Here we are again, thought the Matriarch. She cast her gaze around, taking in the mist gently rising from the lake to the west, the swirled spiral pattern in the grass here just outside the village. We seem to be favoring this place for our happier moments. I suppose we could do worse, she mused, smiling inwardly. She looked over the glade one last time, reassuring herself that all was ready. At the heart of the spiral the font had been set and filled with water taken from the moonwell to the north, near the Temple. The blessed water glowed faintly in the twilight. For the tenth time at least she smoothed the fabric of her gold and ivory dress. Why am I so nervous today, she wondered, this is a happy occasion. Shaking her head, she took her place at the font, there to await her gathered House.
From the south she saw him approach, her grandson, the demon hunter Forosuul. Arrayed in a formal kilt, chest bared to the wind as was the ancient way of their kind, as well as his wont. He drew near and nodded to her, saying softly, “The glade is warded all ‘round. We’ll not be getting surprise visitors today.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“If someone uninvited crosses my wards, I’ll know immediately, Grandmother”
“Good.” She felt a little paranoid, having him ward the entire glade, but their rivals had been shown to have little restraint. They’d come uninvited to a funeral rite, no reason to think they would not do the same for a blessing of newborn twins.
Forosuul stepped to one side to await the rest of the House. They did not wait long. The path from the village was soon full of silver-haired figures. No retainers today, only family; a sea of palest violet and silver, the only exception was Lilybeth, mother of the twins. She proceeded all the rest, her cyan hair falling in gentle curls around her shoulders. On each arm rested one of her infant children; the boy, Ælithil, on her left, his sister Kalimè on the right. She walked slowly, still recovering from the ordeal of the twin birth. The rest of the House let her set the pace.
The sun had gone far below the horizon by the time everyone was ready. They arrayed themselves in a close circle about the font, Kalithil and Lilybeth holding the infant twins on either side. Everyone was smiling. As Kajeda gently sprinkled the blessed water over the twins, Tindomiel and Alsabe chanted the invocation of Elune, asking her blessing and protection on the new generation of the Silverthorn line. Their words carried gently on the night breeze.
Elune, goddess of our home,
Goddess of our hearth,
We bring tonight new things
New members of our line,
In these lands,
From which we spring.
We ask you, Elune, to watch over them
Watch over them as they grow.
Watch over them as they live.
Watch over them with love.
When the prayer and the anointing was done, Alsabe took the twins, grinning hugely and bouncing them in her arms. Tindomiel, smiling beatifically, took her place next to her husband, Forosuul, while Kalithil and Lilybeth turned to the assembled House to say their thanks. Kajeda watched it all, thinking to herself that she had not experienced a more perfect moment in thousands of years.
From the corner of her eye, Kajeda saw Forosuul’s head whip around, towards the south. His tattoos surged with power, casting a red glare over the assembled House, and in a flash of crimson he had dashed away. Kajeda, trusting him to deal with any intrusion, moved to shield Lilybeth and the twins.
Lilybeth, more sensitive to arcane emanations than most, had felt a strange buzzing sensation at the same moment when Forosuul had turned his head. Ever curious, she had turned, and seeing Kajeda move swiftly in her direction, leaned to one side to see what was happening.
It seemed to Kajeda that she could hear a wind howling in her ears, as if the fates were howling their hunger at her. Everything seemed to move slowly. She could see Lilybeth go wide-eyed at what she witnessed, could see the girl’s face twist into an expression of hatred mixed with grief. Turning, she saw the source of Lilybeth’s rage. Mire, with her shal’dorei felsworn in tow. Briefly, the single thought crossed her mind, You fools, why would you come here, and then she felt, deep in her bones, a crackling sensation like the gathering of a thousand storms.
There was a blinding flash followed by a searing heat, and most of the assembled House was thrown violently to the ground. Kajeda, shaking her head to clear it, saw Lilybeth standing over her, limned in violet flames. Thrusting her hands forward, Lilybeth poured every ounce of power she could manage at the woman responsible for her mother’s death. Mire’s felsworn shielded her, causing Lilybeth’s furious magic to careen around the glade, consigning every tree and blade of grass to the flame. Lilybeth, screaming in rage, poured power through her outstretched hands until her weary body could take no more, and collapsed. Kajeda scrambled to her feet, trying to assess the situation.
To her left, one of the felsworn had ceased his efforts. His body was rising into the air as a ghastly wail tore from his lips. His eyes began to glow like coals. Kajeda smiled grimly, knowing Kalithil had regained his feet and was dealing with the man. Behind her, Dæsin had shielded Alsabe and the twins from the initial release of power, but was now lying dazed as Alsabe protected the infants. Forosuul had used his fel-spawned abilities to careen across the glade, but was battered aside by one of the felsworn and slammed into the burning trunk of a great tree, stunning him momentarily.
In that moment, the shal’dorei, no doubt believing he could provide cover to himself and his mistress and make an escape, chose to go on the offensive. Extending a withered hand, he let fly a train of green sorcerous bolts towards Alsabe and the infants she carried. Reacting with protective instinct, Kajeda flung herself in the path of the bilious darts.
The pain was indescribable as the bolts tore through her midsection. She fell to her side on the scorched ground with an unceremonious thud, the fel magic eating at her insides. She watched the scene before her curiously, as if she could not quite understand what was happening. Silannah, her treasure, roared when Kajeda was struck. She charged across the burning glade, heedless of any danger. The felsworn used his power to batter her to one side as he had done to Forosuul before. She tumbled across the clearing. With the felsworn focussed on her for a moment, Forosuul leapt into the air and let the fel within him come forth, transfiguring his features into a hulking, scaly abomination. He came crashing down on the felsworn’s head. Lifting the shal’dorei up, he brutally impaled him on his ancient warblades. He stood like that for what seemed like ages. Arms high in the air, the shal’dorei wriggling atop the blades Forosuul held. The creature’s blood was dripping onto Forosuul’s face and he was speaking to the felsworn through gritted teeth. His words were lost in the conflagration.
Behind her, she heard a wailing cry begin. It rose in volume and pitch, becoming a cacophonous howl. She was having trouble with her eyes, darkness creeping in from the edges of her vision, but she thought she saw her beloved daughter, Tindomiel, step forward. The howl was coming from her. Void power more potent than anything Kajeda had ever seen pooled at the younger woman’s feet and snaked across the burning glade towards Mire, who stood wide-eyed, in a panic over the fury she had engendered.
As the shadows reached Mire they formed themselves into writhing tendrils and wrapped around her. Their tips bore into her flesh, burrowing down to her bones. Soon Tindomiel’s howls of rage were joined by Mire’s screams of terror and agony. Mire’s eyes looked to Tindomiel, pleading for mercy from her one-time daughter. Tindomiel’s answer was a savage shriek. Slowly Tindomiel used her shadow tendrils to rend her birth mother’s body. Asked later, no one was sure how long it had lasted, for they had all turned their faces from the horror of it. When Tindomiel was done several slabs of bloody abused flesh struck the floor of the glade. Mire Whisperwind, Second of the House of Whisperwind, was no more.
Soon the clamor of the sorcerous battle faded, leaving only the roar of the flames and the weeping of the survivors. Dæsin and Tellanon, remarkably cool-headed, regained their feet and began to gather everyone up to flee before authorities could arrive.
Silannah, ignoring everyone else, gathered up Kajeda’s broken form and staggered away from the glade, trying to leave the fires behind. Afterwards she could never tell how long she walked, but she did not stop until she had reached green spaces once more. Some instinct or ancestral memory must have guided her steps, for when she slumped to the ground with Kajeda in her arms, she looked up and saw a thick-trunked tree with white bark and silver-blue leaves arching over them. On every branch wicked gray thorns sprouted, some a foot long.
“A silverthorn…tree,” wheezed her beloved Kajeda. “How…did you find one? I thought they…died out.”
Shocked that the Matriarch still lived, Silannah answered, “Hush, my love, it doesn’t matter. Just stay with me.”
Kajeda reached up weakly, her hand caressing Silannah’s cheek, “My treasure…my…shining gift, my magic spell…” Weeping with abandon, Silannah pulled her lover close, unable to find words. “My treasure…you are the greatest joy…” Kajeda’s words were interrupted by a fit of racked coughing. When the last spasm died, she did not draw breath again.
Wailing inconsolably, Silannah rocked her back and forth for a very long time. When finally she relented, she laid her beloved out at the base of the silverthorn tree. Gathering stones from all about, she made a cairn over her body. She worked far into the following day. When the labor was done, she knelt next to the cairn. She stayed there for days, praying quietly through her tears. At the end she stood, and said only these words: “I am no treasure. I am a curse.”