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  #31  
Old 03-31-2019, 09:43 PM
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The Opening of the Way

The angelic man stood tall and radiant as he slowly turned towards the gargantuan Troll things which now threatened to block the Guardians' final steps to their long awaited destination. His long dark hair rose slightly with the wind of his movement while his gleaming breastplate whispered softly as his enormous white feathered wings unfurled and cusped mightily at the air to lift him suddenly high above the valley floor. Delvron raised one sword above and before him as he let his second blade ride low between his ankles to serve as a sort of makeshift rudder which helped guide his flight while his wings focused entirely on propelling him up and forward as swiftly as they possibly could carry him. Bright holy light gleamed from his weapons, dispelling the shadows which recoiled from him as he surged forth towards battle. He spun once clockwise as he reached the crescendo of his upward momentum and seemed to hang for the briefest moment as he turned to face the Guardians and saluted them with his high sword by bringing it briefly to his brow between his shining golden eyes. He smiled the broadest of grins which showed in no uncertain terms that Delvron, in the midst of war and chaos, surrounded on all sides by every possible grade of evil, was in his element and was having the time of his life.

His wife Helena, clad from head to toe in a resplendent suit of shining mail, wore a grin to match her love's and her perfectly chiseled face positively gleamed with glee as her own angelic wings thrust her skyward a bare breath behind her lover. Her long mane of golden hair flew loose and free behind her as she rose, the perfect banner for the ardent fury blazing from within her warrior's heart. Her hand-and-a-half swords burst into sudden flame blazing pink and purple in a coruscating maelstrom which gyrated from hilt to deadly point as she held them splayed to either side as she flew. Not sparing a glance back at those she left behind, she surged beside Delvron and caught up to him so that she flanked him evenly as they flew towards their foes.

Kurrhaaagn, grinning that pie-eating grin of his, drew his unbelievably oversized sword until the weapon, too large even for his massive girth, rested easily on one muscled shoulder. He shrugged then took off at a sprint, his magical anklets causing him to run easily on top of the messy melting sludge which covered the beleaguered valley floor.

Greywolff watched the trio streak off towards battle and shook his head, grinning nearly as wolfishly as Kurrhaaagn had as he shrugged.

"They do like to show off, don't they?"

He laughed to show that he meant the jibe to be no more than teasing and turned to Nolia, a more serious look overtaking his somehow boyish face.

"Don't worry, pretty lady. Adeledane will be just fine. We'll keep the Troll-thingies off you. Good luck everyone!"

His focus switched as he said these last words, including all the Guardians in his well wishes before turning northward as his comrades had mere moments before. As he launched his hulking form into a sprint behind Kurrhaaagn, he turned his head in a south-easterly direction and bellowed:

"Badwanis! Are you coming or what? I'm not leaving any for you so you better catch up!"

As he said the words, Greywolff's face began to break and melt as fur sprang from the collar of his breast plate and his arms began to stretch and bend at unnatural angles. His back arched violently backwards as he ran and grew visibly as the armor he wore seemed to dissolve into his fur and flesh. Greywolff's ears rose to near the top of his head and elongated until they became too pointy as fur erupted to cover him even there. His head had become a wolf's head and his entire body was a hybrid of wolf and man but which stood twice as tall as Greywolff had stood before. All that remained of his worldly possessions was a large Orcish Double Axe which had appeared seemingly from thin air in his wolf-like hands. He threw his head up as he ran and unleashed a howl which curled the blood and caused the hackles at the back of the neck to tingle as they rose along with goose flesh.

"AAAAAAAAAWWWWWOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

An answering howl rose from the depths of a nearby scar upon the land and a moment later a massive wolf leaped from the depths of the earth and landed near the half-wolf Greywolff and sprinted alongside him as they streaked towards the Troll-like abominations.

Badwanis had arrived.

Greywolff leaned forward as he put all he had into his mad dash across the valley and soon ran past Kurrhaaagn who took a half-hearted swipe at him with one wicked talon as he struggled to keep up. They made a game of it as Badwanis nipped at Kurrhaaagn's heels to goad him forward, causing the Troll to giggle as he ran.

And then, they were upon them.

The Trolls already had grown to impossible size when the companions reached them, standing more than fifty feet high as long tendrils whorled and whipped about them as they advanced to face the streaking heroes.

Delvron reached them first. Dozens of tendrils whipped at him as he closed in, but the Half-Angel wove and spun around them and below them while his blades began their spinning dance of death. He flew between the legs of the left middle one, aligning both his blades side-by-side as he furled his wings for a moment and reopened them with a violent thrust as he passed, cutting one of the Troll's legs completely off. The creature bellowed when its limbs lurched violently to the side causing it to lose its balance and begin to fall. Half a dozen of its tentacles flailed and shot suddenly downward into the ground near where its leg had been and tried to catch its fall, but Helena zoomed in behind her husband and spun as she followed him beside its one remaining leg and lashed out with her blades at the holding appendages, cleaving every one of them with her spinning blades.

The creature slammed hard into the ground in a great splash of slush and ice.

Dzidvidzias flew in next, riding atop his giant Dragon Fly steed, his long metal shaft crackling now with sputtering sparks and flares. He went to the right and passed between two of the grasping Troll-things but the grasping tendrils bounced uselessly against a sphere of static force which the Dzid leader had erupted around himself. He raised his staff suddenly and a violent purple streak of blazing lightning flew from it and slammed straight through three of the massive things, creating a gaping hole he could have flown through were he so inclined. The creatures screamed as their every tendril convulsed with agony and turned in on themselves as though to hold their insides in as green and black sludge spurted from the gaping holes the lightning left behind.

Before the Rightmost middle one could recover, Greywolff slammed into it with his spinning Axe, leaping high to catch it clean within its abdomen, causing it to lurch violently into its compatriot so that both came crashing down towards the east creating the opening the Guardians would need to move past them to reach the cradle. Kurrhaagn slammed into another one, his massive greatsword singing loudly as it clove and chopped and cut at appendages as he closed in, until he, too, leaped and clove the creature in the midriff causing its inside to bathe the cackling troll in gore as he pulled his weapon free.

Next the Dragons joined the fray, circling and unleashing their devastating chilling breath upon the reaching creatures, turning flesh to ice and smashing into hardened tentacles, breaking them off so that they exploded into icy shards which flitted almost slowly to the valley floor.

The Guardians ran behind Badwanis, who never stopped to aid his battling companions, opting instead to remain close to the sprinting guardians as they passed the flailing tendrils of the mutant Trolls to eventually reach the small path which would lead them behind the roaring waters of the waterfall to the entrance to Gaia's cradle.

They had made it.

When they reached the dark opening behind the rushing waters, Badwanis curled in on himself in his overly large wolfen form and began to shrink swiftly as the bluish silver fur which covered his body retracted into his flesh until a much smaller elven man crouched where the wolf had been a moment before.

Badwanis was a handsome male elf, with blue hair pulled back into a neat and tidy braid and eyes which gleamed with penetrating intelligence when he turned to face the Guardians. He wore shiny elven chain mail and his hands drew an Elven Curve Blade and silvery mithral shield seemingly from air. He moved with a grace and precision which belied a level of training which spoke of thousands of hours on the practice floor and field of battle and his weapon moved through the air as though it were an extension of his arm.

"I do not know what we will find inside, but know that I will die to save Adeledane. She will not die."

Badwanis turned and went first into the depths of Gaia's cradle.




The opening to the cavern seemed innocuous enough, a simple wide fissure in the mountainside behind the waterfall, like a small scar which bled lichen and moss along the wet stony edges of the entrance. As Badwanis marched brazenly forth in his elven form, the sides of the tunnel leading down towards the heart of the Cradle progressed from a scant wet vegetative coating to more solid roots and vines which grew from soft earth which seemed to coat the hard rock in each rounded corner of the passage. The Lithari had barely progressed a dozen steps down the passage when Winter noticed something not quite right with the dangling herbage which flanked their passing. They seemed to thrum with Badwanis' passing and as she looked on, she saw the stalks twitch and move subtly towards his form as he passed.

"Wait!"

It was all she had time to say before a dozen stalks shot out suddenly and violently towards Badwanis and grasped him in several places, holding his arms, legs and torso as they whipped around him and began to pull. He opened his mouth to scream and a stalk shot into his mouth turning his scream into a gurgle before it could even manifest. His eyes grew wide with horror as he now faced the Guardians and the twines began to pull at him causing terrible tearing sounds to erupt from his joints as his eyes rolled back into his head from the agony. Meanwhile, the twines and vines which flanked the Guardians began to twitch...

 

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  #32  
Old 04-01-2019, 11:56 AM
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Winter Morningspire
She should have been expecting something like this, but so much had happened in the last few minutes, they were being sloppy. Her warning was fast enough, and Winter was so focused on Badwanis that she didn't notice the stalks reaching for her. Thankfully, Lena was Hero point to save the caster!quicker to react, grabbing her by her cloak and leaping back out of danger.

These... plants seemed strangely familiar, and it only took a moment for it to click. "Hold!" She called, wanting to prevent anyone else from wading in. "They're magic, we can't just attack them." She reached for her magic, pulling it to her fingertips and forming the disruptive patterns, before throwing a wave of energy down the cavern, but she could immediately tell it wasn't enough. "We need to dispel them, but this is a very powerful spell," she said. Already she was calling on her magic again,Not going for a second round yet. letting it build.


 

 
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  #33  
Old 04-01-2019, 08:34 PM
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OotaOota remained quiet and relatively calm on the quick flight to The Cradle. But his thoughts were not still. He wondered at the two women as they continued to press recklessly forward, and though fate had given them a way, he couldn't help but resent them slightly. It was important to save Adeledane, surely, and there was also the matter of The Source Tree, though there were things about the situation that he didn't understand. But still, it was his place to shield them all from harm as much as possible. Thus far, he wasn't exactly proud of how he had fared. He tried to move forward to engage first, but all that had done was separate him from the others.

As they reached the mouth of the cave, Oota watched as the animalistic form of Badwanis transformed into an attractive elven form. The monstrous ogrekin lowered his eyes for a moment, almost envious of that ability to change. If he could assume a fairer form, perhaps he would inspire less revulsion in others. The beast-elf spoke then, words that Oota also felt in his soul. His life was meaningless if he was not serving others, so he knew that his life must be forfeit.

Oota moved carefully as he descended into the tunnel, doing his best this time to remain close to the masters. But Badwanis moved faster than he did and Oota tried to stop him as gently as he could with his deep, stony voice, "Not so fast, Sir. Let's stick together until we know what we face."

But his warning came too late. Lady Winter's voice called out, but before anyone could truly act, the elf he had admired just moments before was seized by moving vines. Even worse, more than a dozen others moved to grasp the other guardians. Oota responded instantly, dodging gracefully as he maneuvered his poleaxe, pushing and hooking the dire foliage as he made his retreat with the others, though Lena had to drag Winter free. Seeing that, he loved the magnificent beast even more.

When he was clear, he instantly tried to think of a way forward. He could call flame to some extent, but he also felt that he was likely to burn Badwanis if he did. He watched the vines, feeling that he could likely cut his way through. But he lamented the thought of how much time would be wasted, considering the tentacle-vines seemed to number close to a hundred.

As Oota prepared himself to advance once again, Lady Winter called out once more. These things were magic and the sorceress began to work a spell to try dispel them. It was something that he was glad to hear, but he also fidgeted at the words. He turned to look at her with his red eyes for a moment as he spoke in a gentle tone once again, "I trust you, Lady Morningspire. Dispel the magic so we can move forward... " the ogrekin's words faltered, then he continued in a stronger voice, "But I can't leave him like that. I have to try to get to him, if only to exchange our places. Save me, if things go bad..." As he spoke the request for salvation for the first time in his life, Oota's voice cracked in a mixture of shame and sorrow. But he had to move forward.

Waiting for neither permission or reprimand, Oota pressed forward once again, and he did so with a clear mind. He didn't have to move far, between his own monstrous reach and the length of the tentacle-vines. But as before, the graceful monster moved gracefully with both feet and weapon. And he struck, sure and strong, cleaving the stalks just as easily as he would snap a twig. But his folly was immediately clear - for each vine he severed, two more emerged to threaten him. Internally he cursed himself as his thoughts fell, 'Why is my strength useless? This is your game, Lady Winter.'


 
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  #34  
Old 04-04-2019, 09:29 PM
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NoliaThe press forward, the return to what ought to have been Gaia's bower, a land that Nolia knew so intimately and yet, as they moved through it, the place felt alien, disconnected, a shadowed representation of all that Nolia had experienced. There was only a moment that the slight Dryad knew joy, Badwanis still lived, and if he, then there must still be hope, and for the flicker of time as she turned to look back at the others, there was a glimmer of life, of light and delight in her eyes before they narrowed once more into those of a wild, caged animal. Nolia had a destination, a place she needed to be, and that she no longer traveled it alone, was a boon, though even without them, she would have pressed onward.

The cave had grown darker, the life, the breath of life which had once flowed from its mouth now felt still, rotten and dank, and with it, it seemed the Dryad had grown smaller, tightened, tensed her entire frame, the coils and vines of her hair knotted into a vibrant mass. It would be a mistake to say smaller was weaker though, if anything the level of raw, feral ferocity seemed to only increase as she followed Badwanis in his head long rush into the cave. He was not the only one who had not truly been aware, had been so focused on the end goal that they missed the very real and present threat, though years of reflex and a life spent on dancing on the winds, where the once-life ensnared the Elf, she recoiled, rolled in time to Winter's warning, only to scream, the sound raw and defiant.

It was to her shame that Oota acted first, or more, outwardly acted, for she could almost feel that which Winter had sent into the air, into the tunnel as the once-vines, now diseased things, sought to rend Badwanis limb from limb. To her shame, it was Oota who charged forward first, to slash, attack at the violent tendrils, though even his wrath seemed little against the attack of diseased flora. Had she the thought, the settled reasoning, Nolia might have agreed with Winter, she might have hung back, have looked for another way, but love and desperation are two very dangerous things and oft cloud the judgement of a sound mind.

Another howl of pure frustration as she suddenly bounded into the maelstrom of sickly vines, a desperate drive for Badwanis, for the other side, for Adeledane and the Source Tree. It seemed, perhaps for a moment, that she might avoid, might manage to reach through, until the first and then second ensnared her legs, sent the Dryad to the floor of the cave as she writhed, clawed at that which sought to wrap about her. The sensation, the feeling of life and death both so intertwined in the poisoned vines near overwhelmed her as she lashed out, reached out, though not in words of man or even orc, instead a pulse, a wave of language which nibbled at the edges of Winter's own understanding.

Please, remember who I am, remember who you are, let us save you!
A desperate plea for that which might still live, exist within the tait and disease which had been thrust upon the once guardians of the cave.


 
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  #35  
Old 04-24-2019, 11:08 PM
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ReleaseShe was dying.

She knew this in that same casual way that she might have known how to find her nose were she to reach through the darkness with a finger to lay it gently upon the tip of her own nose. She strained to see through the thickness of the blackness which shrouded her world but even her eyes could not pierce such an opaque and utter void. She grew confused for a moment and tried to stand but realized she already was erect but her feet, for some reason, did not touch the ground. She yearned, then, for that long lost sensation of firm soil pressing up hard against the balls of her naked feet. She yearned for that delicious feeling of moist soil as it sifted through her toes and caused her flesh to tingle delightfully in that way that made her giggle. She tried to smile but the effort hurt her suddenly, and she moaned.

"Why can't I see?"

She would have spoken the words aloud if she could but something prevented her. She moaned and tried once more to move but felt something rip somewhere deep within her causing the Fire to erupt within. She thrashed feebly but the effort barely manifested as a mild trembling of her dying limbs. The agony had done its work and she remembered now, in her brief moment of fleeting lucidity, that she could not see because she no longer had eyes from which to do so. She remembered now the tendrils as they pushed along her face as she writhed and screamed, still capable then of some semblance of defiance at the unholy defilement invading her every orifice. She had felt them, even through that unbelievable Fire, as they slithered, obscene in their gentility, along the curves of her ruined cheeks to press against her defiant eyelids. She felt their points poke and prod at the closed orbits of her eyelids and then she felt them push. She squirmed and thrashed and this time when she screamed the beast had a surprise for her as yet another root smashed through the enamel of her teeth and drove itself to the back of her throat and down its gullet filling it with its engorging girth. She gagged and heaved and as she panicked, her eyes flew open and the probing tendrils penetrated her eyes and turned her world to liquid fire. She thought, then, that she would die.

She was wrong.

She did not die but instead endured a measure of torment she had not thought was possible. She knew she could not long survive this far from the sap of her heart tree but she soon realized that she had somehow formed a new bond, become a part of a different tree. She had not realized it at first because the essence of this tree was so vast vast it felt as though she had connected to the universe itself. She felt the quickening of her pulse despite her torment and knew that she had bonded with the Life Tree. She did not know how this was possible but it was and now this ancient ruined font of life had melded with her essence and she felt greater somehow than she had ever felt before, even through the throes of her greatest torment. But the tree was sick. Wrong somehow in a way which terrified her even through the Fire. She felt the darkness pushing into it in the same way the beast had pushed himself into her and impaled her to the life tree. Dozens of tendrils passed through her writhing flesh and pumped their sap into her, spoiling her and, through her, the Life Tree.

She understood, then, what the Beast intended. The Beast could not destroy the tree. It's life was too great, its essence too pure and unbridled. It could not be contained by him and thus, he could not defile it. But he could defile her. By pressing her into the tree and forcing her bond to its essence he could corrupt her and the tree through her. Even as the tree sustained her through her torment and upheld her link to life she felt her own waning mortality assault the very root of its essence. She would have wept if she could, had she still possessed eyes to weep, but she could not. She had tried so many times to die, to thrash and struggle and tear at the seams of her own flesh to wrench herself from life itself to spare the tree, but Gaia would not let her die, or could not. Soon she had begun to slip into places of unfathomable despair which precipitated blissful fugues in which she found some solace from her torments but the steady thrumming pulse of life would surge within her and rendered solace but a fleeting thing for her to crave.

Now she felt the steady pulse of life within the tree begin to wane. She felt it tremble from its place within and knew that it was dying and with it so was she. But she had felt her. Her sister. Dearest and youngest of her kin, she had felt Nolia reaching for her from the throes of rage and of despair. She knew the Beast reached for her and now threatened her with a fate similar to her own. Adèlédâné could not let this come to pass. At last, as she neared that final moment where she would shuffle from this mortal coil and promptly join the Whisperers, she knew Nolia's despair and at last submitted to the hold the Beast had thrust upon her and surrendered fully to that which heretofore she had not dared.

Adèlédâné gave herself to Gaia.




He was so brave. This beast born of blood and hate but which somehow held a morsel in himself of goodness and perhaps of greatness threw himself now with abandon born not so much of rage but of subservience and of friendship. He watched in horror as Badwanis absorbed within himself these strands of putrescent vegetation and surrendered the fluids of his life to feed the carnal evil of this most obscene of plants. Oota brandished the poleaxe as though the weapon were an extension of his will, slashing and hacking at the grasping tendrils as they came for him and forced his way forth and waded to his doom. There were too many and even his resolve fell short of the task to which he had bent his will. The vines began to pierce him as they had the Lithari and Oota felt himself scream as they took him. The Ogrekin allowed himself a glance and he reeled as he saw a stalk as thick as his own leg protruding from his abdomen exposing all his viscera. Blood gushed from some broken place within him and he tasted it before he spat it from his trembling lips. Another strand shot forth from the maelstrom of wriggling vines which flanked the walls of this dank passage and this one passed right through the meat of his left calf muscle. He felt his leg buckle but before he could fall another stalk flew through him shooting through the tender part between bone and bicep of his right arm. Oota felt the weapon fall from his failing grasp but he did not see it. He watched as Badwanis twitched and spasmed as another font of lifeblood spewed from what space there was where his mouth had been before some hellish plant-like stalk had impaled him down his throat.

Next it was Nolia's turn to wade in madness to her doom. The tendrils caught her as they had her friends and she, too, screamed when her flesh was pierced even as her heart had been so many times so recently. She stepped and dodged and sprang forward towards Badwanis, but the grasping things were far too many and their thirst for life unrelenting of her efforts. One, two, three, seven times the infested appendages transpierced her, causing her to spasm with every vicious penetration until sap which was her lifesblood poured forth to wash the ground beneath her with its freshness. Nolia was lifted as she was taken, feeling her flesh tear as she was pulled in every way.

Lena roared her defiance as she witnessed her friends' fates and would have sprung forth had Winter not returned the favor she had lent a moment ago and held her fast with the most gentle touch. Nunataq quivered at the sight before him, even his care-worn eyes in shock to see the carnage take his friends so swiftly and so completely from him. The Nanuq shook his head and raised his arms, the veins within them bulging as he closed his hands to fists and opened them again as if to prime the power from within himself as he called to Gaia as his tears ran down his face. Green light sputtered from his fingertips and instead of the storm to which he called, he felt a baleful gust which seemed to weep with him as it stuttered and died just beyond his reach. Gaia had not answered him. He did not think she could within this defiled place, where not even her touch could be felt.

Or could it?

Nolia heard it first. A song upon the breeze which had sprung from Nunataq. A voice as sweet as it was rich with its alto tones and it crescendoed with a melody which Nolia had heard a thousand times before. It was the sistersong. The hymn which her sisters had oft sang for each other as they laboured or as they played. The song brought chills which danced along her length of spine and provoked what she would not have thought possible in this ocean of pain through which she swam. It was her sister's voice.

"Gaia has not left this place Dear Sister. She has not been banished from her home within this bower. Do you not feel her song resplendent in the steady cadence of your beating heart? Do you not taste her blood between your honeyed lips as your every breath breaks free from you to roam? I have not much song left in me, Dear Sister but this song I will sing for thee. Do you feel my love in every note? I love you sister. I love you Nolia. Dance, dear sister, and be free. Gaia's song and Gaia's breath will free you..."

The words tapered with an echo and as the melody upon the wind began to fade the strands which held the Guardians and their friend let go and withered on the cold and dampened earth. Oota fell forward onto all fours and felt life pour from him as he lay dying. Yet he would not die. He felt his many wounds begin to first tingle then to thrum. Viridescent light seeped from every rending in his flesh as it began to stitch and heal itself beneath his astonished gaze. Nolia's own wounds buzzed and healed and she felt her sister's touch upon her cheek before the sensation faded and she was alone again but whole. She had her friends but that place within her which her sister shared was empty. Had her sister died? Was Adèlédâné gone now from this world?

No.

Nolia felt her still though she was fading fast. She lived, yet!

Leilani's eyes had filled with tears to shade her soul from this gruesome sight but now she wiped at them and dared a step towards the Dryad.

"Do you know what happened? Was it Adèlédâné?"

Nolia knew they were almost out of time. The tree would die soon and now she understood that the entire world would soon die with it. She felt it then, again.

Lub dub. Lub dub. Lub dub.

So faint and so very weak. They had to hurry!
OODM
 
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  #36  
Old 04-29-2019, 01:46 AM
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OotaOota wasn't strong enough. Or rather, his body was still weaker than the great heart that he had always denied was good. He began as the Beast, both his might and his grace protecting him for a time as he waded deeper through the quivering mass of vines. His weapon flashed and his skill shone for a time. For the briefest of moments, it looked like he might be able to reach Badwanis.

But it wasn't enough. He roared as the first vines made contact, yelled in rage as he knew he wasn't good enough.

"Rrraaww!!!"

He hated himself for his failure for a brief moment. It was a feeling he wasn't used to... he had finally met something that exceeded his strength.

Then his thoughts died and his roar devolved into a pained cry. Now that the Beast was trapped, the living stalks gave him no mercy. He glanced down and saw them protruding from his abdomen. He felt them pierce his twisted leg. The blood leaked from his toothy mouth as he tried to keep breathing. His strong arm was impaled next and his weapon fell from his grasp, but he couldn't hear the clatter. His head was filled with sound, similar to crashing waves. But these waves were the black feeling of his lifeblood leaving him. Then even the pained sounds died as the hellish plant invaded his throat...

'Save me...'

The last thought of the once mighty warrior was a plea, one that he might have felt was pathetic just days before. But he didn't want to die. He still had things to do. People to protect. Lives to take. As he lamented, memories flashed through his mind of their own accord, showing him his failures and his successes and the things that shaped the tame monster.

Born in FailureHe knew he could never be forgiven for the death of his tribe. An entire group died to save one child. Slain by one of the worst monsters Oota had ever seen...

'I will join you soon. My first family...'

A Second MotherHis mother died shortly after being captured. He might have turned out mean, if not for Malda. The Head Maid cared for him like a mother, even spoiled him a little when she knew Hiram wouldn't know. He wouldn't be who he was without her.

'Thank you for giving me one source of love, when all else was bigotry.'

A Civilized BruteForged in the warmth of one ally, Oota despised his own kind when he met them again. He would often try to run away from the stable. Then he grew bigger and stronger than the rest. And he taught them to be better than ever. Taught them to be civil through strength.

'I'm sorry I couldn't live long enough to be free. I'm sorry I could not free our people.'

The BloodwatchProven as a physical exemplar, Oota found himself off of the Dabun estate and in training to be Hiram's next Bloodwatch. Five years of hell, of intense training. But it was just one of the many fires the slave had to pass through.

'I did my best, Master Hiram. I always did.'

First FriendThe memories of Mikheala were some of Oota's best. She was his first friend. He trained her, supported her and worked with her. He saw her grow up from a child to an adult. She was another rare light in his life.

'I tried, My friend. I'm sorry you have to see me like this.'

The Call to ArmsOota had always been Master Hiram's prized possession. The faith was great enough that Oota was presented to Mayor Ulfgar. Oota would be a Guardian of the North.

'I'm sorry Master, for betraying your faith in me.'

A Challenge and a Beating HeartMeeting the Guardians had been a quiet affair. But the appearance of trolls had been a surprise, but the tentacled monstrosity was worse. He was happy though, to find a challenge. And the beautiful Lady Winter had held his hand. It gave him a feeling he had never felt before.

'Good luck, Lady Winter. You made me feel things nobody else had before that. I never deserved it, but thank you.'

A Second Heartbeat, then ChaosTraveling through the North was filled with mixed feelings. The Guardians didn't view Oota as a lesser, but he didn't know how to feel about that. And the green girl, Nolia, took his hand and thanked the monster and he felt his pule raise again. Oota wanted a love that he didn't deserve and now there were two who spoiled him. The chaos broke out, leading to his current demise.

'Nolia, thank you for you thoughts. But my strength is that of a Monster. But this monster prays that Gaia and Abadar will let you all pull through.'

As the events of his life led up to the current moment, Oota was filled with regret. He wasn't ready to die. The others needed him, despite his failure. But regret was never a thing that would stop a life from slipping away. It was done. Over. He knew that it was no longer in his hands. His mind began to swim as his blood thinned out and he knew death was coming. The great Beast of Valejo was so far gone that he no longer knew where he was.

He didn't really hear the words that were spoken and he didn't notice as the vines receded. He just knew that he fell.

Fell to die.

Or so he felt as he lay there, blood still seeping from his many wounds. But the fuzziness of his fading conscious was intruded upon by a tingling sensation. A sensation that then surged into an insistent throb. As his mind returned to him, he watched the light shine from his wounds as they rapidly closed. He would not die.

Someone, or something, had saved him.

"Thank you... I will try my best to make this act count." Oota whispered in an almost reverent tone. He didn't deserve salvation, so he swore in his mind that he would pay it forward. He would keep moving and striving to do what he could for those who did deserve the best.

With his oath resworn, Oota scooped up his fallen poleaxe and pushed himself to his feet. He spared a glance for the others before moving forward. He was ready to fight once more, if there was an enemy near The World Tree. And as he advanced, he spoke gently, "Adèlédâné. We are here to help."


 
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Old 05-25-2019, 11:30 PM
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Resolution
The Hobgoblin Ogrekin walked alone through the dark forest east of Northvale and felt utterly lost in the ocean of his thoughts. So much had happened recently, so much that had changed him forever. Some of these changes were for the better but so many had left their deep scars in him and he knew he would never be the same. He was lost again. The forest, the dark place between the wilds and the world at large was still wrong somehow. It should not be this way. They had won after all, in the end, and at what cost ─Immeasurable heartbreaking cost. The light of Gaia should have returned to this place yet here he was again, lost with the whispering voices. He let his thoughts drift as he walked in circles and though some dim part of himself knew that his steps led him nowhere, he could not muster the will to escape the prison of his own mind.

He relived that day again.

He was with Nolia, Winter, Lena, Khole, Mitah, Leilani, Mikhaëla and finally Nunataq. The remnants of the grasping plant life lay withering at their feet and their flesh still tingled from Gaia's touch as they made their way deeper into Gaia's Cradle. Oota felt as though he were entering some holy womb as he felt the power of the place resonate through him. Something was not quite right with that power and it rang within him like some discordant note that would not quite hit the correct pitch. It made him feel a deep unease that reminded him eerily of that place within the lost forest. A shiver sent its cold fingers up the length of his spine and he gripped his Poleaxe more tightly in his strong grip. Mitah had volunteered to take point and Oota walked just behind him. Soon the way became thick with plant-stuff as more roots, vines, grasses and blackened wilted flowers began to drape themselves to the earthen walls once more, some even crisscrossing their path as they advanced. Mitah hesitated for a moment when the first verdant strands blocked his path but before he could turn to Khole for instructions, the strand parted before him and cleared the way. It was this way all the way the heart of the cradle, the black leaves and lengths of vine opening before them and closing once more behind them after they had passed. None of them dared speak the fear which crested in their hearts when they felt the passage close behind them lest it be made to come true by its utterance: "Would they find their way out?"

No matter.

What had to be done had to be done. Despite their subterranean location, the Guardians did not find themselves in darkness. A faint viridescent glow seemed to filter through the plant life to show the way and now, as they neared the end of the long opening in the world, they saw that light intensify to a bright sickly green. It filtered through the branches and leaves ahead of them and left long green fingers of light poking through the spaces between. When the last of the cobweb-like vegetation parted and revealed Gaia's Inner Sanctum, Mitah gasped at the sight before them.

The heart of Gaia was in a vast open cavern whose floor was carpeted with thick sickly plant-life whose most striking feature were the large undulating roots which twisted and meandered away from the great center of Gaia's bower. These roots were as thick as a man was tall in places, growing as thick as six feet in diameter before tapering off near the edges of the vast cavern. The center, of course, was filled by the Life Tree. It climbed for hundreds of feet above them, twisting and undulating in a way that betrayed how sick it was. Its green bark, even from here, seemed a sickly black-green and dark sap oozed from ruptures in the tender wood-flesh in hundreds of places. It was as though the tree wept from every wound.

Then, they heard her.

A low moan, deep but female, mewled in obvious agony, but was largely muffled by unconsciousness. They realized then that the bright green light which suffused everything here was tainted near the life tree with a deep shade of crackling red and they saw that the base of the tree burned with deep pulsing embers. Lava flowed from these throbbing embers and pooled near the base of the tree, flowing back and away from their direction to form a large pool of magma behind it. Black insects buzzed a flitted all around the Guardians as they stepped slowly from the passage and they heard bones crunch underfoot as they walked. They saw, to their complete horror, that thousands of small animal corpses littered the ground beneath the web of dark foliage and it was their bones crunching underfoot that they heard now as they advanced.

They saw Adèlédané. She was exactly as their vision had foretold. Naked and impaled in several places, large roots not unlike the ones which had assaulted them earlier piercing through her green flesh, pinning her to the Life Tree. The appendages throbbed visibly as some thick substance passed through the foul conduits, filtering through the dying Dryad and into the Life Tree. Adèlédané's head moved slightly to one side.


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"Dané! No!" Nolia cried as she began to run towards her sister.

"Nolia, be careful!" Winter cried her warning but the Dryad would not heed it and sprinted through the dense dead carpeting of this bower while tears streaked thickly down her face. Mitah tried to grab her as she passed, but the deft Dryad leaped onto the air over his head as though a breeze carried her and she continued to sprint towards her sister. The Guardians all ran after her. Khole flew above the others, whose dweomered boots would not help them through this impeding foliage, and caught up to her just before she reached the tethered Dryad.

"Nolia, we have to be caref─"

Khole did not finish the sentence. Blood gushed suddenly from his mouth before a thick stump protruded in a gory spray through his chest. His wings fell limply to his sides as his mouth worked soundlessly through his spilling blood as though he would speak even as his life escaped his lips. A long branch, more vine-like than it should be, began to pull him back away from the crying Dryad who stood in momentary shock at the sight before her. Mitah fell on them. Furious and screaming, Khole's friend and servant threw himself at the large appendage and tried to free him. The tendril ignored him as he clung to it and flung him back and down into the pool of frothing magma. Mitah did not even scream as it consumed him, though Khole's eyes had already gone dark by the time his flesh touched its impossible heat, sparing him at least that agony as his body disappeared in hissing steam and smoke beneath the roiling lava. Khole fell over in a heap.

More screams and more tears as the Guardians wailed for the loss of their dear friends.

"You are not welcome here."

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The voice, deep and booming resounded from behind the Life Tree, somewhere up in its lower twisted branches. A creature emerged from behind it, swollen with blackened roots which protruded from it in a dozen places, long roots which undulated and roiled from him and into Adèlédané. The creature seemed vaguely humanoid under that mass of rotting plant-life, with patches of red scales, and something in the shape of his face, suggesting that he may once have been half Red Dragon. The long appendages carried him down and around until he stood a few mere steps from Nolia, towering over her with his near nine feet of height. His arms and chest bulged with muscle and with undulating, vein-like roots, his eyes shining with a sickly amber sheen which pulsed with the steady cadence of a thrumming heartbeat. His wings, impossibly large, flew out suddenly from behind him as he raised his fists and roared his fury at the gathered intruders. Fire burst forth from his mouth and engulfed the Guardians and tortured their exposed flesh with Dragon fire. Nolia withered on the ground as she rolled to quench the flames, but Oota let himself burned and raised his weapon high. He felt the fury roil within him and he knew what he must do. The creature, still attached to the dying Dryad behind him, met Oota gleefully and managed to close the distance by parrying his vicious blows with the long length of his wings.

They fought.

The others threw themselves into the fight, Lena biting and clawing at the creature with all that she was worth while Winter hurled her spells at it and did all that she could do boost and bolster her friends and allies. Nunataq hurled his own magic at the thing while Leilani launched her volleys of arrows and wove close when she could to provide healing where it was needed. Even Mikhaëla recovered from her lethargy enough to assault their foe with furious blows of her own but the creature would not succumb to terror and would not fall to the Guardian's implacable blows. For a time, it seemed like they might actually beat it. Blow after blow the creature took, but it gave more than twice than that which it was given. Several times Oota was battered aside and had to raise himself from the corpse-littered ground and return to the fray before Lena or Mikhaëla could fall. Leilani would drop in and imbue them with her healing magic and it seemed like the tide would turn as the terrible wounds on the large Half Dragon, Half plant creature seemed to take their toll. But then another creature showed itself from the heights of the Life Tree.

"Saur'Koth! Don't you dare fail me!"

Its voice was nearly strident as it was screeching as a much smaller figure jumped from the heights of the upper branches and landed some distance behind the battling behemoths that were Oota and his greatest adversary. The creature stood maybe six feet tall and had yellowish skin and eyes and was adorned in mail which could only be described as gaudy. In one hand he held a long sword made of shiny silvered metal and in the other a rod which seemed crafted of twisted metal which wrapped itself around his hand and protruded above and below it in dangerous-looking points.

The massive creature ceased its fighting for a moment and turned towards the other creature, which the Guardians now believed could only be Githyanki.

"Stay out of this Ta'Hau'den."

The creature turned back to face Oota to grace him with a sudden powerful back hand which sent him sprawling once again.

"How dare you speak to me this way, Saur'Kauth! I am in charge, here!"

The Githayanki's voice rose into a screech which became a scream as he raised the rod in his left hand and pointed it at the massive plant-infested Half-Dragon.

"Obeeeey meeeeee! Kill theeeem!

A pulse of purple light flashed from the upper tip of his rod and struck Saur'Koth square in the back. The giant creature staggered for a moment and arched its back as he roared fire into the air above himself. The purple light enveloped him and he trembled as if in agony. Oota rose from his place in the dense foliage nearby and stared as Saur'Koth began to grow even larger than he had been before. Soon, the beast stood fifteen feet tall and his eyes gleamed with evil purple light. He flashed forward suddenly and Kicked Lena hard as she was preparing to pounce and sent her reeling end over end across the wide expanse of the cavern until she splattered hard against the rocky wall some eighty feet behind the Guardians.

"Lenaaa!"

Winter's face contorted with rage and as the Sorceress called upon the mana reserves stored within herself, she was struck suddenly by a second jolt of purple light. Blue light erupted from her eyes and fingertips as if to counter its effects but soon her cry of raged twisted into a scream of pain as she fell to her knees and began to disintegrate.

Winter vanished in a cloud of purple dust.

Lightning streaked suddenly and brightly from up above and drove down into the figure called Ta'Hau'den and caused him to spasm wildly behind his servant. Nunataq took a single step forward as he lowered the hand which had called the lightning and burst suddenly into the form of a massive Polar Bear. Leilani cast a spell which caused the Nanuq to grow to even greater size and she tapped his rump gently as he sprang forward towards the mad Githyanki. The giant beast Saur'Koth moved to intercept, but Oota's long arm grabbed him while his other brought his poleaxe crashing down hard, nearly knocking the behemoth down. Again, they rained blows upon each other while the Nanuq barreled into Ta'Hau'den and ripped a large morsel of yellow flesh from his chest and shoulder. The Gith screamed and began to stab the Polar Bear over and over with the sharp end of his rod, but the Druid would not let go and began to tear him apart with fangs and claws. Suddenly, a bright purple flash exploded from beneath the form of the large arctic bear and Nunataq reeled back from the mangled shape beneath him. He turned towards Oota and Leilani while thick red slobber poured from his half opened mouth. He seemed staggered as he took a single nearly comical step towards them before falling in a heap of dust which quickly scattered at the base of the Life Tree.

Ta'Hau'den stood, with great difficulty as blood gushed from his face and poured from his many slashes and wounds. He raised his rod to point it towards Oota. His hand began to glow with lurid purple light as his face contorted into a grisly grin from what was left of his mangled face. Oota was being battered by the massive Half Dragon Plant Gith and his faithful Axe was knocked finally from his grip by a powerful blow from Saur'Koth's wing. Oota fell to his knees and two wing tips plunged suddenly into each of his shoulders provoking a loud grunt from the Ogrekin. Meanwhile the light in Ta'Hau'den's fist swelled brighter and brighter along with his repulsive grin when suddenly, his hand was gone, chopped off at the wrist.

Mikhaëla, crouching low among the foliage, had made her way behind him and had lopped it off with her twirling Ashanderai. She swung it around and over her head in one smooth motion and as the Githyanki's eyes flashed wide with horror, she chopped off his head with one clean blow. The rod, still entwined within his detached hand, ceased glowing while the dead Gith's body twitched as it died. She turned towards Oota and saw the deep trouble her friend was in and made a decision. She leaped into the air, bolstered by her mental powers, and slashed at one of the long conduits which connected Saur'Koth to Adèlédané. The vine-like tube erupted with black, tar-like goo as it began to snake back and forth after she severed it clean from the Dryad. Adèlédané groaned and her head moved again to the other side. Her fingers twitched. Saur'Koth roared in fury, leaving an opening for Oota who pushed him back furiously, removing the cruel wing spikes from his shoulders as the giant Gith staggered back. Mikhaëla smiled, wickedly. Leilani flew in beside Oota and used the last of her healing spells on the terribly wounded Hobgoblin, revitalizing him one last time. The spell had not been enough to close all his wounds, but it had lent him enough strength to continue fighting. Leilani drew her bow again and fitted an arrow to it, taking aim at Saur'Koth.

Saur'Koth ignored her and Oota and turned to face Mikhaëla, who was preparing for another of her daring leaps. She flew into the air, brandishing her Ashanderai wide and high but as she began to bring it up and forward to strike a blow against another of the long conduits, Saur'Koth barreled into her and sent her flying into the Life Tree. She hit a spot just below the Dryad hard and felt something snap in her back before she slumped in a heap at the foot of the tree.

"Enough!" Oota cried as he launched himself at Saur'Kauth again, having regained his axe in the moment when the beast had turned his back on him. Oota understood, now, what had to be done and while he brandished his weapon at Saur'Koth to defend himself, he focused his attacks on the long appendages which dangled around him now that he stood between Saur'Koth and the dying Dryad behind him. One after another he severed the conduits and each elicited a screech of fury from the Half-Dragon until only two vines remained. Finally, Saur'Koth caught Oota's poleaxe with his impossibly powerful hands, the sturdy axehead between his fingers. The giant Gith grunted with fury and tremendous effort and Oota's shoulders slumped when his weapon shattered in his foe's impossible grip. Oota drew a dagger from his belt and threw himself at his enemy one last time, but impossibly strong talons gripped his head and pushed him down and into the ground. He felt tremendous pressure squeazing his head then and Oota knew this would be the end of him.

He had lost.

Oota felt his skull cracking and closed his eyes as he continued to strain with his own hands to repel this great beast. His arms shook. The beast had made a mistake, however. He had ignored Leilani. The half-angel had flown around them and now stood near the Dryad with her bow in hand. She released two arrows at once which severed the last two conduits clean. Saur'Koth staggered back from Oota, releasing the killing pressure before it could crush his skull. Oota opened his eyes and saw his enemy reeling with short, stalk-like tubes flailing loosely all around him.

"Rrrraaaawr!!! You think you have won, half-breed? You think this means I am defeated? You are wrong! I am not done with you yet! When I am finished with you and the upstart bitch over there, my people will come for your precious little town of Valejo! You think this will be the end? It is merely the beginning!"

Saur'Koth launched himself at Oota but before he could take a single step, Adèlédané's eyes opened and her hand shot out. She had fallen from her place on the tree when the last of the conduits had fallen and she stood now next to Mikhaëla and Leilani with her green hair flying wildly all around her as pure green light burst forth from her every pore. Vegetation all around Saur'Koth shot out and grabbed his arms and wings and pulled him back, causing him to roar. He gasped and was about to unleash a great torrent of Dragon fire in Oota's face but more vines flew out from the ground and pulled his head back and up causing his great spout of fire to erupt in a blazing arc over his head. Oota stood, Ta'Hau'den's rod firmly grasped in his hand. The metal twisted in his grasp and enveloped his hand and began to glow with pulsing purple light. Oota lurched forward and raised the rod high above his head and came down hard towards Saur'Koth's heart. The giant managed to snap the vines holding his arm, however, and grabbed Oota's arm at the wrist before he could plunge it into his flesh. Saur'Koth's face twisted into a foul grin as he felt Oota's bones snap beneath his implacable pressure. He snapped more of the vines holding him and grabbed Oota's other arm who had been coming down to punch him. Saur'Koth heaved his arms wide and began to pull Oota apart. The Ogrekin felt the tendons and sinew strain as the the Gith pulled at him.

"Enough."

Adèlédané said the words calmly as she took a single step towards the battling giants. She raised both her hands and spread her fingers wide as she lowered her head as if to concentrate. Her arms trembled with tremendous effort as bright green light exploded from her fingertips. The light seemed liquid as it pulsed around her hands and streaked suddenly into Oota. The light pulsed and throbbed as it connected the Dryad to the Ogrekin in a strange echo of the manner in which she had been connected to the Half-Dragon Gith mere moments ago. Oota felt a change in himself. Tremendous power coursed immediately through his veins and he felt himself resisting Saur'Koth's pull immediately. His flesh oozed with green light of his own as his face contorted with effort and he began to reverse the contest of raw strength which he had been utterly losing a moment before. Oota felt all his wounds closing as he strained and watched in fascination as the giant Gith crumpled to his knees under the weight of his newfound might.

Something snapped.

It was Saur'Koth's back. Oota had pushed him back and down until he had folded the Gith backwards on himself and now he crushed him into the ground and killed him. He let him go, staggering back, panting heavily. The foliage all around the corpse came to life suddenly, lashing out at the Half-Dragon's body and pulling it completely apart and scattering the pieces around the cavern. Oota turned to see Adèlédané stumble and fall into Leilani's arms as she caught her.

It was over.

Nolia had survived, as had Mikhaëla, though her back was broken and she could not walk. Leilani had remained completely untouched through the whole encounter though she was nearly as spattered in gore as Oota was from having rushed in and out of the battle so much to keep them fighting with her healing spells. Nolia woke and threw herself at her sister and cried and fussed over her though for now, Adèlédané remained unconscious. Leilani said she thought she would make it. Nolia insisted on carrying her sister herself while Oota picked up Mikhaëla carefully as they prepared to exit the cradle and see what awaited them outside.

The world stopped.

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Oota looked at Leilani and Nolia frozen beside him and frowned in confusion. A low thrum and a rising haze of bright green light from behind him caused him to turn from the passage that would lead them out and face the Life Tree. As his gaze fell upon the scene in Gaia's Cradle, Oota gasped as his eyes grew wide. Millions of flowers had bloomed throughout the tree's foliage of every conceivable colour and kind. The base of the tree was glowing with impossibly bright emerald light and the raw embers which had been consuming the massive trunk had fallen away leaving a swiftly mending, raw-looking, wood flesh which was visibly closing as he watched. Oota blinked at the brightness and marveled at the frozen birds and insects which had frozen in mid-flight as they stormed from the branches of the Life-Tree. He saw a silhouette forming at the very heart of the light which solidified and coalesced into the shape of a beautiful, Dryad-like female. As she stepped from the base of the tree, the light dimmed and Oota was at last able to gaze upon the perfection of Gaia.

The goddess had everything about her that was beautiful and possessed every characteristic which was motherly. She had heavy breasts and long braided green hair which wove itself around her shoulders and down her chest to present a more modest appearance than perhaps it should have. Oota sensed that the Mother had done this not for modesty but for Oota's own sense of propriety and comfort. Her face seemed a composite of every beautiful face Oota could ever have imagined yet was more perfect even than those. Her motherly hips swayed as she walked slowly towards him, her arms raised as if to embrace him. Oota felt a peace rise in him that he had never before experienced. A serenity which completed his soul somehow. He felt safe and loved and complete. Gaia came to him and Oota felt the tears as they graced his cheeks when she put her arms around him and embraced him. It was the tender perfect hug of a mother to her child.

At last the Mother pulled away from him but kissed his cheek tenderly before taking both his large hands in hers. Somehow, he did not feel diminished though he could feel the strength of them as they held him. She smiled for him and he sobbed. He was crying. He wept for Mitah and for Lena, he wept for Winter and Khole and for Nunataq. He wept for himself for some small part of him still felt as though he had failed.

"You did not fail, Oota. You fought with all you have, all that you are and no one could ask more of you, not even yourself. It was enough. Do not diminish their sacrifice. They came here willingly and died so that so many more could live. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. I wish that I could reverse their sacrifice but I could not do so without undoing the spirit of their sacrifice. What I can do, my child, my great and mighty hero, is extend to you my humble thanks. You saved my daughter. You saved the Life Tree upon which the world rests. All of my creation would have fallen with it had you not prevailed. I could not intervene since the balance was still preserved and Entropy must have His chance. For now, we have won, thanks to you. Yes! YOU, Oota, my love, my child, my beautiful creation. I do not have much time. I must return lest I upset the balance. But I have time to offer you a simple gift as thanks for your mighty struggle. I would replace for you the weapon that you lost at the hands of this foul Beast. It is only fitting that a Champion should wield his weapon. Would you accept my gift? Would you let me touch your spirit and change you? Would you become my Mortal Herald, Oota? I would call on you again if you would have me, but if you would preserve yourself and take another path I would not begrudge you and would offer you my Gift regardless and leave you to your fate and life.

Will you be my Champion, Oota?"





He had accepted, he remembered that much. He had felt the change come over him then, as Gaia watched him with that patient look of perfect love etched deeply on her olive face. His arms had grown and thickened to fit the girth and length of Gaia's Gift. His flesh had hardened and veins had wove their way beneath his skin which took on a greenish tinge and his eyes, when next he gazed at his reflection in a nearby pool of spring fresh water, had held a greenish hue where once they had been white. Time had released him then from that frozen moment and Gaia had been gone. They had left the Bower of Gaia's tree while it continued to mend and grow. Outside the battle raged on and for many days Oota fought the foul menace which encroached upon his Gaia's lands and nine days later it was done. The Dzid and the Guardians of the North had prevailed and repelled the dark forces of the blight. The clouds had parted when the tree was healed and now sunshine basked upon them as the Dzid worked to clear the carnage from the valley floor. Oota came to learn that this Northvalian valley had never before been touched by winter and only blight had made it feel its icy touch. Now, it became a temperate paradise and Oota felt Gaia's breath on the wind as the breeze graced his cheeks. Mikhaëla, ultimately, had been restored by Gaia and each of them had been touched by her as She had done for him. Delvron told him he would stay here with his wife Helena and rebuild the great city of Northvale above Gaia's falls. Ancient ruins still rested there beneath the verdant see of plants and growths but he would uncover it with the help of Dzids and rebuild its splendor. Gaia had given them leave to do so and so they would build here a bastion against the coming storms. Delvron seemed to know that this would but be the first of many waves of troubles that would come and the world would need a place to flee to as they spread. Leilani and Mikhaëla, as well as Nolia and Adèlédané would stay behind and help rebuild. The Dryads would help restore the area to its former splendor and Oota's oldest friend could face the prospect of returning to Valejo.

In the end, it was Delvron who convinced Oota to return.

Oota felt his measure of the man and knew him to be great. He, too, had been touched by the Divine and Oota felt this man's greater Purpose driving him towards the future.

"You must tell them what is coming, Oota. These armies were the work of Baalzebul but there is something even darker pushing through to our world. We don't know what it is, but it terrifies me."

Somehow, the fact that this man was terrified sent a chill down Oota's spine and made the day grow a shade darker.

"You said the creature in the Cradle threatened Valejo directly with an army of his kind. What kind was that? The Gith he was beneath or the foul shell of blight which had taken him? We can only hope it is the former... If it is the latter that comes for us so soon, we are all doomed, I fear. The people must be warned and told that there will be a place for them. Even now the Mad Emperor in Dusk tightens his grip of power on the people and pushes them to war. Conscriptions have escalated and the Gith spread across the land. I have seen the bowels of their home on Origin and their numbers are staggering already. Kaine would fight them and conscript every last citizen the empire has to spare to repel them. I think another way must be found, though we may have to fight yet."

The man wiped his face with a hand which barely trembled but Oota's new eyes saw it.

"Tell them, Oota. We will build something great here, where free men can be free to fight if they must, but I don't think war is the answer.

Again, Oota accepted. Duty and honor. He must obey and obligations beckoned to him from Valejo.

Now, lost alone and hungry, Oota felt himself awaken. Something had happened. A light ahead of him through the trees, an earthen star amidst the darkness of this eternal night. A silhouette he had seen but once before... She beckoned softly with her fingers, her emerald hair dancing on ephemeral wind...

He knew the way, now. He had found himself. Soon he arrived in Valejo and discovered that a year had passed since last he left! One year! More time had elapsed in the void of that lost forest than he ever could have thought possible... He had a tale to tell and warnings to foretell... Hopefully it was not too late...

OODM
 

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