Very little had changed with Xaneak and Bazrik when I checked on them. When we all gathered to go meet with Haldir for our next assignment, I heard and then saw something very amusing~ Lady Veraxis was in the safehouse with Haldir, who introduced her to Corwyn and Maxius. When the former took her hand to shake it, he paused and got a very strange expression on his face. Then he smiled wider than I’ve seen in a long while and kissed her! It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud; apparently he recognized her scent! She wasn’t displeased but didn’t indulge him, either, and I’m fairly certain Corwyn likes that in a woman. It’s good to see both my friends find what happiness they can in this war.
Haldir told us that our next assignment was to find out more about Almod, and see if Corwyn was right when he guessed Almod was possessed. Apparently he’d been successful with finding the exorcist. We went to a traveler’s chapel in the Crownlands, where we were met the exorcist, Mother Trawthra. She was very concerned about the fact that none of us were followers of Sorra, as some followers of the faith can be. Lady Veraxis convinced her that we had all served Sorra in our own way, which is certainly the truth.
She told us we needed to bring Almod here, so she could test to see if he was possessed or not. It’d be easier in a holy place, since she would have more power that way. She warned us that once the exorcism began it could be very hard to watch, and we may be tempted to speak with the demon. Under no circumstances were we to do so. It’s good she told us that; once it started more than once I was tempted to beg her to stop.
We devised a rough plan to get Almod to the chapel. He had made his camp in Harenhall, adding insult to injury. Corwyn and I agreed to travel there under the pretense of wanting to intervene, while I brought Xaneak’s cat with me and Bazrik turned into a horse for me to ride. Feyren followed in the trees; Maxius and Lady Veraxis stayed behind. Once we arrived we were stopped by guards but Almod welcomed us as guests. Between Corwyn and myself we managed to convince him to come back with us, under the guise of speaking with Brother Vardok gauge Harkin’s potential reaction to Almod’s choices. Almod (the demon, really) claimed he had never intended the burning of the Crownlands to get this badly out of control; he claimed he only wanted to put the suffering of the Bloodlands to “use” and draw out the traitorous north now, so the Empire could smash its weaknesses.
Once we reached the chapel, Mother Trawthra gave him a sigil to hold to see if it burned him. It did, but I think only she and I were able to see the flicker of pain in his face. Next she gave him (and us) holy water to drink, not telling him it was anything but common water to refresh him after a ride. He coughed and cleared his throat from it, as if it was irritating. As soon as he sat down Mother Trawthra began her attempt to exorcise him, and it was the strangest relief to hear another voice come from Almod, to know it wasn’t him that had done all of those things after all.
The relief was short lived, of course. He screamed, thrashed, and cursed violently at her and at us. I hated every moment of it, but kept myself in check. I told myself over and over that this was the only way to save him, the only way to bring my brother back. Eventually he thrashed so badly and so dangerously that I aimed an arrow at his shoulder in hopes of pinning him to the chair, but my arrow jerked unnaturally and pierced through his chest instead. It wasn’t enough to kill him; I think the demon had only done it to scare me and attempt to make me cry out to it. I didn’t, though. It was then Mother Trawthra pressed her sigil to his forehead and forced him unconscious, before collapsing herself. Corwyn and I helped her to her feet, and she told us that she needed more power. She wanted us to gather people close to Almod beyond ourselves, and meet us in Velarim City in a week.
We agreed to do so, but as we were leaving Corwyn said we should find a stronger exorcist as well: the archangel Raziel, keeper of the fifth layer of Celestia. Lady Veraxis said she would find Keypa and others in the meantime. With that we left, ending up on the ground layer of Celestia despite Xaneak’s best efforts to take us further. The entirety of it had been reduced to a battlefield; we dodged falling angels, debris, and demons alike as we forced our way forward.
Finally we arrived at the fifth layer, where Raziel was fighting off fallen angels. We helped him, and because of that he said he’d help us although he did not like the Legion. However, he said we must first help him and Sealtiel kill Semyaza as well. We traveled with him to the sixth layer, where we arrived in time to run Sealtiel through, saying his brother was in the way of his vengeance for being “cast off” and denied the right to guard the sixth layer.
At the time I didn’t much think on what I was doing, or helping accomplish. I simply concentrated on the task at hand, and poured all my focus into the draw of my bow and path of my arrow. Then before I knew it an enormous, radiant being was stepping through a portal and calling Semyaza his son, and telling him he was meant to be a proselyte and paragon, not a guardian. He shattered Semyaza’s sword, then turned him to ash, and did it all with genuine sorrow. Then he made all of the mountain collapse, although—thank the Ainur—we were all flying because of Xaneak’s spell by then.
Then he started to rebuild the entire plane, as if it were nothing!! Raziel explained that the mountain had become so corrupted with bloodshed and carnage it could no longer be truly “good”, so a re-forging was necessary. I understand that much, but I was still glad to leave. It’s disquieting even now to think on it.
Raziel took a mortal guise once we arrived on Arda. Eldarian met us in Velarim City, and told us on the way that the demon in Almod had woken up and Mother Trawthra had been killed by it. We found him being restrained by Corwyn and Maxius, one gripping tightly to each of his arms and even then struggling to hold him down. Harkin, Elros, Lady Veraxis and Keypa were there as well, watching and apprehensive.
The exorcism wasn’t easy to watch. At times it seemed like Raziel came close to nearly killing Almod’s body, things got so violent. More than once I had to bite my tongue and turn away to keep from vomiting.
More than once I felt tears well in my eyes. It wasn’t only that, though. The words that thing made Almod say were horrible, and I won’t give them recognition by repeating them. When it got bad enough I shot him sideways through the mouth, which shut him up for a time because he couldn’t speak, but it didn’t keep him from screaming in Almod’s voice, and then in Jaelen’s and even Carrik’s. Eventually he gnashed through the wood of the arrow…
Things kept getting worse. The room darkened, smelling of brimstone and blood. Raziel seemed to be loosing strength, and the demon in Almod’s body was growing stronger in proportion and about to rise up out of the chair when suddenly Eldarian blasted him in the chest with what I can only guess was some kind of holy energy. Before this, Eldarian has always had a sense of ancientness about him. An old, steady magic like I’ve felt in Eldammar, Arboria, and when I first met Haldir.
This was different.
It was holy and it was fearful. I can’t describe it properly; the closest I can come is saying it was like the light and heat of Sorra and the ancientness of the Ainur with all the power and fury of a world-shattering storm. All of us in the room took at least a step back, and the demon began to grovel and blubber in Eldarian’s grasp. It spewed answers to every question he asked, begging and pleading for its pathetic life. Eldarian reached into Almod’s chest and bodily pulled the monster from him, and threw it to the ground. Raziel pinned it with his sword and then Eldarian killed it in some way that seemed as if it tore the demon apart, shredding it between extremes of pleasure and pain.
I don’t understand what happened. I’m only glad it suffered.
Almod slumped unconscious and Raziel carefully restored and healed him. As soon as he woke up I went to his side, asking how he felt and what he remembered. He was bewildered, and confused. The last thing he recalled was stepping through the portal Aranal opened for him to return to Arda…
He couldn’t even stand without help, but he was insistent on being told what he’d missed in the past decade. Eldarian took his hands and showed him… everything, I think. Tears began to course down Almod’s face and when it was finished he demanded Harkin kill him for his crimes.
Understandably Harkin blanched at the thought, but Almod insisted that if had been anyone else and if Harkin hadn’t seen the exorcism himself, he’d have them killed. Harkin was at a loss for words and I couldn’t hold my own back anymore, so I begged Almod not to choose death. I told him it was the coward’s way out: that if he lived he could atone if not on Arda than outside of it. His death wouldn’t bring back the people he’d killed, and if he stayed alive he could actually work to fix the damage he’d done.
He wanted to know why I even cared; I told him he was my friend and I didn’t want to see him die, or lose him again. He told me I didn’t have a right to tell him to live after the suffering he’d gone through, and said if I truly cared about him I wouldn’t make him continue to suffer. He demanded to know if I would take away all I’d suffered at Malthos’s hands if I had the choice; I told him not if it meant abandoning Arda when it needed me. He said he couldn’t serve Arda now but I told him he still could, by living and joining the Legion. He refused to consider it, and eventually cursed me and stormed out. I tried to follow but Harkin stopped me short. He said I’d done enough damage already.
Harkin followed him out. I tried to listen, but found my hearing muffled. I (rightly) thought it was Eldarian doing that, and mentally reached to him to see if I could even do that, and to try and speak privately. It turns out I can, but I realized whatever I wanted to ask him wasn’t anything I couldn’t say in front of everyone else gathered. Out loud, I asked him what happens next.
He asked me what I wanted to happen next. Obviously I told him I wanted Almod to live… But even if I hated his choice, he should be allowed to it. He has a right to die how he wants, just as much as I have a right to scream at him for wanting it and he has a right to hate me for that. Corwyn derided me for calling Almod’s choice cowardly (imagine that, when I’d done the same to him a decade before) and said he hopes I won’t be so unkind when he falls on hard times. That hurt to hear.
He tried to give me some perspective: Almod had just seen his own body, out of his own control, kill and desecrate people for ten years. Ten years of suffering, and ten years living as a prisoner in himself. Understanding that, I— I can’t blame him for wanting to die. Almod was never a man to serve in the same way as the rest of us; he was meant to love and live on Arda more than even me. For him to betray that so completely, to loose himself entirely—
It’s not cowardice for him to choose death; Corwyn was right to point out I shouldn’t hold Almod to the same standards as myself. Elros said there were still places Almod could serve on Arda without being seen, and Eldarian pointed out that he could join the Legion. I doubted out loud that he’d want to, given that I’d just suggested it to him not five minutes before, but then Xaneak said Eldarian meant Almod could join the Legion the same way he had: after death. He then went on to nominate Almod to Eldarian, who said he would take that nomination to Haldir.
After that we returned to the central safehouse, and I excused myself from the others. A few days later Almod was found guilty for war crimes against the Vanyar Empire and we were called to Menros to watch his execution. I only went for Almod’s sake, to stand by him in this even though I hated it. An enormous crowd was gathered, and we were horribly close to both Harkin and Almod. The emperor executed him himself, with his own sword and tears welling in his eyes.
When Almod’s head fell the people cheered. I slipped into the shadows and left. I know there’s an unsaid expectation that as a Unifier I’m beholden to Harkin and the Vanyar Empire; that I was there for appearances and “solidarity”. Probably it was expected I’d stay and cheer the decision, too.
Two of my brothers-in-arms have been killed in disgrace.
I nearly expect that I The people of Arda can think of me what they will.
I returned the central safehouse and my room. I didn’t loose an arrow for Almod; I’ve mourned his death once already.
It was bad luck after all. On my bed was an unsigned, un-sealed letter in unfamiliar script. It was an expression of condolences, and sorrow for my loss. Once I finished reading four signatures appeared: Jordall, Serlina, Titus and Xerxes. I attached the letter itself on the next page over. (I don’t know what to think of it, if it’s a play at sympathy or a genuine overture of friendship. I’d like it to be the latter, but…)
After a while I sought out Maxius and Corwyn. They were in the garden. We talked for a short while; I thanked them for pointing out my stupidity with calling Almod a coward, and apologized that they had to suffer through it. Corwyn said it wasn’t a problem but needled at me, saying that for such a good ranger I’m very impulsive. I told him it’s one thing to deal with people as targets—a collection of arteries and vital points to simply snuff out—and another to deal with them as… people. It’s a problem that’s gotten worse for me during my time in the Legion, and sometimes it worries me. I don’t know anymore how to tell people when they’re in front of me, scared and hurt or angry, that I care and that I’m scared for them and don’t want them to hurt.
Maxius brilliantly suggested that I simply tell them that, instead of doing what I normally do. I agreed, and said that my failure to do so makes me more of a coward than either Nightblade or Almod. Cowyn started to say that’s one way of thinking of it, and then Maxius said it could also mean I’m compassionate. (They’re finishing one another’s sentences now.) They said I try and protect people from things that could hurt them when I talk like I do, to shelter them from the truth because although it sets us free, it hurts getting to that point. That’s… a fair point. However I could still do to change it. I want to help people, not just protect them. Corwyn reassured me that I’m doing fine, and that things will be alright.
Maxius also mentioned that he and Corwyn will be spreading stories about who Almod truly is: not a knight that fell, but a man that was tricked and sought out redemption. (They made a crack about how I’d called bards useless once, even though they both know I have more respect for them and their craft than that.) They also told me that they will both be fine, and are handling things without difficulty. We eventually parted ways.
A few hours later, Eldarian gathered myself, Bazrik, Xaneak and Feyren. He brought us to Velarim City, in the dead of night. He explained to us that Nightblade had left because the Ascendant Ones had led him to believe that Kira was bound by fate now, because of her and the phoenix’s bond. In reality, her fateless soul and the phoenix’s fated one are struggling with one another… It could go either way. As he said that, Nightblade appeared and demanded to know why we were here. Eldarian told him it’s time he told us his story.
I have some hesitations about writing Nightblade’s story down, because it isn’t mine to tell. If these were personal journals that only I would read, or a select few like Levtin and whoever else I allowed, I might not hesitate as much. However, I think once we win this war many others will eventually read them, although whether they’re believed or not is another matter. But, it could be that’s for the best if they’re read. Like Almod, if more people know the truth of Nightblade’s life… Maybe they’ll understand him more and fear him less.
Like many street urchins, he was an orphan. He lived and
grew up survived in Velarim City, until a man took him in and trained him as an assassin. He loved this man, the “Blood Father”, as any child would love a parent. Once he was brought into the Blood Knives organization officially, he quickly rose in power and prestige. He was happy like this, until the “Dark Hand” came to him and demanded he kill the Blood Father. They wanted to kill the man off because he was hindering their ambitions, and as his superiors in the Blood Knives organization Nightblade was bound by their laws to follow their orders.
Instead of following their orders, he killed them. No sooner did he tell the Blood Father this, than the man signed his death warrant for breaking the chain of command.
What a fool. Nightblade escaped and killed those who came after him, and began to become truly feared for his skills. When Kira approached him and asked he join the Knights of Arda, he only heard her out at first because he was impressed she had the courage to seek him out at all.
He enjoyed his time as a Knight of Arda, however. He didn’t kill anyone, only found information and sought out new recruits. He began to know what it was like to be happy. Then the war ended and he killed off what remained of the Blood Knives organization, and the rumors about him intensified. He worked secretly for the Church of Sorra, but resented that he couldn’t serve it openly, and was treated as little more than a tool.
When he died—he didn’t tell us how, but looking at the numbers it could not have been from old age—he waited unclaimed in the afterlife for a century, although he followed Sorra’s teachings. Then he was taken by demons from the Abyss, and tortured and forced to work the lowest of the low assignments for thirty years, until the Legion called on him.
At the end of his story he flew into some kind of rage, screaming and cursing and thrashing until he collapsed on the ground, sobbing. Xaneak started to approach him, and with some encouragement from Eldarian and myself he knelt down beside Nightblade and told him simply that he was sorry. He used a name I couldn’t hear because Eldarian blocked it out and that seemed to calm him. With Eldarian’s help Nightblade stood, and then Eldarian did some kind of magic (I think it was temporal…) that looked as if it gave Nightblade peace by the end of it. He turned and disappeared, and Eldarian said he would be back within a fortnight.
We went back to the central safehouse after that. I briefly spoke with Bazrik about mostly unimportant things, wanting to know if he was alright after that and all the other things we’d witnessed. He said he was, and I am inclined to believe him. Some people take oddities in stride better than others, and we all cope with problems differently. I told him I and any others were free to talk regardless, and then took my leave.
I will not be getting any sleep this night, I know that much. My thoughts are still buzzing like angry wasps.