INTRODUCTION


Where did the Hall come from? From Sonea’s building, mayhap. Or mayhap it is always with us, in this place or in that, in many places and it may be in no place at all save our hearts…

Whence came TaleSpinner? From the mountains, as draku do… from the Hall, or the Hall from her… who knows? Mayhap not Spinner herself.

And the Tale? Ah, the Tale…

Tales do not begin. Tales do not end. They wake, they sleep, they…. dance. And those who hear are as much a part as those who dance within. And now ye that gather these words… ye too are part of the Tale. The Long Tale of the Long Road.

What was Thunder? Who was Lightning? Why care?

There was a storm… and it rose.


PROLOGUE: STORM BORN


She was born on a night when the very tempest demons stalked the heavens and made war against each other. Not one second passed that lacked the crash and roar of their voices. And the night sky was near to the brightness of day with the flash of their swords.

In a hut on the outer edge of Heather, as a young woman made the last push that cast a new-born into the world, a bolt flashed from the sky and tore the roof from their dwelling. As the rain fell in rivers about them, and the blood washed from her, she whispered into the face of the storm:

“Her name is Sonea. Sonea…?

And in that whisper, her spirit gave up the too-long and too-hard struggle. She lost her grasp on life, and she was gone. And the man who had been there each second, each cry, each scream, each moment of the struggle… wept. Wept as the sky wept and like never to cease. But cease he must, as the babe must have care and coin and food. And he did take up the babe and his sword, and set foot to the raven’s road that ever waited…

At least that was the tale Sonea’s father told her. For it had spirit and some nobility, and some ease for Sonea as she grew. And it was better than to speak of a wife who had found the charms of an inn-keeper and the inn he owned of more delight than the raising of a child, and the mercenary road her husband walked.

And each time, if Sonea was there, she would leave the fire or table and all would speak that it was sad that a child so lost a mother. And if any asked Sonea, then she would not speak, and if she showed sorrow, then the one who asked would never know how close he walked to death. And if she showed anger and rage, then any would understand at the daughter missing her mother and blaming herself, or the mother, or the very fates. And Sonea would herself become a demon of storm and take her rage elsewhere. For darker shadows than any knew attended the tale.

And of the other? Ah… the other…

There is a story that the one who would be named Sephiranoth heard in the hatchling places on most all of the many times it was young. Adults do not speak of it often, and hatchlings only by two or three, in secret places. This is not a matter of Law, and it is not forbidden, but the voices that speak do so in whispers. And most times when it is told, it is called The Hatchling Tale:

Draku Ancients live long. They have worked hard for the power they wield and the wisdom they bear. They share not either with those younger, save grudgingly or by necessity. Yet time is still their master, and after a time and a time and an age, the Ancient knows.

It is The Time of Shadow. For the true drake,’tis the Time of Broken Shadow. For others… but of the Single Shadow it is ill to speak.

Most Ancients live apart, but then does the Ancient take them yet further apart. Deep into the mountains they fly, far and long. Often the place they seek is one they selected long ago, while still an adult. A cave, a crag, a ledge, a pool of fire. And there do they sit. Long they must craft, and strange the rock and ritual they must complete. These are not matters of power, but those of precision and focus. And at the end? Statues. Just as they made when seeking their wings, they must craft an image, not one but many. But, and fear those who fear the Broken Shadow and fail the test, not an image of their form, or single in nature but an image of drake. No features, but suggestion. No form, but the form of the ideal, the spirit which is their kind. Not truly in this place do the images sit, but they twist and turn into other realms and even times.

Then, when the forms are true ( and often many times must the images be made before they are true), the Ancient flies one last time. High it soars, and higher still, the images tight in claw. It is said that the flight of such a drake is the most glorious that may be seen, but that none have ever seen it for if another watches then the ritual is naught. And when it has reached the sky and the air itself passes into death and even in day the sun’s very fire pales to nothing at what it does, at the doorway to the stars it dances.

On wing, the statues gripped in claws, amidst the blood of the Lights of the North the drake dances, that the forms may be charged with power. Mid way through the dance, it swallows whole the images it has made. Then dances more, to twist and turn through the path its life has taken, living each second once more in that final moment, storing each trial and gift of war or craft, each journey and new-found secret to a knot of power deep inside its flesh. And when the dance is done… it falls.

Down and down it falls, driving that fall with the power of wing, the power of the primal. Some say the stars that flare and die across the night, not all but some may be but echoes of Shadow Times. To the land it falls, gift of the air. But not to the rock. Deep in the mountains lie the secret pools, where the life blood of fire flows with primal energy. At the end, to fire it returns itself and plunges below, never to be seen again.

But then a thing happens. A strange thing. For on a day they know, when the wind whispers an Ancient name, the clutch mothers take themselves away to the mountains. Long are they gone, for the way is always hard and they must walk. But when they return, they come with new ones, the hatchlings. Weak and lacking in learning are hatchlings, but be careful to say so around the clutch mothers. For they will become stern and silent, angered and knowing.

And often will a clutch mother be seen with a hatchling, silent and still, gazing deep in to the hatchling’s eyes. And never will they tell why they do this. But it is said, and only a story mind, that the mothers seek the Shadow Reborn. For when the dawn light catches a hatchling’s eye, then if one knows how to see, an older eye, a fragment of history, a gift to tomorrow, may be seen deep beyond the edge of sight for just a splinter of a heartbeat. And this is good. And the hatchling who hears for the first time will walk away, cheered that some part of a noble spirit may lie in their past and their future glory.

But if a hatchling stays, if a hatchling is bold, then it will hear the other. For each light bears a darkness, and this one also.Sometimes, the story goes, a hatchling may be seen no more. One the clutch mothers have looked at long and long may be no longer with the clan. And none shall speak of it, adult or hatchling. For there is the Single Shadow. And it will try to hide in the eyes of a hatchling, for the older eye is whole and the spirit is whole and the knowledge is whole and the fear which made it so is a fear which will destroy and burn and lay waste to all that it may stay whole. But the clutch mothers watch, and most they find. And those are taken and are lost and are not spoken of. Most they find. Most…

But it is a story. No more. And only the hatchlings tell it, and what may a hatchling know? A hatchling fresh from the mountains…

And in another time, another place… there was a mountain. A mountain and a night of tempest and rain that fell like the world’s tears. There was a pool, and there the rock blood burned.

And the clutch mothers came. And as they do, they waited. And of a time, the pool stirred, and it boiled… and there was a claw. A wing. A small head with a crest… and the rock blood for a moment was blue, with dancing fireflies of red. And then a hatchling crawled forth and stood before them. And as they had so often, the clutch mothers moved to take it to them.

But it was not to be.

For the oldest of them stepped forth, and she stood between the youngling and the clutch mothers. And she spoke.

“ The Long Road waits for this one. Longer than may be spoken here.?

And she turned to the youngling, who looked at her with eyes that shone like mirrors.

“One will come, or one that is bound to it. Set thy foot, new made drake. We will meet again here of a tide…?

And as the thunder broke loud above them, the clutch mothers were gone. And the hatchling? The path before it was dim and hard to find. But one claw raised, and one claw lowered. And it stepped forth.

And the mountain… wept.

CHAPTER 1: A VILE EXPERIMENT


The night was unseasonably cold in Mia’s Edge. Each star was a frozen tear of ice in a sky as black as the Lich King's heart. Those of two legs and those of four, who found themselves out, seemed to care but little. For a short distance away, at Heart’s Ease... the forested home that Sonea Finder had built first in her mind’s eye and then built again of wood and stone with the help of a handful of dedicated friends... the Hall of Mirrors shone bright and welcoming.

As they came to the Hall, each one made swift for some favored place on the benches. Some in company with friends, some seeming alone. But not truly so. For none were ever alone in the Hall. And as they took places, each would eye the walls, and mayhap point out to a companion or new visitor a visage found limned upon those walls, and they would whisper some fragment of an old tale. For the shadows of mystery and history both were set there pell and mell, that the tales might not need speakers to live.

And all were come. And for a moment, all was silence. And then, then the rite... the chant. As was tradition, the younglings would begin. For this was no place of solemnity save by the needs of that told there. And thus it was:

" A tale... a tale.... a tale...."

And soon all those there would be chanting. Of a sudden... all the light was gone, and the Hall was dark. But where there might have been fear, instead there was sudden excitement and joy. For this was ever how it began. And then a voice came.

“ The night winds were cold. The rain fell like daggers against the skin. And the Long Road was hard… so very hard. Alone, a warrior walked, worn cloak huddled close against the wind, and wrapped about the child he carried in his arms. He had slain many Foe in his time, but the battle he fought now was a battle no sword could win…?

The voice paused. Suddenly there was a loud crash, and a flare of light, as though the roof were gone and the Tempest Ogres danced among those who listened. Then… silence. All was dark. From the darkness the voice came again..

"Did ye ever hear tell of Thunder and Lightning? Of the Fool and the Fair?"

And the light came again, flickering now, as if cast by a fire on a mountain side where a traveler or three would sit close that the night might pass. And in that light was a drakonel. And her face was cast in the flickering light that she might not be made clear. For tonight she was not the name she bore. Nay, on this night she was the WordSmith, the TaleSpinner, the bringer of the magic.

Again she spoke..

"Well, they were not always so. The Thunder was not always Thunder, and not always did it walk by the name ye do know. And the Lightning? Ah, there was a time that one thought never to take the warrior road, and a time before that that it was all she knew... and a time before that? Why, then she was..."

The TaleSpinner paused. A flicker of a smile came to her eyes as they sought those who watched, and they lighted in delight on a slip of a human lass who snuggled in her mother's arms.

"Why, she was no bigger than ye!"

And the tale was begun.

The TaleSpinner settled herself more comfortably on the stage and she spoke a child’s rhyme.

Sonea Finder, little cinder,
cast upon the storm.
Burned by fire and crossed death’s pyre,
ever-now reborn.

She surveyed those gathered and saw that she had caught their interest. TaleSpinner continued..

Have ye heard of the Gifted? Of course ye have. Gifted. Great warriors who battle the Foe. Great healers who walk among us all. Great crafters who twist metal and stone and wood and cloth to wondrous things. And all different. Different, aye. But alike in one thing. For those who are Gifted, of a time when death comes knocking at the door, tis no true death. Rather, Gifted Ones find themselves reborn in the city where their essence has been Bound.

And what be this Binding thing? A ritual it be. For the spirit is set tethered to a shrine, a Binding stone, that the Gifted One may make mage travel through the aether to it from anywhere in the land.

Not everyone is blessed with the Gift. Or cursed… In fact, neither of Sonea’s parents was so blessed. But mayhap indeed they were cursed…

The TaleSpinner lowered her voice to a whisper...

Did ye ever hear tell of the Clan? Now, the Clan seek ever the darkness. If ye have not heard of them, the Clan are draku who follow the dark path. Evil in thought and deed they are. Even most draku know but little more of them than what is told in night tales of terror for the young. Those who know more speak but little and less, that the Clan not come and silence both those who speak and those who hear, forever.

She raised her voice again..

But there is a time for silence, and a time for the silence to be broken. There is a time for darkness, and a time for the dark to flee before the skyfire. And the Thunder will speak, and the Lightning will burn. For there is a storm, and the storm rose…

Where did it start? With the Five? With MorDin? With Mirror Eye? Oh, aye. All these and more. And none entire. For each beginning has itself other birth… But if the Tale has no start, the words must. And a word I will give thee. Serilian.


Where the Clan walk, the drakonel rule. For the Old One finds naught of merit in other males. And each drakonel will do as amuses her or she sees fit, for the world in their eyes is made to match their will, save as the Old One speaks. And Serilian, Clan drakonel, did take delight from meddling in biped affairs. She sought to experiment in association with the Hidden Ones of the Fiends. For she would set Blue magery as sister to Clan, that the duskael be mind-crafted to Clan will. And her finest tool was Fiend Umriel, a male for sure. And what else be males but tools in any wise? For such is Clan thinking. It was hard for the Clan drakonel to work with a male, but that was the way it had to be for Umriel had the needed skills and the ability to travel naka lands with minimal distraction.

Of a time, Umriel would pass as tinker and wend a winding way, and that way would bring it through the woodworker’s village of Heather. For a pot boiled on Heather’s fire, and Serilian’s claw had set it to bubble. And she would have that pot watched, and of a time a spice be added, or pinch of bile… and Umriel had skill in such magery. When the tinker did visit Heather, if one passed by the dwelling of a certain mother and daughter, whose husband and father’s sword was set for hire and oft away, then one with midnight ears might overhear the drakonel Serilian combining her power with the Fiend’s to craft and cast some vile mind maze. And if that one had eyes like unto a razor’s edge, then occasionally they might catch a glimpse of the drakonel in the shadows.

Over time, the mother, who had as sweet and bright a disposition as that she had passed along to her daughter, did begin to fade. No longer did her smile brighten the Istarian day. And no longer did she find delight in each new thing that her youngling learned, nor did she savor it against the time that she might retell it to her warrior husband upon his return.

And where once Heather was filled with the song and laughter of daughter and mother, less and less frequently did the two burst forth into song, or dance happily as they journeyed from home to whatever task was before them. The elders of the village did notice this change, but knew not what to do. And so they watched, but none acted.

Eventually, the mind-maze that Serilian and Umriel were casting did malform the mother's mind. And where the mother stumbles, a child may bear the cost. And Serilian did laugh long in the secret places… If one passed by their dwelling, instead of laughter one might hear the mother screaming at the daughter over some transgression. And instead of song, one could hear the child crying softly as she sought to avoid her mother’s ire. And anger is a seed with thorn-ed fruit, and where once there were tears, full soon they were sister to bruise and wound.

Now, fair and bright it would be if somewhere deep inside, the mother realized that her treatment of her daughter was foul woe.. And that try as she might, she could not o’ercome the compulsion that had been placed on her, and thus since she could not stop the doing, the mother decided to remove herself lest she harm her baby further. Or it might be that indeed the evil ones held full sway and that leaving was their will. But whatever the reason, the mother left the home and left the girl alone to fend for herself as best she may.

The villagers woke one morning to find that the dwelling place of mother and daughter was deserted. And none knew what had become of them. Though some worried over the child’s welfare, they were also relieved that they no longer would feel guilt each time they did see the sad little girl. And none thought to enter the dwelling place, though some did pass by and peer in the window to see if aught of worth had been left that they might add to their own dwellings. And naught was there to see but broken things. Though one thing broken there they did not see… and none did seek.

One day a traveling bard did visit Heather. And he did mention that the inn-keeper in Dalimond had a new lady. And wouldn’t ye know, it just happened to be the mother. And with fresh gruok stew and a pot of ale as key to the door of his lips, the bard did also mention something odd. For it seemed he was somewhat surprised that in all the time he had been in Dalimond, he never did see the delightful little daughter. He had been so looking forward to having her dance and sing for him as she had done when last he visited Heather. The village elders shook their heads sadly, not anxious to greet the day when the child’s father did finally return home.

TaleSpinner paused for a moment, and she looked out on those who had gathered.

“Ye seem quite comfortable. ‘Tis cold out and like to get colder ere morn. Would ye go to hearth and home now? Or do ye care to hear more??

And those who had gathered raised their cups in the air, except for the one who raised a half-gnawed fowl’s leg. And they did chant, “More... more...?

The TaleSpinner smiled. And then she took a deep breath and continued…


CHAPTER 2: A THING FOUND… A THING LOST


There was an extended campaign that had held Sonea’s father away from home and family for far too long. Two years stood between his last sight of them and his return, and the child's 5th birthday long passed while his sword was hired. To his credit, throughout that time he had sent coin home as he could, often via the merchant traders, for their living and their treasure chest. He even once sent a small carved bird with sparkling blue stones inset in its eyes, and wings that moved if you shook it gently up and down.

The campaign over, and the lord’s lands finally cleared of the blight that had besieged it, the father journeyed home. And after battle fields and fallen friends, even a wood-crafter’s cot was palace tohis eyes. Arriving in Heather after sup was long done and most hard-working folk were already abed, the father found his hut dark, silent… deserted. He ripped open the door and then stood frozen, his silhouette stark in the light of an uncaring moon. For the moon’s cold light shown in past him to reveal a room bare but for a few sticks of broken furniture, and a bundle of rags in the corner.

And then the rags moved. A small form rushed him, striking out with a knife. His warrior instincts took over and he struck back, his hand connecting. The form collapsed in a heap and the knife fell from dirty, limp fingers. Immediately, he pulled back, seeing that the one was so small and frail, there was no harm it could do him. But as he looked, as the moonlight shone on a dirty, tear-stained face, his heart almost stopped. It was Sonea. And she moved not. He had struck down his own daughter.

He fell to his knees and gathered her to him, crying his own tears and moaning his anguish. And he sat there with the limp form cradled in his lap until the morning dawned and the light of the new day shone in through the doorway of the hut. The father must have dozed, for suddenly he jerked awake. And his eye caught sight of the knife, forgotten until now, laying on the floor, bloody. She had not scratched him with it. He knew the blood was not his. He looked into the hut’s single room. There was no other victim whose blood it could have been.

Then he looked down at the daughter he held yet in his arms. Her face, so pale and fragile, held the peaceful look that only comes when one is lost in the bliss of sleep. “By the gods!? he thought to himself, almost o’ercome with relief, “She yet lives!? And he looked over the rest of Sonea, seeing rags for clothing, layers of dirt and grime on her hands and face. She was undernourished, bruised, and “dear gods!? she had slashes on her arms and legs. And the scars of older wounds.

Of his wife there was no seeing. Upon surveying the room in the morning light, it was clear that the mother was gone and had been for some time. Next to the hearth was an opening in the floor, the mat that had covered it carelessly tossed aside. He knew without looking that the pouch that should have lay hidden there, the coin they had been saving against the day that he might give up the warrior’s life for one more settled, when he might watch his daughter grow, was gone.

And then Sonea woke. And the tears began to flow anew. She must have recognized him for she made no attempt to leave his arms. But when the father tried to comfort the daughter, she responded not. Not to his words, not to his touch except for a slight widening of her eyes. When he lifted his hand to brush strands of hair from her face, she flinched as if she thought he might strike her.

Through a fog of heartache that threatened to paralyze him, in part caused by the pain of Sonea’s suffering, and in no small part due to guilt for the role he surely had in causing it, he realized that he had to seek help for his baby. For though he might comfort Sonea, he could not heal her wounds. He sought an old woman trained in the healing arts, that she might clear the scratches and vanish the scars. But the healer could only cure that which was physical. She could not repair the damage done to Sonea’s spirit.


The father, distraught over the loss of wife, and heart-broken over the ill treatment of child, gathered Soni (for that is what he called her) to himself that he might give her now the protection he hadn’t whilst away fighting the lord’s battles. And he took her with him now, to live the only life he knew. He rejoined his band of mercenaries. Ye can imagine that the life of such an one is harsh in the extreme. The trials of a father raising a mind-lost girl-child made it ever more difficult. And over Sonea’s early years, the ravens spoke their bitter laugh.

Throughout the TaleSpinner's speaking, the light of the invisible campfire had flickered and danced the ghosts of its flames about her face and lit the room. Yet even though they appeared lost in those flames as she spoke, those same eyes missed nothing. She saw the young ones asleep in their mother’s laps. And she saw the dwarf Flozzie snoring in the corner, an ale skin limp in his lap. And a small smile slipped gently to her eyes.

“My friends, these tales are old... old and older. And they are young. Young and younger, even as are we all. And even as we, it comes time for them to sleep, that they may wake another day in hearts and minds and deeds to come. So we have come to the end of the beginning of the tale.. the Tale of the Fool and the Fair.

And as the tales sleep, they dream... and what do they dream? Why, they dream of you all. They dream of other Fools and others Fair, and the deeds that may yet be. So for a time, but only a time, till we sit at another fire and dream again, let them..... sleep......"

And as she spoke her last words, the ghost flames flickered slowly lower, even as a fire burns low in the midnight dark. And then the light flickered and went out. A moment, mayhap two passed in total darkness and then the Hall lights came on. The TaleSpinner was gone from the stage.

The Hall, which had been quiet as death except for the TaleSpinner’s voice, suddenly erupted. Those who had gathered to listen surged to their feet, clapping and cheering, giving thanks for the telling.

Flozzie, who had only looked to be in his cups, also rose. And he began the end-chant.. “Well told.. Well told...? Those nearest to him joined in, and like ripples in a pond when a stone has been cast, others joined until the very rafters rang with the sound of it.

As they chanted, the wall behind the speaker’s stage began to glow. At first it was naught but a flicker of torchlight reflecting off the wall’s finish. But as the chant grew and as more joined in, the glow also grew until it shone so that it hurt to look full on it. And those who were nearest did shield their eyes with their arms.

The chant faltered as one by one each stopped speaking and stood silent. Watching, and waiting. When the chant ended, so did the glow. And in its place, in the center of the wall behind the stage, there formed a visage.

At first all that could be seen was a faint outline cast into the very wall itself. Silently all watched as the image formed before their eyes. And when it was complete, this is what those who had gathered saw. It was the father, sword and pack strapped to his back, cradling his daughter in his arms as he set foot to the Long Road.

Those who were nearest leaned forward to examine the visage more closely. And then they did gasp in surprise as they saw tears form and roll down the father’s cheeks whilst he gazed grimly into an unknown future.

All gazed in awe and wonder, and no little sadness, upon this miracle of magery. And then quietly, they did collect that which they had brought and they left the Hall, traversing the tree covered walkway to the courtyard entry of Heart’s Ease.

Bidding friends and neighbors good eve, each went his or her way, some to hearth fires and others to camp fires or some other place that would keep them warm through the night. And each looked forward with excitement to the next tale telling.