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Chapter II: The Eyght of Harrowden

Copyright � 2002-2017 by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: Decemberrd, 2017]

Episode VII: The Eyght of Harrowden

¶I. By the crack of day the menacing hiss of the wraiths had faded at last from the Somberwood, given way to a silence lain heavy upon all the wood but for the faintest sounds of life. Serenity and Faith had grown by then very cold, and held each the other’s shivering and naked body as they pushed ever forth, enduring the chill of fog not yet chased from the Somberwood by the still-shrouded Sun. And forcedly they panted in the wintry brume as their lips trembled, their noses grew wet, and their skin became dampened and blotched ruddily by the icy dew that had collected on every inch of them. Yet whimpering shakily they kept on behind Reyna as she guided them through the wilds.

¶II. The Huntress, the Sage, and the Questrist pervaded the Somberwood ever deeper, and as they did they began to see darkly withered shrubs, barren trees bearing black and shriveled fruits, thickets of ebony brambles, and swart-stemmed briars donning black roses scattered sparsely atwixt the deadwood boles. And swallows hunted among the trees.

¶III. “We must be nearing this Lightmote of thine,” said Faith, looking around at what little life seemed struggling to grow about them.

¶IV. “It shouldn’t be much further,” replied Reyna, her voice then becoming solemn as but a sullen whisper as her eyes shifted for and fro across the misty weald, her ears attent to the sounds of the trees around them, “though there seemeth to be something here not quite smelling as it should. It would greatly behoove us to step thoughtfully from here forward.”

¶V. “What’s that over there?” asked Serenity, her own voice nearly a whisper.

¶VI. Reyna looked whither the Dryad had pointed, and she saw there marked upon a tree a graven sigil. Slowly the Huldra approached the tree as the two Wood Nymphs followed, and she touched the crudely torn scar just lightly, saying:

¶VII. “ ‘Tis still alive. Barely so, but alive. Strange that a tree could survive here. Stranger that some creature would scar so a living tree here.”

¶VIII. “But living trees are scarred often,” said Serenity. “By birds, by mice, by ratatosks boring into them to make their homes; by Humans and Elves that fell them to make their own homes. ‘Tis simply a part of Nature’s order that a tree be so harmed.”

¶IX. “Yet ‘tis very unnatural a thing for a wight to find what black and rotted tree still endureth slightly deep within itself, to chose that very tree among the whole of a deadwood forest, and into it carve such a horrid mark as this: This is a rune to mark a boundary, carved into a barely living tree when others could be chosen, and purposely, done so as a message, for ‘twas Nymphs that forged this mark. A ward to keep away the Shadow, not wholly unlike the sigils carved into those dead and withered trees rounding the Garden Lightmote; but also a declaration of the hate they feel for Nature, the hate they feel toward life.”

¶X. “How dost thou know?” queried Faith. “It could merely be a coincident that this tree still hath life in it. Thou hast said thyself even around Lightmote there are carvings in the trees. A mere carving could never harm it, as any Nymph would know. Mayhap the Nymphs hoped the life still within the tree would empower for them their ward? Or mayhap they did it to protect the tree from the ravages of the Shadow? There’s no way to know this was done in malice, no way to know ‘twas done as a message by Nymphs that care naught of Nature and life.”

¶XI. “On the contrary, wise Sage. I know very well the intent behind this sigil, by the very features of the mark itself. This ward hath been written not in the Trow Runes of the Nymphs of Lightmote, but hath been written in the Bindrunes of the Nymphs of Harrowden, the Maenads of the Somberwood.”

¶XII. “We should keep going,” said Serenity.

¶XIII. “Ay, ‘twould appear the Maenads have expanded their hunti-- ” Reyna stopped, and began to sniff at the air. She then dashed suddenly forth, away of the Questrist and her Sage, into the Somberwood’s vapors.

¶XIV. “Reyna! Whither hast gone thou?” cried Faith, her voice resounding through all the morning fogs.

¶XV. Then dark and Nymph-formed shades began rousing behind the mist-veil that bound the deadwoods, and from the paly mists six Nymphs stepped outward forth. They had of themselves an compared to what features defined the various sorts of Nymph the likeness of Dryads: hair in all the hues of blonde and red, from nearly white to crimson; and also eyes as bright as gemstones, whether emerald or jazel or some shade between; and all with faces lightly freckled. But no Dryads were these, for through the gleam of their eyes shone not the spirit of Gaya, but a lusting as wolves raging inly for blood spilt of the necks of the most tender young, as their eyes stayed fixed hungrily upon the prey before them.

¶XVI. Each of them wore upon her head a crown of withered ivy, ‘round her shoulders a cape of fawnskin, and around her hips a fox-fell pelt to cover her unclad loins. And each before her bore a spear, and had ‘round her mouth the sanguine stains of bloody meat and red wine. As surely as resideth within the Dryad all that in Nature be of beauty and life, so each these women did inside of her have stalking all that in Nature be of suffering and death, resigned wholly and ever unto the dire bloodlusts of her flesh.

¶XVII. One of them came fore as the others surrounded the twain Dryads, and unto Faith and Serenity she said cruelly smiling: “We are Maenads of the Somberwood; this is the homewood of our tribe. I am Rapacity, Delta Maenad and Prime Huntress of the Younger Tribe of Antipathy.” Rapacity then began to point at each Maenad of her hunting party, saying: “And that is Avarice, Impurity, Carnage, Iniquity, and Malice. Who would ye be?”

¶XVIII. “We are Dryads of the Emerald Forest,” replied Faith, “and we are on our way to the Elderwood. We haven’t the time to stay and chatter.”

¶XIX. “Oh, I’m afraid ‘tis not such a simple thing, little Dryad,” said Rapacity. “Ye have trespassed against us, and have violated our land. Therefore we must collect from you a tax ere we permit you to pass beyond this point.”

¶XX. “Please, ye must allow us to pass,” said Serenity kindly. “We have naught to offer you as a tax.”

¶XXI. “If ye cannot produce for us the required tax,” said Rapacity, “then ye must submit yourselves unto our custody for violating the Law of our land.”

¶XXII. “Who are ye to claim this land as your own?” asked Serenity. “The land belongeth to all that dwell upon and within it, to every creature. ‘Tis not yours to govern, it hath of itself no law, and ye certainly have no right to tax it. The land hath only the brown earth, the green grass and trees, and the grey sky above. Ye can make whatever laws ye choose, and if ye have the means and the power ye may even enforce those laws; but those laws are not and will never be of the land, but only of those who would thrust their unjust rule upon it.”

¶XXIII. “The law,” added Faith, “is the rape of the land and all who call it home. We shan’t ask you again for approval. Ye shall grant us passage, for the land hath given you no right to require of us a tax.”

¶XXIV. “Your thoughts on the matter mean naught to us,” smiled Rapacity. “The Law is that it is, and no measure of argument on your part shall change that. Ye are guilty of evading the tax, and of being in contempt of the Law. Now ye will be made to pay for your crimes.”

¶XXV. “Ye cannot be serious,” said Faith, her eyes filled of dismay.

¶XXVI. Rapacity laughed splendidly as the other Maenads smiled cruel and twisted grins. Unto Faith then Rapacity said: “We’re terribly serious, I assure thee.”

¶XXVII. With their spears held steadily in their hands Iniquity, Avarice, and Malice closed in around the Dryads as Carnage and Impurity produced each from under her cape a coarse rope that had before been hung from her fox-fell pelt. And the Maenads bound the necks of Serenity and Faith with the rope, and at spear-point led them away from there, ever deeper the depths of the Somberwood.

¶XXVIII. The Maenads led Serenity and Faith by their necks through all the day, and as ever the Dryads were walked they saw more Bindrunes carved upon the trees, until when finally the Sun had begun to set and the sky begun to darkly redden they were brought unto what seemed the Somberwood’s very end.

¶XXIX. There before them stood a great bulwark of blackened dead boles wrought gnarled and bent into a solid form, into the Somberwood’s murk stretching far as they all could see. Growing everywhere upon it were briars clawed in sickly black thorns, and caught in the briars were bones of every thinkable size and form, steeled all of them by the scabrous vines into the knotted bulwark’s every facet and cleft. There were remains it seemed of every variety of creature to be found in all the Northlands, represented each by skulls, ribs, teeth, legs, piths, shoulders, arms, and hips. And from beneath the bones and the briars shone through like embers many a glowing red Bindrune, that into the timbers’ crusts had roughly been graved.

¶XXX. Straight afore them in the bulwark was a doorway; from within it there intensely glowed a golden light, casting at them a fiery glare companied by the deathly reek of rotting flesh as the stench of what heavy fog issued forth from inside the doorway began to swath them. Buttressing the aperture was as its either pillar the femur of what seemed likely a great dragon, and arching across the pillars a crown of Mannish skulls. And as the archway’s keystone there sat the skull of a Satyr, upon it inscribed in blood these words by the ancient Old Nalyn script: “Llūrändĕlōvā llā’Quāl änÿn än’änūndŏvā”.

¶XXXI. There at either side of the doorway stood a single Centaur; beneath great spiring horns their stoic eyes glowered as they stared intently fore, with arms crossed as they rigidly there stood, their lionish tails behind them swaying. Their war-painted faces looked nary an instant to the Maenads nor their captives, nor did their cloven hooves budge.

¶XXXII. As the Nymphs approached the skeletal arch the inscription scribed upon the keyskull lit, and kindled every moment slowly more lucent, till it glowed betimes as brightly the same golden yellowred hue as that within bulwark’s mouth. From the archway sweltering blew a draft like the breath of the Netherrealms’ hottest ring. And from the doorway’s other side there came many a wounded screaking, and also bedeviled moans amid the horridest pain-fraught laughter.

¶XXXIII. Faith and Serenity both shivered at the sights before them, and at the screams drowning even the distant Shadow’s hiss. And as ever toward the bulwark’s fiery hole the Maenads by rope-leashes toused the Dryads, so too the Dryads assayed with all their inmost might to resist, lest by the very jaws of Kur they be devoured.

¶XXXIV. “Nay, I beg of you,” pled Serenity as she and Faith were dragged past the Centaurian guards, “ye mustn’t do this!”

¶XXXV. Against the ropes the Dryads fought, Serenity against Avarice and Faith against Impurity as the Maenads pulled them nearer the chthonic estuary. And by what doom they feared would soon beshrew them, they cried. Dragged beneath the archway, converse the bulwark’s outward face; it was there upon a ridge Serenity and Faith stood brought by the Maenads, facing more baneful a sight than ever before they had ever beforetime imaged:

¶XXXVI. Sprawling acres harrowsome and foreboding was a great hollow in the Somberwood carved, its boundaries steep and bowled, enclosed all around by the bulwark wherethrough they’d passed. Above the bulwark came together into great dome trussed of dark and withered branches, concealing the sky. Everywhere about the dell fires hotly burned, flickering red the hollow’s walls and ceiling. Strewn throughout the hollow lay carcasses both rotting and fresh, their stench filling all the air that moreover was thick with flitters of ash and black smoke. And in its mean was the dell riven, for through it there wound stilly a broad and idle rill of dark water brooking the dell’s northern- and southernmost ends, colored wine by the fires’ faint rubescent glow.

¶XXXVII. Froward the bank nearest them jutted into the waters a wharf structured of what seemed to be hoary round stones, and atop them a broad flat walkway of cob. The wharf came at its end in the river’s midst to a truncate eyght of like construct, whence had the screaming come. The eyght’s round plane was greater in breadth than an acre, and circling atop the stony rise with but a mere cubit atween itself and the eyght’s edge there stood a ruined peristyle. At the plane’s center was standing a statue whose person was from so far unknowable, and about the statue a multitude of Nymphs, who obscured by the peristyle’s marble columns were from such great a distance innumerable.

¶XXXVIII. “Welcome ye to Harrowden,” said Carnage.

¶XXXIX. “I do-not think we come here so well,” replied Serenity.

¶XL. “What way more well than as captives lit’rally bound to give them no trouble?” said Faith.

¶XLI. “That’s the spirit,” smiled Rapacity. “Ye’ll only make things more difficult for yourselves by resisting.”

¶XLII. And so the Maenads led their captives adown the great bone stairway afore them, over steps comprising skulls and legs and ribs, and parts of every sort and of every wight and beast and fowl, packed all in cob and skillfully fixed into a flawlessly bone-wrought staircase.

¶XLIII. Once upon the Harrowden’s floor the Dryads were led along a cobblestone path, through a tunnel of many a Dragon’s ribs, ever toward the jetty that ahead the path became.

¶XLIV. About them mantipedes fed from the lykes. Reddish things with long and spidery legs carrying their segmented wormlike forms. At each mantipede’s foremost part stood a mantis’ torso with its long and folding arms; yet its mouthparts were more as the scorpion’s; curving, clasping claws long as its arms to cut its meal. And thus did the mantipedes partake of their lifeless prey: taking up in their thorn-lined arms remains, and then tearing off with their mouthparts bits of flesh. Though they were eating of carrion it was clear they could as well predate, as their rearmost ends sported maxillipeds long and sickle-curved. As they ate their antennae twitched. And each was a cubit in length.

¶XLV. In many spots were carrion beetles horded together -- some hordes upon the carcasses, others upon the mantipedes preying. And violently these mantipedes thrust and curled as their tiny assailants consumed them. Yet neither the mantipedes nor beetles would come near the cobblestone path.

¶XLVI. As the Maenads brought Faith and Serenity nigh the jetty, the Dryads could see the hoary stones that raised the path and eyght above the river were in fact skulls fixed together with cob.

¶XLVII. “This place, Harrowden:” said Carnage, “‘tis the depository of the Somberwood. Herein lieth the meat and bones of whatsoever creature be foolish enough to wander into the Somberwood’s shades. Well, all save those we’ve kept for ourselves.”

¶XLVIII. “I do-not much care for the sound of that,” said Serenity.

¶XLIX. “Nor I,” said Faith.

¶L. And Serenity and Faith were led by the Maenads across the jetty, and onto the skull-wrought Eyght of Harrowden. As they walked beneath one of the peristyle’s many arches, between the twain columns that most forwardly faced the jetty, they saw in the center of the eyght’s cobblestone floor a man-sized statue. The statue was of Dionysus, holding straight out before him in his one right hand the balancing scales of justice; yet His right arm had been broken off, and as well part of His face. At the furthest end of the courtyard were seven Dryads bound to the peristyle’s columns, standing each in a pile of her own shit. And there were also six more Maenads lying about, drinking from wineskins greedily. And there was yet one more Maenad, dancing in circles about the Dionysian statue, who wore no fox-pelt about her hips but instead a fox-head wreathed in ivy as her crown; about her fawnskin-clad shoulders she carried a Hydra of six heads, and in her left hand a staff wrapped in withered ivy with a pinecone at its head.

¶LI. All seven of the Maenads seemed oblivious to the presence of the six that had escorted Faith and Serenity there, until the one dancing turned and finally then noticed them.

¶LII. “Ooh,” she chipped, as she that instant halted her dance, “ye’ve brought us toys!” The other six Maenads perked up; the one Maenad smiled excitedly as she then began toward Serenity and Faith, and Rapacity and Carnage respectfully parted for her to pass.

¶LIII. And she approached Faith and Serenity, and unto them said: “Behold, for I am Antipathy, Honorable Magistrate of the Court, Priestess of His Highness Dionysus Our Lawgiver, and Alpha Maenad of this tribe.”

¶LIV. Antipathy then turned and pointed at each of the other six Maenads, and introduced them thus: “And she is Polity, and she, Governance, and she is Tyranny, and she is Legality, and she is Dominance, and she is Conformity.” Antipathy then pointed out each of the seven bound Dryads, calling them Allegiance, Servility, Accord, Deference, Obedience, Suffrage, and Duress.

¶LV. “Ye too will be given proper names under the Law,” said Antipathy.

¶LVI. “We have names,” said Faith, her head held high. “I am Faith, and this is my Serenity.”

¶LVII. Impurity jerked hard on the leash to which Faith was bound as Rapacity with the back of her hand struck Faith across her face. “Disobey thee not the Word of the Law!” ordered Rapacity. Yet Faith held her head again high and her jaw firm, on her face no hint of fear, and with her emerald eyes stared bravely into the face of Antipathy.

¶LVIII. “No need to be so savage, just yet,” said Antipathy to the other Maenads, as her own blue eyes stared back at Faith. “They will learn. They all learn, in time. Now, tie these kine to the peristyle with the other Dryads.”

¶LIX. Conformity and Dominance put down their wineskins and stood to their feet, and came to take Faith and Serenity’s leashes from Impurity and Avarice as Antipathy stepped aside. Having taken the ropes Avarice and Impurity led the two Dryads to the other end of the courtyard, and there the two Maenads tethered Faith and Serenity each by her leash to a column. Impurity then bound Faith’s hands and feet as Avarice did the same to Serenity.

¶LX. There stood Faith at Serenity’s left, Serenity at the left at Duress, Duress at the left of Suffrage, Suffrage at the left of Obedience, Obedience at the left of Deference, Deference at the left of Accord, Accord at the left of Servility, and Servility at the left of Allegiance, each to her own column bound. And Suffrage, Obedience, Deference, Accord, Servility, and Allegiance: each wore a cloth to bind her eyes.

¶LXI. In the sweltering heat of Harrowden the nine Dryads waited as Impurity and Avarice returned to the midst of the eyght near the Dionysian statue.

¶LXII. With whips of braided vine the Maenads lashed at the Dryads, and in throes of agony the Dryads thrashed, and to unseen saviors screamed. Excepting, strangely, for Allegiance, Obedience, and Suffrage, whose cries were not those of pain but of purest rapture.

¶LXIII. The Maenads recoiled their whips, and then began to fondle and grope at the Dryads, and with their fingers probed deeply between the Dryads’ legs. In anguish Duress sobbed, whilst Accord, Servility, and Obedience remained poised, feigning as if nothing at all were being done to them. Faith and Serenity were overcome by their shame, whilst Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage fondled their captors in return, praising them and begging aloud for their molestation to continue.

¶LXIV. After a time Allegiance, Obedience, and Suffrage were loosed from the dead trees to which they had been tied, and were taken by their leashes into the center of the dell, where quickly they began to service the Maenads. And so the other Dryads were left alone at the dell’s edge, still tethered to the deadwood as the last of the Maenads joined their sisters and their three Dryad slaves.

¶LXV. Servility then spake unto Faith: “Whatever hath brought thee here?”

¶LXVI. “We could not pay the tax, and we were found guilty of being in contempt of the law,” said Faith. “Why art thou here?”

¶LXVII. “I ate of the buds of the hemp tree,” Servility answered.

¶LXVIII. “Ye are not permitted to eat of certain plants?” asked Serenity.

¶LXIX. “ ‘Tis a small price to pay for freedom,” said Accord.

¶LXX. “What sort of ‘freedom’ dost thou call this?” answered Faith.

¶LXXI. “How can thou dare to question our freedom?” queried Obedience. “We have the freedom to think and believe whatever we wish, the freedom to say whatever we wish so long as it isn’t in contempt of the law, and doth not encourage anyone to break the law. We have the freedom to go wherever we wish and to do whatever we wish, so long as we do not break the law by wandering about without our trusses. We have even the freedom to eat whatever we wish, so long as what we wish to eat doth not include certain things that the law forbiddeth.”

¶LXXII. “How canst thou call thyself ‘free’ when thou art tied to a dead oak?” said Serenity.

¶LXXIII. “Because,” said Obedience, “I hath broken the law, and must serve my time. When I have paid for my crimes I shall once again be permitted to wander anywhere the Maenads allow.”

¶LXXIV. “And meanwhile thou shalt be contented with the Maenads’ violations against thee?” said Faith. “Thou wilt service them at the mercy of their whims?”

¶LXXV. “It is the duty of every denizen of the Somberwood,” answered Obedience, “to ask not what the Maenads can do for us, but what we can do for the Maenads.”

¶LXXVI. “Of course,” said Serenity, “for the Maenads hath done nothing for thee, nor for any of you, except place you under the thumb of the law.”

¶LXXVII. “If not for the law,” said Accord, still slightly bleeding from when the Maenads had cut her with their whips, “there would be violence. ‘Tis a matter of keeping the peace that the Maenads enforce the law. ‘Tis for our own safety.”

¶LXXVIII. “And thou,” said Faith, looking to Duress. “I saw thee when the Maenads were pawing and fingering thee. Thou wailed in misery, with tears pouring from thine eyes.”

¶LXXIX. “That is mine own fault,” replied Duress. “Look at Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage. They are happy because, even after having done wrong, they still love the Maenads and respect the law. If I could submit myself unto them and their law as Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage do, then I might be happy as well. But instead of taking joy, I cry. Instead of respecting the law, I violate it, and so must I be violated in return, I’d suppose. Rather than loving the Maenads and enjoying the way they enjoy me, I instead twist it into a vile thing. I truly am a wretch.”

¶LXXX. “They are raping you,” said Faith.

¶LXXXI. “It is not rape,” said Duress. “The law says that I must consent. If I do not consent, then it is my own fault that I feel as I do now. We must all learn to follow the law.”

¶LXXXII. And nothing more was said, for it appeared that even Duress, whose dolor was most evident of all among them, was willing to resign herself entirely unto the law.

Episode VIII: The Garden Lightmote

¶I. Night soon fell once more over the Somberwood as the Maenads napped together with Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage in the center of the dell, piled atop one another.

¶II. The other Dryads remained bound to the deadwood. Obedience, Duress, Accord, and Servility slept curled beside the life-reft trunks, as Faith and Serenity stood stirring in the frore night’s murk, watching the nightjars flick about tween the direful groves.

¶III. Then over the hard still ground Serenity and Faith heard the feathered stepping of bare feet, stalking cautiously evermore toward them each moment. As their eyes skimmed the trees they soon kenned the cause of the dainty footfalls, and saw emerge from the withered woods nine Dryads.

¶IV. And the Dryads’ names were Anarchy, Deliverance, Empathy, Apostasy, Liberty, Amity, Merit, Rebellion, and Truth. They were not caped in bearskins as the Maenads, and were indeed nude as all Nymphs were meant to be, but did carry spears.

¶V. These newly arrived Dryads approached Serenity and Faith, and began to untie for them their thorny manacles. Apostasy then silently shushed Serenity and Faith, her single finger afore whistle-formed lips in cautious counsel as her eyes pierced assertively into each of theirs.

¶VI. “We have come to rescue you,” whispered Deliverance.

¶VII. And then Servility suddenly began to wake, and looked upon the nine newly arrived Dryads, and gasped.

¶VIII. “Maenads,” cried Servility, “save us from this terror!”

¶IX. Quickly, with their hands now freed, Serenity and Faith loosed their own halters and escaped with Anarchy, Liberty, Rebellion, Amity, Truth, Merit, Empathy, and Apostasy into the woods, or the Maenads and Dryads-still-bound could see them.

¶X. Anarchy led them further into the Somberwood, ever forther the dell of captivity, till after having run for much time through the shrouding mists they came upon a vine-covered scarp.

¶XI. Anarchy brushed aside some of the canes before them and revealed a small hole in the bluff, just large enough that the Dryads could crawl through it, and gestured that they proceed into the tunnel with haste. And so one by one the Wood Nymphs slipped into the passage and began quickly toward its other side.

¶XII. When having reached the other mouth of the crawlway Serenity and Faith found themselves with their fellow Dryads in a great garden, which was wholly enwrapped by the soaring escarpment whence through they’d just passed.

¶XIII. All abound were lush thickets of lavender, copses of tall yew needled in verdigris, topes of lofty oak, brakes of ivy, and hedges of white rose; all of them enfettered by the milky mist of the garden floor, with their dew-laden leaves silvered by the pale starlight.

¶XIV. “Where are we?” asked Serenity.

¶XV. “Ye’re in the Garden of Liss-Heim,” said Anarchy. “The wicked hand of the law doth not reach this part of the Somberwood.”

¶XVI. “We’re still in the Somberwood?” queried Faith.

¶XVII. “Yes,” said Truth. “But of yore hath it been called the Luxwood, ere the Maenads proclaimed dominion over it. For once they were Dryads just as us, but were impured by fear for their own safety, and so created the law to control the land and make it less fearsome. And as the Maenads grew corrupt, so did the forest wither.”

¶XVIII. “This garden,” added Amity, “is the last vestige of the beauty that once was the Luxwood.”

¶XIX. “A shame,” said Faith, “we hadn’t the time to rescue any of the others.”

¶XX. “They do not wish to be rescued,” said Empathy. “They convince themselves that there is nothing to be rescued from. They remain tied to their dead oaks, looking upon the open spaces around them and proclaiming how free they are. They allow themselves to be molested and ill-treated because they fear what would become of them without the Maenads’ protection.

¶XXI. “What were ye doing in the Somberwood, anyway?” asked Merit.

¶XXII. Faith explained to Merit that Serenity had fallen in love with a mortal, and that they were traveling to the Elderwood to find Daphne.

¶XXIII. “We shall sleep tonight,” said Liberty, “and tomorrow I shall go with you to the Elderwood.” And to this Serenity and Faith agreed.

¶XXIV. And thus the work of Anarchy was wrought.

Episode IX: Shroomseid Forest

¶I. At the dawn of the second day, Serenity, Faith, and Liberty left the Garden of Liss-Heim and began toward the end of the Somberwood, ever fearing that the Maenads might’ve been near.

¶II. The three Dryads then came unto the Somberwood’s edge aft many hours of walking, only to be halted by a cliff face.

¶III. “What do we do now?” asked Serenity.

¶IV. “Follow me,” said Liberty.

¶V. And Liberty clomb up onto the rocky stoop afore the russet stone wall, her fingers clenching the cold, linty moss that coated the boulders as her bare feet pressed deeply into and threatened to slip upon the damp sphagnum.

¶VI. Serenity and Faith followed closely as then Liberty ducked into a small adit in the rocks.

¶VII. Inside the rock face they found themselves within a dank cavern, where all around there were echoes of water droplets dripping from the stalactites above. Ahead of them was a faint light source, to which ever they walked through a crop of gnarled and twisted stalagmites as in the distance bats squeaked and rats chirped. And strong was the reek of acids emitted by the fungi that fed upon the bat’s guano.

¶VIII. They came after a short time to a bend in the tunnel, around from which the light seemed to come. Liberty peered around the corner, and saw a room softly filled with orange light from thirteen torches; each torch was held by a Lampad, or Torch Nymph.

¶IX. Liberty rounded the corner without fear now of making herself visible, motioning for Serenity and Faith to follow, and then as they entered the room hailed to the Lampads.

¶X. “Welcome to the underground,” said one of the Lampads, recognizing Serenity, Liberty, and Faith as Wood Nymphs -- for whilst the Lampads could only have hair in the shades of red and eyes of ruby, and all had tawny skin, the Dryads could have eyes of blue to green and hair of blonde to red, and had skin that was fair and often freckled. The Lampads then introduced themselves: Avidity, Salacity, Lust, Fervidness, Carnality, Ribaldry, Lubricity, Erotica, Desire, Sybarity, Savor, Calidity, and Regale.

¶XI. “Thank you,” replied Faith. “We are trying to reach the Elderwood. Could ye help us?”

¶XII. “Verily,” replied Avidity. “We know these tunnels well. Follow us, and we’ll take you straight there.” And so the Lampads led the Dryads deeper into the underground.

¶XIII. As they traveled further into the chamber there seemed to grow in abundance patches of molds in all manners of consistency. There were those that were white and downy as like a froth; those that were as pappy spherules of yellow, gold, orange, or red; those that were oily and hued in blacks and livid greens; those that looked as polished tan kernels; those that were as clumping, white powders; and those that formed circles of white filled with pastel greens, mauves, azures, sallows, pinks, and many other pale shades. And all of these types mingled together in each other’s patches, some dense and others spread.

¶XIV. As they walked, not only did these patches grow thicker and more plentiful, but they began to cover the stalagmites and cave walls as well. And among these patches the Dryads began to see many other varieties of fungus. There were puffballs; some slender and heightwise oblong, while others were round and spiny in appearance, and still others were of some middle twixt the two. There were agarics of all colors, most of them white, but some of stunning vibrancy and a scarce few that glowed as fireflies. There were also many morels and truffles, as well as a great number of sacred mushrooms.

¶XV. “Between the smoke from your torches and the breaths of these fungi, I fear we shall suffocate if we continue any further,” said Serenity.

¶XVI. “Thou needn’t worry,” said Regale. “There shall be plenteous fresh air where we’re going.”

¶XVII. And so ahead the Lampads and the Dryads forged, as all around them the fungi grew more robust. Many of the puffballs now appeared almost as great white conifers, and the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, even the stalactites, were covered in mottled molds.

¶XVIII. Not much time had passed fore it seemed they’d come unto a great jungle of all these fungi, most of them so large they rivaled the trees and underbrush of the forests above.

¶XIX. The cave’s ceiling there was hundreds of feet high, and a fog of spores cloaked much of the jungle’s floor. Ahead of them was small, stone bridge that arched over a gurgling, underground brooklet that marked the border of an even larger and lusher jungle beyond.

¶XX. “What is this place?” asked Liberty.

¶XXI. “Thou art in Shroomseid, the land of our tribe,” said Carnality. “We’ll letup here for a few hours. The path ahead isn’t for the weary.” And to this Serenity, Faith, and Liberty agreed.

¶XXII. And so the Torch Nymphs and the Wood Nymphs crossed over the small, stone bridge and into the greater jungle, and walked through the mushroom forest and into a clearing.

¶XXIII. “Be careful where ye Dryads sit,” warned Ribaldry. “Ye do not want to become afflicted with butt-rot.” And the Dryads feigned laughter at the horrid pun.

¶XXIV. The Lampads stacked their torches in the center of the clearing, and built there a campfire.

¶XXV. And the Lampads and the Dryads lay around the campfire as from the forest surrounding them came Agarians bearing gifts.

¶XXVI. Each Agarian had the appearance of a plump mushroom or toadstool, and was nearly four feet in height. Each had two gangling arms that protruded from the stipe just below the ring, and two stout legs at the stipe’s bottom. Upon the thickest part of the stipe, between the ring and the gills, were on each of them two dark eyespots facing forward, and below the two eyespots each of them had a single, small mouth that was so featureless as to appear but a mere crease.

¶XXVII. The gifts that the Agarians bore were mushroom caps; some were as large baskets filled with sacred mushrooms, and others were small and filled with some kind of tea. The Agarians set the gifts adown near the Nymphs and then retreated back slowly into the jungle.

¶XXVIII. The Lampads began to eat of the sacred mushrooms and drink of the tea, and offered some unto the Dryads, who eagerly accepted and ate of the psilocybes and imbibed the brew.

¶XXIX. Now those fungi that twinkled and glowed in the darkness beyond the light cast by the campfire began to arouse attention from the Nymphs, who by then were tripping out. It seemed that the fungi were flickering in tally with the sounds of the bats, which in turn seemed to be squeaking in musical rhythm.

¶XXX. Next the Nymphs’ skin began to tingle, and they all began to massage one another, and groomed each other’s hair. Then after only a short time they began to kiss one another’s shoulders, necks, and cheeks as they kneaded at one another’s skin. And then the kneading turned not to lighthearted fondling, but to passionate caressing, and they began to make love. But this was not the frolicsome, jovial lovemaking the Dryads were accustomed to; this was rather an impassioned, ruttish frenzy of sweltering flesh.

¶XXXI. For hours they made love in this manner, until at end all were left gasping desperately for breath as limply their limbs lay atop each other.

Episode X: Under Incession

¶I. After their strength came back to them, and their minds no longer were clouded by the sacred mushrooms or the tea, the Nymphs readied themselves to leave Shroomseid.

¶II. The Lampads fashioned torches from the large, dry stipes that they gathered, and gave torches also to the Dryads, who held them far in front of themselves (for Dryads are leery of fire). And the Lampads led the Dryads through the Shroomseid to its other end, to the mouth of yet another tunnel.

¶III. “We must be very careful,” said Fervidness. “The underground holds many dangers.” And with that Fervidness motioned unto the jungle from which they had just emerged, and from the forest came ten Agarians, each brandishing a spiny, crude bludgeon.

¶IV. The Agarians entered the mouth of the tunnel, followed closely be the Nymphs.

¶V. Many hours passed as through the darkness the Nymphs continued, until afore them at some distance they saw a faint light.

¶VI. “Is that the way out?” asked Faith.

¶VII. “No,” said Avidity, warily.

¶VIII. Slowly the light moved nearer them; a torch or perhaps a lantern, carried by someone or something unknown.

¶IX. The light drew closer as the Agarians and Nymphs stopped and held where they were, until finally its carrier had come so close that they could clearly see the thing by the light that was cast on it by the torch it held.

¶X. It was a hideous beast. It walked mainly on its hindlegs; using its right arm to help support its weight as its left grasped the torch. Its head was as a skull, though its eyes, fore-facing and surrounded bony ridges, were set so apart it almost seemed they projected from the sides of its head; its nose, sitting between its eyes and nearly upon its forehead, was flat, and its nostrils so close together they looked to be a single hole when the flame moved just right; its maw projected like that of an ape, and as its mouth hung open it showed its great ape-teeth and ape-tusks, with a long, ropey tongue that dangled below its chin. Its legs were bowed, squat; its arms thick and muscular, and so long that the creature had only to hunch over to rest its palm on the ground. Its fingers and toes ended in huge, sickle-shaped claws. Its skin was leathery, almost scaly, and was a blotchy leaden gray in color. From all over its hide grew a sparse coat of thick, wiry white hairs.

¶XI. The monster glared at them from under its jutting brow as its long and pointed ears flattened to the sides. It menacingly clubbed at the ground with its torch, swinging it about as the creature lumbered quickly toward them.

¶XII. The Agarians made a wall before the Nymphs, and intercepted the great beast, attacking it with their bludgeons. The beast dropped its torch and lashed back at the Agarians with its many-hooked hands, strewing the cavern with their pallid blood and innards. The monster ripped limb from stipe and tore at every part of them. Soon not one Agarian stood, and the beast sopped with their milky remains as pieces of them lay all around. All this so fast it seemed a mere blink.

¶XIII. The thing then smiled at the Nymphs, teeth haughtily borne as it panted, causing the Dryads to tremble.

¶XIV. “Stand back,” Calidity warned the Dryads. And the Lampads all smiled back at the monster, and lightly blew upon the ends of their torches held out before them, causing a torrent of fire to roar forward and enkindle the beast’s hair and clout.

¶XV. The creature howled in pain and its arms began to flail about. Enraged, the thing trudged at them, but cloaked in fire could not see where to strike, and so fought mindlessly at the air as the Nymphs backed away. Only after several minutes did it finally collapse in front of them, consumed entirely by the Lampads’ flames as its serpentine tail thrashed.

¶XVI. “We have to keep moving,” said Avidity. “The scent will attract more of them.”

¶XVII. In haste the Nymphs leaped over the creature as it burned and jogged ahead.

¶XVIII. They kept on at a lope for quite a time before finally slowing, fairly certain they’d put enough distance between themselves and the monster.

¶XIX. “What was that?” asked Serenity, still shaken by the attack. “It looked like some sort of an Orc.”

¶XX. “ ‘Twas a Troglodyte,” said Sybarity; “an Under Orc. Troglodytes were among the first Orcs to live wholly upon the land, away from the sea whence the Orcs first came.”

¶XXI. “I hate Orcs,” breathed Serenity.

¶XXII. “Think of it,” said Liberty, “if those other Dryads that the Maenads held captive back in the Somberwood feared us, they’d shit themselves if ever they were to see an Orc.”

¶XXIII. Serenity stood stiffly, her breaths labored and chest heaving, lips parted and pouting, eyes wide and brow arched as her peering kept veering back to the shadows whence they’d encountered the Troglodyte. And Serenity shook her head, casting away her worries if only for a moment, and said unto Liberty: “I wonder if perhaps it may be worth it.”

¶XXIV. “What dost thou mean?” said Liberty.

¶XXV. “To live in captivity, having the protection of the Maenads.”

¶XXVI. “They han’t freedom,” answered Liberty.

¶XXVII. “Perhaps not,” said Serenity, “but they seem content enough in those individual freedoms that have been allotted to them. Never do they have to concern themselves with any real dangers. It must be bliss to be so ignorant of the world as to fear the petty and harmless things they fear.”

¶XXVIII. “Whilst being under another’s rule?” said Liberty. “To have another choose for them which freedoms they are allowed and which they are not? I could never think it ‘worth it’ to be sheltered by slavery, no matter how strong that shelter may be. The Maenads sold those Dryads a lie; the lie that freedoms doled out by an authority somehow equal true, genuine freedom, and sold them also the lie that being haltered, bound, and watched is but a means of protection. These lies that were sold to them, they bought by sacrificing the very things they feared to lose: their freedom and well-being. For that, I pity them. I pity them with all that is in me, but I do not envy them.”

¶XXIX. “But surely they would not have to worry about such things as Orcs,” said Serenity. “They needn’t worry over any real threats. Maybe to them, having such protection is worth it, as long as they are granted enough individual freedoms.”

¶XXX. “To be granted a little safety and a list of freedoms, in exchange for true freedom and the ability to keep oneself safe in the manner one sees most fit?”

¶XXXI. “I suppose,” replied Serenity, “such a choice must be left to each person.”

¶XXXII. “Just as the choice was left to thee? Thou never made any such choice. It was thrust upon thee, and thou wert lucky to escape. But imagine if there were nowhere to hide or run to; imagine there were nothing but Maenad tribes everywhere one could go, all enforcing their law -- some more strict than others, some bestowing more freedoms than others, but all principally the same.”

¶XXXIII. “That could never happen,” said Serenity.

¶XXXIV. “Not here, in the underground,” Avidity injected.

¶XXXV. “Thou knowest of the Maenads and their law?” asked Faith.

¶XXXVI. “Unfortunately,” said Avidity. “They’ve at times attempted to enforce their law here as well, but to little effect. The underground is the last place the hand of the law wilt ever reach.”

¶XXXVII. “And how is that?” said Faith.

¶XXXVIII. “We have our own world here; our own system of cooperation and no need of law. Those of us in the underground would sooner give our lives than allow the Maenads’ law to destroy everything we’ve worked for.”

¶XXXIX. “But ye have no safety,” said Serenity. “That Under Orc might’ve easily killed any of us, just as easily as it killed those mushroom-folk.”

¶XL. “Yes,” said Avidity, “but a surface Orc could’ve just as easily killed any of the Maenads, and the Dryads that live under their law. At least down here in the underground, if thou art killed, it is because thou hast failed to protect thyself, not because the law hath failed to protect thee. And if thou endurest, it is because thou hast been able to do so on thine own merits, not because the law hath spared thee. Freedom isn’t safe, and the law is the refuge of cowards. When thou art free, thou must be responsible for thine own safety, or at the least, thou must have friends that thou canst depend on to help thee when thou art in need.”

¶XLI. “It could be argued,” stated Serenity, “that the Maenads are the ‘friends’ of those Dryads they hold captive. Those Dryads pay their tax and obey their law, in exchange for what little protection the Maenads have to offer.”

¶XLII. “That, is precisely why they fear us,” said Liberty. “There could always be an Orc, or a pack of wolves, or a wildfire, or some other danger from which the Maenads cannot protect them. They are never truly safe. But what dost thou suppose they’d do after an Orc attack? They might encourage the Maenads to make better whips. Perhaps they’d even gather thorny vines for the Maenads to do so. They’d do this thinking that if the Maenads had these thorny whips, they’d have more of a defense against future Orc attacks, not even considering what that will mean when the time comes for the Maenads to turn their whips on those Dryads that breach their law, until they find themselves being lashed. And then, after being subjected to this brutality, they will convince themselves they deserved it, and all those that witnessed the lashing will say that is the consequence for disobedience; they’ll say that if one doth not want such lashings, one hath only to obey the law. To them it will be a simple matter, because no matter how they are mistreated, their belief that the law is there to keep them safe will only be strengthened. And so they fear us because we reject the very thing that they’ve convinced themselves is there to protect them.”

¶XLIII. “That is why they must feign freedom,” added Avidity. “They must make themselves believe they are free, so that they don’t have to admit to themselves, that the thing they fear above all else, is freedom. They fear freedom because it is unsafe, and they fear us because we are free ... ”

¶XLIV. “And therefore a threat to their safety,” Serenity concluded. “But do ye not grow tired of always lurking in the shadows?”

¶XLV. “Not we Lampads,” said Avidity. “It is our way. Shroomseid shall always be our home.”

¶XLVI. “We Dryads of Liss-Heim certainly grow tired,” said Liberty. “But until the day cometh that there are more freedom fighters than cowards amongst the Dryads of the Somberwood, we must always hide away in Liss-Heim where the hand of the law doth not reach. For as the law is the refuge of cowards, then the shadows must be the refuge of those that love freedom.”

¶XLVII. “How canst thou be free whilst always having to steal away into the darkness?” asked Serenity.

¶XLVIII. “We cannot be,” answered Liberty. “Not truly. That is why we hate the law so. The law not only taketh freedom from the cowards that willingly surrender to it, but it taketh also the freedom from we who surrender not.”

¶XLIX. “Why doesn’t your tribe just go to the Elderwood, away from the Maenads and their law?”

¶L. “Because, Serenity,” said Liberty, “it is we Dryads of Liss-Heim that must keep the law from spreading beyond the Somberwood.”

¶LI. Not much more was said in the next many hours that the Nymphs persisted through the underground channels, until eventually they saw another light ahead of them.

¶LII. “Another Under Orc?” said Serenity.

¶LIII. “No,” replied Lubricity, “we are nighing Mor’nor, the city of the Swartelves.”

¶LIV. Each moment the Dryads and the Lampads drew nearer to the soft glow yonder, and out onto a ridge at the mouth of the cavern.

¶LV. Standing at this ledge the Nymphs found themselves almost at the ceiling of a fathomless undercroft, so cavernous that at its floor sat a vast city, lit just as those seen at night from the tallest of hills in the Emerald Forest.

¶LVI. From so high above the city’s lights twinkled like the stars of the heavens, speckling the canyon’s bottom in a web of soft yellow radiances so distant and small they seemed a beacon of the worlds beyond.

¶LVII. The Nymphs walked along the ridge, descending adown alongside the undercroft’s wall as aye they ventured forth toward the city below.

¶LVIII. After some time the Nymphs found themselves nearing a great tunnel’s mouth letting out onto the ledge, and from it came the sound of a dire beast breathing.

¶LIX. And then the Troglodyte emerged from its den, angrily snarling. It lurched at them on all fours as its tail swung behind it; its far-apart eyes evilly glaring, its lip kirked and stained teeth peeled, and its nostrils flaring between its blood-shot eyes as evermore it stalked upon them.

¶LX. Ears down and hackles up, its claws clacked against the stony pass with each slow step it took. It then reared upon its legs and raised its arms as if ready to pounce, and unsteadily stumbled at them as a trickle of drool dripped from its lower lip.

¶LXI. Again the Lampads held their torches before them, and again blew lightly against their flames. Again a fire erupted fore, and in this fire was the Orc engulfed, and wordlessly wailed of its pain. And the creature fought at empty air, and swung and swiped at nothings, still screaming as it did, with agony upborne upon its harrowed hales.

¶LXII. And aflame it staggered, and flung its arms as finally its footing failed, ere from the tier the Troglodyte toppled and fell for the founding far below.

¶LXIII. The Nymphs watched from the ledge as the Under Orc plummeted with a wake of fire and smoke. They watched as downward into the darkness the creature dropped, until its burning body was but a faint flicker, and a thud was heard.

¶LXIV. “Ye’ll see that the underground is quite infested with Troglodytes,” said Fervidness, “and other monsters as well. Dire foes indeed, but no match for a Lampad’s flare.”

¶LXV. “Hardly,” said Carnality. “We’ve been lucky twice this day, and luck doth not last forever.”

¶LXVI. So the Nymphs kept walking down along the ledge, slowly circling the city that still so far beneath them sat.

Episode XI: The City of Mor’nor

¶I. Thereafter, following their great descent into the depths of the undercroft, the Lampads and the Dryads came to a forest that lay at the outskirts of Mor’nor; a forest not much unlike Shroomseid.

¶II. From where they stood, though by the tall fungi surrounded, they could see in the distance beyond the forest many black towers; tortile obelisks that twisted and knurled as they reached in gyres high upward as if growing toward the ceiling. And upon these towers were lights, betraying that within them dwelt many Swartelves.

¶III. The Nymphs began to search this forest for a path to the city itself, and pushed through the dense growths of fungi looking for such a pathway. Then the Nymphs happened onto a small clearing, and they saw at its other end three statues of such perfection that the Nymphs could not refrain from examining them more closely.

¶IV. The statues had been carved in the image of Elves: two male and one female, each leaning upon the hilt of a longsword stuck into the ground before it. Each statue was flawless in every detail; from the manner of wrinkles in the stone robes they wore to their eyebrows, eyelashes, and the hair that could be seen under their robes’ hoods -- all so lifelike that it seemed impossible they could have been formed of stone. Further, the rock that the statues were carved from showed not a single fault; they were not stippled in the varied shades of granite or some other stone, but instead were as solid cast-iron.

¶V. “They’re so real,” said Serenity. “It’s almost as if they are breathing.”

¶VI. And then Faith noticed that the bottoms of the statues’ robes were being blown just subtly by a slight breeze along the forest floor, and said: “Serenity, they are breathing.”

¶VII. Swiftly the Swartelves took up their blades and their bright yellow eyes opened, but as quickly as they could do this they fell entranced by gazing upon the Nymphs’ splendor, and with clangs their swords dropped from their hands.

¶VIII. “Do any of you speak the traders’ tongue of the surface world?” asked Liberty.

¶IX. “Ay,” said the male on the left. “I speak the surface tongue.”

¶X. “We’d like passage through Mor’nor,” said Avidity. “We have agreed to lead these three Wood Nymphs to the Elderwood. Would ye be willing to escort us thither?”

¶XI. “Surely, verily,” replied the Swartelf. “Of course, it would be our greatest pleasure.” And he turned and began to speak to his companions in the ancient Mal’naril tongue, which all there but the Dryads could understand.

¶XII. The other Swartelves nodded their heads in accord, and motioned for the Nymphs to follow as they disappeared into the fungi, heading toward the city of Mor’nor.

¶XIII. Soon they came to the edge of the forest, and for the first time the Dryads could clearly see the city.

¶XIV. Far beneath the tops of the twined spires were courts enclosed by peristyles of contorted columns, and colonnades of bent struts, and monuments of all strangest sorts. And there were gigantic arches all about that in pairs crossed at their acmes, and at these junctures beamed a pale light down between what seemed their four legs, onto the streets and structures below. And everywhere there were streetlamps sitting atop crooked posts.

¶XV. And everything was black, and shined in the pale light, and was as the dark ground of the cemeteries above brought alive by the kiss of sallow moonlight, and with silver breath haunted.

¶XVI. “It’s like some beautiful nightmare,” Faith whispered to Serenity.

¶XVII. The whole city was alive with Swartelves, Underlings, and Deep Gnomes.

¶XVIII. “As much as it tries me to say this,” said the Swartelf, “we cannot allow sixteen Nymphs to wander the city naked.” The Swartelf then once again spoke to his companions, and immediately they left.

¶XIX. “They’ll return shortly with something for you to wear,” the Swartelf assured.

¶XX. The Nymphs waited there with the Swartelf for what seemed an eternity until the other two Swartelves returned with armfuls of material.

¶XXI. “Here,” said the Swartelf, taking pieces of the material from his companions and handing them out to the Nymphs.

¶XXII. They were robes, not unlike those that the Swartelves wore, but a bit larger. So the Lampads began handing their torches off to one another and slipped the robes on. The robes fit them rather baggily, except across their chests where the garbs were unnaturally strained.

¶XXIII. Once hampered in their new clothes the Nymphs pulled and tugged at the garments, in a fuss attempting to make themselves more comfortable. Neither the Lampads nor the Dryads felt at ease, as none of them were accustomed to clothing -- for it was not the way of Nymphs.

¶XXIV. And so the three Swartelves led the thirteen Torch Nymphs and three Wood Nymphs into Mor’nor.

¶XXV. In the streets were many booths, with merchants buying and selling things of all kinds: clothing, jewelry, meats, and mushrooms most prominent among the others.

¶XXVI. Carriages were pulled through the streets by sirrush -- tall and limber reptiles with agile bodies, necks long and graceful, yet powerful, forelegs as mighty as lions’, hindlegs as lithe as the spryest birds’, and wiry tails; all over were they covered in the smooth green scales of an asp, and crowned with horns like those of an oryx.

¶XXVII. And the Nymphs were taken ever deeper into Mor’nor, through ghostly rays that in pallor bathed them, and through deathly shades that by fear they felt pithed them. Yet even in these grim stills, there was a quiet calm; a peace that bound the ancient city.

¶XXVIII. And everywhere the Nymphs went, men and women alike halted just to stare at them, agape by the unrivaled allure of their beauty.

¶XXIX. Now the Nymphs had never hereto been in a real city, and as the men and women stared at them they were equally agape by the strange and wondrous sites they saw. And the fear that in the city’s shadows they felt began to fade with the passing of each moment, and the Nymphs began to smile and laugh and skip about as the people’s excitement with them grew.

Episode XII:

¶I. After not much greater than an hour the Swartelves had lead the Nymphs to the westernmost border of Mor’nor, where the city once again met the forest.

¶II. The Swartelves then proceeded into the fungi as the Nymphs followed, and in a short time came to the undercroft wall.

¶III. And in this wall there had been a tunnel bored, likely in times far now passed but yet still clearly bored, as vestiges of archways now quite crumbled remained barely seen. And with their swords attent the Swartelves stepped cautiously into the passage, slowly, and with a slight gesture the female Elf bade the Nymphs keep near. And so the Nymphs did, doffing their robes and entering into the tunnel.

¶IV. They walked for some time through the fungus-filled hole, their feet slipping upon the slime-swathed molds that blanketed the cavern floor as up the slight incline they hiked.

¶V. The Swartelves suddenly stopped, and behind them the Nymphs.

¶VI. “What is it?” inquired Salacity.

¶VII. And then the sound of heavy footsteps mashing at the floor. And nearer came those footsteps, however slowly, affraying still the Elves and Nymphs; for this sound was not a sound that once heard could be forgotten. This sound was the sound of a Troglodyte approaching.

¶VIII. The Lampads readied their torches, braced for what bane was about to befall them. It was then that another set of steps were heard: the sound now was that of two Troglodytes nearing.

¶IX. “Over here!” the Swartelf whispered loudly, and with his two companions ducked into the rocks, into a nearby side tunnel that even the Lampads could hardly see from where they stood. And the Nymphs followed the Elves into the hole, filing one after another into it.

¶X. Snorting, grunting the first Under Orc came to that very pass into which the Færykin had sought their safety. The Dryads trembled as the monster began to sniff at the tunnel’s entrance, and its horrid grey skin they could see by the light of the Lampads’ torches.

¶XI. The beast reached into the hole, but could not snag any of the Færykin, whom by now barely tholed their fear with knotted throats. Even the Elves’ swords before them shook as their hilts rested in disquiet hands. And so the stilled Nymphs broke in flight of panic from the dire grasp of their own fears, and from deaden freeze forced themselves suddenly flee deeper into the tunnel.

¶XII. As one by one and away from the beast as frightened deer the Nymphs sprang, so too did the Swartelves flee, if far more slowly, keeping their quivery blades pointed at the monster that by now was squirming slowly into the hole.

¶XIII. The Nymphs and Elves soon found themselves in a spacious chamber, large enough that a small family of Under Orcs could’ve dwelt there. And the Færykin search for another tunnel, but there were none; they’d been cornered.

¶XIV. And then as they looked back to the tunnel through which they’d come, the Troglodyte began to ungrapple itself from the hole and into the chamber with them.

¶XV. The Swartelves with swords readied and the Lampads with their torches held up simply stood as the beast fully loosed itself from the tunnel.

¶XVI. The Lampads blew upon their torches, and the flames rolled forward under the Orc and began to consume it from below, and the fiery wave’s crest came tumbling fore and adown upon the monster.

¶XVII. After only a moment the fire had spent itself, leaving the Under Orc aflame and rushing at them. Just behind it was the second Orc, which also had been set ablaze (whilst it had stolen into the chamber during the Lampads’ firestorm).

¶XVIII. The Swartelves rushed forth upon the Orcs in defense of the Nymphs, and with their steely blades engaged them.

¶XIX. The foremost Orc grabbed at the first Elf it saw ere in fire was it blinded, and took her up by the ankle with one of its great arms. Then it raised her up over its head as she screamed, and as if swinging a hatchet brought her down speedily upon the rocks, spattering them with her pieces.

¶XX. And one of the male Elves let out a cry and lunged at the Under Orc with his sword, and with his sword he fucked the beast’s heart, and was caught afire. And both the Elf and the Orc fell together, burning.

¶XXI. The second Orc seized the remaining male Elf before blinded by the flames, and pinned him to the floor, downward faced, with its talons piercing the flesh of his back. And as he flailed and screamed, his ribs being cracked beneath the Orc’s arm, the beast wrapped its free hand round his ankle and ripped his leg, sinews snapping, shank from thigh.

¶XXII. And the second Orc then collapsed atop the Elf, and both were left aflame.

¶XXIII. Thus the Orcs, though rightly felled by the Lampads’ fire, had been kept bade by the courage of the Swartelves, who in surrendering their lives allowed the Nymphs to live. And the Lampads and the Dryads left the red glow of the smoke-filled chamber with its burning corpses, suffering gravely their rut for the Black Elves’ sacrifice, and once again in the main tunnel they began in the direction that the Swartelves had so far led them.

¶XXIV. Serenity then stopped, and she looked back. “Twice this day we’ve been fought for, and twice this day died for. Once by the mushroom-folk and again by the Swartelves. And neither required of us that we be in bondage to them to earn their protection.”

¶XXV. “That is the way of the underground,” said Avidity. “When people know they must depend upon one another in order to survive, rather than a dominion such as the Maenads’ law, then those people will be dependable to others, and expect that others be dependable unto them.”

¶XXVI. “Such it is in Liss-Heim as well,” said Liberty. “Under the Maenads’ law, where there is no expectation of loyalty among the Dryads, except that of loyalty unto the law itself, they might even go so far as to find ways to do harm unto each other without defying the law. Those of us that dwell outside of the law’s reach han’t the luxury to find ways to get away with anything the law normally forbiddeth; we must simply do what is right at all times, and sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others.”

¶XXVII. “Thus it is wheresoever that the law doth not reach,” said Faith. “Thus it is for our own tribe in the Emerald Forest, that never knew of the law to begin with. Thus it is in Liss-Heim, where the Dryads must work to defend against the law. Thus it is in the underground, where the people know of the law but simply do not acknowledge it. Thus I expect it is everywhere but the Somberwood.”

¶XXVIII. “I hope thou art right in this matter,” said Serenity. “Though I cannot help but fear, that perhaps the law was not contrived by the Maenads -- perhaps the Maenads brought the law from elsewhere and corrupted the Luxwood, and the Emerald Forest shall be next corrupted.”

¶XXIX. “Thou mustn’t worry,” said Liberty. “If such is the case, then as it is in the Somberwood so shall it also be in the Emerald Forest. Wherever the law goeth, I expect that there will always be those like we of Liss-Heim to oppose it, and undergrounds in which to seek refuge.”

¶XXX. “But perhaps I do not wish to live in the shadows,” said Serenity.

¶XXXI. “Then it is thine own duty,” said Liberty, “to see that doth not happen. For if thou dost nothing to prevent it, then thou art allowing the rape of the free lands and their peoples, and indeed aiding the law.”

¶XXXII. And in that moment was the darkness broken, shattered by a light so brilliant that as the Nymphs rounded the last bend they nearly were blinded.

¶XXXIII. “We Lampads mustn’t stray too far from Shroomseid,” said Avidity, as she and her tribe suddenly halted. And the Dryads halted as well. “Fervidness, thou shalt accompany the Dryads till they’ve completed their journey, and do what thou wilt to keep them safe. We shall await your return in Shroomseid.”

¶XXXIV. And Serenity, and Faith, and Fervidness, and Liberty went forth from the darkness of the underground, and unto the light of the Elderwood.

Episode XIII: The Elderwood

¶I. On the third day the Nymphs clomb out of the tunnel, leaving the underground behind them, and ascended into the green woods of the upper world.

¶II. The Sun Himself had just begun to rise, and all around were dew-laden leaves that in rays of sunlit morning fog were glittered. All about were dampened stems and barks, silvery-edged by golden sunlight, and alive with beetles, moths, and all the rest of Nature’s tiny folk as they scurried up and adown the trees’ trunks.

¶III. Everywhere under the canopy the forest seemed crisp and pure, with not one dead limb or withered leaf. Everywhere the thrushes warbled, chipmunks yipped, toads croaked, and Crows cawed. Everywhere did Nature sing.

¶IV. The Nymphs listened, and breathed in the brisk morning breeze as the Dryads basked in the Elderwood’s virgin luster. And then amid the forest’s song the Nymphs faintly heard a streamlet’s purl, and were drawn to it, for they had grown thirsty.

¶V. Through the bushes they passed, the Dryads gamboling as Fervidness paced cautiously through the wood with her torch. And after a mere moment they came unto a bourn.

¶VI. At the shaded stream’s banks sat six Nixies, and three Nixies were there also in the bourn itself. In the sparkling, sun-sprinkled stream the three Nixies playfully splashed at one another, waist-deep in the thrilling waters as excitedly they shrieked. And the other six Nixies lay three to each bank, and laughed at their sisters’ merriment under the bright sunbeams that by the canopy’s shadow spersed.

¶VII. When Fervidness had caught up with the Dryads, having been careful not to set the forest afire with her torch, she, Serenity, Faith, and Liberty went unto the nine Stream Nymphs, and Faith hailed unto them.

¶VIII. And the Nixies warmly greeted the other Nymphs, and introduced themselves; and their names were Rille, Brook, Race, River, Linn, Flux, Beck, Sike, and Ghyll. And so Faith, Serenity, Liberty, and Fervidness introduced themselves as well.

¶IX. “We are looking for the tribe of Daphne,” said Faith. “Could ye offer unto us any aid? It would greatly be appreciated.”

¶X. “Of course,” replied Rille. “Brook shall fain show you there.”

¶XI. And so Brook clomb out of the waters and came to Serenity, Faith, Liberty, and Fervidness, and said, smiling warmly unto them: “Follow me.” And to this they agreed, and began to follow Brook as she strolled off into the denser wood.

¶XII. Brook stopped, and turned to the Torch Nymph. “Thou wilt have to extinguish thy flame,” she said. “There must be no fire lit within this blessed Elderwood.”

¶XIII. Smothering the flame with her hand, Fervidness then followed the other Nymphs as they departed to find Daphne’s tribe.

¶XIV. “Why art thou seeking Daphne?” enquired Brook.

¶XV. “Serenity hath become forlorn,” said Faith, “and discontent in the way of Nymphs. I have offered to take her to Daphne, whom I am sure wilt make her more content.”

¶XVI. “Serenity, wherefore art thou forlorn?” asked Brook.

¶XVII. “I wish to have a mate and children,” answered Serenity.

¶XVIII. This greatly disturbed Brook, for this was not the way of Nymphs. And so Brook said unto Serenity: “But is not your Alpha Dryad the mate of all your tribe? Canst thou not lie with her, and cause her to bear for thy tribe a caul? And doth this caul not grow into a Nymphet?”

¶XIX. “It isn’t the same,” said Serenity. “Our ancestors, the Elves, had real children. I’ve heard the stories, and I have seen many Elves. They are not nearly grown, as Nymphets are, when they are borne. The Elves have infant children that they rear from small pups until the age of a newly borne Nymphet. To do this they pair with one another, male and female, and love each other in ways no Nymph can ever know.”

¶XX. “And thou wishest to know this love, and to bear these pups?”

¶XXI. “With all that be within me,” said Serenity, “for neither spellcraft nor elixir could cure my sadness -- not after I had fallen in love with a mortal, and was given a small taste of this love. I must be with him.”

¶XXII. Brook smiled at Serenity. “I hope and give thee my luck that Daphne hath the ability to help thee.”

¶XXIII. “As I,” said Serenity, “but I thank thee anyway.”

¶XXIV. The Nymphs continued for many minutes through the morn-damped bush, their skin wetted by besprinkled leaves as through the bright and fog-filled forest they strode, till after only a short time they came unto a misty glade wherein were twelve shadows.

¶XXV. And the shadows came forth from the mists, and revealed themselves as Dryads, whose names were Willow, Holly, Maple, Lily, Veronica, Ivy, Daisy, Laurel, Ginger, Cassia, Jasmine, and Violet. And this was the eldest of Dryad tribes.

¶XXVI. And Brook introduced Serenity, Faith, Liberty, and Fervidness to the eldest tribe. “They wish to speak with Daphne,” said Brook.

¶XXVII. “Concerning what, precisely?” asked Veronica.

¶XXVIII. “Serenity hath grown forlorn,” said Faith, “and discontent in the way of Nymphs.”

¶XXIX. The eldest tribe was greatly surprised by this, and so Jasmine, confused, asked: “How?”

¶XXX. “I wish to mate myself to a man, and to have real children,” answered Serenity. “I wish to live as our ancestors once did.”

¶XXXI. “That is not the way of Nymphs,” a voice from the mists declared.

¶XXXII. And there was another shadow, walking slowly toward them from behind the white veil. When emerged from the fog, the shadow could clearly be seen as a Dryad; a Dryad more beautiful and radiant than Faith, Serenity, Liberty, or Fervidness had ever seen. The whole of her being seemed to shine as moonlight, her mane was as threads of gold glinted white as the glare upon a silver stream, and the sparkling of her blue eyes were as the brightest stars. And upon her head she wore a crown of ivy flowering white.

¶XXXIII. “Lo,” said she, “for I am Daphne, Queen of the Dryads and daughter of Zeus. I shall hear thee, and consider thy plight, and offer what help I may.”

¶XXXIV. Serenity explained to Daphne how she felt, and about her affairs with the Darkelf, and how she longed so desperately for him whom she feared she could never have.

¶XXXV. Daphne thought; for many moments she thought, for she knew not of such desires.

¶XXXVI. “Willow shall take thee to Mount Ævalwark to see the Star Nymphs, who will make thee more content.” And to this, with a nod of her head, Willow agreed.

Episode XIV: Mirthmoor

¶I. Now Willow, the Beta Dryad and Shaman of the eldest tribe of Wood Nymphs, had led Faith, Serenity, Liberty, and Fervidness out of the denser woods and to the boundary of a hilly pasture. In every direction there were mountains reaching high above the morning brume that befogged the surrounding Elderwood, and ahead was one mountain greater than all the rest. And the pasture looked as a dark chasm had riven it, with a stone arch that linked its nighest to forthest half.

¶II. And as Willow, Faith, Serenity, Fervidness, Brook, and Liberty ventured ever nearer the stone bridge they heard laughter amidst the cloudy veil around them.

¶III. Forthwith from the fogs there came eight Aulonyads, skipping and frolicking and leaping about as they laughed and played. So rapt were the Field Nymphs in one another that they hadn’t even noticed the three Wood Nymphs, the Stream Nymph, and the Torch Nymph.

¶IV. Fervidness raised the end of her torch to her mouth and hotly outbreathed upon it, causing its tip to ember, and then to burn once more.

¶V. Seeing the sudden flare of fire, the Aulonyads instantly halted and warily yet half-smiling walked toward the other Nymphs. The Aulonyads were somewhat smaller than the other Nymphs, and their skin was opaline, their hair waxen, and their large eyes a pale gold.

¶VI. Brook and Willow introduced the Aulonyads to the other Nymphs, and the Field Nymphs’ names were Meadow, Lea, Vale, Dell, Ravine, Glen, Valley, and Dale.

¶VII. “What hath brought you Nymphs here?” asked Meadow.

¶VIII. “We are on our way to Mount Ævalwark,” said Willow.

¶IX. “I’m sorry,” said Meadow, “but ye mustn’t go near the bridge or attempt to leap the chasm, for within the chasm there resideth a Trull.”

¶X. “A Trull?” said Brook. “In Mirthmoor?”

¶XI. “Ay,” said Ravine, “a Trull.”

¶XII. “I say we kill it,” said Fervidness.

¶XIII. “Fervidness, hast thou ever seen a Trull before?” asked Meadow.

¶XIV. “No, but surely it is no worse than an Under Orc.”

¶XV. “A Trull,” said Valley, “is the largest of all the land Orcs. ‘Tis also called a Giant Orc. We could not possibly hope to vanquish such a monster.”

¶XVI. “But we must reach Mount Ævalwark!” said Serenity, her eyes welling with tears.

¶XVII. “Thou shalt worry not,” said Fervidness, “we shall kill the Trull, and these Field Nymphs will aid us.”

¶XVIII. “Pardon me?” said Meadow.

¶XIX. “Art thou deaf? Ye will help us slay the beast.”

¶XX. “And if we do not?”

¶XXI. “Then,” said Liberty, “ye will be terrorized relentlessly. Ye must defend yourselves, or ye shall lose your freedom.”

¶XXII. Meadow thought for a moment. “Fine, but at least we will wait till the Sun is at His highest, when the Trull moveth most slowly.”

¶XXIII. “Trulls move more slowly when the Sun is high?” asked Faith.

¶XXIV. “Under the light of the Sun,” said Glen, “they are practically as stone.”

¶XXV. “Then at midday shall we lure the Trull from his den,” said Fervidness, who then smiled the brightest and most joyous of smiles, “and destroy him utterly.”

¶XXVI. And so the Nymphs spent the rest of the morning amongst the bracken at the Elderwood’s edge. Serenity browsed for cherries (for her caul had been grown in a cherry tree), as she had grown weary without them. So too did Faith pluck her own life-fruit of the grape vines. And Liberty ate of the Elderwood’s plums as Fervidness picked toadstools, whilst Willow took of the nectarines. The Aulonyads merely wrestled playfully and tittered amidst the tall, bedewed grasses of Mirthmoor.

¶XXVII. As the morning waned and the Sun neared His greatest height the Nymphs prepared to battle the Giant Orc. Serenity, Faith, and Willow had braided vines together into whips. Liberty and Brook had each fashioned a flail of a branch, many lengths of vine, and a large stone. Meadow, Lea, Dale, and Ravine had constructed simple and lightweight bludgeons out of small logs with bramble vines twined around their ends, while Valley, Dell, Glen, and Vale had braided two lengthy ropes from the bramble vines. And Fervidness had her torch.

¶XXVIII. Midday came round, and the fog had burned away, and the Sun shone brightly upon the stone bridge. And the Nymphs marched ever toward it, ever fearing for their lives and ever thirsting for their enemy’s death with parched and knotted throats; and they trembled.

¶XXIX. They came unto that segue of hoary stones, broad and surfaced smoothly, with its pair of posts at either end, and stood there for what seemed a great length. The Aulonyads forced their eyes from clenching shut in the fear they felt so far within them, and the other Nymphs assayed to tame their unsteady breaths, and all’s hearts shook within their breasts.

¶XXX. And the Nymphs began to sing.

¶XXXI. And a great hand slowly reached at the heavens from the chasm’s deeps. Its sickle-clawed fingers were spread from one another, and bent so wickedly it was if the hand of Orcus Himself had been loosed from Hell’s blackest fires, from the very belly of Gaia to pluck the Sun from His place in the skies above. And the Nymphs ceased their song of lure.

¶XXXII. The hand then came down against them, and the Nymphs ran back, and stopped as it sunk its talons into the earth.

¶XXXIII. Then another clawed hand upstretched from the darks below, and slowly it too came adown and dug its hellish paw into Mirthmoor’s ground, and the beast had thus begun to raise itself upon the land.

¶XXXIV. As it clomb the Nymphs could see the Trull’s face; its blood-red eyes under shade of heavy brow, fore-faced and set at furthest ends of broad face; its nose flat with flaring nostrils almost upon its brow; its apish maw with its dire tusks; its slender and pointed ears.

¶XXXV. And with its long and brawny arms the beast pulled itself forth from the chasm, and languidly it clambered upon Mirthmoor from its dank dwelling below.

¶XXXVI. The Trull then reared upon its hindlegs, and the Nymphs were in awe of the creature’s prowess. The monster was muscled with great bulk, yet was fat-bellied. Its wet skin glistened in the sunlight as if covered in slime. Its hide was a yellowish, sickly pitch-grey gleaming greenly in the light of day. Its arms were long, and its fingers dangled at the ankles of its squat, bowed legs. Its height was no lesser of twenty cubits with shoulders at least ten cubits wide, and its swarthy form was clad only in a bearskin clout. Claws ended its every finger and toe, and its tail, if it had one at all, must’ve been no more than a stump.

¶XXXVII. Under the Sun’s harsh rays the beast feebly raised its massive arms high above its head, and with face turned skyward it let from its bellows a roar that seemed to quake Mirthmoor and the surrounding Elderwood. And birds fled from the trees.

¶XXXVIII. The Giant Orc let its arms hang once more at its sides, and with its hulking neck lowered its head again to glower at they that dared disturb it. The thing then horribly smiled, and sanguis dripped from its red-sodden lips as it bore its bloodstained teeth at them. And from its nether lip there fell a hand and piece of dainty arm, which yestern had been a Field Nymph’s.

¶XXXIX. Slowly then did the Trull lurch at them who in fright began to back away. With each step it took at them its feet sank deeply into the mud below it, and its gnarled fingers swept through Mirthmoor’s grasses as its arms heavily swung.

¶XL. Fervidness then ran past the Trull, with Serenity, Faith, Willow, Ravine, Lea, Dale, and Meadow following closely behind her. But the Trull did not let its attention from the Nymphs still before it.

¶XLI. Dale, Meadow, Ravine, and Lea ran hastily across the bridge, as Faith, Serenity, and Willow lashed at the Trull’s calves with their whips. And the Giant Orc turned then very slowly to face them, and with ire it glared as it trudged at the three Dryads, hungrily growling.

¶XLII. The Dryads lured the beast in this manner onto the bridge, as Glen, Vale, Dell, and Valley tailed the monster, each carrying an end of either of their two long ropes.

¶XLIII. Cracking their whips at the beast, Faith, Serenity, and Willow brought it to the other side of the bridge. The Giant Orc then halted, and once more lifted its arms into the air and let out a thunderous roar. As it did, Dell held one end of her rope at the monster’s left side as Glen ran the other end behind the creature, tween it’s legs, and then afore its right. Glen and Valley then worked quickly to tie both ropes together, as Vale took her end of the second rope and wove it tween the monster’s legs just as had Glen, and with Dell tied both ropes together at their opposite ends.

¶XLIV. The Trull looked adown, and grew greatly enraged by what the four Field Nymphs had done. The beast tried to grab at the Nymphs, but under the Sun’s light was far too slow, as the Aulonyads scurried swiftly away.

¶XLV. As the ropes had been wrapped about the Giant Orc’s legs, so had Willow, Serenity, and Faith run to join Meadow, Ravine, Dale, and Lea behind Fervidness. And as the Aulonyads fled from the monster’s attempt to grab at them, so did Fervidness lightly blow upon the end of her torch, and from it burst a spate of fire that rushed against the Trull with all the force of Nature’s fury.

¶XLVI. But the Orc’s slithery, hairless skin was harmed not by the flame, nor was its clout more than slightly singed. Still did the Trull start to stumble back, and with wisps of steam wafting off the sizzling slime that swathed it did the Trull tumble back, and fell against the bridge with a crack that shook the moor and toppled trees at the Elderwood’s outest rack.

¶XLVII. And by the Trull’s weight was the now-sundered bridge thrung partly back. And by its own weight the beast lay battered, and began to rouse itself to rise again the Nymphs from the riven stone, but its body could not abide its will. And so the Trull lay almost limp, in slowness stirring there upon the hoary bridge.

¶XLVIII. That moment Brook and Liberty came quickly up abaft the beast, flails in hand.

¶XLIX. With her flail Liberty struck at the Trull’s right eye, and was swashed with blood as the monster howled out in pain. And Brook took up her own flail and bashed at the beast’s left eye, and she too was bespattered in blood.

¶L. Then with a jolt the bridge asudden sank slightly adown, and Brook and Liberty jumped back of it onto the muddy earth of Mirthmoor.

¶LI. The Trull reached its hands to its face as it writhed about the stone archway, and away the bridge cracked and crumbled beneath it, and with each shift of the beast’s weight the bridge fell evermore upon itself.

¶LII. Not yet an instant thereafter the bridge at last gave way, and the Trull screamed shrilly as with slabs of stone it plummeted swiftly into the pit below. And up from the depths of the chasm’s deeps echoed the Trull’s ghastly shrieks with the companied crashing of the bridge clods that with it fell, fore the beast fell so far its voice could be heard no more.

¶LIII. And the Aulonyads rejoiced, as Liberty and Brook ran and easily leaped the chasm’s cubit-score width to join the other Nymphs.

¶LIV. Serenity, Liberty, Willow, Fervidness, Brook, and Faith did not rejoice, however, but only panted in their tire, with their hands resting upon their knees.

¶LV. “Ye mustn’t leave us,” said Meadow. “Please, ye must stay and defend us from future terror. We will obey your every wish. Ye may call Mirthmoor your own, and we will gladly pay you offerings in return for living upon your land, and in return for your protection.”

¶LVI. “I must reach the Star Nymphs of Mount Ævalwark,” said Serenity.

¶LVII. “And I must accompany her there,” said Faith, “for I am her Alpha Dryad.”

¶LVIII. “And Daphne herself hath charged me with showing them the way,” said Willow.

¶LIX. “And I am charged with seeing them safely returned as far as Shroomseid,” said Fervidness.

¶LX. “And I shall see them returned as far as they will be safely past the Somberwood,” said Liberty.

¶LXI. “And I was only supposed to show the others the way to Daphne’s tribe, but now go with them to Mount Ævalwark to aid in whatever wise I’m able,” said Brook.

¶LXII. “But we require your protection from terror!” said Ravine.

¶LXIII. “Ye must protect yourselves,” said Faith, “not depend on us to defend you.”

¶LXIV. “We cannot govern you,” added Liberty, “for the government of others’ lives is the greatest of all evils. Greater than any Orc’s terror.”

¶LXV. “And if we should die?” said Meadow.

¶LXVI. “Then ye should die free,” said Liberty.

¶LXVII. “Meadow,” said Fervidness, “thou art the Alpha Nymph of thy tribe. It is thine own duty to see that thy Aulonyads can care for themselves.”

¶LXVIII. “But do not govern them,” said Liberty. “Thy authority over them must be limited to the authority of a mistress over her apprentice. Thou should teach them to defend themselves. Learn from this morrow, and strengthen thy tribe to need not the defense of rulers and lawgivers.”

¶LXIX. “I will,” said Meadow. “At least, though, allow us to repay you for the help you’ve given us this morrow.”

¶LXX. “If ye truly wish to repay us,” said Serenity, “then ye could accompany us on our journey.”

¶LXXI. “Methinketh,” said Meadow, “that we ought to stay and hone our defenses, as Liberty hath said. Though I do very much wish to repay ye for what ye’ve done for us.”

¶LXXII. “Could I go?” asked Lea.

¶LXXIII. “Alone?” said Meadow.

¶LXXIV. “At least one of us should, and I would enjoy the adventure.”

¶LXXV. Meadow smiled. “Alright.” She then turned to Serenity, Faith, Willow, Liberty, Brook, and Fervidness. “Lea will go with you on your journey.”

¶LXXVI. “Alright,” said Faith, smiling at Lea.

¶LXXVII. And so Lea said farewell to her sisters, embracing each of them and giving each of them a passionate farewell kiss.

¶LXXVIII. Dell, Vale, and Glen then gave their bludgeons to Faith, Serenity, and Willow, as Lea took up her own bludgeon. And Liberty and Brook gathered their flails, and Fervidness had her torch in hand. And all with their weapons departed then from the Aulonyad tribe, and they trudged through the tall and dewy grasses of Mirthmoor as they ventured forth unto Mount Ævalwark.

Episode XV: The Elder Oracle

¶I. “Put thy fire out,” said the Dryad Willow unto Fervidness, as the Nymphs approached the last dense patch of Elderwood before Mount Ævalwark. “We are nearing the land of the Oracles.” Fervidness snuffed the flame of her torch with her hand, and with the other Nymphs proceeded onward into the deep wood that before the mountain lay.

¶II. Under the sun-flaked shades of the forest the Nymphs strode, until Willow had led them to a great Elder tree. And the Nymphs were halted.

¶III. Taller by far than its fellows within the Elderwood, the Elder tree reached the very canopy itself, and its width was greater than forty cubits. Sprinkling the Elder’s green branches were many flowers, and these were of such brilliance that it almost seemed they glowed.

¶IV. The Nymphs faintly saw within the Elder many figures, shadowy and Nymph-like in both form and movement. And these figures began to come forward from within the Elder, and stepped out onto the old trail.

¶V. Fair creatures were they: in appearance akin to Aulonyads, yet with ruddy hair and bluest eyes, and all bedecked in crowns and circlets of garland.

¶VI. “Who are these?” asked Serenity.

¶VII. “They are Samyads,” said Willow, “the Tree Nymphs of the Elderberry.”

¶VIII. The Tree Nymphs said nothing unto the others, but only stared with narrowed, wondering eyes at them; they stared as if trying to discern from the other Nymphs their purpose, but in no way seemed more than deeply curious.

¶IX. And one of the Tree Nymphs looked to Brook, and then to Willow, and with her eyebrow raised at them she said:

¶X. “Why have ye brought these Nymphs here?”

¶XI. “These two Wood Nymphs came to the Elderwood to seek out Daphne,” said Brook. “All the way from the Emerald forest. It seemeth that one of them hath fallen in love with a mortal, and wisheth to be with him.”

¶XII. “Daphne couldn’t help her,” added Willow, “and so Daphne hath charged me with seeing her to Mount Ævalwark to seek the Star Nymphs.”

¶XIII. “And these other Nymphs?” asked another of the Hamadryads.

¶XIV. “They’ve all offered to see me safely to my journey’s end,” said Serenity.

¶XV. “Truly the love and generosity of Nymphs knoweth no boundary,” came a voice from within the Elder tree. The voice was as a man’s, lent and kindly yet deeply toned, being the sort of voice befitting a wise old sire.

¶XVI. The Tree Nymphs turned then to the Elder, and with bended knee each bowed before it.

¶XVII. And the Elder’s branches began to move, gathering lively together, and entwining became bound. From the limbs there formed a mass, its shape alike that of the face of a proud old man, bearded in pale leaves and ashen mosses. And the face was as a hollow mask, enclosing no flesh yet occultly ensouled. The face spoke again in that gentle, timeworn voice, and it said to them:

¶XVIII. “I am Ruis of the Elderberry. Among you are many that have in only a short time encountered perils as fierce as any ye’ve imagined. Therefore, ye have come to beseech from me the sooth of your journey’s fate.”

¶XIX. “Yes,” said Willow.

¶XX. “Yet the purpose of this journey is a thing that I cannot clearly see,” said Ruis. “I suspect that it concerns thee, Serenity of the Cherry. Thou at first sought Daphne of the Laurel, didst thou not?”

¶XXI. Serenity nodded. “I have fallen in love with a mortal. I wish to take him as my mate, and to have by him at least one child.”

¶XXII. “That is not the way of Nymphs,” said Ruis of the Elderberry.

¶XXIII. “I know,” said Serenity.

¶XXIV. “And so Daphne was unable to help thee, and so sent thee off to Mount Ævalwark to seek the aid of the Star Nymphs. Correct?”

¶XXV. “Yes,” said Serenity.

¶XXVI. “For what thou seekest, Serenity, I am unable to give thee any knowledge. Willow of the Peach shall take thee to the Oracle Gort of the Ivy, who will offer thee knowledge of thy future.”

¶XXVII. “And what of our journey to Mount Ævalwark?” asked Willow.

¶XXVIII. “Your perils are not ended,” said Ruis. “Ye will face many dangers on your journey, but if ye be bound by the sisterhood of Nymphs ye shall endure the challenges that yet await you. I bid you not abandon your sister Serenity, for your aegis in her quest is a blessing unto her that the Gods shall return upon you threefold.”

¶XXIX. “We thank thee, O Wise One,” said Willow, bowing to the Oracle Ruis.

¶XXX. The Tree Nymphs began returning to the Elder, one after another disappearing therein, and as they did Ruis said unto Willow, Serenity, Faith, Brook, Liberty, Fervidness, and Lea:

¶XXXI. “Depart now from my presence and go forth unto Gort of the Ivy by guidance of Willow of the Peach, and in sisterhood bind ever until journey’s end and forever in spirit thereafter, and made blessed shall ye be.”

¶XXXII. And again the Elder’s branches moved, and untwined, and the face of the Oracle was unmade. And again the Elder was naught but a great tree.

¶XXXIII. And Willow led the other Nymphs away from the Elder, and took them deeper into the Elderwood, always toward Mount Ævalwark.

Episode XVI: The Oracle of the Vine

¶I. As the Nymphs fared the Elderwood they saw many wonders. Near them at one point were three perytons; a white stag joined by two doe of hazel, white-spotted coat; all three grazing peacefully amid the sparse underwood, stopping by turns to preen the white, black-barred pinions of their wings. Persisting still through the ancient wood the Nymphs saw many rauracks hopping about the clover and in bout locking horns, ratatosks scurrying up and adown trees, and stealthy Crows beneath the canopy flying.

¶II. Willow led the other Nymphs through the Elderwood’s shades, through tree-cast dims by sunlight straked, until after a time they came upon a modest glade, its air by the Sun’s rays hazed with brighten dust dancing as faint stars aloft aurous light. And the glade’s floor was lushly clad in greenest of ivy thicket, with leaves stimed in pale gold. Amongst the ivy, under blanket of honeyed haze and besprinkled in gilded spangles that powdered all the leafy thicket were thirteen Hamadryads, swimming mid the vines.

¶III. Immersed to their chests in the ivy groundcover the Hamadryads swam, laughing and shrieking merrily as they breached and dove about.

¶IV. Willow led Serenity, Faith, Liberty, Fervidness, Lea, and Brook out into the ivy. Oddly the vines were not much deeper than their ankles, even as the Hamadryads swam betwixt the other Nymph’s feet. And as Willow neared the glade’s center the Hamadryads were still and curiously watching the other Nymphs, and without moving from their spots they clomb up out of the ivy to finally greet them.

¶V. “These are the Vine Nymphs, or Ampelyads,” explained Willow. “They are the Hamadryads of the vine.”

¶VI. “Why have ye graced us with your presence?” asked the Alpha Ampelyad.

¶VII. “The Oracle Ruis of the Elderberry hath sent us to seek the counsel of the Oracle Gort of the Ivy,” said Willow.

¶VIII. “He shall appear to us at dusk,” replied the Vine Nymph. “We would fain have you stay with us till then.” And to this the other Nymphs agreed.

¶IX. And the Ampelyads retrieved from beneath the groundcover crowns of ivy which they placed upon their guests’ heads, and gathered also bunches of red, blue, green, purple, and black grapes from the vines, and presented the berries to their guests as offerings of sisterhood.

¶X. The Dryads, the Ampelyads, the Nixie, the Lampad, and the Aulonyad lay in there in the ivy, bathing in sparkling dust of lucent sunbeams that shone upon them through canopy’s cover. The Ampelyads coddled the other Nymphs, feeding them grapes often by hand yet at times from their own mouths, nestling them and grooming them through sunset and till dusk.

¶XI. The Nymphs all stood to their feet, and the vines began to billow. And from the center of the glade there arose a lofty mass of ivy, reaching toward the darkening sky as if a great and twisting leafy arm. And its utmost end bent and trained at them, and its vines mingled together, and formed from themselves the shape of a man’s face. And the face said unto them:

¶XII. “Lo! I am Gort of the Ivy. Among you is one that hath quested far, and wisheth to obtain for herself a love that is not the way of Nymphs.”

¶XIII. As a snake the mass of vines twisted as its face looked over each Nymph. And when Gort’s gaze fell upon Serenity, he said unto her:

¶XIV. “Serenity of the Cherry: thou art an odd creature indeed. Thou hast everything a Nymph might desire awaiting thee in the Emerald Forest, and yet still art thou unhappy. What hath happened to thee that thou would wish to leave thy sisters of the woodlands?”

¶XV. “I have fallen in love with a mortal,” said Serenity.

¶XVI. “No,” said Gort. “No, that isn’t it at all. Faith of the Vine knoweth differently. Thou hast for the greater part of a century wished to live a life in discord with thy sisters. Thou desirest above any other thing to live the life of a mortal; a life not the way of Nymphs, but the way of Elves and Hoblings and Gnomes, and the way also of Humans, Dwarves, and Ogres. This mortal thou hast fallen in love with: he is only an effigy of thy true desire. What thou truly desirest, is an affront to the way of Nymphs, for it embraceth that which thy kind hath of times yore abandoned.”

¶XVII. “Liar!” charged Serenity, and the Ampelyads were aghast. “Thou saith I desire only to desert my sisters, to abandon the way of Nymphs. Have I dispraised at any time the nature of Nymphs? I dare thee allege so! Truly have I been discontent in the way of Nymphs, howbeit thou hast no right to disclaim the love I have for my sisters, or the pride I have for my kind!”

¶XVIII. “Then why dost thou wish to live as a mortal?” asked Gort.

¶XIX. “It is my destiny!” proclaimed Serenity. And there was silence about the glade. The Oracle smiled upon her then and began to laugh, as Serenity stood agape by her own words.

¶XX. “Now that thou art beginning to understand the importance of thy quest,” said Gort, “thou shalt have a chance to succeed therein. Thou shalt seek the counsel of the Oracle Duir of the Oak, to whom the Oryads will lead thee. Go in peace from me now, and continue in surety thy journey. And blessed be.”

¶XXI. And the Oracle retreated below the ivy, and the glade was again still, and flat.

¶XXII. “We must leave now,” said Willow unto the Hamadryads, “and lead our sister Serenity to the summit of Mount Ævalwark.”

¶XXIII. The Vine Nymphs bid farewell to the others as they left the glade, and onward to the mountain called Ævalwark, where the destiny of Serenity awaited.

Episode XVII: Mount Ævalwark

¶I. When finally the Nymphs had reached the Elderwood’s edge they stood at the mountain’s base, awed, bode there by its lowery loom that against the darkness dire of sullen sky affrayed them. And in their awe they looked upon that earthen tower, that by its power stayed them.

¶II. Fervidness was first to go forth unto the crag, blowing lightly upon her torch and setting it aflame to bright their path.

¶III. Upon the black and barren rocks the Nymphs pressed fore, under a starless sky that from above seemed to watch them as the wolf stalking the stray child. But the Nymphs would not yield unto the fears that in them festered.

¶IV. The fire of the Lampad’s torch glowed red the stones around them, but everywhere else was only the black of gleaming iron. The night sky, the rocks, the distant snowy peak made but dim grey, all in such wretched darkness that from the hand of Death himself it seemed this night had been cast upon them.

¶V. And the wind blew. Cold, deathly wind so dry it made the Nymph’s skin taut as it swept across the mountain; as an icy razor’s edge that slightly scraped over them it blew and relented not.

¶VI. Still the Nymphs clomb ever toward their goal, ever toward Ævalwark’s peak, ever toward that destiny that for Serenity was waiting.

¶VII. Ravens flew through the air; as if awaiting the Nymph’s death they wafted amid the winds. And the wind blew stronger, and took the flame from the Lampad’s torch.

¶VIII. The Nymphs crouched, weapons in hand, and clung to the rocks as they clomb, and the wind tried to take them just as the torch’s flame. But never would Serenity relent, and neither would the Nymphs that pledged to see her through.

¶IX. Then the rain poured down upon them as lightning streaked across the heavens, and the rocks grew slick with waters that past them poured.

¶X. Soon the Nymphs came unto a ledge, wide as any field, in each direction bending round the mountain’s edge. And upon the mountain’s mantle the Nymphs quickly clomb, and there huddled closely, with wetted hair clinging to their quivering skin, and held each other as tightly as they could.

¶XI. And Lea screamed.

¶XII. From around the southern bend there came a bear-like beast slowly stalking toward them. As the lightning flashed the Nymphs could see the creature’s form. Covered in dark brown fur, huge claws shaped as sickles on each of its four limbs, its hindlegs tiny compared to its forelegs, and its face most horrible of all. Pale, pinkish skin; projecting maw and fat lips protruded by bloody tusks; glaring, fiery eyes set greatly apart; its face was as a pale-skinned Orc. But beneath that heavy brow was a long and fat nose that jutted from between its burning eyes. There was no doubt this creature was some sort of Orc -- a Droll, called by some a Bugbear or Mountain Orc. And it lumbered toward them.

¶XIII. The Nymphs scrambled to their feet and backed away from the Droll, higher the ledge’s upward northern slope. And the beast, large as a Troglodyte or any bear, kept slowly nearing with claws sharply clacking against the rock.

¶XIV. And another Droll rounded the corner behind it, and another. Three Mountain Orcs, a pack now coming for them.

¶XV. Fervidness stopped as the other Nymphs withdrew, and blew upon the end of her torch, but in the violent wind and rains it only smoldered.

¶XVI. The other Nymphs halted, and rushed to Fervidness in her defense, and two of the Drolls surged forth and leapt at the Lampad.

¶XVII. Fervidness dove from the Drolls’ path, and the beasts slid past on the rock’s slick surface as the other Nymphs came at them with bludgeon and flail.

¶XVIII. The Orcs roared, and reared upon their hindlegs, but then dropped down again to all four limbs and then swiftly they regressed from the Nymphs, back to the other Droll.

¶XIX. There the Mountain Orcs stayed, snarling, growling at the Nymphs, who were by now very much confused.

¶XX. “Over there!” shouted Brook. The other Nymphs turned to look where she pointed, behind them, up the ledge’s northward slope.

¶XXI. There stood a single Oryad, as youthful and fair as any other Nymph, bronze skinned, grey eyed, roan haired, and holding in her right hand a tall staff. Her gaze was as steel, her nimble body unshaken, poised as she stared coldly past the other Nymphs to the warded Drolls behind them.

¶XXII. The Oryad raised her staff into the air, and with both hands she brought it down with all her force against the rock, and there shot forth from the strike an echo that raced through the skies.

¶XXIII. The Drolls grunted and snorted, wavering, rocking with fear about their eyes. But they fled not, for an Orc would keep a distance from what it thought a threat, but never would it retreat.

¶XXIV. The echoes of the Oryad’s staff striking the rock began to fade, and as they did there were sounds of falling rock coming from above the Drolls. And then a single stone fell from the mountainside and skipped past before the ravenous beasts. And after that stone came yet another, and still two more after that. And the Orcs, only as the ground began to rumble kenning the event about to unfurl upon them, looked upward toward the mountain’s peak to find a wave of rocks and dust rushing down upon them.

¶XXV. And by this wave, the Drolls were consumed before they’d even a chance to run, and were swept from the ledge. But where the Orcs stood the ledge dropped not onto a steep slope upon which one could simply walk (such as that the Nymphs had clomb), but to a sudden fall.

¶XXVI. And the rocks took the creatures from the mountainside, hurling them away from the ledge by force of the wave’s own weight, and shot them forth unto a plummet so great that no living thing could endure.

¶XXVII. The Nymphs had watched this, in relief and also in wonderment, for they knew not exactly what the Oryad had done. And the Oryad stood with dank hair thrashing in the winds, beads of rain trickling adown her skin, and a stately smirk borne upon her face as the other Nymphs then went to her.

¶XXVIII. “My name is Sapphire,” said the Oryad.

¶XXIX. Willow, Serenity, Faith, Fervidness, Lea, Liberty, and Brook introduced themselves unto the Mountain Nymph named Sapphire, and expressed unto her their gratitude for her intervention with bright smiles and beholden busses.

¶XXX. “Whyever have ye Nymphs come here?”

¶XXXI. “We have come seeking the Oryads,” said Willow.

¶XXXII. “Come then,” replied Sapphire, “I shall take you to Oakhaven, where ye shall have refuge from the Drolls.” And to this the other Nymphs agreed.

¶XXXIII. And so the Nymphs followed Sapphire as she led them up the northward slope, over the rocks fallen in the path, and along the ledge around the mountain as slowly upward they ascended.

¶XXXIV. Erelong Sapphire had taken the others round to Ævalwark’s northern face, whence could be seen the forest of evergreen and oak that clomb the side of the mountain. And the lightning soon faded, the rains letup, the winds quelled; and above them the clouds gave way to a starry sky.

¶XXXV. The Nymphs followed the faintly starlit path into the sparse outlying oaks and evergreens of Ævalwark’s forest, wherethrough Oakhaven lay ahead, as the fair-lined clouds yielded to the bright white Moon. Foreby them as through the forest they traveled were the sporadic pattering of dewdrops fallen from greenly leaved or needled limb, striking the dampened ground below, and the faraway hooting of owls.

¶XXXVI. Fervidness breathed upon her torch in attempt to light it. Smoldering at first, after several moments its end began to ember, and finally took a small blue flame that clung tightly to it. Once more Fervidness blew upon it, and its flame grew.

¶XXXVII. “Put that out,” said Sapphire. “These woods are haunted by Bugbear. Thy fire will attract them usward.”

¶XXXVIII. “If a Mountain Orc were to attack,” replied Fervidness, “it would benefit us greatly to be prepared.”

¶XXXIX. “Dost thou intend to set the whole forest ablaze in that event?” said Sapphire. “Wilt thou scorch the woodland, to defend against an Orc?”

¶XL. Fervidness went to extinguish her flame with some reluctance, but fore she could there appeared ahead of them a set of eyes -- eyes that by firelight glowed red in the night’s blackness amidst the oaks. Sapphire loudly gasped at the sight, and the Nymphs froze.

¶XLI. The red eyes narrowed and slightly raised as from the shadows came forth a monstrous roar, and the Nymphs were badly shaken, affrayed by that before them.

¶XLII. The Dryads scattered swith, Serenity and Faith right whilst Willow and Liberty left. Apace they sprinted up the oaken boles to evade the deadly Droll.

¶XLIII. “What about us?” shouted Brook.

¶XLIV. “Hurry up!” yelled Serenity. “Come on!”

¶XLV. “We’re not Wood Nymphs!” declared Sapphire.

¶XLVI. And the Droll came at the four Nymphs still stranded on the ground. It rushed until at the brink of the torch’s light, and there it stayed.

¶XLVII. So near the flickering orange light of the torch the beast’s eyes could be seen no longer, and were hidden away by the shadows of its own face. Its face as the skull of Death the Orc stared evilly at them, and hungrily did its ropey tongue trace its tusks so jagged as its breaths rumbled into the light. And there at the light’s edge the monster stalked back and fore.

¶XLVIII. Fervidness took a step forward -- and the Droll backed slightly away. Then Fervidness took another step, and again the Droll backed away.

¶XLIX. “Even as I step toward it, it keepeth away of the light!” said Fervidness.

¶L. The Dryads, now very curious, stepped slowly adown the trees trunks and back to the ground with their fellow Nymphs. And all the Nymphs eyes, save for Sapphire’s, were questioningly glaring.

¶LI. “That’s odd,” said Faith.

¶LII. “Ye see that?” said Sapphire. “These Drolls are clever things. They foresee danger, and avoid it just enough.”

¶LIII. “Is that good, or is that bad?” asked Lea.

¶LIV. “Bad,” said Sapphire. “Very, very bad.”

¶LV. In the depths of the darkness behind the Droll appeared another set of eyes. The Nymphs looked around, and saw more eyes appearing each moment. Soon the eyes of at least a dozen Drolls could be seen.

¶LVI. “Everyone stay near,” said Fervidness.

¶LVII. “Aw, and I’d so enjoy a romp through the dark wood about now,” said Liberty. And the other Nymphs broke their fearful panting with nervously feigned laughter.

¶LVIII. “Everyone stay near,” repeated Fervidness with an eyebrow raised at Liberty. “Sapphire: you lead the way to Oakhaven. Slowly.”

¶LIX. Sapphire nodded, and with staff in hand began to walk deeper into the forest, with the others closely following. As they moved the Orcs were warded away by the glow of Fervidness’s burning torch, but were always just beyond the light’s edge.

¶LX. “Meseemeth that it would be prudent to turn back,” said Lea. “Just for tonight. We can begin again tomorrow, but for tonight we should stay in the Elderwood where we are safer. The Dryads can continue without us till morrow, in the trees where the Bugbear cannot reach them.”

¶LXI. “We’re already nearing Oakhaven,” assured Sapphire. “Just a few more minutes.”

¶LXII. “Thou mustn’t speak such words,” said Faith. “The Oracle Ruis of the Elderberry saith we shall be blessed if we are bound by the sisterhood of Nymphs. To speak of separation of any sort inviteth the possibility of danger and harm unto us.”

¶LXIII. That very moment a stone was cast at the Nymphs, striking Fervidness in her calf, and she cried out in pain as she dropped her torch to the ground. And one of the Nymphs began to scream.

¶LXIV. Fervidness quickly reclaimed her torch, and clenching it she thrust her arm into the air, and saw the stumped tail and hindlegs of a Droll fleeing from the light.

¶LXV. “Brook!” Willow called out, but could be barely heard above Brook’s own screaming as the Mountain Orc carried her away. And then the sounds of Drolls growling and roaring angrily as assumedly they fought over their prize. And abruptly Brook’s screaming ceased.

¶LXVI. Sapphire took the free hand of Fervidness in her own, and then unto the other Nymphs she gave singly a solitary command that unto them she shrieked. And this word, this shrewd bid that in her panic she loudly and shrilly uttered, was simply this: “Run!”

¶LXVII. The Nymphs linked together their hands and wrists, and Sapphire led them through the evergreen forest as speedily as their long and spry legs could take them.

¶LXVIII. Well-nigh as a flock of birds were they weaving, deftly tween the trees though never the ground leaving; and ran along the ground making scarsely the faintest sound, as beneath them their legs beat with blurring silent round. Oft they glanced behind them as they raced, whiffing and halfway gasping ever the while the Mountain Orcs chased.

¶LXIX. Now behind them were the deep snorts of Droll breaths and the heavy thumps of Droll footfalls straining to keep up, and failing pitifully to do so -- for the Nymphs were far faster.

¶LXX. No more were the Orcs soon heard as into the thicker forest the Nymphs hastened, and not long was it then till Sapphire had taken them to a black cliff face that by the Lampad’s torch glinted with the faint hue of rust. And there at the irony scarp the Nymphs came to a stop, and Sapphire showed them to an ingress in the rock.

¶LXXI. “Hurry, before the Bugbear catch up with us,” said Sapphire. “This is the passage through which Oakhaven awaiteth.” Willow clomb adown into the tunnel, followed by Serenity, Faith, Liberty, Lea, Sapphire, and lastly Fervidness.

Episode XVIII: Oakhaven

¶I. When out of the tunnel’s egress the Nymphs emerged, they were greeted there by twelve Oryads, each tan-skinned and roan-haired with brownest eyes, who helped them from the hole and into the garden.

¶II. This place wherein they now stood was bound on all sides a bluff of crude iron. Around them everywhere were towering oaks and evergreens with bark faintly cast in red by the fire that behind the Oryads brightly burned, not ten cubits away. In the shades was a sparse underbrush of shrubs and small trees. And draped from the evergreen limbs were curtains of greybeard, laden by the whilom storm and brighten by sallow starlight.

¶III. Serenity tossed her bludgeon onto the ground before her, adjacent a pile of staves, and Faith threw down her bludgeon as well, and Liberty her flail, and Lea her own bludgeon, and Willow hers. Fervidness douted the flame of her torch with her hand, and she too tossed her weapon onto the pile. Willow, Faith, and Serenity then removed the coiled whips from their shoulders and tossed them also onto the heap.

¶IV. “Who are these Nymphs?” asked one of the Oryads.

¶V. “They have come seeking us,” replied Sapphire. She then introduced the Oryads to the other Nymphs, and their names were Amber, Jade, Carnelian, Onyx, Amethyst, Catseye, Silver, Ruby, Violan, Emerald, Matara, and Crystal. And then in return the other Nymphs introduced themselves to the Oryads.

¶VI. “Welcome to Oakhaven,” said Amber, their tribe’s Alpha Oryad. “Whereto do we owe the pleasure of your presence? Why is it that ye have sought us?”

¶VII. Faith stepped forward, and explained Serenity’s sorrow to Amber. She explained of her taking Serenity to seek the aid of Daphne, and of meeting Liberty and Fervidness along the way, and their encounters with the Maenads. She explained of Daphne’s charge that Willow lead them unto the Star Nymphs of Mount Ævalwark, of defending the Aulonyads from the Trull, of the Oracles’ bid to seek out the Oryads and be led by them to the Oracle Duir of the Oak. And she explained of Brook and her death at the jaws of the Drolls.

¶VIII. Amber looked to Serenity, and said unto her: “Thou wishest to take this Darkelf as a mate, and to have by him children?”

¶IX. “Yes,” said Serenity, “I wish it more than anything.”

¶X. “That is not the way of Nymphs,” said Carnelian, bearing upon her face a look of deep confusion.

¶XI. “It is the way of Nymphs to always be free,” said Serenity. “I desire the freedom to live as our Elven ancestors did: to take for myself a mate, a man -- to be with him and bare by him a an infant child.”

¶XII. “To live as our Elven ancestors did is not freedom,” said Matara. “Even here upon the mountain Ævalwark we learn of some goings on amongst the mortal Færykin. There are many Elven women that would wish nothing more than to have the freedom we Nymphs have -- to be not forced to submit to a single man, or to be able to have only other women as mates.”

¶XIII. “I simply wish not to be bound by the way of Nymphs. For although it is surely a proud and noble way, it still was not my choice. And if it was not my choice, than it is not freedom.”

¶XIV. “What would thou say unto all those Elven women that desire to be liberated from their men,” asked Crystal, “and would accuse thee of harming their cause?”

¶XV. Serenity thought for a moment. She thought of the Dryads of the Somberwood, and how they thought themselves to have been given freedom by the Maenads. She thought of the Dryads of Liss-Heim and the Lampads of Shroomseid, and how they thought themselves to have taken their freedom by stealing away into the shadows. She thought of these things she’d seen and pondered in those past three days, and so said unto Crystal:

¶XVI. “I would say unto those women, that liberation comes not from the form of the choice thou makest, nor the choice thrust upon thee or given unto thee by another. Liberation comes from choosing for thyself, for freedom cannot be granted or bestowed. One cannot be free if the nature of thy freedom hath been dictated by another. I would say unto those women that by declaring all women live as they demand, by defining and dictating what all women must do in order to be ‘liberated’, they are no better than the men they feel submitted to -- for they seek to strip their sisters of the very thing that would give us all the freedom we entreat: the right to live according to our own hearts.”

¶XVII. “How is it thou canst disavow the way of Nymphs whilst defending thine own freedom to pursue of all creatures a Darkelf?” said Emerald.

¶XVIII. “He is a good Darkelf,” replied Serenity. “Withal, true freedom must include the freedom to err, and to learn from thine errors.”

¶XIX. “Verily thou hast a wisdom that stretcheth far beyond the Emerald Forest,” said Amethyst.

¶XX. “Ye must be weary from your journey,” said Amber. “Join us by the fireside, and allow us till morningtide to pamper your every want.”

¶XXI. Sapphire and Amethyst each took one of Serenity’s hands, as Carnelian and Violan took Faith’s. Emerald and Jade took Willow’s hands, Silver and Crystal took Liberty’s, and Catseye and Onyx took Lea’s, whilst Matara and Ruby took Fervidness’s hands. And with Amber they went to the fireside, and by the heat of the flames they sat.

¶XXII. There in the fire’s warmth the Oryads coddled the other Nymphs, feeding them dewberries, acorns, blackberries, currants, and rowanberries. The Oryads played with the other Nymphs’ hair, and stroked for them their necks, shoulders, backs, breasts, midriffs, thighs, rumps, calves, and feet. And at times an Oryad would sweetly, softly sing a song unto one of the other Nymphs to quietly soothe her. And all were thankful for this, as they had not been subject to such comfort for a time far exceeding that to which most Nymphs were accustomed.

¶XXIII. Serenity lay there by the reddling glow of the fire, on her back atop Sapphire, with Sapphire’s legs wreathed around Serenity’s waist and her feet between Serenity’s legs. And Serenity lay there, eating the currants that Sapphire dropped into her mouth as her head contently rested in Sapphire’s breasts; and she stared grievedly at the stars, troubled terribly by her leisure.

¶XXIV. “I’m sorry about Brook,” said Sapphire, as Amethyst tenderly worked the knots out of Serenity’s tired muscles.

¶XXV. “As well I,” said Serenity.

¶XXVI. “At least she did not die in vain,” said Amethyst.

¶XXVII. “How dost thou mean?”

¶XXVIII. “This quest of thine to find for thyself a way that thou canst be with thy mortal swain. ‘Tis a noble thing thou doest, to seek without relent the freedom to live as thou desirest. Every wight must be free to live as it wisheth, lest our lives be just small and petty things that matter not, spent in the useless wise of mere being.”

¶XXIX. “Far too many people,” said Sapphire, “no matter the race, seem willing to abandon their freedom for safety, or for comfort, or simply to evade the challenges that await in a free world. But this is not the way of Nymphs. It is the way of Nymphs to be free in all things, and it is thy journey to at any cost obtain thy heart’s desire. Any Nymph should be proud to die for such a cause, for the freedom of all Nymphs is upon thy shoulders.”

¶XXX. “I thought my desire was not the ‘way of Nymphs’,” replied Serenity.

¶XXXI. “If the way of Nymphs is not a choice,” said Amethyst, “then it is not a thing of beauty, but a thing to which we are all captive. This life we Nymphs live is a life that I love with all my heart and all my soul, but I had no choice in it. It was laid upon me by birth, by the nature of my flesh. If thou succeedest in thy quest, and receivest what it is thou seekest, then that meaneth the way of Nymphs is not a thing forced upon us, but a thing we have a choice in.”

¶XXXII. “It is thus not merely thine own freedom,” added Sapphire, “but the freedom of all Nymphs that is at stake, for the way of Nymphs should not be as law.”

¶XXXIII. “Thou flatterest, verily.”

¶XXXIV. “Thou truly thinkest so?” said Liberty, who with Silver and Crystal lay very near. And she sat up, and looked to Serenity. “Why dost thou think I am here? And Fervidness, what of her? Why hath Willow been sent to accompany thee? Why did not Brook return to her tribe after leading us to the Tribe of Daphne? Why hath the Oracle said this journey is thy destiny? Be it wittingly or not, what thou doest for thyself, thou doest for all Nymphs.”

¶XXXV. “I’m quite sure,” said Serenity, who closed her eyes then as she rolled her head to the side, and there she fell asleep.

Episode XIX: Endurance Lorn

¶I. On the forth day the Nymphs were awakened long since dawn by a risen golden Sun. The fire’s embers had shrunken neath the thick grey smoke as flame had given way to smolder, and thus were the morning mists darkened.

¶II. Serenity awoke upon Sapphire, and inly she wished that it had been the Darkelf’s breast her head had rested upon; that it had been him with whom her night had been spent. Close was she now to her journey’s end, and this stirred in her both hope and fear, for she knew not what would come.

¶III. And Serenity and Sapphire slowly arose with the other Nymphs. Faith, Willow, Liberty, Lea, and Fervidness gathered their weapons as the Oryads began to gather their staves. Serenity too retrieved her whip and her bludgeon, and with the other Nymphs set forth from Oakhaven.

¶IV. The Nymphs strolled through the forest, feet slightly sinking into the soft wet floor of brown pine needles and oak leaves, as aye they hiked toward the Oracle Duir of the Oak.

¶V. Not long was it before the Nymphs came upon a flail lying upon the ground. It was wood-handled and had a large stone that was tied to it by vines. Covering it was blood not quite dried. There was little doubt whose weapon it was.

¶VI. That same moment, from behind a small willow not far ahead, the Nymphs heard briefly a quiet gasping. As they went to look, there was not one among them free from the fear of what they all knew would soon be seen.

¶VII. As they all peered round the small dense willow they found Brook. Her limbs were broken and unnaturally twisted, what little of them remained. Nearly her whole left leg was missing, and her right arm below the elbow gone, and all over she had wounds so wide and deep it that it seemed impossible for her to have lingered beyond Death’s grasp for so long. The empty hole that once had been her left eye twitched as it tried to clench shut, and her jaw quivered though by naught but sinews it stayed to her face. Her innards slopped out from her belly, with every breath creeping further from within her, and more so when she coughed and upon herself violently spat blood and bile.

¶VIII. The Nymphs gathered around their sister, kneeling at her but knowing not what could be done to help her.

¶IX. “She must be released,” said Faith.

¶X. “She will heal!” proclaimed Lea.

¶XI. “Not even a Nymph could heal from this,” said Fervidness. “But as a Nymph she will try. She will fight like this for weeks, or for months before finally she will lose. I have seen this many times before; Faith is right, she must be released.”

¶XII. “And who will be the one to release her?” asked Willow.

¶XIII. “One of us will,” said Jade. “We Oryads have also seen this many times. One of us shall release her from her pain.”

¶XIV. “This was a mistake,” said Lea. “I never should’ve come. We should turn back now. We should forget this whole journey and turn back this very instant.” And with that Lea stood and began to back away.

¶XV. Liberty seized Lea by the arm and raised her flail at the Field Nymph as if meaning to strike at her, but struck not. “This is thine own fault!” she charged. “Thou wert the one that wanted to come along an ‘adventure’! It wast thou that wished to separate; that brought upon us if only in slight the spirit of un-sisterhood that hath killed her!” And in fear the Aulonyad cried out, shrieking as Liberty scolded her. “It wast thou that hath done this to her!”

¶XVI. “Please, do not harm me!” screamed Lea as the other Nymphs looked on. “I have seen so much death in the time the Trull dwelt in Mirthmoor. I cannot see any more. I cannot!”

¶XVII. “And what if I were to harm thee?” said Liberty. “What if I were to kill thee, just as the Bugbear have killed our sister Brook? It was thy doing -- would it not be right for me to give unto thee what thou hast given unto Brook?”

¶XVIII. Lea fell to the ground, though Liberty hadn’t struck her. She fell to the ground and began to sob. Whether she keened for Brook or wailed for her own self could not be told.

¶XIX. And Liberty knelt at her, and laid her flail upon the ground, and firmly grasped Lea’s shoulders. “Would it be right of me to do unto thee as thou hast done unto Brook?”

¶XX. “It would be fair if I were to die,” Lea whimpered. “In my heart I abandoned my sisters, and my selfishness hath killed her.”

¶XXI. “I did not ask if it would be fair for thee to die for what thou hast done,” said Liberty. “I asked if it would be right of me to kill thee; if it would be right of me to take from thee thy life as the Bugbear have taken Brook’s life from her.”

¶XXII. Lea shook her head.

¶XXIII. “Why?” asked Liberty.

¶XXIV. “Because thou art a Nymph,” said Lea.

¶XXV. And Liberty brought Lea close to her, and cradled Lea against her shoulder. “It is the way of the raven races, of Humans and of Orcs, and of Maenads to intervene and declare what is just or fair on behalf of another, and therein to act upon their judgments. But that is not our way. Our way is forgiveness, but also responsibility. Now, what dost thou choose?”

¶XXVI. “I choose to finish what I have started,” said Lea. “I will be the one to release her.”

¶XXVII. Liberty helped Lea to her feet, and brought her unto Brook.

¶XXVIII. “No,” said Serenity. “This is not her responsibility. She could not help her fears. It was my selfishness in thinking this journey to be solely about mine own freedom that hath killed Brook.”

¶XXIX. Serenity knelt and took Brook into her arms, holding her tightly to her bosom, and wrapped her left arm round Brook’s head. “I’m sorry,” she said, placing a gentle kiss upon Brook’s head. And she put her right hand on Brook’s forehead, and with one sudden move twisted, and loudly she snapped Brook’s neck. And Brook’s lyke fell limp to the ground.

¶XXX. “Thou must wash thyself,” said Amber. “Lest the scent of blood attract more Bugbear.”

¶XXXI. Serenity stayed kneeling before Brook’s now lifeless husk, peeling away the strands of Brook’s blood-sodden hair that to her own arm had stuck. “Bring them. As I feel now, I should welcome Orcs.”

¶XXXII. Nothing more was said as one by one the Nymphs departed from that stained place, leaving the body where it lay so that it might in time swale and rejoin the forest. Serenity carried with her Brook’s flail as well as her own bludgeon, and, all with their weapons gathered, the Nymphs continued their incession.

Episode XX:

¶I. Along the path to the Oracle all was peaceful, the sort of peaceful left in the afternoon wake of a midday storm. A calm filled the air, haunting whatsoever it stilled. And the manner of its stilling was such to shake asunder the heart of whosoever should be so foolhardy to brave it. This was the sort of calm that could befit only the withered limbs that under moonlight shaded abandoned barrows -- if only so clearly seen. For the mountain Ævalwark was no barrow, and the sky above them sported no darkness or moon, and the trees that around them grew were not withered; yet the Reaper’s breath was just as much upon them.

¶II. After a time and the Sun yet unrisen from below the trees, the Nymphs had come unto a small mountain gorge; a deep ravine by tree-shades darkled and spanned by an old rope bridge. This the Nymphs approached and readied to pass.

¶III. Then from the ravine there leapt a creature, a blur that as an arrow from a bow shot from the darkness neath the trees, through the air above the Nymphs and landed on its all fours abaft them. And the Nymphs spun to begaze the creature as it reared upon its hindlegs.

¶IV. This beast: she mainly resembled something the cross of a Nymph and a beautiful Human woman, but there were clear differences. Firstly she was far greater in height -- perhaps nearing five cubits. Her eyes were as rubies; her hair was the color of chestnut; her upper back, forearms, shins, calves, and the back of her neck were all covered in thick, light brown fur; her ears were long and pointed; and her fingers and toes ended in the wickedest of black claws. This thing that stood before them, clad in its leather thongs, was a Drollwife.

¶V. And the creature, though in most ways exceedingly beautiful, turned her face skyward and let out the most hideous of howls, and bore her sharp fangs as she did.

¶VI. Asudden the Nymphs heard a soft thud from behind them, and they turned again to see another creature standing now between them and the rope bridge. And this second creature was in many features like the Drollwife, excepting that she lacked all hair, had skin that was such a dark yellow-grey that it was almost black, possessed eyes that were the brightest of yellow, had a small flat nose, and was no less than six cubits in height. This creature was a Trullmaid.

¶VII. “Come to steal our gold, have ye?” said the Drollwife.

¶VIII. “Gold?” asked Amber.

¶IX. “All Orcs hoard gold,” said the Trullmaid.

¶X. “Well, that isn’t exactly true,” spake the Drollwife. “Our men will hoard almost anything shiny, but we Sheorcs have far more sophisticated tastes.”

¶XI. “I’m sure,” said Amber. “We care not of your gold or any other possession. We only wish to cross the ravine. We are on our way to see the Oracle.”

¶XII. “Well, that’s very different then, isn’t it?” said the Trullmaid.

¶XIII. “How’s about we play a game?” said the Drollwife.

¶XIV. “Yes, a game!” cheered the Trullmaid.

¶XV. “We han’t time for games,” pleaded Serenity.

¶XVI. “Ye have no choice if ye wish to cross the bridge,” said the Drollwife.

¶XVII. “What sort of ‘game’ would we nineteen Nymphs play with you Sheorcs?” asked Liberty.

¶XVIII. “A very fun game,” said the Trullmaid.

¶XIX. “A riddle game,” added the Drollwife.

¶XX. “We each will ask you three questions...”

¶XXI. “...And if ye answer rightly, ye shall be allowed to cross the bridge.”

¶XXII. “And if we answer wrongly?” asked Ruby.

¶XXIII. “In that case,” said the Trullmaid, bearing her fangs as she smiled hungrily at the Nymphs, “we shall feast upon your entrails.”

¶XXIV. “A fair proposition indeed,” said Amber. “What is your first question?”

¶XXV. And the Drollwife said unto the Nymphs:

“A month unto mortals is but a day unto me.

“In the night do I cast light so that creatures may see.

“One week I am virgin, next mother, then crone.

“And one sennight I’m gone and leave ye alone.

“Who am I?” ¶XXVI. “Thou art the Moon,” replied Faith. ¶XXVII. “What is the next question?” asked Amber.

¶XXVIII. And then the Trullmaid said unto the Nymphs:

“It is I that teacheth wisdom unto the elder beings,

“and I also that am bane unto lesser mortal things.

“ ‘Tis by my power all things should unfold;

“ ‘tis my scythe that reapeth those things when old.

“Who am I?”

¶XXIX. “Thou art time,” said Ruby.

¶XXX. And so the Drollwife said unto them:

“Such a being am I that spanneth all time,

“that even in summer am I chilled by rime.

“My roots grow deeper than yet the tallest tree,

“and my face sitteth so high the whole world can see.

“Who am I?”

¶XXXI. “Thou art a mountain,” said Crystal.

¶XXXII. And the Trullmaid said:

“My legions are many, infesting the earth.

“I destroy all I see, and I do it in mirth.

“I cut down the tree, and flatten the hill,

“and boast all about the Orcs that I kill.

“Who am I?”

¶XXXIII. “Thou art a Human,” said Catseye. “That one was far too easy.”

¶XXXIV. The Drollwife then said unto them:


“Westward-forth and eastward-fro,

“I dry the rain and melt the snow.

“I cross the heavens on gilded wing,

“and unto the mountains I every day sing.

“Who am I?”

¶XXXV. “Thou art the Sun,” replied Onyx, in boredom sighing.

¶XXXVI. “If ye are going to riddle us our right to cross,” said Silver, “ye should at the very least make your riddles a bit of a challenge.”

¶XXXVII. And the Trullmaid smiled wickedly, and she said unto the Nymphs:

“Spy me near the trickling sound,

“for in that place shall I be found.

“I am babbling sounds and waters fresh --

“ ‘twas these two Sheorcs, who tore my flesh.

“Who am I?”

¶XXXVIII. As the Trullmaid’s words fell upon the Nymphs’ ears, all were shaken. In both fear and anger were they taken. And by those words their hearts were slain.

¶XXXIX. In her rage Fervidness blew upon her torch, and a great blaze rushed at the Trullmaid. The Trullmaid was cast back upon the roped bridge, and the bridge was consumed by the Lampad’s fire as the Sheorc screamed from within the flames.

¶XL. The Drollwife then leapt at the Nymphs, and with her arms outstretched before her she bore her claws at them, and burst into them with all the fury an Orc could summon.



She sings Her song eternal,

He inspires the breaths of the wight,

He reaps the fields most fruitful,

She indwells the dark of the night.

She plucks bald the trees in the autumn,

and He returns them their leaves in the spring,

She expires the chilling of winter,

the Matrix of each living thing.

And Mator be Him in the summer,

and predator stalking His prey,

the substance beneath all of Nature,

the Choosers of each our last day.

By Mortality’s gift do They curse us,

and by Mortality lovingly bless,

with each waking breath They ensoul us,

and with last heart’s beat They caress.

How simple this truth that They teach us,

that by Mortality’s kiss I have learned:

The fires that die out the quickest,

are those fires that most brightly burned.

¶XLII. “Gaya is all that She is, whether acme high or lowly dregs.”

“By ‘acme high’, dost thou not truly say ‘at furthest reach of outstretched arm’? And by dregs dost thou not mean our Mother Gaya’s breast? I say to thee, we are the very daughters of our Mother deep, yet no longer do we reside at Her teat or in Her womb, where the worms and mortals dwell and whence of old our fate so lonely turned. Why are we, the sprights of Nature Herself, to dwell cast so far outside our Mother’s ___? Why, whenas the lowliest of wight and beast and bird are kept most closely to Her?”


Aradia: Translation of Faerish Ärädé’ä, personification of Ärädä, feminine of Äräd (“Phoenix”). Wendric counterpart is Heradea.

Faeryae: Transliteration of Wendric Phaelor, in turn a transliteration of Faerish Fālōr, contraction of Fār (“Fair” or “Faery”) and Lōr (“Plain” or “Land”).

Gail Renee: Transliteration of Wendric Gehel-Rene. From Gehel (“Desert”), perhaps derived from Ge (“Earth”) and Hel (“Sun”); and Rene, personification of Re (“Rain”). Hence, “Desert-Rain”.

Gaya: Translation of Wendric Ganea, perhaps feminine of Gane, personification of Ga (“Earth-Womb”), related to Ge (“Earth”).

Heron: Translation of Wendric Herod {“Heron” or “Ibis”).

Hérune: Transliteration of Wendric Heruen, from Heri (“Pilgrim”) and Uen (“Land”). Hence, “Land of Pilgrims”.

Hulder: Translation of Wendric Bhoxania (“Fox-Maiden”); perhaps conjunction of Bhoxa (“Vixen”), feminine of Bhox (“Fox”), and Nia (“Woman”); perhaps feminine of Bhoxani, objectification of Bhoxane, personification of Bhoxa, feminine of Bhox.

Huldra: Translation of Wendric Bhoxanea, feminine of Bhoxane, personification of Bhoxa (“Vixen”), feminine of Bhox (“Fox”).

Jadia Michelle: Transliteration of Wendric Ghaedea-Mishel. From Ghaedea, personification of Ghaedia, feminine of Ghaedi (“Glade”); Mishel, variant of Mishen, likely a conjunction of Midh (“Snow”) and Shen (“Ridge” or “Crest”). Hence, “Glade-Snowcrest”.

Kyra Denise: Transliteration of Wendric Cira-Denees. From Cira, feminine of Cir (“Shroud” or “Veil”); and Denees, likely a corruption of Dhe Nees (“Of Dusk”). Hence, “Shroud-of-Dusk” or “Veil-of-Dusk”.

Lalal: translation of Faerish Llälé’ä, personification of Llälä, feminine of Lläl (“Moon”).

Pilgrimess: Translation of Wendric Hera, feminine of Her (“Travel”).

Questrist: Translation of Wendric Cwera, feminine of Cwer (“Search”).

Reyna: Transliteration of Wendric Raena, feminine of Raen (“Strike”).

Rowan: Translation of Wendric Ron’bhi (“Rowan”); conjunction of Roni (“Rune”) and Bhi (“Tree” or “Foliage”). Hence, “Runetree”.

Sage: Translation of Wendric Qena, feminine of Qen (“Wisdom”).

Shamaness: Translation of Wendric Herania, feminine of Herani (“Shaman”).


§βI¶I · §βI¶II · §βI¶III · §βI¶IV · §βI¶V

�βI: �The Somberwood�
§βII: ’Tears of the Dead�
§βIII: ’Knelling of the Damned�
§βIV: ’Isentreen Automata�
§βV: ’Raptrices of the Thorn�
§βVI: ’The Eight of Harrowden�
§βVII: ’Antigregation�
§βVIII: ’Escapement�
§βIX: ’Beneath the Boughs of Lothmire�
⚑ = You Are Here.

The Descent of the Dryad
Επυλλιον Αλφα: Antegesis
Επυλλιον Βητα: Imegesis
Επυλλιον Γαμμα: Diegesis
Επυλλιον Δηλτα: Exegesis
⚑ = You Are Here.

The Sovereignty Cycle
The Descent of the Drayad
The Phantasmata
The Book of Rowans
Chaos & Virtue
⚑ = You Are Here.

The Palæoboreanica
The Geneticon
The Sovereignty Cycle
⚑ = You Are Here.

Ancient Borea
The Borean World
The Palæoboreanica
People & Races
⚑ = You Are Here.

Ancient Borea
Red the Blue Devil
The Nocturnals
The Spacebunnies
Solar Civil War
⚑ = You Are Here.

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