Chapter 1
The Call for Aid

AZ 1449 - Autumn
El-Alar, Goldleaf Forest, Zephyr

Forty years was not a long time according to the reckoning of her people, but in her time among the humans, Relinia--who took the name Xanthe upon her marriage to Solon of Zephyr--found herself thinking less and less as a Xotika.
Human life was so short that they seemed to race against the swift approach of Death's shadow. The pace of their days was furious, like a rushing brook. Her people were staid and solid as the stately oak. It was easy to be swept away for one such as herself who was cut from her roots.
She did not often stop to reflect on how much her experience had changed her, but as she called an assembly of her people, she could not help but think on how much of an alien she had become. This would make her task all the more difficult.
"Citizens of Goldleaf," she addressed the assembly, "fellow children of the Moon, I come before you today with news of grave import. The humans have learned that the evil in the East has been reborn. A Lord of Shadow has risen to rule the Darklands and he has issued a challenge to the humans. Either they will come to him or he will come to them.
"My husband has elected to go to them. Even now he works to raise an army to meet the threat and crush it at its source, but this is not a task the humans can accomplish on their own. They need our help. And I... need your help."
The chamber filled with murmuring which was soon overpowered by the shrill voice of Xanthe's nemesis, the Chief Law-speaker Sidarazel.
"Have I not warned you?" he cried to the assembly. "From the beginning I told you! She would drag us all to our destruction in the humans' foolish love of war!"
Xanthe distinctly recalled that it was the Guardian of the Forest who expressed his fears of their people getting involved in the humans' conflicts, but that was not important. Sidarazel was wasting no time to whip up the assembly against her, but she did not intend to sit idly by and let it happen.
She motioned to the Master of the Assembly and he rang his crystal bell, calling everyone to silence. Even someone like the Chief Law-speaker, who showed little regard for decorum, was duly quieted.
Now that she had their attention, Xanthe said, "Tell me, who among our people was girded with mail to face the fanatics who called themselves the Pure Ones when they raised a tumult in the land? Who among our people broke their spears against the Mountain-dwellers when they made war on the humans? Who bent the bow against the sea raiders from the north when they preyed on traveler and merchant?
"If the truth is with you, you know I did not seek your help in those times because I knew your hearts. You would clamor just as you do now, but this is not like those times. Before the humans could fight their battles alone, but this time it is different.
"You all should know the tragedy that happened in the East. Many of you lived during those days. You felt our power diminish when El-Haman was consumed. We have fallen into decline ever since. But if we go to the Darklands and purge the evil, purify the land, perhaps El-Haman can be restored. Perhaps we can be restored."
The council chamber filled with fresh mutterings. It was a bold thing she proposed and it grieved her somewhat that appealing to self-interest might very well be the only way of enlisting her own people's support.
Although it was not her custom to speak during these assemblies, the High Priestess rose from her seat with her attendant priests and priestesses bowing around her. Seeing the High Priestess stand, the assembly went silent.
Even though the High Priestess scarcely needed acknowledgment from the Queen, Xanthe nevertheless nodded to cede the floor to her.
Giving a slight, gracious bow to Xanthe, the High Priestess said, "Of course all our hearts are moved at the thought of the Five Ancients standing together once more, but it is a hard thing that you ask of us. We cannot decide such a matter in one day. We must discuss it first, consult the stars and the spirits for answers. If you please, return to us at Greentide."
Xanthe found herself holding her breath as the High Priestess spoke. If both the High Priestess and the Chief Law-speaker were against her, she would have little leverage to move the people to follow her. While the High Priestess' response was less than Xanthe would have hoped for, it was better than what she feared and for now, it would have to be enough.
"What you say is good, my mother," Xanthe said. "I will return at Greentide. Look to the stars, consult the spirits, and search your hearts. Do not fool yourselves into thinking we can simply hide in our forest as the black tide sweeps over the land. Let us join hands with the humans and end the threat against us at its source. May El-Naia guide us with her wisdom and watch over us. Go in peace, brethren."
As Xanthe descended from her platform, she wondered if the narrow prejudices of the assembly would blind them to the necessity of the task before them or if they would see beyond their self-imposed limitations and commit to the good of not only their own kind but of all peoples. She had little choice but to trust them and pray El-Naia would guide them rightly.