|The Grove of Verthandi|
Designed by Laurentia
Lifespan: 90 minutes
Medium Groups: 24-31
Large Groups: 22-31
The sound of ringing axes and ripping saws shattered the silence of the autumn evening. Several large groups of wretched-looking workers were hard at work, clear-cutting yet another section of the forest that bounded the city of Nemorensis. Once a simple village, Nemorensis had recently discovered the wealth that could be had from trading the local lumber, and the villagers wasted no time in denuding the woodland they had once cherished. The old ways of respecting the forest and honouring ancestors were forgotten in the lust for gold, and soon there were wide gaps between the rich and poor as people competed to destroy their homeland. A small priesthood warned against incurring the wrath of their neglected ancestors, but most dismissed such warnings as mere superstition.
"Hurry up, Rylinar. I want to get out of this godforsaken wilderness before it gets dark." A well-groomed man with white, soft hands glanced around the destroyed forest. "All these stumps look depressing."
"You're such a city boy, Jhoran," replied his companion, dusting off his tanned arms. "We're nearly done anyway. How else can you make sure your workers are keeping up to speed if you don't inspect the lumberyards?"
Jhoran snorted. "Half are slaves anyway. They're too scared to try and cheat us." He gestured to a cruel-faced man wielding a horsewhip. "Besides, that's what slave-drivers are for. Come on, these fall nights are chilly, and I didn't bring my fur cloak."
As the two men turned to leave in the autumn twilight, they stopped in their tracks as they caught sight of the old, long-neglected burial mound at the edge of the city, now pulsing and heaving like a wounded animal.
"What the...?" whispered Jhoran. It was the last time he would ever speak.
With a sickening rip, the burial mound tore itself open, releasing a flood of blinding light that burned like a thousand suns. Shockwaves pulsed from the mound as an army of swirling entities poured through the ragged gap, descending on the city of Nemorensis with deafening, unearthly howls. In minutes the city was laid waste, reduced to mounds of broken stone and scattered with the bones of its inhabitants. Suddenly, the burial mound closed itself again with a crack, and the night was still.
Shaken, Rylinar turned to his companion. But Jhoran was already dead, crumpled in a heap on the broken earth, his hair white, his eyes staring out from a bloodless face. Rylinar touched his own hair, unsurprised to find that it had turned white as well, and wondered distractedly why he had not died. Then his heart clutched.
"Isemeine..." he whispered, and ran to find his wife.
The Followers of the Hallowed One, known as the Hallowers, were struggling to survive. Their priesthood had been spared from that horrible night several months ago that people were starting to call the Rage. But now food was scarce, and the woodlands were arrested in perpetual autumn. It was as if Time itself had stopped since the Rage levelled the city. One of the Hallowers claimed to have received a strange vision from their patron Goddess, who told him that the seasons would turn again if those with brave hearts would fight to restore the land and lay themselves to rest at Her feet. No one quite understood what this meant. The Hallowers were grateful to have been spared from the Rage, but privately several wondered if starving to death wasn't a worse fate.
At dawn one morning, there was a quiet tapping on the door of the small dwelling where the Hallowers lived. A Hallowess opened the door to see a breathtakingly lovely woman, her coppery hair flowing like liquid fire down her slender back. She was dressed in travelling clothes of good quality, still in excellent repair.
"I have come to join your Order," the visitor said. Something in her voice made the Hallowess look more closely, and she saw that the woman was blinking back tears.
"Oh, my dear," replied the Hallowess in consoling tones. "I am sorry, but we have barely enough to feed ourselves, let alone accept newcomers into our fold. Were you to join us, you would only starve. We cannot possibly accept you."
"But you must, please!" The visitor forced her way in before the startled Hallowess could close the door. "I was spared from the Rage, although my child was lost. Parents, close friends, my sisters, all dead. I was in such despair, I wanted to die too. Then I had a calling, a vision..." The woman's voice trailed off briefly, then returned with more conviction. "Verthandi Herself spoke to me. She told me to seek out the Hallowers. She said you needed me, and that I would finally find peace. You don't know what I have gone through to come here."
"Don't be foolish," retorted the Hallowess. "I already said we barely have enough to feed ourselves. We only have another month before our food supplies run out. Do you wish to starve to death?"
The visitor drew herself up to her full height. "If you will only allow me to join, all your needs will be provided. I offer my worldly possessions to your Order." Removing a finely-tooled leather backpack, she opened it, revealing a rich cache of gold and jewels. "My husband was one of the richest lumber barons in Nemorensis before the Rage," she told the astonished Hallowess. "I have ended our marriage, for I cannot look at him without seeing the face of our dead child, and the grief is too much for me to bear. Please but accept me, and I will give you all I have, and be happy to take the oath of silence. My name is Isemeine."
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