Rukshan went into the forest and looked carefully for a particular creature. It was almost nightfall and there should be some of them already out on the branches. The air was cooler in the evening, thanks also to the big trees protecting them from the scorching sun, and Rukshan couldn’t help but think that the climate was really going haywire. One day cold, one week hot and wet. And this bad omen feeling that everybody seemed to get recently. He knew it was time to go, and despite the comfort of Margoritt’s cottage, he was starting to feel restless.
He was making a lost of noise, stepping on every dry twigs he could find. A couple of rabbits and the crowd of their offsprings jumped away, a deer looked at him as if he was some vulgar neighbour and the birds flew away, disturbed during their evening serenades. But this was the kind of noise that would attract the telebats, small nocturnal animals that you could use for long distance communication.
He found one on an old oak tree. It seemed to be in resonance with his cracking twigs. Rukshan hurried and caught it before the spell of his steps would dissipate.
“Rukshan to Lhamom: Hope everything’s fine. Stop. Something happened. Stop. Need help organise trip to mountains. Over,” he whispered in the sensitive ears of the small animal. The telebat listened carefully and opened its little mouth, making sounds that no normal ears could hear. Maybe Fox could have, but he would have found it as annoying as the cracking twigs. Then Rukshan waited.
The answer wasn’t long to come. He knew it because the ears of the creature vibrated at high frequency. He listened into the creature’s left ear where he could hear the answer.
Rukshan responded with “Thanks. Stop. Hope everything well with Father. Stop. Have safe trip home. Over.”
He hung up the telebat on the branch where he found it, and gave it a moth that he had found on his way.
Rukshan frowned. He have never met Drummis. He wondered if he could trust him.
They heard a loud crash from the kitchen and rushed to see what was the poultry squawking about.
It was Olliver, who apparently still had problems managing the landing while using his teleporting egg.
The year that had passed had brought him a quiet assurance that the boy had lacked, even his stutter would not come as often, and his various travels using the golden egg had given him a wider outlook of what was in the world.
“Rukji!” He called —he still would use the deferential moniker for Rukshan.
“What is it Olliver? Calm down, can’t you see everybody is all tense?” the Fae answered.
“Something has changed, Rukji. A great opening in the mountain. I was staying in a village I have seen a great blue light in the distance while there, across the sand and rocks desert, beyond the shifting dunes. Something that reminded me of what Gorrash told about his memories from his master. We should go explore.”
“I’ll contact Lhamom, she may have heard stories and can help us get there until you get the hang of a group teleport.”FloveParticipant
“Oh, don’t be such a worry-wort, Rukshan,” said Glynis sharply and with an almost imperceptible roll of her eyes. “It’s just the heat. It makes things seem … you know …. “ Her voice trailed off and she shrugged, following Rukshan’s gaze.
The truth was, though she were unwilling to admit it, she also felt a slight anxiety. But without knowing the origin of the unease, Glynis felt helpless to confront whatever evil was lurking.
“I’ll go and make some more herb cooler,” she said quietly.
It was no shadow day. The sun was right above head, shining its blinding light right through you. Everybody at the cottage was feeling the heat and trying as much as they could to cool themselves down.
Only Hasamelis didn’t seem to mind. Being a God even a fallen One had its perks. Eleri was glaring at him annoyed while she was profusely sweating. There was always a tense flirtatious hatred, or rather a murderous love between those two, and it kept pulling them together, in a paradoxical way.
Everyone were glad for the herb cooler that Glynis would decant for them.
Rukshan was looking longingly at the horizon, maybe (he wouldn’t admit) thinking about the Queen, or for some better place to be…
But since their fire ceremonial, he could feel releasing the Shards through the burning of the book had awoken something, and danger from an unknown place seemed to be lurking beyond the mountains.
The Doors to the God Realm had opened again, and he wasn’t all sure it was a good thing.
It had taken Rukshan close to a year to clear the fog.
He had to admit, he’d dreaded more than was necessary. Faes where a bit thick headed and stubborn when it came to honoring vows and sacred words. There had been lessons to unravel for a lifetime in that year span they’d spent on the holy grounds.
Even the angry God had come around, and he wasn’t the threat Rukshan had thought he would be. Only another lonely soul, longing for companionship.
Yesterday, Rukshan had finished the book of Kumihimo. Propitiatory work, but he was beginning to see the benefits. He had finished collecting all the pages of the vanishing book, by burying himself in work for the commune, and on the few moments of silence left to himself, reaching towards the source of knowledge and gathering the elements once thought forever lost. Clearing of his Mind Palace.
Now he had to let it go. The Book was complete, and needed to be offered on the pyre.
Only then the Shards would be rightfully returned, rejoined and ready to spell the next evolution of their journey.
The pyre was neatly prepared. Gathering of fragrant herbs of the woods was a specialty of the Potion maker, the gorgeous assemblage of the beams had created a sriyantra-like pattern that seemed like it could easily open a portal to the Gods’ realm.
All of them had gathered around at the full moon. Gorrash had just awoken, and the feast was joyous and full of sparkling expectations.
Each of them took a thread to light the flames, and once the Book was put on the pyre with great reverence, all of them, one by one lighted one of the corners.
They all felt a great weight lifting from their chest, the weight of the sins of their past lives vanishing in the light, and a great joy pouring in from the dancing flames at the centre.
All was well and fresh on this night, and there was great content, and anticipation for what tomorrow would bring.
Margoritt’s left knee was painful that day. Last time it hurt so much was twenty years ago, during that notorious drought when a fire started and almost burnt the whole forest down. Only a powerful spell from the Fae people could stop it. But today they sky was clear, and the forest was enjoying a high degree of humidity from the last magic rain. Margoritt, who was not such a young lady anymore dismissed the pain as a sign of old age.
You have to accept yourself as you are at some point, she sighed.
The guests were still there, and everyone was participating to the life of the community. Eleri, who had been sick had been taken care of in turn by Fox and Glynnis, while Rukshan had reorganised the functioning of the farm. They now had a second cow and produced enough milk to make cakes and butter that they sold to the neighbouring Faes, and they had a small herd of Rainbow Lamas that produced the softest already colourful wool, among other things. Gorrash, awoken at night, had formed an alliance with the owls that helped them to keep the area clear of mice and rats and was also in charge of the weekly night fireworks.
The strange colourful eggs had hatched recently giving birth to strange little creatures that were not yet sure of which shape to adopt. They sometimes looked like cuddly kittens, sometimes like cute puppies, or mischievous monkeys. They always took the form of a creature with a tail, except when they were frightened and turned into a puddle. It had been hard for Margoritt who mistook them for dog pee, but Fox had been very helpful with his keen sense of smell and washing away the poor creatures had been avoided. Nobody had any idea if they could survive once diluted in water.
The day was going great, Margoritt sat on her rocking chair enjoying a fresh nettle lassi on the terrace while doing some embroidery work on Eleri’s blouse. Her working kit was on a small stool in front of her. Working with her hands helped her forget about her knee and also made her feel useful in this youthful community where everybody wanted to help her. She was rather proud of her last design representing a young girl and a god statue holding hands together. She didn’t think of herself as a matchmaker, but sometimes you just had to give a little push when fate didn’t want to do its job.
Micawber Minn arrived, his face as long as the Lamazon river. He had the latest newspaper with him and put it on Margoritt’s lap. Surprise and a sudden sharp and burning pain in her knee made her left leg jerk forward, strewing all her needles onto the floor. Margoritt, upset, looked at the puddle of lassi sluggishly starting to covering them up.
“What…” she began.
“Read the damn paper,” said Minn.
She did. The front page mentioned the reelection of Leroway as Lord Mayor, despite his poor results in developing the region.
“Well, that’s not surprising,” Margoritt said with a shrug, starting to feel angry at Minn for frightening her.
“Read further,” said Minn suddenly looking cynical.
Margoritt continued and gasped. Her face turned blank.
“That’s not possible. We need to tell the other,” she said. “We can not let Leroway build his road through the forest.”
The memories of the strange vision had faded away. Only the feeling of awe was lingering in his heart.
Fox was walking in the forest near Margoritt’s cottage. The smell of humid soil was everywhere. Despite it being mostly decomposing leaves and insects, Fox found it quite pleasant. It carried within it childhood memories of running outside after the rain whild Master Gibbon was trying to teach him cleanliness. It had been a game for many years to roll into the mud and play with the malleable forest ground to make shapes of foxes and other animals to make a public to Gibbon’s teachings.
Fox had been walking around listening to the sucking sound made by his steps to help him focus back on reality. He was trying to catch sunlight patches with his bare feet, the sensations were cold and exquisite. The noise of the heavy rain had been replaced by the random dripping of the drops falling from the canopy as the trees were letting go of the excess of water they received.
It was not long before he found Gorrash. The dwarf was back in his statue state, he was face down, deep in the mud. Fox crouched down and gripped his friend where he could. He tried to release him from the ground but the mud was stronger, sucking, full of water.
“You can leave him there and wait the soil to dry. You can’t fight with water”, said Margorrit. “And I think that when it’s dry, we’ll have a nice half-mold to make a copy of your friend.”
Fox laughed. “You have so many strange ideas”, he told the old woman.
“Well, it has been my strength and my weakness, I have two hands and a strong mind, and they have always functioned together. I only think properly when I use my hands. And my thoughts always lead me to make use of my hands.”
“Breakfast’s ready”, she said. “I’ve made some honey cookies with what was left of the the flour. And Glynis has prepared some interesting juices. I like her, she has a gift with colours.”
They left the dwarf to dry in the sun and walked back to the house where the others had already put everything on the table. Fox looked at everyone for a moment, maybe to take in that moment of grace and unlikely reunion of so many different people. He stopped at Rukshan who had a look of concern on his face. Then he started when Eleri talked right behind him. He hadn’t hear her come.
“I think I lost him”, she said. “What’s for breakfast? I’m always starving after shrooms.”
The rain had poured again and again, across the night, with short fits of howling winds. There had been no sign of Eleri or Gorrash, and people in the cabin had waited for the first ray of light to venture outside to find them.
The newcomer, the quiet potion maker, stayed in her small quarters and hadn’t really mingled, but Margoritt wasn’t concerned about it. She was actually quite protective of her, and had continued her own chatter all through the night, doing small chores or being busy at her small loom, stopping at times in the middle of painful walking. She would however not cease speaking to whomever was listening at the time, or to her goat, or at times just to the wind or herself.
Rukshan had had several dreams during the night, and could tell he wasn’t the only one. Everyone had a tired look. Images came and went, but there was a sense of work to be done.
There were a few things he had managed to gather during that time awake when meditative state brought some clarity to the confused images.
First, they were all in this together.
Then, they probably needed a plan to repair the old.
As soon as they would find the two missing ones, he would share it with everyone.
Rukshan looked at the clearing just outside the cabin, at first not realising two things had happened. Then they both dawned on him: the first ray of light had come across the cloudy sky, and second, the clearing was empty of the vengeful God.
“Grumpf” he swore in the old Elvish tongue “that rascal is surely going after Eleri — Eleri who he now knew was the laughing crone of the story, rendered younger by the powers of her goddaughter, the tricked girl. Eleri, who having inherited of the transmutation powers, had turned the angry God who had been left behind into stone to protect all of them.
If the God would find her before they could get her to extract her Shard, at best they would be condemned to another cycle of rebirth, or worse, he would try to kill all of them to extract the other Shards from the others, one by one, until the Gods old powers would be his…
Rukshan had stayed awake for the most part of the night, slowly and repeatedly counting the seconds between the blazing strokes of lightning and the growling bouts of thunder.
It is slowly moving away.
The howling winds had stopped first, leaving the showers of rain fall in continuous streams against the dripping roof and wet walls.
An hour later maybe, his ear had turned to the sound of the newly arrived at the cottage, thinking it would be maybe the dwarf and Eleri coming back, but it was a different voice, very quiet, somehow familiar… the potion-maker?
He had warned Margoritt that a lady clad in head-to-toe shawls would likely come to them. Margoritt had understood that some magical weaving was at play. The old lady didn’t have siddhis or yogic powers, but she had a raw potential, very soundly rooted in her long practice of weaving, and learning the trades and tales of the weaving nomad folks. She had understood. Better, she’d known — from the moment I saw you and that little guy, she’d said, pointing at Tak curled under the bed.
“He’s amazing,” she’d said “wise beyond his age. But his mental state is not very strong.”
There was more than met the eye about Tak, Rukshan started to realize.
For now, the cottage had fell quiet. Dawn was near, and there was a brimming sense of peace and new beginning that came with the short silence before the birds started again their joyous chatter.
It must have been then that he collapsed on the table of exhaustion and started to dream.
It was long before.
The dragon is large and its presence awe-inspiring. They have just shared the shards, each has taken one of the seven. Even the girl, although she still hates to be among us.
The stench of the ring of fire is still in their nostrils. The Gods have deserted, and left as soon as the Portal closed itself. It is a mess.
He raises his head, looking at the dragon above him. She is quite splendid, her scales a shining pearl blue on slate black, reflecting the moonshine in eerie patterns, and her plastron quietly shiny, almost softly fiery. His newly imbued power let him know intimately many things, at once. It is dizzying.
“You talk of the Gods, don’t you?” he says, already knowing the answer.
“Of course, I am. Good riddance. They had failed us so many times, forgot their duties, driven me and my kind to slavery. Now I am free. Free of guilt, and free of sorrow. Free to be myself, as I was meant to be.”
“It is a bit more complex th…”
“No it isn’t. It couldn’t be more simple. If you had the strength to see it, you would understand.”
“I know what you mean, but I am not sure I understand.”
The dragon smiles enigmatically. She turns to the lonely weeping girl, who is there with the old woman. Except her grand-mother is no longer an old crone, she has changed her shape to that of a younger person. She is showing potentials to the girl, almost drunk on the power, but it doesn’t alleviate her pain.
“What are you going to do about them?”
The Dragon seems above the concerns for herself. In a sense, she is right. It was all his instigation. He bears responsibility.
“I don’t know…” It is a strange thing to say, when you can know anything. He knows there are no good outcomes of this situation. Not with the power she now possesses.
“You better find out quick…” and wake up,
wake up, WAKE UP !
“Oh no!” Margoritt swore loudly, “not that cursed rain again!”.
They were about to share what was left of the cake for dessert when the first booming strike of thunder resounded violently across the mountains.
She cupped her hands in front of her mouth to rally the troops over the noisy rumble of the heavy dark clouds. “Inside! Everyone inside!” — when the rains started in spring, they could go on for days, drenching the countryside in curtains of water.
The first drops falling, quickly extinguishing the candles, Rukshan raised his head to look at the darker skies covering completely the moon’s glow “This is no ordinary rain…”
“You bet, it isn’t!” Margoritt said, looking more sombre than she ever was. “That magical umbrella won’t be enough this time, we are probably going to have to sit that one out inside. Help me bring the animals inside.”
In front of the small cottage, everyone else started to hurry inside, bringing back the plates, cups and leftovers, while Rukshan was preparing some wood for the fire to keep the moist away.
“Has anybody seen Eleri?” Yorath’s look was concerned. “She seem to have disappeared somewhere as usual… But she hasn’t come back yet,… and I’m afraid she took a large bite of the trancing cake too. It’s not a good night to trance out.”
Rukshan was torn between waiting a bit longer, or going to search for her, which would be risking lives during the dark stormy night. He was about to offer to go outside himself when Gorrash said briskly:
“Let me go find her, this storm is nothing, and I’m used to the dark. You all should stay inside. If I don’t come back at the break of dawn, you can go out to look for us, but don’t worry too much about me, I’ll blend in.” He winked at Fox who smiled weakly. He didn’t like this type of cold rain. Its smell was damp and rotten.
It was a good and cheerful assembly, and Lahmom the traveller of the high plateaus, with her adorned cowboy hat always proudly put on her golden locks of hair, was telling them of the shamanic practices of the people of those far-away places she had seen in her voyages.
It was all fascinating to hear, she had such a love for the people that she beamed though her sparkly eyes when she was telling them the tales of those shamans, and how they would drum in circles and be able to communicate with their group spirit…
“We should do that sometimes” a surprisingly talkative Gorrash said, as he munched his way though a large ear of maize. He seemed almost drunk on the fermented goat milk that he had found pleasantly attracted to.
“Oh, I’m sure we can find some old skin somewhere around my stuff” Margoritt said, amused at the idea of the challenge.
Lahmom winked at Tak who was hiding behind his plate, but not missing any word of the lively exchanges.
Before he closed it to prepare for the dinner, the page of the book had said “She is coming, heralded by Sunshine, and thus will the Gathering start”. Rukshan could be quite literal and thought that she wouldn’t come today, since the sun was about to set.
He wasn’t sure how the words had found their way into the book, and if the She was who he thought She was. In short, he was getting confused.
Back there, the Hermit’s message had been so clear, so urgently present.
Find who you were, find what you stole, and give it back. Then the threads will unravel and the knot of all the curses will be undone.
And yet, he started to doubt his path.
The high-pitched cry of “Circle of Eights” pierced through the fog of his mind, and Rukshan realised suddenly that… that was it. Why else, all these people would be around this place at this auspicious moment?
The trees’ messages had been shown right. He was the Faying Fae. The Sage Sorceress was probably still on her path, but the Teafing Tinkeress hunted by a god, the Gifted Gnome, on his way to become his own maker under the protection of a Renard Renunciate looking for lost souls… They were there. Five in total; with himself (Rukshan) — the potion-maker, Eleri, Gorrash, Fox, these were the rest of the names, and they made the five first strands. Who were the last two? Olliver, Tak?
Olliver would surely have rounded everyone around for the dinner by now.
Rukshan placed the book back into the bag. He would explain to everyone then, read the old tale of the seven thieves and their curses, and maybe they could all formulate a plan for remembrance.
Yes, remembrance was the first step. How to know what to do if you didn’t know who they were, what they stole…
He wasn’t too sure what to do with the God in torpor yet. He seemed less of a danger in his current state. That a God had been left behind, stuck in stone for so long, and right under their nose was mind-boggling. Another mystery to be revealed.
Surprisingly —and luckily— Olli had explained, Hasamelis seemed to believe that the young boy was a genius wizard, so he would maybe listen to Olli.
The second ‘Circle of Eights!’ seemed closer this time.
In the kitchen, Fox beheaded the chicken in a swift move. He tried not to be horrified when the creature’s body kept on running around, headless like a peaslander. He felt vaguely aware that’s what he’d been doing all that time. Running around without a very clear idea about what he was doing.
“Don’t let it run around bloody n’all!” said Margoritt, “Who do you think is going to clean that mess?” The old woman, huff and puff, limped rhythmically after their dinner. Someone had heard her scream and came into the kitchen. It was that tall Fae guy, Rukshan, who looked so successful and handsome. Fox felt depressed. The Fae had caught the dead body, which had eventually stopped moving, and put it in the basket Margoritt had taken on the table.
“Thanks my dear,” she said with a giggle. “Would you be so kind as to pluck it for me?” She then looked at Fox. “Sorry, lad, but with a name like yours I’m not sure I can trust you on this one.” The old lady winked.
Fox couldn’t be annoyed at Margoritt, he wouldn’t trust himself with a chicken, dead or alive. And the old lady had saved him from the blizzard and from that strange curse. He attempted a smile but all he could do was a grimace. Margoritt looked at him as if noticing something.
“And send me that Eleri girl, I’d like to have a word with her while she clean the blood on the tiling.”
Outside it was noisier. Fox found the woman arguing with her male friends, one of whom looked like a statue with big wings. She seemed relieved to have a reason to get away from the crowd and her own problems and left with a smile. He wondered how she could stay happy while being surrounded by conflict. Maybe she liked it. Fox shrugged again.
He walked to the small courtyard, sat on a log and watched the handsome Fae removing the feathers. Rukshan’s hands looked clean, the blood was not sticking on his fair skin and the chicken feathers were piling neatly on a small heap at his feet.
“Aren’t Faes supposed to be vegetarian,” he said. He cringed inwardly at his own words. What a stupid way of engaging a conversation.
Without stopping, Rukshan answered: “I think you think too much. It’s not doing you much good, and it deepens the shadow under your eyes. Not that it doesn’t suit you well.” The Fae winked. Fox wasn’t sure of how to take it. He stayed silent. He saw the bag the Fae was always carrying with him and wondered what was inside.
“I need help to complete it and better understand the characters. Would you like to help me?”
Fox wasn’t sure what made him answer yes. Did it matter if it was for the welcomed distraction from his dark thoughts, or if it was for the promise of more time spent with the Fae?
In the past twenty days since he got out of the forest, backtracking on his steps, Rukshan didn’t have much luck finding or locating either of the six others strands.
At first, he thought his best hint was the connection with the potion-maker, but it seemed difficult to find her if she didn’t want to be found.
So, for lack of a better plan, he had come back to Margoritt’s shack and was quite pleased at the idea of meeting the old lady and Tak again.
Her cottage had been most busy with guests, and in the spring time, it was a stark contrast with the last time he was there, to see all the motley assemblage she had gathered around her.
First, there was Margoritt of course, Emma the goat, then Tak, who was a very convincing little boy these days, and looked happy at all the people visiting. Then, there was Lahmom, the mountain explorer, who had come down from her trek and enjoyed a glass of goat milk tea with roast barley nuggets.
Then there were a couple of strange guests, a redhair man with a nose for things, and his pet statue, a gnome with a temper, he said. Margoritt had offered them shelter during the last of the blizzard.
With so many unexpected guests, Margoritt quickly found her meager provisions dwindling, and told Rukshan she was about to decide for an early return to the city, since the next cargo of her benefactor Mr Minn would take too long to arrive.
That was the day before she arrived to the cottage with her companion: Eleri and Yorath, had arrived surprisingly just in time with a small carriage of provisions. “How great that mushrooms don’t weigh anything, we have so many to share!” Eleri was happy at the sight of the cottage and its guests, and started to look around at all the nooks and crannies for secret treasures to assemble and unknown shrooms.
While Yorath explained to Margoritt how Mr Minn had send him ahead with food, Margoritt was delighted and amazed at such prescience.
Rukshan, for his part, was amazed at something else. There seemed to be something at play, to join together people of such variety in this instant. Maybe the solution he was looking for was just in front of his nose.
He would have to look carefully at which of them could be an unknown holder of the shards of the Gem.
He was consigning his thoughts on a random blank page of his vanishing book, not to store the knowledge, but rather to engage on a inner dialogue, and seek illumination, when some commotion happened outside the cottage.
That can’t be another coincidence Rukshan thought, recognizing the two new guests: the reanimated god statue of the tower, and Olliver, the boy who, he deduced, had managed to wake up the old teleporting device.
After days and days, there was no signs of the others.
Rukshan had hoped they would manifest as easily as the Hermit had, without much effort on his part.
But they had remained silent, and even the ghosts seemed to have subsided in another dimension. He couldn’t feel them any longer. It was as though his realisation had made them disappear, or change course for a while.
He hadn’t come any closer to the inner ring of trees though, and he’d come to the conclusion that there was surely some piece missing. He was reminded of the map that the cluster of seven had found at the beginning of the story, so they could reach the magic Gem inside the Gods’ Heartswood. There was no telling if such a map existed or if it did, what form it had —after all, the story seemed to be a little too simplified.
He was trying to figure out which was his character, and which of the curse he had inherited. The curse was rather easy he’d thought… Knowledge. It had always been his motivation, and the encounter with the Queen and the taking of the potion had keenly reminded him that for all his accumulated knowledge, he was missing the biggest part. The knowledge of himself, and who he really was. It was constantly eluding him, and he was starting to doubt even his own memories at times.
For the past few days, having finished the last morsel of fay bread in his bag, he was subsisting on roots, mushrooms and fresh rainwater cupped in leaves and last bits of snow in treeholes. It was time to get moving, as the weather had started to change. The snow was receding too.
Even if his quest wasn’t as sure as before, he knew he had to find a way to reach these six others, and try to figure out what they could do, or undo.
He had a strong suspicion that the potion maker was linked to this story. Her potion had activated something deep in him, and it seemed to share the same source of power.
With that resolution in mind, he took the path retracing his steps back to the cottage and the outside world.
The remembrance had made the magic book reappear in Rukshan’s bag, and with it, its leaves ripe with vibrant parts of the long ago story. Rukshan started to read, immediately engrossed by the story it told.
When the Heartswood was young, many thousands of years ago, during the Blissful Summer Age
— The Dark FAE
— The Mapster DWARF
— The Glade TROLL
— The Trickster DRYAD
— The Tricked GIRL
— The Laughing CRONE
— The Toothless DRAGON
ACT 1, SCENE 1 – THE PREPARATION
NARRATOR: It all started as an idea, small and unnoticeable, at first. Almost too frail to endure. But it soon found a fertile soil in the mind of seven improbable acolytes. It took roots and got nourishment from greed, envy, despair, sorrow, despondence, rebellion and other traits. And it grew. That growing idea bound them together, and in search of the way to obtain what it wanted, got them to work together to do an unthinkable thing. Rob the Heartswood of its treasure, the Crest Jewel of the Gods, the radiant Gem that was at its centre. It would be the end of their sorrow, the end of the Gods unfair power of all creation… The idea obscured all others, driving them to act.
FAE: Did you get the map?
DWARF: Of course, what do you think, I am no amateur. What do you bring to the table?
FAE: I bring the way out. But first things first, the map will get us there, but we still need a way in. What says your TROLL friend?
DWARF: He heard rumours, there is a DRYAD. Her tree is dying, she tried to petition the Gods, but to no avail. She will help.
FAE: Can your friend guarantee it?
DWARF: You have damn little trust. You will see, when she brings in the GIRL. She is the key to open the woods. Only an innocent heart can do it, so the DRYAD will trick her.
FAE: How? I want to know everything, I don’t like surprises. An unknowing acolyte is a threat to our little heist. What’s her story?
DWARF: I don’t know much. Something about a broken heart, a dead one, her lover maybe. The DRYAD told the GIRL she could bring her loved one back from the dead, in the holy woods.
FAE: I can work with that. So we are good then?
DWARF: You haven’t told me about your exit plan. What is it?
FAE: I can’t tell you, not now. We need the effect of surprise. Now go get the others, we will reconvene at the woods’ entrance, tomorrow night, at the darkest moon of the darkest day.
SCENE 2 – THE CURIOUS GODMOTHER
GIRL: Godmother, I need to go, you are not to worry.
CRONE (cackling): Let me come with you, the woods are not safe at this time of the year. The Stranger is surely out there to get you.
GIRL: No, no, Godmother, please stay, you cannot help me, you need to rest.
Rukshan looked at some of the blank pages, there were still missing patches
ACT 2 – SCENE 3 – THE HEIST
In the heart of the Heartswoods
TROLL: Let me break that crystal, so we can share it!
GIRL (reaching for it to protect it): No! I need it whole!
DRYAD (in suave tone): Let it go! I will protect it and give you what you want…
GIRL: Your promises are worthless! You lied to me!
CRONE: (cackles) Told you!
DWARF: Give it to me!
FAE (quieting everyone): Let’s be calm, friends. Everyone can get what they want.
GIRL (startled): Eek! A Guardian DRAGON! We are doomed!
FAE (reaching too late for the crystal): Oh no, it had broken in seven pieces. I will put them in this bag, each of us will get one piece after we leave. (to the DRAGON) Lead the way out of this burning circle!
DWARF (understanding): Oh, that was your exit strategy…
FAE (rolling eyes): Obvious-ly.
That was all that the book had to show at the time. Rukshan thought the writer got a little lazier with the writing as the story went, but it was good enough to understand more or less what had happened.
There was one last thing that was shown in the book.
WHAT THEY STOLE
— Shard of Infinite Knowledge
— Shard of Transmutation and Shapeshifting
— Shard of Ubiquity and Teleportation
— Shard of Infinite Influence and Telepathy
— Shard of Infinite Life and Death
— Shard of Grace and Miracles
— Shard of Infinite Strength
Looking at what was left in his bag, it made Rukshan realise he was walking in the Dragon Heartswood for longer than he thought.
It was a maze with layers of concentric circles of tree, and seemed far bigger and vast once you were inside that it should have been.
He had been presumptuous to venture in it, without any guidance or map, knowing very well that most of those who had entered it, never came out. There was a magical distress beacon that was in the bag, but he guessed it would only help him retrace his steps back to where he entered. He didn’t want to use it. He could still feel the glowing confidence infused in his heart by the potion, and now, it was as though it was telling him to do nothing, and just not worry. So he chose one of the trees, to just sit under, and meditate for a while.
There was a bird, high in the small patch of sky that the treetops didn’t cover. Or at least, it looked like a bird. I had been there for a moment, as if watching him.
“Don’t you like birds?” the voice said “They are my favourite creatures, so smart and graceful. Ah, and the joy of the flight!”
He wouldn’t open his eyes, not sure the feminine voice was in his head or not. She was one and the same with the large bird hovering —it was one of her projections, but she was human.
“You know who I am, Rukshan, you have been searching for me.”
“You are the Hermit, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and here I am, saving you a long trip to the mountains.” There was a smile in her voice.
He didn’t know what to say, but feared to open his eyes, and risk the spell to vanish.
“You can open them, your eyes. They are deceivers anyway, they are not the senses that matter.”
She was there, in front of him, looking ageless. There was no telling if she was a projection or real.
She had put something in front of him. A sort of flat braid, not very long, and made with different threads of diverse nature and impractical use, yet artfully arranged, revealing clever and shifting patterns.
“It is for you Rukshan, to help you remember. I have worked on it for the past days, and it is now ready for you.”
He looked at the patterns, they were clear and simple, yet they changed and seemed to elude understanding. The braid was only loosely attached at the end, and threatened to unravel as soon as moved.
“These are your lives, intertwined. You and six others. You don’t know them, in this life —however long yours has been. But you are connected, and you have know each other before, and you have intertwined before. Some of these past stories can be read in the patterns, and some are tragic, and they all bear fruits in this life and the next. It is no mystery why you have been attracted to the Heartswood, because it is where the Sundering started, and where you and the others have left things unresolved. If you don’t look deep now, and take steps to correct course, you will go from this life to the next and repeat your torments and endless search.”
“Yes, you are starting to remember… That day, when you and the others tried to rob the Gods of the flame of creation. They cursed you, even their pet Dragon who was supposed to guard their treasure and sided with you against them.”
She showed him the ring of charred trees that marked that particular period in the middle of all the rings for each ages of growth of the Heartswood.
“The Sundering” he spoke softly, reminded of fables in the legends of the Fae. That was the ancient age, when most of the Gods had disappeared, some said, gone through the doorway that was at the very heart of the Heartswood, the very source of life and death, and creation. There had been new Gods after that. They also possessed great powers, but none with the aura of the Old Ones —no Old God would have been trapped in stone by a mere witch’s enchantment.
Rukshan turned to the Hermit with deep pondering. “What can we do?”
She was starting to fade away, turning again into a bird. “Each of you has a special power, that you stole in that past life, and with each new life, you carry it with you, and with it, its curse. Find who you were, find what you stole, and give it back. Then the threads will unravel and the knot of all the curses will be undone.”
He took the road again not much later after a light breakfast.
The potion hadn’t seemed to bring about immediate noticeable changes. It told Rukshan something about its maker, who was versed enough in potions to create gradual (and likely durable) effects. Every experienced potion maker knew that the most potent potions were the ones that took time, and worked with the drinker’s inner magic instead of against its own nature. The flashy potions that made drastic changes in nature were either destructive, or fleeting as a bograt’s fart in the spring breeze.
If anything, it did give him a welcome warmth in the chest, and a lightness on his back and shoulders.
The Faes had been generous with him, and he had food enough for a few days. Generous may not have been the right word… eager to see him scamper away was more likely.
Enhanced by the potion’s warmth, the Queen’s words were starting to shake some remembrance back to him, melting away a deep crust of memories he had forgotten somehow, pushing against the snow like promises of crocuses in spring. The core of the Dragon Heartswood was very close now, a most sacrosanct place.
Faes were only living at the fringe, where life and magic flew, running like the sap of an old tree, close to the bark.
Inside was darker, harder to get to. Some said it was where life and death met, the birthplace of the Old Gods and of their Dragons guardians before the Sundering.
His initial plan was to go around it, safe in Fae territory, but after the past days, and the relentless menace of the hungry ghosts on his trail, he had to take risks, and draw them away from his kin.
The warmth in his heart was getting warmer, and he felt encouraged to move forth in his plan. He gave a last look at the mountain range in the distance before stepping into the black and white thickets of austere trees.
For the last day, he’d gone to the shrines, pay his respects to his ancestors.
They had long joined with the trees, for most, still living in their roots, and while the trees that they prayed to were young in comparison to the ones in the Heartwood, they were all connected.
Here, it was harder to ignore their messages. Their voices had the gravity of silence, bearing the weight of ageless wisdom. Among them, Rukshan felt at home.
The cold was sharper than the day before, and the east wind brought with it smells of industry and worry, and that of the dragon’s bad tooth. He felt there was a past were such things disturbed him; for now, he was at peace.
Back to the campement, he retreated in his small lodge with the thin paper walls, and the warm mountain salt crystal lights.
There, in front of him, was the little he possessed, and the provisions needed for the climb to the mountain.
He’d found a page from the vanishing book reappear from time to time in his bag. Everytime it carried different words, and would vanish again. Its magic didn’t come from the trees, but their messages intertwined. The page carried bits and pieces of news about the Sage Sorceress, who had started to move on her healing path, the Teafing Tinkeress who was hunted by a swift menace of godlike powers, and also a Gifted Gnome, on his way to become his own maker under the protection of a Renard Renunciate looking for lost souls.
He couldn’t figure out the stories yet, but he was glad for the piece of paper. He was helpless at distant viewing in general, so it did save him additional worry about sorting through his impressions and getting them right. Like after the Court audience, when he couldn’t feel Margoritt’s presence, and worried she and Tak were in trouble. The resident Seer at the campement had peered through his glubolin and confirmed that they were both fine. He did also confirm that she’d fainted, and was recovering. Rukshan had wanted to go back, abandon the trip to the Hermit, but reasoned that Margoritt was fine for now, and that she was a proud woman. He would have to trust she and Tak would be alright.
“Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.” the words said in passing were etched in his memory, and the potion was still here. Its color seemed to reflect his mood at times. After the morning praying, it was almost glowing gold. Now, it was a pale purple. He had felt no pull to use it. At first, there was strong resistance about it, but now, there was a mildly curious acceptance of the gift. Like the vanishing paper, whether it appeared or disappeared was of no consequence for now.
The paper wall shivered. His meditative state was easily distracted by the sounds around, even after nightfall when everything went quiet.
“Quiet suits you well.” The visitor was near him, wearing thin wool despite the cold.
“My Queen?” he was surprised.
“You still don’t remember who you are, do you?” the Queen leaned forward. He felt a strange attraction, and their lips touched. The kiss was warm and filled him with longing. They fell into each other’s arms.
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