I met with the others in the central safehouse, and when we went to find Haldir for our next assignment we heard Harkin and Linoir arguing with one another about whether to send a member of the royal guard with Eldarian and Prince Jozan. Harkin was insistent on it, citing a need to set a “legal precedence” or something and of course Linoir wouldn’t stand for that, when adding a royal guard would add a potential for a spy or other complications. Eventually Eldarian suggested making himself a temporary royal guard, with temporary oaths, and both Harkin and Linoir seemed pacified by that.
They left, and then Eldarian left with the prince. I’m glad he’s in good hands; it made it easier to focus on our mission. Harkin said we were to go to the Beastlands, to help “Forest Claw” and his group called “The Emerald Elite”. Draugluin and his forces were invading the plane, and we were needed to help drive them back—and maybe even kill Draugluin!
We were in charge of finding our own way there, although Haldir mentioned travel via the River “Osaenos” would be our best bet. We went to Kyleigh, but she didn’t remember any of us. At first I thought it was only because it had been a few years since we’d needed her services, but she didn’t remember the Legion or our past contract either… And she wasn’t lying, which was strange. We talked a bit about the price of travel, and I ended up giving her a bit of extra gold to forget (again) that she’d ever seen us. It’s not bad to keep quiet about our activities when we can help it.
Xaneak was kind enough to pay for all of us once Kyleigh got us a boat and captain. I’ve been getting really sick of boats—there’s nothing to do on them—but this time I didn’t mind the travel. We went through whitewater rapids! It took about a week, and once we got closer to the Beastlands we saw how beautiful they are. Unfortunately the captain of our boat talked as if it’s treated as nothing but a vast hunting ground…
When we got off the boat Bazrik entered some kind of trance, and seemed as if he was speaking with nature in some way. He was attempting to find Forest Claw or even Draugluin, but he didn’t have any luck. Since it’s hard to track people when you don’t know what they smell like, and I guessed our allies wouldn’t leave any trails when they walked or camped, I suggested that we stay in one place to make ourselves easier to find. The others agreed, and Bazrik found us a good clearing to settle down in. I slept twice in the time we waited so I think it was about two days, but the sun never set which was very disconcerting.
While we waited I spent a lot of my time foraging for plants for everyone to eat (Bazrik and I were the only ones with any idea of what was edible). I also explored the area around our camp with Alice; she really enjoyed being out in such a warm forest. While we were exploring we stumbled across a wounded dire wolf, looking as if it’d had its two front legs broken. I approached it carefully, but as I knelt down to get a closer look it suddenly sprung on me! A moment later a number of other animals came out of the underbrush. I had half a second to tell Alice to head back to camp for help. No sooner than I did that then a wood elf woman appeared in a tree, demanding in Sylvan to know who I was and what I wanted.
After I explained to her I was with the Legion and who I was, she called the animals off and introduced herself as Leena. She apologized for the rough welcome, but explained she and the others had to make sure we weren’t poachers. She also suggested that we should head back to the camp as soon as possible, so we could tell her comrades that Xaneak, Feyren and Bazrik weren’t a threat. She was fairly cheerful about everything; I liked that.
When we got back at the camp sure enough Xaneak and Feyren were being held up in a tree, and Bazrik was cornered by a huge dire wolf. Once Leena called them off the tree turned into another wood elf woman (Gilatea) and the dire wolf became a male orc (Kozakh). We made introductions again and they brought us back to their camp, where four more people were waiting. There was a female human (Beshea), a male wood elf (Dekolar), a male human (Krotan), and a man I think was a wood elf but it was difficult to tell because he had scales, fur, and many other features to him. His name was Rendella.
We all made introductions again. Everyone spoke in Sylvan, and I enjoyed that. Then Forest Claw appeared behind me without me noticing, which is a feat itself! I’d never seen a fey before but he looked like all the stories make them out to be: exotic, vaguely elven, and wholly natural (his hair was leaves). He wanted to set out immediately, and informed us about the state of things on the way. Draugluin and his forces are in Karasuthra, a layer where it’s constantly night. They’ve been capturing animals and corrupting them, then sending them to the Abyss to aid Ditrius’s forces. He said we have four objectives:
1. Free the captured animals that haven’t been corrupted yet
2. Destroy Draugluin’s base
3. Kill Draugluin himself
4. Create a force to keep the Beastlands safe after Legion forces leave, likely by asking the different centaur tribes that live here for aid
We decided that splitting up would be the best way to get everything done, and shared our talents and histories so we could effectively distribute people.
- Leena is a “beast master”, someone who works with and communicates with many animals. She wanted to help hunt Draugluin.
- Gilatea can change into any living thing, from the smallest plant to even a dragon. She wanted to hunt Draugluin as well.
- Kozakh is a wolf lord; he described himself as a “wolf in orc form”. He would be happy hunting Draugluin, or destroying his encampment and freeing the animals there.
- Beshea specializes in combat within the natural world, and Forest Claw said they’re similar in abilities. She wanted to destroy Draugluin’s camp and free the animals, or hunt Draugluin.
- Rendella is a “geomancer”, someone who has merged with parts of the natural world. That explains why he looks the way he does… He said he would be happy helping wherever he was needed.
- Krotan is a “storm lord”, someone who specializes in controlling weather and calling lightning. I hoped we wouldn’t have to work together on an assignment, and fortunately we didn’t; he wanted to destroy Draugluin’s base of operations and I wanted to hunt Draugluin himself.
- Dekolar specializes in using magic that he draws from magic, and as a former Elder of a clan in Cormanthor he said he was very good at diplomacy as well. That piqued my interest. The Elder that led my parents and the rest of their clan east to Essembra died when I was young; I never knew much about him or what his job was like. I would’ve liked to talk with him for a while and learn a little more about that. Anyways, because of his skill with diplomacy he wanted to help with talking to the centaurs.
We ended up with the following teams:
|Hunting Draugluin||Destroying the camp and freeing the animals||Speaking with the centaurs|
We split up and went to work. Within our team, Forest Claw and I agreed that we should all split up further to cover more ground; we planned to signal one another if we found anything. He and I would go together, Leena and Kozakh would be another team, and Leena and her animal companions would be the third group.
As we hunted for Draugluin, Forest Claw and I talked. He mentioned his disdain for arcane magic, saying it’s the “sick product of a sick society” or something like that. I don’t see how he can think that when it occurs naturally in sorcerers, but bigotry isn’t always logical. It bothered me that he thought so little of Xaneak because of his magic, which would have surprised me once. I wasn’t about to let it distract us from the task at hand, though, so I let it be. What genuinely surprised me was his attitude towards Bazrik.
He said Bazrik was confusing to him and something of a hypocrite, in a way. He explained how he thought that being a druid meant Bazrik was “healed” from society, but was frustrated that Bazrik made no attempts to bring that same healing to others. He’d hoped that him coming here would be something of a revelation for him, and teach him to be more involved. I can understand that, to an extent: Bazrik is extremely quiet and reserved, sometimes to a frustrating degree. But Elros has always been a man and teacher to let people discover themselves on their own time, and I think Bazrik reflects that. (Forest Claw mentioned that, but said he didn’t agree with it although he still respects Elros.)
Most of our conversation was filled with different degrees of surprise for me. I was certain that if we talked at all, it would be him lecturing and deriding me for my choice to live in and fit myself to cities. At the very least, I though he’d try and convince me that I was “wrong” for doing so. Instead he asked why I only fought for mortals’ freedom, and not that of all of creation, including animals. That startled me, because I had never thought of doing otherwise. When I told him that he stated his reasons why he thought the creatures of creation were just as important: they are living things, deserving of life and dignity; they are as complex and important as mortals (he even said they have whole cultures!); and they are all made by the creator, like mortals.
Before either of us could say more, we caught sight of Draugluin and moved in to attack. (The creature looked the same as the one I’d stalked in Arboria but hadn’t been able to shoot.) Forest Claw told me to ready a shot for once Draugluin raised his head, and I did. What Forest Claw did next was amazing. He notched two arrows, and then shot them each in separate directions at the same time! They bounced off two nearby trees, and then hit Draugluin. I have never seen someone shoot with such flair while also managing to put it to use; most of the trick shooters I’ve seen are all show and no skill. It was a pleasure to fight alongside him; it’s rare I find another archer so skilled and so in their element. Fighting and stalking Draugluin himself wasn’t all that difficult, which we soon learned was because we weren’t hunting Draugluin at all but a decoy.
After we (thought) we killed the First Werewolf, we heard two whistles from opposite directions; signals from the other groups that they’d found Draugluin (or so they thought). Forest Claw and I split up, and I arrived to find Leena and her companions finishing off a monster identical to the one I’d killed. We hurried to join with the others, and Gilatia and Leena both turned into giant eagles so we could rush to Draugluin’s camp, where we (rightly) assumed he was.
We arrived to a flash of light and peal of thunder louder than I’ve heard in a long time, and then I saw Krotan collapse as the electricity around him died. He’d scorched a huge amount of Draugluin, however. I told Gilatea to drop me in as close as possible, and she dive bombed towards him. Feyren soon showed up and pinned the beast, and Bazrik wrapped him in vines. Alice dropped off of Gilatea to help pin Draugluin, and I managed to shoot an arrow deep into one of his paws and the ground; the others bounced off his hide. Forest Claw did the same. Finally Xaneak summoned a sword like he had in the Dismal Delve and sliced open a rift that started to suck Draugluin in. For a time he managed to hold on to the earth with a single paw. Forest Claw and I raised our bows to strike, and shot the remaining paw in tandem. He let go, and got sucked in to the void entirely.
We killed one of the Dark Powers.
I can still hardly wrap my mind around it! It didn’t come without a cost, though. We found Rendella’s body, torn in half. I loosed an arrow for him like I do for every fallen comrade, and Forest Claw and Beshea restored his body to some wholeness before burying him and raising up a patch of lilies above him. Then Forest Claw came over to us, and said he wanted to show us something. We returned to the layer that’s always day, and after traveling through a forest for some time we came upon a grove of unicorns. They’re stunningly beautiful, in a way I can’t describe. Stories don’t do them justice when they speak of them. Forest Claw said they were part of what we’d helped save today. He also asked us not to forget this place and the creatures that live here, even once the rest of the planes have. I told him it’s been an honor to work alongside him and the others; he said it’s been eye-opening to work with us.
I have a lot to think about after this mission. I don’t ever expect to hold Forest Claw’s devotion to the natural world, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep non-mortal creatures in mind when I strive for others’ freedom. If he’s right about them having societies, loves, and many other things that mortals do, then they deserve a voice as much as anyone. In the meantime I hope he’ll realize not all mortals can become like him, nor should they. Cities and civilization are important for progress and our ways of life, not a “sickness” that needs to be torn down and “cured”. Nature and civilization don’t need to exist at the cost of one another.
We returned to the central safehouse to the sounds of Harkin and Linoir screaming at Eldarian. I knew better than to get in the middle of that, so I hid and crept towards the room. Apparently Eldarian had taken Prince Jozan to the North, and down to the Bloodlands. He wanted him to know the strife and lives of his people, and the truths of the lands he’ll inherit. I can understand why Harkin and Linoir were upset—they were rightly scared for their son—but I agreed with what Eldarian wanted to do. The prince was born into privilege and would likely view his rule as a right, not a duty, if never exposed to the plight and needs of the common people.
After he’d made that argument Eldarian stormed off, and Harkin and Linoir were left to sheepishly admit that he was right. They walked away with Jozan, and then the four of us came in to speak with Haldir. He was glad to hear things had gone successfully, and told us that Forest Claw and the Emerald Elite would be sent to Arboria to help Hennet and his wife protect the Ainur. I was relieved to hear that the effort there is going well.
Normally I would pray to the Ainur that it would continue to go well, but… My own gods are fighting and threatened.
Who do I pray to, then? I hope the death of one of the Dark Powers will help their efforts.
Haldir told the others that Gruumsh had fallen, and told all of us that the souls in his care are gone to oblivion—including Krusk and Burz. Moradin is also possibly already dead, and the Pantheon has been driven to the Ring. I haltingly asked if we’d lose more in the Legion if more gods fell, trying not to look at Xaneak.
Unfortunately, we will.
What followed was a mix of good and ill news: The Great Kahn is dead and his people are in chaos; Ditrius’s forces are attacking Hades with little resistance; the mind flayers are being driven back and the refuges are being taken in as needed; and the Crownlands are still burning, with Almod leading the forces of the Bloodlands. Haldir also told us that Corwyn and Maxius are looking into finding the exorcist Corwyn told me about earlier, and our next mission will start as soon as they return. I hope they bring back news of success…
Haldir left and Eldarian soon arrived, to tell us more about the state of Anrok and the orcs now that their god had died. Now that their shamans had lost their powers delegations were already arriving from Anrok, asking for entry into the alliance of free peoples. It came at a large cost, but it’s still progress in the right direction. Xaneak made a comment about it coming at too large of a cost, and Eldarian reprimanded him for being so narrow-minded: war always has costs, this is only the first one he’s felt personally. That upset Xaneak so badly he left without arguing.
I remained because Eldarian was explaining what happened with the Ascendant Ones. It was easy for him to fend them off, but not before they gave him the same proposal Titus had mentioned to me. Eldarian said the idea was “interesting” but foolish, because it didn’t make sense to replace beings created specifically to be gods with fallible mortals. I agree. (He said he’s already thought of where he’d put us, too, which is fine but I asked him please to not tell me. Feyren wants to know so I hope she learns it on her own time, but I don’t even want to think about being a god.) Eldarian’s worried about how the orcs and possibly dwarves will react to their shamans and Olams loosing power, however, and how he will tell them why—if he should at all. That’s a decision I’m glad I don’t have to make. He also mentioned he’s going to send his tarrasque to the Beastlands as an added means of protection, which is good.
After Eldarian left, Nightblade approached us with a bag in his hand and demanded to know where Xaneak was. I offered to track him for him, and he accepted that and demanded Bazrik and Feyren follow along as well. They weren’t about to say no and I could track most mages in my sleep (Xaneak included) so we all followed him to his room. On the way I asked Nightblade if something was wrong, but he refused to say.
Once Xaneak opened the door, Nightblade stormed in and threw the bag down. The Great Kahn’s head rolled out, as well as a great deal of money. He said this was a “final gift” to us, and then left. The others were all so shocked by his actions that they didn’t move but I ran after him, demanding to know what exactly he meant by that! Then he of all people had the gall to ask me if I would pry, if he told me it was “private”. Imagine that, coming from him! A man who makes it his job to know as much about everyone as possible, a man who half the time doesn’t even choose to respect common decency when it comes to a person’s own room! I nearly screamed all of that at him but I held my tongue instead and told him that I wouldn’t pry. He decided to tell me anyways: apparently the Legion is “too restricting” and doesn’t let him perform to his full capacity and be “entirely himself” and put him to “full use”. He said he’s going to a group that allows him this, that actually “values” him and his talents.
He disappeared into the shadows and then I did scream at him, calling him a coward. He didn’t respond, but Serlina appeared and started to chide and mock me. She went on about how her team is better because unlike us, they’re “cohesive” and “together”. She also said they aren’t “held back” by morality, and how that’s what really appeals to Nightblade: he doesn’t have to bother with all the Legion’s rules and expectations, and is free to be nothing but his purpose. I didn’t bother paying attention to her worthless arguments; I was so angry I couldn’t even think straight. What did she think she would accomplish by bragging like that? We’re all fighting for the same cause! I just quipped and yelled at her until she left and then I stormed back to Xaneak’s room.
I explained to everyone what’d happened, and it didn’t take long for Xaneak and I to get in a shouting match. I ranted about how stupid Nightblade was for leaving, and how he was a coward not trying to change what he disliked and how I had no idea that he’d wanted to be closer to any of us in any way, especially when he’s always avoiding people. Xaneak came to Nightblade’s defense, saying that I’d gotten closer to himself, despite our differences. I told him that was different because he was actually around and able to be seen. You can’t have conversations with phantoms! Finally I said if Nightblade had actually wanted people to get close to him, he wouldn’t have kept pushing people away no matter what, verbally or otherwise. Xaneak countered that those who push others away always want people to keep trying, and at that point all I could say was in that case Nightblade shouldn’t have hid so fucking much.
Feyren got between Xaneak and I before our tempers got any worse, and told us to calm down. She said we should acknowledge our grief and anger, but not let it consume us; we had more important things at stake right now. Once she was satisfied Xaneak and I had quieted down enough she left with Bazrik, and I stayed behind for a bit longer. Xaneak started to go through his journal. I noticed he was reading the very beginning, which I’d never seen before. I told him I’d tell him what I’d come here to speak with him about later, when I wasn’t so upset—I sound like a bitch when I’m angry. He countered that I always sound like a bitch, and I snapped a correction that in that case I sound like more of a bitch, but stopped short of saying anything that made things worse.
I calmed myself down before speaking and told him I was sorry for his loss. Krusk and Burz were his friends and our allies and they’ll be missed. I also told him that I didn’t want him to
die leave any time soon, because even when we’re screaming at each other he’s my friend. And I told him that he’s more than just his “usefulness” and his “purpose”, and that I’m sick of people in this Legion seeing themselves and each other as nothing but that. We are all mortals, with wants and needs and loves and , not because we’re “useful” or because we have “purpose” but simply because we are. Purpose and power are important because they make our lives meaningful to ourselves and can help others, but they don’t give us worth. If we start treating people as worth nothing but their use, then we might as well be Caya or Varys or even Malthos! And if we devalue ourselves, it’s even worse.
Xaneak appreciated my sympathy but insisted he isn’t worth more than his usefulness, and then went on to say how he’s convinced we’re loosing this war and that we must be doing something “wrong.” He isn’t a soldier, in any sense of the world. He’s built and bred for research and study, not fieldwork and warfare. There’s no shame in that, but it means he’s going to struggle more and more as the war gets worse. He doesn’t understand you can do everything right and still loose; that there are always factors in life outside of our control. (I told him I trusted Haldir in the meantime.) He also doesn’t understand the difference between loosing a battle and loosing a war. (We’re fighting fate itself! There are going to be losses.) I tried to explain these differences to him, but he didn’t want to believe me and insisted that Eldarian would know if we really were doing the right thing.
Of course, Eldarian arrived just as I was saying that even if he did know, he might not say so. He told us that truthfully even he doesn’t know if we’re doing the right thing. Unsurprisingly he’d been listening in on our conversation. He said he wanted to help us, because Xaneak was grieving the loss of his friends and—even if I didn’t admit it—I was grieving the loss of a teacher. He talked about how we need to not just call ourselves a team, but believe we are one. He also reminded me that the Legion contract isn’t going to change (even if someone like Nightblade wanted it to), and tried to explain to Xaneak what I had: war is messy, and people die no matter what. I think he did more good for Xaneak than he did me, but I also think Xaneak needed it more than I did.
Once Eldarian finished speaking and left, Xaneak asked if I’d said everything I wanted to him, so I asked him if he’d heard me. He told me to repeat myself if I really wanted to be sure so I did. I told him I’m sorry for his loss. I told him that even when we’re arguing, I like having him around and don’t want him to go away. And I told him that he’s more than just his usefulness. That we all are.
Then I left, and went to the training room. I didn’t practice on the archery targets, but used my short sword on a dummy instead. There wasn’t any rhythm or grace to my movements because I wasn’t trying to clear my head like when I use my bow. I only wanted to vent my frustrations and anger
and hurt and hurt. After a good while Feyren arrived, and asked to speak with me. I reluctantly agreed, and asked if she wanted to talk here or somewhere else. She said she didn’t have a preference so I said I’d like to walk through the safehouse, because I don’t like staying in one place and people are going to hear us talking in this place no matter what.
She said she wanted to know if I was alright, and what I was feeling. She said she wanted to listen to me, and I laughed because even I didn’t know what I was feeling, at least not in any way I could put into words. We bantered for a while—she wanted me to respect his choice to leave, and I told her I do but I was still pissed off about it. She insisted it was alright to be upset, but that I had to manage it and not let it hurt other people and myself. She said even though she’s a monk she understands compassion and recognizes its importance, and the potency of connections between people.
Finally she got me to tell her that I was angry and frustrated with Nightblade for leaving; for being a coward and running from things he didn’t like instead of facing them and trying to change them. She said he still had a right to leave, and wondered if I really thought the Legion would change after all the time he’d been here. I know the Legion probably wouldn’t have changed for him, and also know that if I didn’t agree with it like I do I know I would’ve left, too. It isn’t even as if he’s become a traitor, just gone from one team to another but serving the same cause.
She wondered instead if I didn’t feel betrayed that he left more than anything… He was a valued teacher, and I hoped I’d eventually win his respect. Now I don’t have that chance any more. I wanted to prove myself to him, and thought he actually valued who we all were as well.
I’m not sure if it’s healthy or frustrating to have so many people around that know me so well. Probably both.
I finally relented and told her that she was right: I did feel betrayed, but more than that I’m upset with myself for caring and being angry about it in the first place and feeling like I somehow failed. She said it’s okay for me to care, and that it’s about time I finally admit that. I couldn’t do anything but go quiet and tell her that she’s right because she is.
Nightblade a coward, not for leaving but for not saying anything to our faces and always pushing people away. There aren’t many things more selfish and cowardly than that, and I know it because I’ve been there myself… And I think that makes me that much worse for not trying harder to break through anyways.
I asked her if she had anything else she wanted from me, and she said no, so long as I felt better. I told her I did and asked if she wanted to spar tomorrow; she agreed. I also told Feyren that she seems lighter now than before—not happier, because this change seems deeper than a change in emotion—and more open, too. She told me it’s because she’s sorted things out with her Code at her monastery, and has a better sense of herself and the world now. I’m glad for that, and so is she. I have a feeling we’re going to be talking a lot in the coming days, and becoming even better friends.
In the meantime I thanked her and she said goodnight. We went our separate ways and I went to take a bath.
I still think Nightblade’s an ass and a coward, and I’m still furious. But I’m not going to worry about it now, either, or let it distract me. There are more important things to think about, and bigger things at stake.
Dwelling on mistakes doesn’t change them.
When I got back to my room I slept more soundly than I have in a while. I didn’t dream, and I feel mostly better now. I think I’ll check on Bazrik and then Xaneak later, now that I’ve calmed down. I have a feeling our next mission will be difficult for many reasons.