by Brian "Huffin' Decker

Set in the bowl of burnt out volcano is a small wood, the trees inside were as old as time could remember. Standing on the rim, looking down, a huddled form shivered. A low light in the center of the glade pulled at him like a beacon. The pain in its heart was intense as it looked at the wood, its body tensed as it took the first tentative step forward. A low fog set in as it passed the first tree, making it nearly impossible to see more than a few trees ahead. A low prayer chanting off its lips as it struggled against some unseen force. With each step its eyes grew wider, and its form seemed to shimmer, its eyes set on the dim light ahead

The firelight flickered off the towering redwoods, some easily the diameter of a small house, and taller than most buildings mankind had built. They had stood here since before man had stepped onto the continent, and would continue till man had long since left it, if Crelish had his way. The clearing they were in was surrounded by the oldest trees of the forest. The trunks of the trees were tightly knit, leaving little space between for a person to enter. At the far end of the clearing was a gap just big enough to allow a large man through. The lower bows of the tree were far out of reach, creating the airy feel of a cave. The stars were only just visible through the towering canopy. The low fog helped to complete the feeling, blocking off all but the closest trees, but not blocking out the stars.

At the opposite end of the clearing was a large stone. In its surface were many native markings, which Crelish could not interpret. It was a smooth black stone, standing about five feet tall, and nearly that in diameter. A concave on the near side allowed a man to sit, quite comfortably, with his back against the stone. The fire pit, surrounded by similar stones, was not to far away, creating a snug hole, to sleep and sit in.

Crelish turned the deer carcass over the fire. He was wrapped in warm furs, with his back set against the large stone. He looked at his two sons who sat on the other side of the fire, Terry and Sean. Their stout statures, nearly as large as his own, sat proudly, as they waited for their own sons to return. Crelish brushed the thinning white hair out of his eyes, as he watched the meat cook Terry's oldest son returned from a nearby stream, his wine skin full and added it to the other skins in front of them. Sean's second son returned bearing several large tubers and started wrapping them to be cooked, the remaining boys returned with various foods and more water, Crelish nodded and greeted each as they returned.

Pulling out a bloody skin, Crelish began the ceremony. "Tonight, we have the honor of partaking of a warrior's first kill, and as by right, he has offered the heart to me. Jalel, tonight is your 13th birthday, tonight you join your father and brother in our ranks as a warrior, Hezzah!"

He grabbed a cup, drinking deeply of the light wine. "Tonight your offering to me, will be my sacrifice to the stone of the glade, renewing our families ties, and guardianship of this glade. For the Glory of House Gwydion, and the Honor of The Broadbacks."

Unwrapping the skin carefully, Crelish revealed a bloody heart. He turned to the stone, setting the heart carefully on top. "Glade of old, we offer ourselves, as thy Guardians. Our Honor is tied to thy well being, may we die before harm is allowed to befall thee. Now we ask thy protection. On this night, guide away those who would harm us, give us leave to unmask our forms, and feel thy protection."

He spoke the familiar words, kissing the stone carefully, as he had seen the Shaman that had held it before him do.

Crelish had been gifted with the glade 10 years earlier by an ancient Nunahei, after Crelish had fought the local timber company to a stand still, saving this place. The Shaman had been dying, and had no sons to carry on the guardianship of the glade. Crelish had been fortunate enough to receive that responsibility. He turned back to his family, as a shimmering, like a thousand fireflies, rose up from the stone. He released his Mortal seeming for the first time in weeks, with a happy sigh. "The protection is in place, we can rest for now" His form changed, his mortal seeming slipping away revealing a mountain of a man. His thinning white hair was tied into a pony tail. His arms and legs became massive, hinting at great strength, and the scars became numerous, small horns protruded from his temples, and a shaggy white beard rested on his chin. He watched his sons and their children relaxed as well, their body's growing larger, and Blue, small horns protruding from their foreheads. Trolls, each one knew his duty and honor to this place, only his Oldest son had not been fae, he was saddened by this, but knew it was the way of the Dreaming. He had high hopes that the baby his daughter-in-law had growing in her stomach, would carry the family tradition, becoming the heir to this glade.

Smiling, Crelish and his family set about the meal, laughing and talking freely of there recent adventures. The Dreaming had become dark and forbidding in the last few months, portents of important things lying ahead were a constant in his wife's cards. 1954, they said, would not be a good year. He cleared his thoughts, concentrating on the celebration at hand. The younger kids were ax dueling, sharpening their fighting skills, while his sons gave quick pointers, and told long tales of how a certain maneuver had cost them or won them a fight. He smiled. Enjoying the freedom of the glade.

Most days Crelish went by the name Darion Hamilton. He was a timber team boss for the local timber company, which allowed him to carefully stear the teams clear of the glade. His sons both worked at the mill, and their sons were still in school. The Red Wood Forest, now a National Park, was adjacent to this small glade, but had opted not to incorporate it, much to his chagrin and delight. It would have been very difficult to maintain the glade, as is, if it had joined the park, but at the same time, he would not have had to fight the timber companies to keep it from being put to the saw. He'd saved as many glades as he could, most of those went into the park, but this one, his own, had not.

Crelish sighed again, standing and stretching, walking over to join the other men in celebrating Jalel's 13th Birthday. The day, traditionally, that a Troll went from childer to wilder, and Jalel had proven he was truly a wilder, with the kill of a large deer. It would feed his family through the on-coming winter, if they were careful. "Ho, Jalel, take a crack and an old Greybeard" He grinned hefting his own ax as Jalel turned to him, smiling. "Okay, Gompa." He charged forward, his sprite form darting inside, trying for a quick kill. Crelish expertly deflected the blow, dodging to one side, letting the boy carry over him and past. Turning he smiled "Come again!". Jalel got o his feet and charged again, only to find the flat of his Grandfathers ax, smacking him on the behind suddenly.

Crelish grinned "You have to remember, even if you opponent looks slow, they may have cantrips to make them faster, watch out for them." The boy nodded and went back to his sparring, laughing. Crelish stepped back breathing heavily, watching again. He barely noticed the change at first. It's not something he would have known if he didn't spend so much time in the glade. The crickets were gone. The never ending chirping, that he had learned to tune out, had suddenly vanished. He turned from the festivities a worried look on his face. After a few seconds they returned, but seemed a little off. 'Must be the wine' he thought and turned back.

The first arrow struck without warning, it's shaft suddenly protruding from Jalel's chest, his fae self quickly bleeding off as the boy fell in a heap on the ground, mid stride. "WHAT!" Crelish spun freeing his ax in the same motion, whispering a quick verse. "Speed is the need, and the cause is the right, and the speed is the need!" his foot clawing at the earth as he prepared to finish the cantrip. Sean leapt to his son's aid, drawing his great sword from his back. Terry charged over to the remaining kids, standing protectively, his own ax drawn.

Crelish heard the arrow before he saw it split in two on the ground, the arrow launched, and he finished the cantrip, moving as fast as quicksilver, his ax striking the arrow mid haft. But it had been a ruse as two more arrows brought down both of Terry's sons. Terry screamed in rage, trying to orient on where the arrow had come from, Sean's pain and grief washed over them as he pulled the arrow from his son's body. "Iron!" came the yell from Crelish as he looked down at the tip of the broken arrow. His sons turned to run, but the arrows came faster and Crelish watched the last of his family fall before him...he Screamed his anger and pain. "COME OUT! YOU COWARD"

The figure stepped out. In it's hand was a long rod. "Coward? I am no Coward, but a studier of the arts of war. Why fight a greater foe, when I can eliminate it with stealth?" Its figure was bent, it had been fae once, but Crelish didn't know. What it's kith had been, had long since been twisted into this.

"Art of war? What of Honor...but I forget, your kind don't recognize honor" Crelish didn't wait to finish the conversation, swinging his ax in arc at it's head. It moved faster then Crelish thought it could, deflecting the blow, and knocking Crelish back with a quick foot strike.

"Honor is an art left to those who wish to die young. I wish to live long enough to destroy your kind. Then God will let me sleep."

The wash of Banality from the creature, was incredible. Crelish had never experience his like. He stood slowly, feigning injury, gathering his strength. "God has nothing to do with this, you have rejected us, so live your own life, and leave us be!"

It laughed, but not a happy laugh. It's maddened eyes, were black as night. It's body covered in torn black clothes, a dirty white collar hanging from it's neck. "God has shown me the way. Has shown me the evilness of the devil, by making me one of them. He has set me high above humans, to let me hunt you down!" It cackled crazily "And this place. This is the root of your evil, and once I have broken you, and you have told me of the others of your kind, I will burn this Forest to the ground. Cleansing it of the taint you devil's bring! I will show the world what you are, and the Christian Armies will rise up, and throw off the yoke you lay on us. Leading us to lust and temptation, making us dream of things worldly and not of Heaven."

It’s eyes raised to heaven.. seem to glaze "Once, once I was a man. Just a man… a man… a…then.. then… the day I joined the brotherhood.. the day!!… One of your kind came to me…. And I was wracked…stabbed through the heart!!! God cursed me for my body's urgings.. Cursed me to become that which I fought. .he did.. yes he did. And she died under the weight of my holy purpose… That vile succubus.. that devil who lead me to temptation. I never told anyone.. but god knew… And God knew, for he had set me on this purpose! And now you.. you will know the weight of my purpose!!!"

It attacked viscously, driving Crelish back. The Banality from the creature drove him, far more than the creatures strength. He groaned under the weight, back peddling, trying to stay out of it's direct influence. Crelish tried to size up this creature. His mind spinning for away to victory. "You…" He grunted under yet another blow "You blame us for your frailty?" with a quick back flip, he dodged. "You seek to destroy us because you had a moment of weakness?"

Snarling, another series of blows rained down. "Weakness! I have none. It was God's Will that I become your destroyer…God's will.. will.. NOT mine! You lead all mens hearts astray. I have seen it. I know the tales, you.. you who feed off of our dreams… Who inspire us to greatness simply for your own pleasure and not for the glory of god.. she.. she didn’t. She tried to stop me with her body.. She…" It grabbed it’s head bending over in pain.. "Forgive me for my evil thoughts, my god. I will finish this. This Demon…" His glazed eyes leveled at Crelish. "Now, Devil, you will tell me where your brethren rest, that I may send them after you." It stood, the iron rod flying at Crelish in a viscous strike.

With a quick counter he pinned the thing's rod to the ground. "I will tell you nothing, beast. You are already dead, so I will loose little by laying your body to rest!" He counter attack, raining blows upon the creature, driving it back across the glade.

Easily deflecting the blows with one hand, gesturing with the other..."God's lighting strike this unholy creature down" He heard the arrow fly, and he ducked as it whizzed by his head, impacting in a tree.

Crelish felt as if someone had stabbed his heart, crying out in pain. He looked at the arrow, and ran to it as quickly as possible, removing it from the tree. His tie to the glade was to great, he knew this would not end well. With a flick of his wrist he flung the arrow back to its owner "God's lighting is a little slow today, why don't you try it on for size" he spun down, in an intricate step, pulling out a bag of holly and tossing it into the wind. The holly became missiles before the furious gale, driving at the creature.

It laughed. "You think a pitiful attack like that will do anything?" It made a quick gesture, and the holly leaves fell in heaps around it. Completely useless. "But my attack will not be fruitless!" Another gesture and the leaves lifted and shot back at Crelish, tearing at his skin. He screamed in pain, lifting his cloak to protect himself. The strikes stopped, his cloak, now shredded, blew away. He looked at his feet the leaves around him had turned to iron..

"What are you?" he looked in shock at the piles, gingerly stepping away from them.

"I am God's vengeance, a cousin of yours taught me of Elder Forms. Thus does God Reveal his plan to me. I use your own deviltry against you, and Gods glory will rain down. A punishment of iron on your kind." He held up his rod walking forward "And the last days will commence! Glory to God!"

"No, you twisted son-of-a-bitch, you have no God, when you rejected us, you rejected all Gods, now it ends." He drew from the rock, gathering strength and launching at the creature. How the rod ended up in his shoulder he would never understand, but he fell back, screaming in agony, dropping his ax.

"And God's vengeance shall be complete, tell me of your cousins and I'll let you die quickly. I'll remove the iron from your body...and give you a good Christian burial" The creatures words seem to rip into Crelish's mind. Tearing at his very being, he felt on the verge of collapsing against its will. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he pushed his own will back, rising to one knee, as blood flowed freely from his shoulder, and the numerous cuts on his body. The rod felt like fire, and his arm was completely useless.

"You are no Christian, Dauntain, I know you now. And with my dying breaths know this...Forever will you stay in this glade" He drew off the stone, building his strength, standing and pointing a finger... at the Duantain. "You will stay here forever, locked in this glade, till one of my loins, one of my blood, true of heart and honorable to the end, removes this rod and kills you with it." He groaned, drawing the last of the glamour from the stone. A thunder clap echoed around the wood, His back was seared, and shards of stone imbedded them selves in his back. "Thus is my curse." Crelish smiled, blood on his teeth. "You have failed your quest, and will die!" With an explosion of light, Crelish fell forward, his legs giving out to the pain.

It screamed in rage and frustration, feeling the glamour of the glade fade, it drew its own breath. "I too can curse you miserable devil, and so I curse your line, that never shall they be able to touch iron, without it's righteousness burning them. For as long as that iron remains in your body, so shall the curse last!" It screamed in agony, attempting to retreat from the glade, blinding pain racking it's body as it moved from the shattered stone "I will not be stopped by a Devil’s Curse.." Blood dripped from it’s ears and nose with each step. His feet, screamed in pain, even his hair seemed to be screaming for him to stop. Finally, it’s will broke. Collapsing, as Crelish's last breath escaped his body, a smile of peace on his face, his eyes to the stars above his head, as a small star lit by.

In a nearby Hospital, a small child screamed its first breath, larger than most children, it shivered and screamed till it was set comfortingly in his mother's arms. There he quieted, grinning at the lady above him

"So what's his name?"

The man standing behind her looked over at his new son. "Greg, Gregory Darion Hamilton"