The Forest Gods had called a Gathering. Their loud trumpet decreed these intentions from the never-living tree trunks that they had stuck in the ground throughout the forest. These tree trunks were magical and never decayed. The Forest Gods were like that: magical. It was an official Gathering. Every bird and beast of the forest of all shapes and sizes were to attend the Gathering.
Only the fish of the cold waters were exempt, for they still stalked Munugu the Hollow through the twists and turns of the River. Munugu the Hollow had once appeared in his cold-metal shell, sneaking up the River to steal from the Forest Gods. The fish had alerted the Forest Gods, who had chased Munugu from the forest. With fire and magic, they had sent him back into the dark, raging ocean that was hidden behind the Place of Lights and Noise.
But the Forest Gods had called a Gathering and the rest of the birds and the beasts travelled to attend it. The birds flew in, the snakes slithered there and the wolves stalked to where the Forest Gods had called them.
The animals all stood in the great clearing that the Forest Gods used for this sort of thing. Bears stood next to deer, forest cats next to woodland mice, and the wolves hovered at the back in the darkness. There would be no killing in this sacred Gathering, unless the Forest Gods demanded it.
Once the Forest Gods had asked the great elephants to sacrifice some of their old to them. Of course, the elephants had complied. The oldest had lain down while a number of mountain lions had torn out their throats, as gently as one could do such a thing.
There had been a tough drought that year, but the Forest Gods had seen them all through it. The evil spirits, Bralala the Belchers of Smoke, that haunted the horizon beyond the forest had sucked all the water from the air. But, the Forest Gods had gone off to fight them. Not a single animal–great or small–had died of thirst or hunger that year. And, eventually, the rains had returned and the forest had continued to live as beautifully and peacefully as the Forest Gods had intended it to.
“With great sacrifice comes great reward,” the Forest Gods always repeated, “Give to us and obey us, and we will protect and watch over all of you all of the time.”
What did the Forest Gods have to say this time? What was going on? Would the sky rain ashes again or would the water run out? Were the Naga’s poaching through the forest again and had to be run down?
A light descended into the middle of the clearing. It shone down from a large, metal, seed-like object that hovered loudly. This magical, metal beast always carried the Forest Gods. The object’s multitude of wings spinning over the top of it produced a steady current of air that drove the grass flat around it. A Forest God slid down a thin vine to the ground in the middle of the clearing and was soon followed by two more of the incredible, agile beings.
The animals stood closer, peering into the beating wind coming from the hovering metal chariot. Wolves next to bunnies next to snakes. Bears next to birds while the fish kept patrolling the border. All the animals leant in closer and strained to listen. They would not understand everything. They never did. But with great sacrifice and obedience came great reward and the Forest Gods will keep watching over each and every one of them.
And then the one Forest God began to speak: “Uhm, Josh, am I connected? Have you turned on the Speech Converter? Get it synched with all of them. This is pretty pointless if the Park’s animals cannot understand what I am saying? Oh, OK, sure. Cool. OK, we’re good to go. Right… Animals of the Great Forest, we, the Forest Gods remind you that with great sacrifice comes great reward! Give to us and obey us, and we will protect and watch over all of you all the time! We will have a friendly spirit–not Munugu or other uninvited evil spirits–but a friendly spirit is coming to the Forest Gods tomorrow. This friendly spirit will bring its Stick of Thunder that needs feeding. We, the Forest Gods, command the deer to select three of their old for sacrifice to this friendly spirit and its Stick of Thunder. Give to us and obey us, and we will protect and watch over this ecological sanctuary. Deer, do you accept your sacrifice to the Stick of Thunder?“