did it. She had the item, and the goblet, and the water. She was pretty tired now. But how to get back? She sat thinking about it a bit. Then, there was a faint sound from the edge of hearing. The undead, probably. They couldn't stay away forever. But how to get back?
Her mind was racing, and the undead came closer. She had to try something. Kyros always said that all elements were bonded together, and that with those together you could accomplish the greatest things.
An arrow thwanged into the bark of the treetrunk right next to her head. The feathers looked distinctly orcish. Just what she needed. Even without light the orcs could hunt her. She had to get out now.
She wove raw fire magic into a ball and shot it at the next grunt she heard. The ball of magic exploded in the decayed chest of an undead. It burst into flames, igniting the troup that was surrounding him. Soon the undergrowth was burning as well.
Another arrow hit the trunk of Old Man Willow, and Xantara ducked and repositioned herself more in the shadows of the tree. Her mind was racing. With some effort, she concentrated on a shockwave of earth and air. Something that was very hard for her still, but something she should just be able to do with the stone.
The earth around Old Man Willow erupted as the schockwave spread outwards from Xantara. She heard muffled grunts and loud thuds as her foes were thrown off their feet.
Suddenly, she found the answer. Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, she remembered from her lessons in ritualism, were all four main elements, but what made a ritual even more powerful was the fifth element, spirit.
With her last powers, she wove the will of her heart and the longing of her soul and the basis of her spirit into the stone.
A doorway opened, spilling a soft green golden light inside. With her last strength, she walked through the doorway with the goblet held out in front of her.
Calum and Betha saw the frown on Kyros' face. "What is it, Master o Lysander?"
"It's not easy for her, you know." He mumbled. "Stand aside now."
Calum and Betha shuffled closer to Old Man Willow.
Kyros saw a small doorway appear, and through it an arrow pierced the air. It landed in the trunk of a tree nearby. Then, as if presenting the goblet was the most important thing in the Grove, Xantara came striding out. Her robe was torn and dirty, but she appeared to be unharmed. As soon as she was clear of the doorway, the elf magician in black sang out in a clear voice, and the four walls of the illusion slowly faded as the mages ended the incantation.
The mage in black stepped over to Xantara, Kyros approached her smiling, her mother was in tears and her father, who had grabbed the arrow from the tree, held it up to her with a puzzled frown.
"Xantara, Protector of the Earth, you have walked the dark path. You have found the item. You have created the goblet and the water. And most importantly, you have found your way out. You have been tested true and found a most worthy companion. Be welcome in our midst."
Only then did the other Fey magicians step out from between the trees, and they all took off the hoods of their robes. Kyros dipped his fingers in the water of the Goblet and tasted it.
"It is pure."
Then he dipped his fingers in again, and touched both pointy tips of Xantara's ears. The mage who had led the test smiled at Xantara. "Come Xantara, your days as an apprentice are spilled, now spill this water to make it grow, like your knowledge of the arts, in Old Man Willow."
Together with Kyros, Xantara spilled the water at the roots of Old Man Willow, and when she turned back to her parents, they were smiling and crying at the same time.
The celebrations lasted for days. Many friends brought cheer in their home, and Calum and Betha worked on presents for everyone. Merriment and cheer spread in their hearts.
Xantara was initiated before the Fey court of Mages. With many many eyes focused on her, she had to tell what she had lived through in the illusion. The breathtaking silence from the audience made her remember how scary it had been. After the ceremony, the honeybrown stone was placed in the Tree of Mages, where it sparkled golden in the sun. Master Kyros softly pointed out that she was one of few elves that had not brought forth a blue stone from the illusion.
The gathering of Fey mages dispersed, the Ents made creaking bows to their new comrade, the Satyrs flirtingly kissed her hands, and the dryads hugged her as soft as a breath of wind.
The elves around her all shook hands and spoke in friendly tones that must have come from the heart, and then bid her goodbye as well.
Master Kyros walked with her to her home. In the passageway he spoke of how wonderful it was she was now a fellow mage.
"Xantara. You must not call me Master anymore. You too, are now a Master of the Arts. Just Kyros will suffice;" he smiled. "And I shall try to not call you apprentice anymore. You can choose your path, and study what you like now."
"The Rite of Renewal will be held soon."
"Yes. You will see the ents soon again."
The Spirit Stag appeared to Xantara when she was studying, this time nestled comfortably between the roots of Old Man Willow.
"Xantara, protector of the Earth, you are summoned to the Rite of Renewal."
"Yes." She said. "Yes, I will be there."
This time, Xantara did not immediately run up to her home. She remained sitting for a little while longer, and wished her father was home. He had been out on a large trek around the Grove, and away for days now. It could be a good while longer before she would see him again.
Her mother waved her off, this time without having pressed a certain style of clothing on her, and Xantara descended the passageway in her brown, plain but functional dress. The walk to Ironbark was nice, and over before she knew it. Xantara took her place among the ents again.
They waited. It always took a while to prepare the ritual. The creaking of the trunk of Ironbark hung in the air as he swayed lightly, a sign of inner turmoil, a sign that it was time to renew the wards.
After a while, the large ent next to Xantara, who had introduced himself as Oakwind, rumbled deep within.
"What is it, Oakwind?"
"The leaders of the Rite are waiting for something, and they are getting nervous hummmmm" said the old ent. "I don't see Treesong hmmmm?"
Xantara frowned. Then the ent spoke again. "Ah! I see they're starting hummm;" he bowed his large crown down towards Xantara. "Little elf, we start now."
In the center of the enourmous circle, the leaders of the Rite started their ritual. They chanted, and drew on the enourmous ritual powers of those assembeled. Then, they stepped towards Ironbark. The old ent shook slightly. The crown of branches trembled. Ironbark hadn't moved in Renewals, and he had almost forgotten how to walk. But now, his thick branches swayed.
"Hmmm? This is uncanny!" Oakwind boomed, and all around them the ents boomed their dislike of the situation. "Little Elf, you should see this, hmm! Climb my trunk!"
Xantara obeyed, and climbed his trunk swiftly, until she respectfully stood on, with lack of a better word, must be a shoulder, holding the ents' crown. In the center of the Rite, the ritual leaders stepped back slowly as the branches of Ironbark lashed out at them.
"Oh no!" Xantara cried. Oakwind buldered, and she gripped the crown branches tight.
The ritualists, firmly set on achieving their goal to renew the wards, stepped forward again.
One of them was hit by one of the massive branches as it made a swoop at him. He was thrown into the crowd of Dryads, who rushed to his help.
A few ents tried to approch, but the branches of Ironbark carelessly snapped whole branches off the ents.
After some more attempts, the ritualists stepped back, and Ironbark stopped moving when the Fey didn't try to approach him any more. The murmurs in the crowd had grown to full-fledged discussions as to why the ritualists couldn't approach Ironbark.
"I don't think it's working mmm?" said Oakwind. He stopped swaying dangerously when Ironbark stopped moving, and Xantara saw that the leading ritualists were discussing something. One Fey was pointing at Ironbark and shouting, though the words did not reach Xantara's ears. Another shook his head and seemed to be crying, while one of the satyr ritualists paced in a circle around the ancient ent.
After a short discussion, a voice rang out over the gathered ritualists.
"Anyone who has seen Treesong in the past week, will you please join us down here."
Tension rose, but nobody moved, nobody stepped down from the gathered ritualists, nobody joined the small knot down in the valley. The lead ritualists discussed something among their ranks once more. The voice rang out once more. "We will need runners to send word to our companions in the four corners of the Grove."
At once, a couple of Fey stepped forward, and the swiftest four soon set out to inform the Few all around the Grove. Oakwind swayed slightly and started to softly hum to himself. The voice rang out once more.
"We can't seem to approach Ironbark. Perhaps this is because Treesong is not with us. Therefor, the next step is to find Treesong. He would not miss a Rite without cause. Those of you who have seen him since the last Rite, please approach us. The rest of us will have to remain here in case he still shows up."
When dusk fell over the center of the Grove, and Ironbark was hid in shadows, there was little progress for as far as Xantara could determine. Some of the Fey who came down from the meadows to tell the Ritualists when they'd last seen Treesong, had returned, probably because somebody else had seen him more recently. A delegation of Dryads had approached the small valley, and the leader of them had spoken with the lead ritualist.
"Xan!" Calums voice echoed between the ent's trunks. Xantara turned around. "Father! Kyros! It's good to see you here."
"Master o Lysander was summoned and immediately sent out runners to assmble the treeguardians and scouts."
"Come Xantara, let us find out what the head ritualists want of us." Kyros o Lysander spoke to his former apprentice.
With her father and Kyros, Xantara walked to the centre of the valley, where the ritualists were meeting with the recently arrived delegates of the Fey society. As they approached, bits of conversation were clear to Xantara's ears. "Without Treesong we might as well stop trying..."
"Ironbark will not let us come close enough to perform the ritual."
The talk died away as Kyros approached. "Ah, Master O Lysander;" an Ent wizard greeted him. "It is good that we are here."
The four head ritualists of the Fey, and the four great wizards of the Fey, sat down on the meadow, to discuss the possibilities. Calum and Xantara stood near the cluster, staring into the dark night. There were little stars out that night, and the darkness pressed on their hearts.
The eight Fey finally seemed to reach a conclusion. Carefully they stood up, and Kyros took Xantara by her arm. "Xan, I am sorry to say this, but things don't look good. Treesong is vital for the Rite of Renewal, so it appears. Without him the wards can not be renewed. We must find him. Us eight, as the most powerful magical Fey, have been told to return to our homes and ask each house to send out one Fey to set out to find Treesong."
And so, Xantara went. In her sturdiest brown dress, with a sword and her trusty spellbook, some provisions and water. She travelled to the outskirts of the Grove, and beyond. A red face haunted her dreams. And then the red face haunted her waking moments as well. It was all very confusing. One day, when the sun was barely above the horizon, the red face appeared before her eyes, and attacked her. The outlines of the trees changed shape and she was swept away.
Continue to Part II >>