A Price to Pay - The Murder of Jaroo Ashstaff

by Alexandra Velten and Rainer Nagel


The haggard man looked around. There was no-one to be seen; of course not: he had planned this well in advance. If his observations about the people of this small village had been correct (and of course they were), nobody would come near this part of the castle construction site until the next morning - and then it would all be over, anyway. It was a simple job: to kill a druid who had offended his employers. He had prepared himself well, as usual. Like his namesake, he had scouted the place and its surroundings, had seized up the friends and relations of the victim, with a trained eye to finding the one person most ideally suited to be used in the assault. He had finally settled on a young halfling (a strange choice for a druid, but then he didn’t really care) who seemed to be quite intimate with Jaroo - whatever that implied (again, he couldn’t care less). Although she seemed strong of will (probably stronger than he), using her body would be quite easy, thanks to Ghearufu. What he himself lacked in force of will, the artifact more than made up for.

It was time, he decided. His observations (unseen, as was to be expected) had told him that the young druid and her companions had arrived in Hommlet from wherever they had been. He didn’t need to know, and, after tonight, she wouldn’t be going anywhere ever again, anyway. As usual, she would walk to the druid's place alone, directly, with some of the others, most often the child magic-user, to follow later. Thus, he would have all the time he needed. A few more moments ... now she would be close to the grove. He had to act now, because once she had entered the grove, his task would become so much more difficult. Almost ceremoniously, he fastened the necklace chain with the small gold-edged mirror dangling from it around his neck, donned the black glove and the white one, grasped the knife, and slipped the ring onto his finger. With slow, deliberate motions, he laid himself down on the ground, pausing for a brief second before plunging the knife right into his heart...

As usual, he died - or rather, his body died. His spirit, held safe by the powers of Ghearufu (which he had never understood but had long since learned to take for granted), was on its way to the body of its intended victim, there to drive out the spirit of its actual owner. Ghearufu’s main purpose was that of spirit transfer - but, since his body had already died, the ousted spirit would have no chance to claim it and, thus, would be sent to whatever place it was supposed to go to. Then he would use his new host body to commit the assassination, see to it that it was killed, then return to his own body which would be dead no more, thanks to the ring of regeneration having done its work by then. It would all work out quite beautifully, as it had done countless times before... real art. Yes, that was it - assassination as an art form, far superior to those who simply used crude weapons to kill their targets. All these thoughts flashed through his mind in the brief instance that he was separated from his own body, lying down there, frail and weak (no use inhabiting a body that couldn’t be killed off easily) - his third one after his career as an assassin for hire had started over a hundred years ago.

Harnessing the energies provided by Ghearufu, the assassin only known as "Ghost" directed his thoughts to the body of his intended victim...

Tansy Treewee was not in the best of spirits on her way to the Grove of Jaroo Ashstaff. Too much had happened during their last foray into the Temple of Elemental Evil. First, the almost-fatal encounter with Falrinth, then the meeting with that terrible tentacle-creature, the discovery of the Orb, its harmful effects on party unity, the brief but dreadful vision of the Lady of Fungi, Wonillon’s unexpected betrayal... Not for the first time was she wondering whether it might all be too much, too large for her and her friends to shoulder. And, looming in the background but always somewhat near, was the ambiguous prophecy... She direly needed to talk to Jaroo, both for counsel on events in the Temple and concerning the prophecy. Surely he knew more than he had let on so far! After all, he was more advanced in the druidic hierarchy than her. And, as he was the one who had been instrumental in her gaining access to that prophecy (which she actually should not have known anything about yet), he seemed to be on her side. He might even have risked something in letting her know about her probable destiny...

Suddenly, out of the blue, something hit her, something terrible, swift, dark, invincible. While she was still reeling from that blow, she saw her body stagger for a brief time - and realised that she was no longer in control of it, instead seeming to drift outside it! Panic gripped her, but before she could do anything, she was taken in by a strong current and swept someplace else, to what she recognised as the castle construction site, where a frail body of a dead human lay, a dagger sticking out of his chest. She felt inexplicably drawn to this body - just to be thrown back from it as brutally as she had been torn out of her own. What did that mean? Before she could even think of reacting, she was back again, hovering close to her own body. She felt the alien presence now dwelling inside it, and found it to be weak - much weaker than her own spirit, actually. Confidently, she tried to get in, to force the intruder out again, only to encounter an impenetrable barrier that originated somewhere else, preventing her from even touching the other’s mind. Helplessly, she watched as her body continued towards Jaroo’s Grove, oblivious to her desperate attempts to wrest it from the clutches of the invader.

What was going on here? While she was still contemplating this, she noticed yet another sensation: a gentle tug, pulling at her, trying to take her away, away from this place, away from her body. Still in panic, she tried to look around, and suddenly she saw, far in the distance, a huge green field, peaceful and serene. In the midst of this landscape stood a wooden structure, looking like a large farmhouse, vaguely familiar to her; she remembered having glimpsed it before, once... A small, equally familiar figure emerged from the house, waving at her, beckoning to her... Yes. That felt right. She was going home. Home, where she belonged, where she could rest after all the adventures and hardships she had been through... She stopped resisting the tug and let herself go, closer to this idyllic place... when suddenly, abruptly, the tugging stopped.

Part of her cried out, for being blocked to move where she wanted to be, where she believed her destiny to be - and yet another part, until then suppressed by the panic, actually welcomed this stay of the journey, still longing to find out what was happening here, still eager to do whatever she could to reverse this turn of events...

"You can do nothing," a cold, incorporeal voice inside her head said. This voice was also vaguely familiar, though she couldn’t quite place it. "Relax," it said, "and watch. Let this play itself out." So she watched, somewhat dumbfounded, as her body, possessed by someone else’s mind, entered the Grove...

It had been a hard day for Jaroo Ashstaff. The black squirrels, the first of which had entered the Grove about a week ago, had been showing up in ever-increasing numbers during the last two days, and today had been even worse than yesterday. Now, close to nightfall, the druid expected the migrations to stop for the day, only to be resuming tomorrow. This was bothering him, since the huge influx of new inhabitants threatened the natural balance of the Grove and he was unsure how to deal with that. There had to be a reason for all these new arrivals, but so far he hadn’t been able to get anything out of the squirrels he had talked to. He remembered Growwl’s distrust of the small furry creatures; in his own, clumsy way, the large bear had likened the squirrels to what Jaroo had translated as "harbingers of doom", but had not been able to explain what he meant by that. That’s bears for you, Jaroo thought, efficient predators and guardians, but poor conversationalists.

And that was not all, he mused, absent-mindedly fingering the onion he was holding. Two regular visitors at the Grove had stopped coming, and others were visiting less and less frequently. Maybe this had something to do with Wyan's activities. Thinking about the fanatic zeal of the new Canon brought a shiver down Jaroo's spine. He almost wished for Y'Dey to be back, back from wherever they had posted her. Sure, she had been the epitome of the religious hard-head, but still she had shown an amazing amount of common sense - for a Cudgeler, at least. This, however, could not be said about her replacement, and Jaroo had begun fearing for the worst. Already, the atmosphere in Hommlet seemed to be getting darker, more oppressive. Maybe he should be checking Wyan more aggressively. Maybe... Life was changing so fast recently, with so many turnovers, new challenges... Of late, he had been wondering if things were moving too fast for him to keep up with. Maybe he was out of his league here...

He sighed, took a bite off his onion, and bent down again towards the two newly arrived squirrels with whom he had been communicating for the last few minutes. Another, larger one had just hopped by, intently watching him. Maybe it was Jaroo’s imagination, but this squirrel’s eyes seemed to be more intelligent than those of the other two. Maybe he should compliment them away and concentrate on the larger one... While he was half-heartedly trying to at least get the two squirrels to tell him something about the place where they had come from, he saw the eyes of the larger squirrel shift to a place behind him.

For a moment, Jaroo tensed, but then he relaxed again: the sound of the footsteps clearly indicated that Tansy Treewee was approaching, the young halfling druid who so eerily seemed to fulfil prophecy. He had been ordered to watch and to guide her, one step at a time, never too much too soon. He did this with pleasure, since he had grown quite fond of her in the few months following their first meeting. He looked forward to talking to her since she had made his life a little brighter - especially after it had recently begun to turn so complicated. Maybe she could be of help with the squirrels - she had often displayed an unusual insight into the minds of animals, far superior to Jaroo. With a mumbled excuse to the two squirrels, he turned around, smiling - only to see something he would never have expected, something that filled him with utter, disbelieving astonishment...

There was nothing Tansy could do except keeping up with her body - which was easy enough since her unfettered spirit moved faster than any halfling ever could. Her fears grew with every step of her body, since everything she saw confirmed her suspicions. Currently, "Tansy" was going through her assortment of sharp, pointed things, quickly dismissing the sickle, almost lovingly caressing the several daggers she had accumulated, until finally settling on the small silver knife she had taken from Falrinth's dead body. What a perverse idea this was: using a ceremonial knife integral to the casting of an evil spell to kill someone! The knife had seen blood once; it was about to do so again.

Her body entered the Grove, and Tansy followed. "What is going to happen?" she yelled at that cold voice she had heard before, but there was no answer. Whoever had been talking to her didn't seem to be with her at the moment. Her body reached the clearing in the midst of the Grove, near the huge oaken tree just off Growwl's cavern. Jaroo was there, kneeling on the ground, talking to two black squirrels. A lot of them must have happened by here lately, judging from the fur and tails she could make out along the edges of the clearing. Another squirrel moved into sight at this very instant, settling on a small stone, intently watching Jaroo. The old druid gave it a quick glance, then returned his attention to the other two squirrels.

"Jaroo! Watch out!" Tansy's thoughts screamed, but he seemed totally oblivious to this. With growing desperation, Tansy watched herself slowly draw nearer, an evil smirk creeping on her innocent face. Desperation turned into disgust as she saw herself draw the silver knife, half concealing it in her hand.

At this very moment, the large black squirrel looked at her, at the approaching assassin, and Tansy's hopes began to rise again. Maybe... Jaroo tensed for a brief time, then slowly turned around - too slowly! "Turn around! Jaroo! They want to kill you! Listen to me! Please!" She moved closer, tried to interpose herself between Jaroo and his attacker, but for no good (the black squirrel seemed to shake its head sadly, but surely this had to be an overreaction of Tansy's tortured mind). Jaroo finally finished turning around, a welcoming smile on his face, when suddenly his expression changed to astonishment at "Tansy's" evil grin and the now extended silver knife - and then the ... thing in Tansy's body, with one swift motion, thrust the knife right into Jaroo's heart, a movement delivered with perfect precision. With absolute horror, Tansy saw her mentor fall over, clutching at the knife embedded in his chest, and she could almost feel his lifeblood ebbing away from him. With all the clarity of a dream, she saw him fall over, staining the green grass with his red blood, convulsing once, twice... Tansy's hand appeared in her view again, clutching the bloody knife that she must have pulled out of his heart again, plunging it into Jaroo's back, over and over. Soon, the druid was lying there in a pool of blood, soaking his clothes and the grass underneath him. The squirrels had run away; only the larger one had remained, still looking intently. Tansy's body, turning around now as if searching for something, was also soaked in blood. Jaroo's blood. On her hands. And she just floated there, bodiless, unable to do anything. Then she saw what the assassin had been looking for...

Growwl stirred in his cave. Slowly, he tried to make sense of what he had seen. His human bear-brother had been talking to the smallfurries again. Growwl didn't like them, they smelled of danger. Of death. Then smaller bear-sister had come, the friendly, nice one. Then she had done something to brother. Put something into him, something shiny, pointed. Shiny, pointed things usually hurt. This must have hurt a lot, because brother was not getting up again. Growwl became furious. He was there to protect brother, and there false sister was hurting him again and again! With a loud growl, the mighty bear rushed from the cave, right at false sister, who now was just standing there, arms outstretched, as if waiting for him to come... Pain washed over Growwl, and he gave way to his instincts, slashing and cutting into false sister. Cut. Maul. Hurt. Kill. Wait... Someone else was there ... another being, similar to brother and false sister ... yet different ... totally different ... Growwl had only seen this strange-smelling ... not-bear a few times, and he had not liked him. He was standing where, just moments before, the smallfurry had been. He looked at the bear, pointing, saying words ... soothing words ... words that made sense even if the bear didn't understand them. Yes, the danger had passed. Yes, everything would be all right. Yes, everything was all right. All right ... all right...

It had been easy, easier even than he had imagined. Once again, the Ghost had struck, unerringly killing his victim. The first stab had been enough, of course; but then, to attract the attention of the bear and to ensure the death of his host body, he had to create a bloody mess to arouse the animal. How fitting, he thought, to have a nature-loving creature killed by a part of this very nature. He loved the irony in this, another delightful element of his artistic assassination of this particular victim. Yes, life was good. Ah, there came the bear... The first blows hurt, of course, but that hurting would soon stop, and he would be back in his own body, by now almost recovered to enable him a quick retreat which he had already planned for. It was then that things started to go wrong.

Suddenly, the one squirrel that had not run away (stupid creature!) changed its form, elongated, became human - or elven! The next moment, a tall being stood there, dressed as a druid, effortlessly calming down the bear. This was bad. Bad, but not hopeless. He could effect the switch back by mentally activating Ghearufu from afar. This would leave the host body intact, but would enable him to escape. Still, this would significantly mar his performance here and now. Enraged, he took a good look at the source of his troubles - and froze. This was no ordinary elf! Standing there, in the middle of a druidic grove, calming down an enraged bear, was a dark elf, a drow. What kind of treachery was this? How could they turn on him now? And, if they could enter here, why then hadn't they... A cold, harsh voice cut through his thoughts - the voice of the dark elf.

"I am sorry. But this body is still needed. You, however, are not." The Ghost finally found his voice. "But... why do you keep me from fulfilling the contract? Are you not satisfied? Why are you double-crossing me?" "We are not," the answer came. "We did not hire you." Suddenly, the truth dawned on the Ghost. "So ... you aren't one of them! You are ... dobluth, aren't you?" It seemed to him that this caused a slight reaction in the dark elf but before he could press his seeming advantage, the grey-clad figure cut him short.

"I agree that the service you have just done us could be ... useful in the future. But you can no longer be allowed to continue." Dimly, something came to the Ghost's mind, something from the time of his second body. "But I have done work for you druids before. You found me quite useful then!" "Yes," the answer came, "but since then, you have become uncontrollable. You have shifted from an unwitting instrument of balance to an active proponent of chaos. We cannot allow you to continue that."

"Watch me," the Ghost ejected with a fake laugh, concentrating on the mental activation of Ghearufu. To his utter dismay, nothing happened. A cold smile crept onto the dark elf's face. With slow, deliberate movements, he produced several items from his robe, items the Ghost recognised only too well: the mirror, the two gloves ... and, to his utter dismay, the ring! "You are not, by any chance, trying to use this?" There was some kind of dark, unrelenting mockery in the druid's voice that sent a shiver down the spine of even the hardened Ghost. "I took the liberty of taking these from your body and making sure that it was truly, finally dead. Now watch. Watch the final moments of your life." Panic raced through the Ghost's mind and he tried to rush at the dark elf, but found himself unable to move. He had to watch helplessly as the drow, after a brief, almost worried look into the air directly above his host body, carefully tore first the white and then the black glove to shreds, then placed the mirror on the very stone he had been sitting upon when still a squirrel, and finally shattered it with another stone. This was the last thing the Ghost noticed as his spirit, unable to return into his now irrevocably killed body, was drawn screaming towards the Abyss...

During all of this, Tansy's spirit had still been resigned to a wholly passive role, being forced to watch how Sybok - because that was as whom she had instantly recognised him - calmed down Growwl and then dealt with the assassin in her body. She then realised that it had been his voice that she had heard earlier, the one telling her to stay calm and watch - which had disturbed her even more. If Sybok had been there all along, posing as this squirrel, why hadn't he prevented the foul murder? And why had he talked as if he knew that ... creature hiding within Tansy's body? But, worse yet: she suddenly felt the tugging again, the beautiful landscape once more appearing at the edge of her vision ... only that this time, she was too enraged to give it much attention, to have any desire to go there. Still, the tugging grew stronger. Sybok seemed to have noticed it, too, since he looked straight at her for one brief second before destroying the gloves and the mirror, as if he knew that time was about to run out ... and most probably he did.

The next thing Tansy noticed was that she was back in her own body, standing shakily within the Grove, amidst the carnage her possessed body had created. Directly in front of her she saw the dead body of Jaroo, lying face down in the bloody grass, the silver knife still sticking in his back. Her own body hurt, terribly. Growwl stood a few feet away from her, motionless, passive - charmed, obviously.

Stumbling, with clenched teeth so that neither the pain in her body nor the pain in her heart could force her down, Tansy walked over to Jaroo, fell to her knees, and pulled the knife out, carelessly tossing it away. Then, with considerable effort, she turned his lifeless body around so that she could see him. His dead face still bore an expression of absolute puzzlement, and sightless eyes stared at the sky.

This was too much for Tansy, her heart overwhelmed by sadness. She grasped the lifeless body more tightly, held him in her arms and started to cry like she had never cried before. It felt like her emotions were strangling all her thoughts. Her tears mingled with Jaroo's blood.

"Very well, Tansy Treewee," Sybok's voice cut through her grief and anger, "what have you learned from this incident?" At first, Tansy didn't even notice that he had spoken, so absorbed was she in her mourning. It took her a few moments to understand.

"He was just a stupid fool," she heard Sybok say, from far away. "Had he spared only one thought about the consequences, he would not have died like this." His voice was like a dark, cold sword, efficiently slicing through every warmth. Abruptly, Tansy stopped sobbing. She could absolutely not believe what she had heard. In a husky voice, she uttered a confused, "What?" She recalled that Sybok had been there all the time. That he had taken care for her spirit not to pass away after the switch had taken place. That he had known where the assassin had hidden his real body. That he had known. Everything. She stood up again, carefully placing Jaroo's body on the ground and ever so carefully avoiding to show that her body hurt like hell.

"You - you could have prevented this - this killing?" Tansy still couldn't believe it. "You saw this coming and did not intervene?" Sybok threw her a glance as if he thought her to be a creature devoid of all intelligence. It was a look full of arrogance, and Tansy returned the stare with one filled with anger. "Well," he repeated, "what have you learned from this incident?"

Tansy, having severe problems restraining her anger, shot back: "You dare ask me what I have learned? You dare ask that in front of the dead body of a person who was my friend, my mentor?" She clenched her fists. "Shall I tell you something? In a way, I loved that man. And you, you dare..." Again, Sybok interrupted her. "You should behave like a sentient being if you want me to talk to you. That prophecy is surely laughing you right in the face just now."

"This has nothing to do with the prophecy!" Tansy responded angrily. Sybok smiled thinly. "You are so narrow-minded. Have you ever even thought about the political implications of the prophecy?" "But this has nothing..." Tansy started again, only to be rudely interrupted: "Then, for once in your life, think!"

The half-drow druid, standing there in his grey robes, now had an expression on his face that would have become Falrinth, the evil mage. It showed arrogance, which could be seen quite clearly, and something else that Tansy could not really put her finger on. The last time she had met him, he had not exactly been in a friendly mood, either. 'The Dark' was a rather fitting epithet, not only because of his skin colour. Probably he was never in a friendly mood, just more or less unfriendly.

Tansy still had problems concentrating on thinking logically. Her world seemed to have turned upside down during the last few minutes. The present could very well be just another form of eternity, she mused. She tried to sound, as Sybok had demanded, like a sentient being when she finally spoke.

"I know I am destined to become the next Great Druid of the Central Flanaess. I know that this certainly implies a lot of responsibility and diplomatic ability apart from the usual druidic abilities." she added in an acerbic tone. "I also know that I might still be too inexperienced for that and that I have to learn" - she almost spat out that word - "a lot of things. But, in fact, people develop during their lives and certainly you do not want me to challenge you outright here and now to continue my way up, do you?"

Tansy tried to maintain that hard expression on her face so that the tears didn't come back. She carefully avoided looking at Jaroo - or what was left of him.

"Well then, Tansy Treewee," Sybok answered in an equally acerbic tone, "at least you have grasped some of the basic implications - although you place some of them too early. Far too early. The process is much more ordered than you think. And you still missed out on one very important thing." His gaze pierced through her eyes, almost in an attempt to see what was lying (or better, raging) beyond at the moment. "You are still too much involved in petty private matters. You do not really expect to continue that, do you?" Sybok smiled his thin, derisive smile again.

Tansy shuddered. "Do you want to tell me I should stop caring for my friends?" "A little more detachment from such matters would certainly do you good," was Sybok's reply.

"Don't you have friends anymore?" Tansy suddenly thought of the something in Sybok's expression that she could not place - and remembered his oh-so-slight twitching when the assassin had called him ... what? - dobluth. "And then, you may never have had any, have you? You surely are a kind of outcast, in your ... situation," she added intuitively. If she had actually hit a sore spot in Sybok's life, he didn’t show it. But Tansy continued: "Maybe that's it - just because you lead a miserable life and are not able to maintain some friends in your position, you want me to do likewise, you -"

"You understand nothing." Sybok cut her short, but Tansy continued nevertheless. "Oh, I do understand. You just hate the thought of seeing me as your superior. You do not want to be challenged by a halfling. You try to teach me a lesson, so that I..." Absolutely out of the blue, Sybok's staff struck her and the sudden pain sent her down.

Only Growwl saw how Sybok cursed, first addressing Tansy and then himself. He thought about waiting for the little halfling to regain consciousness on her own, but then decided to speed up her recovery. He knelt beside Tansy, shook his head, as if he was dealing with a misbehaved child, and laid his hand on her.

But then again, Growwl didn’t really notice...

After a few seconds, Tansy began to stir again. Sybok had already regained his standing posture, watching her scramble to her feet. Of course, the half-drow did not apologise.

"Maybe you want to renounce your earlier decision," he started again. "My decision to accept the prophecy as being my destiny?" Tansy did not hesitate for a second. "No. Never. It is I who is meant, and I will live to show you that I'm right!" Sybok chuckled, and it was not a friendly sound. "So, if everything goes wrong, you still think you are right and it is just the rest of the world that is wrong?"

"If I have to, yes."

"And what if you are wrong? Have you ever considered that? Have you?"

"Actually ... I have," Tansy said after an awkwardly long pause; still, she could not avoid sounding a bit sarcastic. "Just because I am determined to fulfil this prophecy does not mean that I just blindly follow my stubbornness." She sighed, preparing herself for Sybok's indubitably devastating reply. To her surprise, though, it didn't come. Sybok almost seemed to be taken aback by her answer. Pressing her advantage, she continued. "I’ve had my share of doubts, believe me! But I still think that if there is any chance of it being me, I have to be - whatever, call it stubborn, if you like, but I need this determination. Sometimes this is all one can get, I suppose."

"At least you pretend to have a strong will then," Sybok finally answered, his voice having lost some of its former edge. For a brief moment, it sounded almost ... human, personal.

Tansy looked at poor Jaroo again which made something inside her go tense. "I may change my view on certain things, as I'm not a paladin," she then added grimly.

"This comparison was uncalled for," Sybok retorted, his voice now once again cold and impersonal. The moment had gone. "They play their part, as do we. We can manipulate them, but to do so we have to be as unrelenting as they are. Never forget that. Never forget that the balance is your first and foremost priority."

Tansy pointed in the direction of Jaroo and asked with a cold voice: "And what kind of balance is that? I know that this man has never done anything else than preserve the balance, and you want to justify his untimely death?"

"He made his choice when he destroyed the giant mushrooms, and as you can see now, he was not up to that choice. He was oblivious to the danger he was in, and he did not think of the consequences. For a moment, he stepped beyond his complacency, wanted to be part of the larger whole, but could not handle it. There are moments when we transcend ourselves. It can make us great, or it can break us. Him, it broke. You might learn something from that."

In that moment, Tansy felt sincere doubts about becoming the next Great Druid. Did she really want to be part of that system? But then, maybe this was a chance to change things. She looked at Jaroo. One of the squirrels had come back to him, talking to him, nudging him with his little paws - but he would not answer.

A thought struck the halfling. "Sybok, would you - well, could you bring Jaroo back to life again? Just, let's say, hypothetically speaking?"

He sighed. "Theoretically, yes. In practice - no. I would not do it." Tansy tried to seize that opportunity like some last straw, trying to hide her frantic emotions - "What do you mean? If somebody resurrected him, would you keep Jaroo from being a druid? Just because you think he deserved this - this ..." Tansy could not prevent herself from sobbing again. "Curse it!" she uttered between sobs. "What do I have to do to make you resurrect him?" She clenched her teeth once more, but the tears just did not stop flowing and blurred her sight. Nevertheless, her gaze was now fixed on Sybok again.

He smiled a smile most sardonic. "My dear Tansy, to assure that in the case of me resurrecting Jaroo you still learned something on this day: Would you renounce the prophecy? Then I would do what you want me to. Then I would bring your friend back to life."

"But this is not fair!" Tansy said, "You know I can't do that. It's just not fair!"

Sybok's faced turned to stone again. "The whole world is not fair. I know that, and you have to learn that as well. In time, he will be reincarnated. That should suffice." He turned to go, then, after only a few steps, stopped and turned around again. "It is easy to put oneself into a grand prophecy, to assume one has a destiny," he said gravely, "to pay the price for that ... that is something else again. Anyone can do the former; very few can do the latter. Think about that. Think." With that, he turned away again.

"Wait!" Tansy said, and it sounded more frantic than she had intended. "You can't just leave! What shall I do? How do I explain to Growwl? What if the others ..."

Sybok walked away, and in doing so said to Tansy: "It is your task to explain. The Grove is yours until you meet Jaroo’s replacement. You will manage. You do not need witnesses. If you fail to manage, you know what this means." He was gone.

Tansy wished Pangolin or Sari were there. Soothing words. But no, there was no such luxury. She turned to Growwl, who was still transfixed in his position. "You heard it, Growwl. It was not me." The bear blinked. To emphasise her words, Tansy knelt beside Jaroo again and embraced him. With a shudder she realised he was getting cold already. Once more, her vision was clouded by tears, when Growwl started moving again. He let go a cry that did not really sound like an animal's, also mourning bear-brother's death. He realised he could not kill bear-sister anymore. She was right. But his emotions were quite aroused, so he started tearing at some bushes. Tansy did not try to keep him from doing that. After a while he stopped, sat down next to her, and seemingly fell into a stupor. Tansy started singing to herself, in a surprisingly clear voice, an elven song of mourning she had once learned from Carissa. She was unable to find other words than those sung to express her grief at that moment. All thinking, all logic was gone, as Sybok was gone, and all that remained for her was singing a song with words someone else had written.

She was still singing when the others found her. They stood there, disbelief in their eyes, and the first one to step forward and kneel down next to Tansy was, of all persons, Suka. Obviously, she saw all that blood on Tansy, and she probably drew the conclusion how it got there, but she did not mind. Finally, Tansy got the soothing words she was in dire need of, and started weeping like a new-born infant cradled in Suka's arms.