The Glass Hand Caern
|Type: Stealth (Wisdom)|
The Caern of the Glass Hand is hidden in a cove nestled between the feet of Skyfire Bald. It is a forgotten place, overlooked by generations of loggers and settlers, frequently unmarked even on topographic maps. It is a place where the Mountain Smoke never dies; even in the noonday heat the mist never burns away, instead skulking in the trees until sunset.
In the half-flooded valley of the Tuckasegee River lies the tiny town optimistically named Bryson City. Running to the northwest is Fontana Road, climbing steadily up the wall of the valley. Forests hardwood and evergreen blanket the ancient mountains. Here and there weathering or roadbuilding has left stone faces like wounds on the hills; some have been dressed by bandages of kudzu.
Away from traffic and habitation, the pavement cracks and peters out, replaced by a lightening layer of gravel. the road turns, following a creek bed upwards into a smaller, higher valley. The stony, grass-grown driveway passes several farmhouses; these are owned by the Garou and their Kin, and provide a first line of defense against intruders to the cove. Beyond the fields and the houses lie meadows, and at the edge of the meadows, the forest stands like a palisade against invaders. Here the fog hovers, roils, impatient for the sun to sink below the ridge, so it may flow across the meadows and fill the valley. . .
Climbing into the sheltered cover, you see trees of a forest never knowing the touch of blade or saw. Tulip Poplars 20 feet in circumference, with lightning-blasted crowns a hundred feet above the fern-covered forest floor; massive oaks, stately sycamore, beeches, white pines and dogwoods crowd out the sky.
Hemlocks crowd close near the chuckling Otter Creek, as you follow the stony path beside the stream. As you move towards the heart of the caern, the mountain mist pushes closer, clouding sight, muffling sound, settling a damp chill over all. In the diffuse light, it is difficult to see more than the path at your feet, yet you feel the way; a soundless pulse guides you, a thrumming that sends ripples down your flanks and up your spine.
And now, you see the Falls: the Creek pools, blocked by stones, before tumbling into space to fall a dozen feet to a larger, deeper pool below. Five arcs of water, five fingers of the Creek. In winter, the fall freezes; this was how it was seen by those who took the name Glass Hand Sept. This is the Heart of the Caern, the most sacred place within the bawn, and you feel spirit and matter become one. Your dual natures are more at peace here than in either world alone.
Beyond the Heart, trails run upwards, past the openings made by fallen giants, past springs whose rivulets feed Otter Creek, and up into the light of day. Mountain Smoke hangs back, unwilling to go farther, and the trail bursts with azaleas and wildflowers. At the summit you are startled to find a stone tower rising defiantly above the bald. The native granite rests on foundations brought here from Eastern Europe, ancestral home of the Shadow Lords who once claimed this caern; the symbolism is evident. The tower’s parapet rises 30’ from the laurel-mantled summit, peering above the oak crowns below. The view is magnificent. From this vantage you see the fog-shrouded forest below, the sun-dappled ridges to either side; you are eye level with hawks, vultures and ravens as they ride ridgeline thermals. You feel the power of the caern around you, subtle as morning mist, as delicate as the first flush of leaves in spring, yet as inexorable as the mighty rivers. This is as close to Home as you will ever know, and it is enough.
Decades ago, the Uktena lost the caern to the Black Spirals, and several years passed before it was reclaimed and cleansed of Wyrm taint. As years passed, the Garou presence weakened at the caern. Frequent battles left many casualties and no replacements. Then in 1975 some young Shadow Lords offered to help in the caern’s defense, leaving the beleaguered defenders little choice but to accept aid. By 1990 the Uktena had left or died off from age or battle, leaving the caern in the hands of Shadow Lords.
In December of 2000, two packs of Black Spiral Dancers attacked the caern, slaughtering the sept in a hard-fought battle. Before the wounded victors could begin celebrating, a new pack returned from its rite of passage and rampaged across the caern, slaying the scattered Spirals to the last man. Apart from the new pack, the only survivors was the sept Beta (Celeste) and her child (who disappeared with Fog’s help), Ghostfire, and another member of the sept who is currently fighting in Europe.
After a few desperate weeks of round-the-clock patrols by the sept, and Ghostfire’s continual attempts to coax the caern totem back into activity, they decided to seek outside help before the Spirals raided the caern again. A local Corax (were raven) acted as messenger to the Uktena, and within a few days two packs of Uktena were on the scene, effectively co-opting the sept. Now the sept is working to fortify the caern and find harmony within its disparate membership.
The caern is located in Swain county, North Carolina, a beautiful land of greenmantled mountains and whitewater rivers, protected in part from rampant development by the fact that 86% of the land is in Federal hands (including over 40% of Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Swain’s population is around 12,500 – including 1,145 in Bryson City, the county seat – but this number swells considerably in the summer (tourists and flatlanders escaping southern heat) and fall (tourists coming to see the autumn colors).
Swain County is beautiful but destitute. Per capita income is $15K, and unemployment is 12.5%. Four in ten residents lack a high school diploma, and only one in ten have any kind of advanced degree. The area has seen a 23% growth rate in the last 10 years, and demand for scenic property has sent land prices beyond the means of most locals.