Cutter and his companions battle the rapacious human warlord Grohmul Djun, and evil elf Winnowill, for the forest and the Palace of the High Ones.
(HY 10-15; Shards 1-16)
This section is by D. Aviva Rothschild with some edits for continuity and detail
These events take place concurrently with the events in the "Forevergreen" section.
Winnowill has been floating, apparently mindless, in a bubble of water in the Palace. But she awakens while the Wolfriders are off carousing with the trolls. Having mentally joined with the Palace, she attempts to fly off with it. But Venka detects her, and in a mental struggle for control, Venka and Rayek break Winnowill's concentration. The Palace hurtles through the sky and crashes into the mountains, disintegrating into innumerable crystal shards and flinging Winnowill out of her water chamber. Unfortunately, the shards have fallen in human territory, and worse, a party of human warriors saw the whole thing. The saddle-chief of the warriors immediately orders his men to locate the fragments; his intention is to send some crystals back to Grohmul Djun, the powerful and cruel warlord of the area. The Djun plans to raze the forest where the elves live, so that he can build a huge Citadel.
Rayek is frantic to get to the shards, but the Wolfriders have more immediate concerns, such as food. Recognizing that they dare not show themselves even for the Palace, they send some Preservers to watch and see what happens. As the Wolfriders wait, Cutter makes a new wolf-friend, and Tyleet returns to a human woodcutter that she had teased previously and starts to learn the human tongue from him so that she can teach it to the others. Scouter mistakenly believes that Tyleet is in danger from the human and “rescues” her, only to have a most unexpected thing happen as she attempts to elude him: they Recognize one another (which delights Dewshine) and Tyleet gets pregnant.
Meanwhile, the Djun himself arrives at the site of the crystal-fall to see them for himself. He commands that every last fragment be gathered up; and while he broods over the slowness of the process, a mysterious female figure appears in his tent, whispers “... save... me...!” and collapses. She appears to be dead but comes back to life at the Djun's touch. It's Winnowill, in human shape. Fascinated by her beauty, he decides to “keep” her. Later, when the Djun's men discover the Scroll of Colors, she attempts to go to it. Enraged that she showed herself to the men, he strikes her; she retaliates with a pain-touch. The Djun decides to kill her, but cannot bring himself to do it when she freely kneels and bares her neck to him. Instead, he decides to take advantage of the power she can bring him.
Time passes. Tyleet continues to learn the human tongue from the woodcutter and pass it along to the other elves. But one day the Djun's men press-gang the kindly man into their shard-gathering corps, which has a mere three days to finish the task. Tyleet is unable to help him escape, and indeed nearly loses her wolf-friend Patience to the crossbows of the Djun's men. After Leetah and Mender heal the wolf, Cutter announces that it's time for the tribe to split up. He will take the warriors and most of the magic-users in a quest to take the shards from the Djun; his daughter Ember will lead the rest of the tribe in a search for a safe holt in which the Wolfriders can survive should the Palace-questers be killed.
After this stunning announcement, Tyleet and Skywise attempt to rescue the woodcutter. They succeed, but one of the Djun's men--the mercenary from Kings of the Broken Wheel, whose daughter Shuna was saved by Leetah--captures Tyleet, thinking he has another healer with which he can make money. Tyleet only escapes when Shuna frees her (and Shuna runs away in the process rather than be whipped to death by her father, with consequences that will be seen later). Ember chooses the Wolfriders who will accompany her, and they embark on their quest for a new Holt (see Ember's Quest section for their adventures).
Winnowill has become the Djun's “Lady Venovel” and is eagerly trying to get at the Scroll of Colors, locked away in the Djun's library. Winnowill savors the brutal murders of slave-workmen as they finish their work on the Djun's palace. She also survives an assassination attempt. She and the Djun visit the crystal towers, where he reasserts his authority over her and dangles the promise of a session with the Scroll before her. Later, while resting, she is contacted mentally by Rayek, who pleads with her to help him regain the Palace. Infuriated by his genuine love, she tosses him away and resolves to take revenge on him and those who shelter him. She urges the Djun to cut down a patch of forest (the elves' holt) that has so far repulsed his men with its ever-renewing brambles. The Djun's Master Builder (a.k.a. Two-Edge) builds fearsome machines to do the job.
In the holt, Rayek and the Wolfriders plot shard-retrieval strategy. Then Aroree sees the woodcutting machines approach. After a short battle against the men defending the machines, the elves abandon the holt and escape underground through Ekuar's tunnel. Soon they connect with the troll tunnels. King Picknose is loathe to let the elves through, but his argument with Cutter is interrupted by human warriors who had followed the elves into their tunnel. After the one-sided battle, Picknose is more concerned with filling in the tunnels than stopping the elves. The elves continue on, joined by troll siblings Flam and Drub, who want a share of the booty that's sure to result from the quest.
The elves' tunneling abruptly ends when Ekuar collapses. Though Mender saves his life, the rock-shaper is unfit to continue, so they bind him in wrapstuff, and the trolls dig up. They break through into a pigsty, under which they hunker as Rayek, Venka, Zhantee, and Aroree take off in search of the Scroll of Colors. Meanwhile, Winnowill is finally working with the Scroll but can't make any sense out of it--until Rayek approaches, and the Scroll ignites in response. As a result, the Djun's guards are ready when the quartet arrives. Rayek blasts them, but he is distracted by Winnowill's mental attack. Venka shields him, and he blasts his way into the Djun's library. Rayek attempts to carry off half the scroll, but the Djun desperately holds it down. Aroree manages to yank the half away. Then a boulder launched by the humans hits Rayek and Venka square on. Already weak, Venka loses her grip on Rayek and tumbles into the Djun's palace.
As the exhausted Rayek remains behind to search for Venka, Aroree and Zhantee return to the others. Safe from Winnowill's spying (at least via the Scroll), but faced with stirred-up humans, the elves decide to split up even further to climb the mountain and sneak into the Djun's citadel. First, they move to another hide-out, the cellar of an inn. There they are discovered by the young woman Shuna, whose life had previously been saved by Leetah and who saved Tyleet and ran away from home. Meanwhile, the Djun demands, and to his dismay sees, Winnowill's true form. Rattled and yearning yet knowing that to have her is to lose his soul, he manages to stay on top of the situation by exerting his “ownership” over her and making her use her powers on his behalf. Claiming to be a god, he proclaims to his people that to worship anything but him will mean their deaths. To back up his words, he has Winnowill transform a pack of war dogs into vicious Peace Hounds: claw-tentacled, lantern-eyed, fork-tongued horrors.
The Peace Hounds are released into the city, where they ferret out and kill the rebellious. Shuna is chased by three Hounds, but the Hounds are diverted by the scent of the elves at the inn. After briefly driving the Hounds back, the elves scatter in their prearranged groups, leaving Clearbrook and Treestump and their wolf-friends to “keep the how-unds amused.” A fierce battle leaves one Hound dead and the other two hurt and fleeing--and the humans astonished that the supposedly undefeatable Peace Hounds can be killed.
In the Citadel, Rayek searches for Venka, who is being tended by Two-Edge. The elf-troll is falling in love with the elf maiden and shows off his work to her, including the horrible “birds,” machines used for public executions of 'rebels'--one of which Shuna witnesses. Shuna is so disgusted that she starts recruiting others to fight the Djun. Unfortunately, a Hound scents her rebelliousness--but luckily, Strongbow, Skot, and Krim are nearby and destroy the Hound, then hop into an untenanted building with Shuna to avoid the Djun's men who come to investigate the noise.
Later, she and her companions lead more Hounds to the elves, who dispatch them and make it plain to the humans that the “good spirits” are on Shuna's side and against the Djun. But things are not going so well in the Citadel; Winnowill forces Rayek, Venka, and Two-Edge into the open. For various reasons none of them can slay her, so she subdues Rayek; Two-Edge manages to escape with Venka. Ignoring the Djun's demands that she explain what's going on, Winnowill enters Rayek's mind with the intent of learning how to reconstruct the Palace.
In the streets, more and more humans are joining Shuna's rebellion. The chaos is useful to Aroree, Mender, and Flam, who are able to move about without attracting notice. Then Flam smells gold in a human house and breaks in to steal it. Mender tries to drag him out, and they start to tussle. Aroree flies in to stop them, but guards see her and also break in. The guards are attacked by the owners of the house, who are swiftly cut down. Coming to their senses, Flam and Mender quit fighting, and the trio escape through a hole in the floor--Flam pauses briefly to retrieve his dropped treasure and, incidentally, kill the guard who was about to kill the householders' two children. Another guard shoots a crossbow into the dark hole, but hearing nothing, and terrified of what's in the hole, they leave--and below the floor, Mender is bleeding to death.
The revolt of the humans is reaching fever pitch. Hoping to definitively quell it, Grohmul Djun orders his mercenaries to capture Shuna. Elsewhere, Flam employs a little force to get Mender to heal himself, while Cutter, Drub, Zhantee, and Holdfast destroy a peace-hound, only to be confronted by Djun's men. In the Djun's castle, Venka finds Rayek and attempts to protect him from Winnowill, but Rayek insists she let him continue to distract his black-souled lovemate. The Djun recognizes that Venka is a shield against Winnowill, and, in return for dragging Winnowill away to let Venka have a few private moments with Rayek, extracts a promise from her (ultimately unfulfilled) to sleep with him.
This infuriates the smitten Two-Edge, who determines to help the elves regain the palace and destroy the Djun. He telepathically contacts Cutter, who doesn't trust him but has no choice but to follow his mental trail. Moving openly now (to the astonishment and awe of the humans), the elves converge on the castle, trailed by the remaining peace-hounds. Though they ultimately defeat the horrible beasts, the elves pay a terrible price to get past the drawbridge and into the castle itself: Skot gives up his life to help them get through.
At the same time, elsewhere in the city, Shuna confronts her mercenary father, who has just killed her mother and wants nothing more than to kill Shuna. Although she fends him off, she is knocked out by another mercenary and is taken to the Djun's castle, where the sadistic “birds“ are readied to tear the girl to shreds. Luckily, the preserver Tittersweet sees the preparations and warns the elves of Shuna's peril. Cutter determines to save the girl, and he and Zhantee leave the others to effect her rescue. The sight of Cutter, robed in Zhantee's shining shield, confronting the Djun and rescuing Shuna inspires the commoners as never before, and they begin to rampage through the castle.
After rescuing Shuna, the elves enter the building that will lead them into the castle. But the floor above them gives way when humans set fire to the building, and Zhantee gives his life in his heroic efforts to keep the floor from falling on all of them with his magical shielding power. While he is dying, Cutter grants Zhantee his dying wish and sends to him what it is like to be Recognized to Leetah (whom Zhantee has always loved). As his soul leaves its body and flies toward the castle, Zhantee reveals to Cutter that only the power of Timmain, the High One, can rebuild the shattered castle. Krim is badly hurt and wants to be allowed to die, but Mender tells her that she is pregnant, which makes her determined to live, and Mender heals her. Cutter sends Aroree on a mission to find Ember's group of elves and bring Timmain (who went with Ember in her wolf form) back to the human city.
While Rayek and Winnowill engage in a spirit-battle, Venka watches over them. The Djun tries to kill Winnowill, but Venka stops him so the Djun makes to attack her. Two-Edge intervenes to save Venka, causing many of the castle shards to fall on the Djun, who runs out of the room, which Two-Edge immediately bars to him. Cutter's band of elves, preservers, two trolls and the human Shuna make their way through the bowels of the castle, dodging Two-Edge's built-in traps while Two-Edge observes them secretly, as yet undecided whether or not to help them reach the shards. The group endures many wounds, and the loss of one wolf, making their way through his traps; when they near the end he decides to help them. He leads them into the castle kitchen, where the preservers wrap all the humans there in wrapstuff and the group takes a much needed rest and meal. Venka sends to Cutter an urgent call to find her, Rayek and Winnowill in the inmost shard chamber and reunite the shards and save Rayek from Winnowill.
Cutter's group makes their way toward Venka, guided by her sending. They have to pass through the throne room, where the Djun and his guards attack them. Two-Edge steps in and shuts the door on the guards, while the preservers wrap the Djun in wrapstuff. The elves, trolls and Shuna make their way to the shard chamber where Rayek lies near death while Winnowill's spirit torments his. Mender begins to heal Rayek, releasing his spirit from Winnowill's grasp, while Venka and Strongbow prevent her spirit from returning to its body.
Aroree has returned to the Wolfrider's holt, which has recently been destroyed by humans. She sends out a mental call to Timmain, and eventually Skywise and Timmain (still in wolf form) find Aroree. Meanwhile, Picknose's trolls discover Ekuar's preserver-wrapped body and unwrap him, intending to hold him prisoner. Aroree, Skywise and Timmain look for a way into Picknose's domain so they can free Ekuar, retrieve the other half of the scroll, and tunnel underground to reach Cutter in time to restore the palace. Ekuar eludes his troll captors and opens up a tunnel for Aroree, Skywise and Timmain to enter the trolls' caverns. Picknose lets the elves pass through his domain unharmed, and they make their way underground toward the Djun's Citadel.
Shuna finds that she cannot kill the Djun while he is helpless in preserver webbing. She runs to find Cutter and warn him that the Djun and his guards are on their way to the shards room. When they enter the room, Rayek renders the humans unconscious with one blast of magic power. Ekuar, Skywise, Aroree and Timmain suddenly appear through a tunneled hole in the floor, along with the other half of the scroll. They set the scroll up and Timmain starts to shape-shift back into an elf to help them restore the palace, but as she does so, Winnowill's spirit returns to its body and Winnowill and Timmain begin a magical battle. The humans start to wake, and Ekuar traps them with rock covering their hands and feet, but the Djun escapes his trap and makes to attack Venka. Two-Edge saves Venka and mortally wounds the Djun.
Winnowill, realizing that Timmain is stronger and will overcome her, decides to let herself die so that her spirit can be free to control the shards. She lets the Djun kill her, but as her spirit flies from its body, Rayek captures it in his own mind and holds it there. Timmain completes her shape-shift and the elves restore the palace with their combined magic powers. Torn from the citadel, the shards form a cocoon-vessel around the elves, the trolls and Shuna, and the citadel begins to collapse while the fires from the humans' revolt rage all around it.
The cocoon-vessel (which was the palace's original form) flies into the night sky, guided by Timmain. She restores it to a palace-like shape and flies it to where Ember's group of elves is located; Skywise has told Cutter that they need help.
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