These are some of the excerpts from a Journal Flavius kept:
“You are to be sent to Crimson Crossing”
Those words were all I could hear, repeated over and over. It made no sense at the time. The Grand Meister was very adamant about it, almost ignoring the other counselors. The rite of passage was a holy tradition indeed, but to be sent so far away with so little information was quite unheard of. Regularly you’d just be given a dossier of information about some fairly nearby conflict and told to disarm the situation or hear the parties out for information to be passed on to our masters. I should know, I had been handing off the envelopes to my brethren. There had to be some reason to this. Despite my best efforts I unfortunately couldn’t decipher the situation. This infuriated me beyond mere annoyance. Disappointment in myself for not realizing what I was about to embark in met with years of lingering doubt about my decisions past.
With this fairly dark and brooding outlook, I had set off. Little did I know I would have to keep up appearances for more than just a while. The journey towards the backwater hamlet close to the battle had been uneventful to say the least. I yearned for companionship, I had learned to travel with friends all along my training. The stories of Yorick Highberg and the sharp wit of Stephen Caerthan could keep you alive and kicking through even the worst winter storms. Sadly, they had been sent away before me. Fortunately, fate or divine guidance had seemed it fit to place a most interesting pair of travelers in my way. The elves were not unheard of in these lands, but to meet a pair traveling lightly and on public roads was an event in and of itself. This piqued my interest and having learned of their destination, I decided to butt myself in, if only for the company. If only I had known then, what I know now.
Despite what you may have heard about elven customs and their supposedly stuck-up attitudes, these two were exceptionally open and odd. For one, they didn’t seem to mind a little dirt on their capes and for another, they didn’t seem to mind a little dirt on their minds. For consumption of pipe weed had done it’s dirty deeds on them both. Regardless, I saw no immediate harm in it and felt that perhaps I could ease their minds a little during the trip, so they wouldn’t have to resort to herbal remedies. Keldan knows what it did to weed-mender Erasmus and his plot of garden…
They mostly kept to each other during the first day. This was to be expected and I thought nothing of it. What little manners I could muster, I did. To each his own, as they say. The journey was nonetheless much more entertaining with at least someone to share words with. They weren’t too keen on answering any of my questions, so I did most of the talking. Must’ve been one fairly exhausting rant, now that I think about it. I hadn’t really been talking for many days and that did not suit my general style one bit. Thank Keldan for the ranger’s songs, which interrupted me from time to time.
That night’s sleep was sound and firm. Only discrepance I might add was the next morning, when I woke up. The ranger was gone and the elven woman (hmm, or girl might be more appropriate, decide later when revisioning) had already woken up. She offered to make me breakfast. This act usually reserved for more intimate moments was no doubt only a cultural mishap and I thought nothing of it. But after that morning I simply couldn’t forget her name.
It was Halwyr.
Halwyr was obviously a troubled individual. This much had become clear during the few days I had traveled with her and experienced second hand the nightly terrors of her sleep. The twisting and turning, the quiet moans and cries, they were all very distracting for me and perhaps some of our companions as well. I hoped she would find peace and prayed for her well-being before settling for sleep myself. This seemed to have no effect, which was worrisome. Keldan was many things, but a herder of elvenkind was not among that list, so I thought little of it. Especially after she asked me to help her. It was like my prayers were answered in a secondary manner.
She was almost trembling when she asked me for help. Her sturdy appearances could not hide whatever emotion was lurking underneath. I was set aback a bit when, after asking me for help and receiving my permissions and reassurances, she seemed somehow even more troubled. Maybe someday I’ll be able to glimpse the thoughts of the elvenkind and learn what I can. She for one was cryptic, to say the least.
She had obviously never prayed before. At least not to any gods I would know. I had to guide her step by step, slowly telling what to do and when. I felt like a priest teaching young students about Keldan and his glory. That feeling was in stark conflict with the setting I found myself in. The gods have their own preferences and with Keldan, the intent of prayer is the most important factor. Although she had never done these exercises before, with guidance, she was as graceful as one can be without a proper altar and paraphrenalia. The procedure went surprisingly well. Despite Halwyr’s initial doubts and resistances, she learned to embrace the light and strength of believing. I tried to explain to her what pure faith meant, but we didn’t share a common language when it came to matters of the spirit. I’ll have to try again someday, she is clearly in need of spiritual guidance. Regardless, my efforts bore fruit. The next night was calm, I surveyed her for some time in case there would’ve been complications. Keldan truly is as magnificent as he is benevolent.
(I have purposefully expunged all the details of the nightmares from this journal, for I fear they could result in reverberations in the reader. Suffice to say they were grim and dealt with death on the battlefield. She merely had to understand there was purpose in the madness, a reason for each soul sent to the heavens.)
Dreamlands and the Triad
As I write these notes, they’re still fresh in my head. They seem so vivid yet so unreal that I don’t know what to think or which of them to trust. My main reason for scribing it down is so I can remember them later, for I fear much of my dream has already faded away.
I remember the field and the forest where we ended up after my first battle and the bonfire of orc corpses. It was alien to me, I had no recollection of ever being there. Halwyr informed me that it was indeed her forest, and her home. A beautiful gray meadow like no other. I remember being led away from it by her, into the forest. From there on forward, things start to become hazy. I feel like we held hands for the whole time, but at the same time were able to roam freely, as if being in two places at once. I clearly remember doing my usual morning rituals of getting up, putting on my underwear, doing my exercises (15 of each, always in the same order, one-two, one-two, almost like a ritual). Shaving my stubble, splashing my face with water and combing my hair with the bone comb the elven elder had given me. All this I did by myself, yet somehow she was still there, in bed, waiting for something.
I remember the way she helped me wear my armor, tighten the straps and lead me out. I remember all the gazes of the fair-skinned folk oogling at me, yet somehow still supporting us. I remember how her belly had grown. The feeling of having shared something very important with her and my fondness for her growing in unison with her natural form. It still haunts me, even as I lay awake.
I remember the box. The keepsake she told me not to touch or risk hell to pay. I remember her instructions for a box of my own. I never used them, for I had nothing to bar from her. She had led me here and I had let her, that was all the proof of trust I needed. Nonetheless I preferred for things to be quiet and serene and dared not disturb it, for mages of all beings in this world can have very precarious deeds hidden and for a good reason. Why would I not protect this world of dreams the same way I protect “reality”?
And then I remember the end. The growing anxiety and fear as we walked towards the altar at the clearing. She had explained it to me and it had made complete sense. Why was it then, that when the moment came to pass, that it should be this painful and difficult for me to do? It was the only right and the only wrong thing to do, both at the same time. Had she not been as adamant as she was, I fear I could not have done it and doomed us both to roam this world for aeons. But maybe then I would have known him. Maybe then it would have been real. This moment of happiness and family I had long since abandoned as folly. As I followed her toward the brightness of the gateway, I could not help but to look back at the small bawling package, left there as an offering to something undescribable.
But I digress, one shouldn’t focus too much on that which was mere dream.
How dare you!
There are certain conditions one has to understand in order to grasp the gravity of the situation we found ourselves in. For one, I had been wearing the crown for a few weeks now, starting to understand it and to use it for
my our good. For another, our ventures in the unreal realms still weighed me heavily. Just understanding the task ahead took almost all of my effort. The sword had been lost. The dweomer stone was still at large, nowhere to be seen. The tribes I had gathered to me were restless and to top it all off, winter was fast approaching. At least I had had some good news with Yorick and the banner. But that had still to manifest itself in some way, since we clearly needed more than just the banner to oust the Mad King under the Mountain.
And yes, did I mention the King of Bones already? It seemed our enemies were nigh endless in these parts. Strife and conflict had followed me ever since I took on the bloody thing. On certain mornings I hoped we had just locked it away with the others. At least then we wouldn’t have had as much innocent blood on our hands. Were it the blood of mages, the blood of soldiers or just the blood of the accursed orcish horde, I still would have liked to have seen it all spared. Would that I could. But alas, my role in all this was painfully clear. Lead the men to their ultimate victory and seize the day for Keldan, for valor and for honor. Once the Gods had had their fun, I would be free to go. I had to believe in the possibility of it all still being possible to just wipe away. Resettle into Blackhall, find someone good for me, maybe start over…
Or rather, resettle into Blackhall, find my duty in service to Keldan and be worthy of the praise and fortune I had received during these last months. My faith cannot be weak, it is my ground to stand up on, my crutch for a faltering moment. My reason to be in service to all these people whom I love and care for. I have to believe this is the way forward. My teachings all had lead me to this moment, it has to have a reason. Only madness and pain can come from embracing the violent, the chaotic, the sinful. I only use the Ettin to further our cause until the point that they no longer are useful to me or they themselves wish to return back home. I only accept the help of the hillmen to rescue them from the clutches of the undead horde. It is all for Keldan, all for true faith and service.
Before we could achieve any of our goals however, I had to find a way to get the Sword of Order back. It was my only method to vanquish the King of Bones back to his realm and to sever the link between the hordes waiting for us at the mountain’s entrance. In order to achieve this important waypoint, we had to make certain arrangements that would normally argue against my better judgement. For one, we had to get intel on our current enemy, the Hordemaster, and the location of his armies. I knew I could count on Aranwe for the duties set upon him, but to my surprise my Adviser had also come up with a useful and relatively safe way to use magic for our benefit. She suggested I try telepathy with her, to ascertain details about the Hordemaster and his throngs of minions. I saw no possible downside to it and swiftly agreed. She has a way with words, sometimes I find it hard to concentrate on our current affairs when she speaks. I’ll have to think on it someday, I’m sure it’s nothing magical, but still I…
(there is a blurred out section in the book, deliberately removed after writing)
and once we were inside the memory, I could see it clear as day. The hulking black thing was monstrous. To face it in single combat would be folly. To face it even with an army would be even more foolish. We had to find a way around it somehow, a way to distract it so we could gain the advantage.
While I was focusing on the matters at hand, the crown made itself known to me. It was crass, it was demeaning and it was infuriatingly sure of itself. It merely noted “Oh, this one… this one we could use…”. It hadn’t been in contact with the Hordemaster before, not directly. It was only aware of it’s existence. Now that it clearly saw and felt the horrors the thing was capable of, it wanted more. The council had 12 seats, 1 of which was suddenly open for discussion. It bore no thought on me. It was as if I wasn’t there. It was using me as a vessel for information and I could feel it. I was merely a means to an end for it. This new information set my heart on fire. I could no longer bear the disgusting thing on my head. How it had ended with me in the first place was now a mystery. All I knew was I had to show it I was no mere man. I was the vessel of Keldan, the Truthbringer, the Lightbearer, the Lawmaker. I would not be ridiculed and diminutized into some poor fool working in waters too deep for him.
The severance stinged. It felt as if I was pulling the fiery ring of judgement away from my head. I know it all took merely seconds, but to me it felt like minutes passing. The crown spinning wildly, creating sparks in the air, calling upon it’s creator to punish this mortal who dared defy it. I had only one option. I had only one right answer. As my words echoed in the room around me, I could feel the hand of Keldan land upon my shoulder, to grant me strength against this foul thing. It helped, if only for a moment.
When the crown landed on the floor, in the faraway corner of the room, I could feel the air escaping my form. I suddenly felt lonely and vulnerable. I had no-one. There was only me and me alone. I believe it was the crown trying to bind me, trying to tell me I wasn’t worth anything without it.
It might have succeeded were it not for Halwyr. I had simply forgotten her existence once we were inside the memory. She had stopped being an individual and became a vessel for my needs. I was nausiated at myself, at my arrogance and my blindness. I could not say it, all I could do was sit down and breathe in the cold air of the Hall.
In this sad state, almost broken and gone, she touched me. Her warm body leaning against mine, without any words being spoken. She spread her arms around me and leaned her head on my shoulder. I hoped she would tell me everything was going to be allright. That this would all soon be over and that it wasn’t all for naught. Instead she stayed silent and caressed my back, almost in a loving fashion. For a short moment I saw us, inside a room very different from this one, being in a similar caress. Only then I had been facing her and… (more illegible overmarkings). Still, her touch had been enough to calm me down this time, quite unlike then.
The room was suddenly flooded with others, invading our privacy to check on what had happened. I calmly explained the situation and ordered the premises be evacuated before I took on the crown’s challenge once more. Sir Garrin is a strong individual, I must write him a recommendation one day. All the others left as well. All but one. I asked her to stay in the room with me, just in case something were to happen. I believe she understood my meaning before I had even begun to explain. With this silent reminder of my own fallibility I braced to face it. It seethed with anger at me, hurling insults and trying to break my spirit. I let it all slide away from me. It would never control me. I would make it mine.