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Return To Your Roots Edit

Twitch slowly descended from the heavens as he approached the feet of the Stony Mountains, slightly disappointed to be nearing the end of his journey; he had enjoyed every moment of his flight, feeling the wind ripple through his feathers and marvelling at the warm updrafts that he never would have thought possible in the heart of winter. For three days he had flown north and west on his journey to return to his people, the Tamiir-Quah, Wind Clan of the Shoanti. Below him the land was largely a carpet of whites, greys, and muddy browns, as the icy depths of winter gripped the plains of the Storval Plateau.  The land looked different to that of his memory, though whether from time altering his remembrance, or his the vastly different perspective flight granted him, was impossible to say. Of one thing he was certain; the land itself was the same as it had been in his youth. Inhospitable and often deadly, the plateau’s dangers changed with the seasons, but it was otherwise reassuringly constant, and had been for many years now. A craving for that sense of predictability after his recent adventure was, in part, the druid’s reason for returning home. A small, part, but one he could not deny to himself.

As he glided lower across the plain his massive shadow passed weakly along the ground below, the watery sun lacking the strength to strongly project even his sixty-foot wingspan onto the mushy ground. It was enough, though, to startle a heard of aurochs that sheltered from the wind behind a large rocky outcrop, and Twitch shrieked in exhilaration as the herd stampeded in panic before him. Rocs were rare along this section of the plateau, but still well enough known by its inhabitants that he was given due respect. An urge to take one of the animals swept over him, typical of the feelings he had when taking the forms of predatory beasts, but the druid ignored it, closing instead on his destination.

Now Twitch could see several men and women in the distance ahead taking watch from sheltered cave mouths, and apparent to the druid only due to his keen raptor’s sight. He, of course, would easily be visible to them, and as such he was a little disappointed that they showed no sign of alarm at his approach. As his talons touched the ground his avian body contracted and blurred, emitting a strange scent of spice as he resumed his true form. He strode purposely toward the cave entrance, noticing as if for the first time its vast proportions; he had thought the memories of his tribe wintering here from his youth exaggerated, but in this his mind had played true, and there was something niggling disconcertingly at the back of his mind as he approached. He pushed the feeling of unease away as he stood before his kin, clad in his breastplate and lowland clothing with the wind whipping behind the hair that streamed from a little over half his scalp. A stark contrast to the men and women before him, whose shaven heads were apparent even huddled within the bulky furs and feathers that swaddled them.

“Be welcome, my cousin!” spoke one of the men, stepping forward.

Twitch relaxed at the words, indicative of his being recognised as a member of the tribe, though he detected some amusement in the tone as the speaker looked him over.

“Kel-grish!” the druid replied in greeting. “I had not thought to be welcomed as warmly.”

In truth he had been concerned that had his roc from caused no fear among the watchers, he may have been attacked outright on returning to his own form; the Tamiir-Quah had little tolerance of outsiders, and there was nothing to mark him as one of the clan. And while he would be known to some of his tribe, much time had passed since he left for the Mierani Forest on completion of the Longest Cross, the rite of passage to claim his manhood and place here. He had feared that he would not be remembered, or at least recognised.

“The Spirit Seeker foresaw your arrival, and warned us against your coming.” The man grinned, clearly pleased at having been knowledgeable enough to have stood calmly as the great raptor approached. “He asked us to bring you to him immediately.”

The druid followed his guide into the cave. A tunnel extended further into the foot of the mountain, before opening into an enormous cavern, in which the majority of his tribe was camped. As he walked the drafty hall memories continued to assault him, of winters spent camped here in his youth. He crossed the cavernous area to an equally oversized tunnel on the other side. He had never been past this room before; as an uninitiated youth this had been the limit of his access.

Ignoring the curious looks that followed him, Tientrich stared around him at the wall and ceiling. He was in no doubt that this cavern was not natural. Not entirely anyway; in places the rock appeared untouched, but in others there were marks of tools. Very large tools. As this realisation hit, Twitch became aware of the source of his earlier unease; the scale was very similar to that he had seen in the works of the giants to the south-east, both in Hook Mountain and Skull’s Crossing. He shivered; suddenly this home of his people seemed less welcoming.

After several more twists and turns through the tunnels, his escort stopped outside a huge wooden door, gesturing for him to continue. Twitch stepped inside.

This room, while oversized, was not unnervingly so. Perhaps it had been a small bedroom for a giant at some stage, but was currently serving as the spacious quarters of his tribe’s shaman.

The man sat on the floor in front of a raging fireplace was familiar to Twitch, though it had been over a decade since he had left the lands of his people. The shaman’s name was unknown to him, the honorific of Spirit Seeker being used by all in his tribe to address him. The old man’s grey-white hair hung down around his face, threaded and knotted with fetishes, many of them the small bones of his ancestors. His clothing was sparse, revealing the intricate pattern of tattoos that covered most of his flesh. Strangely, Twitch found him a more disconcerting figure now than  he had in his youth; perhaps as his own knowledge now made the man and his powers more real than the mysterious, poorly-defined figure of his more youthful imaginings.

Despite the Spirit Seeker’s foreboding appearance, his smile was warm as he gestured for the druid to sit before him.

“Welcome home, Tollok. I have long awaited your return.”

“I am surprised that you remember me.” Twitch replied honestly; there had been little significant about him before he had left to follow his visions.”And I am now known as Tientrich.”

“Many of our people experience visions during the Cross.” The shaman replied “But few find them compelling enough that they leave immediately on some quest. When the spirits mark one so, I am naturally curious to see what they have in store.” The shaman chuckled.  “And for you, it seems they have had plenty!”

“You know of my travels?” Tientrich asked in return. If the Spirit Seeker had taken an interest in him, then it was certainly plausible that he had watched his progress.

“I have had the occasional glimpses in dreams and visions.” The shaman replied “But I would hear your tale in full, now that you are back with us.”

“I am afraid I am not very good at telling stories.” Twitch replied, then unslung his spear from his back “But I have written it here.”

He handed the weapon to the Spirit Seeker, who carefully traced the carvings with one long, tapered finger. After several minutes, he looked back at the druid.

“Your path to enlightenment by the spirits has been very different to my own, as I’m sure you can now see.” The shaman said, gesturing to the fetishes adorning him. “My path is through the spirits of our ancestors, not through the land as is yours.

“You will have to tell me you story as best you can.” He said, handing the spear back to the druid ”I cannot read this.”

Twitch slowly told his story since leaving the lands of the Shoanti, his account dry and factual, lacking in embellishment. He repressed a smile as he thought it would have been more entertaining to have Krolmn here to tell of their adventures since Sandpoint.

Silence stretched for several minutes after Twitch finished recounting the fall of the Paradise and the reincarnation of Lamatar, and his subsequent journey here.

“A remarkable tale.” The shaman eventually said “Perhaps moreso for being told in such an unremarkable way.” He added with a slight grin.

“Certainly,” he added seriously “It is a tale that should not be wasted on something so mundane as a weapon.”

Twitch was unsure what the shaman meant by this. He had been recording his story on his spear shaft since he had been struck by lightning after leaving the Mierani Forest as it had been all that was available to him at the time. He saw no reason to stop now.

“But there will be much time for such talk later. You are much further advanced in your studies than my students, and will be a great asset to us now that you have returned.”

“I hope that at some time that will be true.” Twitch replied “But I am not here to stay. Not yet. I still feel that I have a part to play in events to the south. The rise of the Giants concerns me.”

“Jorgenfist,” the shaman said “Is a name I have not heard for many a year. I must admit that I find it difficult to countenance a serious threat arising from there.”

“Why? What do you know of it?” the druid asked. In truth, knowledge of the purported stronghold of the giants was one thing he had hoped to gain from his return home.

“Little is known of it. The black tower known as Jorgenfist is ancient. It and the surrounding lands are certainly claimed by the stone giants, though I do not know whether they made it.”

The shaman seemed to drift into some king of trance for a few minutes.

“Our ancestors are vague as to its purpose, but it dates back at least to the times when we served the Azghat in their glory. I have no further knowledge than that of its history. The giants rarely venture down to the plateau, and they have never given us grief. Although,” he said, thinking for a moment “I do remember some recent reports coming from the Shriikirri-Quah in the east that there had been some increasing aggression from the giants. Certainly the Hawk Clan do not venture far into those mountains.

“Still, if the giants wish to wage war to the south why should it be of our concern? The lowlanders have likely brought it upon themselves with their own aggressions and land-grabbing.”

“If the giants are truly going to war then we must aid our cousins in the east.” Came a new voice from the corner of the room “They guard the stair and will bear the initial brunt of any forays south.”

Twitch looked up sharply to see a young man walk into the light. He was surprised both at the fact he had not noticed the man there, and that while Shoanti, this man was not of the Wind Clan.

“You are here to observe, not to counsel.” The shaman stated tersely. “If the Hawk have chosen to tie their fate to that of the lowland invaders it is not our concern.”

“They are Shoanti.” The young man argued, unmoved by the shaman’s words.

 “We have believed for years their softness will be their downfall. They will not bring us with them.”

“This rather impertinent youth,” the Spirit Seeker said to Twitch, gesturing toward the young man “Is Veyho of the Shundar-Quah. The youths of the Spire Clan spend three years in the company of another Quah as their rite of passage. To observe.” He said pointedly. He held his hand up as the youth made to speak further.

“Now, no more of this. Tollok.” The Shaman addressed him, clearly ignoring the druid’s earlier correction of his name. As you know the Longest Cross is not performed in the depths of winter, but I think it is far past time that your completion of your rite of passage was recognised. Thus you will not have the great ceremony that would normally accompany your initiation, as there is only you to initiate.” The shaman said without apology.

Initiation and Revelation Edit

He went to a small cupboard and took retrieved several vials of herbs, potions and inks. Taking a handful of herbs from one vial he threw them on the fire, and the flames briefly blazed blue as thick smoke filled the room.

Twitch remembered little of the next few hours; the smoke as well as various other substances imbibed during the ceremony tended to remove all awareness of the surroundings. Some initiates claimed to have visions during the ceremony, though if Twitch experienced any he did not remember them later as he had with those during his Rite of Passage.

Twitch woke naked on the floor in another large room. Sitting up, he looked down at himself to see the tattoos of his initiation, intricately interwoven with the existing lightning scars on his body, one design over his heart prominent at its centre.

“Stormrider. It seems apt.”

The shaman smiled as the druid dressed, taking in the room for the first time.

As he turned he saw a large statue in the centre of the room, its back to him from where he stood.

Twitch frowned.

“The room of the Azghat.” The Shaman explained as he studied the statue. “An auspicious place for our initiations. We believe this to be one who particularly favoured our clan; see his cloak of feathers, though they seem to be of some type of raptor that no longer flies the skies here. And his ornate weapon, surely a precursor to the great earthbreakers that Shoanti warriors use to this day.”

It was true that the statue wore a feathered cloak, and the head of the weapon protruding above its shoulder was certainly some type of hammer, though the head was much smaller than that of the Shoanti earthbreakers, and the haft of the weapon must be significantly longer from how high it was raised.

“Don’t tell me you have forgotten our histories!” the Shaman said, taken aback as the druid’s frown deepened.

“Those are not raptor feathers, those are peacock feathers. They are birds often kept for their beauty in some of the warmer lowland regions.” Twitch explained in response to the shaman’s quizzical look.

Slowly moving toward the statue he continued.

“And I believe that may be a type of polearm he carries, I have seen similar in armouries in the south.”

Twitch slowly moved around the statue, a sinking feeling in his gut as he grew more certain what he would see.

“And that,” he finished, suspicions confirmed “Is no Azghat. That is a Runelord.”

The expression on the statue’s face was indeed proud as the shaman had stated, though to the point or arrogance. The proportions of the weapon definitely were those of polearm, though less common than a halberd of glaive, and without a military background the druid could not remember its name. But it was the final detail that made it impossible for Twitch to doubt his conclusion; the Sihedron amulet carved upon the statue’s breast.

“You are mistaken.” The Shaman stated. “You spoke of these Runelords in your tale as creatures of evil. The Azghat were not so. They were gods. They brought order to the world. They formed the Shoanti as the blades to assert their rule and we were honoured to be so.”

Twitch of course knew this. All of his tribesman could recite most of the lesson taught by Angmack the Destrier:

“Stand ready for the campaign at all times,” the Azghat said. And so it was. The Azghat brought order to the world and we

were their Shoanti, their blades. Where there was dissension, the Shoanti brought order and peace in the name of the Azghat. To be Shoanti was the greatest of honors, for the Shoanti were selected by the Azghat from those of the greatest skill, speed, strength, and honor. The Azghat’s gift to us was to organize us into quahs and unto each quah was given purpose, a commitment unique to its gifts. And so it was. Then came the time of the Hollow Sky. The forces of those who rebelled against the will of the Azghat rose so great that the Shoanti began to dwindle in number. In response, the Azghat took it upon themselves to share their honor with the Shoanti so as to renew our battered resolve. But this was a terrible misstep. With their honor diminished, the Azghat fell into a spiral of evil, and with each passing year the Azghat grew closer to becoming one with the very enemies that moved against them. In time, with the heaviest of hearts, the Shoanti were forced to turn on the great Azghat and with their defeat, the kingdom of the Azghat finally crumbled into dust. And so it was. To this day, we as Shoanti carry not only our own honor, but the remains of the gift of the Azghat. It is said that those warriors who continue to conduct themselves with honor slowly restore the Azghat’s memory and resurrect the glory of their land. One day, perhaps, the Shoanti debt will be repaid. Until that day, the Shoanti’s enemies will always remain many. Always will our enemies seek to purge us and the memory of the Azghat from the land. But we will not allow this. We will remain here, where the Azghat first brought us together and shaped each quah, in honor of their gift to us. And so it shall be.

“Not all clans are as convinced my Angmack’s words.” Veyho said, stepping forward for the first time since Twitch had awoken. “Some believe that much of what we have been told is a lie, either of the Azghat or of our ancestors, ashamed upon the realisation of whom we served. Some even believe we were enslaved by the Azghat to serve them.”

Perhaps noticing the stormy expression on the Spirit Seeker’s face, the young Shundar-Quah thought best not to follow up on those revelations. “But even Angmack stated that the Azghat fell, and that the Shoanti were forced to turn against them.”

“It had not occurred to me before, but Angmack’s account is supported by research my companion Jon undertook into the Runelords. According to that, they began as representations of the virtues men should strive toward, before falling into evil.” Twitch added.

“There are certainly similarities in those tales.” Veyho said “In the Spire Clan we pride ourselves on keeping alive the stories of the Shoanti, but I have never heard the term ‘Runelord’ before. Are you sure this is one of them?”

“It differs from those I have seen in the south.” Tientrich admitted “But only in specific features. And there were purportedly seven of these Runelords ruling over different regions; I have only seen two depicted prior to this.”

Another thought occurred to the druid.

“There are seven tribes of the Shoanti, and seven Runelords.”

“Coincidental.” The Shaman waved away the speculation. “There were more Quahs. Several were lost.”

Twitch looked up in shock, having never heard this before. Veyho nodded.

“Our histories agree, though we do not name the fallen Quahs. But I still find the similarities with this Runelord tale too great to dismiss.”

Nobody spoke further as each man thought over the night’s revelations. It was the Spirit Seeker who finally broke the silence.

“I will consult the shamans of the other tribes of the Tamiir-Quah, and the spirits of our ancestors. I feel it best if you both keep these ideas to yourselves for now.”

Twitch and Veyho agreed.

“Go now and rest Stormrider. I ask you not to leave until I have spoken to you again.”

This suited Twitch just fine, for he still had one other reason to spend time among his people.

Education Edit

Veyho walked alongside Twitch as the druid made his way down another large corridor that he had previously not traversed.

“Your outlook seems far more open than that of the rest of your Quah.” The Spire Clan initiate observed as they walked.

The druid shrugged as he replied.

“Probably. I think all people become insular when not exposed to views from outside. No doubt had I remained here you would see me the same as the others of my tribe and clan. The times I have spent among the southerners, among the elves and among my druid brethren have exposed me to a far wider range of views than would be the case had I not left the Storval Plateau.”

“I agree.” The young man said. “I myself have certainly not had your experience in the world, but we of the Shundar-Quah are at least exposed to the beliefs of clans other than our own. It is enough to show that not all is as simple as some would like to believe.”

Tientrich smiled.

“You do not feel the Spirit Seeker is open enough to views other than his own.”

“I find the news you bring disturbing.” Veyho agreed. “ Your revelations about these Runelords could change our place in history! Yet the Shaman seems disinterested.”

“You are wrong.” Twitch said. “If he were disinterested he would not be meeting now with the other shamans to discuss it. He will not make hasty decisions about our ancestry; little is known about the Runelords in the south, most Varisians have never heard of them. And after so much time who is to say that their accounts are any more accurate than ours?

“Besides.” The druid continued “The knowledge I have brought of the Runelords supports the writings of Angmack; we served the Azghat in their glory, then aided in their defeat when they descended into evil.”

“But if the Azghat were indeed mortal sorcerers rather than the gods we have been led to believe, and evil at that, why would we as a people strive to return their ‘glory’?”

“I would have thought that you of the Spire Clan, who strive to unite the Shoanti, would understand that. We strive to restore the glory of the Azghat because therein lies our validation of ourselves. If that were taken away, how much might it accelerate the dissolution of the Shoanti? We need our glorious history, even if it is not entirely accurate.”

“I will accept that, though I believe this new knowledge should be made known to our people. But how can the Shaman claim to be doing the best for the Shoanti while refusing to offer aid to the Hawk Clan?”

“He never made any such claim, I have only given you my views. As for the news of Jorgenfist, I do indeed believe that the Shriikirri-Quah should be notified so that they may be more vigilant.”

“And that your Quah should aid them in battle?” Veyho pushed.

“Not necessarily. Like all the other Quah’s we have suffered at the hands of the Chelaxian invaders. I understand why my people would isolate themselves from a conflict they do not see as ours.” Twitch said.

“And you truly believe it is an issue only for the lowlanders?”

“No, I do not.” Twitch admitted with a sigh. “All I have learned of the Runelords is that they were vile, greedy creatures. It seems unlikely that their servants would be satisfied with anything less than restoring their old empire. Which, by the statue we saw yesterday, our lands were clearly a part of.

”But, such discussions are beyond my place in the Quah, I will trust in the wisdom of the Spirit Seeker.”

The two walked in silence to the corridor. Here it opened into another huge chamber, this one marked out with several circles. Within these, watched by other warriors of the tribe, Shoanti braves practiced their martial skills.

“Thank you for bringing me here Veyho. I suppose this is where I must leave you for now.”

The training arena here was open only to those who had passed their rite of passage; the untried members of the tribe practiced (or “played” according to the warriors here) elsewhere.

“Not at all.” Veyho said with a smile “I will join you.”

“I am sure that once you have completed your own Clan’s Rite of Passage we will welcome you here, but until then it will not be allowed.”

“Oh, but I have completed it.” The warrior responded.

Twitch frowned. “The Spirit Seeker...”

“Likes to mock me.” Veyho cut in. “Either that or his memory is beginning to fail him in his age, and the time spent in the company of spirits. I prefer to think it is the former.

“I completed my three years with your tribe nearly two winters ago. I returned my tribe in the Shundar-Quah, and was initiated. Then I came back.”

If Tientrich had any doubt as to the veracity of this claim it was quickly allayed by the nods of respect Veyho received as they walked across the yard. If anything, it was Twitch himself who seemed to be viewed more suspiciously, though several men and women did seem to shy away from eye contact with the Spire Clan warrior.

Coming here was the other main reason that Twitch had returned to his people; recent events had highlighted his need to improve his martial prowess. And while his companions Belor and Tevan could no doubt teach him much about combat, their style of fighting was not for him. For his own people combat tended to be more about savagery and mobility than refined swordplay, and this he felt was far more in keeping with his natural instincts. He was unsure whether this was from his childhood spent around this type of warrior or instilled in him by the beasts whose shapes he assumed. But either way, it seemed a more natural fit for him.

Twitch made his way over to a weapon rack sitting against one wall and chose a spear. These practice weapons were in truth little more deadly than the real thing, generally being regular blades that had simply not been sharpened as they became duller with use. It was as much of a concession as most Shoanti were prepared to make.

The druid walked toward one of the circles, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

“Not that one.” Veyho said. “There is a hierarchy; you must win a number of bouts in the lower circles before moving up.”

“Makes sense.” Tientric replied with a shrug, and made his way toward the circle where the youngest looking Shoanti were doing mock battle. He waited his turn, then stepped in.

As combat went, it was both brief and one-sided. Twitch’s experience in using his weapon far exceeded that of these newly initiated warriors. After several bouts in which he was victorious while receiving barely a scratch, he made his way to the next circle.

The difference in experience of his opponents here was immediately noticeable. Tientrich had little doubt that his fighting companions of late, Belor and Tevan, would progress through this circle successfully. He, however, was already struggling, winning a bout narrowly before losing two more.

“Time to try a different approach.” He mumbled to himself as he prepared for another fight. This time as his opponent took to the circle, the druid discarded his spear and shifted his form, taking the body of the Lurkwood bear he had used to great effect in the past. To his credit, the Shoanti warrior he faced barely flinched in the face of the transformation, but could not match the bear’s strength, as the druid-bear grappled and pinned his opponent.

Now Twitch’s bouts were gaining a greater audience, and stronger challengers, keen to prove they could out-wrestle a bear. The druid was beginning to feel this had been a mistake, as he moved to grapple his next challenger.

This time as he held his opponent, the warrior triggered a berserk rage. This was the kind of fighting Twitch had expected to see. He had not, however, counted on just how aggressive the raging barbarian would become, as he quickly found himself getting the worse of the wrestle. He momentarily considered changing form again; after all, could a man really grapple a mastodon? He dismissed the idea as ridiculous and redoubled his efforts, but was unable to break free.

Returning to his true form he conceded the bout, and returned to the stands to catch his breath.

“That was interesting.” Veyho said, taking a seat beside the druid.

“Probably not many bears participating in combat.” The druid admitted, gasping for breath.

“True.” The young Spire Clan warrior replied “But that is not what I meant.

“Did you know.” He continued “That warriors of the Spire Clan train in the ways of combat of all the other Quah’s?”

“Why?” Twitch asked, truly curious.

“Because when we step in to aid our brethren, the better we can integrate with their forms of battle, the more effectively we can aid them.”

“That must be somewhat confusing.” The druid replied, not quite sure of the relevance of this education, despite the fact he found it interesting.

“It can be.” Veyho admitted “But it also gives a different perspective on combat. And I find that I am very good at analysing techniques, and finding...room for improvement.”

“Say flaws if you mean flaws.” Tientrich said, irritably.

“A negative way of looking at it, but if you prefer. You have three. Would you like to know them?”

Twitch was severely tempted to say “no”, but was too curious to do so. The look of amusement in Veyho’s eyes had him believing the man knew exactly what was going through his mind. It probably went through the mind of everyone he did this too.

“Only three?” he countered; he was pretty sure Belor would find more than three errors in his fighting “Go on then.”

Veyho smiled.

“This.” He said, tapping once the spear the half-elf held.

“This”, he continued, knocking twice on the druid’s breastplate.

“And this.” He concluded happily, tapping three times Twitch’s hairless temple.

“So, just my attack, my defense, and my mind.” Twitch said caustically. “Easily improved!”

“I was not being quite so general.

“Your spear is a problem. As the bear you fight with your natural weapons. In your true form you try poking that thing at people. Completely different methods of fighting; you confuse yourself.”

“I’m afraid my own teeth and claws are somewhat less effective. And the bear can’t hold a spear.”

“Exactly my point. Secondly, your armour encumbers you in your beast form.”

“No.” Tientrich corrected, feeling good to be the one in the right for a change in this conversation “In my beast forms the armour blends into my form. It is weightless.”

“But its presence in your true form encumbers you in your beast form. You rely on it for protection, but then it is no longer there. You fight as if it is, You are too easy to hit.”

“So, you suggest that I need to fight unarmed and unarmoured even in my true form?” the druid laughed “I’d have been dead many times over by now if I tried that. You have no idea some of the creatures I have faced.”

“Of course I do; I was there when you told your tale. And yes, you would have died. But only because you have not learned properly how to make use of your natural talents. Now, thirdly...”

“Enough!” Twitch said “This is nonsense. What I need is to learn to channel me rage; you saw how effective that was in my last combat.”

“Sure, it can be effective; for a time. And then the berserker is tired and less able to fight until he recovers. It works well in these bouts. In the battles you have described it would be a liability. Your beast forms have easily enough ferocity; you need to learn to tame it, no accentuate it.”

Tientrich shook his head. “Strength wins. Strength always wins.”

Veyho sighed, then walked to the ring the druid had just vacated. His previous opponent was back in the ring, having rested during the ensuing bouts while Tientrich and Veyho had talked. The Spire Clan warrior stood calmly as his bigger, stronger opponent approached. Not wrestling a bear this time, he was wielding an earthbreaker; the huge hammer relied on no sharp edge, this “practice” weapon simply had a strip of fur wrapped around its head to soften its blows. Veyho stood unarmed.

Twitch began to ready his healing magics, sure the young man would need them. The bigger man swung his oversized weapon at Veyho, who read the blow and deftly stepped aside. And again, this time the smaller man stepped in quickly and delivered a punch to the warrior’s gut. The Tamiir-Quah warrior staggered far more than Twitch would have expected from a simple punch. Clearly more than he had expected too, as he quickly built back into a rage, his swings becoming more and more powerful. More powerful, but no more accurate. Veyho seemed to see every blow before it fell and continued to avoid them, occasionally landing a punch or kick in return, but seemingly happy to simply avoid being hit for now. The berserker’s rage ebbed away, and as he stood panting Veyho quickly moved in. He attacked with a flurry of blows, before landing one stunning fist to the brave’s head that left him momentarily stunned. Taking advantage, Veyho took him to the ground, before casually walking from the circle and sitting next to Twitch. He was barely sweating.

“That was impressive.” Twitch said in surprise.

“Less so once you know how to do it.” Veyho replied “Avoiding being hit is of course the key. And that is simply about reading your opponent. You have studied many tyoes of creatures, have you not? You know their anatomy?”

“Yes, although that is more useful for dealing damage than avoiding it.” He stated, thining particularly of his friend Krolmn, whose study of certain creatures had extended to such a level that he easily picked their weaknesses.

“Not at all.” Veyho corrected. “If you know how a creature moves, it becomes predictable. From any position, a limb only has certain movements available to it. Yes? So you know where it can move, which allows you to predict fairly accurately where it will move. You know this already, you just have no learned to use this knowledge.”

“And attacking?”

“Will be harder to teach you. But certainly knowledge of how creatures are put together will help. I believe you can learn. If I did not, I would not be offering to teach you.”

Twtich thought for a moment. He had come here with a very definite idea of what he needed to do to improve his combat. This was not it. But he could not deny the effectiveness of Veyho’s technique.

“I would like that.” He finally said.

“Excellent. “ said Veyho “There is just one thing we need to address first. Number three.” He said with a smile, tapping his head lightly.

“I don’t understand.” The druid admitted.

“What’s your name?” Veyho asked lightly.

“Twitch.” The druid answered without thinking. “I mean Tientrich.” He corrected. “Or Tollok.”

“And most recently, Stormrider.” Veyho continued, laughing as he gestured at the tattoos both men knew were concealed under the breastplate.

“How can you learn to fight if you don’t even know who you are?”

“So you think I need to choose one name? I’m not sure how that will help.”

“No.” Veyho said “You need to accept that you are all of them, and learn how that works within yourself.

“Don’t worry.” He smiled at Tientrich’s confused look “I can help!”

Training and Crafting Edit

Twitch examined the items spread out before him and considered his next project. He had been spending his evenings crafting magical items as a way to keep himself occupied while awaiting word from the Spirit Seeker. Just last night he had completed two items he had been crafting that his gnomish companion had requested before he had left for the Plateau; a cape made of the feathers of the storm rocs that inhabited these lands (which were only the size of eagles, the birds that grew into true rocs living in the Wyvern Mountains to the east. Of course, a single feather from a true roc would probably have been too large for a cape for Krolmn!) which would allow the gnome to occasionally fly as a bird, and a pair of bracers constructed from the claws and feathers of falcons, that would aid him in his archery. Upon completing the items he had summoned several hawks, and had tasked them with taking them to the gnome; Krolmn did tend to get a bit twitchy when awaiting magic items.

He had been enjoying this time to give his mind and body a different outlet from that of his current rigorous training. His days under the tutelage of Veyho had been at times exhausting, at times irritating, and at times just strange. Today for example he had spent several hours standing under a small waterfall, which of course was uncomfortable this time of year, while he was instructed to shut out the sound, the pressure, and the cold to focus on his inner self. He was not convinced that the exercise had been one in anything more than providing amusement to his tutor, but had not argued. Indeed, he had found that most of the unusual methods the Shundar-Quah man had employed he ultimately found beneficial. Most, but not all. There was, however, no doubt that his skills in unarmed combat had improved markedly in the past two weeks of his training.

It was, in fact, just this success that had led to the array of components he now regarded. As his skill had improved, he had decided that many of the items in his possession were now of little use to him; he felt he was unlikely to return to fighting using his spear, thus his spearhead as well as the magical heavy steel spear he had taken from the corpse of Jakardros’ ogrekin abductor were of no more use to him. Similarly, his new fighting style relied on complete mobility, and thus his armour was superfluous.

Once he had indicated that he had no need of these items, he was quickly inundated with offers of trade for them. One warrior had offered him tokens that he had been carrying around with him for years. His story was that he had once witnessed a battle between giants and a dragon up in the mountains during the depth of winter. The giants had been slain, but not before the dragon had half its face torn off by a great axe blow. Cautiously approaching the site of the battle, the man had collected hair from the heads of the fallen giants, thinking perhaps to use it for rope, Then, as he had been about to leave, he had come across the dragon’s eyes, lying in the snow among a scattering of silver scales, and had collected these things as well. The druid had examined the hair closely, confident from his knowledge that the thick blue strands had indeed come from the heads of frost giants. The eye he was less sure about; there was no question it was both very large and reptilian, but he could not identify it. That said, magical beasts were not well known to him, and the fact that it did not belong to any natural creature he could identify as well as the veracity of the giant hair certainly leant weight to the man’s story. He would have been interested to view the scales, but the warrior had traded them away years prior to someone from another tribe who had planned to incorporate them into his armour. Hair and a shrivelled eye, apparently, did not hold the same interest.

For Twitch, however, they did. He had been able to use the innate magic of the black dragon’s hide to craft several items for he and his companions, and the druid hoped he would be able to do similar with these.

And once had begun down the path of trade, he had begun to consider some of the other items he had been carrying for some time. The amulet that helped to ward him from harm had become somewhat superfluous, as his magical aptitude allowed him to do the same thing more effectively. This he had traded with Veyho for yet more giant hair, which this time the man stated was from the head of a storm giant, but was rather vague on how he had come by it. Twitch was happy to take it regardless, and the dark purple strands lay alongside those of pale blue from the frost giants, and the purported dragon’s eye. Two other items lay there. The first was another amulet; the scarab taken from Xanesha’s body following their defeat of her in Magnimar’s old belltower. Alongside this lay the strange, two pronged trident taken from the troll in the murky waters of Skull’s Crossing. He was hoping that he could somehow use the power in these two offensive items to create something new to enhance the natural attacks of both his true form and the beasts whose forms he adopted.

Pushing aside the hair and eye, he set to work...

Two weeks later Tientrich examined his handiwork. He held first the new amulet he had created. The body of it was composed of the large smoky gem that had adorned the centre of the scarab. This he had removed from its gold housing and suspended between the tines of the trident, the head of which he removed from the shaft. Of course, he had not the skill to perform the jewellery crafting himself, but the remaining gold from the scarab had been adequate to entice a craftswoman from the tribe to aid him. He had also decided to refine the raw power of the trident into something more suited to his own calling, and by suspending the amulet from a rope made of a few strands of each type of giant hair intertwined he had then managed to reattune the power along the lines of those creatures. The entire project had taken him but a few days, and he had been pleased to see the wisps of frosty air surrounding the gem and sparks of lightning arcing between the tines as he donned it for the first time.

The memory of his first attempt to use the amulet was also strongly implanted in his mind. Stepping up to a practice dummy he had unleashed two quick punches. Electricity had crackled from his fists around the wooden dummy, and it had become rimed with frost. Unfortunately, the druid had forgotten one aspect of the trident’s power; the backlash of energy against the user. He had done nothing to solve this issue during crafting of his amulet, and had collapsed in pain immediately on using it, his hands aching with cold and tingles uncomfortably reminiscent of his being hit by lightning in his youth wracking his arms. This, obviously, would not do.

Discovering a way to insulate himself from the backlash of the amulet’s powers was for time consuming, difficult and costly than had been the process of crafting the amulet itself. Eventually he had managed to have cloth woven from the remainder of the giants’ hair, and had managed to coax some of the protective properties the giants had had against the elements from the coarse fabric. The handwraps he had subsequently crafted were not the most comfortable garments he had ever worn, but now when he unleashed the storm powers of his amulet he was adequately protected. And as an added bonus, if he were ever subject to such powers from outside they would take some of the brunt of the assault.

It was soon after this that he was finally summoned by the Shaman. He once again entered the Spirit Seeker’s chamber, finding himself alone with the shaman but for the presence of Veyho. The latter seemed impatient; clearly the shaman had not yet told him anything.

“I have met for long hours with my peers.” The Spirit Seeker began “And we have agreed that these so-called Runelords may, in fact be the Azghat. This possibility led some to question whether we should in fact aid in their return, to aid us in restoring both the glory and the land of the Shoanti.”

Twitch shifted uncomfortably, and Veyho appeared to be barely restraining himself from speech. It was clear, however, that the shaman had no yet finished.

“In light of this, we all sought out the wisdom to which we had access, whether that be spirits, ancestors, or natural forces. Of course, the nature of these beings makes it very difficult to gather fine details; they do not think as we do. We were, however, faced with one overwhelming sentiment; the Azghat must not return.”

Twitch sighed with relief, and Veyho appeared more at ease.

“Then the Tamiir-Quah will aid in stopping them? You will support the Hawk?” he asked hopefully.

“No.” The shaman stated bluntly “At least not at this time. We took our concerns to the Quah-Jothka. He will not lead teh Tamiir-Quah to war unless we are directly threatened. If one of the Azghat does indeed return, I suspect he will lead us to battle. But not for any less direct threat.”

“Then I must return to the Shundar-Quah.” Veyho stated with disappointment “But not before ensuring that the Shriikirri-Quah are aware of their danger.”

“Go then.” The Spirit Seeker said, not unsympathetically.

As Twitch made to follow the his trainer the Spirit Seeker stopped him.

“Stormrider.”

Twitch stopped, though obviously keen to leave.

“Your loyalties are with the Tamii-Quah, not the Shundar-Quah.”

“Of course.” The druid replied, though in fact he was ready to leave; not to follow Veyho on his mission, but to return south. Fortunately, the Spirit Seeker made things easy for him.

“Good. I feel you can best serve us by returning to the south; much of this threat clearly revolves around that region, and I wish to keep informed of developments. You will leave in the morning.”

Tientrich took his leave, hurrying to catch up with Veyho.

“I could take you more swiftly eastward if you like. Perhaps you could then join me on my trip south.” He offered. During their training sessions Veyho had several times mentioned an interest in seeing the lowlands.

“Thank you,” Veyho replied “But no. After bringing warning to the Hawk and to my own people, I will doubtless be instructed to return here to continue pleading for aid.”

“And what will the Shundar-Quah do?” Twitch asked curiously.

“I expect our Quah-Jothka will lead us to the aid of the Shriikirri; they cannot be left to face an invasion by giants on their own.”

“Then I wish you luck; both there, and back here. Although I do wish we had had more time together.” The druid replied.

Veyho nodded. The two did indeed to have formed a close bond in their time together. It was probably, they both felt, due to them both belonging, yet not belonging, here among the Tamiir-Quah. They each had too much experience of other ways and places to accept traditional lifestyle enjoyed by Tollok’s clansmen.

They clasped arms, then went their separate ways.

Twitch spent the evening packing his belongings away, though this no longer took much time. He now carried far less than he had dome on the way here. In fact, he now carried little with him; the amulet and handwraps he had crafted, his headband that accentuated some of his mental abilities (which he had found time to further improve slightly), his carved staff (that had formerly been his spear), his dragonhide belt, and the boots that made him travel more swiftly overland being the only obvious items in his possession. Even his clothing was less plentiful, him having returned to more tribal garb; a pair of trousers made from the hide of a Lurkwood bear and a cape twin to that he had made for Krolmn (though without any magical properties) composing the entirety of his wardrobe. And of course he carried the decorative scroll case he had found in the Misgivings, and a backpack with a few potions, the goblin doll, the magical acorn, and the dragon’s eye within it.

The last he was a little disappointed with, having found no way to make use of it for any item that would benefit him. He supposed dragons could see well in the dark, but then his vision at night was already quite acute. It almost seemed a waste carrying it around.

New Responsibility Edit

Morning saw him making ready to depart, when the Spirit Seeker approached, two youths trailing behind him.

“Tollok Stormrider!” he called.

Twitch stopped and awaited the old man’s approach.

“This is Tomast.” He said, gesturing to the young man on his right. “He was one of my acolytes.”

Twitch looked the man, barely more than a boy really, over. Tall, he was heavily bundled in furs, typical Shoanti fashion for this time of year but it seemed he was also perhaps trying to hide his lack of bulk. His unshaven hair was woven with various fetishes, and he shifted constantly with nervous energy, seemingly excited. A wide smile was plastered across his face.

“Was?” Twitch asked, unsure of the relevance of this.

“Yes. He is now your acolyte.”

“No. “ the druid stated flatly “I need no followers.”

“It was not a question.” The Spirit Seeker replied, as the boy’s face fell. “He will go with you, and will communicate back to me and developments. Besides which,” he continued “his spiritual influences lie more along the lines of yours than they do mine.”

Knowing better than to argue, Twitch nodded once. He supposed it would not be too bad, perhaps the youth could integrate with Krolmn’s junior rangers. Perhaps a week or two with the gnome would be enough to send him back north. Although the seemingly jovial nature of the youth cast doubt into the druid’s mind that this were indeed true.

His glance flicked briefly to the other youth, this one equally tall but more muscular. It took a moment for the druid to register that this one was female. A slight widening of her hips was at first the only indicator of her gender, and her age seemed rather indeterminate. Any womanly attributes were well disguised by the hard leather vest pulled tight across her chest, despite the fact that it was cut in such a way as to proudly display the tattoo of initiation on her torso.  Her head was shaven in the traditional fashion of Shoanti warriors, but on closer examination her features were certainly female, the large eyes, high cheekbones and full lips giving her face an appealing cast now that he paid more attention. A klar was strapped to her belt, the gecko’s skull with blade embedded at its front the favoured shield of his people, and doubling as a weapon in times of need. It was not, it seemed, her preferred method of combat.

“Krolmn would be jealous of that!” the druid thought to himself as he regarded the beautiful recurved bow slung over her back, composed of well-kept wood and horn. The gnome of course would have no hope of using it, the bow being fully twice his height. The bow probably explained her attire; women were built in such a way as to make archery potentially hazardous, he imagined. A large quiver of arrows sat alongside the bow, all fletched in the near-black feathers of storm rocs. As he took all of this in, the druid could not help but notice she displayed none of the enthusiasm of the boy next to her. In fact she displayed nothing to show how she was feeling at all. Twitch suddenly had a bad feeling.

“This is Tama.” The Spirit Seeker said.

“She is no shaman.” He replied flatly.

The boy barely seemed able to contain his mirth as she continued to stand, unreactive.

“No. This is Tomast’s sister. She also will accompany you.”

“For what purpose?” Tientrich asked, thought with resignation to the inevitable.

The shaman shrugged.

“She will not leave Tomast. Thus she goes.”

“You don’t seem very enthusiastic.” Twitch said, addressing the girl “Are you sure you wish to come?”

The girl nodded, almost imperceptibly.

“She’s always like that.” Tomast said with a smile. “We call her Grimfeather.”

Well, two couldn’t be much worse than one could it? He thought. He had a feeling that if she didn’t loosen up she may quickly become a target for Krolmn’s pranks once they got back.

“Fine.” He said tossing his pack to the boy as he made ready to transform. If he continued to wear it it would, of course, meld into his new shape. But one never knew when one might need something from it. Besides, making Tomast carry it was a way from him to take out a little of his irritation at his unexpected passengers.

Tientrich again transformed into the great raptor that was his current favoured form.

The two youths stood still for a moment, and the druid hoped they were having a change of heart now that they had seen their mode of transport.

“Well, look sharp!” the shaman admonished “Your roc’s set.”

Grimfeather paled slightly, while Tomast whooped as he jumped on the druid’s back. The shaman frowned.

“This is no joyride!” He exclaimed “Hold on tight,” he continued “You know it’s a little bit dangerous. And wrap those cloaks about you; it will be very cold as you ascend, if you are not going to take this seriously at least be dressed for success.”

The great eagle launched upward. Twitch circled slowly as he gained altitude, giving his passengers a good view of the land they were leaving, before turning south and east. This was, of course, not the direct route back to Sandpoint, but he had one more thing he wished to do on the way, though it was in fact out of the way. But then, with their defeat of the ogres and giants in hook mountain they had no doubt won some time. The threat of Jorgenfist remained, but he felt no sense of urgency.

*

It was the third night out from the Tamiir-Quah winter camp. Twitch had landed each night, resting from his burdens while they in turn made camp. They had exchanged little conversation; after full days flying carrying the two young Shoanti he tended to fall quickly to sleep, leaving them to take care of guard duty. Tonight, however they had a task to complete, his very reason for travelling here rather than straight back to Sandpoint.

They were now in the forest near Fort Rannick. He had no interest in visiting the Fort again, feeling he and his companions had done all they could for the black arrows. Indeed, tonight’s task had nothing to do with the Black Arrows, other than that it was while accompanying them that he had come up with the idea.

“You will need to follow me closely,” he instructed his two companions; the night was foggy, and he did not wish to lose them. “But once we reach our destination I will need you to stay still and await my return. Understood?”

Tama simply nodded, while Tomast seemed unable to contain his curiosity.

“What are we doing?” he whispered eagerly, feeling it appropriate in the foggy night. “Killing ogres?”

Twitch frowned. “I certainly do not anticipate any ogres.” He replied “And I certainly would not be taking either of you with me if I was. Tonight we are simply collecting some of nature’s bounty to bring back to Sandpoint.”

Tomast looked a little deflated, but relieved; he had imagined more excitement than collecting herbs, but wasn’t keen to fight ogres either.

“Bad luck Grim.” He said, turning to his sister “You’ll have to wait a little longer.”

 Tientrich looked toward the girl, and for a moment thought he saw her drop her eyes slightly in embarrassment before resuming her usual nonchalant demeanour. He shook his head; it seemed the girl really did want to try her hand at ogre hunting. Follies of youth, he supposed, and set off, moving quickly toward the place he remembered.

An hour later he sighed in frustration. He knew he was in the right area but...

“Damn this fog, it obscures everything!”

“Why don’t you just use this?” Tomast asked, fishing into the druid’s backpack that he still carried. He pulled forth the dragon’s eye Twitch had carried back from the Plateau.

“What do you mean? Use it how?” he asked, annoyed.

“To see through the fog of course!” the boy exclaimed, puzzled. “Isn’t that why you have it?”

Twitch took the eye from the boy and held it in front of him. To his surprise, the fog was easier to see through in the area immediately surrounding the orb. Strange.

“How did you know it would do this?” the druid asked his apprentice, surprised.

“Oh, I noticed when we were flying through some clouds. I figured it would be the same with fog.” The boy said, looking a little smug.

“You were looking through my things? Three miles above the ground? What if you had dropped something?” Twitch asked angrily. At least, he hoped he appeared angry; he really didn’t care, but thought that three days into the boy’s tenure as his apprentice was far too soon for him to start thinking he knew things the druid didn’t, even if he was right. He had to deflect attention away somehow.

It seemed he had done an adequate job, as Tomast paled. He thought for a moment he saw the hint of a smile on Tama’s lips, but couldn’t be sure.

“Now, come on.”

Having the eye allowed him to see a little better, although having to hold it right alongside his own eye blocked much of his field of vision. Presumably this was some remnant property from the dragon; perhaps they were able to see through fog and clouds due to living in their cold, mountain homes. He damped down his excitement at the possibilities this raised, now that he knew. It would take more research before he knew if he could make use of this, and tonight he needed to focus on the task at hand.

“Ah, here it is!” Twitch exclaimed, approaching a large hole in a damp hillside.

‘What is it?” Tomast asked, his chagrin forgotten.

“Giant bee hive.” The druid replied “I need to go in. I can stop the bees from attacking me, but I cannot do the same for you. It is cold enough they’re probably inactive but I won’t take the risk; you two wait here.”

The druid walked into the hole, emerging some time later dragging something behind him.

“What do we need giant bee honey for? I bet it has medicinal properties!” Tomast exclaimed as he returned.

“Some would call it medicinal. We need it to brew mead.” Twitch returned with a smile. “And we need far more over time than we can carry now. That’s why I brought this!”

Tomast approached, and even Tama’s curiosity got the better of her. Then both quickly jumped back.

“That thing’s huge!”

Behind the druid, carefully wrapped, was the form of an enormous bee, fully six feet in length. In the cold night it barely moved. Which was just as well, Tomast thought, as that dagger-sized sting looked vicious.

“It will get bigger.” He said “After it has mated. This one is a virgin queen, once it becomes a fully fledged queen it will measure closer to twelve feet. Of course, it would be far too difficult to move it then.”

“How will we move it now?” the boy asked.

“Grimfeather will carry it on my back while we fly.”

Twitch was pleased to see the girl pale; she seemed torn between trying to maintain her usual sense of aloofness and begging out of the task. The former, it seemed won. Tomast sniggered.

“That’ll be fun for you Grim, mind that sting.”

The girl had composed herself now, and turned calmly to Twitch, speaking for the first time, her voice deep and soft.

“Master Tollok, you said she will grow after she mates. Where will she find a mate?” she asked lightly, glancing out of the corner of her eye at her brother.

“Very observant Tama.” The druid said, then turned and walked back to the hole, noticing the sharp smile she threw at Tomast as he went, and the boy’s look of horror. He was, he had to admit, starting to like the girl.

Return to Sandpoint Edit

Several more days flying saw Tientrich finally approaching the farm near Sandpoint. The time had, fortunately, passed uneventfully, the bees remaining dormant in the cold. He circled once high over the farm, able to observe the view below despite the low-lying cloud cover; during the evenings he had managed to peel the lens from the dragon’s eye, recrafting it into two smaller lenses which now fit over his own eyes, gifting him with the ability to see through the mist. Frowning he looked down upon the land for the first time since leaving with the Black Arrows. He had asked Krolmn to have a sitting room added to his abode, and knew the ranger had one or two things to work on himself. It seemed, however, that the gnome had gotten carried away.

On leaving the farm had been a modest place: Twitch’s treetop abode with its bridge leading back into the hillside and the rooms within, the garden and greenhouse, farmland, and Krolmn’s stables and pens all that were present.

There were now, however, no less than 5 additional buildings of varying sizes, some obviously containing multiple rooms, on the property. It seemed Krolmn must have employed most of Sandpoint’s population to get all of this done!

Twitch landed, and the two young Shoanti, well practiced my now, slid skilfully off his back and brought the bees to ground. Shifting back to his natural form he explored the new additions at ground level, as the two followed him around, unsure what they should be doing.

One seemed to be the gnome’s own residence, going by the low doorways, near this was another new building, a workshop for the crafting of weapons. The next contained basic cots along with a supply of medicinal herbs gathered from the garden. Here he found a familiar face in the small office adjoining the main room.

“Hannah!” he said, pleased at the elf’s presence. Hannah Velerin was Sandpoint’s resident herbalist, tending the ills deemed too minor by the temple. And of course she was also the town’s midwife; Twitch and his companions had met her seemingly an eternity ago after the festival, when she had told the tale of Nualia’s stillbirth. He was, though, confused by her presence here, and told her so.

“Well, when I heard that you and Krolmn were building a hospital here I came to see; your facilities here are obviously still in their early stages, Krolmn said there are plans to expand it further. Still, it is much better than what I have available to me in town, and I feel most people benefit from getting out into the fresh air while they recover. Krolmn agreed that I could come here to do much of my work, though of course I will keep my store in town also.”

Twitch didn’t remember mentioning a hospital with the gnome, but he would discuss that with him later.

“But what do you do when you have patients that need watching overnight?” the druid asked instead.

“Oh, usually one of the others watch them and I come back in the morning.”

“What others? Krolmn’s Junior Rangers?” the druid wondered whether the gnome had done some more recruiting.

“Sometimes Nettle.” She said “Or one of your apprentices. Sometimes I stay in your students’ lodgings; Krolmn said you wouldn’t mind.”

“My apprentices? I’ve only just brought Tomast and Tama back.” Twitch said.

“Oh, I meant your other students. From Mierani Forest. The ones the druids’ council sent.”

“And where would I find them now?” Twitch asked.

“Probably in the common room. Usually there would be lessons but something is happening at Sandpoint and Krolmn is over there with Nettle and Julius. I think something is going on;  there have been meetings with the Sheriff and Mayor, but nobody is saying anything at the moment.”

Twitch made his way to the next building. It contained a large central common room adorned with a long table and several chairs. Adjoining this was a room of bunks and a section of small partitioned sleeping quarters, as well as a kitchen and lavatory. There was, however, nobody here.

By the river was one more large building complex. This time the druid smiled as he reaslised its purpose; Krolmn had built the brewery. It was something Twitch had mentioned only briefly. He had not thought the gnome had stopped talking long enough to have heard. It seemed the meadery would be ready as soon as spring came and the bees got to work.

He had still, however, found no sign of these additional students he had supposedly been encumbered with. He checked the garden and greenhouse, as well as the new small room next to the stalls where it seemed Krolmn was attempting to hatch some kind of large egg, though he didn’t study it long enough to puzzle out what it was. Tientrich made his way past his home to the rooms in the hillside. Here he found more additions; an alchemy lab (lucky all the walls were thick stone!) and a classroom. And here, in his library, he presumed he had found his students at last.

As he entered two people stood; a young woman probably in her mid-twenties (Twitch had never been good at guessing despite his knowledge of nature, and had found it better not to) and an elven man, his age even harder to determine. Both were dressed similarly in leathers and cloth of green, grey and brown. Dressed, in fact, very similarly to Twitch himself when he had left the Mierani forest. He had no doubt these two were druid acolytes.

“Master Tientrich,” the man bowed respectfully, speaking the druidic language “I am pleased you have arrived. I am named Triffid, and this is Liel. We look forward to learning much from you.”

“But not right away.” Liel said to Triffid before Twitch could even react “Remember she said she needed to speak to Master Tientrich as a matter of urgency when he returned.”

“Who did?” Twitch asked. He really didn’t need any more surprises. Or any more students!

“The woman in your house.” Liel said “The Halfling.”

“We didn’t really think she should be there.” Triffid continued “But she insisted it would be okay. And Master Krolmn agreed. He said you knew her...er...intimately.”

“ ‘Inside and out’was his exact words.” Liel finished helpfully.”Then he gave a funny grin, so I’m not sure what he meant.”

“We find it really hard to know when he is being serious.” Triffid agreed.

“Assume never and you won’t be far off.” Twitch muttered. “This is Tomast and Tama,” he introduced the two Shoanti youths who had hung back during the conversation they had been unable to understand, now speaking common “Get to know each other. Show them around. I’ll be back soon.”

The druid made his way back across the bridge to his house, knowing there could only be one person he would find there.

Twitch stepped through the door to his home, pleased at how well the addition had been integrated into the existing woven-wood building. There was no furniture as yet in the sitting room, just a large rug on the floor.

“Summer.”

Bad News, New Growth Edit

“Giants attacking Sandpoint? When?”

The Halfling had very briefly filled Twitch in on her doings since he had last seen her after the fall of Fort Rannick; apparently she had been developing her already extensive knowledge into other areas. But she had glossed over this, moving quickly onto the impending danger to Sandpoint.

“They think about two days away.” The apparently young woman replied. “ I assumed you’d come back here first so waited here to hurry you along.”

“ A good idea. We must make preparations. Come on.”

The druid exited his hime, Summer in close pursuit. He collected his apprentices and Hannah on the way.

“Get the bees.” He instructed Tomast and Grim, then began walking purposefully to the south.

“Where are you going?” Summer demanded “Sandpoint’s to the north!”

“And what good would going there do right now? I’m no warrior or engineer, I have no idea how to plan a town defense. I’ll leave that to the experts. “

“So what are you doing then?”

“Protecting the Whisperwood.” He replied. “And these people.” He gestured at the other five accompanying them.

Getting them all across the Soggy River, swollen with the upstream rains, required a quick change back to his huge raptor form. Once on the other side he led them into the forest, though not too deeply; he had not yet had time to check whether the werewolves were still active.

From his pack he drew forth the glowing acorn. He knew it would become a gargantuan oak tree on activation. He hoped that the reborn Lamatar’s magic had made it more than that. Finding a small clearing, he placed the acorn on the ground and muttered a few words. A small root shot froth into the ground, then a trunk emerged from the top of the nut. Quickly the tree grew. And grew. Soon an ancient-looking oak towered sixty feet overhead. The great green canopy quickly yellowed, then reddened as the leaves fell to match the season. The druid felt a flutter of nervousness as he made ready to address the tree.

“Are you awake?” he asked in the druidic language.

There was a pause for several moments, during which the druid feared this tree was normal, or at least as normal as a tree that had just magically grown to full size in a matter of moments could be. Then several of the boughs moved, looking for all the world as if the tree were stretching. A breeze whipped through the branches, the hiss quickly becoming apparent to the druid as a word.

“Yes.” The tree whispered.

Twitch smiled, then addressed Tomast, Grim, Lile, Triffid and Hannah.

“Sandpoint is, in the next few days, going come under the attack of giants. This is the safest place for you; do not venture away from the tree. It is called Whisper.” It seemed appropriate given its role as the wood’s guardian, as well as its sibilant voice.

“I should get back to Sandpoint.” Hannah argued.

“No. It is safer here. And your healing abilities will be needed in the aftermath.”

“What do we do while we’re here?” Tomast asked.

“Firstly, find a new home for the bees.”

“But you said not to venture away from the tree.” He argued.

“You will all go together. Whisper will follow. Once you have done that you can explore the wood; you will be spending much time here during your studies, but do not go in too deep. And if you see any giants, hide. If they see you, stay behind Whisper; it will protect you.

“I will return after the attack.”

Twitch left, Summer close behind.

“You’re not ordering me to stay?” she asked.

“I would if I thought you’d listen.”

“You’re far wiser than most men I know.” She joked “Most see my stature and assume they can order me around. Did you know I sometimes have to magically make myself bigger just to be taken seriously? I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m quite pleased with this new form, but sometimes the stature is a disadvantage.”

“You can make yourself bigger? You have magical talents?” the druid asked.

“Did you really think I’d stick to mundane knowledge after all I’ve seen?” she asked, incredulous. ”Yes I have magical talents, although the enlarging isn’t one that comes easily. I use scrolls.” She said sheepishly.

“Do you have some still?” the druid asked, an idea coming to him.

“Yes. Why?”

“Because two days should be just enough to give us one final boost before the attack. Come with me.”

They made their way to the druid’s magical laboratory, and he explained his idea to Summer on the way. Two days later they flew toward Sandpoint, and new pair of bracers adorning Twitch’s form (pr at least, would have done in his true form) and Summer carried one for each of Belor and Tevan. Twitch hoped they would be in time, as he heard a clarion call of alarm from the town ahead...

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