SHANNA: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Shanna sat at a distance and watched her friends depart, the promise of two years held close to her heart. She’d been the first to leave after Saran, but the truth was she didn’t feel to need to go anywhere in particular. She could pretty much go anywhere now. She wanted to see where everyone else went, so she could keep an eye on them. She knew Flea could sense her but that didn’t bother her – it was nice to be noticed sometimes. And she liked Flea.
She watched and listened as her friends left in twos and singly, and as Flea sat down scratching his chest. She was satisfied – she would be able to find them if she wanted to… or needed to. Then she moved away – it was also good to be alone sometimes.
Her eyes turned north to the Vale and she smiled. She found it odd how Torog’s curse was actually a blessing for her. She’d stopped thinking of the Vale as her home long ago and now that she couldn’t return the planes were hers to wander. Anyway the Vale and its people were protected and made safe by a god’s loving sacrifice and the various defenders who remained behind.
She turned and her keen senses saw the faintest smoke on the horizon to the south and she frowned. There was still a reckoning due for the Iron Circle… perhaps it was time to eliminate that threat. She also glanced eastward over the water, remembering the small delegation of motley rangers who had asked for assistance from far away to fight an evil and warlike empire.
And there were other places, centres of evil and undeath scattered over this world that could be cleansed. She couldn’t pick one thing so maybe she’d just do it all.
“Right then,” she muttered, hoisting her pack. “Let’s…
And she was elsewhere. It all felt vaguely familiar and yet she was sure she’d never been here before. Grey green mist circled endlessly at knee height and although she could feel something that she was sure was ground underfoot, she couldn’t see it. Vague shadows of trees and other things clung to the edges of her vision and yet she couldn’t quite focus on them.
“Hello Wayfinder,” said a tired voice.
Shanna stopped trying to work out where she was. She knew that voice.
“Hello Treespeaker,” she said turning around, and there he was. Young and old, skin more like bark than she remembered and a sad smile on his face. They hadn’t really spoken the last time she was with her people. It had been a pretty busy time with all those demons and then she’d rushed off to help her friends. She’d felt a bit bitter about his deception that night, but without it she wouldn’t have survived this long. And now that he was actually here, her ill feeling was strangely absent.
She reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder. It was warm and dry to the touch and she could feel the life pulsing beneath her hand. “It is good to see you,” she said and hugged him warmly
“And you also Wayfinder,” he said as she broke off the hug. She sensed apprehension in his voice.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, smiling cheekily. “Are you going to do something else for my own good that I’m not going to like again? I’m up for it.”
He sighed, wincing a little at the gentle barb of her words and shook his head.
“I am merely here, Wayfinder, because I asked to be. You could not come to me and the reach of my power is not unlimited. I wanted to see you again to clear the air between us but I see it was not necessary. It is obvious that this silly old man was worried about nothing. I am proud of you and what you have become and you really don’t need my counsel anymore.” He smiled and patted her shoulder. Then stopped and let his hand drop, his face serious. “But I did not invite you here to this place.”
Shanna arched an eyebrow. She’d been practicing and knew it meant asking an unspoken question. With her face.
The Treespeaker shook his head. “It is not my place to say. But I will walk with you to them. And then will leave. They wait there,” he said pointing, and Shanna saw a faint glow in the distance. She was sure it wasn’t there a moment ago.
“Right then,” she said, taking the Treespeaker’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Shanna was unsure how long they walked, but it felt like the exact right amount of time. She and the Treespeaker talked about many things before lapsing into silence as the glow of a campfire in a grove (Trees? Shanna thought Where did they come from?) grew nearer. And where three figures waited, gathered around the flickering flames.
Now she could feel a familiar power all around them and looked at the Treespeaker nervously.
“Are they…?” she asked. She didn’t want to say the word ‘gods’. She just had taken part in the death of one. Maybe they were angry – her limited knowledge of them portrayed then like one big dysfunctional family.
He nodded slowly. “And here is where I must leave you, for their business is not mine. But it was good to see you again Shanna. May you travel safe.”
As he turned to go Shanna reached out and hugged him fiercely. “Thank you,” she whispered and let him go. “But I have a question – can you please answer it properly? No riddles, no avoidance, no questions as answers?”
“I am out of practice with such a thing but I will try,” he smiled, eyes twinkling.
“What are you?” Shanna blurted. She’d meant to ask something else but she’d always wondered.
The Treespeaker paused thoughtfully. “Once… I was an elf. Now… I am more.” He shrugged. “It is not something I can explain. You have the Green Dream – I live that Dream. In some ways I am that Dream. I am connected with it and it with me. But once, I was an elf. And perhaps that is the most important part to remember.”
“Are you a… god?” she asked, whispering the last word and biting her lip. She didn’t want to say it wrong and annoy him.
He chuckled wheezily and Shanna swore she could hear the wind in the leaves of a forest. “No, Shanna, that is one thing I most definitely am not.” He looked at the grove. “But they wait and you must go. They grow impatient. I hope to see you again.”
“And I you Treespeaker,” Shanna said, her cheeks wet. She didn’t remember starting to cry, but she was. She wiped her tears away as best she could and checked her pack was resting easy on her shoulder.
“Right then,” she said waving goodbye to the Treespeaker, and stepped towards the fire.
She had to duck to enter the clearing and felt the warmth of the fire immediately. There was actual ground underfoot now and the smells of earth and life lingered in her nostrils. The three figures huddled over the fire turned toward her, revealing themselves. She stopped, shocked.
“Greetings…” said the Maiden, with the joy of spring.
“… Shanna…” said the Mother, with the warmth of summer.
“… Wayfinder,” said the Crone, with the cold of winter.
“Come. Join us. You are welcome,” they chorused together as Shanna dropped to her knees, stunned.
“I-I am s-sorry for the loss of your b-brother,” Shanna whispered, stammering.
The Maiden and Mother nodded in acknowledgement sadly, and the Crone replied. “He was lost long ago.”
“We have much else to discuss…” said the Maiden gaily.
“… but know that in this…” the Mother said warmly.
“… we are pleased. Our brother is finally free. But now, another task awaits,” they chorused.
“Arise,” said the Maiden, taking Shanna’s hand gently and lifting her easily to her feet.
“Drink,” said the Mother, holding a cup of something that both soothed and burned as it was poured down Shanna’s throat.
“Listen,” said the Crone, looking deeply into Shanna’s eyes.
“Remember,” they chorused, and Shanna fell into eternity.
Shanna waited and watched for the others impatiently. She’d checked up on them from time to time, but she’d moved around a lot in the last two years.
“Or eleven,” she thought, thinking that felt about right as far as time went for her. It didn’t really matter. She’d been busy and had so much to tell them. To ask of them too.