The Advent of Rumor Woods

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The Advent of Rumor Woods is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

The Fall

Lightning illuminated the dark storm clouds above with vibrant blue light. Seconds later, peals of thunder rolled across the tops of the snow-covered conifers only to immediately echo back as the sound bounced across the valley's walls. As quiet returned to the small glade that housed Summit Academy, a fine, light snow began to fall.

Hissing softly, a match sliding across a roughened and unshaved face suddenly sparks to life beneath an elm some distance from the cobbled pathways and brightly lit lanterns. Its owner, a serious-looking man of middling years, uses it to light his tobacco pipe, the flickers of light illuminating his dark eyes and fur-swaddled body. With complete disregard, he flicks the match into the snow causing it to die before it reaches the soft white powder.

For long, silent moments, the man watches the small academy as it moves through its evening hours. Snow hides the pathways and darkness claims the windows of the surrounding houses as he watches the few denizens that meander on their errands. Every now and again, he tilts his hat to dislodge any accumulated snow from its oiled leather brim. He is as silent as a mouse, his dark eyes noting everything that passes.

At long last, a single light remains in the academy: the light at the top of Sylinar's Spire. Pushing himself off the tree's trunk, he emits a soft, low whistle. Figures slowly melt from Rumor Woods, ominous and silent despite the newly fallen snow. The man doesn't wait, doesn't even look back to see if anyone has heard his call, but simply moves with easy strides to the doors of the tall spire and knocks only once.

The door opens a crack, a long finger of light falling upon the man, and an aged voice inquires who has come to visit.

"I've come to collect a debt, Sylinar," the man says. His voice is gravel and brimstone. The door opens enough to allow him entry, and as the man steps through, the figures turn their backs to the spire to form a ring around its perimeter.

The Question

"That's it!" the old man cried, there was an excitement in his voice that belied his age and frailty. His apprentice watched on in bemusement, expecting some obscure memory - real or unreal - to trickle from his lips. When nothing immediately followed, the dwarf's smile grew, his whiskers bristling with amusement as he obligingly asked.

"What's it, Master Sylinar?"

The response, while immediate, was neither expected nor part of the duo's traditional banter. On the contrary, while many of the master's tales could be over-embellished, extravagant, and frequently outlandish, they had always been followed with his voice trailing off and him bustling away to work on some brilliant alchemical, mathematical, or mystical equation that opened up the inherent powers of the nearest item within his reach.

"We are moving."

Amear dropped the gourd-shaped container that he was fitting with a new brass nozzle. He didn't move or raise an eyebrow. He was so stunned by the sudden proclamation that he became rooted to the spot that he was standing in. In short, he simply stared at the aging gaffer, who began the most coherent rant that the dwarf had ever heard him launch into.

"The cold is too much for these bones of mine. I want to live out my final years, of which there can't possibly be many left, in a place that fills me with happiness and one that doesn't constantly remind me of the people I've lost. My talents need to be shared with a wider audience; squirreled away in a spire named after myself has grown tedious. Besides, this musty old tower is filled with too much junk. It is time, my dear boy, that we move out into the world and live our lives as part of society, not on the fringes of it where no one can see our worth."

Falling silent, Sylinar picked the gourd-shaped item up off the floor and handed it to his apprentice.

"You will move with me. Won't you?"

Amear took the item from his decrepit master, his own meaty hand nearly dwarfing that of the ancient mystic's wrinkled and liver-spotted one. He slowly sat down on his stool and stared for several more moments. Fondness softened his features and, surprising himself, he answered.

"I suppose I will."

Silently slipping from the room, a young elven serving girl leaves without sound or notice. She creeps on silent feet to the attic of the spire where a small writing desk sits perched amid crates of carrier pigeons. Selecting one fine avian with purplish-blue feathers, she ties the small pigeon to the perch by the room's only window.

Taking both quill and tiny paper from the desk, she writes a single sentence.

It is done.

Moments later, the bird with its message flies out the attic's only window and heads southeast through the cold mountain air.

The Spy

Sunlight streaked through the spire's windows, the golden rays illuminating motes of dust that filtered through the air. Every floor, every nook, and every cranny of the ancient structure was bare, save for the small lap desk that rested in the center of the attic floor and a pair of carrier pigeon cages set under the attic window. Much like every small sound that issued in the voluminous vacancy, the avians' coos echoed against the stonework.

Her footsteps were a whisper upon the stairs, soundless and soft. She approached the small desk and melted, like a sigh on the wind, into a kneeling position before it. Dipping quill to ink, she began gazing--not at the blank pages that rested in tidy piles upon the surface, but at the multiple scraps of parchment that surrounded them. Her amethyst gaze was calm, her features statuesque, and her posture impossibly straight as she stared for long moments at the cramped scraps.

With the grace of a dancer, she lifted the ink-soaked quill from its pot and began to write. The script was cramped, tight, and displayed the trembling lines of the aged. It moved in uneven lines across the page, the words blending, and at times misshapen. Using a dry quill, so as not to besmirch her pristinely cleaned appendages, she fabricated smudges and finger marks.

Rising in one smooth motion, she left her untidy work to dry upon the desk and lazily moved to the nearby window, her movements as effortless and smooth as silk fluttering in a breeze. She kept to the shadows within the room, though her eyes took in everything the sun touched.

Time slipped past, the sun dipping from zenith to kiss the tops of the trees and only as the first rays began to disappear beyond that leaf-dappled horizon did she stir from her silent repose. She stood above the now dry parchment, her eyes searching for some mistake in her writings, some flaw or misgiving that would give away her forgery. Finding none, she purposefully dog-eared one corner and created a tiny rip in another, then folded the parchment in thirds. She retrieved a bit of wax from her pocket, produced a sliver of flame within her free fingertips and applied it to the stick. With deliberate moves, she dripped the viscous, blood red substance onto the folds. From another pocket, she produced a seal, and with purpose, misaligned the stamping. Slipping to the back of the attic, she pried a flagstone from its home and lifted a laden pouch with stretched seams. Plucking the folded parchment with its now dry wax seal, she headed down the stairs, and moments before slipping out of the towers front door, she discarded her grace and poise.

The girl that stood on the pathway in the purple and orange twilight held none of the characteristics of the one that moments ago had been in the spire's attic. Hunched and shuffling, she shied away from others on the pathways. Her steps were heavy, one foot dragging slightly behind the other and catching on every crack and crevice upon the ground. She timidly knocked upon the door to the house that she had shuffled to, and when someone answered, she jumped like a frightened mouse at the response.

"I'm so sorry, my dear," said the woman beyond the pane. "I know how easy you frighten, I should have been more cautious, and I'm sure you are very upset with your Master's abrupt departure. Please, please come in."

Murmuring her thanks, she hides behind the curtain of her wind-tossed hair and steps inside.

Aboard the Dawn's Pride

Somewhere east of Ta'Loenthra…

Humid and warm, the ocean-borne breeze tugged at the titan-hued strands of fine hair that surrounded the aging woman who sat amid cloth-wrapped crates on the deck of Dawn's Pride as it cut through the sea. Sea thraks bobbed in and out of the waves alongside the vessel, but the deck's lone passenger paid them no mind.

Meditation and memory often went hand in hand, so with her gaze focused on the smudge of land growing to the west, her emerald eyes grew unfocused as she remembered another time…

As Eonak was her witness, if this next round of experiments failed, she was going to forgo the peace her father had taught her to always maintain and throttle the arrogant elf right here on the mountainside. They had been working together alone for over a year and striving to create a hardy wood that could actually grow in the unique soils of Atan Irith, but every attempt had been met with equal parts success and devastating failure. Her father's notes, may his soul be reshaped by Eonak's mighty hammer, were extensive, and she swore on his death that she would see this project through. But, each failure was more dangerous than the last, and she did not know if she could continue to justify the cost in damage to land and life.

She watched dutifully as her father invited the elf into their lands, their home. Demure, but keen, she listened to them plot and understood what her father wanted. Along with the men, she thrilled at the prospect that such a tree could be produced and even had added touches of her own elemental magic to the pairings. It was hard work, the three of them enchanting and casting, night after night. Infusing the sturdy seedlings of Etan Irithi's most prized tree with the elemental magic of both the Erithi and Elven peoples, but also a touch of the spirit as she added the balancing force to temper the masculine magic at play.

In the end, magic, agate, and tree had been compressed into one: a magical seed. Planting them was an easy process, and it was during this time that the three could relax for the first time in months. By day, they would wander the glade they had selected, tending to the growing trees. By evening, they would stay up past the setting of the moons, discussing the finer points of the study of magic. She had been intrigued by the differences between how the elves and erithi studied magic but also comforted by those things that were similar. Magic, in all its forms, was basically the same throughout Elanthia.

The first disaster, some six months after planting, struck as the young saplings began to produce branches. It struck the trio as odd that the specimen was without leaf or bud, though they had given thought that perhaps this was due to its diminished size and spindled nature. It wasn't until a particularly sunny day, that they began to notice that the trees did not absorb the sunlight as others of its species did. Instead, it seemed to reflect the light, and it was then that they began to understand the structure of this new tree they had created. Veins of crystal flowed through the layers of the tree causing the bark to curl up in thin strips and fall away with each new growth. Fascination and academic curiosity soon gave way to panic as the reflected light acted as an enormous reading glass and sent rays of searing sunlight in all directions. Within hours, the fires that subsequently erupted proved catastrophic and destroyed the small encampment they built upon the edge of the glade. Uprooting what saplings they could salvage, they abandoned the sight for a more arid environment.

The second disaster, this time nine months after replanting, came as a bit of a surprise. They created large canopies over the swiftly growing saplings to shelter them from direct rays of sunlight. Heat from the long summer days on the coast neither enhanced or diminished their growth and all seemed to be progressing nicely. The coastal breezes were as warm as the air in this part of Etan Irith and did little to add comfort to the days. What they did do was cause a vibration in the crystalline structures of the young trees that caused them to hum at varying octaves. While this sound seemed, at first, to produce an eerie music throughout the glade, it quickly grew into deafening octaves and began to shatter glass. It grew in decibels until all within hearing of the music began to fear going deaf and it was only due to the spiritual magic of those erithi gathered that silence finally rained upon the grove. However, for many, the damage was done. Crystal, glass, and many thin porcelain pieces that resided in the area were weakened or shattered completely, many of these items heirlooms of the people. The worst result though was the utter magical deafening that happened to many of the workers that were closest to the young trees. To this day, those workers have not recovered.

The third disaster, this time nearly a year after a second replanting, was, in her opinion, the worst disaster to ever take place. They had discovered after their second disaster that the sonic reaction had been both a combination of heat rippling off the ground and making the crystalline structures within the trees porous. This allowed the trees to amplify the wind that whistled off the water to such a devastating effect. Thus it was that they moved to the alpine ranges of Etan Irith. Great poplar and pine trees provided the necessary shade to keep the small trees from reflecting the sunlight, and the cold environs stopped the crystalline structures from growing porous, thus preventing the sonic resonance from taking place. The trees flourished. Tall and spindled, their bark shedding every month to display the dazzling brilliance beneath. Still wooden, yet so much more. An odd byproduct of the trees were these crystalline tears that formed on the bark. They had started appearing days before the third disaster struck.

In the dawn hours of that fate-filled morning, workers had moved into the sheltered glade to make observations. They measured the girth, the height, and noted where trees had begun to branch. The tears had been removed some days before and no new ones had appeared. One worker pointed out to his friend that there appeared to be a split in the center of one of the trees. He recommended that one of the elementalist be called to observe it, especially since others were noting the same in their trees. One of the elementalists that came to the call was her father. She was set to join him, the elf at her side, when an earth-shattering explosion drew all eyes to the forest, only the forest was gone.

As the encampment came out en masse to rush to the forest, it quickly became evident that the magical trees themselves had exploded. Survivors, of which there were painfully too few, reported that the center of the trees had simply splintered under the weight of the upper boughs and sent thousands of crystalline shards hurtling through the air. It had instantly shredded the poplar and pine surrounding it, but the devastation to the flesh of the workers and elementalists in the glade had been the worst. The casualties were too many, her father among them.

It took months to heal the hurts, to clear out the grove, and to struggle to find some way to move on. They had buried their dead, salvaged little but seeds from the trees, and many had abandoned them. In the end, she and the elf swore that they would finish the project in her father's name. In the end, there were only two of them left to do it.

For a year now, they had watched the seeds transition from seedling to sapling, sapling to tree. They had worked on only a dozen, fearful that any more would be too much for them to handle alone. They had hunted together, eaten together, enchanted more seeds, and shared tales. Eventually, their professional admiration for each other took root and grew into a nurtured relationship.

Yesterday, the tears fell from the trees and today they were harvesting. It was going well. There were no casualties. The bark had curled away as it did every month and the trunks were sturdy, but not overly large. They had decided to take them all down at once, fearful that something in the wind, the sun, or the very elements may cause a fourth disaster. Before them lay a dozen trunks, each no thicker than a man's thigh and thrice a man's height. In the morning, they would begin their experiments…


Still lost in memories, the aging-erithi woman answered, "Sylinar?"

The elf smiled and shook his head. "Lady, the captain asked me to tell you that we are almost in Ta'Loenthra. He said to let you know that your airship will be waiting to take you to Summit Academy."

She nodded her thanks, her head inclined to the man as he departed.

The Rise of Diriko

It is easy to understand how love and hate can be wedded together. Strong emotions that are tied to the heart, true hatred cannot exist if pure love did not exist first. This is true of life and death. For something to have died, it had to have lived. They are as similar and opposite as male and female, light and dark, good and evil.

Diriko contemplated her musings as she gazed out the window of the tall spire and looked at the forest beyond. It was not the first time in the past four hundred years that she had explored them, and would probably not be the last. Her love of Sylinar had battled frequently over the years with her hatred at his betrayal. But she had risen, like the phoenix from the ashes of her love and had turned her back on her lover, the serpent of treachery. She had even said as much to the children she eventually raised, and in turn, to their children.

Had it been a month or a week after they discovered the properties of their prized trees before he left? She couldn't remember; age had at least taken time and turned its memories fuzzy at the edges. If only it could do so for her feelings.

She would have been content to let him stay in his mountain, while she stayed in hers if it hadn't been for the land sickness. She had wept as if her own children were dying one by one out in the grove. It had taken eight years to claim them all. Each year, she'd replanted hoping that her elementalists had been right. Praying that the land had truly been cleansed. But each time, it took them in ones and twos until finally this past winter the last had fallen.

Folding her hands into the sleeves of her sky blue robe, she gazed lovingly at the forest beyond. She would see that the twelve he had stolen were returned to their homeland.

"Siethidi, cut it all down. Use your knowledge of this land's history to hide why, but remove our beloved trees from this land at once. I don't care how you do it, I don't care what you tell them, just cut them down."

Bowing gracefully, Siethidi, an expert in equestrian studies, left his grandmother's side with a smile and a plan.

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