The mists, silky and playful, gathered and passed as I made my way up the stone steps to the towering double doors of the castle in the clouds. They gave way without my beckoning, and with heavy creaks, granted my entrance and bade my welcome.
The hall before me was grand and well-lighted, the limits of its interior extending well beyond any structure of man I had ever encountered, and my Elvin ears found only the pleasant sounds of the near silence therein. I walked in a bit deeper into the hall, my head turning quickly with keen interest at the decorations upon the towering walls and the curious celestial colors which glimmered from one second to the next.
I walked upon a stone floor, unworldly in its cleanliness, my range boots, feeling quite out of place, noticing first the space around me. It was a forest of stone, extending the breadth of almost twenty oaks to my left and right. Yet, it was not completely barren. Standing sentry upon each wall were a selection of statues, grandiose in their stature, Each poised in a resonant and beautiful gold, standing atop its own solitary earthen platform. Five of them stood equidistant on each wall, frozen in different positions, which seemed to me that it suited them, somehow.
I walked over to the left side of the great room. My breath was shallow as I wanted to keep my ears open. I did not want to offend, though I realized I was there as a guest. Yet stepping through the house of a host was certainly a gift granted by Mielikki, Queet of the Forest, and my Guide Spirit, and I knew respect was to be shown here. I said silent thanks to her as I made my steps quiet as I made my way to the left side of the hall, closing the distance between me and the towering guards. I admired the craftsmanship of the metal and curious, hearing nothing around, I came to one I was drawn to, a man of the forest, it seemed.
His face was natural and strong, and reminded me of the green elves from of my home. He stood tall in the Sylvan garb that he was carved in. Only those familiar to my home could know the detail with which we wore our earth colors. Though the statue was all gold, it was clear that the artisan had experience with my kind. He held two swords, both hanging downward in the traditional stance of forgiveness and leniency. It was a hero it seemed, this person. Yet the figure did not bring to mind any character from the legends I had grown up with. I reached out to touch the boot of the figure atop the platform.
“It’s the only Sylvan in my collection.” I spun with blades aloft at the ready, finding before me a human man, senescent, dressed in a white robe and a warming white, both matching his hair and his beard. He met my reaction with a chuckle.
“There is no need for combat here, my Sylvan friend. You are in protective hands in my home.” Hands clasped, he walked closer and stood beside me looking up at the figure. “He was one of my closest comrades from below,” he said warmly. “Led me through incredibly dense war-torn jungles and more than a few uncivilized pockets of the breathing world,” he said. He paused and there was a reverence to the seconds that passed then.
“The world would do well to know more about the Sylvan,” he said turning to me. Then, back to the statues on our side and those across from us. He gestured to the large open space, the castle in its entirety. “You are welcome to my home, young traveller.”
I re-sheathed my swords swiftly and bowed. “My many thanks for your welcome, my host,” I said, losing the formalities of my Sylvan background. “I’m ~”
“Faëryn,” he said, turning back to me with a smile. “Yes, I know. There are few things left in this existence that I’m ignorant of, and should any of those show up at my castle, I’ll just keep my doors locked.” He laughed and gestured further into the castle.
“My name is Heineken, and this is my home. Come,” he said. “it’s time for you to meet the rest in your party. I have words to deliver to all of you.” He took several steps, and then stopped. He turned back to the elf upon the pedestal. I watched him regard the idol with sympathy, love, and a nod of acceptance.
Heineken closed his eyes in what must have been a silent prayer. Seconds later he turned back to the hallway and was ahead of me. I followed, fully trusting this man.