Antrandis stood alone in the small clearing, the morning sunlight sending shafts of light through the canopy to the forest floor. The evening before last, at the height of the eclipse, four souls entered this world on this very spot. Antrandis glanced around, absorbing the surrounds. When he and Winter had come across the wolf tracks further back along the trail, making the connection that the newcomers were being followed, he had sent Winter to check the ruins. Moments earlier, Sian, prowling the forest as Snowshadow, her snow leopard form; had came across a host of wolves, commanded by a dire wolf, no less. Despite all of this, the exact site of the arrival was untouched, except for an occasional animal track.
He crouched, inspecting the ground. The impression of a child’s prone form could be made out, and one straddling, a foot on either side of the one laying. He followed their movements, both were standing, running. A small campfire, buried in fresh soil to smother it. He frowned, one of the children had left the fire and traversed the forest, returning and at some later point had done the same. Examining the spot where a child had knelt, he came across the first instance of the paw and claw prints of the large gryphon.
‘A gryphon, summoned by a child?’ he said to himself, standing upright.
A leaf floated down, catching his eye as it made its spinning fall.
‘Intriguing, is it not?’ came the voice from his side, his ears making out the subtle sounds of the goddess’s footfall.
A smile caught the edge of his lips, ‘Silvan, you are strangely busy of late. I hear you even made your presence known in Lumos’s temple.’
He heard a playful sigh, ‘We have responsibilities, child. Events are afoot. Planetary bodies are aligning, and the quests of all shades of grey between chaos and order, purity and evil are simultaneously being set into motion and coming to fruition.’
Antrandis’s smile grew broader, ‘That sounds foreboding.’
Silvan smiled in return, ‘And yet, they are not.’ she said with a half-hearted shrug as she approached.
She smiled, watching Antrandis dropping to one knee in supplication, his head bowed as she reached him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and bent, kissing his forehead before offering her hand. He brushed the backs of her fingers with his lips, and moved to stand.
‘Rise child, why do you insist on such demonstrations with us?’
‘To show my respect for those greater than myself, Mother.’
She stared at him momentarily, an indulgent smile on her lips as she watched him stand, her hand still in his, ‘Child, if that were so, then…’ the goddess’s voice stilled as she met his eyes.
‘Allow yourself the luxury of my respect, Mother. Please, do not question what is mine to give.’
‘If that is your wish.’ Silvan said, her strange eyes intently on his.
‘You wonder why we have such interest in the recent events? The arrival of those from here but not here.’ she looked up at the canopy of the forest, pinpricks of sunlight on a blanket of browns and greens, ‘The fates did not speak of them, child.’
‘The balance has been disrupted?’ Antrandis stated.
Silvan nodded, ‘Yes and yet, no. It is unsettled, not disrupted. Future plans will not go awry regardless of the outcome tonight. We shall leave it in your hands, the fate you decide for them will shape the destiny that will unfold. We feel it is best for us to observe, to watch, to experience what has taken place then to directly shape it with our own hands.’
‘You are already doing so by telling me, Mother.’
She smiled, meeting his eyes, ‘They are a curiosity, those that arrived from here but not from here. Two children and a gryphon, he is a mighty specimen.’
She met his eyes again, ‘If you can secure them before the wolves…’
He nodded in understanding, ‘And Silvast?’
Silvan looked at him, as if suddenly remembering something forgotten, ‘Our chosen? But you are already on the path that coincides with her own. Despite our concern, she took her fate in her own hands and called for her saviour. There is no need to discuss that which is already decided.’
They stood in silence, Silvan taking his hands and carefully inspecting them.
She looked at him, an eyebrow raised, ‘Something is on your mind, child. Destiny and the fates will not be angered if you ask of it.’
He nodded, ‘Then my question has already been answered.’
She smiled, nodding almost imperceptibly, closing her eyes for a moment, a peaceful expression on her face as she read the strands of destiny, ‘Yes, it has.’
She reached out with her left hand, her finger tips touching his temple. Her other hand taking his own and pressing it to his chest.
‘Within, child. You will find what you are looking for. Though you suspect as such. It is best you experience it yourself, rather than be shown the path.’
Antrandis nodded slowly, ‘You forced her hand.’
Silvan smiled, ‘We did not expect this outcome. An opportunity presented itself, so we did what we must before it was too late.’
Again, a comfortable silence descended around them. Silvan continued to touch his hands, as if marvelling at their existence.
‘Mother, is there anything you wish to tell me?
Silvan met his eyes, a small smile on her lips, ‘Be mindful of her, child. She is caught in a dilemma as her sun sets, she seeks the one she trusts above all, even though he has been her enemy at times. Bring her to the temple, we will meet her there.’
Antrandis looked at her, he knew better than to try to elicit more direct information from the goddess. She slowly lifted his hand to her lips and bit gently at the meat below his thumb before looking in his eyes, a coy embarrassment forming on her face as she realised her actions. She stepped in closer and embraced him.
‘I have missed our discussions, Antrandis.’
‘As have I, Silvan.’
She nuzzled against his neck, kissing him carefully below the ear before stepping back. She smiled again, ‘The wolves, child. They are both friend and foe.’
He nodded as she turned, nonplussed by her actions as he watched her physical presence shifting from existence. His eyes once again drawn to the leaf just as it finished floating to the ground. Silvan’s words were as cryptic as ever, though she had confirmed some of his suspicions. He quickly strode back to where the children had arrived and started playing the evidence of their movements though his head. Within moments he had reached a conclusion, they were running, escaping. Somehow, their destination was here.
‘Why here? And power of such severity to take a dragon out of the sky?’
He turned, glancing around the trees, the position of the small clearing. The eclipse. He was missing something and he did not have the time to ponder the details. Quickly surveying the surrounds, he smiled, he was in luck. Approaching its gnarled trunk, he placed a hand against it and concentrated. A glow grew in his eyes as he marked the location and simultaneously drew out the guardian spirit. Faint birdsong could be heard along with whispers from above. Looking up, he spotted the creature as she rested on a branch, her large orb-like eyes glowing a dulcet shade of lavender as she watched him. A dryad, she stood a little more than three feet tall, her body mature and lithe. Skin of warm walnut tones and wild hair of rich autumn umber, the fae had a peculiar beauty that was both enchanting and yet unnerving.
Antrandis nodded to her and she smiled in return. She sat up, stretching, unashamed of her nudity. Again she looked down, her lips curling into a predatory smile. Without warning, the eldritch power of the fae grew among the trees, amplifying the sounds of the forest.
Her voice came to him like the gentle chiming of small bells, ‘Does an enemy wake me?’
‘No, a friend seeking information.’
She feigned disinterest, ‘I do not see a sacrifice worthy of my time,’ her eyebrow raised, ‘Unless you wish to offer yourself, elf lord. Nor do you…’
She stopped talking and stared at him, her eyes growing wide as she used her power to appraise the stranger, ‘You are of the Hithren.’
Dropping to the forest floor, she landed gracefully, quickly approached him and pulled at his hand. She inspected it, sniffing at his skin, nodding to herself. He leaned as she pulled at his arm, her eyes inspecting his face.
‘I have to be sure, I have only seen you from afar, once, a long time ago.’
She peered into his eyes, ‘Yes, but you were wearing different skin and walked on all fours. Your aura is unmistakable.’
She smiled, tentatively reaching to touch his cheek. Suddenly she was serious.
‘The dragon of silver, she fell! Elven children and, and golden light everywhere! I hid in my tree.’ she said excitedly.
She led him over to the centre of the clearing, ‘One was injured, blood here and here.’ She pointed to her face.
‘Fear, much fear. When the moon hid the sun.’
Antrandis knelt, ‘Do you know if there is anything…’
She looked into his eyes and pointed to the edges of the trees, ‘A circle, yes?’
‘No roots grow there, the trees do not like it.’
‘There is something in the earth?’
The dryad nodded, ‘It is ancient.’
Antrandis thought carefully, ‘Do you know what it is?’
She shook her head, ‘A man has come here before.’
He looked at her, ‘A man? An elf?’
She nodded, ‘An elven man, tall like you, maybe taller. Pale skin; long hair, like midnight. Powerful. He came a long time ago, he was searching for something.’
Antrandis watched a frown working its way over her face as she concentrated. Moving to stand, she gripped his arm. A timid look on her face.
‘Is there something you would ask of me in exchange?’ Antrandis asked.
She nodded, ‘Yes, a trade for my words. I have heard whispers among my kind. I would offer more in exchange to make it so, I heard them speaking. I would offer my life, my magic, too.’ she looked into his eyes.
He smiled at her, ‘You can whisper it to me, if it makes it easier.’
She nodded, bringing her face close, whispering her request into his ear.