As a certain purple flower grows wild and strong best in the wood, so did Delrin feel at home in the Forest Villages. And she tarried there an untold number of days with the fair woodsman, Elum, the two (that is, three with owl) traveling from village to village, learning the lore and hospitality of that great land and those many peoples beneath the leaves, a world so unlike the one she grew up in.
In fact, the outside world grew somewhat dim for her, and guiltily, she let it. No more rules or missions from her father. No more Best Men following her every move. And still she missed them slightly. They’d shadowed her in her sylvan adventures as long as she could recall, and kept a watchful eye out for danger. She did love them as uncles or cousins though, perhaps.
She assumed they wouldn’t be foolhardy enough to follow her into the Great Forest, and that they would return home to her father. But she under-estimated their love for her, and the impossibility for them of returning to her father as empty-handed failures. And she knew not the fate which had befallen them.
That is, until traveling softly through the wood one day with Elum, she heard some birds talking, singing of strange men lost in the woods. It was in a dialect different from that of the birds of the wood down in the Cleft, but still the same tongue and she understood it well enough. She thought it was in reference to herself and Elum, a mythic tale of warning, to not stray from the path.
“I’m no man,” she told them back in the bird language. “And we’re not lost.”
Elum responded softly in the human-tongue. “They don’t speak of us… they speak of -” he broke off, listening to the birds. “They speak of your father’s men. Come,” he urged her, suddenly serious. “There is danger. The gate has been opened.”
They ran through the forest for what seemed like days and nights. Delrin lost track of the hours beneath the great boughs of that forest. Twinkling starlight bled into dew dappled patches of weak sunlight filtering through from the forest crown somewhere far above. They ran fast, but lightly, leaving almost no trace. Delrin had learned from Elum this manner of travel, and she felt no fatigue — a good thing, for they ran without pause to sup or sleep. And they did not speak, though the forest spoke to them at times, and the birds, and animals, urging them on, sending one urgent message:
When finally, they reached the original place where Elum and Delrin met, on the edge of the Great Forest, and where her father’s Best Men the following day had entered the wood to look for her, Elum tracked them easily. In fact, it was still fresh. Their trail led to a place deep enough into the wood for outsiders to get lost, but for Elum not very deep in at all. He knew the place, though, as one of treachery. For it lead out to a trail to the mountains, and to Traitor’s Gate.
Even in the Forest Villages, so apart from Abdazonian culture and history, the people still spoke of sad Ederron of ages past, an angel who fell from the Hypogeum when the earth and the sky were still one, and such things were still possible. At Traitor’s Gate, he was attacked by three masked men, who would have out of him the secret passwords to enter those Upper Realms.
In the combat which followed, he was gravely wounded, and fled toward the sea. And in his passing rose up treacherous mountains, and steep and difficult terrain to obstruct his pursuers. However, they crossed over greedily and with great haste — the idea of the treasures of heaven nearly in their clutches consuming them.
On the way, one of the pursuers succumbed to injuries sustained in the assault on Ederron, and died on one of those mountain slopes. A second fell to the cold of those peaks, and sleeps still today in a tomb of ice. The third reached Ederron, who lay dying on a pallet of straw on a boat. The vessel was helmed by a proud mariner in a sky blue cloak which matched his fierce eyes, and oared by people from that city by the water. It shoved off as the last surviving pursuer ran up to the docks, his mask falling from his face. He watched the dying god lift up the first and second finger on his left hand, pointing them toward heaven, and with the first and second of his right hand, touch his lips. The first password. Silence.
And a strange silence greeted them too in that place in the forest, Elum holding up two fingers to Delrin, a sign of the Forest Peoples to be still. As they stood there watching, a black and burned human form shuffled into view among far off tree trunks. The hair on her arms stood up, and a strange fear overtook her. Despite herself, Delrin cried out.
The form turned, then, slowly, to regard her with that foul eyeless stare, and all in that same instant, Elum notched and let fly an arrow. His aim was true, and the arrow as it flew would have pierced the creature, had it not vanished as the arrow approached it. Without a second thought, Elum set of running after it, and Delrin followed close behind.