Please keep in mind that the stories must involve the worlds in or surrounding Goldstone Wood. This requires that you have read at least one of the novels. Also, please keep story content clean. We have young knights in training here and we wish to edify them as best as possible.
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Enter now into the Wood where lost wander and voices beckon. Hear the tale of a predator and of a Presence whose truth cannot be denied...
THE ELDER FIG
Author’s Note: This story is inspired by events in Shadow Hand. If you have not read that particular novel, I thoroughly recommend that you do so. This story will likely make more sense if you do. God bless you all.
Searching, always searching. Tenacious hunger that never leaves. Once more, all dying has been done, and no more life can be found. So, the quest continues. She? He? It? Moves onward, searching, searching and never finding …
And, ever in the Mound’s presence is the persistent Other, the Presence that sings and that the searcher cannot understand.
The young man moved stealthily through the Wood, and the Wood watched him with impassive indifference. After all, this mortal had been in the Between for quite some time. Of course, this fact was irrelevant to the Wood. Time did not matter to it.
The man suddenly stopped, raising his head and inhaling deeply. His savage face, which once had been boyish and handsome, now shifted into an eager smile. His right hand reached to his neck, clamping onto two woven cords that rested their. A snarl escaped his lips, and he was running, pelting onto a Path that opened before him. The Wood laughed in amusement at the man’s eagerness, for it knew where the Path would lead, and it was prepared to watch.
The sun shone brightly, illuminating the lush jungle that spread in every direction. The scent of mangoes and other lush fruits filled the air. Dewdrop sighed as she trudged in the wake of her elder brother, the tall basket upon her back. She grew so tired of the daily task that they must perform, the endless gathering of fruit and other necessities. “Figroot, can’t we go to the river today?”
Figroot tousled his little sister’s hair. “We must do our work first.” He gestured to the pouch he carried. Inside rested two wafers, and the first totem was near.
“Mother said I might go with her when she visits the Eldest tomorrow.” Dewdrop bounced eagerly, so excited by the prospect. Figroot was a wonderful brother, but sometimes Dewdrop wondered what it might be like to have sisters.
Figroot smiled. “You haven’t seen Meadowlark in quite some time, have you? How old is she? Eight now?”
“Yes, and she’ll play what I say. I’m older.” Dewdrop laughed and winked.
Figroot laughed, too. “Oh no you won’t. You’ll treat her with respect, you hear?”
The siblings approached the totem stone that rested beside the path. The stone loomed before them and depicted the weathered face of a panther in repose. Usually, Tocho reclined on the stone, content and rather indifferent to their approach. He was quite easy to appease, being one who liked comfort. Today, however, he was not there. Dewdrop was rather disappointed about this fact, because as much as she disliked having to pay tribute, she did like the panther. She would never admit this, however, and she never drew close enough to pet him. Of course, this did not mean she did not want to do so.
Figroot reached into the pouch and placed a wafer onto the totem stone. Dewdrop intoned the ritual words in a singsong manner:
“Tocho, Panther of our land,
Accept the tribute from our hand.
Eat your fill and be content,
Allow us friendship that can never be bent.”
Dewdrop smiled at the rhyme. It was not very poetic. Nevertheless, it did the job. She and Figroot waited a few moments, but the panther did not appear. Should they move on?
Suddenly, a scream rent the air in two. The siblings gaped at one another, the high-pitched scream making their hearts pound in fear. Then Dewdrop was running, heedless of her brothers screams for her to stop.
Tocho had heard the screams only moments before the siblings arrival at his stone. A plaintive, hysterical scream, so feral as to send shivers down the unwary hearer’s spine. The cry was that of a she-panther, and he knew her well. Talmasha, the Beast who reposed on the totem stone after his. Talmasha’s screams sent terror through Tocho’s heart, for only one being could cause such agony.
He was off his stone in a moment, pelting toward the scream. Talmasha was pinioned to the ground beside her stone, a brawny form lying atop her. The bodies were locked together, writhing in a fierce struggle. The figure atop Talmasha held a bronze stone poised at her throat. His face was sweat-soaked and livid. He’s a mortal, Tocho realized, yet the Faerie beast saw that all vestige of mortality was gone from the man’s face. He was a raging animal, a determined animal desperate to accomplish a task at any cost.
Tocho entered the fray, Talmasha’s screams spurring him onward. He dove atop the man, his heart hammering in fear as his eyes were filled with the bronze stone. Still the man continued to struggle, searching for the appropriate place to strike his prey.
WHACK! WHACK! Two stones struck the man’s arm, and Tocho felt him jerk backward in surprise. Tocho shifted his gaze in time to see, of all things, a little girl. She stood several paces away, shaking and reaching to retrieve another stone from the ground. “Let go of them!” she screeched, her voice so piercing that Tocho thought every Faerie beast from all lands could hear it. “What are you doing?”
The man untangled himself from beneath Tocho’s bulk, standing and turning to the girl. His face was of stone, but he was breathing heavily, and his eyes were wild. “The work is done, anyhow,” he rasped. He held aloft the bronze stone, which was blood-soaked. “A tithe is—“
“Dewdrop! Confound it, you—“ A young man suddenly appeared, his face flushed. He stopped dead, his eyes growing round with shock and his face assuming an ashy pallor. “Silent Lady!”
Dewdrop gazed first at the stoney-faced man and then at her brother. All composure crumbled as she began to weep. “I-Is she dead?” Her voice trembled.
Figroot stooped before a blood-soaked form on the ground. Suddenly, a howl rent the air as Tocho rushed past Figroot’s form. He crouched before Talmasha’s lifeless body, using his great paws to pat Talmasha’s sides. He was shaking in terror and anger.
Figroot turned, bestowing a steely gaze on the stranger’s face. “Who are you?” His voice trembled.
“A savior,” the man murmured. “A tithe is required for this work.”
“Talmasha wouldn’t hurt anyone!” Dewdrop’s cry filled the air. “Why did you have to kill her?” She lunged at the man, her face indignant and her fists raised.
Figroot snatched his sister, pulling her back.
The stranger surveyed the brother and sister for a long moment. Something semed to stir in his eyes. Could it possibly be a spark of compassion? Spasms shook his frame, and through his mind flashed an image of two sisters. Their hands were moving in intricate signs that they alone could understand, and they were playing together. The stranger clenched his teeth, forcing the image away from him. He addressed Figroot, his voice a harsh growl. “Send the child away. It’s you I need.”
Figroot gently released his sister, pushing her away from the stranger. The little girl glared and stamped her foot, tears continuing to course down her cheeks. “I won’t leave—“
Mine. The stranger’s mouth opened, and the single word emerged. Yet the stranger’s voice was altogether different. His face changed too, assuming an expression of deep hunger. Home is near. New life awaits.
A huge shape suddenly loomed upward as Tocho’s form collided with the stranger, sending him sprawling to the ground. “Mortals must run!” He growled these words even as his mighty claws raked across the stranger’s face. The man, who’d been caught by surprise, struggled to grasp the Bronze stone even as the panther continued his attack. Figroot and Dewdrop began running as the fight continued.
Pain, a pain so excruciating that Tocho could not cry out, filled him. It was not the pain of wounds but the sheer emptiness of loss. He had never revealed his love for Talmasha. Even so, that love had always lain dormant within him, a force which his comfort-loving nature did not know how to express. Love, after all, brings pain along with joy. Now he’d lost the one he loved forever. He would have his revenge.
He continued fighting, and even as he did, the stranger seemed to be growing stronger. Mine. Mine. Ah! This is good. This fills. The stranger’s thoughts pummeled him, triumphant and voracious. Continue fighting. We like how you fight. The voice was filled with triumph.
“Release him, Tocho.” The voice cut through the triumphant, hunger-filled ecstasy of the stranger’s rants, a voice that Tocho could not disobey. He rose from the attack, only then realizing that his body burned with fire. He took a faltering step and collapsed, his sides heaving. He felt the sticky warmth of oozing blood. Ah!! He was hurting so very much!
As in a hazy dream, he saw a brown speckled bird hovering above him. The bird’s wings fluttered, and tears dampened it’s feathers. He saw the bird fly to where the stranger lay in a fetal position , his face a mottled mass of blood from Tocho’s attack. Even so, the hungry gleam remained in his eyes. We will claim this land. We will bring it under our protection, and then we shall gain what we seek.
“What do you seek, Cren Cru?” The bird’s voice was so gentle, and its tones washed over Tocho like cold water from a silver brook and like the gold of elder figs.
We seek—The thoughts ceased, and the stranger’s face assumed its savage demeanor. “You,” he whispered. “The one that brings me pain. A tithe is due, and I will claim it.”
“Not today,” the bird’s voice was so very sad. “Your entrance into this land is barred, Sun Eagle, until the appropriate time.” Tears once again soaked the bird’s plumage, and Tocho watched as he transformed into a shimmering man. Bending down, he gathered Sun Eagle into his arms, carrying him away from the village. As he left, a song traveled to Tocho. As he listened, he felt strength surge within him:
“Beyond the Final Water falling,
The Songs of Spheres recalling.
When the time arrives for you to fight,
Won’t you fight with me?”
In that moment, Tocho resolved that he would do so. Yes, his weakness for mortal pampering would always be a driving force within him, but, in the end, he would take a stand against the Parasite. In doing so, if the Lumil Eliasul willed it, he would cross the Final Water. There he would see Talmasha again.
Dewdrop and Figroot emerged from their hiding place, their faces ashen. They would never forget what they had seen, and, within a year’s time, that memory would give Dewdrop the strength to do what was needed. For her resolve not to leave her brother was strong, and it was she who would enter the Mound when the time came. Of course, she did not know that right now. She only knew that she was glad that she had a brother, and she loved him so fiercely that the Parasite could not take that love away.
Now, the siblings stared at Tocho. The panther was struggling to his feet. His breathing was labored, yet he slowly approached them, his head lowered. “Mortal girl was foolish yet brave,” he chided, his voice a rumbling purr. He stopped before Dewdrop, waiting expectantly. The little girl blinked in confusion. “Mortal girl always wanted to touch me. She may do so.” Tocho’s tone was impatient, but his eyes were kind. Tentatively, Dewdrop ran her hands along the panther’s glossy back. She was the only mortal child ever permitted to pet a Faerie Beast.
Tocho endured the petting, gradually realizing that, though he had lowered his dignity considerably, he truly did not mind. In fact, he allowed the petting to last a great deal longer than he had originally intended.
Tocho finally removed himself from beneath Dewdrop’s hand. He loped away toward his totem. As he went, he called, “Tribute will no longer be needed from you two. But you will stop and say hello?”
Of course, it was impetuous Dewdrop who answered an emphatic yes to his question. The brother and sister turned toward their home only to gape at what stood before them. In the place where Talmasha’s body had lain, now a colossal elder fig tree stood, its branches spread to the sky. Golden fruit trembled on the out-spread branches, its luscious fragrance permeating the air. A song traveled to the siblings’ ears, “Death is not the end. Life will spring forth when Death dies.”
Sun Eagle awoke within the Wood Between. The pain of emptiness tore through him, and he surged to his feet. Why was he back here? Hadn’t a tithe been demanded? Hadn’t he—
Mine. Mine. We must find life. The words surged through him, and he did not know if he spoke them or not. He only knew that his hands clutched the cord around his neck. He thought of the one who he would probably never see again. He thought of home and hearth. “Master! Master! Help me!” The cry was a keening wail as the plea burst from his throat.
Mine. Mine. We must find—
“Always you say the same thing, but nothing changes!” Sun Eagle began to run, little caring where he went. What difference did it make? Everywhere, the gates were barred to him. He could not find what he sought.
Finally, Sun Eagle collapsed on the ground. He rocked to and fro, and tears that had lain dormant for so long burst forth. Words traveled to him on the breeze, not in the voice of his master but in another voice he knew but did not understand. “Let it go, Sun Eagle.”
He struggled to his feet and began running yet again. The Wood watched him as before.
The search continues. She? He? It? Pushes onward, driven by desire. Often, things it cannot understand reach out to offer assistance, but it does not stop. A home beckons, and the hunger is insistent. Will the hunger never cease? The Parasite wanders on, and its followers do likewise, seeking and never finding. Time moves on, and the Wood waits for unsuspecting travelers to stumble into its embrace.
And, ever above it all, a Presence sings and never ceases, and Paths of this presence open for those destined to find them. In the end, all true stories converge upon this Presence, and the Darkness will die.