The Circle and The Stone

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1)

Submitted: January 24, 2012

Reads: 130

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Submitted: January 24, 2012



Chapter 3


The Time of Truth


She watched the celebration unfold before her, as she had for generations, and she still remained intrigued by their society. She spied them in their world, far and removed, and yet from a perspective at the edge of the clearing that allowed her to remain unobserved and unknown. She was the only one from the outside world who knew of their existence, and she had kept that knowledge to herself for over one hundred and fifty years, maintaining a secret that was as important as very story of her own creation was. As unique as their world was, her existence was the catalyst for there own creation and she believed they no idea of the truth of their own selves.

The Great Tree stood majestically silent as it always had with only the stirring of the creatures above, quietly waiting for the flight  to commence. She was taking in the sight of the Great Tree and clearing around it, and it reminded her that she was not alone in the world even though it made no difference to her one way or the other. The gathering below had began to move to the edge of the clearing in anticipation of the flight when, she noticed a young squirrel foraging through the grass at the farthest edge of the massive clearing that defined the center of the New Forest. It appeared to be old enough to at least comprehend the Great Tree and the celebration in general, and even possibly of age to take the flight it’s self, but this squirrel appeared to be disinterested in the whole day, searching for grubs rather than participating in the annual event. She turned attention towards it, and by focusing her concentration, she slowly began to attempt to peer into its spirit, sense its thoughts, and feel its soul just as she could do with the others from her own world. The ability was slightly limited from her distance from it but it still could be successful, however that would not be the case today.

She felt nothing in this squirrel, no spirit, no soul and no thought, and she immediately shifted her focus upon her own natural instinct, in an attempt to draw out the simple raw feel of another forest creature deep within her presence. At this she was as successful as she could be, feeling the animal’s basic instinct and as a slight shiver rose up her spine, and she immediately knew something was not right in this realm. An average forest squirrel never came within moons of the conglomeration purely out of their own fear of what was incomprehensible and completely unnatural. But this squirrel was from the present conglomeration and all of them knew that at one time there were others in the forest, as that concept was the center of the old stories and core of the Telling of The Beginning. None had ever seen an actual Old One, as they called them and they were only told of only in tale, and they assumed that none still existed. She took several steps towards it in attempt to further study it traversing the distance across the clearing in a split second, she found herself only few feet away from the animal, and yet it still couldn’t see her as it still continued to forage through the grass.

It began to turn its attention towards a hyslop bush on the perimeter of the clearing when the flight from the Great Tree commenced, and as she heard the tell tale rustling sounds of hundreds of squirrels all leaving the apex at once, so did the now bewildered creature. It turned around in confusion at the noise, only to see them leave their unknown-to-him-perch and begin to take flight. Immediate agitation at the sight of them became a blind panic at the situation, and he laid as flat as possible to the ground with legs spread wide and dark eyes terrified, and it began to slightly convulse before it leapt up on all fours and bolted forward for the underbrush. It ran through the apparition that was her current physical state, and disappearing forever into the forest but as the animal passed through her, she could see and hear what in its brief time in the conglomeration had consisted of. All of its limited emotions became clear to her and the pieces of conversation from the others around became apparent, and though it had no understanding of any of it; she did. She attempted to turn her attention to the flight in progress, but instead of her annual enjoyment at the sight she suddenly became afraid for them as she began to filter through the disjointed conversations that filled her head, and the wild gambit of their emotions that flooded her mind. She had no choice but to refocus her self towards the energy that now consumed her, as she ignored the majesty of their flight from the Great Tree. She softly closed her eyes and began to feel the soft flow of their words and emotions coming through to her in an array of colors, all swirling about her head and looking for some form of a filter to give them a sense of order and thus allowing the story to come fourth; she was the filter they sought out.

They slowly began to form and organize within her mind, creating shape and form, and molding themselves into the basic concepts of sentient thought, and then she began to see an unknown variable of their existence that she had overlooked through out hers and there lives and she quickly became very concerned. The residual energy that the animal left in her when it passed through her own spirit allowed her to see the conglomeration from a unique perspective, one that gave her the insight to see what was clearly becoming a life threatening issue with in the community. She began to hear the conversations about the “Outlings” as she now knew they called them, and she sensed the confusion, and the latent fear of the one she had just came across, as voices echoed through her head the flush of stray and errant words became conversations, and she listened closely as they became comprehensible and filled with emotion. There was something terribly wrong with the newborns in their world and they knew of some basic problem but it was dismissed as a sickness, and they had no concept of the truth that she was beginning to realize. The colors slowed further as they began to coagulate into a full landscape of there existence, and now she could see and feel all of them, and it gave her a deep shudder that not only traveled through her current ghostly form, but one she could also feel in her physical form; shaking the very foundation her own reality where she really existed, far outside the center of the New Forest.

She could sense the other Outlings now, but all could she feel was an emptiness in the tones and the shades of color she saw, and as they began to violently mix together they turned into a solid wall of brown, before vanishing altogether, only to be replaced by a pure form of a cold black emptiness that even she had never experienced before. She came out of her trance as the last of the squirrels were landing in the clearing, and she had been told all she needed to know. They were not simply being born with out intelligence, they were being born without a spirit, a soul, and without sentience as they were reverting back to the animals they once were, and it not only threatened their very existence; it also put hers into question. She had kept their world a secret from not only from the outside world in general, but from her own world inside it.

She continue to watch the conglomeration celebrate their lives, and she believed they were oblivious to the truth when she noticed the spiritual leader, the Keeper, silently watching her at the edge of the clearing where she was still sitting in phantom form.

The Keeper sat alone awaiting the arrival of his daughter and the two brothers. The well worn tunnels deep inside the Great Tree gave him more than just shelter from the elements, they gave him solitude and understanding that only a Keeper could truly comprehend. The bowels of Great Tree were more than any others could really envision, one had to live within it, and breathe as one with it: It was a long term experience and not a momentary visitation. Life in the Great Tree was solitary but far from lonely and he wished that it was something his own daughter would one day understand. But he knew it just wasn’t meant to be. However, he brought forward a simple concept that after his inevitable death, perhaps many if not all could one day roam the endless space deep within it, and gain a glimpse of its power.

He really was the last Keeper, in the current context of the position, but he knew to truly understand the Great Tree, one simply had to be Keeper, and exist alone inside it. He was in the largest chamber of the catacombs; the one that he knew was once the small dugout that the First had created, as his scratchings still permeated the inner entrance. Again, this was a secret that only the Keepers ever knew of, as no one in any recent oral history but a keeper had ever been in this room. The liquors of the conglomeration served a much more important role in this place, as they were the fuel he used for the small fires that lit the interior. They allowed a limited light to permeate the space, giving it an appearance of an outside night gathering with the twist of a solid ceiling, and thick walls. It was the closest thing to a large “Hall” that there was. He was warm, but he was shaking again from a fresh vision of The Forest Spirit. She, as he was now sure of, gave him a glimpse of his world from her perspective. He saw the celebration and he saw himself before the telling at the edge of the clearing, observing her in amazement. He felt her thought for a brief moment, and it overwhelmed him, but he instantly knew who the others were, but he had no clue as to what they were. He knew were the outside world was, but he had no idea as to how to reach it. And he saw a forest without a Great Tree and it bothered him immensely. The world just simply could not be without the Great Tree. It was an impossible notion, but he saw it none the less, as the creatures outside were not squirrels, nor birds or the turtles in the creeks. They were beyond his comprehension, but the Forest Spirit, he knew, was closer to them than the others. And that confused him even further.

‘Stop it Aiden’ his own mind said to him. He suddenly became aware of what the First must have gone through when his own limited consciousness began to emerge. The circumstances were different, but the understanding of process had to be similar. It was simply confusing and fragmented. He rose of his hinds and moved towards the opening of the hall and proceeded through the tunnel towards the greeting dugout that was used for the few visitors that were invited inside.

Fiddich and Cerridwyn walked across the clearing in silence, knowing that Fowland would meet them as arranged at the foot of The Great Tree. There was no light conversation tonight and not a single sign of the morning celebration. Usually Fiddich would stay up by the late night fires, talking and laughing with the others and usually plotting in fun against his brother, until the dawn on this special day. But not tonight. The Celebration ended immediately after the Keepers revelations, and all somberly returned to there homes in the trees around them. The conglomeration retreated into themselves and with their immediate families. The subdued rustling of squirrels settling in at such an early time on such a day, played heavily in Fiddich’s heart. The day was not supposed to end this way.

“Things don’t always end the way we want” Cerridwyn said breaking the odd silence.

“Will you stop doing that, it’s annoying” He said to her in reference to the odd ability she had to read his thoughts and interject her own words into his mind.

As they approached the Great Tree, they could see the faint outline in the clear star filled night of a squirrel waiting patiently at the base of it. Fowland looked over as his sensitive hearing perked up at the soft sound of two others walking through the grass.

“Hey ho, brother” Fiddich said as they gathered together.

“Are we ready?” Fowland asked.

“Ready as ever I guess” he answered.

“How’s Cory?” he carefully asked.

“I told her the truth; we have no solid idea of what he wants to see us about” he again answered

“Well that’s half the truth” Fiddich instantly decided.

“Come one” Cerridwyn said “Let’s go talk to my father”

With her in the lead they once again, and for the second time that day, climbed the Great Tree. The distance from the ground to the Keepers opening was only half a normal trees height, which in perspective really put it tiny fraction of the distance to the first branches high atop, and with in moments they found themselves climbing into the Welcoming dugout. The brothers had never been in the dugout but Cerridwyn had on occasion with in the context of her many visits to her father. The Keeper was quietly waiting for them on the other side of the area, by the opening that led to the interior of the Great Tree. The three finished the climb and approached the Keeper, as the shadows of the fire light glanced off the old squirrels silver gray fur, Cerridwyn again found herself concerned at her father’s sad continence.

“Father” she said as they approached “are you okay” she finished as she nudged her nose to his.

“As well as can be expected” he answered in a tone of resignation as he turned towards the brothers.

“Fiddich and Fowland” he now said with a voice of authority “Welcome”

“Thank-you Keeper” Fowland answered as Fiddich slightly bowed his head in recognition.

“This way” he simply said as he turned his back on them and proceeded into the tree. They left the Welcoming dugout and began a short trek down a narrow hall of sorts. It was small and the result of some unknown force and it amazed the brothers as they had never known there was more in the Great Tree besides the opening dugout. They had always assumed the opening was an anomaly that the First had discovered and lived in; not a beginning into something far more. Cerridwyn herself had suspected it, but she had never spoken of it with her father.

“Keeper, how is this possible?” Fiddich asked as they walked deeper into the tree.

“We don’t know” he answered as the approached the large opening in the center. Shadows of light began to emerge before them on the walls of the hallway, as they approached the large opening in the center. It came to them as they broke through the end of the hallway and entered the massive space and the light fires were still quietly burning, giving vision and warmth to the room.

“Father, this is incredible” Cerridwyn said as she looked up and down the room.

“Yes it is, isn’t it” he said as it still amazed him after all the years “You three are first to ever see this far in since the time of the First, and now only Keepers and Councils come here” he finished. They immediately recognized the impact of where they were, and they felt uneasy at the break in societal rules. No one in the general conglomeration was aware of this place; it was another secret of the Keepers that was suddenly exposed. They crossed the room and approached an area that was used as the sitting area of the space as the floor was clearly worn from generations of squirrels, engrossed in conversation.

“Let’s sit” the Keeper said and they all lowered to the floor as the Keeper began to speak

“This place” he began as he gestured outward “was discovered by the First on his second trip in here. We call it the Hall of Creation as it was here that he brought the first families before our society was formed as this was safety and security for the first emerging minds that came out of the forest. It was also here that the first sentient squirrels were born from two of the Old Ones. This is where we started, and this is why you’re here now.” He said as he closed his eyes and paused for a moment. “A circle has a clear beginning and a clear end” He again began as reopened his eyes. “It ends precisely where it started and when the two ends meet; it closes in on it’s self. It becomes static and it becomes dead as there’s no more path left for it take to grow further. Our circle has now closed. Our society is now static, and it to will eventually die, as the Outlings are proving to us. This isn’t a strange illness that will go away in time as many have been led to believe, no; they’re a closed circle.”

“Why?” Fiddich quietly asked as his stomach was suddenly in knots.

“We don’t know why they’re born with out sentience” he admitted as he turned his attention towards him. “But we do know something, and that’s what I have to show you” he said as he rose on all fours

“This way” he said as they all rose and followed him out the Hall. They crossed the room again and entered a small hallway that lay off to one side. It was more of a tunnel than a hallway but after a brief moment a small light appeared and they found themselves in a chamber about the size of the Welcoming dugout. One fire was lit giving enough light to clearly see the features of the room. It was rough by the standards of  the area they had left, but they all immediately recognized why they were here as the light cast a odd shadow on the far wall clearly, showing the odd markings that were permeated deep in to the white hardwood.

“What is it father?” Cerridwyn asked as they approached the white core.

“It’s the core of the Great Tree” Fowland said more to himself than any one else.

“Yes it is” the Keeper said.

“This is incredible” Fiddich stated.

“The Great Tree is a tree after all, and this is the center” Keeper began “but it’s the scratchings that’s the wonderful part of all of this” he said as he pointed them out. They were as deep and ancient as the tree itself and they formed a pattern that none had ever seen before and they boldly spread from on side of the exposed core to the other. They were not the normal markings of a squirrel, aside from their size: They were sudden and deliberate and not random or insignificant. They were the message.

“These markings are from the First himself” he announced. “And they tell us the prophesy that I exposed at the Telling”

The three stood in shock at his words as neither could believe they were standing in front of a piece of the First himself. 

“When thirteen are born, thirteen must be found” Fiddich said

“Yes” the Keeper responded.

“So again what thirteen must be found?” Fowland asked.

“That’s what I need to show you” he said as he motioned them closer to the scratchings.

  As they approached the large markings they to began make out some smaller scrawlings off to its right, and here the Keeper immediately focused in on. They quickly realized that these were again no ordinary markings, they were set circles, four in all, one large one stood out first with a smaller one in its center, and off to the right of these there were also two smaller ones, one to the top, and another to the bottom.

“What do they mean father?” Cerridwyn asked as she leaned in for a closer inspection.

“We’ve debated that for generations” He began “We believe the large circle is the forest and the small one in its center is our world, our clearing. But notice the other two, they sit outside the known world, we believe this one is the Day Sun” he continued as he pointed out the lower right circle “As it sits at hinds height. And we believe this one is the Night Sun as it sits at heads height, but look above the four circles” he said as they looked further up. Above the glyph was small sharp symbol consisting of five intersecting lines that met at five precise points, creating a perfect pentagram.

“This is a symbol of the outside world, but more specifically, those who live in it” he said as he than turned to the brothers.

“Burn that image into your minds” He finished. Fiddich and Fowland stared at the whole picture before them and they both now knew that Cerridwyn was correct; they were leaving the clearing. Fowland's heart began to race as he knew he would have to explain the unexplainable to Cory and he knew she would have no part of it; that much he was sure of.

“Let’s go sit again” Keeper said as he turned and began to exit the chamber. They followed him out, and again crossed the Hall, returning back to the sitting area.

“This place and the clearing in which we live” he began as they again sat “is not the only world there is. As I said far and away in a land we know nothing of: Others exist.”

“What do think these others are?” Fiddich asked.

“I don’t know” he honestly answered “but we do know of one. We as Keepers of the Great Tree have always held another secret; it’s called the Forest Spirit. It’s a creature larger than ourselves and it appears in the ring of the clearing every year at the celebration. It’s never spoken to us, it seems to just sit and observe the flight, but the odd thing is it disappears when you look directly at it, yet remains clearly visible through the corner of the eye.”

“Do you know what it may be” Cerridwyn asked.

“I do now” He began to answer “We always thought it was only a piece of the Night Sun watching the flight to assure the Celebration was following mantra, but this year was different, far different. It appeared as it always had but after the flight I looked directly at it and this time, and for the first time, it didn’t vanish and I got a very long look at it before it spoke to me. I know it’s female, as it spoke in my mind and she said to find her as she can help us. She is a part of the Night Sun, we were right about that, but she’s also a creature like us but from that outside world.”

“How can something be both?” Cerridywn asked slightly confused “I mean the Night Sun is high above in her own world, not down here in ours. We can’t go to her world and she can’t come to ours, as that’s what the Great Tree does; it acts as conduit between us and her. We all know that.”

“I know” he answered “but somehow this Forest Spirit lives in both worlds, she’s a part of the Night Sun but she’s also alive in the outside world. I know, it makes no sense to me either, but she confirmed the scratchings of the First and she said to find her as and than you’ll find the thirteen. She also confirmed my belief that somehow, Fiddich and Fowland, you two must be the ones to leave here and find her” he finished.

“Why us?” Fowland asked. The Keeper eyes grew tired as he felt Fowland’s concern for his family and Fiddich’s fear rise to the surface. He could also sense his daughter’s apprehension of being left without her future mate, and her own fear that he would never return.

“Well first you’re both at the right age for the long journey, and second you have a stronger bond as brothers than any of the others in the conglomeration, and you’ll need it” he answered. They both knew his last point was correct, as they really more than just brothers they were in fact best friends “And more important than all else; she told me to send the brothers and that’s the both of you”

“She actually asked for us?” Fowland said.

“The two brothers were her exact words” he said as he stared into him. Fowland now immediately accepted what he was asked of, but he suddenly felt his brother’s angst.

“I still don’t see why it has to be us” Fiddich said in a resigned tone.

“Who else than, Fiddich, you tell me?” he hissed and the young squirrel lowered his head as he had no answer. “You treat life as a grand joke, you disrespect the flight but I can deal with that” He pointed out as his frail old voice grew louder “My daughter will choose you as her mate and that I can also deal with, I may not understand why, but I have no choice but to except it. But you’ve been chosen and you’re going.” He said as he continued berate Fiddich. “Your selfishness will stop here and now, I can sense your brother’s apprehension as he has a fresh family, but you? You have no excuse, as matter of fact as the future mate of a Keeper, you have a responsibility to my daughter and tomorrow you’ll begin to live up to it. Like it or not, young squirrel, your going on a very long journey” He finished as he pointed an old claw at Fiddich. They sat for a moment in dead silence at his words, before Fiddich spoke.

“I’m not selfish Keeper” he quietly said as he looked up at him. The Keeper gave him an icy stare but said nothing.

“What do we have to do” Fowland said breaking the tension and opening up the conversation towards the journey ahead.

“As the markings show, I believe the others are outside the forest” He began as he slowly regained his composure. “And in the direction of the Night Sun. The Night Sun is mysterious in her ways and where she appears, as we know is her majestic perogative. However, she created the Day Sun and she still controls him and she keeps him relatively constant as to where he appears to wake the world. The Forest Spirit said to keep him at your back at the rise, and let the Night Sun guide you by spirit through the dark, but don’t follow the her by sight, as we know she is always in between unknown worlds so you shouldn’t chase her. We’re searching for our own outside world, not her world, so remember that and the Day Sun will guide you accurately.”

“If and when we find the outside” Fiddich began but he was quickly interrupted.

“No ‘if’ Fiddich” the Keeper said and Fiddich began again.

“When we find the outside world”

“And you will” Keeper again interjected.

“Do you have any idea of what were looking for, I mean, besides thirteen of something?” he asked.

“As I said, the Forest Spirit will find you before you find the thirteen, it’s she that will bring you to them” he answered.

“And then?” Fowland asked.

“Our lives, our future, and our very existence are in her hands” he quietly answered.

“I want to go with them father” Cerridwyn abruptly interrupted. He looked over at her and his eyes spoke volumes to her.

“No Wyn, they need you here” Fiddich said.

“Listen to your mate” he said “The Forest Spirit directly summoned the brothers, and I need to summon you. Tradition calls for a Keeper for life but now that has to change” He turned his full attention towards his daughter and continued to speak “Tomorrow at the rise, you will assume the role Keeper” Those words rang loud in all their minds at this radical shift in mantra. A Keeper was Keeper until death; it had always been that way.

“I’m not ready for this father” she said in an astonished tone.

“Yes you are and you’re far more ready than you think.” He began “all things are changing Cerridwyn and so is the role of Keeper, I have little credibility left within the conglomeration after today’s events but you still do. You’ve held nothing from them and you already hold a unique position and I’m only elevating that status. You’ll now reshape the position of Keeper as you see fit as the Time of Tradition is over and the Time of Truth has begun, and my last duty as Keeper will be to declare it so”

She knew she would eventually be here in this place at some future time, but never did she imagine it would be this day. She felt she was to young and inexperienced for the role and she personally believed she was not emotionally ready for it.

 Fowland looked over at his brother who sat stunned in shock at her father’s words.

“Congratulations Wyn” was all he could say.

She looked over at Fowland with a confused continence and then at her father.

“But what of Council?” she asked.

“Malvo has no say in this decision” he curtly answered. “As a matter of fact he will shortly have no say in anything, his position is as damaged as mine, remember he also knew of the truth and he also conspired with me to, as all Councils and Keepers have since the beginning, to keep it a secret. Cerridwyn, my daughter, I ask of only one thing from you: No more secrets with in this society, the Time of Truth is here” he stressed.

“I understand” she said and she did. She felt the harm that was being inflicted on all of them was somehow a result of an influence from the outside world, of which at this mornings rise, none had known of. She also began to sense that the answer also lied in that very same world, in which her mate and his brother were about to search for. Fiddich and Fowland sat quietly, listening to the Keepers words and they both began to catch a glimpse of understanding in his logic. He sensed that in them both of them and it again reaffirmed his belief of his convictions.

Fiddich reached over and placed his paw on hers and as she turned towards him he gave her nose a gentle nudge.

“You’ll be fine Wyn” he gently affirmed. She saw something in his eyes that she had never witnessed before; a dead seriousness that gave her a certain comfort. He accepted this as he knew it was inevitable and he was now the mate of a Keeper, but a Keeper with far more natural ability than those before, and a Keeper with a destiny of change ‘Don’t worry’ she said in his mind ‘No Keeper will again live in isolation’ and Fiddich smiled.

“If you believe that is the will of the Great Tree, daughter, than it shall be” Aiden said as he caught her thoughts.

“I do father” she said.

“Do what?” Fowland asked.

Cerridwyn chuckled and let him in on the unspoken exchange.

“Oh, I see” he said aloud as her words filled his mind “But I wish you wouldn’t do that, it’s disturbing”

“See” Fiddich said “It’s not just me”

She laughed out loud again as the Keeper himself, for the first time that night, let out a small grin.

“Tomorrow at the rise we’ll begin this New Time” Aiden began “Fiddich and Fowland, it’s your choice as to when you are ready to leave, but I ask you make it as soon as possible. Fowland you have your family to tend to, and I would like the honor of adopting them in your absence”

“I’d be honored” he sincerely answered “but since none of us have ever ventured to far from the clearing, I have no idea what that would really entail”

“Fowland, I’m an old squirrel and now one without a clear purpose, I’m sure your family could use some company now and again to help them keep the faith of what I’ve asked them to sacrifice. As a matter of fact I’m sure Cory will need it” he answered and Fowland certainly believed that was true.

“Father you have a purpose deeper than you know” she said.

“Today I make that judgment but tomorrow you will” he said in faith.

“Thank-you Keeper” Fowland said as he slightly bowed his head in respect.

“And Fiddich” he began as he addressed him “You now have a great responsibility towards my daughter and this Great Tree in which we sit, as you will shortly be the mate of a Keeper and your first born will also one day be in that position. It’s your responsibility to make sure that young one is born with sentience and raised with spirit. It’s your duty to teach the next Keeper the values of the conglomeration, and full scope of his role in this community and the fate of that position is directly in your hands” He finished. Fiddich said nothing as the full magnitude of the Keepers words began to sink in. It was all true but he had never really thought of any of it, as it was supposed to be seasons upon seasons in the future, but here it was; here and now.

“No pressure their, huh bro” Fowland said as he slapped him on the back. Fiddich slowly turned towards his brother with incredulous look on his face as even he couldn’t believe his brother would do something like this at that moment, but his wide grin and the tiny wink he gave explained all. He was again calming his nerves as only he could do.

“No bro, no pressure at all” he slowly said as he returned his smile. The Keeper sensed the immediate change in Fiddich an understood the exchange but chose to ignore it as he looked at his daughter and caught her tiny smile.

“Now, I need to be alone with Cerridwyn” he said “as we have some things as father and daughter to discuss”

 They looked at the Aiden and for the first time they saw him as a father and not as a Keeper, and he needed his only child more for himself than for the conglomeration.

“Of course Keeper” Fowland said as they both rose off the floor.

“The rise at the stone” He said to the both of them as they stood.

“We’ll be there” Fiddich said as they turned and exited Creation Hall and proceeded to the Welcoming Dugout. They left the Great Tree as they had entered, through the narrow hallway and into the space that suddenly appeared as a beginning to the outside world and not the start of the Keepers world, deep inside the Great Tree. Together they silently dug their sharp claws into the ancient bark and left the confining folds of the great space, and climbed down heads forward into the dark night.

“How are you going to explain all of this to Cory?” Fiddich asked as they approached the floor of the clearing.

“I don’t know yet, do you care to give it a try?” he said with a chuckle.

“No bro” he said with an emphatic laugh “she has a hard enough time with me as it is”

“Not really, she’s just Cory, she’s difficult and I guess that explains it all”

“I know”

“But this time she really does need to understand, and I don’t know how to explain all of this to her” he said as they met the moist grass of the clearing floor.

“Wyn is to become Keeper, and were leaving on some trek that defies explanation” Fiddich said “And I hope, for your sake, that she can grasp all of this because I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time with it”

“I know, so am I” he said “But we’ve been asked of something that no others have”

“Why do you really think it has to be us?” Fiddich asked as they slowly walked across the clearing towards there respective nests. “I mean Keeper says it so, and this Forest Spirit he spoke of also says it’s so, but really; why us?”

“I don’t know, but I do know this; were about to find out. But…” he said as he stopped the walk and turned towards him. “It’s you I’m concerned about”

Fiddich understood his brothers concern for himself, as only he really knew of the apprehension and angst that he felt of falling in love with a future Keeper. She was his world and he was hers and now that she would be Keeper; he was leaving.

“I knew this day would come” he began “but I certainly didn’t think it would be today, and definitely not under these circumstances, but here it is. She’s strong brother, we both know that, and what she really sees in me I don’t understand, but I’m lucky in some respects and cursed in others”

“That’s true” he agreed “but the Time of Tradition is over and she holds the future mantra”

“I know and that gives me life Fowland, pure life but I still can’t believe she’s about to be Keeper.” he said as he shook his head.

“Neither can I but your getting what you want: Your mate. But not in the context of the former living traditions and the Keeper’s right; you really do have certain responsibilities from this moment on.” He reminded.

“I know and I grasp the concept of Keepers Mate, after all if I didn’t; there’d be no stress in my life.” He said with another small laugh as he addressed the night sky.

“I realize that” Fowland said with his own chuckle “but this journey is another story”

“Don’t worry about me” he said as he lowered his head from his gaze above “We have to go, and go we will, together, pure and simple. The keeper was right; I am a little selfish but that certainly has to change” he finished as he now held his brothers eyes.

“Fiddich, it’s not selfishness in you, the Keeper just doesn’t understand you that’s all” He began “You should have young ones by now, and maybe you should take things more seriously but you’re a free soul and I know it’s not easy with Wyn, and with the Outlings and all”

“I know, but the Outlings are a convenient excuse and now everything’s changing” he said as he again addressed the dark sky “We have to succeed at this Fowland, that is succeed at whatever this is, I really do believe our futures rely on it”

“I believe the same thing” he softly said.

“Why us” Fiddich said in a laugh.

“Really, who else?” Fowland asked.

“I know, I thought the same thing when Keeper was ripping me apart”

“Even I’ll say I don’t think you really you deserved that”

“Well, He is Keeper and Wyn is his father” Fiddich said.

“That’s true, and come to think of it I’m surprised you’ve never felt his wrath before”

“Yeah, I know” he said as his trademark sly grin shone through the dark “I’ve certainly deserved it more than once in the past”

Fowland began to sport his own grin and spoke.

“Like the time you climbed the Great Tree and took flight from the Welcoming Dugout”

“That’s a prime example, and was he mad at me for that” He said now trying to hold in a good laugh “But I really thought he was off somewhere with Council” he finished with justification.

“No he was standing right their” Fowland reminded him with his own laugh.

“Yeah, I found that out right quick” Fiddich said. “But that seems a life time ago”

“Suddenly it is” his brother said.

“Why is all this happening?”

“I don’t know, brother, I just don’t know” he said as he now addressed the night sky. “But we have to somehow stop it”

“And we have no idea as to what it is we have to stop”

“I know”

They stood in silence for a moment, both looking into the night sky for some answer to a question they really couldn’t yet comprehend, as they had no concept of the outside world or their unique place within it.

“I really do wonder why we were chosen” Fowland now contemplated

“Well, it’s not your good looks or my large tail, that’s for sure” his brother said with chuckle.

“No, that’s for sure!” he countered with a laugh that was loud enough to wake the closest tree; unfortunately it happened to be his.

“Fowland?” the unmistakable voice of Cory rang out. They looked at one another and their time together, for the night, was promptly over.

“Time for me to go” He said. “We’ll be all right bro, we’ll survive”

“First you have to survive Cory” He said with a smile.

“You got that right” he agreed.

The night sky was filled with the tiny remnants of the Night Sun, all shining in the limited brilliance that only she allowed. They were a part of Her, but separate from her physical being, as she left these points of light behind to remind the conglomeration of her on the nights that she wouldn’t be present. They were always there on a clear night, regardless of her presence or not, but her full reality would always out shine them, and remind those below as to who owned the all that was above the Great Tree.

For the first time that she could honestly remember, her father spoke with her as his daughter and not as Keeper. Tradition had always dictated the separation of ‘Keeper’ from the distinction of ‘family’ as ‘Keeper’ was the enforcer of the mantras of the Great Tree. The duel nature of the role was always elusive to her but she knew in time that she would eventually comprehend the symbiotic relationship with the Great Tree that all Keepers shared. It was the true spiritual nature of the role, but she was lost in emotion. Her mother had given the ultimate sacrifice for her very existence; her life as she died giving birth to her, leaving a Keeper with out a mate for the first time since the time of the Corridwyn. Her father gave her a name and left her rearing to a surrogate family which was more than honored to raise her as their own in her first years. It was the way of a Keeper, as none, daughter or not, could live in the Great Tree and over time she began to understand this, but she always felt the outcast. She was born, as all in her blood line before her were, with certain abilities that were the traits of a Keeper; innate abilities to sense emotions and project into the minds of others, and these abilities were foremost within the relationships that all before her had shared with the Great Tree. It was also this awareness that centered her out within the general conglomeration, and it was these talents that drew her to Fiddich. She saw something in him that no others possessed; a quiet silence that was never really silent, and a voice within him that when came forward, always made her laugh. She loved him.

“You have to tell your father” Shay had told her a few seasons previous. She was her in her charge for as long as she was young enough for it to be warranted but now in her first season of adulthood, she was free to live her life in the conglomeration in any way she deemed fit. But Shay also knew that the Keeper expected to be informed as to her decision of a future mate.

“He won’t like this” she sheepishly said to her.

“Well Cerridwyn, I know enough about Fiddich and his general behavior” She had begun “to understand his concern about him. Your father is Keeper and he won’t agree with your choice of any one anyway, but your mate will one day be a Keepers Mate, and though that’s quite far in the future, it’s still a lot to think of”

“He’s not really the way he acts” she said “he just likes to have fun, that’s all”

“Yes, I’ve certainly witnessed that, and that’s his problem.”

“Is it really Shay? Do really believe his spirit is a problem?”

“It may one day be, Cerridwyn, but personally as a female” she said with a sly smile “he is appealing”

Cerridwyn’s innocent eyes lit up at her fresh perspective of him, as she realized her surrogate mother gave her a nod approval. Shay had raised her as her own almost since her birth, and she was a beautiful mature squirrel with a certain wisdom that Cerridywn cherished and her father deeply sensed. Aiden knew at his mate’s death that she would be the one to raise his daughter, and she fulfilled that role in a way that even surprised him. She molded Cerridwyn into a true Keeper, and without the knowledge of the reality of the position.

“Wyn” she quietly said with a soft smile “do you love him?’

“Yes I do” she answered.

“Then you’ll both be just fine” she finished as she nudged her nose to hers and gave her a wide smile.

The father and daughter sat alone within the Great Tree, a future keeper and the one who would replace him, and he broke all tradition by claiming her as Keeper before his time was over. They sat quietly within the comfort of the Great Room as the warm light continued to shelter them from the world outside the Great Tree. 

“They will accept you as Keeper” the old squirrel said in response to her concern.

“Are you sure, father?”

“They simply have no choice Cerridwyn, Council won’t agree with it I know that much, but it’s up you to deal with him from now on. So you do what you see fit.”

“The positions gone” She flatly stated. She didn’t realize that she had just made her first decision as Keeper, and her firm decisiveness didn’t go un-noticed by her father.

“You see” he said with a smile “You are ready”

“I hope your right”

“I am”

The conglomeration awoke at the predawn sky as they always did. However, today was again different, the previous rise was the Celebration, and today should have been just another regular morning. They normally would have slowly gathered in and around the clearing, amoungst family and friends, and drifted through another simple day playing out the wonderful mundane ness of their lives. Keeper awoke earlier than the others did today, as he knew he had another big day ahead as this was his last day as Keeper. Cerridwyn stayed her father for the night, as she was to tired after their long talk to retire to her own nest, and rose with him in the early rise.

“Gather the conglomeration,” he asked of her as she quietly nodded in agreement and left the Great Hall, leaving him alone for the last time inside the Great Tree. She climbed down from Welcoming Dugout, gently digging her claws into the rough bark and feeling the warmth of the Great Tree, knowing when she returned to it, she would be its Keeper. The faint light began to increase as she crossed the clearing and approached Fiddich’s tree. He still lived alone, and though they were mates, he knew that within the extremely large nest that Cerridwyn lived in; the Outlings took up much space. She was lucky in a sense, lucky in the fact that they were all born far apart enough over the last two seasons that there was never more than two with her at a time, and now there was one close to mating age and the young one; The Thirteenth. The last one she hoped.

She paused for a moment at the base of his home and than proceeded the short climb upward. He had chosen a knarled old Butternut tree for his home and she actually liked it; it had an odd character that suited his personality. The choice of a tree to claim with in the conglomeration was endless and though most lined the clearing, some like his, were a little deep into the forest, giving the advantage of the choice of any size or shape. His brother on the other hand, as he had started a family the previous season, chose a large ordinary maple -or Cory chose a large ordinary maple- that had to line the clearing and be as close to the Great Tree as was possibly available. There was no arguing allowed from Fowland on those two points, as she swore sometimes he would rather be living with his brother in that musty old rotting tree. Unknown to her, occasionally she was correct.

Cerridywn approached the lower branches of the tree and climbed into the foliage, entering the humble home.

“Fiddich!” she called out. He was just awakening when he heard her voice.

“I’m here” he called back. She climbed a few more feet and entered the natural opening between the two main trunks that had formed over many generations. It was cozy and familiar as it always was and she always felt safe here, it was her solitude when she needed it and her strength when it was required. Fiddich was just beginning to rise when she approached him and softly pushed him back down. She said nothing as she lay down beside him, placed her tiny nose into his neck, and closed her eyes.

“I don’t want you to go,” she softly said as she attempted to hold back her tears. He reached around to the soft nape of her neck and gently caressed the back of her head with his claws.

“I know” he said “but you more than any know we have to”

“I know that, but I don’t want to lose you,” she said as her eyes finally welled up.

“Wyn” he began as he held her closer “You won’t, Fowland and I will take care of each other, but it’s the conglomeration here and now that worries me”

“I’ll take care of them,” she said.

“I know you will,” he said in a soothing tone “shortly you’ll be Keeper after all”

“And you Keepers mate” she said in a quiet matter of fact way.

“Well, I certainly guess that’s true” he said

“More true than you realize” She said as she twisted around and gazed into his eyes. She looked deep into him and began to stroke the back of his own head.

“So I when I return, I think we should probably share a home?” he said a little sheepishly.

“Well” she began “I think your young one would enjoy having his father around” she said with a grin. Fiddich’s stomach dropped at her comment, as he instantly knew what she was alluding to; she was pregnant. He knew it was only a matter time and as of late he truly believed he was fortunate for it not to have happened yet, but on this particular morning, he welcomed the news.  

“Wyn!’ he exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” 

“I wasn’t sure” she plainly answered.

“And now you are right? I mean completely sure?” he asked. She nodded her head and smiled wide.

“And now I’m leaving you” he said in exasperation as he rolled onto his back and stared at the hollows roof. She placed her head on his chest, feeling his heart racing, and continued to speak.

“Fiddich” she began “I’m afraid of an Outling, and I, more than all others, know what they are. I feed them and attempt to groom them everyday, they grow and they become wild. I can’t imagine our young one being an animal” she finished as she broke into a full cry. He held her tight for a few minutes, allowing her to let it out, as it certainly been a trying past day.

“Wyn” he said as soothed her “It won’t happen”

“I hope not,” she returned as she tried to regain her composure.

“Are you ready Keeper?” he finished, now with a slight tease in his voice that he always knew made her feel better.

“Ready as ever I guess”

“Good” he finished as they rose from the hollows floor and left for the forest below.

“My father wants to me gather the conglomeration,” she said as they climbed down the tree and into their new world.

“Well, I’ll call on Fowland, if he’s still alive” he said with a chuckle.

“Fiddich” she said with admonishment “you can’t blame her feeling the way she does, they have Aaron now”

“Aaron or not, you know what she’s like”

 They jumped onto the ground as she turned towards him.

“Stop it” she said with her own slight laugh as she nudged her nose to his. “Go save him and I’ll see you at the stone” she finished with a smile as she then turned and walked into the morning light, leaving Fiddich alone in his thoughts. He left his home in the opposite direction of her, the direction of the Great Tree, to awake his brother who he suspected, didn’t need to be awoken. The light grew stronger but the day sun had not yet made its appearance, but as he approached his brothers tree, he looked up to the top of the Great Tree and he could discern its distinct colors high above the canopy, and he also saw Fowland waiting off to one side of the Stone. The Stone sat only moments from the Great Tree, and only a few more from his tree, which pleased Cory to no end. Fiddich was relieved at the simple fact that his brother was waiting for them and he didn’t have to climb into his home and speak with his wife, who would now certainly be in a foul mood. He immediately turned from the tree and focused on his brother.

“I can assume she’s not taking all of this to well,” he quietly said as he approached him.

“Good assumption brother” he said with a glum tone. “I’ve seen her upset before but never like this”

“Well, I have some good news anyway”

“I could certainly use that,” he said, “what is it?”

“Wyn’s pregnant,” he stated with a smile.

“Who did that?” he returned with a grin.

“That’s what I was going to ask you”

“Oh no!” Fowland said with a large laugh “I have enough trouble with Cory” He finished as he raised his paws up in defeat.

“And this gives all this insanity a new purpose” Fiddich said in a serious tone.

“It certainly does, but your child won’t be an Outling, we have to make sure of it”

“That’s what I promised Wyn,” he returned.

“And break it we won’t”

“I hope not Fowland, I really hope not”

The Day Sun was finally crossing the vista into the world as several squirrels began to head to the stone, in anticipation and apprehension of the Cerridwyn's summoning. Word spread quickly from tree to tree at the request of a gathering from the Keeper, and they quietly gathered below, as the Day Sun finally broke the apex of the Great Tree.  As Cerridwyn approached the gathering, she spied the Great Tree and saw her father carefully climb out of the Welcoming Dugout, slightly struggling down its warm trunk, until he reached the clearing floor. The conglomeration noticed the Keepers approach and voices of mutterings began to rise in the clearing as the mixed feelings of the old squirrels revelations were slowly comings to fruition. Truth and honesty was always a given in their society, as they really knew of no other way, there was simply no reason to deceive another: they lived as a one large family. Keeper and Council had kept a truth from them all and they were confused more than angered, as it was simply not natural. Fowland looked about the gathering in search of his mate and their young one when much to his relief he saw them at the back of the crowd.

“I’ll be right back,” he said to Fiddich as he turned to gather his family.

Cerridywn had finished spreading word of the in-prompt-to summoning when she herself joined the others, apprehensive and slightly afraid.

“Is Cory as upset as I think she is?” she said as Fowland left them.

“He said he’s never seen her like this before” Fiddich answered as he turned towards her.  

“Well I think our news will keep her occupied,” she said with a smile as she gave his nose a nudge. Fiddich looked into her eyes and smiled himself.

“I think so to” he said “It’ll give her someone to dod over”

“And if it keeps her mind off her situation; I’ll let her” she said with a chuckle.

The Keeper was crossing the clearing as Fowland b

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