“A man once told me that nothing ever truly ends, that there is no finality to things and that endings are just new beginnings. He was a drunk Shyishian poet, so make of that what you will.” Follies; Everard Hemp of Hammerhal.
“Struggle all you want. Fight all you want. Flee, if that is your wish. It matters not. This bleak realm is mine and mine alone. Broken I may be, but I still bear many names of power and you will all dance to my tune. I am eternal and I am inevitable.” Mother Aldwynter.
They gathered in one of the deep places of the great Darkwood, a place thick with dead and dying tangles of great boles and twisted trunks, far from the gaze of their mad King or the foolish Elders. Fae-lights drifted in the cold air, casting a faint luminescence around them. This deep, this close to old death, the already-faint eversong of the Darkwood was the barest whisper in the blood-sap of the gathered treekin.
They stood together and yet still apart, a trio and one alone who glittered with malice and laughter, born upon a writhing mass of sinuous vines that replaced her legs. This one’s power had grown quickly, even as her loyalty to an insane liege had waned. Still, the others did not and could not find it in themselves to trust her. Circumstance, and the last desperate hope of another had thrown them together but old wounds would never fully heal.
Before them, His every aspect unveiled and his hulking form crowned with antlers and twisting boughs, puissance rolling from him in waves, the Reeve stood and told them His secret knowledge, told them of the deep knowing He had of their foe, and told them of their true enemy.
Golden Antlered Harne told them of the All-Crone’s plans, of her search for the missing piece of herself, of the many names she had held over the countless ages of the Realms. He told them of the truth of their mad King, of his exile and the reasons for it, of the folly of those who would call themselves Elders of the Court.
The Great Man-Stag spoke of the truth of the Darkwood, of the nature of stories and the need for a place for the nightmares and darkness to live. He told them of the roles that they were all cursed to play, and He watched as three of them wept and one of them howled with laughter.
And finally, when the anger and misery and hurt had receded like the tide from the shore, Blessed Loclaranam told them that the Darkwood was eternal, but it was not unchanging. That the song sung by its children could be a lament or a dirge, and that the All-Crone would re-write the song to her own tune. He spoke of how she could be resisted, but not beaten, and that the faintest hope still remained.
Then, when the talking was done and the skeletal branches and boughs behind him twisted and folded into an impossible portal of cracking and churning wood, He gathered the four treekin close. He marked them with power and burdened them with heavy purpose, and prepared them for the long journey they must make.
“You are blessed, and you are cursed, my brothers and sisters. You are the seasons of the Darkwood, the aspects of all who are still free of taint and remember how things could be. You are the truth in the eversong and the seed of hope.”
“Numenorin, I name you Spring, the Guardian of growth. You will bear the life of your brother and sisters in your hands. Guard them well.”
“Ilaranim, I name you Summer, the heat and warmth of the Lover. Passion is your burden to bear and your gift to share with the rest. Never allow yourself to stop feeling.”
“Nilith, I name you Autumn, Wytch of the cycle of change. Balanced betwixt life and death, between sanity and madness. You are the truest envoy of the Darkwood.”
“And you Moralanith, my oldest friend, you I name Winter with a heavy heart. The coldness of the Warrior, the harshness of the truth you bear and the will to survive. You have ever been the strongest and the closest to death of us all.”
“This is the purpose I charge you with, though I cannot say how long it will take you, nor what will greet you at journey’s end. I cannot say if the Darkwood as you know it will remain for you to return to, or if you will be able to return at all. Find the Everqueen. Find the Everqueen and deliver to her a simple message. Tell her of the All-Crone. Tell her of the King-In-Horns and his madness.”
“And more than anything, tell her we are sorry.”