Ever since the fall of Greenwood, when, following the exodus to present-day Feywood, the First Schism drove a wedge between the Tel'Quessir of Thain, individual elves have attempted at reuniting their splintered people. Time and again, it has proven to be a nearly insurmountable challenge.
The First Schism can be traced back to a time when Syann and Talyrenne, brother and sister and direct descendants of Queen Elisara, determined to stay in Greenwood, their ancestral home, despite cataclysmic events that had levelled the first elven civilisation on Thain. Meanwhile other elves, convinced that salvation lay in a more humble existence outside of Greenwood, travelled north where they eventually founded Feywood. Were this schism to have occured among any other race, it would not have been labelled a schism at all. Humans would call it expansion, one part of a people settling elsewhere in pursuit of opportunity and hope for a better future. But not us elves. We see ourselves as one people, indivisible and homogenous, a single organism comprised of interdependent parts. And so, when Nimmeril and other elders led their people away from Greenwood, both a physical and a spiritual gap occurred between the once-united elves of Thain. To this day, that gap has not been bridged.
What later became Poisonwood laid all blame at the doorstep of their former kin now residing in Feywood. "They abandoned us when we needed them the most." "They chose isolation over kinship." "They forsook compassion in favour of indifference." Feywood, on the other hand, was quick to rebuff all accusations. "We simply followed a path paved by the Seldarine." "We travelled north to ensure our children and their children would know a brighter dawn." "Unlike our brethren in the South, we learned from arrogance and in its stead adopted humility, knowing not to repeat the mistakes of the past" Differing opinions became bickering. Bickering became resentment. Resentment became bloodied blades and brother killing brother.
With the fall of Syann, the sovereign of Poisonwood, his daughter Yu'syu emancipated herself as well as all who would follow her from the bondage of Poisonwood and its corruption. In an attempt to unite the splintered elven people, she rebuilt the ancient capital of Greenwood from dirt and rubble. Crumbled domes and spires were mended and once more glittered in the light of the sun. Ruined arches and toppled statues were reshaped, standing proud and tall. In honour of her ancestral home, Greenwood, and her great-grandmother Queen Elisara, Yu'syu dubbed her new home Greenvale, and her capital the City of Elisara.
Yu'syu opened the gates of Elisara to all of her kin who would choose unification over division. Many came. But many more did not. Feywood remained isolated and indifferent to the plights of the rest of the island. Poisonwood remained steeped in hatred and corruption. And to the south-west, the mysterious tribes of the Tel'Mordere were so elusive that no one knew to even suspect their desires and motives. Yu'syu had taken the first steps toward unification, but, it seemed, her feet soon hovered over a gaping chasm.
Who would bridge it? Not Yu'syu, for she had already done all that she could. Not Feywood, for they had severed their ties to the rest of the island to live in harmony with the land and the spirit. Not the Tel'Mordere, for they never wished for unification to begin with. And certainly not Poisonwood, for they still felt the bitter taste of betrayal and desired most of all to exact their vengeance on the brothers and sisters they felt had abandoned them.
The bridge, one elf realised, would have to be paved with one tiny stone at a time. That bridge, he also realised, could never extend to Poisonwood. They had become so mired in hatred that, like one cuts off a sick branch, Poisonwood had to be culled rather than treated. Finally, he realised that he could not build the bridge alone. To this end, years ago, he convened the first Elfmeet, an attempt at unifying the elves of Thain. Even Poisonwood had attended then. A tentative accord was reached, an agreement that bid surface elves to not harm each other unless in self-defence. That agreement was violated time and again. Poisonwood must have been laughing at the naivety of it all as they stabbed their daggers into the backs of other elves. Renneleth, the elf who had called the Elfmeet, learned from his mistakes; he learned to substitute gullibility with caution, and to extend his hand only to those deserving of it.
Since he knew to hold a bow and sword, Renneleth had sworn to lay his life for his people and quake before the will of the Seldarine. He had served Sheverash, the god of vengeance and sacrifice, for three centuries. As a Tel'Mordere Huntmaster, he served obscure fey entities that always demanded more than he could give. He never served for his own gain or because he felt a particular calling. He had served gods and primordials because through them and through their will, he could serve his people. And so, when many years after the first Elfmeet Feywood, Greenvale and Heartwood, the home of the Tel'Mordere, reeled in the wake of the Kinswar, the Great War and the darkfey incursion, Renneleth convened a second Elfmeet. Moreso now than ever the elves of Thain needed to unite. If not out of ancestry, then certainly out of necessity and desperation.
In the eyes of Renneleth, the second Elfmeet was a travesty. Half of the attendants were more concerned about personal gain, personal pride or personal prejudice than they were about unity. Mors the Deathsinger would only hearken if he felt appropriately inspired or if he was fed corpses and bones. Quincy the Sun Elf would barely speak a word at all, thinking herself above every other elf at the meeting. Ymraith of the Bones had left prematurely, no doubt indignant of some offence or other that only he could perceive. Finally, there was Mialee, Keeper of Thain, but certainly not a keeper of any elven heritage. In her eyes, the elves were reaping what they themselves had sowed. Arrogance, division and isolation was a fated course for all elves, thought Mialee, and the reason why she had left her elven homeland to begin with. At this rate, Poisonwood would win without needing to wet another blade.
Renneleth. Iskaria. Kellendill. Bor'el. Only four elves were willing to work past their differences and serve not one, but all of the elven people. But even between these four, accusation, differences and prejudice remained, and the road toward unification, begun by only four pairs of feet, would indeed be hard and steep.
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Kellendill left the meeting with his fellow elves a bit dejected. It hadn’t gone quite as well as he had hoped, or even anticipated. But it wasn’t a complete loss. He travelled the distance south to his home City and entered his family’s estate. He began to write letters.
His first was to the Queen herself:
“To Her Majesty, Queen Yus’yu,
I hope your health continues to improve. I pray for you daily and keep you in my thoughts. I am corresponding with you to make a formal request. After the fall of the Feywood, many have lost everything. Many women and children, most especially, are in dire need of a place to relocate. I have opened my family’s estate to them. I would, however, respectfully request that you open more of the city’s spaces to them as well. There are many refugees that continue to trickle in and have, literally, nothing but what they can carry. Our northern brethren are in need of us, and with your blessing, we can rise to this occasion.
I thank you for your kind indulgence,
Kellendill of House Fehrien”
The next was to an old friend and the commanding officer of the Estel’Tirindor:
How are you, my old friend? I hope you are doing well and holding things together. I am writing to ask you a personal favor of sorts. I have a very close and trusted friend who leads the Tel’Mordere. They propose an interesting agreement with us: If you and your troops will stand beside them in battle, trust them as they will trust you, fight with them and not against them, they will supplement our forces willingly. They will also send troops to aid our quarantine efforts so that OUR troops can be utilized elsewhere as needed. I believe this to be a good faith offer, and I think it would suit both groups well. I am asking you to authorize this and trust me in this matter when I say that they are not the monsters that they have been made out to be. Please, write me back with any questions or comments, my friend. And, as always, my door is always open to you.
My kindest regards,
This would make a good first step in the process that is to come. Hopefully, others were as willing to work toward unification as he was.
Unification. Sestaine, in Elven. In the Common Tongue, according to common understanding, the word describes a process whereby several individual units are made into a whole. For elves, it has a different, albeit similar meaning. Sestaine literally translates into "make like in spirit." So, rather than integrating many pieces into one, unification to elves is more about making different pieces resemble each other. Ponder that difference a while. It gives a rather fair insight into the cultural contrasts between Man and elf.
Men mould the world around them in their image; they assimilate stone and tree into their cities, chipping rock and cutting wood into smaller pieces that they can reassemble into a desirable whole. They also assimilate each other. Consider why Men war with each other. It is seldom about slights, insults or principal cultural disagreements; these are merely excuses. Men war with each other to dominate each other; they go to war to plunder and conquest, and, having done so, to assimilate that and those they have conquered into the conqueror's fold. Thus, human unification is a physical assimilation. Were one to ask an elf if these are similar connotations they derive from the word, they would be severely insulted. First, an elf believes in intrinsic freedom. Thus, assimilation as a concept is fundamentally repulsive to an elf. Second, elves put much less weight on the physical world than do Men, and much more weight on the spiritual. The physical world is one of fixed geographical borders and fixed resources. Man understands his world physically, and, thus, seeks to dominate it in a physical sense. An elf views the world with his heart and his spirit; to an elf, all things are intertwined. Distances mean nothing. And because elves are connected to all things, they seek no dominion over them; they do not seek to tame the land, the beast or the fellow elf, for they have no need or desire to exert dominance over something that they do not consider as external from themselves.
Converted to practice, Man and elf approach unification in very different ways. Were the Lord-Regent of Steinkreis to seek unification with Hamley, they would resort to pacts and treaties. Borders would be redrawn, economies would be renegotiated, and titles and fiefs would be re-appropriated. Thus, when Man unifies with his neighbour, the one part inevitable absorbs the other, for Man is a physical creature. Comparatively, an elf is not. When during the Second Elfmeet Renneleth Margaladhon proposed that Feywood unifies with Greenvale and Heartwood, none of the other elves present at the council understood this proposal as a physical merger. Why merge Feywood with Heartwood, or Heartwood with Greenvale, when all things were already connected by simply existing. Remember that sestaine, the Elven word for unification, suggests "spiritual likeness" rather than "assimilation" or even "integration." Specifically, when Renneleth offered that the elves of Feywood, Greenvale and Heartwood unify, rather than unifying physically, they would unify in spirit.
It sounds simple. But this, again, is because Man and elf understand the world and themselves in different ways. To Man, to do something "in spirit" means to do something in thought rather than through direct action. Connotatively speaking, it suggests a loose commitment. To an elf, whose spirit is deeply connected to all things, to do something "in spirit" means to grow a very deep bond with something. Consider the following. Consider three pieces of broken wood. You can pick them up and re-assemble the broken pieces into a coherent whole. That is how Man views unification. And because he does, unification is never really a lasting thing, because the re-assembled pieces can always be broken apart. Consider, then, a glass of water. It is a third full. Another third wine is added. The final third that is added is cider. When you mix these three liquids, you cannot easily, if at all, unmix them. This is how an elf understands the term "in spirit," and because he does, unification has very deep and everlasting effects. If Feywood, Greenvale and Heartwood united, although they would not necessarily merge the borders of their homes, they would merge their destinies!
Suddenly it is not so strange that it has taken the elves of Thain centuries to work toward unification. Indeed, rather than asking "how much longer will it take," one should ask "have the stars and the wills of gods aligned in such a way that the elves are ready to begin to take the first steps at all."
Blaud. The Elven word for pride. Elves do not associate the same connotations with pride as does Man. To Man, pride is taught to be a sin; a dangerous vice one must redress lest one becomes an arrogant and callous creature. Because elves are not callous by nature, because they are not so easily deceived and ensnared by the trappings of power, they do not fear pride the same way Man does. Neither is pride to an elf something they must wear on the outside. Man can be petty and vain, and Man asserts his dominance over others by eclipsing their worth with his proud achievemnts. An elf does not seek dominance over other elves. There are no such things as inferiour and superiour kin; all elves, even if they perform different roles and belong to different societal casts, are equal in worth. An elf has thus no need for pride in the same capacity Man does. Man feels pride when he has achieved something greater than his peer. An elf does not. Because all kin are intrinsically equal, they are not personally proud of any lasting marks they leave behind; they are collectively proud.
But collective pride can also be dangerous. Balvlaud, the elves call it. It is an overweening pride that has burned more bridges among elves than any other vice. Perhaps this is because elves are slow to forgive. If an insult or a crime is committed against their community, unlike Man who can be commensurately appeased by clever apology or physical remuneration, elves are slow to understand and much slower to forgive. There are many logical explanations for this if one were to deeply explore Elven culture. But that is not the goal of this humble treatise; indeed, it would take a volume to put into words all the intricacies of Elven culture and psychology, and how they interact with each other. To return to the subject of balvlaud, when it composts itself as a solid conviction among an elven people, that particular conviction will override all sense and reason. It becomes a door that will not budge no matter how much pressure one applies to it.
When the elves of Feywood and the elves of Heartwood abandoned Greenwood to seek greener pastures, balvlaud happened. Poisonwood felt at the time that the kin who had abandoned them had disparaged the Elven people as a whole. Five centuries later, Poisonwood has not lessened its ire. Even the rebuilt City of Elisara, albeit in much smaller measures, exhibits balvlaud. They are accommodating of all who would find peace among its gardens and spires, but they have not quite completely forgiven the kin who left north or east. Balvalud is a vicious circle. The balvlaud of other elves toward Feywood and Heartwood have, in turn, inspired balvlaud in the hearts of the northern wood elves and the Tel'Mordere. The thinking is that if Queen Yu'syu does not in person pay her respects to Feywood or Heartwood - that if she does not dispense with her balvlaud and personally request bridges to be built between the Elven people - why, then, should Feywood or Heartwood? Balvlaud, then, translates into a game of chess where no one opponent is willing to make the first move out of fear or shame that their move could be rebuffed or ridiculed.
Renneleth Margaladhon was among a few elves on Thain who could truly see past the folly of balvlaud. Certainly it had something to do with him living among all manner of elves and peoples; raised in Feywood, exiled, living among the Brotherhood Guard, living in Greenvale, welcomed back into Feywood, and, finally, pacted to serve with the Tel'Mordere. It inspired bitterness in his heart having to forsake his duties and vows to the Taur'Otharie, but he quickly came to realise that by serving one Elven people, he was also serving other elves. He knew that because all elves except those who had deliberately severed these ties were connected, a single ripple in the waters of Heartwood could also be felt in Greenvale or Feywood. Instead of prejudice and balvlaud, Renneleth saw bridges and deep, spiritual bonds. Perhaps it was far too premature to expect this wisdom from all other elves, but if those other elves would not diminish their sense of balvlaud on their own, circumstance would demand it of them.
First came the Kinswar. Visthraxia the Green transformed the verdant hunting grounds of Feywood into pits of death and decay. The First Bloodwinged tore through Greenvale with fire and steel, and his rampage can still be witnessed in the many ruins in the City of Elisara. Then came the Great War. The Taur'Otharie bled and died to fight Man's wars at Fort Crater. The Estel Tirindor likewise. The Tel'Mordere persevered by having the wisdom to not embroil themselves in Man's petty strifes, but that was before the Feywars and the coming of the Darkfey. When Kallista D'Mora made pacts with Eadoch, a terrible blight came to Feywood. Darkness, decay and madness followed in its wake. Feywood is lost now. All but the City of Leaves is blackened with the Darkfey Blight. The Feywood kin reel with despair in their eyes. They are isolated and alone - a path they have paved for themselves, some would say - with no access to their hunting grounds or supply routes. It is only a matter of time before the Stronghold is lost. Elves like Iskaria have sacrificed to evacuate as many ailing kin as possible, but there is only so much a single clipped avariel can do. And the darkness, the darkness continues its march with unabashed tenacity. It has come to Greenvale and Heartwood now. There are whispers of a dark plague in the City of Elisara. In Heartwood, the Tel'Mordere watch as their sacred Grove of the Stag King stands defiled.
The Feywar has come to Greenvale and Heartwood. Signs of its coming can no longer be rejected or ignored. The question that begs an answer is whether the southern kin and the savage elves choose to stand alone against the darkness, the balvlaud so strong in their hearts that they will not reach out for aid? Or will they, perhaps for the first time since the First Schism, build bridges between their peoples?
The look of the forest began to alter before the Huntmaster's eyes as Poisonwood gave way to Heartwood. The brush was thicker the higher up he went, more verdant than down below in the valley. The trees were enormous, taller than a castle wall, tall enough to rival the stars. The cliffs and mountains were thick with huge pine and redwood trees. The wind became more fierce. It was not like climbing any other steep, not even Drakamyre. Each step burned as he walked and pushed himself higher into the crown of trees. The day began to wane, but he ate and drank as he walked, trying to crest the mountain before the sunlight gave way. It was colder the higher up he went, winds so chilling they rattled the bones, yet the Huntmaster kept on walking. The heartwood trees were enormous, so thick around the base it would take an axeman a year to cut through it. There were no branches lower down, but high near the top, the branches grew as thick as trees one had seen. Other peculiar trees could be seen farther off, some even bigger. The Huntmaster rubbed the bark with his hand, wondering how ancient the tree was. Ferns grew thick in the area, but nearly all the other growth was stunted compared to the formidable trees. He pressed on.
Higher into the mountains he went, and the trees got bigger and bigger. One was so wide at the base, it would have taken thirty men to encircle it. He also discovered the skeletons of trees that had been struck by lightning and eventually collapsed. He could only imagine the crashing noise they would have made when they fell. Surely the earth would have shaken with the impact. After falling, the roots were splayed and wide open, revealing black tunnels made of soot and charcoal. It smelled familiar, like that same smell of ash he had grown up with in Feywood. The roots of the giants were wide enough to fit him and his two companion wolves, and then add more. At last, he reached the peak, and the ground began descending the other way. There was one giant tree where the exposed roots were so deep, it was like a cave. Using a torch for light, he explored the depth and discovered that it was not the den of any animal. The burned inside of the tree was probably not a place animals cared to dwell, but it was tall enough to stand in until the very end. He made camp there. The wind was fierce, howling like a banshee. But strangely enough, there were no other sounds. No birds singing, no wolves howling, no insects chirping. Except for the wind, there was utter and eerie silence.
He ate in silence at the break of dawn, then shook out his blanket and rolled it up tightly. He left the barren cave made of tree roots and started down the mountainside. It was much faster going than the previous day. Mist shrouded the mountaintop, thick enough to hide the immediate surroundings from him. He knew there were beasts in that fog, beasts so ancient and large that the Tel'Mordere nearly worshipped them. And yet, the sound of the shrieking wind notwithstanding, he could hear nothing. He walked and walked until he saw the mountainside end abruptly off a jagged cliff, not a dozen paces more from where he had stopped. The clearing mist revealed a circle of stones nestled in the crags below. He approached from the rear, and from the mountainside, he could see several small buildings connected with hanging bridges that swayed precariously in the wind. What struck his eye immediately was the fact that he could not see anyone roaming the grounds. Everything looked overgrown and abandoned. The grounds were lush and thick, not trimmed by sickles. Wildflowers grew here and there, sprouting from mountainside crevices. Ivy crawled everywhere. But if one looked carefully, very carefully, they would see there were also small gardens, blocked off by rings of stone where vegetables and fruit trees grew. Everything looked abandoned, but it was not. Far from it. He could not see them, but he knew hundreds of eyes were upon him.
He approached the circle of stones and spoke out loud. He knew the elders were listening.
"In all my time as Huntmaster, I have asked for nothing. I have also wanted for nothing. You have embraced me as kin, and I you. And so, as one kin to another, I come before you with a request I hope with all my heart that you will consider..."
"The Darkfey have come to wage war against our kind. Not just you and me, but all the kin on Thain save those who have thrown their lot with the Darkfey. There are whispers of a fell darkness rising in the South. It encroached on Greenvale, and soon it shall encroach on Heartwood. I have seen this darkness and I have felt its influence. So have our hunters. Feywood is all but steeped in it. We fight a war there we might not win. A dwarf is helping us build a wall to keep the darkness at bay, but it may not hold. If Feywood falls, our kin there will have nowhere to retreat. If we lose, in time, our northern kin will starve and suffer. They will die.
You are not like they. I know that you are a proud and hardened people. I have, now and ever, been honoured to walk among you. Where other kin turn to the capricious forces of nature or the fickle powers of the aether, you do not shun froom bloody battle, and through bloody battle you know glory and destiny. You think yourself different from other kin, and you are. You are stronger and you are more cunning. And because you are, if Feywood falls, I ask, no, I plead that you open your forest to our brothers and sisters from Feywood. Let them find shelter here among the strongest elves on the island. Let them walk among you and let them absorb the strength and courage you exude in all things that you do. Let them learn from you, and you, should you wish it, from them.
By the Seldarine, by the Morrigan and all the archfey with whom you, and I through you, are pacted, do not forsake a people with whom we share blood and ancestry. Let Thain know, for the first time since the First Schism, that it was you, that it was Heartwood that built the first bridge between our peoples!"
In all of the Elven Tongue, perhaps the most significant and meaning-laden word is "Estel." It has so many connotative layers, all of which contribute to give the word its power. Hope, faith, trust and loyalty, these four virtues make up the pillars of Elven integrity, and they are all four epitomised in a single word: Estel.
Despite their deep connection to the land and to eachother, elves, albeit they see themselves existing in harmony with all living things, are no less individualistic than Man. Because of this, the individual elf pursues and finds Estel in different things. Some find it in the teachings of the elders, quaking before the wisdom of their ancestors. Some find it in the deeds of bygone heroes, deeds they themselves adopt as noble pursuits. Some find it in simpler things; the peaceful stir of a brook, the gentle song of a bird or the cryptic whisperings of the wind. To Renneleth Margaladhon, Estel was found in the eyes of his mate.
Renneleth had come to know hope through his forest home. He learned about faith through the Seldarine. Trust and loyalty were instilled in him through the deeds and sacrifice of his brother hunters. But he felt these things, felt Estel, in the bond he shared with Iskaria. He needed but look in her eyes or feel the gentle texture of her skin to know that as long as they had eachother, they also had Estel. When they lay in eachother's arms, their Estel was a staunch rock that no storm could batter. With that thought came a frightening realisation.
The Fey Guardians had encouraged the elves to trust in hope and faith. They had promised the elves deliverance from the Darkfey if they were willing to put their hope and faith in the wisdom of fables and myths. In fairy tales. For such was the world of the Fey. They lived in a realm where hunger, despair and desolation were nothing more than fickle notions. The Fey knew of these things not because they had felt them upon their own bodies and souls, but because they had read about them. But fairy tales would not avail the Elven people from the coming darkness, perhaps the greatest darkness that had ever come to Thain.
The more Renneleth spoke to Iskaria, the more they both realised that Estel in the eyes of their ailing kin had to take a solid and tangible form. Renneleth had hoped to give shape to this form by uniting all true kin, but he was one elf and his words and deeds would always fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. He was not enough. If any one elf hoped to unite their peoples, to serve as a beacon of hope and faith to their kin, they would have to be Queen Elisara, Princess Talyrenne or Kynnonen Faldric.
Zeraphil, the ancient general and war-poet from the time of Greenwood, a time before the Second Cataclysm and the First Schism. Zeraphil, perhaps the greatest hero the elves of Thain had ever known beside Kynnonen Faldric. Zeraphil was lost and condemned, but not undone. Demons and drow had conspired to banish Zeraphil's soul to the deepest layers of the Abyss; they had banished him to uncharted and unknown places where even they would not know to find him. To look for Zeraphil would be nothing short of a suicide, an undertaking so bold and senseless that others had not entertained even the possibility of it. Yet Renneleth knew he had to try. He owed it to Zeraphil and he owed it to his people. Renneleth also knew he could not do this alone. It would take many allies. No, it would take all of them.
In the late hours of night, he sat and penned a letter to call upon heroes to come to the aid of Greenvale. He wrote to Lady Aeryth, Lady Chaska and the Lords Sollis and Acanthus of the Celestial Knights Order, for they were the ones who had fought for Zeraphil once already. He wrote to Styvn and the Tel'Varataurie. He wrote to Mialee and the Keepers of Thain. He wrote to the Called. He wrote to Darren and Felix and the Empyrean Aurora. He wrote to Riggs Katyi and to Elissril's Shadowrunners. He wrote to Seth von Hendricks, Melissa Warwick, Brooklyn JaQuoi and all the healers and priests of Thain. He wrote to Gharos and the Thayans. He wrote to Jiztroyir and the Hellshire Clan. He wrote to Lomir Kelmont. He even wrote to Galberk Hagero and the Stewards of Hammersong.
Renneleth's message was simple.
The elven people need you. We rely on you. Aid us in this darkest of hours, and we shall never forget.
OOC A preliminary meeting about this event will take place this Sunday, July 28, at 22:00 GMT+1 or thereabouts. We will meet after Nature Night concludes.
Registered Member #1320
Joined: 10:38:49 pm GMT 06/23/08
-A letter arrives at the Celestial Temple addressed to the Order-
Sollis opens the letter and reads it. It’s contents are simple and to the point.
“The elven people need you. We rely on you. Aid us in this darkest of hours, and we shall never forget.”
Nodding to himself, He sets quill to paper to respond:
“We shall answer. You can count on the Celestial Order. We will always come to your aid. And it is our pleasure to do our duty and aid you this time, and forever. May the Hand of Torm be with us all.”
He sets the quill down and rolls up the thick parchment, pouring sealing wax on the edge and pushing a signet stamp into it as it cools and hardens. He calls for a runner and sends the message straight to the Huntmaster as he prepares to inform the Order.
"Brothers. Sisters. Heroes. I am honoured that you have answered my summons."
What cruel fate, thought Renneleth, that the gods had thrust him at the forefront of this war. Less than a year ago he was a cursed, disgraced hunter, finding comfort and ease in his own company. In solitude. That seemed another lifetime as he stood before nineteen faces, their eyes and ears fixed on his every move and word. Further humbling was the realisation that where they stood or sat, in the marble halls of Elisara's Tower, sat once the greatest minds Thain had ever known, or would know. Queen Elisara sat there. Draxus, when he was yet a mortal, sat there. Princess Talyrenne and Prince Syann sat there. Sir Kynnonen Faldric, Nimmeril the White and Imara sat there. Someone else sat there, too. That someone else was why Renneleth had called the meeting. The Huntmaster cleared his throat, looking each hero who had answered his summons in the eye.
"I stand before you today not only a Huntmaster or an elf; I stand before you as a fellow Thainite. I stand before you with great humility.
I am not here to represent Heartwood, Feywood or Greenvale. I am not here to represent any elf; I am here for all those voices which can be heard in the darkness that spreads across our island home: mothers wailing over the loss of their children; brothers and sisters that cry in pain as they, even as I speak, bleed for our safety, and for safety of this island we all call home.
We are at war, my fellow Thainites. The Darkfey pose perhaps the greatest threat to Thain since the Cataclysms. We must band together in the preservation of not just ourselves, but all of Thain. We must unite to honour those who have sacrificed for us, here and in Feywood, so that their deeds are not wasted to the pages of history.
The Fey would have us put trust in hope and faith. In hope and faith, they say, we shall find deliverance. But hope and faith ring hollow if there is no source for either! Here, in Greenvale, a great calamity cometh. How can we ask that the ailing men and women here trust in hope and faith when they are deprived of both? Their queen is ailing! The great Draxus is ailing! The Estel army is leaderless! This life, our life, is not a myth or fable as are the lives of Fey. Here, in this life, we suffer and we despair. And we die.
Hope and faith cannot be imagined. They are inspired by others. When the Darkfey Plague came to Greenvale and a human smith called for healers and heroes to achieve the unachievable, it sent ripples of hope through this city. Through all of Thain! That is why we are here. Again.
We are here to inspire the kin of the South, to inspire all of Thain, with bold deeds and unhesitating sacrifice. We shall do the unthinkable. We shall plunge into the very heart of the Abyss to retrieve the greatest military intellect Thain has ever known. Right there, where Zack'ar sits, sat Zeraphil, the Lord-General of Greenwood.
Zeraphil was tricked. He was betrayed. He was condemned. For all his noble deeds and great sacrifices, rather than knowing peace and glory in the Beyond, he is suffering eternally in the Abyss.
I do not know how. I do not even know where to begin. But we owe it to Greenvale and we owe it to Zeraphil to steel our hearts and retrieve this mighty hero of old. If we free Zeraphil, if we restore his mind, body and spirit, Greenvale, if not all of Thain, will be gifted a commander unlike any other before or since the Second Cataclysm. But most importantly, through our selfless deeds, and personified in Zeraphil, Greenvale will know hope. Estel.
I ask for nothing short of a miracle. If you think this suicide, if you would rather walk away, I will hold nothing against you. But if you, like me, have hope and faith burning bright in your hearts, then you know that we will not only attempt this, we will succeed!
Because we must."
One individual walked away. Only one!
The rest rose and solemnly swore their aid in a singular chorus. The quest to find and return Zeraphil to his people had begun.
They had divided into three teams, each team charged with a specific objective.
Renneleth, Iskaria, Styvn and the Shadowrunners had taken upon them the task to explore and map the Abyss for safe paths. Relatively speaking, of course. Their point of entry into the Abyss would be Riftdelve, the World-Eater's layer. Riftdelve was intersected by a fiery river that connected it to innumerable other layers, but getting to the docks, then securing and manipulating a vessel would not be an easy task. In the not overly likely scenario they would succeed at this, they needed to know in which direction to sail the vessel. They needed to know where in the Abyss to locate Zeraphil's soul.
To that end, the Celestial Knights Order had together with Zack'ar and Gram vowed to try to uncover a means to scry for Zeraphil's soul. Sir Acanthus had suggested they look for keepsakes and paraphernalia that once belonged to Zeraphil, but Zeraphil had lived many centuries ago, during the Second Cataclysm, and one was hard pressed to find any one trinket that had endured such an upheaval. The cursed blade Sin would have been an excellent source had it not been destroyed during a battle between demons, devils, knights, a drow, and celestials.
Finally, there was the nearly insurmountable challenge of restoring Zeraphil to a semblance of sanity once or if his soul was rescued from the Abyss. It was quickly established that such a feat would require nothing short of a miracle, and so that task befell the most talented priests and healers of the island. Brooklyn, Jiztroyir, Seth and the elderly knight Ophelia Chavaril had volunteered to help with this, each beseeching their respective gods and divinities for inspiration and intervention. Renneleth had also sent a letter to Lady Aeryth Ellowyn, trusting in the sister's inexhaustible knowledge of all things esoteric to come upon clues.
They were warned that those who venture into the depths of the Abyss do not return. They were warned that a tortured soul, certainly one so anguished as Zeraphil's, was beyond restoration. Even so the heroes pressed on without looking back. It was too late to alter course.
Renneleth Margaladhon's Journal wrote ... Day 1: Mapping the World-Eater's layer is fast becoming synonymous with futility. The landscape is so mutable that nothing really stays the same except for a few landmarks. The land itself is a desolate, molten expanse wrought with spewing volcanos and tectonic activity. Smoke seeps out from every fissure and crevice, making the air so acrid it burns the eyes, catches the throat and tightens the lungs. Wherever I look, whichever way I turn my head, I see only shadows of emptiness.
Day 2: At first I thought myself a lone wanderer in this wasteland of fire and rock, but I am not alone. I am far from alone. I hear the demons even if I cannot always see them; some shriek above the miasmic clouds, others growl as they labour underground. Those that walk the surface I can mostly pass unseen, but every once in a while I hear the crack of a whip or the swoosh of flaming wings, and I know I have to take shelter. A balor is not a foe to challenge lightly.
Day 3: I have found what I set out to find. The harbour is small and decrepit, with more shipwrecks than operational vessels. Even so, demons embark and disembark in staggering numbers. I have no doubt that the ships that leave the harbour do not only travel across Riftdelve; they also travel between layers. Wherever Zeraphil's soul is held captive, in Riftdelve or elsewhere, these vessels may take us there.
Day 4: I have scouted around the harbour for two dozen hours without rest or meditation, but there seems no safe path between the point of entry into Riftdelve and the harbour. Swaths of demons obstruct the two available routes, and the harbour itself is overseen by a large balor whose very presence inspires fear and dread among its lesser peers. We will not be able to board a vessel without a deadly fight.
Day 5: I have found momentary respite in an abandoned tower. It stretches far into the sky, its black walls instilling fear in all who look upon it. Its presence is massive, undeniable. Its chief residents, however, are not the fiends that dot the landscape outside. There are, in fact, no residents at all inside the tower. The top floor affords an excellent view of the harbour and the surrounding shores. Still, I see no safe or subtle path toward it...