Surrounded by verdant green, the sharp scent of damp loam in his nostrils, Tayle breathed in the power of the wild. His mind was calm and quiet—the effort of forcing his mind to be so had taken him most of day. But eventually his will overpowered the fear and tension and uncertainty that plagued him, and the tall Gael’Dar—elf, as the humans said it—managed to put his emotions in check and reach the kind of serenity that this task required. Tayle knew the enforced mental peace would not last beyond this task, but for now that was enough. He breathed in again, and a small smile played on his thin elven lips. The warm, moist scents of the deep, untouched forest were both calming and exhilarating to him; his spirit was in touch with both the predator and prey, and the aromas of the forest meant different things to those with different places in the Great Wheel. Tayle’s mind slowly began sloughing off the boundaries of his mortal body.
His consciousness expanded along with the air in his lungs, and his body slowly stopped moving entirely as his spirit pulled free from the fetters of flesh it was normally confined to. Immediately the world faded into the silver-grey mist of the Spirit Realm, combined with lashes and wisps of color so vibrant they might have come from a painter’s pot. Finally, after what might have been a moment or an eternity, Tayle stopped simply admiring the beauty and grandeur that was the spirit world and called out with his mind. Immediately all the fear and heartache and uncertainty came flooding back to him, and he almost lost his connection to the world of spirits and snapped back into his body. To do so would be failure, and Tayle’s will was stronger than fear. He steeled himself for a heartbeat or an eternity, and cried out again. He heard the desperation in his own voice as he did so, and knew there was no helping it. The situation was indeed dire, and he knew it.
He cried out again, and again. The silver-grey mist did not respond. It swirled around his mind-form, like the cold, thick breeze coming off a frozen swamp. Tayle’s mind began to race… had he done something wrong? What had he done to anger the spirits so? Had they abandoned him?
Immediately, Tayle shook his head in frustration. No. He still called upon the primal spirits and channeled their magic in the natural world— therefore, he could not have been abandoned by them. The spirits would never allow one who they had forsaken to continue to use their power in the ways he had. But then, if that were true, why were none of the Primals speaking to him? Why had none answered his call? Why had they—
Aureus. That had to be the answer. Quickly Tayle’s mind flashed back over the terrifying night in the ruined temple. Undead howling by the hundred outside the hastily-erected barricades, bursting through and seeking to fill their mouths with living flesh. A seemingly unstoppable horde of vile, putrescent things, animated by the magical crystal filled with necromantic energy, seeking to spread their curse at all costs. A fight to the death that lasted an entire night, hour after bloody endless hour until all seemed lost. Tayle and his companion Trifus had appealed to Aureus, the goddess whose temple they had been holed up in, to preserve their lives. Trifus had pledged to build a temple to the goddess elsewhere, should the heroes survive the night. He had already begun to set the groundwork for that task. Tayle… well. Tayle had declared that he would serve the goddess’ will instead of his own—and therefore the will of the primal spirits—for six months. He would dedicate himself to the goddess of civilization, and mercantile efforts, luck, and trade. Nearly the exact opposite of his own philosophy as a druid… and he had agreed to serve her in exchange for saving the lives of Tayle and his friends. The goddess had taken them up on their offers, but as of yet Tayle had not begun to fulfill his end of the bargain. The goddess of merchants and trade is not one to back out on a deal from, he thought to himself. But how? How can I fulfill my oath to Aureus without betraying the spirits completely?
YOU THINK LIKE STONE, LITTLE BROTHER a familiar voice said, right behind him. The Presence of the voice filled up Tayle’s spirit completely, and he closed his eyes in relief and his shoulders sagged as if unburdened. BE LIKE WATER
Tayle turned around, and his spirit-form was encompassed by a wolf, huge as a building to his senses, that seemed to take up the entire world. Its eyes bored into his, black and without iris, filled with the stars of a thousand night skies. This was the First Wolf, his spirit guide and friend since the first time Tayle had ever traveled to this silver, misty world. This was the primal urge to hunt, to run with the pack, and to live a life full of everything. This was the First Wolf, of whom his spirit companion Shera was a tiny sliver, and to whom she returned when Shea was not on the mortal plane. The First Wolf expanded in his view until it was all he could see, all he could feel Tayle’s spirit-hands gripped the thick, shaggy fur of the monstrous spirit wolf, and his body sagged into hers and all the emotion of the past months poured out from him. All the frustration, pain, anguish, loss and fear, anger and rage and terror of the past months erupted from him and for a long, long time, he simply wept into the comforting expanse of the First Wolf’s flank. Eventually, his emotion subsided and he was left calmer, but no less troubled. Now he would seek the answers that had eluded him so long.
“Mighty One, I am… troubled. You obviously know of the oath I swore to the Golden Goddess in order to preserve my companions and I. That action was rash, and perhaps ill-advised, but I do not regret it. We would have perished, and any good I have done since then is testament that the decision was not a wrong one. But the long-term effects of that oath are troubling to me, like a rock tossed in a still pond. I know there are already those druids who think I have forsaken myself… but if you are here, that cannot be true. Can it?”
The First Wolf’s black and starry gaze simply lay heavy upon Tayle’s consciousness. He continued, talking out the problem.
“I am a druid—devoted to you and the other primal spirits, those who embody the hunt, the wild places, the untouched wilderness. How can I not betray you and still serve the goddess of gears and civilization and gold? If I am forsaken to her, all my power will be lost—the Doom of Aureus is well known and mighty. But that you still bless me with primal magic means you have not given up on me yet.”
The First Wolf’s presence pressed in upon him, insistent and crushing in its power. The First Ones were of the mightiest of the primal spirits, and that the First Wolf had chosen Tayle had been an amazing honor. Now, the pressure of the ancient being’s mind on his made Tayle feel like he would nearly rupture like over-ripe fruit from the power swelling within his spirit-form.
BE LIKE WATER, LITTLE BROTHER
Tayle’s mind spun, and power ripped through him like a waterfall rampaging through his spirit. “Water…water. Water conforms, it flows around obstacles in its path; water goes where the resistance is least and prospers there. Water makes do with the situation and continues on. Water adapts. It is the chalice, the cup of life and growth. Dreams and divination and…healing. Water of life. Spring of renewal. Healing and growth and life. ” A tiny flicker of inspiration hit him. Like a glittering stone being pushed downstream, his mind followed it farther down the path and he looked up into the eyes of the First Wolf. Incredulous, the full form of the idea shocked him with its audacity.
“Is this… is this what you REALLY want of me?” He stood and squared his shoulders and faced the First Wolf. He looked down and realized that his spirit form had conjured the Imperial Battle Armor he had found as well as the mighty bronze-headed greatspear. Thick, leafy vines writhed and twined from the haft of the spear around Tayle’s arm, protruding from the shaft of the spear itself. The tips of the vines were red as if they had absorbed blood and been dyed by the life-giving red fluid. Blood. Water. They served the same function—one for plants, the other for animals. Life.
BE WATER TO THE THIRSTY, LITTLE BROTHER. FLOW AND HEAL AND ADAPT The First Wolf’s force of will blasted into Tayle, knocking him staggering and nearly forcing him to kneel from the strength of the mental command. He straightened, squared himself again, and light bright as day began to pour forth from the First Wolf. It breathed out onto Tayle, wrapping him in warm, cleansing radiance. Tayle breathed in the blessing and basked in its warmth—the hot, damp radiance of the spring sun, and closed his eyes.
Tayle’s eyes snapped open, and riotous sensory information assaulted his brain, still reeling from the overwhelming power that was the First Wolf. The scent of wet loam again filled his world, along with the warmth of real, natural sunlight on his face. His muscles screamed in protest as he began to attempt moving. He had been kneeling, in the stance of supplication, for hours—possibly days. Time in the spirit realm flowed differently than the natural world; sometimes it moved slower there, sometimes faster. From the furious, ravening hunger in his belly and the aching knots in his entire body, Tayle had a feeling he had been traveling the spirit roads for at least a full day, maybe more. He performed the last few closing prayers and rituals, closing the doors in his mind to the spirit realm once again and then stood, slowly working the atrophy and cramps out of his muscles. Then he turned smartly and began the long walk back to Kennet’s Trading Post. There was work to do.
Months later, when the tiefling bard known as Abbath Doom began writing stories about the newly born nation in the north of Brittanis, one of the first stories he recorded was that of Tayle of the Wrathwood—spiritual leader and de facto High Priest of the young nation. Though a druid himself—and now head of a small sect of druidic acolytes who had traveled from far and wide to learn from the Gael’Dar –Tayle did not lead the new nation in his own faith. Instead, as the nation grew and prospered, Tayle preached a hybrid faith whose one core tenet was this: Life and Healing.
Many of the citizens of the new nation were refugees from one thing or another, and the civil wars among the nations of the south meant that many who arrived on the new nation’s borders were injured, scarred, sick or in need of aid. Tayle and his companions began the formation of their nation by establishing that no-one in legitimate need would be turned away, and all would be allowed to live and be aided in whatever way the heroes could. “Coia Fallanae”—Gael’Dar for “Live and Heal” became the unofficial motto of the new nation, and then started appearing on the banners and symbols produced by the people of the nation even without the leadership declaring it so. Tayle preached a philosophy of working together and aiding one another so that the whole might prosper, adapting to the situation and doing what was best for the people instead of oneself. Tayle became the founder of the Order of the Golden Oak, a fellowship of druids, followers of Arturian and those who live off the land and deeply influenced the area around which the new kingdom was based.
Thus it was, when the warriors of Siluria came pouring out of the moors and swamps of their desolate homeland, they found a people with near-fanatic devotion to their homeland, and willing to fight to the bitter end to protect all they had built. The folk of the new nation stood hard against the oncoming warriors, but eventually they were not enough. Heroes were needed to repel the invaders and stop the threat from the northern swamps.