So first, my apologies to poor @Awdwyn. I was stubborn, and wouldn't let her get off easy on this one . She's a trooper though and stuck with it, even when I gave her so few clues. It was her idea to use an elephant, which became a woolly mammoth since I couldn't remember if Lusternia had anything like an elephant. Also, an exciting hockey game was on TV (which we won 7-4!), so there were some long breaks where I essentially forgot to keep typing...
I've been enjoying coming up with interesting characters for these vision quests, giving them back stories, and seeing what develops. As usual, nothing was planned out in advance. The mammoth was suggested just before we started, and the theme was "wisdom".
Having come prepared, Everiine Silvermoon reaches into his satchel and pulls out a crinkled, dry packet of herbs and a small bone bowl. He hands the bowl to Awdwyn and directs her toward the river while he prepares the herbs.
Awdwyn walks down to the river and carefully fills the bowl with water before returning to Everiine.
Everiine empties half of the packet into the bowl and stirs it with his finger. Cradling it with both hands, he sets the bone bowl in the edge of the fire on a bed of hot coals so it can boil. In the meantime, he removes his equipment and trappings, save for the beaded and feathered charms woven into his crest, setting them outside the circles of stone.
Awdwyn sits near the fire, having nothing to remove.
A hissing and bubbling noise catches the attention of the old bird; grabbing two sticks, Everiine sticks them into the flames and under the bowl, carefully lifting it out of the heat and setting it in the grass to cool. "Do you know for whom you seek, little one?" he asks.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "A servant of brother eagle."
You ask Awdwyn, "What is it you hope to learn?"
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "I hope to learn about wisdom this time."
Everiine picks up the bowl and lifts it to his lips. He tilts it back and gulps down a swig of the warm, heady tea, then passes the bowl to his daughter. "May wisdom be at the end of the road," he says and closes his eyes.
Awdwyn nods as she takes a sip of the tea as well.
A sudden chill settles into the air; the temperature drops, and the morning light shifts to a pale, unearthly blue. Though the surrounding woods have always been wild, in the new light they appear... dangerous, untamed, feral. Familiar sounds of birdsong and animal life fade away, replaced by new, strange, and unfamiliar sounds of warning and alarm. And all around, the sacred circles of stones stretch out in every direction, replicated and extending to the horizon, aged and chipped beyond time. "Can you hear me?" the voice of Everiine echoes from an indeterminate point.
Awdwyn shivers as she looks around her before answering with chattering teeth, "Yes father, I can hear you".
Everiine steps out from behind one of the crumbling stones and immediately wraps his wings around his body. The blue hues of his feathers stand out sharply, but the rest of him seems pale, muted, blending into the background. "I have never been here before," he says, casting his searching gaze outside the immediate circle of stones. "Lead the way."
Awdwyn shivers as she twitches her nose as if trying to scent the air before heading in an eastward direction, shivering despite her fluffed-up fur.
The way quickly grows treacherous for the two seekers. Hidden among the endless circles of stones lie sharp, broken bones stuck in the long grasses, ready to pierce the feet of unsuspecting travelers. As the two continue their journey, the number of bones increases; nearly complete skeletons lie in torturous poses, some leaning against a stone, others with their arms outstretched, crawling away. The wind that disturbs Everiine's feathers carries on it frightened warbles from unseen creatures mourning the dead.
Awdwyn gazes from side to side, her shivers not entirely from the cold now. "This is getting spooky, father."
"I do not like it," Everiine says, steeling himself against the wind. "The realms of the Warrior Spirits are wild, but usually not... not like this." Suddenly, the warbles and cries stop, leaving behind their echoes a dead, empty void of silence. ... boom ... ... boom ... ... boom ...
Awdwyn stops at the noise, her ears perked. "What is that? Not the hunters, is it?"
Awdwyn gulps as she stops, her ears flicking, trying to pin point where the booming noise is coming from, her tail flicking nervously behind her.
Everiine stopped the moment he first heard the sound. The beaded and feathered charms woven into his crest clink together ominously while he faces the wind, listening to the plodding beat come closer and closer. The bones at his feet rattle, disturbed by the noise, and he turns to Awdwyn. "Behind a stone, little one," he says, leaping quickly out of sight.
Awdwyn quickly follows Everiine behind the stone, then cautiously peeks around the stone to see what is coming without being seen.
Silently fluttering his wings, you ask Awdwyn, "What do you see, little one?"
Awdwyn continues to look. "I am not sure, exactly. The only thing I can say now is it is big."
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "In that case, unless the hunters have started walking one on top of the other, it can't be hunters."
The dry, chilled bones lying at Everiine's feet rattle together and, to his horror, move as one, animated by unseen muscles and tendons. Inch by inch they crawl toward the booming noise, drawn to it, called--summoned. Dust and pebbles fall from the crumbling stones as the ground shakes with the force of the blows.
Awdwyn gulps as she draws closer to Everiine, shivering from a combinatation of cold and fear.
Awdwyn ponders the situation.
From the mist that drifts between the stones emerges a truly gargantuan creature, a slow, plodding beast that walks almost mechanically in the spaces between the circles. It is to this beast that the bones crawl, drawn to two great tusks, as long as the rest of its body, that jut out from its jaw--the tusks of a mammoth. Its long, shaggy fur drags on the ground, barely concealing the bare, bone legs upon which it plods. The bones and skeletons that reach the beast latch onto its tusks, themselves composed of the bones of the dead. The sight takes Everiine's breath away, and he stands motionless.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "Father, I might be Jaguar's Hunter, but I am a scared Jaguar's Hunter and doing my best not to show it."
Awdwyn glances in the direction Everiine is looking and gulps before covering her mouth.
You ask Awdwyn, "Have you ever seen its like?"
Awdwyn mutely shakes her head before going back to gazing at the creature with huge wide eyes.
Awdwyn presses closer to Everiine almost as if she is trying to shelter under his wings.
The melancholy creature approaches the stones concealing the two Serenguard, its footsteps shaking the foundation of the earth beneath. Bones and skeletons scramble over each other to climb onto the tusks, and when they do, they almost sigh in relief. The mammoth itself neither slows nor diverts from its chosen path. As it passes, Everiine Silvermoon nudges Awdwyn and directs his head toward it.
Awdwyn glances toward Everiine for a moment before stepping forward to gaze up at the mammoth.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "H...h...hello."
With one last plod the mammoth pauses, swaying its head slowly to glance behind it. In its eyes resides the deepest sadness, the most profound pain, a mourning beyond mortal ability to comprehend. The bones struggle to reach the stationary creature, clamouring over one another in a desperate bid for position along its tusks. It looks passed Everiine and fixes its eyes on Awdwyn. "Why... why are you here?" it asks, its voice heavy-laden with sorrow.
Awdwyn bows her head respectfully toward the mammoth. "I am here to learn of wisdom, if you would be willing to teach me".
Long minutes pass in silence while the mammoth considers Awdwyn. Everiine Silvermoon steps back a short distance to observe the conversation. "Go... go away..." it finally responds and turns its head to face forward, lifting one boney leg to resume its long, torturous plod.
Awdwyn glances toward Everiine before turning back to the mammoth. "Please, is there anything at all you can tell me about wisdom?"
Everiine Silvermoon tilts his head toward the mammoth and nods, indicating that Awdwyn should follow it and not give up. "Keep asking questions," he mouths.
Awdwyn starts to follow the mammoth, asking, "How can someone gain wisdom?"
The plodding mammoth offers no response to that question, continuing along its course and gathering more bones to its tusks. Everiine flits from stone to stone, keeping his distance to see how this will play out.
Awdwyn continues to follow, stumbling from time to time over stones as she continues on. "Please, how can I learn about wisdom?"
No matter how many times that particular question is asked, the mammoth doesn't answer. Thankfully, it moves so slowly, it's no trouble at all for Awdwyn or Everiine Silvermoon to keep up. Maybe a different question will catch its attention?
Awdwyn nods in understanding before calling out to the mammoth "What exactly is wisdom?"
The mammoth groans in dismay and rests its heavy, bone-laden tusks on the ground. With a shake of its hide it drops a few scattered bones around its feet, then resumes its trek. Everiine Silvermoon lands on the ground next to Awdwyn , deftly avoiding the sharp bone fragments. He thinks for a moment, then crouches down and picks up one of those fragments. He places the bone in Awdwyn's hand, nods, then points to the mammoth.
Awdwyn glances down at the bone, then at Everiine, as she follows the mammoth, not quite understanding what to do with the bone.
Everiine Silvermoon mouths the word, 'Ask', to Awdwyn and nods to the bone in her hand.
Awdwyn continues to jog behind the mammoth before asking, "Excuse me, but why do you gather these bones?"
Now that gets the mammoth's attention, and it stops dead in its tracks, the last boom of its feet dying off as the echo speeds over the endless stones. It fixes its immeasurably sad eyes on Awdwyn and says, "Because... because if I don't, who will?" Hearing that reply, Everiine Silvermoon urges Awdwyn on.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "Can you learn things from the bones you gather?"
The mammoth shakes its head back and forth, back and forth. "No... no, not for me. There is nothing for me to learn from these bones." It leans one tusk down to allow a gathering of bones to climb on, and for the briefest of moments, something other than sadness flashes in its eyes: pity. Everiine Silvermoon follows behind Awdwyn, carefully watching his steps.
Awdwyn ponders the situation.
Awdwyn looks down at the bone in her hands thoughtfully, pondering the mammoth's words.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "Would it be fair to say that if no one gathers the bones, that is wisdom that is lost forever?"
The mammoth shakes its shaggy head slowly again and says, "The... the bones are not wisdom." So far, it still hasn't acknowledged much of Everiine Silvermoon's presence, keeping its concentration on Awdwyn.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "But for someone there would have to be memories associated with the bones, like the remains of a friend, right?"
Everiine watches the mammoth dip its head, the utter sadness falling like a heavy cloak about it. "There... there are no others to remember them, to remember the bones," it says.
Awdwyn ponders the situation.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "What happend to the rest of them?"
Casting its sad eyes over the endless fields of bones and rocks, the mammoth hunches down and rests its tusks on the ground. In its current state, it elicits the same pity it shows to the discarded bones, as all creatures suffering a fate unjustly do. "They... they died. Each killed the next, until none remained. That is what they were taught, that the one who follows kills the one before. And so they did." Everiine glances down at the bones around his feet, wondering to himself about their lives and the purpose of their deaths.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "It sounds like they never had the chance to grow, to learn anything but that."
Everiine listens as the mammoth gives perhaps the saddest answer yet. "No... no, they had the chance, each and every one."
Awdwyn hesitates as she looks toward the mammoth and then toward the endless field of stones and bones. "Maybe if they had that chance to grow, they would have learned a different way".
Those deep, sad, immortal eyes turn to Awdwyn and fix their unblinking gaze on her. "They... they could have learned. They could have stopped the killing. It would have been easy," it says, giving a gentle nudge to a struggling skeleton, allowing it to climb up onto its tusk. Everiine Silvermoon stands close behind Awdwyn with his wing touching her leg, unsure how long they still have in this place.
Awdwyn glances at the mammoth. "So the more one can grow and learn to change things, that is how someone gains wisdom?"
The silence returns to the field, the mammoth's great sad eyes locked on Awdwyn. But curiously, it not only provides no answer, it doesn't appear to have recognized the question; by its posture, it still seems to be waiting for a question, eager to provide an answer, if asked. Everiine Silvermoon looks just as confused, but nudges Awdwyn to encourage her.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "What would have happened if they had grown to learn and not kill each other."
"Then... then they would have lived," the mighty mammoth responds. Everiine Silvermoon leans over and whispers into Awdwyn's ear, "I wonder why they could not learn."
Awdwyn nods her head emphatically.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "Is the reason they couldn't learn because they never had the chance to grow, since the younger keep killing the older and the ones that did the killing in turn were killed by the younger still?"
With a great, ponderous shake of its head, the mammoth answers, "No... no, they killed each because they were told to." The more questions that the creature answers, the less sad, however slight the change, it appears to be; at least, it appears that way to Everiine.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "But who who told them to kill?"
Everiine listens to the dialogue with rapt interest, watching the dance of questions. In reply, the mammoth says, "They... they told each other. They killed the ones who came before, then told the ones who came after, who killed the ones who came before and told the ones who came after, who killed the ones who came before and told the ones who came after..."
Awdwyn ponders the situation.
Awdwyn looks a bit confused at that answer.
Rubbing his chin, you say, "An endless cycle..."
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "I wonder if there could have been a way to break the cycle."
You say to Awdwyn, "Maybe there was."
Awdwyn asks the mammoth softly, "Is there a way they could have broken the cycle?"
Everiine observes the mammoth's eager answer to the latest answer, a quick--well, quick for the mammoth--nod of its great head. "Yes... yes."
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "How could they have broken the cycle if they wanted to?"
A dull stillness comes over the mammoth, the same reaction it gave to the previous questions the beast doesn't recognize. But this time, it struggles to shrug its hide, shedding a few more bones from beneath its fur. This proves to be enough of a jolt to allow an answer. "They... they could have invoked the Enemy of Blind Obedience." A shuddering tremor runs beneath Everiine's feet, causing him some concern.
Serenguard Awdwyn, Jaguar's Hunter says, "So they could have broken the cycle by simply questioning what they were told rather than just doing it with no questions?"
The great, ponderous beast lifts its head up and up, raising its immense tusks to the blue-tinted clouds, and lets out a long, low bellow that shakes the very foundation of the ground, a bellow of relief. Bones tumble from its shaggy hide and spill from its tusks, slowly reducing the great beast to little more than a pile of discarded pelt. Out of the remains crawls an immaterial, ill-defined spirit whose form Everiine Silvermoon can barely make out. "Thank... thank you," it says, extending its hands toward Awdwyn in gratitude. "No.. no one asked the right questions. And so they died. And so... And so we died. Don't repeat our mistakes."
Awdwyn dips her head toward the spirit as she whispers, "I will remember."
Finally free of its duty, the immaterial spirit lifts its eyes to the sky, and with one last breath evaporates into the breeze. The endless bones glow a bright orange, quite opposite the dull, muted blue that enshrouds the land. They soon glow so bright they catch fire and explode in a sudden, bright flash. When the light dims and the vision clears, the dead landscape and endless circles of stones are gone, replaced by the familiar, warm grasses beside Moon River and the two sacred circles of stones occupied by Awdwyn and Everiine Silvermoon alone.