Words of a goddess

The eye gazed at Mirko, its cerulean iris as large and encompassing as the sky, and the pupil, though a mere pinprick in comparison, large enough for Mirko to fall into and be lost forever.  The helical coils of smoke still bound him, though now they seemed more supportive than restraining.  As though blown from a distance he smelled a faint miasma of burned animal hair, and something growled softly behind him.

Well, little druid, you've found my grove.  The voice echoed inside his head, made from the myriad small sounds of the woodland; twigs cracking under the hooves of deer, leaves falling from trees, birds taking wing, and the slow, twice-yearly resonant systolic thump of sap rising.  Mirko convulsed, clutching at his ears with his hands, his scalp crawling as though he'd fallen asleep on an ant-hill.  The question is, what will you do now you're here?

"I... I came..."  Mirko stumbled over his words, his voice catching in his throat and his train of thought whirling around and escaping from him.

You came to perform a task asked of you by others, it would seem.  The voice seemed to shake thoughts lose from his mind, images of his meeting with the druids and them asking him to reconsecrate the grove appeared before his eyes.  He looked at them, both remembering them and seeing them for the first time, hearing the voice and suddenly realising that he'd taken the elder druids' authority for granted.  He hadn't questioned.

No, little druid.  You asked no questions, and you've not stopped to think.  Even when you looked, you chose not to see.  Tell me, what do you see when you look at my grove?

"Two... t..t..two shapes," he stuttered, his throat dry and tight.  "A s..s..sphere, it might be the original ench..enchantment, and a..a..an..another shape, oct..octahedral.  Something else."

And what is that something else?

"I..I..I d..d..don't know."

The coils of smoke tightened abruptly and the smell of burning animal hair grew stronger.  Mirko gasped, sucking in air desperately, and tried again.

"An enchantment."  He hurried the words out, running them together in an effort to waste as little breath as possible.  "Made by someone else, something else.  It's not druids, I don't think it's human."  The pressure in his chest was making his ribs creak now and his vision was shrinking down to narrow circles of light  "It... it could be the hobgoblins."

Ah, little druid.  See, when you think, you are capable of amazing me.

The smoke uncoiled as fast as it had coiled and Mirko felt himself jolt as he slipped slightly, falling a short way before the smoke caught him again.  He heaved a breath, and then another, pins and needles tingling all over his skin and tiny lights dancing in his slowly restoring vision.

"You're worshipped by the hobgoblins?"  Mirko knew he was guessing, but it seemed better to continue than to risk the giant eye's wrath again.  "You must be some representation, some Avatar of Morwen, but we... I didn't know that the hobgoblins worshipped you too.  In fact, I didn't know the hobgoblins worshipped anyone."

So today you have learned that you don't know everything?

"I've been reminded," said Mirko.  "So, you know I came here to reconsecrate the grove, and I know that it looks like the grove was never deconsecrated."  He thought about the shapes he'd seen again, and decided on another guess.  "I think that the hobgoblins consecrated the grove to you in their own fashion, and that's the shape I don't understand.  What would happen if I performed this ritual now?"  His hand went to his pack where the scroll Oliver had given him was stored.

A sensible question, and one you will have to answer for yourself.  But you may take your time over this, so long as you don't take more than twelve hours.

The smoke twisted and gripped and Mirko found himself pulled through the air towards the grove, whipped through the trees so fast he barely had time to see branches coming towards him and flinch away from them.  Then he was set down on a small moss-covered island in a swampy-looking lake in the centre of the grove and the smoke and eye dissolved like so much cloud burned off by the morning sun.

The End

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