“The Gathering Storm”

by Merric Blackman

“The Gathering Storm” is copyright 1994 Merric Blackman. Permission is granted to distribute and copy this document for non-profit purposes.

Being the first part of the “Fall of the Forest” cycle.

It is evening in the Great Forest, and the ELF walks alone under the stars. In the weeks since Morgan left, a sense of unease has been growing. Tonight, he feels, the storm will begin.

An eerie calm has settled over the forest. Similar, he thinks, to the calm before a thunderstorm–an apt analogy–but the sky is clear. Above, the stars hang like crystals in the sky, blessing the world with their light. He traces out the constellations of the Lady. The Earthmother who blessed this place so long ago. But change is coming.

Shifting to his othersight, he observes the ley-lines of the world. The magick of life runs strongly in the forest, and he can easily grab hold and use the green lines of power. Less common are the lines of white and red magick, and rarer still, the blue magick of the isles, and the black magick of the swamps. But the lines exist. How could they not? For this is a place of great power, and no magick is excluded.

The ELF smiles as he sees a certain black ley-line. It comes from the swamps, from a dark tower, in which much knowledge is stored. Taking the line in hand, he sends his sight through it, but does not find the one he seeks. Canticle is out tonight, on some unholy quest. But the ELF knows his friend, his quest will not imperil the folk of the Great Forest.

As the ELF holds the line, he feels a shudder through it. As he strains his senses to the utmost, he hears and unholy paean of triumph ring through the line. Something dark has entered the world, and all his ability is required to hold off the surge of hate which now comes at him, directed through the open channel of the ley-line.

Gasping, the ELF releases control of the line, and considers his next action. To the south, a crack of thunder is heard, and the ELF smiles grimly at the sound.

“Larissa!” he cries, and a young elf-maiden swiftly appears. “Alert the Guardians. The Beast has come.”

“Master,” Larissa turns to obey, but cannot repress a shudder of fear which courses through her slight frame. She knows the legends, she knows the prophecy. And she fears. The ELF looks upon her with sadness, for the prophecy is not one of hope.

“I will meet the threat by the Varaies Falls,” he says, after Larissa has left to deliver her message. “I will endeavor to slow it down, so that we may meet it with full force at the Bramblewood.” What to normal eyes looks like a tree bows stiffly, and moves away. The Treefolk will be staunch defenders in the battle, but they must have time to prepare.

Alone once more, the ELF for a moment loses control. “Damn you, Morgan!” he curses, but quickly recovers his composure. He leaves for the Varaies Fallas, knowing that he has scant time until his enemy arrives.

* * *

The Varaies Falls are a natural defense provided by the Earthmother, between the swamps and the forest. Here, the River Varaies plummets into what is known to many as the Dark Lands. And from the Dark Lands, a demon is coming.

The ELF sees the ooze demons first, clearing the way for their fell master. Preparing himself, he reaches out and takes control of a ley-line linked to a forest, and uses the energy generated through it to bind it more closely to himself, doubling its power.

The ooze demons cackle and gibber at the sight of living prey, and sway towards the Defender of the Forests. The ELF forces them back before they reach him, but gasps at the effort required. Quickly, he grabs another line, and summons one of his own people to do his bidding. The elven archer which arrives at his call nods, and prepares his bow. As the ooze demons approach again, he fires with deadly accuracy, and their bodies fall into the muck.

A cry of rage can be heard, and a black aura appears around the demons. They get up again, ignoring the arrows which still are embedded in their bodies, and begin to approach once more.

While they are distracted, the elven archer moves into a better position, and fires arrows into the black haze which hides the form of the greater demon, now quickly approaching. A bellow of pain can be heard. But the ELF has left himself open, and the ooze demons attack again, and once more he must call upon his personal energy to push them away. And something dark hovers at the limit of his vision.

Gaining another thread of power, the ELF laughs as an emerald pendant drops into his hand. “Thank you, Lady!” he cries, as he slips it on. With his new-found strength, he binds a tie to a Druid. He receives mental acknowledgement of his action–the Druid is ready to channel extra power to him when needed. Carefully he begins to chant the words to summon the Craw Giant–knowing it will take all of his skill and concentration.

Once more the archer stands ready in defense. The demons hoot and cackle at him, but do not attack, staying back. The archer studies them warily, suspecting some ruse. And is correct, but fails to observe the black form which slips by overhead. Unseen and unnoticed, it almost reaches the ELF, but just in time he sends it away with a curse–then gasps in horror. For the Spectre has broken his concentration, and the ritual to summon the Craw Giant has passed from his mind, and he cannot recall it. Again he calls for aid from the forests.

The Earthmother has heard his call, and responds to his plea for aid. From the heart of the forest, her own Liege stands ready for battle at the ELF’s side. The ELF smiles. At last he has a chance.

But his joy turns to horror as the darkness around the great demon is banished, he sees a grin of triumph on that malevolent face. The Liege visibly darkens and slips from his control. As he strains to recover control of the Liege, it turns and deals him a great blow, knocking him off his vantage point into the river. As he scrambles for breath, cries of pain can be heard from the druid and the archer, as the Demon wracks their souls with pain. Rising from the water, the ELF knows despair as he sees the dead bodies of his servants and the demon laughing over them.

Another blow lands on the side of his head–the Spectre–and his darkness claims him for a short period of time. He regains consciousness with the chill of the grave freezing his bones, for he is held by the Spectre, facing that which is called the Beast.

“So, youngling,” it growls at him. “We finally meet again. After all you said you would do to prevent my return, it was so kind of you to provide the way back to this succulent world. Your apprentice will be richly rewarded.” The Beast smiled, a horrible sight to any eyes.

“Morgan?” cries the ELF, “I warned him…”

“But he didn’t listen, did he? And so soon I will possess all you hold dear, to do with as I will.” The Beast laughs, with unholy joy.

But the ELF no longer listens. Grabbing the energy from the jewel around his neck, and the single ley-line of the forests left to him, he works a magic which holds his only chance of survival. Using his own life energies, he calls up a forbidden artifact, the power of which he hopes will hold the Beast for a time. And he succeeds. He is almost on the point of death, but a field of shimmering power has drawn up around the Demon, who is now entrapped by its power.

“A FORCEFIELD!” he bellows. “It shall not contain me long, youngling!” The ELF feels stabs of pain as the Beast beats his great fists against the walls of his prison. Putting his pain out of mind, the ELF summons all of his remaining energy, and with a flash is gone.

* * *

Inside the darkened study, a lone gremlin is the only witness to the ELF’s arrival. “Accurate as ever,” the ELF mutters, and topples unconscious to the floor. The gremlin, after much thought, moves off in a search of its master. Canticle will not be pleased by this unexpected arrival. But the gremlin will not find him, for he is still in Argive, in search of other lore. Morgan Spellweaver is current occupant of the Tower.

The gremlin is lucky it does not know the full import of the ELF’s arrival, for soon the Beast will be free again–and its vengeance will change the world.