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Chapter 1

Coreolyn had no weapons, armor, nor any great skill, save for an amazing talent for escaping. Now, even that skill seemed to be failing him. He as was cornered by Goblins. How it galled him to go this way after having escaped this very same goblin lair twice. He had killed scores of these vermin. Often he had sent several these grotesque critters to their deaths with a single sweep of his blade. Now he could see no hope. He was chained to a wall and surrounded by a sea of the puny foul creatures.

Rage unlike any he had ever felt before, swelled into his veins. He knew his rage would be his death sentence as it clouded his cunning. Cruel knives, swords, and arrows pierced him from every angle for what seemed an eternity. He felt shame for this display of hostility as it only served to excite the goblins more. He took particular note of a Hobgoblin guard that stared directly back into his eyes. Coreolyn tried to project rage at the laughing drooling guard. The guard responded by wiping his bloody blade with his hand and smeared it on Coreolyn's face.

He no longer cared. It was apparent that he would die without any shred of dignity. Never to understand why Ashlyn, the only woman he had ever loved, stood quietly next to Lindornea. Lindornea, an Archdruid of the High Forest that had allowed his capture by this evil horde. Lindornea talked calmly to an evil priest of Malos.

* * * * *

Ashlyn's terror was tempered only by her faith. Standing in the goblin hold and watching Coreolyn tortured before being sacrificed had her well beyond emotional limits. It wasn't long before she felt herself numb to the events around her. Her entire focus was upon the chant of the ritual she was participating in. Dawn, a fellow initiate of the circle held her hand with strength and Ashlyn returned her grip.

* * * * *

Coreolyn closed his eyes for what he thought would be the last time, when the evil priest shouted impossibly loud in the goblin's foul language. Coreolyn did not understand the one word command, but he felt the magic contained in it. As quick as the priest shouted, the frenzied attack stopped instantly. Coreolyn forced a blood-filled eye open in the strange ensuing silence.

A rhythmic drum began to pound in the distance. The small army of goblinoid creatures began to chant to their cruel god. The druids formed a circle at the back and began a chant around a large pile of oak leaves. The army of goblins spun around and crushed backwards into Coreolyn's legs. As in the back of the large cavern, a colorful mist began to swirl next to a brilliant flame that grew beside it.

Coreolyn's vision was blurred by blood, and he could not see what was happening. Once again the priest spoke the same impossibly loud command. Coreolyn gave up his final hope as he watched the army part and the priest walk towards him. The priest carried a jagged rusted dagger raised with two hands in an obviously ceremonious nature. The druids, including Ashlyn, walked behind him carrying a small plain coffin.

Coreolyn let himself numb to the experience as the young druids placed the coffin at his feet. He had no fight left as the young hands lowered him from the chains. They brought his chest to rest upon the coffin and held either an arm or a leg behind him. His head hung low over the end of the coffin, just above a large blood stained bowl. The stench was worse than Coreolyn could bare. He waited anxiously for death.

The priest raised Coreolyn's head by the hair and continued shouting in his grunting language. The crowd shouted simultaneously the goblin command that Coreolyn knew was his death. He felt little as the goblin sliced his throat and his last breath spattered out blood through his throat. He did remain conscious long enough to hear the druids begin a chant, as his contorting and flailing body sent a final racking of pain to shudder through his mind.

Coreolyn seemed to float above his body. He watched as the priest and the goblin army walked in an awkward procession before the flame. Coreolyn realized he could see the within flame clearly now. He saw clearly a great black lion within the flame. The lion was at least ten times the size of the largest lion he had ever come across. The lion roared with pleasure at the sight of his minions gift of Coreolyn's life-blood to Malos.

As the demon-lion looked up, he could see Coreolyn floating above the still contorting body that the druids continued chanting over. The lion suddenly howled in rage and the mist interceded.

Coreolyn in his present form could see through the mist now and he beheld a woman whose vitality outshone her beauty. Green Oak leaves wove through her golden hair. Her delicate body was suggestively exposed beneath shear veils of blue, green, and yellow.

Both the woman and the Lion filled the cavern with sounds that none present understood. The goblins fell to the ground in fear. The druids quickly placed his now still body on the rocky floor. They opened the coffin and Coreolyn thought he saw something green within. He realized that what ever he was now, outside of his body, it was the focus of the argument between these two overwhelming powers.

Ashlyn was deep into the druid chant of re-incarnation. She felt the battle between her emotions and her faith dissipate, though the powers of the servants of Malos and Silfyn contested one another. Ashlyn knew the only hope of avoiding chaos between the over-righteous great spirit, Pajeas and the destructive great spirit, Malos, lay in her prayers to Silfyn. It was the servant of Silfyn, Drewsus, that currently parleyed for Coreolyn's spirit. Balar, a servant of Malos, obviously held objections.

As suddenly as it began, the argument ceased, when the Lion that was Balar, howled in laughter. The woman in the mist turned from the Lion. After a moment's pause she threw a glowing wind from her finger into the Great druid who knelt before the head of the flailing body. The wind glowed with magic as it swirled around the Archdruid. Coreolyn had learned to hat the old hag as she appeared to have been his ultimate betrayer.

The glowing wind blew about the elderly woman, her tightly bound hair loosened. Her appearance seemed to transform back to her youth. Strength, and life began to fill in the deep and dry crevasses that lived upon her face. Coreolyn found himself spellbound as a beautiful young half-elf, that looked amazingly like Ashlyn, appeared slowly in the place where the old hag knelt. She stood and looked directly at him floating above his body. Coreolyn saw something he never thought to see coming from the Lindornea, compassion. Coreolyn knew that though he felt an empathetic attraction for this vision before him, that indeed it was the old hag, when she said that damnable phrase, "It must be this way."

Coreolyn vowed never to believe the tears he saw welling up in her eye's. It was at that moment she turned to the body in the coffin and touched it upon the head. The wind left Lindornea in the form of a mist through her outstretched arm and swirled about the body. Lindornea reappeared as her old haggard self.

Coreolyn looked at the body. The skin was a blood stained green. The head large and lumpy. The heavily muscular legs were disturbingly short for the body which puffed out offensively above them. It was at this moment he realized that he was in the body at which he looked. He stared at his disgusting green hands from inside the opened coffin! He couldn't remember when he had ceased to float.

When he thought he tried to say, "What in the Nine Hells?" A croaking vulgar gag came out of his throat, and the massive lion Balar laughed hysterically. Gratefully to Coreolyn, life finally seemed to go black.

* * * * *

It was when Coreolyn realized that he was remembering it going black, that he awoke. He felt himself lying in a soft bed of leaves. By the sway of the room, he knew he was high in an outer limb of the great oak tree named Norma. Before opening his eyes, he knew in which of the many guest chambers he awoke.

When he did open his eyes he saw, that his skin was indeed green. He couldn't stop the phlegm coming from both his nose and mouth as he sobbed uncontrollably. Ashlyn, hearing the sobs from the other room, rushed in and held the obscene head, cradling it in her arms.

The wave of emotions that rushed through Coreolyn, as realizations about Ashlyn and himself tore agonizingly through his heart, raced out his arms and pushed Ashlyn violently away. He put his hands to his ears to block the disgusting vulgar voice, that was now his, croak out goblin, "Get away! Kill me now! How Could you have done this to me?"

Ashlyn fell to her knees and sobbed, "I don't expect you to forgive me, but you must hear Lindornea out, please don't do anything till she speaks with you."

"I don't want an explanation!", Coreolyn croaked on in goblin, as a large drop of spittle dripped from his mouth to land on his bloated belly. He ran to the walls and pounded holes into the walls.

Ashlyn could only watch and wait as Coreolyn vented his rage upon the inner wall of Norma. She did not doubt that Coreolyn possessed the strength to tear through the thin but strong walls of the outer limb. If he did succeed he would more than likely crash a thousand feet to his death.

Ashlyn composed herself as she felt the tree's life-force anger at the attack to one of its more delicate features. The tree defended itself. Ashlyn gave a quick prayer as she marveled at the tree's powerful spirit. Vines quickly grew through the holes in the wall. They twisted about Coreolyn, holding him fast and pinning him to the wall.

"I'll not suffer you my presence anymore," She said with a finality that broke Coreolyn's will. As she wiped the tears from her slender half-elfin face, she said with a lack of emotion, "I will have other's take you to the Archdruid's chamber. You will speak to her before you do anything else." As she walked out of the room, Coreolyn heard her whisper, "Good-bye, Coreolyn Elginor, of The House of Long Silences. I did love you."

* * * * *

Ashlyn wandered the High Forest for many days, and throughout the forest many of it's creatures were concerned by Ashlyn's somber journey. It wasn't until the second evening since she left Coreolyn that she finally stopped walking.

She found a seat upon the side of a great tree that had fallen long ago near the southwest edge of the High Forest. It was there that she finally released the great sobs trapped within since the ceremony at the goblin hold. Her sobs caught the ears of Barabeleg.

For Barabeleg, this was a grand summer. The first in years she had spent without cubs. Currently she engorged herself upon the fresh honey of a large bee hive. Barabeleg paused at the sound of Ashlyn's sobs and recognized her presence. On many occasions, Ashlyn had watched after her cubs while she was out hunting. It was Ashlyn that had cured her precious Tasara of a strange illness that had come over him.

As Barabeleg approached Ashlyn, great piles of composting leaves and twigs that made up the forest floor clung to her great honey soaked paws. Going to a tree that had long past its greatest splendor she attempted to scrape them off. Instead, the bark just broke from the tree and added to the piles that now surrounded her legs. Barabeleg hollered out in frustration, and broke through Ashlyn's despair.

Any other time Ashlyn would have filled with laughter at the sight of the brown bears predicament, but presently it only distracted her from her sorrows. Barbeleg knew; that hiding behind Ashlyn's tearful face, and buried in the subtle corners of her lips, a smile began as Ashlyn helped Barbeleg clean.

* * * * *

It wasn't long before several young initiates came and put a net over Coreolyn and commanded the vines to release him. They carried him to a balcony where they attached the net to another vine. The vine carried him up at least seventy feet where gently he was dropped to the floor of another balcony. He felt rage swell through him as the net released from him, and he found himself at the foot of the raised Diaz that was the Lindornea's favorite seat. Coreolyn looked into the eyes of the Lindornea as the leaves that made up her seat adjusted to her subtle movements, maximizing her comfort.

Coreolyn slumped in resignation as she repeated words he had come to hate, "It must be this way."

She took advantage of his defeated state and continued on, "What did you expect elf-man? Did you really think that selling the goblin priests a The Jeweled Staff of Pajeas would not involve you in a realm of power you take such pride in not respecting? Did you really believe that stealing it back and returning it to the priest of Pajeas would absolve you of responsibility?"

Coreolyn almost found pleasure in his grotesque appearance and voice when he found the strength to reply, "You wretched wench! You are a lie to your own faith, if that's what you call it! How do you justify what you've done. By your own standards what you have done to me is a display of your hypocrisies. Just like all the other's! Next you will be telling me you did me some service that I should feel indebted for."

A wall shaped up out of the floor surrounding Coreolyn. He felt as if a specimen in an exhibit before the Archdruid when she replied, "Don't be silly Elf-Man, or should I say Goblin. We did nothing for your service. You who ignore the powers of the Great Spirits, can't you see we stopped a war between powers you refuse to face. Had we not interceded, Malos and Pajeas would most certainly imperiled the entire realms. You saw for yourself that the spirit Drewsus could barely appease Balar! Can't you see that our payment of your lifeblood to Malos and the denial of your soul to him was the only way to appease two very powerful gods!? You are not mindlessly re-beginning life right now only by the wisdom of Silfyn."

"We care not what happens of your life, but it has serviced both Pajeas and Silfyn. For that service, we were obliged to save you the liberty of choosing your own death. We will help you on your way to adjust to what you choose to remain of your life. Do not overestimate your value and expect compassion or support from those that see life the way it must be." Her voice broke momentarily as she spoke, but she quickly regained her composure. "Set him free..." She spoke with a sigh.

* * * * *

A vine lifted Coreolyn over the rail and back down to the room he had awakened in. For many days he sat by himself doing little more than occasionally eating the food that regularly left on his balcony. Before he even tried to comprehend his future, he let himself torture through all of the implications of Ashlyn's farewell. He knew he couldn't kill himself, he knew that it meant losing even his memories of Ashlyn. If there was truth in what the Lindornea said about these damnable gods, he could see how Ashlyn must have been tortured between her feelings and her faith.

As the realization that he was going to continue living swept over him, he felt compelled to review how it came to this.

He shook his head in dismay. He could see his father chastising him with his long elfin finger, "I told you so!" Even his father's great magic could not help him now.

Re-incarnation was respected and viewed upon as a spell to be used only in the most desperate of situations. It was not something used without careful deliberation. The consequences of denying a God possession of a soul were unpredictable at best. He knew that no respectable mage or cleric in all the realms would willingly tamper with his spirit, knowing that Malos, Pajeas, and Silfyn had interest in his fate.

The irony that Coreolyn gave no faith to any god came upon him like a thunderbolt. This was all Lindornea's fault.

* * * * *

He remembered that faithful day over a year ago when he was off in the woods hunting deer. He knew he shouldn't have tracked the deer after it headed into the refuge of the High Forest, but he was Coreolyn Elginor, Ranger lord of The House of Long Silences. That Buck was to be the prize meal for his father's council with a few of the mysterious lords of the city of Waterdeep.

His father was often discouraged by his son's lack of skill in his chosen profession. However, that buck would have pleased him greatly and provided great pleasure to the powers behind Waterdeeps success. The buck that he tracked held the largest rack of any Coreolyn had seen in his life. A rack that would have proudly adorned any of the grandest halls -- except for a druid's.

As he was about to loosen the arrow with deadly aim at the stag, he found himself entangled in vines. Amazed that he was surprised, he found himself struggling before a giggling Ashlyn.

"Do you realize what you've done?" He cried in protest.

Ashlyn became serious quickly, "Do you realize what you've done?" Knowing that Coreolyn was aware of the potential penalties for hunting in the Druids territory within the High Forest.

"Your not serious are you? Your going to charge me before your Archdruid for this? I didn't even get my shot off!", Coreolyn said in shocked disbelief. The disappearance of hunters in this part of the High Forest was common knowledge in the area.

"I must, you were hunting in the forest and I must obey the laws of my land -- just as you Coreolyn Elginor! But fear not, since no harm has come. She will probably just lecture you, and ask some small service before sending you on your way." Pleased that such a fair maiden had known his name he didn't think to question it.

Coreolyn remembered her escort that day through the woods. She kept his hands tied as they walked to the druids' grove. He smiled thinking of the way she teased him the whole way, pulling gently on the vine that acted as a leash. He remembered the way her smile beamed upon him underneath the bright green canopy of leaves. By the time they arrived at the druids' grove, he found himself captured by this new woman's charms. He had completely forgotten about the buck.

They spent hours journeying with great pleasure in each other's company when she suddenly stopped. She stared momentarily at two enormous twin pines that stood on each side of the path before them, and became quiet serious.

"If I were to show you a place of wondrous beauty beyond any you had ever seen, and a possible consequence of seeing it might be that you may never leave that place, could I take you there"

Coreolyn bristled. His elfin heritage sensed strong magic, and foreboding. He thought about how little he had to return to, and felt a great cleansing when he had looked deep into Ashlyn's eyes that day.

"I have little to return to. If by seeing that place I can be assured of seeing more of you, than that will be my fate."

Ashlyn's eyes closed in prayer. It was several long quiet moments before she opened them again.

"Come on then prisoner!" How her smile had filled Coreolyn with joy.

They were still giggling when they came upon Lindornea who was, to Ashlyn's surprise, walking about the grove that encircled the great roots of Norma. Two attendants preceded her.

"Why have you brought an outsider to our sanctuary, isn't it enough that we have to deal with their careless intrusions into our woods, than to allow them into our home?"

Ashlyn quickly straightened up. "Reverend Mother. It is my duty to report this man as having broken of our law, though no damage has come of it." She opened her palms for emphasis. "I bring him here to provide atonement for the act of hunting in the woods."

"I shall need time to consider this carefully," she said lost in a trance. "Have him restricted to a room in the Quendil wing of the guest limb."

"But Reverend Mother, he has many important duties and responsibilities to The House of Long Silences.."

"Silence! I am aware of this intruders position, that is why I must be careful in my deliberations with this one. Do as I say. I will abide no further argument!" Lindornea resumed her walk as if they had never interrupted her.

* * * * *

Coreolyn paid little attention to Lindornea's manner. {Insert Coreolyn's amazed first impressions of Norma} He only remembered how he hoped, that whatever happened next, Ashlyn would be with him.

It was Ashlyn that lead him to the side of a massive root. The size of the root alone was larger than any structure he'd ever seen in the town of Daggerford that he often visited. As entered, he felt as if an insect burrowing into the side of a foot, rather than entering through a door.

He remembered sitting on a bench next to Ashlyn in a dimly lit corridor, when she spoke a strange command. The bench began to move upon an undulation in the wall, as the bench gently curved down a narrow corridor. Coreolyn understood that they were entering in, and rising through the heart of the great Oak.

To this day, the feel of Ashlyn's warmth sitting next to him, her hand still loosely holding his leash, still felt more overwhelming than the enormity of Norma's power. Coreolyn looked about the room. It was this very room that he was put into that day.

It had almost become his room, for after his arrest he often stayed in this room when he had been aloud to visit Ashlyn. How many joys this room once held for him. He new he would never again experience the peace that he had once known so well here. But another of many days had passed in reflective isolation. His only victory being that he had managed to spend a whole day without drooling once.

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