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Gnarcheon's Festival at the Grove of Needles

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Ashe looked down at the diminutive Shankaria with an uneasy smile. He was there at the meeting in The Grove of Needles where no human had ever made a formal address until this night. Indeed change was unfolding before everyone’s eyes! That which had never been now…was.

Shankaria looked up at Ashe with her deep eyes telling him she knew precisely what he was thinking at that moment. They had only met recently but they had always been mysteriously connected in some way. Ashe could not appreciate that relation until the moment Shankaria gazed at him with complete confidence. She gave him a soft smile and a gentle nod- a nod that told him he was worthy of his immediate task. A smile that told him he belonged there no matter what precedent history had in place. Ashe came to understand that he wasn’t there speaking as a human, he was there speaking as a Gnarcheon…a Hierophant…a child of Mahiya.

Ashe looked out across the sea of eager faces and among them noticed Varshya’s stone cold stare. He was certain he would have to contend with her at a later point. Her ire with humans was well known and this breach of tradition would likely not soften her outlook. Every one in the crowd was showered by the colorful fires and anxious to hear him speak. He cleared his throat and stepped forward into the circle.

“My sisters and brothers of Mahiya, I am Ashe Clearwater, son of Zachary Clearwater of the Valley Chosen and of Zebulon. My greetings to you.” A murmur washed over the crowd after his introduction. Everyone knew of the legendary ascension of Zachary Clearwater to Zebulon, the Champion of Mahiya. Zebulon had not manifested for scores of generations and the fact that Zachary Clearwater had, some years ago, been chosen to harbor that consciousness and battle Zyxu Archeon, the Champion of The Void, spoke to his purity of devotion and strength of character. Liam Clearwater was Ashe’s grandson and protégé and he also ascended to become Mahiya’s champion recently. Ashe was the son and sire of legends and one of the most powerful and respected Druids alive- a fact that was completely lost on Ashe.

Ashe continued his account, “As has been spoken, we are at the threshold of great change.” Ashe felt himself clever for his play on the word “threshold” and hoped someone would appreciate the joke and the deeper meaning. “I bring joyous news from the mouth of the Valley of Mist.” Ashe glanced at Maragarn hoping that he would find solace in the news he was about to impart. “The once lost Ring of Mists has been revealed.” The only sounds that cold be heard apart from Ashe were the occasional crackles of the fire and the creaking of top boughs in the wind. “The Ring was being defiled and taken by agents of Zyxu and with the reliable help of stalwart and trusted friends, Maccabeus of the Dale of Wolves, one of our own Gnarcheon and descendant of honored Shankaria, was victorious in its salvation. How the agents found the Ring of Mists I do not know but they did not prevail.” Ashe paused a moment to allow time for the information to be acknowledged. No one spoke during that moment. “Maccabeus is now the steward of the Ring of Mists and I am continuing Shankaria’s good work by ushering his knowledge in the ways of Mahiya…” Ashe thought a moment and added, “…well, me and another.”

So much had happened in the last few months that Ashe wondered if he could recount it all. Some of the slightest details could hold profound significance to someone and he didn’t want to overlook any of it. Detailed recollection through elegant oration was indeed an art form and Ashe always felt clumsy doing it. “I’m honored to tell you also that the wisdom of the Mother Tree has spread beyond the mountain walls of the Valley of Mist. A mighty Vallenwood now grows strong and majestic at the Ring of Mists. It is being nourished by elemental founts that reflect the Ring so that it drinks the liquid embodiment of Kossuth, Grumbar, Akadi, and Istisha. It is a Vallenwood the manner of which has likely never been seen by anyone alive today. Indeed, Mahiya is speaking directly to us through these events.” Ashe was no stranger to the diversity of the world. He had seen that others also cared for the sovereignty of Mahiya, especially when faced with something as seemingly small as a dry Brak (Summer) or something as devastating as the ash fields of Zyxu’s minions- The Archea, even if they weren’t druids. He knew that it wasn’t just the province of druids to counter the destruction but rather, the responsibility of everyone. “When I say, ‘us’ I mean everyone, not just Gnarcheon.” That revelation caused a quiet stir among many in the throng. Curiously, Ashe sought the face of Eswarth the noble centaur. Eswarth was standing next to Bal-Johr and both returned Ashe’s gaze with an approving nod.  

“Mahiya, though, is not the only one sending messages. The mere fact that agents of Zyxu were defiling the Ring of Mists means also that The Void is speaking to it’s children.” Ashe felt the need to explain to his kindred that Zyxu Archeon was The Void’s champion just as Zebulon was Mahiya’s.

He thought better of it and left any explanations that were sought would quickly be answered. So he continued, “Maccabeus along with the help of a Wolfjaw daughter found an ash ring.” Again, Ashe let the weight of his words drop over the crowd like a hushed and eager blanket. Invoking the name of Wolfjaw was as though he was speaking of druid royalty. Orion Wolfjaw had attained a near deific status by communing so intimately with the natural world and more specifically, wolves, that he was blessed by Mahiya with the gift of “Kula’Myrthyn”. In the common tongue that meant “at one with”. “It was an ash ring that was wreathed with the impaled husks of what are believed to be Xanthakian Shadow Riders. As I said, change has arrived”.

Cailyder gently took Maragarn’s hand at the mention of the ash ring. While Maragarn had never so much as whispered that his Vallenbrush was taken by the defilement of the Archeans and their life eating magic, all of his mannerisms screamed of the tragedy. The typically jovial satyr was indeed shaken and Cailyder suspected that little would console him. She had to try.

“That is not the extent of the infection. It continues to grow. There is a fey friend of Threshold that wardens the Goldleaf Trees, a dryad named Whisper with whom I am very close.” Ashe’s tone became noticeably sullen and filled with worry. “She has become sick…as her trees have become sick. Whisper is a dryad and I need not tell you that her and her trees are one. She is the soul and essence of the trees and the trees are likewise to her. Her sickness was foisted upon her by twigjack nettles with a heart of defiling poison. They had attacked the Goldleaf Trees and fouled them with an ichor of The Void.” A sadness crept into Ashe as he realized how dearly he felt for ailing fairie. She had become more than his friend, she was his consort. She was his bastion of peace in his world of tragedy past- a past he tried to leave behind but never could. She had a way of making him forget the burden he often struggled with so he could just be a man with nature. He prayed Maccabeus would succeed.

“I sought Zebulon’s wisdom in this foul matter. The only way to save the grove and Whisper is to seek a seed that will spawn from a Vallenwood on the Day of Rejuvenation and plant it in the hallowed grove. Zebulon fears that the agents of Zyxu will also seek the seed to twist it to their nefarious ends…the devastation of which I dare not think on. Maccabeus, along with his stalwart friends, are in search of the seed and even now they rush to the Valley of Mist. Their task is not an easy one and the dangers are many even in the sacred Valley of Mist. I believe deep down in my roots that others we would call allies are in motion as we are in motion. We must be open to listening to Mahiya’s voice for the song rings from many…and from places we may not expect.” Ashe knew he was speaking though it seemed to him that he was not saying the words. His cadence came as a melody to all that heard him.

“Mahiya’s blood flows through us all and as such we are, all of us, connected. We are not connected simply to each other but to the very fabric of Mahiya. To the trees and the water they drink, to the mountains and the snow that caps them, to the flame and the air that it breathes are we connected. When you gaze into an animals eyes you are staring at yourself and all others. When The Void takes any of that, it does not return it to the Great Cycle but rather it feeds an endless, eternally hungry chasm. Many years ago Zebulon came forth and lead our kind to the defeat of Zyxu Archeon Champion of The Void. We are here now to answer that call once again!”

Ach, m' wee lad. Was Shankaria's only thought at Ashe's narration of the turns that Maccabeus's life had taken since he left her those months ago.

Near to sobbing, she toddled up to Ashe as he completed his narration and hugged his leg affectionately. Then she addressed the Gnarcheon assembled.

"It should come as no surprise to you that my heart throbs to near-bursting with these tidings. In part, because Zyxu Archeon is directing his agents again, but more because of the actions of our allies, and particularly of the actions of our own progeny: Maccabeus and Wolf."

Her eyes narrowed a bit as she spoke meaningfully words that most had heard before, but none had appreciated more than right then: "They'll have it Her way." Many voices in the Grove arose in a northwoods grunt of agreement.

"An' we'll do our part as well!" She called out, this met with a louder assent from the Grove. "To do otherwise is to let Zyxu Archeon - the Foul Bull - win this war, and if that happens, there'll be nuthin' left."

"Th' change is on us, an' on our Hammarahn allies. They are as much children of Mahiya as we are, and we need to engage them in this war!" The single voice of all present shook the Grove in agreement.

"Tonight, we celebrate, we live, we love, for tomorrow, we are at war!"

The great cry of all collected in the Grove drowned out Shankaria's voice, even augmented as it was by the Drone magic. All had heard. All understood. Even though some didn't like what was coming, including the interacting with others, all were aware of the alternative, which was nothing. Oblivion.

The festival had a few more hands to go until dawn. It was now time to celebrate, and with a simple, almost negligent wave of her sacred staff, the Drone magic was dismissed, though the raised voices of Gnarcheon and familiars continued for many heartbeats.

To war, then.


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