Once the summer court spent its days in song and harmony with nature, but those days are long past. The elven god and creator was killed and the elves nearly wiped out in the ensuing Civil War, stopped only due to the Age of Ice. With the promotion of Cernunnos to be the new god of nature, the protectors of the forests are emerging from the few hidden groves they still control. The question which remains is whether the old feud shall begin anew.
8% High Elf
4% Wood Elf
2% Half Elf
2% Forest Gnome
< 1% Other
45% Chaotic Good
40% Chaotic Neutral
4% Neutral Good
Adult population Lvl 1 or higher: 15%
Sorcerer: 5% (Wild Magic)
Warlock: 1% (Fey)
Other: < 1%
The smell of the smoke became worse. Not like a cooking fire, the sweet smell of dry wood tinged with game and entwined with all the smells of the woods he knew so well. This was the smell of burning leaves still moist from yesterday’s rains, of the deep wood from the interior of ancient firs ablaze, and the fear of trapped animals waiting for painful death.
His home was burning.
It wasn’t long until Amelanchier and his rangers met the inferno that was raping their homeland. With a signal he dispatched two to nearby Elendwine, to alert the citizens and ready the mages. The rest followed him, circling around the flames and surveying the extent of the damage.
The elven prince was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. He turned to face the unseeing eyes of Calatin. The ancient elf had been a gift to Amelanchier when he pledged to Arendel Phaedra’s court. “Fire is a natural part of the cycle of the forest. But it should not have spread this far, this fast. The heat…”
Amelanchier nodded. “It is unnatural.”
“Or perhaps… supernatural.” They grimly continued their search from the treetops. It did not take long for their suspicion to be confirmed. At the heart of the semi-circle of fire a battle was raging. A company of shining paladins faced down a balor. But it was the lone elderly man that caught Amelanchier’s eye. A wave of flame radiated out from him, washing over a group of imps which vanished in puffs of acrid smoke.
“Do you know where they are?” Amelanchier asked.
“No, but the forest does,” replied Calatin.
Calatin spoke gently to the mammoth ancient fir tree in which they were perched. A low rumble filled the air, though the combatants on the ground were oblivious—until the roots and underbrush around them rose up to bind them. Before they knew it they were trapped. Amelanchier pointed to the balor and his rangers let fly a storm of enchanted arrows. The balor disappeared in a storm of lightning bolts. Only stinking ashes remained.
The druid kept the humans entangled. "Bring me the old man,” said Amelanchier. Calatin nodded and spoke again to the tree-trunk. After a moment, the forest next to them parted and a giant treant emerged, looking the druid in the eyes, then turning and picking up the old man from the tangled underbrush, holding him up to Amelanchier.
“This is your doing, human? This fire?”
The old man mustered what dignity he could. “I am an emissary from Pontif Elmin. I have come to bring the message of Junil to the Ljosalfar. In Elendwine we found a branch of the Ashen Veil cult and sought to cleanse them from your lands.”
“The Veil will bring the corruption of hell to the world! They must be opposed at every opportunity!”
“Why should I care for the world when you imperil my home?”
“Already the world is moaning from the stain the Veil has placed upon it. Surely you have seen the crops dying, disease spreading… The elves cannot ignore the coming apocalypse!”
The elf seemed to be considering the argument. “Perhaps I can.” He held two fingers in front of his face, pointing at the treant, then slowly separated them. “If I make a suitable example of interlopers.” The treant ripped the confessor in two, and the elven rangers struck the paladins dead from their perch.
The window glass had moved during the centuries, pouring down its frame at a rate considered slow even by elven standards. Now the ripples in the glass made the shadowed forests beyond look twisted and surreal. Arendel was as disappointed that the elegant window separated the palace from the forests as she was impressed at its craftsmanship.
“I trust your stay has been comfortable?”
Faeryl entered the chamber; she had asked her attendants to stay behind, so there were only the two queens in the room.
“Of course, I am always amazed at the beauty of the Unseelie court, and the courtesy of its residents.”
Faeryl tipped her head at the compliment. She wore the Tan’elyn, the elven crown of authority and mark of the queen. As queen she wouldn’t be required to return the compliment, it was enough for her simply to accept it. Faeryl had shown the same respect yesterday when Arendel wore the crown.
They had just concluded the rites of autumn, the transference of rulership of the elves from the Seelie to the Unseelie court. Faeryl would rule for six months until the rites of spring were performed to transfer power back. Each court had ruled for half the year since the Age of Dragons.
Faeryl stared at Arendel, trying to determine the source of the uncharacteristic concern that hung over her.
“Arendel, what concerns you? Is your family well?”
“Yes, they are well. It is kind of you to ask.” Arendel thought about her dour mood. “I have been bothered, and I apologize for that, it is certainly nothing to do with you or the Unseelie court. I don’t know what it is, I just feel like we are in a dangerous time. Winter is coming so early this year; we have just performed the rite of autumn, and the scouts are already reporting some snowfall. The priests are having powerful dreams and the forests aren’t dropping into their winter slumber, instead they seem to be reblossoming.”
“You have been listening to Yvain, he was here saying the same things and warning of some event he couldn’t name. You should rest and forget the strains of leadership. You will need to be ready when winter ends and I pass the crown back to you. Until then, should anything occur, I will handle it.”
She was sincere; Arendel loved Faeryl like a sister but she knew that Faeryl wasn’t happy to have the crown change hands so quickly—it kept her from being able to accomplish many of the more aggressive projects she planned. Maybe that was why the time was so short, so the elves wouldn’t ever be able to make any meaningful change.
“Of course my queen, I am sorry to trouble you with my own worrying.”
“It is fine, Arendel, that is what the time of rest is for. While you rule you think of nothing but the elven empire, and never of yourself. Now care for yourself. Perhaps the winter will be strong this year and Sucellus sends the new seed to help sustain us through it.”
“I must go, there is a lot to do today. I hope you will join us for dinner.”
“Of course” Arendel said, “and I promise to be a more amicable guest.”
“Just make sure you come or else I will bring the meal here and we will sit in front of this window you favor, and leave the rest of the guests wondering what to do without their queens.”
They both smiled.
As a rule, Elves don’t enjoy battle, but Gilden was different. From a young age he studied the animals of the forest and how they attacked. The elves never trained with anything other than a bow, but Gilden practiced with long knives, attacking, stabbing, recoiling until his movements became as fluid as a tiger’s.
He never told anyone about his practicing, often traveling miles away from the village so that no one would see him. It was after one of these trips that he returned to find his village under attack.
Werewolves, dozens of them, roamed the leafy paths of his home. Gilden was familiar with their movements; they were like wild wolves, jumping easily from victim to victim, raking claws knocking bows aside, teeth biting through elven chainmail. The ones that attacked first were tall and powerfully built, but Gilden could already see slain elves rising as gaunt brown werewolves. The werewolves were born starving and instinctively joined the older werewolves in the attack.
A human walked through the battle. He carried an iron morningstar with gleaming silver spikes. A thick gold brooch fastened a dark blue cloak embroidered with gold. He was dressed like a nobleman, although from his build and stride it was obvious that he was also a warrior. The werewolves grew even more ferocious as the man watched; he commanded a few toward hidden elves or to help in places where elves were mounting a successful defense. A newborn werewolf, blinded by its own hunger, made the mistake of attacking him. He became a werewolf so fast he seemed to live in both forms at once, human and wolf. One swipe of his massive clawed fist removing the left ear, jaw, and most of the newborn werewolf ’s throat.
Gilden had trained most of his life for this. An elf who enjoyed warfare was now witness to his people’s attack, but he was already too late. Maybe if he had arrived an hour before there would have been a chance to kill them before so many new werewolves were born. Maybe if the man wasn’t here. Gilden would fight them, but not here; he had a lot more training to do. So he turned his back on the fighting, left the village and his people’s screams behind him. They would be avenged, but not today.
But Gilden did not escape his fate so easily. Five newborn werewolves followed his scent. Two were dispatched with silver arrows from the treetops. The next three were not so easy. They climbed the trees and finally cornered Gilden, who drew his silvered blades at bay. Only long years of secret practice with dagger, short sword and rapier saw him through the grim struggle that followed.
Gilden crawled from the glade where he had fallen among the corpses of his adversaries. Soon Gilden discovered he was infected with the dreaded disease of lycanthropy. The elf retreated to the farthest reaches of the forest for fear of what he would soon become. The first change was even worse than he imagined. Gilden awoke face down in a pool of gore spitting chunks of raw meat from his mouth. The gutted carcass of a still-warm badger lay steaming in the bloody grass.
Over many months alone in savage lands, Gilden learned to control his disease. Through sheer strength of will the raging elf turned his affliction into a finely honed weapon. The man in the blue cloak had much to answer for.