The gloomy forest suddenly springs into a high-roofed, echoing cavern lined with massive, old-growth pillars. Although these trees are constantly swaying in the wind of the mountainside, very little breeze slips through them to touch the grasses and other undergrowth on the floor here. The branches sing constantly, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, but the sound of the wind rings through the vast space here at all times; it drowns out all but the sharpest noises or firmest voices. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the sense of silence in this place is profound.
The canopy, so thick that the sky is nearly invisible, stoops down into the mountainside as the southern end of the tree-lined cavern starts to reach up for the peak again. This shadowy niche seems deeper at a second glance than an inpenetrable wood might otherwise suggest.
Julen is, currently, crouched near a tree, one hand on it, contemplatively.
Rennen threads his way out of the heart of the forest, probably from his usual haunt in Roaring Brook. He walks with caution, pausing now and then to sniff the air.
Eos is doing stretches, which make her knees and spine crackle alarmingly.
Julen's other hand reaches down to touch the earth, and then she slides her gaze over to find Rennen. ~Evening, Strider,~ she says, shifting up slowly into glabro.
Rennen inclines his muzzle with lupine elegance. Warder. Alpha.
Eos cracks her knuckles and grins at the Strider. "Greetin's. Good t'see you."
Julen stretches her back. ~Presumably, you will discuss the Litany again, this Moot, Strider?~
The Strider surveys the area as if examining a stage. I would be pleased to serve.
Eos walks around the cathedral, looking up at the trees, whistling a cheerful tune. Per usual these days, the tune is flattened out by the echoes, twisted to an eerie set of minor chords. She persists, however.
Julen sighs. ~Much as I am glad for the spirits' assistance, I will be glad when Niska is able to come here again.
Rennen's ears splay. I did not know the raven was being kept out. I cannot come here often. How are the spirits?
Julen says, mildly, ~They are not encouraging. I am hoping to let them out of the Wards, this Moot, and to their final rest. They... Make the place less than welcoming, and yes, they do not allow Niska in.~
Eos mumbles, "Uppity, they are."
Rennen's sides heave. I am sorry. It was not the wisest idea.
Julen shakes her head. ~No, Strider. It was a /very/ good idea, it is just none of us knew the anger they had for the Glittering One, and Niska has that one's memory.~
Eos turns a grin on the Strider. "Sounded good to all us at the time. Not just you. They're good at protectin', for sure. They're just a little... overzealous."
Rennen's ears prick in sudden understanding. Ahhh. He lurches a half-step to one side.
Eos glances around sharply at Rennen. "You okay? Been takin' care of yourself?"
Rennen's ears flicker. The spirits can be demanding.
Julen glances over Rennen's shoulder, and then to Rennen. ~In what sense?~
Rennen's tongue lolls nonchalantly. Disturb sleep. Natter. Bite like mosquitos. They have their reasons.
Julen asks, ~Such as...?~
Eos frowns, but leaves this one to her theurge counterpart.
Rennen's sides heave. Secrets which I must keep, alpha. Apologies.
Julen considers the jackal before her. ~Hm. As long as they are not secrets that we might not be able to help with. As long as they are not secrets that harm you.~
Rennen's tail droops slightly. There is only one thing which will help. The Hive. When it is vanquished, all will be well.
Julen's hand splays on the ground. ~Then it is just as well that will be our focus, in the coming months, yes?~
Rennen exposes a fang. Yes.
The Dancer chuckles. "Well, we'll need to pull this Sept together as more of a Sept... more planning, a bit more time interacting with the caern itself. And we'll need to have more than just me left to guard this place when the war party goes out." She pauses to examine her toes. "I'm not eager to play Glitters' part."
Julen gives Eos a long look. ~This is not something that had not occurred to me. More than just you to guard, especially, but also making sure that there are many centers to this community, with this being /one/ of them. We are building, yet.~ Suddenly rueful, she adds, ~Or was that obvious?~
Eos casts a glance to Julen with eyes still full of somewhat painful musing from her thoughts before. They clear and she smiles. "It's obvious, but who cares? It's just hard going. Didn't think I'd be starting over from scratch at my age, y'know?"
~Oh, believe me,~ Julen says, stretching her back again, ~I know the feeling. I thought that last one, I'd stay at forever...~
Eos looks up in the direction of the mountain's peak. "Well, I'm feelin' pretty stapled down here. Zelda didn't blow me off this mountain, I'm thinkin' nothin' will..."
Julen's gaze doesn't follow Eos'; instead, it remains on the other woman. ~I've thought of many places as home... But unless something dramatic happens, I think this may well be the last one. Strange journey, for certain. /Maine/, of all places...~
Kelsey's neatly-attired form is preceeded by the sound of footsteps, as she scrabbles with a slip and a stumble down the last bit of the terrace and arrives windblown and smiling.
Eos looks back to Julen and she smiles fondly at her old friend. "Well, it could be, you know, tropical. With all them big bugs flyin' around. Hated that, I did. By all accounts, Maine's not a bad place to retire to."
Julen raises herself upright, and smiles, herself. ~Weather's decent. Most of the time. I can't say as I object, strenously.~ After a moment, she shakes her head slightly, and adds, ~Evening, Kelsey. Care to announce we're starting?~
The Shadow Lord pushes her hair out of her eyes and lifts her chin slightly. "Yes, Ma'am." She shifts down to wolf form. Voice-of-Accord's clear bright howl reverberates off the Cathedral's trees like a pipe organ and resonates off the mountain itself, carrying far and wide. Friends of the Mountain's Heart, people of Haven! We Gather under the Moon!
Sometime after Kelsey's howl, Rowan comes skittering out of the Heart, a little wet, in lupus, and pads up to the Shadow Lord, nosing her gently.
Voice-of-Accord's long tail flags a fond greeting as Rowan pulls up. She nips at the side of his neck playfully, sniffing him over.
Rowan smells mostly of water, and trees, and sleep. ~Ow, hey, no biting. Well,~ he amends, after a moment, ~Not right /now/.~
Eos manages to catch her laugh, and turns away from the two younger Garou, whistling innocently.
Kelseys tail droops slightly as she catches the timber of the elder's tone, and suddenly she is intent on grooming herself.
Julen quirks a small smile and crouches down by the tree to wait again.
Rennen ghosts around the perimeter of the trees, keeping away from the others until his own part to play is needed.
A thin mist seems to be rising out of the ground tonight.
Rennen sniffs the air thoughtfully, testing currents. He looks towards Julen and Eos questioningly. How does it feel?
Sashenka steps into the Cathedral with a jug in each hand and a baby on her back, as well as a small entourage of provisions-carriers.
Dusty struggles into the clearing, laboring under the load of several sacks.
Andreas does not groan or complain in any way as he enters bearing multiple large jugs, but something about the way he tries to lay his burden down conveys the Platonic Ideal of 'put-upon and weary'.
Eos looks around as she roams the Cathedral. "Creepy," she replies to Rennen. "Active. It's still Samhain, really, no surprise there." She turns a smile upon the newcomers. "Welcome, welcome. Good t'see y'all."
Kelsey leaps up to go help Dusty, not without a bright smile in the direction of Sashenka and Eve. "Mama Bear -rhya." It's a title of teasing fondness, apparently. Then she's helping Dusty set down his burdens. "Goodness, I should've come back to help. Don't hurt yourself... here, let me get that..."
Julen murmurs, ~Active,~ and watches as Rowan shifts upards to homid and helps with the dragging. He's still a little wet, in places. Evidently, he was swimming.
Sashenka drops the jugs and waves at Kelsey.
Dusty smiles wearily, and says "Thanks, Kelsey. I'm O.k., just a little smaller than I remember sometimes."
Kelsey pats the boy's shoulder when she gets hands free. "Only in size, or so I'm told."
Rennen continues to wait in the shadows of a large tree, watching and observing.
Julen heads into the heart briefly, and returns with a candle and a bowl of water, which she sets at her feet. "Sashenka, is Lucas about, do you know?"
Eos cracks her knuckles and continues to pace around the Cathedral.
Dusty blushes at Kelsey's comment, and grins.
Sashenka looks over her shoulder, toward the trail. "Lucas? He was right behind us. Should be here any moment, I think."
Kelsey moves over to help Andreas, giving him a more subdued smile. "How are you, Rat's uncle?" she murmurs in a low voice. "Didn't know you were back in town."
Julen nods slightly, and crouches again.
Andreas gives Kelsey a wink and nod. "Just got back recently...been down to the coast, but thought I'd rather be inland for this special time of year. You've been well?"
The sound of a great deal of movement can be heard coming up the trail. What emerges from the screen of brush, however, is a very excited mongrel dog. He couldn't *possibly* have been making that much noise, could he?
Kelsey chuckles. "Well and good. Rowan keeps me out of too much trouble." She grins over at the Dancer.
Rowan, in lupus, gives Arslag a happy whuff of greeting.
The mongrel, whom some will recognize as the smith's dog, Arslag, begins to greet everyone in turn, his tail sweeping in wide, happy arcs.
Rennen barks a cordial greeting to Arslag, although he's careful to stay well away from the mutt.
Sashenka pats the mutt on the head with a laugh. "Well, here's Arslag. Lucas can't be far behind."
Dusty enthusiastically gives the mutt a hefty petting and a little tummy scritching.
The noise from the trail increases, until a very large man emerges, leading, not one, but two gigantic draft horses. It's a wonder how they made it up the narrow track from Chimney Pond -- they must be lighter on their feet than their looks -- and sounds -- would suggest. The bundle of food Sashenka asked the smith to bring looks tiny strapped over the withers on the lead horse "Hullo, hullo." Lucas scans the gathered crowd, smiling at familiar faces, and nodding politely at the unfamiliar ones.
Arslag rolls over under Dusty's ministrations, wriggling canine joy.
Julen rises from her crouch. "Welcome, Lucas," she murmurs. Straightening a bit, and leaning on her staff, she looks around the gathering. "Again, I do not call this a Moot. I call it a gathering, because we are more than Garou, this Gumi, and more than single individuals put together. But for the Garou, a Moot is a time of gathering. A time of reawakening our spirits. A time of re-dedicating ourselves to our Totems and to our purpose, both our new and our old one. This gathering --" She stops, smiling faintly. "This gathering is a time to say farewell to the dead, greet the living, and make ourselves stronger in the doing. We will change the wards, baptise the children, and call Totems. For whatever any of us call the Mother, and for the memory of the Glittering one and Rusalka." Her gaze turns to focus on Rennen.
Andreas nods in polite response to Lucas.
"You made it!" Kelsey exclaims, eyes widening at the horses. She moves towards them with something approaching worship lighting her face, an expression common enough on girls younger than her, and holds up her hands to their noses before moving around to the side to help Lucas unload. She quiets down as the ceremonies begin.
Harebell makes a go at biting Kelseys fingers, but Lucas, ever vigilant, elbows her in the neck and she doesn't follow through. Lucas murmurs a sheepish apology at Kelsey and glares at the mare.
Rennen settles elegantly in Sphinx-posture. It is traditional among some of our kind to begin such Gatherings with the Laws. Garou hold dear their Litany, but all hold some truths by which they live. Tonight I ask you to weigh one Law: its meaning, its use, its strengths or its flaws.
Sashenka points Lucas to the growing food pile, then moves toward Julen. She slips Eve, quiet but alert in her papoose, off her broad back, settling her into her arms.
Eos drops into a crouch near a tree, evidently because Julen is now standing up.
Rowan's ear tilts, watching Rennen intently.
A thin mist is rising from the ground in the evening's chill, and gathering among the trees.
Kelsey makes thats-all-right motions with her hands, eyebrows telegraphing amusement at Lucas, and strokes Campion's mane once before snagging a mug and a drink and settling down by Rowan.
Rennen pricks ears towards Sashenka and Lucas. On another night, perhaps one of you may share the guiding wisdom of your people. But tonight I choose one I know He stands to deliver it with a clear, sharp growl: Combat the Corrupter where it dwells and breeds.
Dusty approaches the gathering quietly, and slips to the ground, cross-legged. He sits attentively, waiting for whatever happens next.
Andreas folds his arms and widens his stance into a comfortable one, listening carefully to Rennen.
Rowan asks, shifting up to homid, apparently for ease in communicating with Dusty, "How d'you define combat, is the thing? Is creation and salvation a form of combat?"
Sashenka nods to Rennen, then glances back at Dusty. She steps back a pace and settles down next to him, quietly translating Rennen's words.
"Salvation is a form of combat," Eos points out. "You've got to fight the Corruption to save someone. Maybe it's all on a metaphorical level, rather than a physical one, but it's combat all the same."
Rowan nods. "An' -- so Corruptor -- I mean, I can tell it fine with my nose, but it's not /just/ the obvious stuff, yeah?"
Lucas sits comfortably crosslegged on the ground, the two horses together a warm mountain in the shadows at his back. Arslag senses the change in mood and retreats to flop at the smith's side, tongue lolling. This is the first time Lucas has met many of those gathered, and he studies each carefully in turn. One can almost see a horse's pricked ears in his alert attentiveness.
Sashenka nods. "Of course. It's the Corrupter one must destroy, not those it's corrupted. To bring one back -- that's a truer blow to the Corrupter than just destroying them."
Kelsey, as ever, is conflicted on this issue, or perhaps merely uncertain about the strange format of the Gathering, structured so differently than ones she knows. "The Corruptor means those who bring harm for harm's sake, pain for pain's sake, and taint Gaia's earth, plants, folk with sickness, despair, or rot. But we do not fight for the purpose of killing, or we become them. We fight for the purpose of defending those who need help."
Inclining her head, Julen agrees with Kelsey. "And we work to make the Corruptor less /necessary/, in the live of the world."
Rennen considers all of these answers with ear-flicks, thoughtful sniffs, vaguely approving of the direction of the words. To Sashenka he asks sharply: you say we must strike at the Corruptor, not those under its sway? How may this be done?
Sashenka shakes her head. "I say that to convert, to bring them back into the arms of the Mother, is the *best* way. Much of the time -- perhaps most of the time -- the best way is not open to us. But one must always take a life with a heavy heart."
Rowan looks around for Eve. "We got /proof/ it works, too. Proof in a new life, y'all. So. Keep converting, yeah?"
Sashenka, too, looks at the child in her arms as she finishes speaking.
Lucas looks curiously towards the baby. He keeps his questions patiently to himself, though, for now.
Kelsey looks keenly towards Sashenka. "Somehow," she whispers. "But it's a much harder thing to persuade than to vanquish." The sight of Eve, too, makes her relax, and she nods at Rowan's words.
Dusty lowers his head in thought, then responds, "Yeah, I mean... I agree. That's the best way. But there are so many of them to convince -- how can we convince them before they attack us?"
Julen murmurs, quite audible, "No one ever said life was easy," in Kelsey's direction, and then adds, "Sometimes, we cannot. And we must live with that fact. We Garou must, at least. It is not... An easy thing, as is obvious. But it is better than giving in."
Rennen's impassive gaze slowly pans around the gathering. Truths have been spoken. Let the Law dictate your actions, and your wisdom dictate the Law. He nods to Julen, his part in this apparently over.
Sashenka nods at Julen's words, saying quietly, "No, we must never give in."
The Alpha leans again onto her staff. "We gather as a group, as a group that knows each other, that knows the reasons for being here. But we must find those who have come since last we came together. Voluntarily, or from some other cause." She slides her glance to Kelsey.
Kelsey looks a little uncertainly back at Julen, coughs, and gets to her feet. She opens her mouth, then closes it and looks around. "Oh, right. Names, y'know? This place is built on people. Most of us know each other, but, not everybody, so, who the hell are you? Tell us something about yourself, maybe?" She grins, gaze falling first on Andreas.
Andreas clears his throat and takes a careful step closer into the middle. "Some here know me; a lot don't. Those I *do* know, I've learned to trust, and I'll extend that regard and not insult you with half-truths."
Rowan gives Andreas a fascinated look.
Eos turns her sharp gaze upon the big sailor.
Andreas folds his arms as if prepared to deliver bad news. "My name is Andreas; I was a searat. Merchantile...mostly, but I won't candycoat it. I've shed blood, and not all of it's been corrupted. Those days are behind me, and I hope I can put what I've learned, and what little I know through my bloodline, to use in helping this community."
Rowan mutters something under his breath.
Rennen pricks his ears towards Andreas thoughtfully.
Sashenka's mouth pinches momentarily, and she gives Andreas an appraising look. After a moment her face clears and she nods at the big man. "Thank you for your honesty, Andreas."
Rennen rises to his feet with a shudder, and perhaps for the first time to most, appears in the alien shape of a man. He covers his mouth with his hands, turning away, then drops fists to sides and faces the group with an expression like he'd bit into a sour pickle.
Andreas steps back, giving Sashenka a rueful look.
The Sentinel considers the searat thoughtfully. "I do not claim that all of the blood I have shed was entirely impure," and then gives Rennen a sharp look. "Strider?"
Eos nods to Andreas in a friendly fashion. "Everyone's got their skeletons, Andreas. Welcome." Her eyes swivel to the Sentinel, then on to the Strider.
Rennen speaks harshly. "For trust and honor given," he says with a thick accent that betrays some hint of Arabic beyond the telltale gruff growls, "I will speak what I am allowed by my oaths. Rennen means 'No-name' in words of human Striders. My true name left behind on my quest to this place. Half-moon I mind the Laws. I council fairness. I help the spirits of the dead let go, find rest, be quiet. I bury bones." He looks to the alpha keenly. "Even those of the Enemy. Dead, some may find their way back to Gaia."
Julen nods, slowly. "Indeed. Indeed they may," and leaves it at that.
Kelsey introduces herself shortly. "Kelsey Voice-of-Accord, Shadow Lord who overslept the alarm clock rather a lot." She manages to get that out almost cheerfully. "I used t'pack under unicorn. Now I'm just trying to figure out how one stupid Galliard can find a way to redeem her whole lost tribe. And help here, because you folks are good people, and some of you are all the family I've got now." Her eyes rest particularly in Sashenka's direction, but of course she's planted at Rowan's side.
Rowan volunteers, teeth not even gritted at the Shadow Lord part, "Rowan Congreve. Shadows the Edges, to folks with non human tongues. Garou, Spiral Dancer, and anchor. And, um, part of Kelsey's family. I'm from 20 miles down the road, originally."
Eos stands and says in a voice that seems accustomed to carrying over long distances, "Eos Azure-Sky's-Glory, Spins-Dreams-in-the-Morning's-Light, Light-in-Dark-Places, Sun's-Beams-from-Within, Crone of the Spiral Dancers, Singer under the Gibbous Luna, Child of Helios, Daughter of Deirdre Wyrm's-Death-on-Wheels, former Chief Herald of the Baron of Underhill, Kumi-Mother to Lee Horse-Child, and Spinner of the Long Tale of the Long Night. My home for many years was fairly south of here." After that rather long-winded speech, of which she fails to have the grace to be embarrassed, she begins to pace around the periphery again. Those she passes near may catch a very low musical humming from her as she does her rounds.
Kelsey watches the Old One with some awe, although doubtless she's heard this before.
Sashenka grins at Kelsey, then pushes herself ip onto her knees, still holding the baby in one large arm. "I'm Sashenka Mkonikan, of the Solar Mkonikans. From Connecticut. I'm Gather's Gaia's Milk in the tongue of our Mother. And some -- she smiles at Kelsey again -- call me Mama Bear. I run the Ursa Diner in town, so I think just about everyone's run into me. Remember, if you ever need anything, I'm here to help." She starts to sit back down, then reconsiders and lifts the baby up for all to see.. "And this is Eve. The newest member of our family." Then she sits.
Dusty suddenly realizes that it's his turn. The boy shifts uncomfortably, then offers "Uh, I'm Dusty. I make stuff and fix things. And like to help out, if I can. And learn from everybody, if they'll teach me. That's about it."
Lucas takes the cue and climbs to his feet, clearing his throat. His stance is confident and open. "Ah am Lucas Destrier, now called Lucas Maker, lately of the Gumi of Tengri's Light in the Black Hills. Ah'm a Smith by trade and by heart, taught to work steel and kelet by Berkejin Maker, who now runs with Tengri's mares. Ah'm here because it was time to leave home." He grins, showing string, white teeth. He casts a glance over his shoulder, and the two gigantic horses step forward into the light. "This would be Campion, also of the Destriers and Kin to me, though distant," he says, his hand under the massive jaw of the bay. The other, a bald-faced roan, he introduces as Harebell, of the Heavystrider Clan. "And I reckon you've all met Arslag, by now," he grins. The dog grins at the sound of his name, but unlike the horses, he is clearly just a dog. "We're all of us looking for a home," he says simply. "We're all of us ready to build, and to protect, and to teach -- and also to fight, and to kill, and to die, if need be." His low baritone takes on an edge of purpose as he finishes. The two horses lower their heads, looking at the faces across the fire with clear intelligence -- and no little challenge. Then they back easily into their places and Lucas sits back down.
Kelsey's galliard eloquence slips when she's not paying attention, and her only response is a muttered, "Oh, wow."
Julen gives Lucas, and then the horses, a fascinated glance. "Building and protecting, teaching and fighting, these we all of us do. Welcome." Looking around the gathering, she then adds, quietly, but audibly, "Most of you know me already, but I am Julen. Constance Juliana Brown, officially, but I don't believe anyone's called me that in more years than I can remember. The Fire in the Dusk, Weaver of Silken Cords of Fire and Earth, and a few more, to those who need more descriptive names. I brought the water back to Colorado, and I remade the Sword that is not a Sword." A shadow of something passes over her eyes, and she adds, "Ethan Drives-His-Point-Home-Firmly was my mate, before he passed beyond, and the Sword was his before it was the Sentinels'. I have been daughter of Badger, of Eagle, and of the desert itself, and my, was that a dry time. I am Garou, Gaian Sentinel, theurge, and, apparently, Alpha of the Mountain's Heart. Before this, I've been Alpha of one Caern and Warder of four, and I have never, so far as I know, been to Maine before." There's a pause, and she adds, a little wryly. "It's rather a nice place, all things considered. Think I'll stay."
Sashenka listens to Lucas attentively, and when he is done turns her eyes toward Julen with some reluctance.
Kelsey looks a flummoxed at the alpha's casual last words, having been listening with the eyes-down, rigid attention of a cliath before her betters. "Um," she says. "And there's Eve." She looks to Julen questioningly before offering, "I've made a song for her, and for her Mom, for tonight."
Julen's attention sharpens. "Sing, and we will listen. Sing, and it will become a part of this place."
Sashenka makes a small motion with her arms, offering the baby to Kelsey, if she would like to hold her while she sings.
Lucas looks intently from Sashenka to the baby and back again, trying to make the connection.
Like an actor stepping onto the stage, Kelsey steps up to Sashenka with a smile and a surer stride, taking Eve with practiced care and stroking her hair to soothe before she launches into the song. She bounces the baby gently in time to the beat of her voice.
A cry of need to the woodland people;
Mother clutching child with her dying strength.
Where has she come from? How came she here?
The Raven-girl finds her fallen in the forest,
Calls the summons, help comes quickly.
Who is she? Child-bearing child. Brave girl,
So young a mother, slave to cruel masters,
Freed by Lilith's aid and Bear's lost daughter.
So weak now, starved and broken,
But not in spirit, not while she
Can still put her baby's life before her own.
Rowan, deprived of someone to stand beside, shifts on his feet while he listens.
The Galliard's eyes slip towards Rowan, singling him out as she picks up speed:
We honored her courage, we who came to help,
With all the kindness and speed we could,
Carrying her to the village, rest, safety,
Trying to save her and child both.
Hold on, young Mother! We'll take you to Bear's Haven.
No use. Water, food, nothing could keep her.
She lived just long enough to entrust the child to us.
Rowan looks down, hands clenching.
Sashenka notes Lucas' confusion and gives him an amused smile before turning back to the song. Kelsey's song, though, quickly wipes the smile away.
The smith's patience is rewarded with enlightenment. Lucas' open face reflects his thoughts clearly as he learns from the Galliard's song.
Kelsey tries to keep harshness from her voice, but it shows in the bars of her brows knit together as she recounts the battle.
Nor did the Foe let her die in peace
But sent spirits of silver to claim her soul,
And the baby too, if they could!
Garou claws forbade them, fought them,
And all their claim on the child was lost
When the Strider, Layla, gave her a name from Gaia, called it brightly:
Daughter of Theresa, Lilith's fosterling,
Born for a brighter day,
Weaned on mother's sacrifice,
Ward to us all.
Mother lies buried by the brook, well-honored;
We are your mothers, your fathers now,
Little one. And you are our bright future.
Rowan's hands continue to clench and unclench.
Kelsey's voice lowers to a soothing lullabye's timber as she sings the last words not to the Gathering, but to the baby, smiling down at her
When Kelsey began, Eos froze into a pose of reverential listening. At the end, her tension relaxes and she nods approval -- the habit of one who was Chief Herald for too long.
Sashenka's eyes shift from the face of the Galliard to the infant and back again, eyes glowing with fierce affection for them both.
Somewhat reluctantly, Kelsey drops to one knee by Sashenka and offers the quiet child back to her.
Julen does not speak for some time, after this. When she does, her voice is slightly hoarse. "And it is for such as those that we gather, tonight. For such as those that we gather, to gain strength, that we may reclaim as many of them as possible." Julen pauses. A little more intently, she adds, "That we may /help/ as many of them, in that Hive, in that place where Eve is from, as possible. This is why we gather. Thank you, Kelsey. For reminding us." She looks about to say more, but stops for a moment, watching the two women.
Eve grips a strand of Kelsey's hair stubbornly for just a moment, then releases it to return to Sashenka.
The Galliard reddens and drops her eyes slightly; she's a little flushed after her bardic improvisations. The baby's tiny fingers, predictably, are weapon enough to contort Kelsey's whole face into one of smitten adoration.
"This Eve, she is one of the reasons we are here tonight. For we will baptise her into her new world, baptise her into her new life, with us, with this place." The Sentinel looks particularly at Sashenka and Rennen as she says this. "We will baptise, as we say goodbye to the spirits of the unquiet dead, in the Wards. They have served for long and more than long, and in this time of the restless dead, it is time to let them go, to their rest." Julen pauses, and picks up the bowl of water. She begins to pace around those gathered here. Voice taking on a certain resonance, she goes on, "And we welcome Skunk, the spirit of this place. We open the place for him, and his brothers, if they wish to come. His brothers in stealth and protection, in defense and love. We open this place for the spirits, tonight, and for all nights.
Sashenka smiles and gives Kelsey's hand a quick, gentle squeeze before reclaiming the infant.
Rennen has meanwhile slipped off to the heart of the caern during the singing, and at Julen's summoning, his deep, eerie howl is heard to reverberate off the treetops.
A thin waft of lemony musk drifts over the assemblage. There is a slight scurrying above and few pinecones drop from the conifers of the Cathedral.
The mist thickens among the trees.
Sashenka looks around, sniffing the air.
Kelsey does her best not to wrinkle her nose at the scent. The second pinecone catches her eye, and she peers upwards suspicously, searching for black-feathered thieves.
Dusty suddenly looks up, startled. His surprise melts into fear, then familiarity, and he seems to follow something moving into the trees. He whispers, "Welcome, friend."
Rennen reemerges from the direction of the pool walking slowly and carefully, a bowl of water clutched rather like a food dish in his jaws.
Julen continues to pace around the circle, smiling faintly at the musk. And the pinecone. Sprinkling water as she goes, she continues, "We welcome you, that we may do what we must, in these days to come. We welcome you, that we may protect this place, and that you may become part of us, and we of you." She pauses, a slight sparkle coming into her eyes, and she dumps about half the bowl of water on Eos. She murmurs something quietly to her, and continues along her route, beginning to hum rather than speak.
Long distance to Eos: Julen murmurs, "Well, he's a trickster, after all..."
A weird trumpeting bellow bounces off the mountainside. It disturbs the horses.
Sashenka jumps, clutching Eve more closely to her chest and murmuring quietly in the baby's ear to calm her.
Eos begins to squawk in protest, and then, at Julen's words, breaks into a most undignified cackle. She murmurs something in reply, and follows Julen, joining the hum.
From afar, Eos mutters gleefully, "I'll be sure to remember to live in the spirit of a trickster sometime soon."
Dusty shifts uncertainly at the sound, but holds his place.
Andreas's hand has a small sharp object in it the second the bellow begins. That, and a lifted eyebrow, is his only reaction.
Lucas startles. Rising to his feet, he moves to stand between the horses' heads, his eyes on the two elders -- if they are not alarmed, neither will he be, although he is wary. Arslag, possibly unwisely trots bravely into the brush to investigate.
Kelsey turns her eyes in the direction of the noise, suddenly tense again. "What the?" she whispers.
The Sentinel shoots a delighted glance to Eos, and then she stops completely at the bellow. "Well," she says, delighted, "More than just squirrel are coming." She begins humming again, and somehow, it sounds like an echo of that bellowing trumpet, protective and stubborn. Her staff lies on the ground, forgotten, near the candle; she herself is beginning something resembling a dance, to her own rhythm. She offers the bowl to Dusty, gesturing for him to sprinkle the water.
There is a thrashing sound of bushes being shaken or trampled from the south.
Sashenka stands, a slow smile spreading across her broad face. She begins to sway gently, and joins her voice with Julen and Eos' humming.
Rennen sets his bowl down with great care and makes an odd deep clucking grunt in the back of his throat like that of a dog getting its back vigorously rubbed.
Julen manages to sound quite like a moose, for at least a moment, and the dancing is a thing that's both summoning and releasing, summoning to Totems, and weaving release into her movements, release for those dead, an ethereal sort of thing almost out of place for this dignified and experienced woman.
A tall, tall form shambles through the trees to the south, weaving its way towards them among the trunks. Oddly, it seems to resemble one of them, and the reason becomes clear as it draws nearer. It's a tree itself, tall and skinny and gnarled with rough skin, its branches all burned off from a recent lightning strike that gashes one side, the other still bearing sweeping limbs and needles. A pine of some ilk. It leaves the ground in its wake upturned and disturbed like the furrow of a plow.
Dusty uncertainly takes the bowl from Julen, and stares at it for a moment. He rises slowly, then, with a shiver of resolve, begins to sprinkle the water around the ground, from person to person then off towards the woods.
Sashenka stops swaying and stands stock-still, staring, her mouth agape.
Dusty looks over his shoulder, notices the new visitor, and freezes in his tracks. He grips the bowl with white knuckles, his shivers involuntarily continuing his sprinkling duty.
Figures begin to coalesce out of the mist.
Arslag returns at a dead run, with his tail between his legs. Behind him appears an awkward silhouette: blunt face, dangling dewlap, shaggy body, and a massive rack of antlers with spade-like tips. Another trumpet blast breaks from there.
The pause in Julen's dance is almost unnoticeable, except that after her pause, her rhythm is entirely different, rather more firm, slower, older, somehow.
Kelsey looks from one apparition to the other in shock, and glances furtively at everyone else like someone at a formal dinner trying to decide which fork to use. "Um. Is that supposed to happen?"
Sashenka's gaze twitches momentarily toward the newcomer, but her attention is all on the great tree. She takes a step toward it. "Welcome, Old One.
Rowan mutters, "Probably not. Since when's this surprise you, around here?"
A pinecone drops directly on Lucas' head. Then a few others scatter in a line away from that area.
The tree halts at the invisible edge of the Cathedral with a soft shiver of branches. Those who know gifts for the tongues of beasts, or of spirits, may get some impression of thought, of intent behind the sigh of wind in its needles, as faint and gentle as the walking oak's voice was booming and imperious. Not the One. Not the Old. I come only to Witness.
Lucas, seeing the dancers have not yet finished, moves toward the Moose. He halts several feet away and gives a formal, very Asian-looking bow. "Welcome, Honored One," he states. At the pinecone's atttack, he winces and glances upwards into the trees.
Julen's humming increases again, in response to that blast from the one with the antlers, and then there's a chittering trill in there, an amused darting greeting to the tree-climbing enabled. Her dance is still for the old one, but it is beginning to take on the air of releasing again, of bidding farewell to something.
Moose moves forward at Lucas' obeisance and seems to be inspecting the big man carefully.
The figures around the Cathedral have come to some semblance of coherence: an entire town surrounds the caern's caretakers. They seem... unhappy.
Sashenka cocks her head to one side, perplexed. "Well. Whoever you may be, you are an honored guest."
Through force of will, Dusty wrenches his head from the giant tree, and he continues on his path, spreading water for all the coming guests.
Julen's dance continues; as she comes back to where she began, she picks up her candle and lights it with a brief moment of concentration, holding it up towards those figures aroun the Cathedral in some kind of acknowledgement and thanks.
Several figures manifest around Julen, as she is clearly leading the ritual. The coherence of their shapes shudder with effort as one manages to speak aloud in stentorian tones: "We protect the caern."
Kelsey doesn't know where to look, but after a swallow moves towards the moose and drops into something that might be a curtsey if she were the skirt-wearing type.
Rennen stalks among and around people, eyes focussed on the shadowy shapes. He stops and turns towards them with ears pricked, hackles bristling from the energy in the air.
Julen's humming cuts off, and her dance becomes something she does in one place. "You protect. You have protected for a long time. It is time to let others protect, to let us release you to join those who are awake in this time, who are awake and yet ready to leave again. It is time to finish the journey you long ago began."
There is another shudder, all through the group of ghosts in the Cathedral. The tones are more chilling than before: "We died to protect this place. This place is still in danger. You gave us the ability to protect this place for so short a time, as you know time; now you want us to leave?"
Rennen looks towards them intently. Our strength is gathering, as you see. We would not ask the Dead to stay longer than barest need. You have more than earned rest. Be free.
Dusty steps lightly among the visitors, holding the bowl of water out as an offering. He repeats a steady whisper, "Welcome."
Sashenka's attention is finally snagged by the ghosts behind her. She backs away from the tree and turns, careful not to show disrespect by turning her back on it. She listens intently to both sides of the debate, but does not yet speak.
Rowan's hands start flexing again.
Julen doesn't react appreciably, though her tones become somewhat flatter, briefly, until the music arrives again. "You protect, but you keep out those who would join us. You protect, but you drive some away. You protect, but you do not let this become home." She sounds almost apologetic, but she also seems to need to speak truth, here. With some measure of compassion, she goes on, "You have had a long pause in your journey; it is not /right/ of us to keep you longer, for our /own/ selfish aims. We would protect in the way we are able, with Wards that are not made of those who mourn, and those who should be given the rest they deserve. You have the right to be free, and the need to be free. Take it, with our love and our friendship."
Lucas has one ear cocked on the proceedings with the ghosts, but the rest of him is attentive to Moose. He seems to have placed himself at the Spirit's disposal.
Moose turns from considering Lucas to considering Kelsey.
A squirrel -- a grey and brown blur, actually -- drops from the trees and lands on Andreas' shoulder.
The two horses move of their own accord to stand near Sashenka. Apparently coincidentally, the bulk of their mass is between her and the ghosts which ring the circle.
Kelsey is rather unnerved by the ghosts, but flashes the Moose Spirit a smile. "Um. Nice to meet you. Don't suppose you'd be Thidwick, hunh?
The ghosts almost flicker out of sight with effort: "WE DO NOT WISH REST. WE WISH TO PROTECT. THERE ARE THOSE WE MUST DRIVE AWAY, WHO YOU DO NOT KNOW OF. WE MUST PROTECT." The ghosts all take up this last phrase, so that a cacophony of voices rises to the very treetops.
Moose looks around at them and flicks its tail.
Sashenka glances curiously at the horses, then turns back to the ghosts, looking over the beasts' backs. "You have served the Mother so well, and for so long. It's time for you to rejoin her dance, to move into your new lives. No spirit should be tethered so long to one place. Go, friends, go and serve anew. There will be work for you, never fear. There will be new lives, new places to protect. If you stay here, who will protect those who wait for you now?"
Rennen's ears flatten against his skull, and he crouches against the ground.
Julen's candle flickers with the strength of her exhalation, with the strength of her attempt not to take a step back. "Who, then, do you protect against? Who do you drive away?"
Through all this, the solitary Tree stands like a black and crooked lighthouse at the edge of the caern. Its needles tremble at the ghosts' vehemence. It exudes some calm, an anchoring peace, from its slender form.
A single young girl's voice breaks through the noise. "If we go, you'll let HER in."
Sashenka turns her head, looking for the source of this voice.
Andreas flies in the face of all logic by seeming more relaxed, not less, but the sudden presence of cold little claws on his shoulder. He reaches up carefully, some color coming back to his face.
Julen's attention moves to that voice, and she begins walking in the general direction of the voice, making assumptions as she goes. "We will. We will let the raven in. The raven belongs here. The raven is one of us. That is not something that will change. She is part of us. We are part of her."
The chant stops, and then the ghost's voices rise in an incoherent mutter of agreement with the girl.
Sashenka stands on tiptoe, peering over the horse's back, then stands back down. She looks for someone standing nearby to ask quietly, "What have they got against Niska?"
Kelsey growls. "She may have disgusting habits," the Galliard says grudgingly, "but she does help us against the Enemy."
The ghost voices rise to shrieks and the temperature in the Cathedral plummets well below freezing. The is indescribable, more inside the head than outside. Finally, one passionate voice shouts the others down so that it can be heard in words: "FOOLS! FOOLS all of you! She KILLED us! We died at the hands of the Corrupted, but SHE killed us. We died under torture and did not betray the secret of this caern, which you would FREELY give away to HER. She killed us, sweet Mother, she betrayed us all for the sake of that handsome bastard."
Sashenka holds Eve more closely to her bosom.
Rowan practically cringes, as he looks for Kelsey reflexively, protectively.
Julen shivers. Her whole body shivers, several times, but she does not move. "I would know of this handsome bastard. I would know of what you speak. But know this, and know this now. /She/ is not that one. She is /herself./ She is /part/ of us, and I will /not/ have her rejected because she has memories of that one. She is /ours/. She /will/ come. And you /will/ leave, or you will let her in.
Dusty collapses to his knees, and a large splash moves most of the remaining water in the bowl to the ground before him. He shutters with fear.
Kelsey pales at that, suspicions creeping back into her face. She shoots Julen a doubtful look. "Um. Maybe they know what they're talking about? And do we really have Wards in the works good enough to justify getting rid of these people?"
"MEMORIES BE DAMNED!" And this time, the voice is an older man. "Are you so FUCKING BLIND? A hundred years ago, we saw her pass above. A hundred years ago, we knew she betrayed us. A hundred years ago, she looked exactly as she does now. Her memories are her own. Our memories are OUR own. We died protecting this place that she betrayed. We WILL NOT yield it to her."
Wincing slightly at the spirit's volume, Lucas chimes in from the sidelines. "The... Shadow Lord (an eyebrow raises here, promising more questions about that later) does have a valid point," he says reasonably. "Perhaps it would be prudent to investigate further?"
Arslag crowds the smith's ankles, his tail curled under him.
Julen doesn't quite have anywhere to focus on, but she's standing, looking into the crowd, still shivering. Voice falling lower, for the first time sounding confused, she almost whispers, "But Niska. She is not the Glittering one. Is she?"
Rennen steps forward, posture suddenly rigid. Peace, he commands the spirits. Your concerns are heard. But a burden held too long has made you howling and angry and bitter. This is the voice of death, not life. Listen to yourselves. You have passed beyond reason, into pain. Go further, and you will begin to harm the place you died loving. So rest. Rest quiet. Let the living care for this place now that it is coming to life, and know you will not be forgotten--nor will your warnings against the feathered one.
Moose seems to be eyeing all this without a qualm in the world. Squirrel cuddles close to Andreas and picks through the few remaining strands of the searat's hair curiously.
Sashenka looks sharply at Julen, then shakes her head. As quietly as she can and still be heard over the horses' backs, she says, "If even you have doubts, how can you tell them to go? And it's clear that they won't leave, so unless you can force them, perhaps we should wait and see, as Lucas suggests."
There is a confused, agitated muttering among the ghosts. A woman's voice breaks out of the confusion to say, "What does All-That-Glitters have to do with it? SHE was a faithful guardian! SHE devoted her life to this caern, and while SHE stayed here, it was secret and safe, so our sacrifice was not in vain. Now you speak of letting the betrayer in and you DARE invoke her name?"
"Honored One," Lucas addresses the Moose quietly. "This is your burqan-qaldun -- your sacred mountain, and your nutuq. Do you know of the matter of which the honored dead speak?"
Julen's confusion deepens, but she seems somewhat less uncertain than a moment ago. She shakes her head at Sashenka. "We will find the reasons," she murmurs, and then turns back to focusing on a crowd. "Will you tell me, then, who the betrayer was? It was not Rusalka. It was not the Glittering one. Whose memories does Niska have, this five year old raven have, that she is not allowed here, she who become a part of this place, of the Mountain's Heart?"
The woman's voice "For a hundred years, we've watched her. For hundred years, she's been unable to leave the place of her betrayal. For hundred years, she's stayed here. We don't understand. We only know. NISKA betrayed us! NISKA killed us all!" A loud wail follows the words, a terrible, inarticulate expression of condemnation and curse. And the figures vanish, and those who are sensitive to such things know, beyond a doubt, that the ghosts have returned to the Wards.
Rennen sags and looks to Julen with eyes half-closed. The matter will be judged and weighed, alpha. We will find the answer. Let it be for now. One cannot budge the Dead, save by answering their need. Will is all they have left.
Julen says, with no little asperity, in among her half terrified shivers, "Her /who/?" This is something of a rhetorical question, and it shows, but she needs to ask it nonetheless. After a moment, she nods to Rennen. "By protecting, and by rooting out this Hive. And other places." In a swift movement, she's reclaimed her staff, and is then looking from squirrel to moose, a silent question in her eyes and her posture
Eos finally manages to move from the place where she had held herself, stiffly, among the ghosts. She kneels next to Dusty and lays a warm hand on his back.
Andreas whistles lowly and absent-mindedly reaches up to scritch Squirrel's belly.
Moose finally looks to Lucas, as the ghostly psychodrama draws to a close, and says, simply, ~Yes.~
Sashenka chews at her lip, considering, but the issue seems to be resolved before she needs to speak. Quietly, she says to the horses, "Thank you." Then she turns back to the walking tree, looking at it gravely. "Have you witnessed what you came here for?"
Kelsey finds herself still on the ground and shakily picks herself up, throwing her shoulders back and attempting a wan smile. "Good grief, and I thought Grandma was scary when she was crossed."
Dusty startles at Eos' touch, but calms once he comprehends who it is. His voice blank, he states simply "I don't understand."
Eos rubs his back gently. "I don't think any of us do, really, Dusty. It's all right. They've gone."
Julen leans on her staff, somewhat heavily. "Just when I think I understand, I don't understand anymore. Fascinating place, this." Moose gets a raised eyebrow, a silent encouragement.
Dusty looks straight into Eos' eyes and asks, pleadingly, "But what do we do when we see Niska again? Do we talk, or do we run?"
Arslag, reassured by Lucas' touch and the ghosts' withdrawal, trots over to the horses and begins shouldering them back to their places at the edge of the ring. It's ludicrous, really, as the dog doesn't even come up to their knees, but they move along amiably enough.
Sashenka takes a few steps back, still facing the tree, but close enough to Dusty to, perhaps, be some comfort.
Andreas winces and watches Eos closely, wonder how this particular question will get fielded.
"Can you help us understand?" Lucas asks the Moose quietly, politely, with the tone of an apprentice to a Master.
Eos sighs and looks thoughtful for a moment. Then she meets Dusty's gaze and says, "We talk. We don't run. She was here, remember, when Glitters gave this place to ALL of us."
Rowan mutters, "And she's five years old, dammit."
Rennen suggests simply: we tell her not to come here. We seek out the truth.
Moose gazes down upon Lucas. He rumbles, thoughtfully, ~If she was here when the Keeper passed the caern, then the Keeper must've had a reason.~ He pauses, thoughtfully, for a long time. ~The Keeper was here when they died. She would remember.~
Julen considers this thoughtfully. "We will try and find her reason." Glancing around, she adds, "Niska is part of this Gumi. We will speak to her. We will continue to be part of her people. But we will find answers. We will find," she nods to Rennen, "The truth. Whatever it may be. And meanwhile --" She breaks off, and looks between the two animals, for some kind of affirmation. "Squirrel, Moose, you are with us, and with Skunk?"
Sashenka finally shrugs and gives up on the silent tree, turning her attention to Moose and Squirrel.
The tree rustles again, sending a certain element of quiet, the dusky sound of wind in branches on late summer afternoons, and then begins to depart whence it came.
Moose inclines his head imperiously. Squirrel looks up from grooming Andreas and chitters briefly. Skunk, who has been lurking in the trees all this time, ambles off into the woods, muttering, ~Like *I* can't do it myself, no, they have to come back to take up room and time and *attention* and *they'll* get all the thanks, no thanks for Skunk, no, no, just a wrinkled nose and ... mutter... mutter... mutter... ~
Rennen turns smoothly towards the aggrieved Skunk. We are not fool enough to forget the one who came alone, guarded first. We are not fools enough to forget your power.
Julen inclines her head to all three spirits, even the departing one, and murmurs, ~A friendly hand in aid is never amiss, Skunk. My thanks, to all three of you.~
Dusty lets out an enourmous sigh, and the tension that grips his small frame lightens somewhat. He gives Eos a sad smile, and says "Thanks for comforting me. This is all very strange to me." He stumbles up and walks to Sasha.
Moose eyes Lucas again thoughtfully, then turns ponderously and shambles off into the trees.
Squirrel dangles from Andreas' earlobe for a moment before chittering something at the searat and bounding off.
Rennen howls a low throbbing farewell to the spirits, and then settles back into silent thought.
Lucas bows to Moose as the spirit retreats, and then returns to his patch of ground near his Kin to see what happens next.
Eos helps Sasha and Dusty break out the vast stores of food for the group. "Feasting's good for the soul," she says. "And so's Sasha's beer." She takes a swig from a jug and begins to pass it around.
Rowan shifts down to lupus, and pads over to Kelsey. After nosing her, he howls, much as he did last Moot. This howl, tonight, is far less enthusiastic than it was at the last gathering; there's an element of question, an element of uncertainty. And yet, he can't dampen his joy and his strength completely. That done, he pads back over to Kelsey and curls up nearby.
Rennen declines most of the food but, out of politeness, takes water and some meat and carries the latter off to gnaw upon.
Kelsey breaks out of an introspective scowl, probably mulling over the enigma of Niska, but forces a smile back on herself and grins down at Rowan. "Nothing is simple, even nowadays."
Rowan snorts. Nothing's ever simple. But we got more Totems. So it can't be /all/ bad. Now we just gotta plan for the Hive, soon.
Rennen shudders once. Yes.
Lucas has no trouble feasting. One of the horses carried up a bale of hay along with the homid-food, and this he spreads for them before settling himself companionably near the others partaking of the post-Moot picnic.