The Forests of Adrimon

Part 4: The Grove

Written by: Jonathan Mariucci

"It has been almost a week. What do you mean to do with her?" Elrick asked quietly. He was sitting on a moss covered log near a pool of crystal clear spring water. "Save her, if I can." the dryad answered plainly. She was in the water, slowly tending to a prone woman. The woman was lying on a bed of floating plant life, wrapped gently in vines of green and pale blue.

"So you can, then… save her? Forgive me, but she seems to be getting weaker." He added with concern. She paused and met Elrick's hazel eyes. Her look was both serious and filled with sorrow, each seemed alien to the grove. "You misunderstand... I can not save Delaina." She replied softly. She paused for a moment and added "but I can save her daughter."

The response hit Elrick as if he had fallen from a great height.

He looked down at his friend in shock. "She's having a girl?" The dryad turned back to the young woman, taking care to wipe her still face. "Yes, but you've been here too long and the child is showing signs of Feysickness. It affects the young more quickly than the old, and happens when you spend too long in this realm. If the girl is to have a normal life, you need to depart this place."

She lifted a hand to Delaina's brow and gently spoke a few words. Elrick watched as dozens of vibrant blue butterflies took flight nearby, briefly landing on her. "She'll never have a normal life." he said with a note of regret. Elowen watched the butterflies depart, and then looked back to him. "With you, she might."

Just then a Forestborn scout made his presence known. Elrick wasn't sure how long he'd been there, silently observing their conversation. The stag-man stood about twice as tall as Elrick, and he resembled a great deer with the upper torso and body of a man. He carefully avoided the lower branches of a tree, weaving his wide forked antlers between them, finally standing near Elowen and the pool. "My lady. I'm sorry for the intrusion. There are enemies in the grove, Aranaea herself is in the first layer. The runes are holding them back, but this place isn't safe."

She spoke with him then without using words, clearly conveying a message with only her thoughts. The scout nodded and then looked directly at Elrick.

- - -

"Things happened quickly next." Elrick said. The two had been talking all day. First in the study, then in the library. They were now walking through the tower gardens, and as tranquil as it was, Arvellon couldn't help but feel anxious.

"The nixie arrived and bid me to go with her. I still had many questions, and I wasn't willing to just give up on your mother. I had thought, that maybe, just maybe I could still take her from the Grove. I pleaded with Nialyn, but the look she gave me said so much. She was terrified and hurt by everything that was happening. She felt pain for all of us. I knew then, that there were bigger things at work. The grove was under attack, and it felt as though the trees and the water and even the air was reacting to it. Suddenly I knew none of us were safe."

"Nialyn explained to me that an attack on the grove was quite rare, but it was rarer still that a force as powerful as the Spider Queen could willingly enter." Arvellon's interest peaked and she asked with apparent unease: "The Spider Queen?" Elrick considered his words carefully and continued: "There are many dangers that still lurk in the forests. Aranaea is one of the scarier ones. She was taking advantage of the dryad's weakened state.

He looked to the cloud-filled sky and closed his eyes for a moment. "I remember the sunlight fading. I remember the sound of them, so many, moving through the canopy. It was surreal because here was this place, this paradise, and yet for all its beauty, I was feeling utter despair."

Arvellon spied a small green-backed spider on one of the hanging brambles and wondered if it were somehow related to the queen of spiders. "Nialyn spirited me to another location in the grove. A sort of hidden place, nestled between two great rocks. I watched as the spiderkin invaded, hundreds of them scattering through the grove."

"It wasn't long before she arrived, with a whole host of Forestborn archers behind her. They attempted to bring her down, but Aranaea easily dispatched them. Afterward she turned and looked directly at me. She approached and I readied a defense. But instead of attacking, she passed directly over the top of me. It was a paralyzing experience."

"Now I know I was caught in the in-between, a transitional space between the realms. I watched the pocket around me slowly disintegrate. It was a bit disorienting, but I knew what was happening. Soon the pocket would close and I would be back in our world."

"Elowen returned some time later and she was carrying you in her arms. By the time she arrived, her realm seemed ghostly to me. She only had moments to speak. She said: 'Elrick of the Wyld Vale, it is your charge to protect Delaina's child. Take this ring and travel east, it will help both of you. This gate is the farthest I can send you from Adrimon's acropolis. What will her name be?' and so I named you.”

The girl smiled and asked: “Arvellon means 'Royal Friend' in the old language, right?" Elrick nodded and smiled.

The two paused in the garden and watched as the clouds parted a little, brightening the sky.

"So child, you are the only person I know to have been born in the Realm of the Fey." he said proudly. She smiled, slightly embarrassed by the attention and said "Well, I don't feel different and… I don't have powers like you!" the two laughed for a moment, and then Elrick knelt down, looking very serious in that way he always did, and quite sincerely said: "You have so much more power than you know child."