The Circle Continues
With the Fangs secured and the Ashen learning under Thaon, who would take some years to be deemed ready by the strict Archdruid, Laronar found himself with free time, once more. He was invited to take residence in one of the Dreamgrove's Barrow Dens, but before he'd even had a look at them, he'd decided to survey this new land from the air. Evidently, he was going to be here for some time. With Andrassil now broken, Malfurion had decided all the druids would join the Dream, and those who did not, were free to train, learn, and otherwise strengthen the world from the one place on Azeroth that was closest, in aesthetic and location, to the Dream itself. Their females had been all but left alone, given the popularity of druidism with nearly every male member of their fractured species, and with time, the Priestesses of the Moon would become the closest thing their people had to a government since Azshara.
As rumor had said, elven ruins dotted most of the landscape outside of Val'sharah. He came upon the imposing outline of Black Rook Hold, and then the Moon Guard's headquarters as he began his flight. He viewed them for the first time in millennia with a quiet wince at how decayed they had become. Indeed, seeing the ruins of the Empire he'd barely known was rather sobering, and much like his people, nature had begun to reclaim them. He stayed at a distance as he made his silent flight. Occasionally he saw figures moving about on those structures, but he was told by locals who lived almost on the edge of Suramar, and coincidentally near where he sensed Thaon and the others currently were, that they were mostly harmless ghosts, vestiges of that terrible war so long ago.
Flying around had taken up most of the night, even with his speed, and on his way back towards the Dreamgrove, he'd decided to prowl through the forests. The deer didn't run from him, as he clearly wasn't hunting, and the other fauna seemed to either watch him with veiled interest, or avoid his giant saber-teeth as quickly as possible. He didn't find Storm, but his ears caught faint, likely hidden by dirt and stone, yowls of female Nightsabers and he knew it would not be long before they began hunting in the forests. He trusted his friend to keep his offspring in line though. It was a relatively relaxing walk back, as everything in the forest was at peace, and wished only to grow and live. He started to understand why Cenarius would make his home in this place. Compared to what he'd seen of the rest of these broken islands, these woods were, by far, the most peaceful, and intact, place to live.
They were not the only place to live, as he soon discovered. Upon returning, he shifted back to his elven form, and stretched with a satisfying crack. His ears twitched as he heard wing beats just over his head, and he watched as a black feathered owl, not unlike his own owl form, arced up to a nearby branch, and hooted at him.
He'd smirked, and raised a brow at the creature, confident that he knew a fellow druid when he saw one. As she shifted back to her elven form however, he was somewhat surprised at the face that greeted him. Koda Steelclaw had caused a stir in Nighthaven just before the Circle had left for their grim task in the Grizzly Hills. She was of the opinion that females should be allowed to become whatever they wished, as they had always done, in the Empire. But for whatever reason, Malfurion and Tyrande had decreed this was not to be the case.
He hadn't heard what happened to her next, as he cared about as much for social gossip as he did for socializing in general, but evidently, the end result had been her ending up here. Perhaps 'exiled' like himself, to avoid causing tension in the Circle on the mainland. He bowed, and then crossed his arms as he got a proper look at her.
Female druids were still a very new concept to him, one he personally didn't have a position on. Malfurion claimed balance between the sexes needed to be maintained. Given that he was their leader, Laronar knew he probably wouldn't change his mind. Not for some millennia, at least. As he eyed the woman, he found her not unattractive, though she smelled a bit too much like a bear, for his tastes. "So. Malfurion has sent all the fun personalities out here, hmm?"
Her legs dangled, evidently enjoying the freedom of being in the air. Koda nodded. "Quite. I was told that I'm to train a separate cadre of Druids of the Claw, after what happened in the Grizzly Hills."
Laronar nodded sagely. "That was a grim task…but a necessary one."
She raised an eyebrow. "Vordrassil…right, I suppose you helped with that. Well, while you boys were busy playing tree cutter, I was speaking with Ursol. He was the one who convinced Shan'do Stormrage to send me here, where sexist tendencies are lessened, before nature's beauty." A red feathered bird alighted on her shoulder, as if to demonstrate that very point, and Laronar found his normally impassive face smirking.
He shrugged then, stepping closer to the branch she'd sat herself on, so they didn't have to shout in the quiet serenity of the Dreamgrove. "I've never formed an opinion on it…females were always in charge when we yet had an Empire. Having a balance of power split between specialties certainly seems logical, at least from the view of those who were once resigned to child rearing and house chores."
The woman actually snorted, not unlike a bear who'd scented something foul. "Was Xavius not male? How about General Ravencrest? Your testosterone filled comrades had plenty of power, both military and political. You're only jealous because Elune favors us, and you know it." She winked at him, and he rolled his eyes. "The logical solution would be to let men worship the Moon Goddess, and join the Sentinel army, while women could finally learn to defend nature as well. There's a reason we were in charge, you know." She dropped to the ground, effortlessly.
Laronar kept his arms crossed, though he was suddenly more aware of his usual shirtlessness, as he often became around lovely females. "Perhaps you are correct, but Elune has, at least to my knowledge, not granted my fellow males her power."
She crossed her own arms now, meeting his gaze. "Perhaps they simply haven't tried as hard as the women. They start as youths, you know. I doubt Elune would begrudge a male that genuinely, and properly, learned to worship her."
Laronar chuckled. "I don't think it matters. The Sisterhood of Elune was very clear on the station of men when it comes to their organization. Believe me, I know. I asked, at Eldarath's own Temple. There isn't a 'political position' on males. It's a Sisterhood."
That, it seemed, got her to genuinely laugh, and before he realized, they were walking towards the nearest Barrow Den. He scented something strange as they approached. Foul at first, like a skunk, but as they descended, the air had other smoky scents. He recognized incense, and hoped that it wasn't one designed to force him into the Dream. After a few minutes of walking down past snoozing druids, it seemed they were just resting early, and the smoke in here was mainly to hide whatever the underlying skunk-esque smell was.
He came upon a strange sight then, at least, strange to a loner who'd spent the early centuries of his Long Vigil isolated, as he learned to heal. There was a circle of druids strewn about the den in various positions, and in the middle of them, he spied a device. It was, in Eldarath, a common sight, but these days, such things were considered relics. He had no idea how they functioned, and he'd never been old enough to be allowed to try one.
That was no problem now, as the bear-leaning druids welcomed the cat into their midst, and shared with him the wonders of the herb that, according to them, many druids had taken up toking in recent years, with the discovery of a variation of the hemp plant, mainly used for their rope-related needs, and apparently several tips from Tauren druids. Evidently, some variations of said plant, when smoked, were quite enjoyable.
Having some clue as to what he was doing from smoking with his mentor, and mirroring Koda entirely, he inhaled far too long on the elven hookah, long enough, and inhaling hard enough, to produce a burn that, to his virginal throat, caused him to hack up the decently large cloud he'd managed to take in. They assured him that he'd get used to it, that with more tokes it wouldn't be so rough, and that coughing actually made him ingest…whatever this herb was…quicker. The effects were definitely more potent than what Kota had shared with him, and when he mentioned the Tauren version, they'd chuckled, and claimed 'elven technology' was superior to anything the bull-men could craft, when it came to smoking.
Eventually, with his head spinning and mind racing, the druid left the den, but not before receiving a pouch full of seeds of the very same plant, as well as basic care and tending instructions. Being druids, any of them could, with a bit of focus and mana, produce a grown plant from a single seed with roughly half a day's worth of meditation and energy transferring.
He gave it a whole day, as he had nothing better to do, and split his energy between three plants, which was tiring. The end result though certainly seemed impressive. He'd set up his little 'garden' on the hills just above the northern edge of the Dreamgrove, and after grinding the 'buds' of his plants, and shaping a suitably long piece of wood from a nearby tree, he began carving what his fellow druids had told him he'd be able to enjoy the crushed herb in if portability was preferable to a stationary hookah. Essentially, it was just a wooden pipe, simple in design, but he left plenty of room for aesthetics.
He felt Ashamane brush his mind as he carved and shaped his instrument by hand, and sometimes with a cat claw, shifted from a single finger. It was just as useful as having a knife on hand, and ultimately less threatening, he'd found. Naturally, his pipe had Ashamane's visage upon it, which meant that it looked similar to his own cat form. He didn't worry about anyone assuming vanity though. He was very obviously a druid, and a follower of the great panther, as he'd taken to wearing a kilt with a very prominent, very feline paw print upon it, a blessing from Ashamane herself, that subtly enhanced what abilities he possessed. Anyone he was likely to socialize with would probably see the resemblance to her, more than him.
He had no idea how, but she managed to find a way to experience what he himself did, and found the sensation not unpleasant, though the smell made her want to twitch the nose she no longer had. He found his own twitching instead, which was slightly unsettling, as he wasn't the one moving it.
He soon fell into one of the most restful naps he'd ever had, and awoke to move his little operation somewhere else. Everyone had a den in this land, it seemed, and he had no intention of sharing with a bunch of snoring bears, or Thaon. Much as he liked his fellow druid, they both tended to act as leaders, especially surrounded by their kin, and that would, inevitably, cause friction.
He went just south of Ashamane's abode, to what would one day be known as the Sundersong Glade. There was only one inhabitant however, Magdalena Dusklake, but she seemed content to stay in her house, unaware of her new neighbor. That is, until the faint stench of the herb he smoked, after setting everything up again, wafted towards her house. Thankfully, the cave had been empty, and he took to making it his quickly, for he knew how fast ownership of such a nice place to live could change, in the early stages of claiming it.
Though his neighbor remained in her home, as best he could tell, his fumes did attract a pair of Moonkin guests who, upon learning he could in fact speak their relatively simple tongue, informed him that they had owned this cave, and now he'd gone and ruined it by stinking it up, and draping an oversized hammock across it.
They came to something of a compromise, once Laronar convinced the bear-owls to try the herb themselves, for the Moonkin he knew were no strangers to something as simple as recreational smoking. They hooted happily, and in the midst of their hazy stupor, the mated pair agreed to let the druid stay with them, provided he taught them how to grow more of this delightful herb.
He spent several days in his new cave, funneling energy into his ever-growing stockpile of plants. He bred them as only a druid could, and found the herb on his leafy shoulder pads to be quite similar to what the druids had given him. He tested his knowledge and manipulation of plants then, breeding the two together. The result was an even stronger effect that his new, and first, housemates were delighted to experience. Eventually, he was convinced that the smoke from his sessions was slowly making the more primitive creatures addicted to it, and he warned them of the dangers of too much, and explained the concept of what the elves called 'moderation'. They had, thankfully, deferred to his 'druidic wisdom' on the matter, and agreed to take a break to do other things while he went back to the grove to check on the progress of Thaon and the others.
It had barely been a week, but he knew how training went. There were always one or two pupils that stood out at first, and those, he wanted to mold himself. Thaon was a good teacher, but his methods were narrow, in Laronar's opinion. He had stuck to the cat form, and only the cat, whereas Laronar had, like many druids of his generation, bonded with as many Ancients as possible, and tried to maintain some level of peace between all of them. As that practice had faded away, the bridges between the Ancients, i.e. druids like himself, became ever more rare as his fellows had focused on a single patron.
Ashamane was many things, but jealousy and pettiness were below her. Or so she'd said, when he'd asked if she wanted him to do as Thaon had. He'd sensed her preference of course, but she also knew that he'd befriended her compatriots, and for beings like them, 'mortal' friends were rather rare.
He intended to keep the Ashen's focus on the cat form of course, but he wanted them to be versatile as well. Any hunter knew well how useful adaptation was, and being able to fly or swim as fast as they could run would go far in keeping them alive. Thaon evidently expected him, as he had two students ready for what he'd told them was 'advanced training'. One was, of course, Delandros, but the other Laronar had not seen before.
As the two teachers conferred, Thaon explained. "I know we both expected Shimmermoon to excel, but this other one…Glaidalis. He was being taught Balance techniques, when his instructors sent him here to master his shapeshifting abilities. He's quite good."
Laronar had eyed the two then, who were still kneeling with the others despite the privacy of Thaon's home. "We will see. Any suggestions as to where we should train?"
Thaon shrugged. "You will find an abundance of power by Shaladrassil…just be wary around there. Malfurion imprisoned a bunch of foul Satyrs beneath its roots."
Laronar slowly arched an eyebrow. "He what? Satyrs are not Worgen…they're demons. Corruption is their nature. Their mere presence could be enough to taint the Dream! We should kill them, and be done with it."
Thaon chuckled. "Exactly what I said, but our Shan'do insisted. It hasn't been an issue thus far, but still…avoid poking them. We've only so many World Trees."
Laronar nodded, and then glanced back at his contemporary. "How was Shaladrassil even planted here in the first place, anyways?"
Thaon waved a hand, clearly ready to move on with training for the day. "Ask the Ancient, Oakheart. He's a scion of the tree, apparently. Oh, and keep an eye out for the Tauren. They like to train by the tree as well."
Laronar's other eyebrow joined the first in surprise. "Tauren? Here? How is that possible?"
Thaon glanced at him, then nodded. "I suppose you were rather young at the time…the Highmountain Tauren, among others, are the ones who helped us against the Legion, back in the day. Cenarius himself favored their leader…erm…Huln. That was it. Huln Highmountain. He gave the Tauren moose antlers, after Huln demonstrated his loyalty to the Forest Lord, and all who live upon Highmountain shared in the blessing as well."
Laronar stared. "Moose antlers? You're sure?" Thaon had nodded, but Laronar had already shifted into a cat, and run outside. Delandros and Glaidalis followed him, ascending into the air as a pair of Stormcrows, following an owl as they rapidly flew north, with purpose. He hadn't forgotten the oddity of his old mentor, and it certainly explained it now, in hindsight. Kota had been from this region as well, but had been cut off from his people, and distracted, after agreeing to train him.
He'd eventually flown back though, or tried to. Nothing but foul rumor came from those who'd tried to cross the seas. The Maelstrom, as they'd called it, was still very much a whirling torrent of wind and water, but his mentor had also favored the sky, as he had favored his cat form. If anyone could fly in a hurricane, for they had, on a few occasions, it was Kota of the Skyhorn.
He didn't quite know why he was moving with such purpose, but his instincts were telling him that speaking with these apparently peaceful, if not friendly, Tauren was a good idea. He'd seen Oakheart before, albeit at a distance. Koda had mentioned that he was one of the oldest trees here, and Val'sharah had only stayed so intact thanks in no small part to his efforts, and the World Tree's. She hadn't told him why Shaladrassil was here in the first place, though.
As the three birds came upon the town of Shala'nir, nestled in the roots of the massive tree, they spied Oakheart, surrounded by a semicircle of elven and unmistakably Tauren figures. The golden eyes of the Ancient followed them as they landed a distance away, and the rumbling baritone of the ancient tree continued, as he finished his lesson. Laronar waited patiently, arms linked behind his back. He knew better than to interrupt an Ancient.
The giant tree being finished his lecture, and those around him bowed, and then split. The elves went west, and the Tauren began saddling their moose mounts, and readied for the long climb to the east. Oakheart's footsteps shook the earth as he approached, but Laronar remained otherwise impassive. He felt the students behind him shift uneasily, and he smirked. Fighting larger, potentially stronger opponents was something they would need to get used to, but this was no enemy.
Oakheart ran three fingers through the flower studded beard of crimson-orange leaves before he spoke. "Mmmwhat...brings you to mine home...Laronar Stormclaw?"
Laronar bowed, and held it until the two students figured out they should bow as well. Thankfully, they were quick. "I've come for information, wise Ancient. I've spent the last several millennia on Kalimdor. I was not certain if there were Tauren out here, too."
The low rumble that echoed in their bodies could've been called a chuckle. "Yes...they live upon Highmountain...and descend on occasion for learning, trade, and mmMMMmmedicine. What interest does a...Night Elf have in the clans?"
Laronar's eyes darted to the group that was in the process of packing what looked like medicinal herbs onto their saddlebags. "My mentor, Kota, was of the Skyhorn. He had moose antlers…tell me, old one, did you ever meet him? It must have been around…fifty five hundred years ago now."
"HmmMMMMmmm…Kota, you say…" The Ancient rumbled, then turned, and waved the Tauren over. As the moose-men approached, they eyed the three elves with curiosity.
Their leader, a male with a rack that was, in a word, impressive, spoke for them. "What do you wish of us, Ancient one?"
Laronar glanced at the speaker, and then did a double take. His 'clothes' mostly consisted of leather straps about the furred, muscled chest, and a deep blue kilt that was adorned with eagle feathers, and the mark of what had to be an Ancient, judging by the power it gave off. What most caught his eye though, were the unmistakable facial similarities to his mentor. This Tauren was less scarred by war, and still in his prime, but there was no mistaking it. He was a passable recreation of his mentor, a descendant perhaps.
Oakheart spoke, and confirmed the elf's suspicions. "Archdruid Stormclaw...meet Kota...Skyspeaker of the Skyhorn clan...and the fifty second descendant of your mmMMmentor, each of whom has born his name, in honor of his deeds...and legend."
The Tauren's eyes went wide at the mention of his surname, and Laronar chuckled. "Fifty two generations…has it really been so long?" He moved his eyes to Kota's then. Old memories came back, memories of studying under a similar, but much harsher pair. "I knew your ancestor. He was a good friend of mine, and with his help, I was able to create a peaceful dialogue between my people in Kalimdor, and the Tauren who reside there as well. Last I heard, they were trading weapons and aiding each other against harpy raids."
The Tauren snorted, hard. "Harpy filth…so they attack us in Kalimdor as well, do they?" He snorted again, but Laronar was used to it. He had found that Tauren liked to punctuate their conversations with various physical displays. It had taken a while to understand, and his Taur-ahe was rather rusty.
"They do. They also learn from our druids…you may not be aware, but what your ancestor taught me has all but become the foundation of what our Circle calls the Feral Arts. Without him, we would be much less prepared to defend the world." The Tauren's face was unreadable as he listened to the elf's words, but did not meet his eyes.
"That is…heartening to know. I would beg a lesson from you some time, Archdruid. Learning directly from my ancestor's student would be…enlightening. Our druids learn much here, but much was lost in the Sundering. Ohn'ara still favors us, but the other spirits have either left, or gone silent, and those few who remain refuse to share with us as Ohn'ara has." The Tauren bowed formally as he spoke.
Laronar walked closer then, putting a hand on the massive furred shoulder."The Kota I knew all but saved me from growing up alone, with naught but my Stormsaber. He taught me the basics of all I have come to learn, and even now, I still draw on his wisdom. With your permission, I would travel to Highmountain with you, as a sign of friendship and good faith between our peoples. Reconnecting you with traditions you may have forgotten is the least I can do for my old mentor."
Kota glanced at the other Tauren, who eyed him in turn and, from their expressions, he saw them recognize the various Tauren influences on his choice of garb, as well as the power of the blessing Ashamane had given his kilt. They eventually nodded their assent, and Kota continued. "They will ascend the mountain with the mounts. You and I shall soar the skies, Laronar Stormclaw. Let us see if what you were taught holds up after a few thousand years."
Delandros chimed in from behind them then. "What of us, teacher?"
Laronar looked back at them, and smirked. "Oh, you're coming along too. Our peoples are going to have to coexist here for quite some time, and you will, eventually, be responsible for maintaining that relationship by passing on what you have learned to the Tauren as well as our own people. You might as well start building a dialogue now."
The quiet one, Glaidalis, spoke then. "I was told we would be receiving lessons from you, Archdruid. Is this not to be so? I do not wish to offend our friendly neighbors, but I would rather train, than socialize." Delandros nodded in agreement, and Kota gave a deep chuckle.
Laronar looked between the two of them. "Very well. You desire a lesson, and Kota wishes to see my skill in the skies. Let us accomplish both. Take your flight forms Ashen, today you are going to learn the hard reality of fighting in the sky."
Minutes later four birds, an eagle, an owl, and two Stormcrows, ascended to the peaks of Highmountain. Several Tauren hunters on the slopes took aim at them, though they paused once they spied the antlers poking from the eagle's head. Kota landed on a small patch of land surrounded by a waterfall that led to Ashamane's own grove below them.
Laronar's eyes spotted other druids below, and if he could've grinned with a beak, he would've. Evidently Thaon had an idea of what he'd intended to demonstrate. The two fledgling druids behind him were indeed skilled, but as birds, they had much to learn. He found a current of warm air by the waterfall that bordered Ashamane's shrine, and rose silently, quickly, without beating his wings.
The two Stormcrows struggled to keep up with the speed of his rise as they had not yet learned to fly with the wind, and with a shrill shriek that split the air, the two novices shared a look, and knew combat had begun. Laronar rode the warm air to its peak, flew straight up, and then came down again upside down, spinning to face them properly as he flared his wings and extended the talons. Glaidalis had evidently figured out how he'd risen so quickly, and used the warm air to curve away, and make his own upwards spiral. Delandros was not as adept, and the Archdruid's claw came away with blood and feathers as he passed by.
Seeing this, Glaidalis shifted in mid-air, cast a quick healing spell on his ally's wounded wing, and then shifted back to his Stormcrow shape, hurtling quickly after Laronar, who had circled around below them, flying just high enough over Ashamane's shrine for the others to get a good look. He saw Thaon watching with a smirk, and one of his owlish eyes gave the other druid a wink. Thaon laughed.
Glaidalis and Delandros came down quickly, spiraling down towards the owl at a much quicker pace, and only too late did they realize that by diving straight for him, the air that would cushion their speed, and prevent a crash, was no longer under them. Unused to their forms as they were, and with their speedy dive, neither noticed.
Laronar saw them coming, and tucked his wings close as they clawed at him, and hit empty air as he dropped like a stone towards the water below. Undeterred, the two speeding crows kept after him, until he flared his wings, and suddenly rose rapidly on one of the many strong updrafts that lined the falls, dodging them entirely as they soared too low at the wrong angle to catch the same breeze. Realizing too late what they were about to do, both novice druids shifted into their bear forms as they crashed into the water, and the rocks below. They emerged more embarrassed than hurt, and the owl landed before them.
Up above, Kota watched, seemingly amused. The Archdruid had proved he was what he claimed to be, a master shapeshifter, and he knew the skies as well as any of the Skyhorn druids. If not better. The Tauren inhaled sharply as he sensed a presence beside him. A faint outline of a white feathered figure that was, at a glance, a harpy, and at the same time, so much more.
Ohn'ara had told him of the mistress of all flying creatures, the Wild Goddess Aviana, but he had never thought to see her, as she had reportedly fallen millennia ago in the ancient war. She gave a clicking chuckle at his reaction, patted his shoulder with an incorporeal, but still somewhat tangible white-feathered hand, and then gestured at the druids below as, from what he could hear, the Archdruid explained the basics of flying to the pair of damp students. The other Ashen had gathered as well, and now Thaon interjected too, with useful addendums about tail manipulation, and avoiding the urge to eat worms.
"They are good, yes? Quite good, quite good indeed. The owl, the owl, he's a funny one, that druid. But alas, not to be mine, be mine." Aviana's voice was as faint as her form, and she turned to Kota then. "Your people, your people, and theirs, you should train here, I think, yes, on this very spot, this very spot! You are wise, wise to be cautious, but the elves of old these are not. You must come together, together in this new age of peace and growth. Yes, train and learn the ways of the sky, together. That will do...yes, that will do indeed."
The spirit faded back into the Dream, and Kota bowed low, having no doubt she yet listened. "As you wish, Mistress of the Sky, we shall endeavor to make it so." He heard the chuckle again, and Kota then shifted forms to soar below and join the other druids. As he let the wind carry him into the air, he squawked in surprise as he felt a rush of power. His feathers turned pure white, the aerodynamically challenged horns vanished, and his flight form became that of a white eagle, not all that dissimilar from Ohn'ara's own form, the one upon which all Highmountain druids called for such transformations.
Kota's piercing eagle screech echoed through the sky, and he circled the falls in a slow glide on his Tauren-sized wings. The elves shared a look, and Thaon grinned, then shoved Laronar forward towards the falls. The druid leapt into the air, and effortlessly rose above the falls once more. He was rapidly becoming thankful that he'd practiced flying around them, out of sheer boredom, when his 'housemates' had asked for privacy. He met the eagle's eyes then, and the two circled each other on the same level in the air. They came together once, clacked talons with the skill of those who had done this before, for Laronar did indeed know how to 'properly' duel in the sky, and the battle began.
Kota felt his patron's voice in his head again. "Show him, show him that cats belong on the ground… the sky, the sky is ours." Kota did as he was bid, or rather, he tried to. His eagle form was quick, and quite large, but Laronar had maneuverability, and a natural affinity for this kind of fight. To those watching, the two birds were a blur of talons and feathers, and after three raucous exchanges, they appeared to settle on a draw, lest they cause permanent damage beyond the bleeding gashes they'd thus far sustained. They landed then, and those watching below saw the flashes of green as they healed their wounds.
Glaidalis and Delandros joined their assigned teacher, as Thaon and his Ashen moved back towards his home in a pack. The remaining four druids shifted once more, and made their way to Thunder Totem. Laronar found that the Highmountain Tauren, while at first more than a bit suspicious, if not outright racist towards him and the other elves, also enjoyed the herb the Druids of the Claw had partaken of.
After suggesting they ease tensions and talk over a pipe of the stuff, the budding tempers had cooled, and before long, the Archdruid was regaling them in the bowels of the tribal city with tales of his mentor that, apparently, he had not shared with them, or that had been forgotten or otherwise perverted through word of mouth over the course of five millennia.
By the time the sun reached its zenith, the elves departed from Highmountain with well wishes, and promises of future rendezvous during which they could share stories, teachings, and of course, the herb. Delandros and Glaidalis made lasting connections as well, though Laronar privately doubted they would renew them when the mortality of their Tauren allies caught up to them, and ignored the elves.
They returned to Shaladrassil, and began to train in the advanced techniques their mentor wished for them to master, though it soon became obvious that Glaidalis was more interested in spellcraft and his own methods of shapeshifting than he was in listening to one who had mastered both in his time. In the end, it did not matter, for the exceptionally skilled druid became the Grove Keeper under the World Tree, charged with safeguarding it, the Dream, and the Satyrs who even then slumbered beneath. Delandros, on the other hand, learned well from both Laronar and Thaon, and it was only a few short years before he too was helping them train Ashen to become stronger defenders of nature.