D’vainor was there because he wanted us to help him destroy Malthos. I immediately demanded to know why we should even consider trusting him, after he not only betrayed us but attacked us, more than once. For all we knew he could’ve been working for Malthos still! He replied coldly that everything he had done was to get close to Malthos in order to stop him. He said the only way he could have done so was to make Malthos believe entirely that he was sincere, even at the cost of becoming a monster.
He went on to deride the Legion for ignoring the threat of Malthos for so long, and jabbed at me in particular by pointing out his work hadn’t forced him to be separate from Arda, or made him lie to its people. Then he said that at the very least he admits he’s a monster, unlike the Legion. That I wouldn’t abide by, and I lunged at him. He caught me by the wrists and I struggled for a moment, furious.
He stated that we need to trust him, because Malthos is too great a threat not to. Left unchecked, he could overturn and even destroy Ditrius, becoming a greater threat in the process. Regardless of our personal feelings about himself, D’vainor said, he was right about this. I turned my back to him so he wouldn’t see the angry tears welling in my eyes. He was entirely right, and I knew it. I listened without protest as he explained to us all where Malthos was, and what we needed to do to prepare for our mission there. At the end of it all I told him to give me ten minutes and I’d be ready; he said we’d have a day.
I left to gather up my things and purge the alcohol from my system. I tried not to think about D’vainor and how much I still care for the bastard despite his actions (because his reasons were good ones), and how more than anything I hate that he was pushed to take these actions in the first place. Dwelling on the past doesn’t change it.
Some time during the preparations, Haldir asked to speak with Xaneak and I. He chastised us for breaking Article Four of the Charter, and in my case for not coming forth about it and apologizing. I tried to say that we hadn’t returned under the best of circumstances, but he pointed out I wouldn’t have come forward anyways. He was right about that much, so I didn’t argue further. He still had more to say to me, however, so he dismissed Xaneak but told me to stay.
I’m not sure if Haldir is reading my journals entirely, or only the parts where I talk about him or that he deems important. He might not even be reading them at all, and knows these things other ways. (Ainur know I don’t understand how his magic works.) Either way I wish he wouldn’t, but he must have some good reason for doing so; he wouldn’t waste his time otherwise.
Unfortunately those reasons don’t make miscommunication between us any less prevalent. He was livid that I’d criticize his leadership “behind his back”, although all I had meant it as was a private note of passing annoyance. I could make an argument here for the importance of privacy, but I already know that what I’m writing has and will be read by people other than who I expect or even want. I wish it were otherwise, but I should be more mindful of that in the future. (I’ve half a mind to burn these when this war is over and Levtin’s read them, and leave history to more skilled writers.)
Even more than that, of course, he was angry with me for breaking the Charter. He assumed that I didn’t even care, and had only signed the document for appearance’s sake. That made me angry, and I told him that if he’s going to yell at me for presuming things about him, then he shouldn’t presume things about me in return. I have fought for decades to give people autonomy, and preserve their freedom. It and the protection of Arda and its people are the two causes I have dedicated myself to above any other, and I did not break the Charter lightly, because it upholds those same values.
I told him the only reason I did break it was for Eldarian’s sake, which of course meant I had broken the Fifth Article as well. Haldir told me that I need to stop thinking of Eldarian as a boy, but I counted that I didn’t; Eldarian himself had asked us to help him. I saw potential suffering in front of me and wanted to stop it, that was all.
Haldir softened at that. He said my desire to stop suffering is good, and that when I’m at my best I’m able to do wonderful things. I know that, I only wish I could be at my best more. I’m still stumbling on this path I’ve chosen, although it’s less often—and at least I don’t fly into self-loathing fits any longer when I do. I only hope I’ll be able to improve enough in time, and that my mistakes won’t cost us any more. Haldir said it’ll help if I stop letting my attachments to people get the better of me, and to look past just the suffering in front of me to see the bigger picture. That’s been my struggle since I joined the Knights of Arda, but at least I’ve slowly gotten better. I just need to continue getting better.
I told him plainly that if he thought my actions were a danger to the Legion, I’d leave. He said he was going to put me on probation instead: I’m stripped of the privileges of being a Legion member, and my rank within the Alliance of the Free Peoples. For the duration of my probation I no longer have a voice in Legion affairs, no longer am allowed to make use of its resources, and am stripped of my lodging.
He went on to say that I also need to start giving him the respect he deserves as commander of the Legion, especially since I’ve stated myself how much I hate being in command. I told him I’ve always respected him, but as a friend and never a commander. He said he needs people that listen and do their jobs now, not people who care about him; friends are a luxury in war. That statement alone made me cringe.
We’ve all lost so much in this war, and are continuing to lose it. I hate it so much. If we continue to make sacrifices like this—losing our values, our relationships, our very selves—what will we have left when we win? Who will we be? It’s not only Haldir closing himself off but D’vainor changing himself to a self-proclaimed monster, Xaneak constantly draining himself to exhaustion, my own moral compromises… And that’s only what I can think of immediately. I know without a doubt it will all be worth it for Arda’s sake but I still hate it, I hate seeing my comrades and friends suffer like this and be broken down by this war. I hope and pray such a conflict will never happen again; that future generations will never have to fight like we have.
Finally Haldir told me that D’vainor will be in charge of the coming mission, and that I’ll be off probation if the mission succeeds. I left after that to find a tavern to sleep in. It’s hardly a hardship when I’ve been staying with the people in Menros more than in the safehouses anyways. I also instructed Alice to stick to the sewers until I came back, since I couldn’t rightly bring her with to face Malthos as he was.
We left in the morning, with Xerxes and Titus accompanying us. We traveled through the Astral plane, and as we neared the portal to Malthos’s realm I spotted at least a thousand undead githyanki and a handful of equally necrotic red dragons. D’vainor told us all to focus on getting through quickly rather than fighting, so I took to the shadows and slunk my way through. I was moving a bit slowly because of how the Astral plane works, but it still took far less time than fighting would’ve.
D’vainor left us at the portal, and when we got through it everything was cold, dark, muffled and airless. Xaneak helped us breathe and move, but even then we could still hardly talk without shouting. It was awful traveling through it; I’ve never been more bored in my life, and it seemed to take forever. While we traveled Xaneak was kind enough to ask if I was alright after my talk with Haldir, and I appreciated that. I told him most of what’d happened and he gave me his sympathies.
Eventually we touched solid ground in a sort of maze. No sooner had we started to walk than six wraiths came forward and passed through us, and then turned into copies of ourselves! It sounds strange to say, but the battle was oddly soothing. It was reassuring to know that I’m more skilled than any copy of myself Malthos could make and I’m certain there were some other, more morbid reasons why I enjoyed fighting a physical copy of myself.
I took a fair amount of damage, partially from guarding Xerxes and partially because Xaneak’s double had very painful spells. Afterwards Bazrik healed me but I still had some minor cuts and bruises. Xerxes approached me and silently handed over a potion to heal the remainder of the damage, and I accepted it with surprise and gratitude. We moved forward and eventually found a large red gem, like the ones Eldarian had been hooked up to when he’d allowed Malthos to capture him. It felt like a weaker form of being around him, too, and I asked Xaneak if it was alright to shoot it. He said it was, but then I hesitated. I wondered if Malthos wouldn’t have poisoned it in some way, for lack of a better word. I don’t understand the magic behind the thing but I didn’t trust it, if it was so easily put out for us to find. Xaneak insisted that I destroy it, but I asked Xerxes his thoughts. He shook his head, and then destroyed it his own way, with some kind of magic that seemed to nullify it. Titus explained that it had been a trap meant to suck us into the gem.
Xaneak was getting exceedingly frustrated with himself by then, and when we encountered a projection of Malthos it didn’t help matters. He taunted Xaneak for failing to kill him when he had the chance, and other things. I snapped at him to leave him alone; that the past was the past and there’s no changing it, or use dwelling on it. He asked me if that was the case, had I stopped mourning for the children I’d killed? I didn’t grace him with an answer to that, and he soon disappeared.
Finally we made it to a room where Malthos actually was, and found some kind of strange device connected to the same black skull that I and the other Unifiers had seen after his tower collapsed. He said we were too late to stop him, but we didn’t waste time with retorts and attacked. I was worried about the possible effects of destroying the device when I didn’t have any idea what it was doing, but I decided to take another calculated risk. This time it paid off, as much as anything can with Malthos. I knew it was doing something he didn’t like because a swarm of souls surrounded it to protect it, and I noticed they were children.
He taunted me then, asking if I was really alright with trusting D’vainor when he would end up as bad as him in the end. I didn’t answer, so he asked next if I would really be willing harm these children all again. This time I wouldn’t be simply killing them, but destroying them, sending them to oblivion. In response I loosed an arrow at the skull and machine, praying all the while to Námo for forgiveness. It pierced through the souls and made them wail, but it hit true. I continued to attack, most of my arrows striking deep into the black stone despite my tears. Those screams will never stop echoing in my mind, any more than the first time I heard them.
The fight wasn’t easy by any means. Malthos used some kinds of wretched magic, making terrible things dance before our eyes. I saw all of Arda ruined, its people dead and ravaged. Hordes of Ditrius’s forces overran the cities and wilderness alike, pouring in from the portals of other ruined planes. But I refuse to let such things ever happen. That’s why I joined the Legion, after all. Malthos also released an ear-splitting scream, and while the others were fine, I…
What surprised me the most about it was that I didn’t feel any pain when it happened. One moment I was aiming to strike the skull, and the next I was floating up and above my body, which had collapsed on the floor. Xaneak rushed to my side and Xerxes did something to preserve my corpse and erected protective walls around Xaneak and my body both, actually speaking to tell him not to make a mistake. As Xaneak worked, Malthos pulled my soul towards him. I strained away, but it wasn’t until more of the children came forth and pushed me back that I was safe.
I don’t know why they did such a thing, and—I won’t dare to try and guess what it did mean. I don’t think I have the right. I only know I felt humbled like never before.
Not long after Xaneak finished his spell my senses were blocked out, only to revive again in my own body. He looked near death himself from exhaustion, and begged me to continue fighting since his own magic was having no affect. I told him I would and stood, only to find that Titus and Feyren had smashed Malthos’s body to the ground and destroyed it, releasing his soul. He began to laugh and mock us for freeing him, and then something poetic happened, there’s no other way to describe it.
All the souls of the children Malthos has gathered and abused began to swarm him. They tore at him and he screamed, pained and afraid. He struggled but they overwhelmed him, until he was utterly destroyed. He died with fear on his face, as he deserves.
We gathered ourselves up, but no sooner had we started to dust ourselves off than a woman approached us. She called herself Venyae, and said it was her duty to control life and death, “loaning” the powers over it to the gods as appropriate. I think that makes her a fea, but I don’t really know; she didn’t say. She thanked us for ending Malthos, so she didn’t have to. Then she asked us what we wanted to have done to D’vainor.
I wanted him to be left alone, after all this. I couldn’t see any reason to do anything to him, good or bad. He was serving Arda like the rest of us, even if that meant appearing to betray the Legion. For whatever reason she wouldn’t accept my choice to have him left alone, and insisted I make a different one. She wanted us to choose between “life” and “death” for him (and wouldn’t let me tack on the caveat of “if D’vainor accepts it”), which I’m still trying to figure out. As a lich… I don’t think he is alive. (That’s what it means to be “undead”, right? To be neither living or dead?) In the end when we all chose “life” for him, did that return him to his living self? Or did it simply leave him as he was, and it was all a matter of wording? I haven’t seen D’vainor since he brought us to the portal to Malthos’s realm, so I don’t know. I may never know, either.
Either way, she accepted our decision and told us to tell Eldarian that while some forces are against him, many more are standing strong beside him. Then we returned to the central safehouse, where Jordal met us. We told him what had happened, and he was delighted (and still needing to learn what “personal space” is, as always). Kira also overheard, and was incredibly happy as well. Jordal went on to speak about how he and his teammates were leaving, but that they expect and will need the Legion to work with them in the future. I’m starting to trust the Ascendant Ones more; I think we’ll be able to work together fine.
They left and then Eldarian rushed in, saying Haldir needed to meet with us immediately because of an emergency of some sort. We all hurried after him, and then—I was home.
For the first time in a very long time the halls of the Legion weren’t empty and hollow and I was home, with my comrades and friends and commander. The entire Legion had gathered to celebrate our victory over Malthos, and the fact that for the first time in another long while, we’re ahead in the war.
Now is no time to rest on our laurels, but it’s certainly time to give thanks.