Willow walked the under-halls of the castle in deliberate silence. Her fingertips brushed the rough stone walls which pressed in on her, and her left ear twitched delicately at the echo of the monks chanting far above. Their voices were obscured by stone and clay, yet they seeped ever deeper into the rock as the maid descended. Her breath ran rough and dry over her throat, threatening to make her cough, but her fear of being caught by the Royal Guard was enough to silence even the slightest sound. She pressed her lips firmly together and continued down the long passage.
"The catacombs an' tunnels below these walls are far older than the people within 'em," her friend, Jesse, had told her long ago. "When the great floods came to the western shores in me great-grandfatherís day, our people moved inland an' claimed these ancient grounds." Jesse would pause for an excruciating time, drink his tea, and examine every detail of his filthy fingernails. A much younger Willow twitched with anticipation of the stories that lay ahead. Dragons, giant wolves, or silent owls that would snatch small children from their beds at night danced across her vision. She became better at patiently waiting through his long delays, knowing that Jesse liked to build the suspense a little.
Much had changed after those days, after stories so familiar she could recite the missing pieces of them when her aging friend would forget. Standing barefoot on the bedrock of the tunnels she had dreamt of as a child, Willow recited the first story Jesse had ever told her. Her lips moved to the verses, familiar beyond anything she had ever felt, within or without. Her voice, less than a whisper, more than a breath, flowed with purpose. Standing before the solid stone wall in the deepest tunnel of the earth, she placed her hands on the cool, polished rock. Willow began the first story, the first spell, the first enchantment of the Ancient. And so began the end.
The wind blew and the trees bowed, for the Ancients walked among them. They came from the south, with eyes of water, bluer than the ocean waves. Flowers blossomed in their footsteps, for the earth was their charge, its very life their one hope.