Time flows strangely underground. As the sky is made of roots and the light comes just from magical lamps (of greenish and purple hue) it is really difficult to understand which part of the day it is.
But here, in the archdruid’s kingdom everything is determined by rituals.There is no day, there is no night, just moments of prayer and devotion that give to the people a peculiare sense of time.
So….if the trio has time untill dawn to make its own decision… first question is: when is the dawn?
As they discuss the opportunity to perform the ritual of thorns, they are interrupted by giggling and laughing: little heads are popping from the windows of the infirmary. Etna looks for beards. But they are not drunken dwarven. Instead a group of children of different ages, all dressed in old dusty elfic robes, jewellled with the remnants of the treasure of old time swarms in.
They got a baby-sitter of course- A roly poly woman wearing the mask of a cat. Her name’s Pasha and she is all excuses for the invasion of the curious children. But, you know (she says) you are the first strangers they see in their lives and they want to know everything about the sun, the sky and – of course – the sex of Elves.
Among them Etna notice a tall, ugly girl, with prominent canines and greysh skin. She is really shy and intentionally lurks in the shadows.
Pasha introduces her as the daughter of Divara, the chief of the guardsmen.
And her father is the Archdruid, as all the children are his sons and daughters.
Before leaving them Pasha invites them all to the “Caressing of the Roots” a ritual that the druids are about to perform. Krell is really interested in following her, mostly because of the mask she is wearing. He knows that Mersia, the cat goddess that he worships, is the protector of children. Pasha must be for sure Mersia’s druidess. And maybe she knows something about Kallanthe as well.
But before they could leave Laertes stops them. He calls upon his power over sleep and dreams and forces both Krell and Etna into a magical slumber. Then he undresses them and carves into their chest a mysterious scar.
AS they suddenly wake up Krell and Etna realize that something is wrong (mainly because their skin is still aching) but the Elf reassures them. If they want they can leave now, but they must be back before dawn, as they are going to speak altogether with the archdruid.
Krell runs to the amphitheater where the Caressing of the Roots is performed.
In this peculiare ritual the archdruid invites everybody to make a dreamy journey into their own past and take care and lull the child that is in them, the child that has been abused, or harmed and is still screaming somewhere inside,
Druids with wooden animal masks are walking around with heavy scented incense. And as the archdruid starts his chants all the people in the audiotorium fall slowly asleep,
Instead of finding himself in his own parents’ house Krell is taken under a ruby tent, full of pillows and golden lamps. A strange lady lies among them. She is dark skinned, with enormous emerald green eyes, Long claws. Six perfectly shaped breasts. She wears nothing apart glittering baroque jewells. And she has the smile that only a cat, or perhaps a Goddess can have. She is with no doubt Mersia, Lady of the Purring People, Mistress of the Soft Walkers, Queen of those who see in the dark.
She looks amused. She plays with Krell genitalia, but when he calls upon her feral aspect she changes completely attitude. She is nervous…
“Legends of the druids say that many many centuries ago Brona, the God of Wisdom, fancied Mersia, Goddess of Sensuality. She asked him presents. Lot of presents. And that’s the reason crows and magpies are reknowed thieves: they are still looking for shining little stuff to fulfill Mersia’s spoiled requests. Eventually she never gave her heart to the Crow God but tried to eat him instead. From that moment there was no peace between the Feathered Ones and the Cat people”
“I want the Elf” she says “it is unfair. Brona got a elf -worshipper and I don’t. I want it. And you, my little Krell, are going to help me, arent’ you?”
As Krell tries to ask something about Kalanthe she becomes even more nervous “Kalanthe abandoned you because you were useless, my dear. But maybe I can help him to grow. So that next time your beautiful lover will not dismiss you anymore”
Seduced by the words of the Purring Goddess Krell promises to help her.
In the Meanwhile Etna reached the Amphitheater. All the people who are living under the forests are sleeping now and also the Archdruid seems unconscious. A heap of silk and jewells around a fat woman suggests her where to look. She finds Krell, asleep, but she is looking for somebody else: the half-orc child, the daughter of Divara and the Archdruid. Hyda
When she finds her, they walk to a fountain as Hyda needs fresh water to refresh her thoughts.And then they start to chat as old friends. How impressive is to realize how a girl can survive alone, without seeing a boy without seeing the sun, waiting like a seed for a springtime that is not coming…. Etna is moved by the story of Hyda. She is an innocent version of herself. She even knows magic! Hyda asks Etna to bring her outside, she wants to see the sky, the sun, the boys. But the only way is to perform the ritula of thorns: so all the enemies of the archdruid will be defeated and the people who live with no sun can come out.
Hyda reveals that in order to perform the ritual the Elf should speak the ancient elfic words and the orc should give her blood (full of pristine anger) to the roots of the forest.
All alone in the infirmary Laertes has finally time to think about all his losses and all the burdens he must bear for the creatures that are around him. Inspired by the surgeons instruments he takes the decision to complete something that started months ago, the first night he met Etna, the half-orc with who has been changing his life.He takes a lancet and cut his penis away. Now he feels eventually clean.
When Etna and Krell come back to the infirmary they both notice that the Elf is really pale and distressed. Krell is really excited about his dreams and Etna urges Laertes to perform the ritual of thorns. Krell lights up some incense sticks and call the blessing of Mersia. And as Krell and ETna seems to fall into a wet-dream Laertes is taken into the Cat Goddes queendom where she tries to deal with him. She offers him a way to soothe the pain of his familiar and the key to complete the fusion between him and bird. She reminds him that she was the first goddess to grant his followers the power of Enosis.
But the Elf resists the temptation.
Divara breaks the spell entering the infirmary: she demands her answer.
Laertes tells her that he is going to perform the ritual of thorns, but when the Orc leaved the place he confess to his fellows his real plans: he is going to accomplish all the requests, he will kill the archdruid and he will perform the ritual of thorns.The two leaders of this sorrowful gloomy kingdom must die to get all their people free. But first he needs to have the army of the archdruid at his side.
When their reach the Archdruid they find him almost drunk. He is sitting on his bones throne, under the skeleton of a gigantic dragon, wearing his holy mask (a dragon as well). A sickle is waiting at his side.
Laertes asks him about his army and he is shocked to realize that there are just 14 men and women able to fight among the archdruid’s people.
“I am the Winter King, I must die to let springtime free. I have been keeping my people far too long under the earth, but when you, Ancient One, entered my underworld I understood that my time is gone. I must die, to let the wheel of time go further”
Sadly Laertes understands that there is an ancient cruel wisdom in the Archdruid’s words, and unfortunately he cannot help him in his fight against Raphiel (and his ruler, Velvena).
So he rise up his arms, calling upon the power of life and death, ready to kill The archdruid.
In that very moment Divara enters the Throne Dome, and as she realizes that Laertes is going to kill her lover, she slays Hyda, her daughter, and cast her bleeding body on the floor
“Now you must call the Thorns, Her blood is already given.”