THE STORM SAGA V 2.1 aka much better version Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. Anonymous What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson PROLOGUE Two days ago The tree tops of the great green forest made no movement other than the wind, just as it should be. An observer would never guess that a there any movement in the forest, calming as it was for the long cold sleep of winter. No they would never guess that there was a creature moving at tremendous speed, leaping, dodging, swaying through the top branches faster that the swallows flight, nay disturbing a single twig, the only sign of his passing was the wake of air as he passed through. Faster even the quickest of his kinfolk, the rasarine, or wood elf, in the common tongue. He was named for this speed, even in his forgotten younger days he ran instead of walked, so Runner he was called. Reaching a break in the trees, pausing not for even a moment, he jumped the span, easily ten times his four foot height, six inch ears swiveling back tight against his head against the cold. Rolling with the bowing branch as not to break it he came to the trunk, darting a quick glance up it, he began to climb up, and up, for this was a great leviathan of the forest, a tree only found in the great deep places of the world, had it been in a normal forest it would have stood twice as tall as the tallest oak. Yet this was a sapling compared to the trees in the deep forest or the great oak, Ki’mura. Reaching the top he paused, there in the lightning split trunk was his camp, easily fitting in the small hollow, so huge were these trees there was enough room for even a couple of humans to lay down comfortably. Taking a longing look around he began to gather his meager things: a hand made knife, a length of tanned hide, several leather thongs, a few bits of dried venison and most importantly, his bow and four small throwing axes, held in a belt sling, which he fastened around his waist. He rolled the remainder into a deer hide that he’d been using as a bedroll, tying one of the leather thongs to the ends he slung the bundle over his shoulder and synched it tight to his back so it would not swing as he ran. The bow though, he held, inspecting its length once again, smiling he then slung that over his shoulder. Looking around one last time, and seeing no sign of his stay, he spoke for the first time in a month, “Lallareith mei sillion. Na’rull, et du corraln.” Or in the common tongue, [Farewell my friend. Thank-you for the protection.] Jumping up the side of the open top of the trunk he stood there, at the top of the forest, and breathed the cool fall air. Opening his eyes he looked to the north; home and warmth and friends awaited him there. Still smiling he started his journey. Four days ago Runner smiled to himself it had taken him two days to get here but he had arrived, cold, tired, hungry, and wet he was but this was his time, his day Today would shape the rest of his life. Life that was finally going well. A bow he now had, shaped by his own hand, but he did not bring it here, to the deep forest, in fact, he had brung nothing with him, indeed, he wore only a bu’cjan, in the traditional way, over a pair of tight shorts, open across the front, and held by a wide belt. The deep forest, he thought. He was not one to waste time, so he began his labor. First, he gathered stones, and clearing a circle from the leaves spread over the forest floor, he set them around the edge. Finding and collecting the proper branches, one from each tree in the area, stopping only to say a quick thanks to the spirits of each tree, he set the wood in the stone circle. Now was the hard part. Leaving his cleared circle he want deeper into the wood and searched. It took several hours to find it, but there, nestled in the cleft between two of the boulders that were strewn about the whole wood, was a scroll vine. He knelt in front of it and placed a hand on the base, giving a firm tug, it came free. He then began the long tedious process of removing the vine from its surroundings. It looked to an easy task but the rubbery tendrils were far more frail then they seemed. And every few inches there was a sticky pad that clung to whatever surface it touched. The process took several more hours but in the end he had the whole thing wrapped around his left arm, from his hand to his shoulder, even wrapped several times around his chest. Then with this sticky armor in place he went further into the forest. Here the sun was dim, filtered by the layers of branches reaching out from trees so wide one could not see around them. And here, growing under the drooping arms of a great pine he found what he sought, the iouxus plant. It was the leaves he wanted, he took two, being careful not to disturb the rest of the plant. He stuck the two leaves to a small bit of the scroll vine and made his way back to the circle. Kneeling in front of the circle he found two stones of the appropriate type and using dried leaves as tinder began to strike them together. In a few minutes he had a fire slowly spreading across the wood in the circle. After waiting until the flames were steady he made himself comfortable at its edge then pulling off the iouxus leaves with a bit of scroll vine still attached, holding this with one hand he found another rock, this one about size of his hand with a flat side, he set the rock near the flames, flat side up, he took a smallish branch and drug some embers out from the fire, piling them around the stone, being careful not to let flame touch it. He sat like that for a few minutes, staring into the smoldering embers as the sun set behind him, deepening the shadows of this already shadowed land. When the sun was trying vain to cast a few more rays of light over the land he held out his hand, still holding the vine/leaf mixture, and dropped it on the flat surface of the now hot stone. It began to smolder almost instantly, sending up thick clouds of billowing smoke, which he leaned into, breathing deeply. He was falling, no, he was flying. He saw the whole of Raydawn forest below, the great oak, Ki’mura, in the middle of Silverfall village; to the east, the guardian mountains; the west, Hasmuta plateau, the Silver Falls themselves cascading down the side flowing into the Silver river that bisected the forest. But the image was fleeting, and it retreated under him, falling away, now he saw the world, its vastness surprised him, there were to many things, too many places to count or recognize. Here he floated, until he could feel that his body was not his, looking down he saw that he was a whirl-wind, a vortex of wind and dust. Now looking back at the lands spread below him, he saw other winds, other storms. Out over the great endless ocean twin typhoons moved with cautious haste, the water swelling and moving beneath them. On the land, a tornado, wide and powerful, moving slowly, containing itself, wanders from mountain to mountain, down a range in the north. On a wide spit of land, near a large inland sea, a tempest , young and unrestrained, spread itself onto the world. But, here, what was this? What at first he thought to be a body of water, was not, it was hurricane, older than all other storms, moving so slowly it cold barely be seen to be moving. What more, the very land could not stop this storm, it went where it pleased. Looking about he saw other, lesser storms throughout the land, from dust devils to what were barely strong winds, but each had an effect on the currants that turned the world. He looked at this sight for he knew not how long, time had no meaning here. But as he saw what there was to see, he felt a wind above him and, looking up, he gasped, above the world a massive storm was gathering, but this unlike the rest was dark, evil, growing and gathering its strength. Dark wicked bolts of lightning shot from cloud to cloud, some, he saw now, struck the land, leaving in their wake maelstroms of destruction that tore at the very foundations of the land, the glorious feeling he’d had was replaced with fear, and he looked towards . . . And Runner woke, the fire having long since smoldered into embers. Something from the back of his mind called out, there was something he’d seen in that last second of the vision that terrified him, but he cold not recall. But the thought was shot from his mind as the first light of dawn cut through the forest canopy and warmed his face. I am of the storm? He thought. It was strange. A watchers spirit guardian was usually some sort of animal totem, not a, a thing. The raisarine had rune totems for all the creatures and many for things, usually related to magic. But there was more than one for storm. But he clearly remembered he was a whirl-wind, the least of the storms, but in the rune markings it was the basis for the other storm signs, every thing else was built upon it, so to speak. He now knew what he must do. He began to remove the scroll vine from his arm, an easier task now, thanks to his sweaty skin. When he had it coiled on his lap he broke a small length off. Taking a small stone he began to pinch small bits off the sides, sap oozing out the wounds. He set the length on te still hot rock from last night, the sap hissing and popping at the heat. After a moment he removed the vine from the stone a took more bits off, setting it again on the stone. He repeated this several more times until he was satisfied with the shape and then left it on the warm stone. Taking up the unused length of scroll vine he paused a moment, here was the real test; scroll vine was grown by spell weavers for many things and he had used it, or its byproducts often. But this time was different, the vine had a unique property, when heated sufficiently, it would grow, not straight but in curls, weaves, rapping itself around whatever it touched. But if you got it hotter still, when it wrapped itself it would leave dark blueish markings on the skin, permanent markings. Each elf who wanted to become a watcher of the wood, the rangers and scouts of the raisarine, had to apply the scroll markings, called Ooram, or ‘spirit wards’ , to his left arm. Each was unique, the vine would wander over the skin joining where it touched, and weaving a random pattern. There was no rule as to the length, but a longer one was considered lucky to its bearer. Steeling his resolve he began to stir the embers, getting them hotter, and hotter until, steeling his resolve, grabbing the coiled stack, he thrust his vine wrapped left hand into the red hot embers, the pain threatened to overwhelm him, but he pulled his had back out of the intense heat and watched, holding back a yell, as the vine quickly spread over his arm, coiling up, he let out a small gasp as it did not stop at the elbow, as most did, no, it went higher not stopping at the shoulder either, it went up toward his face, he thought for a moment it would touch his eye, but it only left a small spiral behind it before moving for his left ear wrapping around its full six inch length, by now though it had cooled enough so it did not hurt much, but it held enough heat to leave faint blue markings there. Moving his arm he knocked loose the blackened crust left there by the vine and looked at the design for the first time. It started with solid blue, almost black, completely covering his left thumb, there went into the weaving designs it was known for all along his arm, but at his elbow it merged into two thick tendrils which wrapped their way up his upper arm, only sending small spiraling offshoots at a few points,. At his shoulder they broke up, sending a cris-cross pattern, like a thatched weave, covering the whole, all the way to the shoulder blade. It was but a small tendril that had worked its way up his face and though he could not see it, he could feel the heat where it left its mark. Ignoring the aching tender skin, he reached for the carved bit that had been smoldering on the stone, seeing that it was the proper shape, he pressed it hard to his cheek, just under his eye and just before his ear, pulling it quickly away he rotated it a hundred eighty degrees and pressed it again, just under the first, so they formed what looked like two interlocking talons, the sign for vortex and storm in the rune alphabet of his people. Falling back, his work done, he let the pain overcome him and knew no more for a time. Fifteen days ago Runner was beginning to worry, he had been unable to find the branch that would become his bow. He had caught and killed a small Mauler, a beast with a thin yet tough hide, he now wore the armor he had made from its skin, but that had been nearly a week ago. Of course he found lengths that would work, but this was to be his bow, his companion on the trails as he went about his duties as a watcher of te wood. And he had to fined the branch. But the sun was falling toward the horizon and the light was growing too dim to search by. But as he turned, there it was. It was an old tree, a Tilltharan Narune, or ‘wizards ash’, it had a great darkened scar from a fire down its length. And right next to the mark there was a branch, it was burned and blackened at the base, from the same long ago fire that left the scar. Approaching the base of the massive, at least, fifty paces around, he set a hand on the trunk. I come to you, spirit of this tree, grant me a boon. Allow me take of you a branch. So that I may live, so that I may protect that which I love and so I may guard this wood from all that would threaten it. He stood there all night, but in the morning, he had his limb, and for the first time was at peace in this dark wood. And at the end of seven days labor, he had his bow. Twenty-eight days ago His betrothed, Raishidda, her father and half of Silverfall village showed up to see him off, much to the consternation of Sighter Tierrughn, his mentor in the watchers. Today he set off to see if he could join the ranks of the Watchers, guardians of Raydawn forest. He had only some simple clothes, and his weapons of choice, four small axes, no more was allowed, and the axes were bound with a spell that would inhibit their use until he was done with what he had to do, until he was adorned and armed as a Watcher. Each of the well-wishers clasped his hand to theirs except Rai, she kissed him on the cheek, to the good natured jeering of the others, and the feigned disinterest of her father. Taking her hands in his, he said in their flowing tongue, [I will see you with the next moon]. She replied, smiling that sparkling dawn bringing smile of hers, [I will be here]. He stepped back, looking at his friends for a moment, then turned and left, without another word. Five years ago [where have you gone? Where is the one called Runner? The one who was my friend?] she paused, looking at Edileon Ra’orn son of Kar’haust and Il’Sillin, then went on after she saw that she held his attention, [That spark, the wry humor under the timidness? All I see is an empty shell devoid of aspiration, just going through the motions of life] with that, the one called Raishidda stormed off. She’d had enough of this moping about feeling sorry for himself, it had been four months since runner had woken from the sleep of the lost soul, other races sometimes called it a ‘coma’. And that made only four months of life that Runner could remember. For the same attack that claimed the lives of fifty rasarine, including his entire family, had also claimed his memory. Including the fact that he was to be married to her. Every time she looked at his face, an unbearable sadness threatened to overwhelm her. But the elders decided that information should be held from him. A marriage was an important thing to a rasarine, especially one such as theirs was to be, one of love, that chance meeting of hearts, not the arranged marriages commonly made to join clans, or propagate the species. It was supposed to be the union of their two souls, but Runners’ had been on what they believed to be a journey outside the body, and he might have changed. So they, and she, waited, to see if any part of the old Runner would return. But she was never one to wait. Runner recoiled from the verbal chastising he just been given as she stormed off. He was angry, so he did what he always did when he felt that way, since he was a boy, though he did not remember, he ran. Deep into the wood and there upon the banks of a quiet stream he thought. Sitting there on the bank he considered the past four months, and saw that other than his attitude, they had been good. And that’s all it takes, he suddenly realized, choice, how do I choose to live, will I live in a past that I can not change? Or will I move on, will I make new memories, better memories? Looking up he saw that the sun was setting, and made his choice, with this day’s end, so does my past, He thought. I will honor its memory by building a good future. And as the last ray of light sparked the darkening sky, he got up to go live life, and not just live. Four years ago He sat by her in on the hill over looking the valley, the whole of Raydawn spread out before them, and working up the courage to broach the subject that was the reason he’d dragged her way out here. [Rai, I went to speak to your father today, and he,] he paused, looking into her deep azure eyes, the prefect counter to her red hair, not the red that was seen often in the dwarves, but bright and deep like a rose in the sun, and as she leaned closer to him it seemed to shimmer and fade into orange and then back again. She was named for that strange shining hair, Raishidda meant in the old tongue, dawning child. [he told me of our past.] he finished, breaking the gaze. [And what did you say?] she asked, looking back in his brown eyes. Looking back in those deep eyes, he said, [I told him that I have had the good fortune to fall in love with you twice] [Welcome back, my Sleep Runner] she said as they both began to weep tears of joy. One day ago Runner had spotted a taller than average tree and on impulse climbed it to get the view. He had several days to get back before the next moon so he planned to take his time and enjoy the last days of fall. This is almost as good as our hill, he thought looking to the north and home. To bad Rai’s not-, but he never finished the thought, what a first he’d thought to be a cloud, was, he saw as he looked closer, smoke? But why- then it hit him. No. No. Not again. He dropped from the tree in one great leap, slowing his fall by catching his bundle on a branch which then lowered him to the ground. Hitting the dirt hard, he rolled up, already running. His bundle forgotten behind him. He ran, faster than he ever had, he ran until he could no more, but kept going, Long into the night, lungs threatening to burst. Two hours ago he reached the edge of the village and collapsed in a wheezing, heaving pile, still trying to crawl towards the smoldering village. He made a few feet before finding the first body. He could not tear his eyes from the grisly sight but it gave him new strength, and he stood. Forcing his gaze to the town below, he saw orcs and men and goblins, rummaging through his home. Looking back down at the body he saw an arrow sticking out of the mortal wound. Taking his bow off his back, he pulled the arrow from his kinsman, and nocking it, he took aim at the closest orc. It flew true. It never even knew it was dead. taking a step forward he pulled another arrow from an elf and killed another. And again. And again. And another. He did not know how long he did that, time meant nothing, but next he knew he was in the village and they were charging him. Dropping the bow he drew an ax, and threw it. Imbedding it hilt deep in the head of a human. Then they were upon him. Moments later he stood, still gasping for breath, near a blood soaked banner, their banner, the blood of his enemies soaking him he stood and stared at it, grey and red with three slash marks in the center, one curved, one ragged and one straight. Looking past the banner he saw a looming shape, a half burnt, but still standing tree. The spellweavers tree, he thought, it yet stands. Focusing everything he had left on this kernel of hope he moved towards the huge willow tree. There he found signs, the tracks of many elves, escaping out the back, into the forest. One hour ago He had found them. And he knelt weeping, in the middle of the ring of bodies. She is not here, she is not here, he thought over and over again. Where, where would she go? He looked around for tracks, and stopped, head snapping up, The hill, our hill. He ran. Reaching the top he stopped, a font of hope rising, a shadowy figure sat there. Rai Rai , he called. The figure turned, and it was It was her He reached out a hand for hers, and it passed through it. He looked down at his hand in shock, What? He fell to his knees and tried to grab her shoulders, but lost balance and fell as he once again passed through her. He rolled a few feet and hit something soft, looking at it he cried out in surprise, Rai? He put a hand on the body, two arrows sticking out from the chest. It was her. He looked back at the ghostly figure on the hill. She was there too. He stared, ears folding back in disbelief , [No, no.] he tried to touch her face, making no contact once again. He sat there, hand shaking in the cool air. As the ghost of Raishidda stared back. Pulling his hand away he stood turning to face the village once again. No, he swore firmly. Looking into the village he saw the great oak, Ki’mura, the heart of the forest where the spirit of Raydawn lived, and knew what he must do. Walking with steady determination he went there. Now The wizard’s men had done exactly what they’d promised, the spells they put on the raiders had given them the edge that they’d needed. The elves were the undisputed masters of the bow, but their short stature meant that their bows were shorter and that meant less range. So the elves of the wood used trickery and ambushes to get in range. None in the entirety of known history had ever defeated them while they were in their woods, till now. With the help of the spell casters and special troops their employer had given them. And now the loot was theirs, minus the rock from that huge tree that was the wizard’s desire and payment. And he could keep the rock for all they were concerned the real prize was the store of weave metal that was in the main village. And the scouts, the same one’s that delivered the wizard’s trophy to his agent, reported that the advance force had already taken it, easily. It was mostly women and elders this far into the wood and they’d already killed everything in the outlying towns so the entire force was marching to what they’d heard called ‘silverfall village’. The column, some two thousand men orcs and goblins, marched down the middle of a natural clearing on a hill just above the town and just when they’d reached the center a cry went up from the front ranks. What leaders that were to be found in this ragtag bunch went to the fore of the line, there they saw what had started the cry, one of the wizard’s magic banners hung snapped, in the center of a line of corpses. One of the commanders recognized the wounds on bodies as made by one of the elves broad bladed fighting axes. Immediately a call for skirmishers went up any they searched the place. One thing though bothered the commanders, why were there no elf bodies? Not a single elf body could be seen. But the scouts reported that there had been a fight with spell casters in middle of the village. And it looked as if someone had dragged bodies from other places too. It was as the stood and wondered what had done such a thing that they got their first warning. It was the death screams of the skirmishers they’d sent out. Next it was the archers, in the rear of the line that yelled, then were suddenly quiet. Then it rose from the ground, pulling itself from the dirt like a tree uprooting itself. Its shape was that of a man but it was more than twice the height and composed of thick branches and vines with a thick layer of bark-like skin. It raised an arm thick as man’s chest but gnarled and twisted, ending in four claws, it struck the line of troops like a wave, washing everything out of its way. Anything that was unlucky enough to have survived was quickly clawed in half, or snapped like a twig. The remaining archers shot it, arrows pelted at it like steel rain, the ones that stuck doing no perceivable damage, it roared at the shooters, launching an arm out toward them, the ground beneath their feet erupting in showers of roots that impaled them from beneath. By now the marauders were to afraid to fight in any sort of organize way. They retreated, trying to escape this monster in their midst, but it was to fast, too powerful. Their retreat turned into a rout, but how do you run from wrath? Some tried to fight it, but what use is steel to harm rage. A few had guns, but how do you shoot fury? The few mages left cast spells at it, but what use is magic against destruction given form? Right before it cut them down, some would plead for mercy, but vengeance knows not mercy. But the ones that pleaded, right before it mowed them down, saw a pair of sorrowful brown eyes, staring at them with intense hate, and they knew that none would survive this night. At the crest of a hill over looking the village an intangible figure stood, once bright hair now a shadowy grey like the rest of her, unmoving in the wind. She stood and watched the slaughter. And she wept.