"Welcome, clanmates, those with ties to clan and hearth and home. Welcome, wanderers, those whose souls are pulled by the wider world. Welcome, supplicants, those looking to shed their old lives for something new. Welcome." The elder stood tall in front of the bonfire, the firelight flickering off the silver in his pelt, his feathers red and gold against the dark. Despite his age, the arvian stood proud, his arms wide, welcoming, as he intoned the ritual welcome to the gathering of beasts arranged around him and the softly roaring fire. The gathering stayed silent as the elder paused. Far in the back the hulking brutes, almost invisible in the forested shadows, crouched, ears of all shapes tilted forward to catch the elders words. Closer in the smaller arvians, hunters and gathers, sat on logs and rocks. One or two sat sharpening spears and fletching arrows as the elder welcomed in the silence after the opening. Closer still, and much fewer in number, supplicasnts of a number of other races sat, some leaning in to catch the elders words, others looking around them slightly nervously at the walls of muscled fur, feathers, and sharp beaks around them. "Tonight is the long night, the night when darkness holds sway over the world. You have awaited this night, feasted to it's approach, celebrating the anticipation of the coming new year. But tonight is not a night of celebration." The elder paused, looking around the gathering of clan and guests to his fire. "Tonight is the rememberance of the old. The night of tales and stories. The telling of tales of epic hunts and the ones who got away. Of life changing events and stories from afar. But most of all, the telling of the stories of where we come from." The gathering was silent, all eyes on the elder. Even the nervous supplicants had stilled, watching, for to them the stories of the arvians was something only whispered about. The elder turned, taking them all in. "There are some that say we were created by a ritual built by an evil wizard, whose tower lives deep in our wood, as a race of merciless beasts to extend his dominion into the world. A mix of true gryphons and other creatures, with hands to handle weapons and size to break armies." The elder spoke, his fur raising as he did, feathered crest brisling as he became larger, more animal like, more vicious sounding. Those that had heard this before grinned, gaping their beaks in silent laughs at those that hadn't, who cringed back from the suddenly looming creature. "If that is true," continued the elder, his fur suddenyl settling, falling back into place, "then we have taken the ritual for ourselves, and cast him and his works to ruin." "There are others that say that the ritual that created us was gifted by forgotten gods to a tribe that lived in these woods long ago. This tribe was hunted, attacked, and the first of us were brought into being through willing sacrifice to protect our kin who could not protect themselves." Another pause, as the elder cast his gaze down, sadly. "If that is true, then those who helped bring us into being are lost to the mists of time, with only the ritual of our creation to remember them by." "And then there are those few who say that it was those who sought someplace quiet, someplace to commune with the wood and the creatures within, who were gifted the ritual from the gods and spirits of this place. That we brought ourselves into being through our desire to be seperate from the rest of this world. If that is true, then the ritual of becomming was always ours." Another pause, the fire crackling and crunching as the wood shifted and burned. Even those who knew the story, who had distracted themselves with sharpening weapons or stitching hides, had stopped in their work to listen. "In the end, it does not matter which of these stories are true. They could all be, or none of them could be. What matters is that those who came before us have gifted us the ritual that has made who and what we are possible. It has brought us the peace of this woods, and caretaking of it. It has brought us distance from the wider world, and the calm to contemplate our place in it. It has brought to us new brothers and sisters, and companionship we would never have otherwise known. It has brought to us a new way to be, and we should endeavour to always remember those who gifted us the ritual that has brought us this." A softer, different silence fell over the arvian group, as each in their own way remembered and gave thanks on this, the longest night, to those who had weathered all that had come before to arrive at this moment. The elder held his breath for a moment longer, then broke the silence with a clap of his large paws, his beak dropping in a grin. "But this is also a night for remembering ourselves, and the year that has passed! So who wishes to step into the circle first, and tell us their story?"