Signs of Chaos
Lady Gwenn Oakleaf
Fey Liege of the Autumn Court of the Feywild
Like so many times before, Gwenn ran through the burning streets of her home village. Everwhere she turned, there were signs of battle – dead animals, destroyed gardens, burning houses – and everywhere, a dark stench of death. Though she had re-lived this day in her dreams for more than a dozen years, Gwenn was unable to stop her adolescent self from frantically searching for her mother – the eladrin priestess of Sehanine, or for her father – the human druid with a mysterious past. She ran from burning houses to the blood-soaked shrines…but no sign of any of the villagers remained. Realizing that she was now all alone, she cried herself into a frenzy, and considered walking into one of the still burning houses and going to sleep for one last time.
But something finally calmed her body and focused her mind. She heard her friend – the dryad from the Witch Woods that she hadn’t dared to tell her elders about – singing softly. Gwenn had never heard the creature make any noise other than a whimsical laugh as she disappeared in a burst of leaves, only to reappear a short distance away in another burst. Though Gwenn had never known the dryad’s name, or conversed with her at all, the two had been friends and playmates since Gwenn was old enough to wander into the woods without the protective gaze of her father, Raven.
As the dryad’s song came to a close, Gwenn embraced her. She tried to ask her companion how she knew where to find her, and why she had never spoken to her before. But the dryad just looked at her with deep black eyes, all sign of whimsy missing from her countenance. Gwenn had never realized how ancient and…oddly powerful the dryad had been before.
The dryad put a long slender finger to her lips and whispered, “You may call me Draoi. Now you must come with me, Oak Child.”
Puzzled by the dryad’s words, Gwenn ran to keep up with her friend, as she teleported quickly through the woods. After what seemed like many hours, the forest began to change. First she noticed that the canopy of trees was so thick that she could no longer see the sky. Then, the trees seemed to grow more vivid in color – taking on a heady scent that blocked out all sense of pain and confusion that Gwenn had been feeling.
Draoi slowly walked to an ancient looking oak tree, and knelt. Unsure of what else to do, Gwenn knelt beside her.
Slowly, the tree began to move and, as it turned, Gwenn noticed that it, like her dryad friend, had human features and was sentient.
The tree studied her for a long time. Finally, with a strained and sad voice, he spoke.
“Gwenn Ravenleaf. I am the Fey guardian of these woods – the Treant shepherd to the lesser dryads and trees. I have been known by many names, but you may call me Oak Heart.”
Gwenn was too overwhelmed by these words to reply, so the treant continued,
“I have heard much of you from Draoi over the years. But, this is no time for pleasantries. A terrible abomination has occurred, and you, my child, are the key to setting things right.”
Gwenn considered this for a moment. Then said,
“But, my Lord Oak Heart, I do not even know what has happened to my family. How can I possibly be of help?”
“Ahh, my child, have faith,” Oak Heart responded, “I will give you all the tools you need. But first, I must explain to you that your village has been attacked by a foul creature of the Shadowfell. An unnatural event, this is a transgression against the Way of Nature, and must be corrected.”
Gwenn had heard of the Shadowfell, but knew little of it, other than that it was often spoken as a curse. But, she knew that if there was a way to bring her family back, or at least avenge them, then she must accept this responsibility.
Gwenn spoke the words that changed her life forever, “If you lend me your aid, I will be your faithful servant.”
This is the part where Gwenn usually awoke – skipping past all of the ritual binding, the years of lessons – jarring her back into the reality of life with the Overlook Vanguard.
So she was surprised when, looking down at her dream-self, she realized that she was no longer a child, but was standing here now as the woman she had become in reality. Slowly, Oak Heart turned to her, and sadly smiled.
“My child,” he said, “welcome home. I have watched your progress and have lended aid whenever I was able. But, now it is time for you to know the full truth.”
In an instant, Oak Heart was gone, and her father, Raven, stood in his place. Angry that her Lord would taunt her with these old scars, she bit her tongue and waited to see what Oak Heart intended.
Sensing that this was no illusion, Gwenn realized, tearfully, that this was, in truth, her father. Raven spoke, “Years ago, before you were born, I spent time with the druids and bards to the east of the Witch Wood. You, yourself, have aided them in their time of need, and know that there is more to their clan than simply primal and arcane arts. Lord Oran, greatest of the Green Fey has called upon them as servants for generations. When your mother’s village sought their aid, I was able to be their emissary. But now you must know the truth: I am not the human druid that the clan called their brother. Had I been, in truth, the Chief’s son, I would have never been entrusted to a distant band of elves, when the clan could need me at any time.”
With these words, Raven shifted slightly. He no longer appeared human – in fact, he looked more elven than anything, although his hair was entwined with brambles and he grew almost a foot in height. Briefly, the image shifted into that of Oak Heart, and then back into this new, more regal version of her father.
He who was Oak Heart, Raven, and something more, spoke again, “Gwenn, I am the Fey Lord Oran.”
Gwenn immediately fell to her knees and averted her eyes. Rushing to her side, Lord Oran placed a hand under her chin, lifted her face and stared into her eyes. In a rush, all the memories of her childhood, all the times spent with Draoi, and later with Oak Heart, were replayed in her mind – but always there was an underlying presence that she had never noticed before – Lord Oran had been with her through it all.
After some time, Lord Oran spoke – this time, anger tinging his words,
“When the Nightwalker came to our village, I was unprepared. I did not know that he knew my whereabouts, nor had I expected that he would be able to hurt me through my mortal family. My human form was ripped from me, and I was left weakened for a time. I was able to fall back to the Witch Wood and heal in the form of Oak Heart, but I was unable to stop the abominations that occurred. I was only able to send Draoi, to make sure you were playing in the woods, and were not present for what was to happen next.”
“Though you know an agent of the Shadowfell attacked our home, you must now know this: the Nightwalker did not take our friends, or my beloved Leaf, in order to kill or torture them. He took them to turn into twisted, lesser versions of himself. He turned them into bodaks, and they now are compelled to do his bidding.”
Gwenn gasped. She had heard of nightwalkers and bodaks in her studies and travels, but had never imagined how intimate a role they played in her own life.
“Normally,” Lord Oran continued, “a mortal is slain, and his soul released in the formation of a bodak. But these…creatures…they retain the memories and personalities of their humanity – though it is so far repressed that it can only cause them pain, and cannot help them resist the Nightwalker’s control. I have been working, all the years, on a plan to free them. I am unsure whether it will release their souls to be reborn, as all natural life is, or if it will strip them of their undead properties and return them to life. But you, a blood-child of both the villagers and a Fey Lord, are the only one who can attempt this. I have imbued the wand I gave you as Oak Heart with the power to release these creatures, once the Nightwalker has been defeated.”
“You must also know that, as the daughter of the Green Lord, you are a powerful Fey Liege in your own right. In the coming years, your power will steadily increase. When you retire from the mortal world, you must take up your place next to me in the Court of Stars.”
“But, in the meantime,” and suddenly…Gwenn saw that he was fiercely holding back his emotions, lest he go into a rage, “save your mother….save my love, Gwenn Oakleaf.” With these words, Lord Oran closed his hand over Gwenn’s hand and her tattoo changed from a maple leaf to an oak leaf.
And then, Gwenn awoke, in the presence of her friends, the Overlook Vanguard – and saw that her tattoo was proof that it had all been real.