Slade could feel the warmth of the rising sun on his face, smell the subtle scent of the sacred oaks and the air all around him was filled with the slow chanting of the druids who made this forest their home. Opening his eyes Slade saw his druidic mentor standing in front of him, ready to guide him through this sunrise initiation ceremony. Karel’s wise, heavily lined face was hidden by the coarse linen cowl he wore but Slade could sense the gentle smile underneath the rhythmic chanting. Karel had once been a mercenary soldier, selling his skill with a blade to the highest bidder, but then Karel had turned his back on his former profession joining instead the ranks of those dedicated to serving the gentle woodland goddess Freyita, serving now as her high priest and Archdruid of the Sacred Grove.
The other members of the Grove, men and women representative of almost every race in The Kingdoms formed the chanting circle around Slade and Karel as they prepared to welcome Slade into their circle. Once this ritual was completed Slade would be given the druidic ring with its wide, silver band engraved with oak leaves and begin his new life. In that moment Slade felt as though his heart would burst with pride; becoming a druid of the Sacred Grove had been his dream for the past year, a triumph he had earned solely on his own merits, a triumph all his own, owing nothing to his birth.
From this day forward Slade would forswear his former life, renounce the right to continue the training he had begun with the warrior-monks of the Black Lotus and would dedicate his life completely to Freyita, the gentle goddess of the woodlands. In so doing Slade was giving up more than just an old profession. He had also given up his name and his birthright. No longer would he be known as Einreich Gudmundson, Crown Prince of the northern kingdom of Vestland, and despite his status as a second son, heir to the centuries old High Throne. Although Slade knew he had disappointed his father, High King Erich, in his decision to leave court, nevertheless his father had allowed it and would even have attended this ceremony had protocol allowed. Knowing that he had hurt his father pained Slade deeply but he still felt, in the very depths of his heart, that it was the correct decision. Slade wanted nothing more than a life that would be free from the intrigues and pressures of his father’s court.
Suddenly a deep shadow filled the grove and bluish tinted light dappled the ground as though the Sapphire moon were beginning its ascent instead of the fiery sun. Startled Slade looked up at the sky only to find it clear and cloudless; the deep shadow caused by an enormous black dragon in flight. The creature had a wingspan easily twenty feet across, its’ body more than twice that amount including the long tail and serpentine neck and wedge-shaped head. Slade’s breath caught in his throat, the beast was magnificent, indescribably beautiful. Even as he thought this Slade found himself falling to his knees, gazing up at the immense dragon, which seemed, inexplicably, to hang stationary in the air. What, Slade wondered, was a dragon, and a black dragon at that, doing so far south, when they were traditionally found only in the far north of the Heldann Freeholds.
Slade looked up towards his mentor, certain that Karel would have some explanation of this incredible sight; instead Slade was horrified to see Karel had somehow grown or expanded, towering above Slade and his fellow druids. Karel threw off the cowl, the material splitting as Karel continued to grow, and revealed the grotesque distortion of himself that he had become. As Slade watching in growing horror and confusion the thing that had been Karel still retained his humanoid shape but everything else had become grossly distorted. He or it, Slade was not sure anymore, looked a little like the ogres of the north, with an oversized head on an incredibly strong, muscular body but with the tough green tinged skin and elongated arms and legs of the woodland trolls. The creature turned his back on Slade and faced directly into the rising sun, which was continuing to shine despite the dense shadow cast by the dragon. Slade was terrified, he knew that none of this was natural or normal, but he did not understand what was happening. Then he heard his father’s voice fill the air. “Follow the Trunk. Follow the Trunk. Only you can save me, my son. Follow the Trunk. Save me, my son, only you can save me.” The voice faded to a whisper on the wind and all was dark.