Dagoth Dagathur (The War of Wars Campaign)

Melina: After the Battle, Towards the Future

I’ve destroyed all my other journals, but I’ve decided to start a new one as I begin another stage in my—existence. If anyone else is able to read this, then I say they deserve it as a reward for the skill it takes to steal into a goddess’s chambers!

After Nerull showed up Eldarian bound him and opened a portal, and told us all to go through. I headed through immediately, but was able to hear just as I left Haldir start to protest. Eventually he and the others followed because they all showed up in the Menros safehouse with me, and I heard Eldarian say in my head, “I believe in you.”

Haldir’s prophets met us, and told us the status of things. The Dales, Essembra, Androk and the Free Cities were in the greatest amount of danger, although the Ascendant Ones were evacuating people as quickly as possible to minimize casualties. Haldir asked Feyren, Bazrik, Xaneak and I to stay behind while the rest of the Legion helped elsewhere, because something beyond evacuating needed to be done. He told us to find Venyae and obtain a means to destroy Ditrius. Speaking with the Lady of Pain would—hopefully—gain us access to Venyae herself. Needless to say I wasn’t keen on flat-out speaking with her after the brief, terrifying interaction we’d already had with her once, but I’d never let such things stop me before and wasn’t about to now.

Xaneak took some time to prepare his spells, and I climbed out onto the highest point of Menros to see the devastation being wrought on my home. Rather than fires and destruction there was merely darkness, the cold nothingness of a void. That was the most upsetting: at least charred earth can serve as a foundation for new buildings—not so with a void.

I met up with the others again and we left for Sigil. Nothing there seemed different, but as we walked the streets I was suddenly assaulted with visions of Orómmen again, only now the demons and dead dark elves came towards me, reaching out to kill me. They dissipated before they could, just in time for debris to be flung at us as we moved forward. They tripped Bazrik and a shadow grabbed for him, but I shot it and it retreated before turning to Barbarus. Bazrik had certainly come a long way by then, as his first response was to turn into an enormous red dragon and roast the damned fea alive. As he died, Barbarus called a then-unknown person out on their betrayal of him.

We quickly learned who had betrayed him, as she showed up not more than moments later: Caya. She looked like she had been tortured extensively, with burns and scars covering her, her wings reduced to mere stubs. My first instinct was to offer to finish the job on her wings, given the last time I’d had any contact with her I’d assumed she was a traitor. Later we found I should have gone through with that instinct and many others, but instead I held my tongue and let her speak, and she told us she had only recently escaped Ditrius’s forces (Barbarus had been her captor) and she was here to help us. As Xaneak asked her more questions she lead us to the courthouse, and left us to enter and face the Lady of Pain on our own.

Unlike before, the courthouse was nothing resembling “normal”. It was strange and terrifying, constantly shifting and altering itself. Even when it wasn’t horrifying, the brief reprises from the horror were as bad as the awfulness itself. None of this of course compared to the Lady of Pain herself, who still defies proper description. Feyren and I kept our composure (I use the term loosely) but Bazrik and Xaneak were much worse off, until suddenly the four of us were entirely fine. We took the opportunity to speak amongst one another, and elected to have Xaneak speak, given his previous success in arguing for our group.

All told, he didn’t do poorly. After making his request for us to see Venyae, the pair of them discussed and argued the principles of life, death, and what could or could not follow Dagoth Dagathur. Although the Lady of Pain rightly stated that as mortals our perspectives were limited, Xaneak pointed out (with equal correctness) that we nonetheless saw continuation and the chance to improve, by stopping Dagoth Dagathur. Shortly after we were all lifted into the air, and our minds riffled through as if they were nothing but stacks of parchment. It was incredibly painful, and disconcerting in ways I wouldn’t expect. Among other things I saw memories I didn’t remember having, but somehow knew to be true—as if I’d simply forgotten them.

The pain and memories stopped as suddenly as the process began, and we found ourselves in a normal courtroom with Venyae. Again Xaneak spoke with her, and she asked why she should bestow such power onto mere mortals. Xaneak tried to argue for balance and the need to keep life and death in check, but Venyae chided him for looking at the situation from a mortal perspective, with mortal understanding.

As they argued I listened and grew increasingly frustrated, until I decided to try and take Venyae’s advice and stop looking at things as mortals do. Instead of philosophizing about “balance” and “life and death” (concepts I’d never bothered with that much) I imagined I was trying to cross that damned metaphorical river Haldir had first introduced me to over a decade ago, skipping from stone to stone as I struggled to work out the machinations of fate and freedom. Each fact of the situation was a stone, solid and useful in achieving our end goal.

I began to ask Venyae questions to gather more information, and eventually I realized that if she had always possessed the ability to bestow mortals with the power to destroy Ditrius, doing so must have been part of Olorin’s plan. She asked if I was claiming that the four of us were thus fated to receive that power, but of course that isn’t what I meant at all—I meant that the option itself must have been part of creation’s plan all along, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. Whether it was us four, an entire army, or a single individual, the possibility that mortals would find their way to Venyae, seek out this option and be granted it existed, and I argued that fact alone made it worth while to pursue the destruction of Ditrius and salvation of creation.

Everything went dark suddenly, and when we could see again Venyae was at a podium with a large book. She turned to the end page, tore the final page from it, and handed it as a scroll to Bazrik. She told us it would only work once, and then sent us back to Sigil. Caya met us there, and was incredibly surprised that I was the one who had managed to talk Venyae into giving us the scroll. I didn’t pay her any mind, and instead insisted that we return to Arda as soon as possible. Xaneak’s magic didn’t work in Sigil, but Caya was able to open a portal to take us to the Astral Plane, where we would be able to find another portal to Arda itself.

As we traveled through the Astral Plane, Caya told us that she had been “right” about Eldarian, insofar as his presence had been what tipped off Ditrius to the Infinity Keep’s location. Aranal had tried to stop him when he arrived, and failed when he was killed. Caya meanwhile was captured, and tortured for information. At the time I was too caught up in getting to Arda as soon as possible to notice the contradictions in her story. It also didn’t help that as soon as we neared the portal to Arda we found a great battle, with forces of dragons, djinn, and celestials fighting demons and devils. We teleported to the portal itself, and Caya didn’t follow.

We met with Harkin and Haldir in Velarim City, in the War Room where once I and others had met with Harkin during the Second Unification War. Alliance leaders and most of the Legion (including Eldarian, who had made it back from Carceri) were all there, gathered over a map of Arda. They explained to us that Ditrius and its forces were centered in Orómmen, and our final stand would be in Unther. They planned to draw the forces out and engage them so Eldarian, Bazrik, Feyren, Xaneak and I could get in to Orómmen and stop things at the source. Given the magic surrounding the area, our only way in was by boat. We were given the evening to prepare, and when I wasn’t speaking with my comrades that were there I was writing letters to those who weren’t. I didn’t expect them to receive the letters in time, but I wanted to leave them with something in case I died.

In the morning we set out, and on the way Xaneak gave us vials of flame that Kira simply told us to use should we fall. Alice and Bartholomew both came with, more on their own insistence than ours. (Alice was more battle-trained that Bartholomew, but the dog is as loyal as her and wouldn’t leave Bazrik at such a time.) We all teleported to the shores of the Dales, where Eldarian willed a boat into existence for us to use. We were all largely silent as we traveled, with Eldarian praying often and the remainder of us quiet with trepidation and other, unnamed feelings. As we drew closer to the island a mountain erupted and hordes of demons spilled out, lead by the infernal that the other Unifiers and I had trapped inside. I would have raised my bow to shoot it but an unholy thunderstorm began to rage and it was all I could do to keep from shaking in fear, let alone aim.

Finally, eventually we arrived at the shores of Orómmen, unharmed. If the land had been barren before, when I first visited it, now it was a thousand times worse. It took us hours to climb the peak of the mountain the demons were pouring from, and when we reached the top we found Ditrius and Caya, fighting. Eldarian told us to activate the scroll, and then charged at Ditrius after it threw Caya unconscious to the ground.

Bazrik and Xaneak did their best to activate the scroll, but I could tell it was taking a toll on them both. Feyren and I protected them from debris that was thrown their way, as well as any blasts of magic. Unfortunately, no sooner were they moments away from activating the scroll than Caya began to stir, and tore the scroll from the hands of Bazrik and Xaneak alike—it actually pulled the flesh of their hands off with it!

What happened next still hurts to recount, even knowing how it turned out in the end. She threw the scroll at Eldarian, seemingly killing him. I screamed and lunged at her, only to be thrown back and pinned beneath rocks. She matched my cry as she kicked Eldarian’s corpse and cursed at him, blaming him for all the ills she had suffered and celebrating his death. I was reduced to wordless rage, struggling against the boulders pinning me. Ditrius shielded her from Xaneak and Bazrik’s attacks, and then Caya absorbed it (telling it to “return to mother”) before she began to taunt me. She told me I should have asked her more questions, as doing so could have prevented this. Even in my enraged and saddened state I knew that was a load of shit, and didn’t grace her with answers—only more curses.

Then something happened that is the only thing I will ever be grateful to Varys for, odd as it is to say it. Eldarian stood up suddenly, unharmed. Varys’s soul was still trapped in the pommel of Eldarian’s sword, and rather than destroying Eldarian’s divinity the scroll had destroyed Varys’s, the same divinity he had been given by Caya. Because of that, he was left mortal and because of her tie to him, Caya was weakened enough for us to be able to feasibly kill her. Eldarian tossed away the rocks that were pinning me and told us to end her; I was more than happy to carry out his request.

The battle was gruesome, long and difficult. Bazrik and Bartholomew fought in the form of dragons, and Xaneak and Feyren were both formidable in their own rights. For my own part and Alice’s, I fought Caya as a tyrant—an avatar of fate, which I hated so much. Although it was the six of us against one, Caya still managed to deal a horrible amount of damage. She even found a way to go back in time, to the early spring in Altrio when my city was being taken by Essembra’s Elite Defense Agency. She meant to kill me in the past, but we and Eldarian followed her through the portal and thankfully Eldarian managed to fling her back to the present before she could change a thing. We continued to fight, with Caya growing increasingly frenzied and desperate as we showed no signs of stopping. She even made to collapse the mountain in the hopes of trapping us inside! Her plan failed, of course, when I shot her through with three arrows and she froze. (I will always be glad that I was the one to end her.)

When Caya stopped we all found ourselves atop the now stable mountain, with the clouds and darkness disappearing. As the sun broke through she stumbled and fell, looking and speaking to us with gratitude as its light burned her to nothing but ash. Eldarian cried as she burned, and once she was gone he apologized to her. Then he looked skyward, and told us that although we couldn’t see it, the strands of fate that bound Arda were disappearing—that the world is free. Then Eldarian began to change, as if he’d become power incarnate. Instead of the god child we saw the god itself in him, Olorin. He released a surge of temporal energy, floating with the raw power of it for some time before returning to himself and telling us simply, “it is finished.”

I don’t remember what happened after that, only waking up in Unther without Eldarian. Things have a way of returning full circle. It was the bombing of Unther and the fall of Essembra that first set me on the path to join with the Dragon Knights and the Second Unification War, and later we invited that very city to face siege from forces commanded by the entities that had orchestrated that same war. Now I was there again at the end of the final battle, expecting to rebuild my home—the entirety of Arda.

As we surveyed what (thankfully) little destruction Unther had suffered, we made our way to the imperial tent where Harkin was waiting for us. He hugged us, laughing, and with one look at our group Gimble knew to announce to everyone then that now, truly and completely, Arda was free. It was then, hearing my friend and comrade announce something that felt like I’d waited my entire life to hear to Arda as a whole, that I finally allowed myself to cry with joy and relief and all the other emotions that follow victory.

A month of peace followed our victory, filled with rebuilding and reunions. Somehow all members of the Legion were able to remain on Arda to assist, which we all appreciated for many reasons. As for myself, I reunited with my brother and Carrik and stayed in the Dales and New Essembra to help rebuild the east of the Empire. Much of the Legion likewise spent their time there, although a sense of concern and curiosity was growing amongst us and the other people of Arda. Prayers to even the Ainur were going unanswered, and although Lady Veraxis destroyed anti-imperial groups in the North, people were still uncertain about the future of the Empire and Arda as a whole. No doubt the death of President Kale and others of importance in the battle fed in to the feelings of uncertainty and restlessness.

Finally I received a letter from who I assumed at the time was Haldir, calling me to attend “Legion business” in Menros. As it turned out, Eldarian had sent the letter, not only to me but to many other members of the Legion. He wanted to apologize for the secrets he had needed to keep during the course of the war, and answer any questions that might still remain. I had more questions than I could count, but in the end all of them were answered.

The gist of it was that Caya was an avatar of fate and choice, with her actions deciding if creation was free or not. Her own fate was to cause Dagoth Dagothur, and by choosing to facilitate it rather than fight it, she bound creation to fate. However, Olorin made caveats in her choice so that creation could fight back, and choose freedom for itself. In this way it could be truly free, because as I’ve said before: the greatest paradox of freedom is that although it is the highest good, it cannot by its very nature cannot be forced on anyone, only offered. Olorin gave us the choice between freedom and fate, as that is the only way creation could truly be free.

Unsurprisingly the fateless themselves were a way of fighting back, although Olorin did not make or choose each fateless personally, only allow for the possibility of mortals becoming fateless. It also turned out that Caya was a traitor all along, and that the scroll Aranal had been given was from Olorin informing him of that. She was also the one who killed Aranal, as I suspected. I should have trusted my gut with her: simply because I’d hated senselessly in the past doesn’t mean all hatred I had for new individuals was senseless. However, thankfully it all worked in the end.

With fate destroyed and Eldarian now truly separate from Olorin and fully a god in his own right, the surviving gods were free but without purpose. Olorin was departing this universe with the remaining fea, and Sorra and the Ainur alike were stepping down. This meant that creation would be without gods… Unless others rose to take up the mantle of divinity.

My heart caught in my throat and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. Eldarian went on to explain that he wanted the new gods to come from mortals, so they could better relate to and serve Arda. Specifically he wanted us, and when I heard him say that I nearly bolted. Anyone who knew me during my time in the Legion of Heroes knows I hated the idea of becoming a deity, for many reasons. I worried about my ability to make the right choices, about being separated from Arda and the people I love, and most of all about my own general worthiness—I had no small amounts of self-loathing, after all the atrocities I’d seen and committed, knowingly or otherwise. But I knew Arda needed me to at least consider his offer, so I stayed and listened.

He came to us each in turn and told us why he wanted us to be gods, and what he wanted us to be gods of specifically. He spoke to me of how I had struggled all my life in darkness, but nonetheless sought light. The years had scarred me badly but I never stopped fighting to move forward, even when things seemed hopeless… Because I have a warrior’s exterior and a mother’s heart, caring and striving for my people’s freedom and defending them from anything that would limit them, no matter what. He told me he needed me to be that for Arda on a grander scale now, and I could only accept with pride and trust in Eldarian’s judgment.

Officially Eldarian gave me the aspects of freedom, courage, family, hunting, home, and motherhood to take charge of, and I’ve taken the titles of “The Scarred Lady”, “Mother of the Oppressed”, and “The Great Huntress” as I fulfill this role. I want my clerics, followers, and liberators to understand the importance of not only aiding those who suffer, but changing or destroying the social structures that allow or propagate that suffering. I want them to love and care for their families, companions, people and nations, even in the face of war and suffering. And I want them to be good hunters, of tyrants or game. Creating a better world for future generations is one of the noblest tasks of motherhood, whether it’s by raising and providing for a healthy family or nation, or by hunting those that would harm and oppress others.

After Eldarian went to each person and they accepted in turn, he made contact with the people of Arda to explain to them the state of the other gods, and the existence of himself and us new gods. He told them of a bright future of true freedom and growth, with great potential and hope. Then he extended his hands and all of us began to glow. I know now that each of us experienced something different, as necessary for us to fulfill our roles as gods. The true extent of my experiences cannot be chronicled, but I lived through childbirth and motherhood in many different forms, from a noblewoman breeding heirs to a whore rearing bastards. I birthed and raised children with partners and without, as a member of every mortal race and even non-mortal creatures, through all cycles of life from cradle to grave. I was allowed to relive the beauty and joy of liberating people, and learned true empathy and connection. And then suddenly I was with the others again, myself looking only slightly changed although some of the others had chosen to take very different forms.

Finally, feeling true peace and hope, we ascended with Eldarian.

I’ve spent the time since then constructing my realm and performing my godly duties. As I mentioned I chose to keep my appearance largely the same in divinity as it had been in mortality, to remain as approachable to the people of Arda as possible. My scars are more pronounced; my stomach swells in time with the seasons, bringing new life and change; and I’m never without my bow and arrows; otherwise little has changed.

As for my realm, Corwyn and Maxius, Jozan, Rowenna, Desmond and myself all reside in the rebuilt Arcadia. Like the Pantheon that resided here before us, we each have our own realms within the plane itself. I’ve named mine Altoria, and filled it with cities as much as lush and varied forests and plains. The cities are beautiful, jumbled things filled with buildings that range in size from enormous to minuscule, each unique with a different structure and décor, while the more natural areas are as unique, wild and untamed as anything. The souls of unwanted and abandoned children live free throughout the realm, as well as those who society would see cast out and trampled on. Serfs, orcs, bastards, dark elves, social pariahs and even some sorcerers have joined with great hunters and mothers, leaders of rebellions, and champions of the oppressed. There are more planar beings here than I care to list, but all of them are wonderful and strange to mortal eyes. I’ve kept Alice beside me as my friend, and she accompanies me as she had when we were mortal. She’s larger than ever before, and more fierce and intelligent too. Carrik and I’ve agreed that when Harkin and Linoir die and Prince Jozan no longer needs him as an advisor, he’ll come to live with me as my consort.

Nearly all of us within the new Pantheon of Heroes are on good terms with one another, and visiting other gods’ realms is far from unheard of. We also have the Citadel, which is a common, neutral ground for all of us. Occasionally we all meet to discuss Arda and our own affairs, and insure that everything is running smoothly. Some of us have also taken to appearing on Arda in different mortal forms, living amongst the people. I occasionally do so myself, usually appearing as a midwife, scout, or hunter for periods of time. When I cannot join my people on Arda itself I bless them in other ways: when rebels meet in secret I cloak them in protective shadows; when mothers birth and raise their children I share their labor pains and give them strength; when the oppressed cry out I give them succor and promises of justice; and when the hunters stalk their prey I direct and protect them with subtle signs.

It’s not so bad being a god. I can share my people’s hopes, their fears, their dreams, their struggles, and answer their pleas and their prayers. I had worried becoming divine would separate me further from my people but in truth I am closer to them now than I ever could have been as a mortal.

As Arda grows I look forward to watching and aiding it, and seeing what its people decide the future will hold.

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Cami13

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