I went to Menros after I finished my archery and bath, to find Carrik and speak with him. I’d sorted out what I wanted to say a while ago, but hadn’t had the time to say it until now. He was in the garden, taking a short break from his own duties. He was happy to see me, and we exchanged greetings in Adûnaic. Otherwise I didn’t waste time with frivolities. I told him I had finally found the words for what I wanted to say, although they weren’t elegant or pretty: I told him I loved him, and wanted to be with him if he wanted it too.
He seemed a bit startled by how plainly I spoke, or was simply at a loss of how to respond. Then he told me he cares deeply about me, but he wasn’t sure if it would be the best idea for him to be with me, regardless of whether he wanted it or not. I’m a warrior and a traveler, he said, someone with a need to be free and go where her heart takes her. He loves and admires that about me, but he doesn’t share it: he’s a scholar, happily confined to Menros with his service to the royal family and the empire. I admitted that he’s right, but pointed out that I wasn’t asking him to come with me, either. Birds can come home to roost without being caged; if he promised to care for me I promised to always return to him, no matter where my travels or duty took me.
He told me he’d like that very much, and took my hands in his. Then he said that unfortunately even if it’s what we wanted, I was needed at my best in this war right now—without distractions. I could have argued that point, but I chose not to because even if I don’t like the prospect of waiting, he’s right: there are more important things at stake that need my full attention. I said I’d accept his answer, but when we both survive this war he owes me dinner. That made him smile, and he told me “of course” before he squeezed my hands and left.
It’s not exactly how I wanted or expected things to happen, but I’m satisfied with it. I know Carrik will wait for me, now and even after this war. We’re both young elves with plenty of time… And it’s oddly, wonderfully liberating to have these feelings out and understood. I feel
foolishl very happy.
After I checked for and responded to letters from Levtin—there were a few, and it seems he’s settling in well with his new work—I spent my time wandering hidden through the streets of Menros, listening to people talk and simply enjoying being back in a city again. Alice fed herself with rats as always, and I slipped into taverns now and then to eat and rest. This close to the palace I knew I wouldn’t be able to pass as anyone but myself, so I didn’t try. Instead I brushed off questions, or told those who asked that I was in the capitol to do more work for the war effort. After a few days of this, one of Harkin’s prophets found me and I went back to the central safehouse with them.
Haldir was there, along with Mystra and Rowenna. I was extremely glad to see a sister-in-arms from the Knights of Arda, and greeted her happily. Before giving us our next assignment, Haldir told us the state of things with the remainder of the Legion as usual. (It’s strange, how I’ve finally adjusted to the rhythm of this life even if I don’t wholly love it.) Bazrik is in Arboria, helping the Ainur fight the Dark Powers. Corwyn, Maxius, Keypa and Almod are speaking with the dragons, hoping to forestall any attacks on Arda. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Almod had joined the Legion, but I hadn’t thought it would happen so quickly.
I’m not sure if I want to see him or not after his mission. Haldir also mentioned that Feyren was with someone called “Namú”, investigating the Ascendant Ones. I didn’t know who Namú was at first, but Haldir outright refused to clarify that he and Nightblade are one in the same. I don’t know why he still insists on not revealing any kind of information to us that doesn’t directly relate to our missions, but it irks me. He needs to remember that we’re not simply pawns on a board to be moved or children to be herded, and even if he doesn’t think that sometimes the way he treats us makes it feel like it.
Anyways, he said Xaneak, Rowenna, Mystra and I were to go to Elysium to fight against the Dark Powers that had sent forces to besiege Sorra. Xaneak had to go get something (probably for his spells) and when he came back he told us he’d spoken with Eldarian. He warned us that we need to keep Sorra out of combat at any cost; otherwise we’ll lose her, too. (He also mentioned something about all the deities thus far having had their own strengths turned against them.) It’d be bad enough to lose another god, but more than that I don’t want Eldarian to be forced to take on any more of a burden. He’s bearing enough.
But even knowing that, I wasn’t happy with the prospect of using “any means” to keep Sorra in her fortress. We’re supposed to be helping people be free of fate, not replacing it by forcing them to survive. I wish all beings—mortals, gods, and whatever else is out there—could be free and make choices without them rubbing up against each other and coming into conflict. I wish my choice to act to protect my son wouldn’t potentially jeopardize whatever freedom a goddess may or may not have.
I wish things simply worked right.
Anyways, you can’t make choices and be free if you’re dead so it’s better in the end to keep Sorra alive. We went on our way to the Fortress of the Sun, and Obdiel let us through without difficulty. Kira met us in the throne room, and explained the state of affairs. She told us flatly that our help was unnecessary, but I pulled rank for one of the few times in my life and told her that Haldir had given us orders to be here, and I intended to follow them. I think the fact that I’m willing to fall back on laws when they suit me annoyed her as much as my insistence that we stay.
Despite her irritation, she showed the four of us through the fortress. After she left, Rowenna wondered what it was that’d annoyed Kira. I told her Kira likely didn’t want help for the same reason we had to be careful to not let Sorra over-work and sacrifice herself. I mentioned that as someone with such close ties to Sorra, Kira was (is?) probably affected by fate similarly to the way she is, although not completely; the fated and fateless sides of her were warring. Then Rowenna asked who Kira was, although a better phrasing would have been “what”. She already knew Kira had founded the Knights of Arda originally, but was nearly overwhelmed by being in her presence. She thought because I’m a wood elf I couldn’t sense the radiance around Kira, when in truth I’ve simply gotten used to it so that I don’t even think about it anymore. I explained to her that Kira is bound to Sorra’s phoenix in a way similar to how Corwyn and Maxius are bound, and that’s why she sometimes seems more than mortal.
Mystra of course took the opportunity to show off and derided me for using such a simple analogy, saying that Kira’s bond is nothing like Corwyn and Maxius’s because they are both mortal and fateless, while the phoenix is divine and thus chained to fate—and that is why Kira is affected. I knew that already, and had said as much to begin with! The analogy was a good one, besides, and not untrue. Leave it to an Arch Magister to need to show off no matter the circumstances.
Some time during our arguing Jozan, Lawthra and Olmas landed in the courtyard. They were battle-worn and weary, but still found it in themselves to greet us and tell us what they’d found. Reinforcements with Velarim (he’s recovered, it seems) were four days off, but enemy forces were only two. Sorra came out during this time and thanked us for coming to her aid, and mostly left us to our own discretion on how best to fight during the coming battle. After she left, Lawthra, Jozan, and Olmas told us that they’d encountered a new kind of wound, or magic, or perhaps a disease. Their divine magic can’t heal it, and the wounds fester with a green, necromantic energy. I felt my heart freeze at that description, but they quickly reassured me it was a different color than D’vainor’s. Small comforts are still comforts.
We split up to get a better feel for the terrain we’d be fighting on, but I later found out that wouldn’t be much help. Apparently anyone who isn’t a follower of Sorra gets lost in the fortress. I can understand how it might be a useful defense, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing when I had to ask Olmas for help finding a tower to shoot from. Some time after he left, he and the others came back to try and “quietly” (I use the term loosely) discuss plans to go on a scouting mission. Apparently Jozan wanted to know more about the forces we’d be facing, although Rowenna was worried about us disobeying Sorra’s rules. Sorra had never explicitly told us not to go scout out enemy forces, however, so I saw no conflict~
I insisted that whoever else went I go as well, since I was the only one in the group who had any chance of non-magically hiding themselves. Eventually Xaneak and Mystra said they’d accompany me, and we set out. We found hundred of warships, and in the center of the fleet I spotted Melkor. I knew it was him the instant he locked eyes with me: I felt as if my entire body, my very being, simply… snuffed out, like a hot coal suddenly frozen and crushed.
Of course, then I dropped like a stone into the ocean, because he had dismissed the fly spell Xaneak had given me and frozen my limbs as well. I’m glad Xaneak had also put a mental link between us all on my request, so I could shout out to him for help. He got to me before the sharks did, thank the Ainur. By that time the forces had noticed us, and Mystra was fighting them off while Xaneak fled with me. (I’ll admit, when she isn’t running her mouth Mystra can be impressive in battle.) It took him longer than I would have liked to break the enchantment on me (my own attempt to do so failed), but once he did we all beat a hasty retreat.
When we returned, Kira was furious. She demanded that I tell her who had come up with the plan to go scouting, but all I told her in return was that it didn’t matter. (I can still hardly believe she’d expect me to shift the blame on to one of my comrades like that!) Anyways, we three had been the ones to volunteer regardless and Xaneak finally stretched the truth by saying it had been all of our idea, and that was enough to have Kira throw all of us but him in a cell while he went with her.
I’m fairly sure he went to speak with Sorra, because when he came back he told us that she would give us a chance to “atone” now. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that, but at least he got us out. It was well timed as well: not long after, the plane began to darken as Melkor and his forces drew closer. Kira finally asked us where we wanted her and Sorra… and we told her someplace safe, at least in Sorra’s case. She reluctantly agreed and left.
The battle itself wasn’t difficult at first. The long ones rarely start out badly, when you can fire at foes from miles away and not miss. The fight was easy before the fleet actually landed, and we managed to destroy a large portion of it. Xaneak and I in particular were able to work extremely well together; we continued to use the mental link he’d established so I could direct his blasts of magic with my eyes and arrows. More than a few times we were able to use balors’ tendency to explode when they die against the other demons~
We could only hold out against the forces for so long before Obdiel called a retreat back into the fortress. I didn’t need to move, but the others hurried back while he remained. Xaneak, Mystra and Olmas were quick to join me in the tower so they could blast the demons with their magic. Kira, Jozan, and Lawthra flew about outside to fight as well. Throughout this, I noticed Melkor had simply stood, watching without expression. I thought to take aim at him with a single arrow, stilling my breath and slowing the beat of my heart so my aim wouldn’t falter.
He caught it, without even looking. Then he turned it over in his hand, and looked at me as if in thanks.
A chill ran up my spine. Then he shot it straight towards Obdiel. I had half a second to react, but I managed to shoot another arrow at that one and deflect it into a balor. It turned a sickly green before it dying…
The battle continued for some time, and finally Obdiel told Kira to return to the fortress. He said the church needed her, but with what later happened I wonder what he meant by that. I don’t think she can actually die. She refused to do as he said so he hurled her back through the barrier, not harming her but keeping her back. Obdiel fought hard but it was easy for Melkor to kill him, although after he did his body exploded with holy light, melting half of the Dark King’s face from its bones and destroying many of the demons that were left on the shore.
We continued to fight for hours after that, possibly even a day. Inevitably the fervor of battle always starts to wane and be replaced by exhaustion, and this was no different. Even when Xaneak and Mystra would rest to restore their spells, it didn’t seem as if they rested enough. It was then that Sorra began to restore the entire fortress, and some of us began to worry. That worry was lessened when Velarim showed up with his reinforcements, but it didn’t take long for Melkor to challenge Sorra herself once his forces were all but wiped out.
She accepted, and Xaneak begged her not to. I pleaded with Kira to ask her to refrain, but it was no use. She fought with and eventually disarmed him, before turning to leave. She said he was ours to deal with now, and in his weakened state I thought it would be safe to try and attack him again.
I thought wrong.
Like before he shot the arrow back at another target, but unlike before I missed when I tried to deflect it. Instead Kira pulled the arrow away from Sorra and to herself, and nearly immediately after that Melkor ran Olmas through the chest. Sorra whirled on him then and lit herself with flames that were colors I can’t describe, because I have never seen them before or since. She grabbed Melkor and watched him melt from the heat of her flames before knocking his head clear off with her mace. That, she said, is what happens to those that harm her children.
The battle was easy to finish after that, although it was not without losses. We gathered in the throne room, where Olmas and Kira lay dying. I apologized, over and over. No matter how many times I told myself I’d taken a calculated risk and that sometimes they don’t pay off, I felt like such a fool for that missed shot.
I always do. She told me to worry less about her and more about Olmas. I reluctantly turned to him, and he begged Xaneak and I to give his belongings to Haldrith. I was surprised to hear that name from him of all people, but it seems he’s Olmas’s descendant and it’s possible to awaken what angelic blood in him remains. Xaneak promised we’d do so, and he died with peace.
When I turned back to Kira, there was nothing but ash in her place. I stood to ask Sorra if I might leave, but no sooner were the words out of my mouth than the ash lit on fire and Kira stepped from them, alive and whole! No wonder she’d told me not to mourn for her.
We did mourn for Olmas. Xaneak wanted to stay and put him to rest, and I wasn’t going to begrudge him that. It took a few weeks, and I mostly stayed out of the way. He was my friend but not near as much as Xaneak, and I’ve rarely been one for sentiment anyways. An arrow to the sky is enough for me most times, although I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t start waiting a few extra weeks before mourning someone. I say this because when we finally returned to the central safehouse, Olmas was there—only he was an angel now, not mortal at all. Xaneak of course was overjoyed, and I caught sight of Eldarian and he game me a look that told me somehow he had managed to do this.
We received more good news from Haldir: with Melkor dead, only two of the Dark Powers remained, as Lorgan and Thuringwethil had been killed as well. Hades had also been entirely destroyed, so there will be less of those slave-loving Yugoloths around. Sorra is in hiding for the time in Sigil, while Kira and Velarim are rebuilding her realm. There were some losses, of course, but none were wholly unexpected. Arcadia was destroyed, and the dragons are fighting amongst themselves as much as they’re planning to fight Arda. No doubt Ancalagon has something to do with encouraging the latter, but I trust Corwyn, Maxius, Keypa and Almod to handle things.
Haldir encouraged us to go meet with the others who had also come back from their missions (Hennet, his wife Ehlona, Olmas, Desmond, Mystra, Rowenna, Bazrik, Jozan and Lawthra) and of course I had no qualms with that! (One day I’d like Haldir to drink with us too.) On the way I asked Xaneak if he was alright after the news we’d heard—I saw the way his face twitched when he heard about Arcadia and Hades—and he tried to brush me off at first but eventually admitted that he had family that would have ended up in Hades that was now… Gone, completely. Maybe in a way that’s better than the torment they’d have continued to suffer there, and that’s why when he told me he was content to leave the past as it was I believed him. He still insisted on going back to ask Haldir something else while I went ahead, however, although eventually he did join us all.
It was nice to sit and unwind with my fellows. We swapped stories and boasted about ourselves, and eventually I got into a drinking contest. Of course, it was then of all times that Feyren and Namú came back with the Ascendant Ones, and Haldir wanted Xaneak and I to come see them. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Jordall greeted us in his usual obnoxious way, but eventually he finally told us why he was there. He and the others wanted the protection of the Legion (ha!) because Ditrius had found out what he and the others were doing. Apparently they also had more information on Malthos (it wasn’t actually anything Titus hadn’t told me already) but in exchange for that information, they had promised to give their source a means of meeting with us in the Legion.
As if they’d rehearsed it, a lich enveloped in green fire and long robes stepped in. I may as well have never touched a drop of alcohol in my life, for how quickly I sobered when I saw the talisman around that abomination’s neck. It looked exactly like the one I had given D’vainor, the very one I still had in my bag after cutting it from the neck of his corpse.
He greeted us as if we knew him, and I am going to permanently murder that worthless whoreson. He can’t possibly think we’ll trust him after all he’s done, all he’s betrayed—