Soot still hung in the air when dawn finally came. The first rays of the sun pierced through the dense smoke that trailed from the crackling embers. The ground was covered in black and laid still with the silence of the slain.
They lay scattered with blood soaked backs from failed attempts to flee the spears and the swinging greataxe. Mothers still clutching their babes under the towering pines, their helpless fathers, farmers with no knowledge or skill with a sword. On a normal morning, the birds would have begun their sweet songs and woke the squirrels to rustle in the treetops. On this red morning, there were no birds, no squirrels to wake.
Balneir awoke to a shower of sunlight rising and falling over the bridge of his nose. He welcomed the warmth of the sun across his swollen eyelids. He breathed deep into his stomach like he was given life once again in the light. His nose was infused with the stench of ash and burning pine sap. Balneir opened his eyes to the sun and watched it dance across the bundles of green needles that swooped down from the treetops. He positioned his hand to block the bright sunlight and noticed his cracked skin from the dry air.
He shifted his weight against the tree he had slept on, slumped and sobbing, during the night. He hadn't remembered falling into sleep but was grateful it came to rid him of this harsh reality. His gray eyes barely met the ash covered face of the woman lying still in front of him, her arms still clutching a young boy who shared his same eyes. Another boy, some years older, was close by, the dirt showing evidence his body was dragged closer to Balneir's tree. Balneir sat there, eyes blank and filled with nothing but emptiness. At first, he could think of nothing. He searched for a reason to move. Then, he looked to the wood carved pendant that laid against his chest. The symbol of Silborh, a cross that was topped with a slanted line that would eventually intersect the arm of the cross if they both continued on. Anger finally took him.
Balneir pushed himself to his feet so pathetically it would have made him appear several years older. Still grasping the side of the Evindal wood, he gazed up to the treetops. Why must I carry this with me?
Could you not have taken me like the rest of them!
"Damned brutes! If Silborh were true, he would strike you all down! All of you!" He slammed his fist against the bark of the tree. His voice seemed to be drowned out by the eerie silence of the burning village. As if, no matter how loud or hard he cursed his attackers, no one would hear. Not even the gods. The remains of his village seemed like a place Othoria no longer extended a hand to.
Balneir wiped away shedding tears with his sleeve. You will hear me. You will hear of all of them!
He knelt down beside the woman lying at his feet. With a heavy hand, he brushed away the thin coat of ash on the woman's forehead.
"I will come back for you, my love." whispering a promise and sealing it with a kiss on her forehead.
He began his journey with a heavy sigh and started toward the rubble that was left of the small village he called home. After a few steps, he started to notice the pain in his thigh and remembered the spear's blade that had pierced it. He had attempted to fight off the sickened beasts and protect his family. He had failed. The blood that ran down his leg the night before was dried now, pulling at his leg hair with every step. He clutched his thigh every time he had to maneuver over a corpse or wooden debris. Please, Aerrus' Light let it still be there!
Balneir followed the path, limping toward the large wooden building that stood as The Hall at the end of the path. The roof was seared black and had toppled inward from the fires, the stonework foundation appeared to have saved most of the structure. There was no longer a door to open, the attackers cutting it down with their axes they knew all too well how to use. Balneir stumbled inside, resting on the door frame. He was holding pressure to his wound now, new blood seeping through his fingers. He tore the threading of his shirt sleeve and tugged it off. He peered around the large room as he wrapped his leg, grunting as he tied and tucked the knot.
He limped to the far side of the room. He inspected under a jagged pile of ash covered logs and found the large rune, obscured by the pile. Balneir pushed away the loose logs, uncovering the rune and blew away the charcoal pieces that littered the ground. Thank the gods, those monsters did not destroy it. The rune was merely painted lines on the wooden floor. A small circle, only big enough for one person to stand inside of, with two lines extended out in front and behind. Those lines created one closed semicircle and one open on opposite sides. Then, two longer, diagonal lines extend from the innermost circle to make larger semicircles, one open and the other closed again. Balneir knew this symbol as the symbol of Othoria. He had used it many times throughout his years to travel and pray in The Chamber of Domains. However, he had never used it for what he intended now. No mortal has.
With hesitation, Balneir stepped inside of the rune's middle. On contact, the rune began to glow a soft, white light. He knelt down as his lips started to recite the holy words and with a whisper he spoke them, "T kintha te othoria a hith, sa thannatha a hithem, saam vahhadün e thar vahhadün, nieva saam kintha thedi tu sa thediah te othoria." As Balneir spoke these words, the light radiating from the rune grew stronger. The inner circle whistled with the sound of a growing wind. It intensified quickly to a howling and spiraling wind growing to the boundaries of the final circles. The wind spun like a storm, blowing the surrounding logs back against the four walls of The Hall. Balneir could barely make out anything through the wind. He stood up, the air inside the circle was calm, and waited.
As the wind began to slow, a fear struck him and Balneir could feel his heart beginning to pound. Eldyth guide me. I will see Kallemor for this!
The wind was swept away abruptly in a harsh whistle. Balneir now stood in a gigantic stone covered void under the Earth. The rune under his feet was now intricately carved into the stone and radiated with a permanent, white shimmer and hummed a deep tone. A bridge lay in front of Balneir, sculpted into an outstretched forearm of smooth rock. It led to a massive sculpted hand holding Balneir's destination. A leveled stone floor surrounded by a short ring of boulders. Built upward from this ring, were eight towering statues. These statues depicted the eight holy beings that Balneir knew as gods, five men and three women. At the foot of each statue, there is a shrine built with the gods' symbol. Balneir took his first steps toward the Chamber of Domains, each one with a growing fear. When he arrived in the middle of the Chamber, he gazed up toward the statue of Silborh. His face twitched in his new contempt for the God he held highly the day before.
Balneir approached and inspected Silborh's shrine, the same rune as his pendant inside of an oval, and grasped the sides.
"A inadan tha thedi" he faltered in a whisper. A loud crack echoed through the cavern. Balneir jumped back and covered his ringing ears. He looked around frantically for a moment, searching for a possible attacker. Instead, he found a glowing ring that had manifested in the middle of the Chamber behind him and spun slowly in place. Balneir shuddered and swallowed hard, his throat still dry with ash, and inched closer to the ring. He stuck his hand through the middle of the ring slowly. Peering around the ring he saw that his hand had vanished. He quickly pulled his hand out of the ring and clutched it tightly. He swallowed again and looked around the Chamber one last time, and hesitantly stepped into the ring. A light flashed as he felt his boots meet the earth and he was amazed to find himself in a new room full of foliage and life. Green covered almost everything around him. It was a garden.
Thick vines reached many feet above him, with hefty leaves that created shaded canopies. Looking directly upward, Balneir found himself looking at a still fog of blue and whites that mimicked the morning sky with the night's stars still visible. The ground he stood on was a field of tall, green grasses that he remembered men say can only grow in the Illitran Plains. Fireflies buzzed from the blades to the tallest ivy vine creating a serene atmosphere. They appeared to congregate around the sprawling, uniquely, shaped oak tree that stood several feet in front of Balneir. The walls behind the tree were covered in the same thick ivy. He had never seen a tree that looked so old, or an oak tree that didn't grow straight up before. This one, leaned to one side and stretched it’s thick limbs along the ground.
Balneir took a step toward the tree. Suddenly another tree, only as tall as himself perhaps, flickered into place in front of the larger tree. It looked exactly like the one behind it but, this one was made of pure light and had a soft, deep hum. Balneir stopped amongst the grass when he saw the tree. He could feel the energy emitting from the lit tree and the hum filled his ears. He could not say whether the energy made him feel more at peace, or more afraid.
"Ay hathe tha inadanar am thedi?" a voice boomed from the tree, the light intensifying with each spoken word. Balneir stood in awe and silence when he heard the voice of Silborh speak to him. "Speak, mortal." the voice commanded. Balneir, beginning as a falter before finding courage spoke, "My village, it is known as Ginnen. It was attacked you see," Balneir stepped hesitantly forward, clutching his wounded leg, "by Rak'kinthar, last night." He folded his hands over nervously.
"Why have you called me home?" the voice repeated, this time with a subtle irritation. Balneir blinked in frustration and confusion. "My Lord, Silborh, the whole village burned again," Balneir insisted, his voice breaking as he thought of his memories from the night. "It appears not the whole village, Balneir," the tree's light glowing brightest with the spoken name. Balneir took a step back from the tree. A hopeless feeling began to take over his body. “The people of my village were loyal and willing worshippers of you as a god,” Balnier stopped his words in a tearful choke. The tree remained silent for what seemed to Balnier as an eternity, waiting to hear an answer from his god that would hopefully end the sorrow he felt in his heart. "I know of your village," the god stated. Another silence, Balneir expecting more from his god.
Balneir felt anger rise inside him like the air filling his lungs. "And you've done nothing!" he exclaimed. The tree's light flared upward into a hissing glow.
"I should remind you where you stand mortal!" the voice roared and the light subsided as quickly as it came. Balneir winced in the light of the tree, “Perhaps you have built the trees too tall to see,” he remarked. The hum of the tree rumbled like deep thunder.
"I will not listen to a man who knows nothing of what he speaks. Do you suggest that I go against Kallemor?" Silborh accused. The god did not wait for an answer.
"To go against my brother could cause a war inside the very gates of Othoria! How many would die then?" Silborh's voice boomed inside the small garden.
“My children have died with your rune against their chest!” Balneir shouted, his rage guiding him. “Fortunate for the Rak'kinthar to have a god that will answer!” his words tore their way from his throat.
Balneir had to block his eyes from the intense light of the tree with an outstretched arm to save any sort of vision that he could.
“Perhaps they are the real children of Othoria! I have watched your village burn and burn! My brothers may have a hold on them but, I will hold you!" The intensity of Silborh’s voice rattled the stone walls of the garden. Balneir could feel the earth break beneath his feet. Then, Balneir felt a strong grip take hold of his wrist. He could see the physical form of Silborh himself holding his wrist, the intense light behind him creating a bright aura around him. The god pulled Balneir toward him and with his outstretched hand grasped Balneir’s forehead. The booming echoes of the garden were drowned by Balneir's pain and horror. Silborh’s hand felt like the sun itself and the sting of sweat struck through Balneir’s body.
"A nievo tha ayr a hathe et, no ahl, fu mortha tannar vanati dor!" Silborh dictated. As Silborh spoke Balneir could feel the burning energy begin to pulse through his entire body. His eyes filled with the same fire. He thought he would melt before Silborh finally released him from his burning grasp. He fell onto his back, crying, and clutching his head. The burning sensation quickly subsided, the only sign of it was the hand print left on Balneir's forehead.
"Rise," Silborh's voice was a deep hum again. Balneir frantically moved to his feet.
When he laid eyes on the god, soft glowing runes of red started to shed from Silborh's body. They were small, and if he tried to focus on them, they were no longer there. He could recognize only two, the Othorian rune and Silborh’s rune, but the others he did not. He was struck by what he saw, he forgot to breathe. Silborh's pure white eyes squinted over Balneir, studying him. Balneir stood in awe once more at the forever young and bearded face of the god, the runes still pulsing out from him. "Do you see?" he asked Balneir, moving his staff to cast the green light of the top over his subject's eyes. "I-I do," Balneir stuttered. The god blinked and it seemed it was the closest he would get to a smile. Silborh turned away from Balneir and sat at the steps in front of the towering tree. His staff glowed brightly as he pulled the green light from his staff and used it to create floating drops of water in his open hand. "Come, learn." Silborh said. Balneir took a step and quickly noticed less pain in his leg. He unwrapped his thigh and was amazed to see the skin had healed completely. Balneir took a seat in front of the god. "I'll give you this knowledge but, you must spread it on your own. We do not control nature, we bend and safeguard it. Your village will be safe, with this knowledge I give you, I promise."
- Henceforth, Balneir became known as The First Druid.