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For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

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For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Fri Jul 01, 2016 1:34 am

“Behold the splendor of this wilderness realm: its every rock, tree, and stream.  Within, animals have created a kingdom, and mankind has erected a bastion of freedom.  Measured against these things you are insignificant.  But, in dying to protect them, you may find worth.”

--Horethama, Queen of the Frozen Falls



A goat hoof pressed against the shoulder of a prone figure and turned the lifeless body onto its back.  The ghostly dawn mist washed over its bloody features in curling wisps, as though the spirit was just now departing in sorrow.

Not far away, an infant’s cries haunted both the living and the dead.

“Here’s the mate,” Nomanti’s deep, melodic voice called out to his hunting partner.  The satyr bent over the female elf and ran a finger along her slender cheek, stopping just above the ugly canyon that her throat had become.  “What a waste,” the fey sighed and shook his head.

“Two elves, then,” replied the soft tenor tone of Sath from twenty yards off.  Despite their loud conversation, the faun held his bow at the ready and watched the surrounding trees for any sign of danger returning.  “A score of dead orcs by the other, with another dozen about this one.  They fought hard and well.”

“And much good it did them, eh?” Nomanti scoffed, his hands liberally searching the dead elf female for whatever goods of worth she might carry.

The faun shook his head at the negativity of his companion.  He strongly desired to remind the satyr that had the two of them perished slaying over thirty orcs--the scourge of this land--their King and Queen would have celebrated them with feasting and singing.  Instead, he remained quiet and progressed toward the crying infant, cradled atop a soft bed of moss and ferns.

His brow arched as he approached.  “The child is not hidden,” Sath expressed with some intrigue.  “However did he survive, I wonder?”

“It obviously was not crying at the time,” the satyr stated, tossing an empty potion flask he had found on the dead elf at Sath.

The other caught it easily, examined it for a moment, then glanced back down at the baby as he pieced together the small puzzle.  “But why sacrifice herself and turn the child invisible?” he wondered aloud.  “Why not drink the potion yourself and both escape?”

Nomanti offered a derisive chuckle.  “Sentimentality for that one, I would say,” he nodded in the direction of the male elf over 70 yards west of their location.  “I will never understand the foolishness of the mortal races.”  He admired the dead female one last time and repeated, “What a waste,” then strode toward faun and child while pocketing the two full potions recovered from the body.  “Silence that thing and let us be on our way.”

Sath heard the intention in his partner’s tone and frowned at its maliciousness.  If ever there existed a reason why fauns hated being confused as satyrs, it surely involved the complete lack of empathy shown by the latter.  In deliberate protest, the faun set his bow upon the ground and picked up the child, cradling him and attempting to quiet him with gentle rocking.

“Truly?” the satyr spat with indignation.  “Will you try suckling it next?”

“I am taking him with us,” Sath informed his companion.

“To what end?  Two are dead already trying to keep that creature!  It is a bad omen, Sath, and it will only slow us down.”

The faun glared at Nomanti.  “Our purpose is not to kill the weak and innocent, but to protect them, or have you forgotten?”

“Our purpose is to kill orcs, not look after the dead’s baggage.  I will not die for that useless creature,” Nomanti pointed accusingly at the child.  “Had these foolish mortals cared for the thing at all, they would not have brought it into such a dangerous realm to begin with.  Do not let their mistake become ours.”

“I know not why these elves were here, and I refuse to question their purpose or intention based on what I do not know.  What I can discern is their quality in arms by the score-and-a-half dead I witness around them.  If this child inherited such skill, he might be an asset to our own cause.”  Sath locked eyes with his hunting partner and filled his voice with absolute determination that brooked no argument as he insisted a final time, “I am taking him with us.”

The satyr spat on the ground and helplessly threw his hands in the air.  “It is a waste of time, I say, but fine,” he gave in, then quickly formed a most sardonic grin.  “The King of Thorns will likely dispose of the thing at first glance anyhow.”

“Mine is not to question our King’s judgment,” Sath stated simply.  “Only yours.”


                                            ************


The child fidgeted as the most beautiful woman in the world assessed him with eyes of frigid waterfalls.  A sparse-covering dress of deep green aspen leaves edged in frost rested comfortably against a cerulean skin that glittered like spraying mist.  Elegant hair the color of lathering foam cascaded down the length of her body to within an inch of the floor.

“Tell me of your education, child,” the hamadryad commanded in an effervescent voice that thundered like a powerful waterfall.

The child reflexively shied away from that power as its sound crashed over him, drawing a mischievous smirk from the Queen of the Frozen Falls despite the insult.

“Answer the Queen when she speaks to you, Adanedhel,” Sath prompted him when no apparent answer was forthcoming.

“Adanedhel?” the fey queen smiled, amused.  “That is his name?”

Sath bowed respectfully.  “It seemed appropriate, Cascading One.  If it does not please you, I will change it to something that shall.”

“No,” she told him, brushing her fingertips along the child’s angular cheek and chin.  He startled at the touch, for while it was gentle, her fingers felt cold as glacial waters.  “It is ideal.  That is all the identity he should ever require.”  Still smiling, the Queen lifted the child’s face up to meet her own with a nurturing tenderness almost surreal coming from one so otherworldly.  “What do you most favor in your learning?”

“Hunting,” the child replied hesitantly.

The fey queen smiled sweetly.  “Of course, hunting.  What have you hunted?”

Feeling quite squeamish, but too frightened to turn his head away from the fey queen, he tried hard to answer the question with honesty.  “Mice,” he began in docile tones, pausing in apparent thought between each creature so named.  “Squirrel.  Rabbit.  Mountain goat.  Mule deer.”  He opened his mouth to say another, forgot what it was, and, after a few moment’s thought, closed his mouth again with uncertainty.

“Have you hunted orc?” she asked.

“No,” the child admitted, then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “Only tracked them.”

“And do you enjoy tracking them?”

The child nodded as much as he could with the fey queen’s fingers still propped under his chin.  “Yes.  It is easy.”

“Good,” the hamadryad grinned.  “What can you tell me of orcs?”

The child’s lips tightened into a line as he swallowed.  “They are evil and bad,” he said with recognizable disgust.  “They hate everything they see and hurt everything they touch.  They kill all they can and leave it to rot in the sun, but eat their own children.  They must always be killed.  Always.  I hate them.”

“Oh no, child,” the Queen kindly corrected him, “do not hate them.  Save your hate for something deserving of it.  Think of orcs as insects whose sole purpose is to destroy.  When you see such an insect, you crush it beneath your boot because it must be done, then continue on and think of it no more.  When you find an infestation of these destructive little bugs, it must become your first priority to eliminate them completely and efficiently; leave none behind, or they will only multiply again and continue their destructive ways.  So, you must always kill orcs without remorse or mercy, but do not lend them your hatred.  Do you understand?”

“Yes,” the child said in the sullen tones of one who has been rebuked.

“Wait outside, then, and think about what I have told you,” she directed him.  “I must speak with your teacher.”

The child needed no further encouragement.  The final words had barely escaped her lips when he turned and hurried away.

“Bow!” Sath ordered curtly, to which the child halted, about-faced, offered a wooden bow from the waist, then bolted from the chamber.

The Queen of the Frozen Falls watched him rush out with a fond smile.  “How old is the child?” she inquired of the faun who remained behind.

“Six winters, as best as I can gauge it, my Queen,” Sath answered humbly.

The hamadryad regarded him with the rapid currents of her eyes.  “He is a shy one.”

The child’s teacher nodded.  “He is emotional.  Adanedhel internalizes everything and keeps it close to him.  I believe Ethwanessa adequately illustrated it as ‘feeling all the feels,’” the faun smirked in recollection of his talk with the dryad.

“That can be dangerous,” the hamadryad intoned.

“It can be, my Queen,” Sath carefully agree, then chanced to continue on, “but I believe it can also be properly managed.  The child benefits from high intellectual capacity; he picks up teachings extraordinarily quickly.  If I may say so, Cascading One, for his age the child is an amazing tracker.  I have known fey incapable of tracking and locating creatures as well as he.  With the proper training, I have no doubt Adanedhel could become a useful tool in our cause to eradicate the orc vermin from the region.”

The fey queen quirked an eyebrow.  “Do you not believe his emotional state will get him killed?”

“On the contrary, my Queen,” Sath divulged, “I absolutely believe it will.  However, the aid this child would provide through the damage he will do to the orc population between now and that time could be exceptionally impressive.  He is an amazing hunter, and his rapport with animals--while not the best I have witnessed--is commendable.”

The Cascading One studied her vassal for a long moment, and he stayed silent throughout, not daring to interrupt her thoughts with his insignificance.  “The King of Thorns despises the child,” she revealed finally.  “He says the child is weak.”

At that, the faun bowed so low his horns nearly scraped the floor in supplication.  “I cannot possibly repudiate the wisdom of my King,” he professed with sincere humility.

His Queen considered him shrewdly, then inserted for him a drawn out, “But . . . . “

Sath replied without lifting his head.  “I respectfully believe there exists a difference between weakness and a lack of strength.”

“I thought you would,” she smiled, and without granting him permission to rise--she admittedly enjoyed his groveling--said, “Continue.”

“The child lacks physical strength, it is true,” the faun proceeded as he was bade.  “Point-in-fact, I do not believe he will ever attain it--not as the great warriors are known to possess it anyhow.  But, Cascading One, he does exhibit the natural flowing grace of his elven heritage, and if properly trained, I believe that will be his boon in combat.  I have witnessed his movements up close, and already taught him rudimentary combat maneuvers with the spear.  The child possesses a rare agility and prowess now.  In three decades?  Forgive my contradictory understanding to the King of Thorns, I beg, but the child is most certainly not weak--at least, not where his strengths are concerned.”

“You believe he will make a good hunter and protector,” she reasoned.

“I believe he will excel at these things, my Queen,” the faun validated her statement.

“Rise,” the hamadryad commanded, and Sath immediately obeyed.  She cradled his face in her unnaturally cold hands, but rather than shrinking back from them, he welcomed her touch.  “Teach him, then, as only you know how.”

“Yes, my Queen,” Sath breathed his affirmation.

The corner of her lip raised in delight at both his response to her touch and the realization that he had something else he desired to say.  “What else do you wish?”

“I would ask”--the faun began, his words labored due to her gentle caress--“that Nomanti be dismissed as a teacher for the child.”

“Sath,” she spoke his name affectionately.  “You have a soft heart for the child?”

“I do not believe his instruction of the kind Adanedhel needs.”

The Queen smiled once more, but this time the gesture held sorrowful undertones.  “I cannot,” she expressed to him sadly, removing her hands from his face and stepping away.  The break in contact nearly caused him to weep.  “Nomanti belongs to the King of Thorns, and so he must continue in his capacity with the child, as well.  Nothing can be done about it.”

Sath nodded, more forlorn about her pulling away than the refusal of his request.  “I understand, my Queen.  I only fear that Nomanti’s techniques may hinder Adanedhel’s development.”

“Perhaps,” the Queen of the Frozen Falls pondered.  “Or, the child will learn all the quicker what he is not.”

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sun Jul 03, 2016 11:01 pm

“You are a useless creature,” the satyr berated the boy when the latter failed to execute a powerful parry and strike maneuver with his spear.  For his failure, he had received the butt end of a staff across his cheek that found him rising slowly from the ground to his knees.  The boy’s cheekbone blazed with pain, and blood seeped out of the ruptured skin that would turn a hideous shade of yellow, green, and purple before the hour was through.

“No, I should not say that,” Nomanti corrected himself with a forced breath that coincided with a vicious kick to the boy’s ribs,  sending him flying away.  “I must admit to a certain pleasure at beating you bloody.  Perhaps that was worth my saving your pathetic life those years ago, but you will truly rue the day when I grow tired of even that, mortal filth.  And you forgot this,” the fey finished, kicking the spear at the boy squirming in pain.

For his part, the boy labored to breathe but shed no tears.  He knew they would only spur this one on to greater heights of pleasure, and he refused to feed that fire.  In his twelve winters of life amidst the fey, he learned quickly that this satyr’s hedonism went beyond bedding every woman he could pounce upon;  Nomanti was a sadist, and he merely the instrument by which the satyr could satisfy that itch.  Within the fey world, hedonism of all kinds was regarded as a good thing, which meant his current treatment was not frowned upon but encouraged.  Rather than aid him, most fey would prompt him to masochism in light of his current situation.  Such was their way.

It most certainly was not his.

The thinness of the satyr’s hoof punctured the skin between two of his ribs, but it also saved either from breaking.  That meant the pain was superficial, not internal, and that gave him some cause to be thankful.

“Get up, creature, and get back over here,” Nomanti beckoned him.  “You will get this maneuver correct before we end this session, whatever the agony to be endured until you do.”

The boy breathed deep just to make sure all was intact, then climbed back up to his knees.  Sun-kissed hair spoiled with dirt, twigs, and loose grass streamed down on either side of both shoulders.  Determined eyes of amber--dulled only by the constant beating he had endured--glared at the satyr as he reached down to recover the spear.

“Adanedhel,” his second teacher called for his attention, which he gladly gave the faun.  The boy enjoyed the company and education of Sath.  While he suffered his fair share of beatings to that one too, those were never issued with malice in mind but with the understanding that one must feel the touch of pain to grow stronger.  Sath treated him as a teacher should: offering instruction for each misstep, satiating his curiosity with answers not derision, and even praising him when he performed a task correctly or proposed a thoughtful inquiry or response.  Indeed, the boy’s feelings for his teachers were as different as night and day.

The benevolent teacher flipped another spear his way, which the boy caught with a wince as it stretched the wound in his side.  The haft of this new weapon extended an additional two-and-a-half feet from its traditional counterpart.  Behind its ten inch spearhead, several short branches projected outward from the shaft at irregular intervals, each angled forward and tipped with a smaller leaf-like blade.  Though heavier than other types of spears, this elven branched spear boasted perfect weight distribution, enabling one possessing lithe elven movements to manipulate the weapon with astonishing speed.

The boy offered Sath an appreciative nod, then used the branched spear as leverage to regain his feet.

“You think a new toy that keeps you at distance will save you punishment, little creature?” Nomanti ridiculed with a chuckle.  He pointed to the patch of dirt before him with his staff.  “Take the position.”

The boy stepped up dutifully, branched spear situated at the ready.  No sooner did he come to a complete stop than Nomanti launched a series of staff strikes from all angles--a flurry of blows well beyond the maneuver they had been training for the better half of the last hour.  To his credit, the boy parried the first three away before getting overwhelmed by the satyr’s superior skill.  The fourth clipped his right elbow, numbing it and lowering his guard.  A barrage of bruising body shots elicited a storm of torment the boy’s mind proved incapable of tracking effectively.  His reactions slowed to the point where his body lingered two hits behind, and all thought disappeared into an incoherent haze.

When consciousness returned, motor control did not, and the fear of paralysis gripped him.  An unintelligible cry escaped his lips, though it sounded more akin to a high-pitched whine.

“Easy, Adanedhel,” murmured Sath’s calming tone.  The faun repeated the soothing words a second and third time before the boy registered it.  “Your body has yet to recover from the shock of its beating,” he assured when his pupil quieted.  “Control will return soon, with copious amounts of suffering in accompaniment.  You will need to be strong and brace yourself for it.

“V-val-l-er-i-i-an . . . . “ the boy badly stuttered the word.

Sath smirked and shook his head.  Valerian was a potent herbal sedative that both killed pain and numbed the wits.  “No, I think not.  You are undeserving.”  The fey sighed at the harshness of this lesson.  “You wish to blame Nomanti for unfair treatment, but such is not your place.  If you did not wish to feel this agony, your choice was to do something about it.  In that you failed, and so your punishment must be endured.”

The boy’s face began to twitch, and his teeth clenched tightly.

The faun offered a sullen nod that his student could not see.  “You will own this, Adanedhel,” Sath warned, kneeling down over him.

Pain erupted through the boy’s torso in a rush, feeling to him as though he were caught beneath a stampeding herd of bison hooves, with not a single one missing.  He screamed with the sudden anguish, the feral sound so powerful that its vocal capacity nearly flayed his throat.

Sath clenched the boy’s throat to cut off airflow, causing him to choke almost immediately.  “You do not scream!” the fey growled at him.

Within that powerful grasp, the faun’s student thrashed wildly and pounded the ground in futility, every exaggerated movement compounding the suffering caused by his injuries and the panic from his inability to breathe.

“You earned this, Adanedhel,” Sath reprimanded him.  “You will own it!”

His strength sapped completely, weakness once again overtook the boy, and the world faded into oblivion for a second time.

The faun blew out a quick breath to soothe his own anger, then placed a couple fingers upon his pupil’s neck.  Finding a pulse, he patted the young cheek a couple times before moving away a couple yards to sit facing the late morning sun, his back to the boy.  Many minutes passed before he heard weak signs of movement behind him.

For the boy’s part, he fought every urge to move.  The physical pain had hardly relinquished from before, but the emotional pain of Sath’s hand about his windpipe crushed him far more.  He felt betrayed by the one fey he had come to rely upon for fairness and direction, that one figure he had looked up to and thought he could respect.  For the longest time, he wanted nothing more than for the faun to believe him dead and walk away.  When the hour ended, and he realized that Sath was not leaving, his despair finally got the best of him.

“Why?” the boy whispered in a voice shallow and hoarse.

“You tell me why,” the fey said, not bothering to face him.

He swallowed the pain of his tears in a raw throat before answering, “I trusted you.”

“Have I ever given you reason not to?” Sath retorted.  A long silence stretched out in reply, and the faun sprang to his feet and marched angrily back to his pupil, still laying sprawled out and unmoved but with eyes open.  “Have I ever given you reason not to?” he repeated forcefully.

In an act of painful defiance, the boy turned his head away.

“I am disappointed in you, Adanedhel” Sath expressed with recognizable disgust.  “Have I ever been anything less than honest with you?  Have I ever been anything less than genuine in my teaching?  Yet now, over such such a simple lesson, you doubt me?”

The boy gulped down his sorrow.  “You would not help me, Sa--”

“Stop!” the faun exploded with such fury that the boy jolted in fright, sending waves of renewed agony washing through him.  “Do you think this about you?  Do you earnestly believe that is why we have done all this?  For you?  Have you not been paying attention, Adanedhel?  Have you closed your ears?  Have you shut your eyes?  Have you not witnessed the beauty, the majesty, the glorious power of all that surrounds you?  Have you chosen to ignore its magnificence and purity, its grandeur and prosperity?”  Sath stomped away in frustration, needing to put distance between he and this upstart student that had apparently learned nothing!  Even as he moved away, however, the fey found himself storming back from whence he came, his anger boiling over.

“You arrogant wretch!  From where does your conceit swell, that you believe yourself of more value than all this?”  Sath’s hands clenched into fists so tight his knuckles whitened.  “I have taught you the methodology of the branched spear, a weapon designed for your people.  I have taught you marksmanship with the bow.  I have taught you herb lore, plant lore, and how to read the markers of the land.  I have taught you how to move in the trees and climb the mountains.  I have taught you how to read animals, how to run with them, how and when to befriend, and how to hunt them.  You are a distinguished tracker amongst even the fey because of the skills I taught you!  Do you believe I have done all this to somehow validate your self-worth?  From where does such egotism surface?” The faun practically pounced upon the prone boy, grabbing him by the front of his woolen shirt and pulling him up so their faces were only inches apart.  “I will rip that vanity from your very pores, Adanedhel!  I will beat it out of you wherever I find it until you comprehend that none of this is for you!”

His fury played out, the fey finally took a moment to examine the boy.  Tears streaked down his face in tiny streams, and Sath recognized that none of them derived from the physical pain he undoubtedly felt at this moment.  These tears represented the boy’s hope and innocence bleeding out, and the faun knew he would be lying to himself if he refused to admit a piece of his heart broke to see it.  Even so, Sath knew it had to happen, and he took comfort in the knowledge that a new hope would take root one day in the future--a hope not misplaced in narcissism.

Sath lowered the boy back to the ground gently and wiped the wetness away from those flushed cheeks.  “Grieve the loss of your innocence, but do not dwell on it.  The longer you hold onto it, the harder it will be to find your future.”

The faun rose and stepped away from the boy toward the rising sun.  “The world is not fair, Adanedhel.  The sooner you dispel such foolish notions the sooner you will be ready to accept what it has to teach you.  What I, and Nomanti, have been teaching you.  I will await you at the tree line.”

The fey walked away, then, leaving the boy to his thoughts and pain and innocence lost.

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The Sub-Creator

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Mon Jul 04, 2016 12:45 pm

The hunter crouched atop a cliff two thousand feet high overlooking the rolling foothills east of the Mindspin Mountains.  The crisp, chill air of the Fall, accompanied by the occasional strong gust, raked at his exposed face to no avail.  Savage sprites from the southern stretch of the mountain range had tattooed his face, arms, and torso with woad that--mingled with fey magic--protected him from the harshness of the region’s cold climes.  The frigid temperatures of the harsh climate stirred within his blood after all this time, doing little to impede him anyhow.

The elf’s gaze swept across the bumpy expanse to a palisaded community upon a plateau well over a dozen miles away.  At such a distance, numerous pillars of smoke from cooking or heating fires appeared frozen in time.  His sharp eyes registered the settlement’s speckled activity within its protective walls and in the fields beyond them.

“Your stealth improves,” Sath complimented him dryly.  “Had you masked your tracks better, it might have taken me a few more minutes to find you.”

“My intentions were not to hide,” the elf replied.

The faun moved up beside him and clapped him upside the head, drawing a look from his young pupil.  “Then your intentions--and your instincts--were wrong, Adanedhel,” he scolded.  “You should never seek to be unhidden in the wilds.  I have invested far too much time for you to be that willing to cast your life away so recklessly.”

“From you,” the hunter clarified in a tone that indicated there should have been no need.  He returned his attention to the distant settlement.  “Orcs are practically blind in the daylight.”

Sath clapped him on the opposite side of the head.  “Are orcs the only threat in these mountains?”

This time, the hunter dropped his head in exasperation, but withheld the accompanying sigh.  “Of course, you are right, Teacher,” he acknowledged begrudgingly--without making it sound begrudgingly, knowing no victory could be attained for him in this back-and-forth.

The fey smiled, then looked toward the far off community.  “Trunau.  Why does it fascinate you?”

The young elf shrugged.  “Our Queen has spoken of this place.  ‘A bastion of freedom’ she called it.  I am trying to understand why.”

“My little Adanedhel is growing up,” Sath chuckled, drawing a small groan from the elf.  “It is because they will not compromise their way of life for safety.  For many intelligent beings, fear deprives them of freedom by dictating how they must live.  Such is not the case for those in Trunau.  Just over a century ago, other settlements and homesteads dotted those hills.  Then a rampaging orc horde threatened to annihilate them, and fear of death saw the lot tuck their tails and run east, where the warriors of the nation Lastwall offered them protection.”  The faun shook his head and spat on the ground in disgust.  “Cowards, the lot of them.  But not those people: the inhabitants of Trunau.  No, they valued their freedom enough to fight for it.

“And fight for it they did.  The orcs pillaged and burned one settlement after another--some inhabited, some not--until the filth came upon Trunau.  There, the horde found a fight the likes of which they were not expecting.  The King of Thorns admired the courage of those settlers so much that we attacked the orcs’ rearguard and helped send the monstrous creatures reeling back into the mountains.  That was a glorious day, indeed.”

“The fey helped them?” the elf asked, surprised.  “Are we allies with the people of Trunau?”

“Allies?” Sath repeated the word and laughed gaily at the absurdity of the notion.  “No!  Certainly not!  They know nothing of the aid we provided them.  To be frank, they would rather not know.  The mortal races are a prideful lot, as I am sure you can recall from your own experiences.”

The hunter cringed at the reminder.  “If the orcs are enemies to us both, could we not form an alliance of some kind against them?” he inquired.

“Such would not be wise,” the fey shook his head.  “Orcs are enemies to all races, and any that would ally with them for any purpose have been corrupted beyond rescuing.  Even dryads, whose primary abilities involve charming threats to turn them against one another, refuse to ally themselves with orcs even temporarily.  And so they should not!  To die at the hands of an orc is a far superior option to working beside them for any reason!  Thus, orcs as mutual enemies hardly stands as a reason for alliance; such is the natural order of things.

“More importantly, however, would be the nature of mortals themselves.  They cannot be trusted when faced with what they cannot comprehend.  To them, we are an enigma.  While they may welcome an alliance at first--and even that is not guaranteed, over time they would grow wary of us, suspicious, and certainly paranoid of our intentions.  They lack the capability to accept something for what it is and would associate some nefarious purpose to our dealings.  Eventually, the mortals would turn against us, concocting some ridiculousness as to why we would be to blame.  A story old as time because the mortal brain fails to grasp the concept of longevity.”

Sath placed a hand upon his pupil’s shoulder, almost a conciliatory gesture.  “You shall witness it in your own time.  The desire to aid the people of Trunau will no doubt come over you, for you are mortal as they are, and there exists kinship between you.  To protect what they stand for is a beautiful thing, but heed my warning against seeking a kinship with them.  You have been raised with a superior understanding of the world in relation to yourself, Adanedhel; one they will not fathom.  Because of this, you will ever be an outsider to them.  An enigma as we are.  Your own kind will despise you, and all others will grow apprehensive because they cannot understand you.  For all that, remember your purpose, and all will be as it should be.”

Throughout his teacher’s disquisition, the young elf’s eyes never strayed from the busy settlement.  He felt no kinship with them, but he wondered what it might be like to walk among them.  Would the danger be worth it?  A question for another day; perhaps another lifetime.

“I will not forget,” he assured the fey.

“Good,” the faun said, then motioned back toward the mountain.  “Now, come.  We have a fair distance to go yet today before reaching our destination.”

The pair departed the cliff on the mountainside, picking their way along slopes and shorter faces to descend deeper into the range.  They sought the foot of the mountain, specifically a long, narrow valley where deciduous trees grew thick and multicolored with foliage.  Multiple streams created a series of small waterfalls over steep ridges that rippled through the valley.  Pockets of ripe vegetation such as this grew up in various locations throughout the Mindspin Mountains, and they served as havens for much of the range’s diverse fauna.  It happened to be one of these species of fauna that the duo quested for at this time, and they located their quarry deep within the vale.

The elf’s eyes lit up when he came upon a pair of large animals--a mother and her son--feasting on the leaves of a tree.  Sitting upon her hind legs, the mother reached a branch twenty feet off the ground rather easily without needing to pull it down with her mammoth front claws.  Her little one rested on the valley floor, munching away at a branch it had torn from a much lower placement on the tree, though the “smaller” of these two creatures would easily stand over five feet in height on its hind legs.  He stood in awe at the sighting of the pair, as he had seen nothing quite like them in his twenty-six winters.

“These are megatherium by name,” Sath informed him with a smile.  “A more common name for them would be giant sloth.  Though more often found farther south, a few of their kind have grown thicker coats and acclimated to the cooler climates of the northern regions.  They are unique creatures, to be sure, and generally peaceful.  Most often slow to anger, when one gets them to that point, it would be wise to flee quickly from their ire.”

“They are amazing,” the hunter conveyed, grinning widely.

“They are most certainly that,” the faun agreed.  “The megatherium also live an average of six decades and make perfect companions for one destined to spend his life in the dangerous wilds of the Mindspin Mountains.”

The young elf regarded his teacher with astonishment.  “Companion?  You mean, I . . . truly?”

“Absolutely,” Sath chuckled.

“That would--but, no,” he glanced back at the pair still chomping on their food, apparently paying the two visitors no mind whatsoever.  “That is her only child.”

“She will have others,” Sath laughed, genuinely amused.  “And I have partnered with her offspring in the past.  They are intelligent and trustworthy.  Treat them well and with respect, and they will serve you valiantly in return.  You will never know a better friend.”

The elf shook his head in disbelief.  “I would be honored to have such a magnificent companion by my side in the fight to come.”

“Well, do not tell me,” Sath ridiculed him playfully.  “I have but four winters left, then I am done with you!  My suggestion would be to go out there and communicate that to him.”

He almost asked his teacher how to go about that communion, but caught himself before the words exited his lips.  This was not something to be taught, he realized, but had to be found hidden deep within himself.  Slowly, the hunter rose up and started forward.  The smaller megatherium lifted its head from its meal as he approached and sounded a little screech.  Surprisingly, he heard no warning or fear in the vocalization, only an intent to acknowledge him.  Perhaps even greet him.  Mother went on eating without a care.

After closing the gap to only a few feet, the young elf lowered onto his knees, removed his nature focus from a small pouch at this side, and placed it upon the ground between them.  The experience that followed lasted a full day from that point, and when it had reached its completion, the two had become fast and quite exhausted friends.

Mother and faun watched over them both as the new companions slept away their second night in the valley.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Tue Jul 12, 2016 1:56 am

The hunter knelt beside his friend in the spotted shade of the aspens, feeding the megatherium handfuls of leaves from the pile built up next to him.  Haranim rested peacefully on the side of his fourteen-foot, nine-thousand-pound frame, muzzle cozied up against the elf’s left leg, and chewed on the bunches of aspen leaves with methodical laziness.  While the giant sloth had entered into his fifth year of life recently, the elf had reached his thirtieth, and the latter now awaited a meeting with the King of Thorns.  No nerves worried at him, for he knew the purpose of this summons and what to expect of the King’s words.

“Our Lord of the Forest’s Fury demands your presence,” Nomanti’s deep baritone required of him.

Without a word, the elf rose to the beckons and started for the clearing farther up the mountain.  When the megatherium rolled his bulk over to follow, the hunter swept a hand out behind him in a calming gesture and stated, “Ndu, Haranim.”

His friend listened immediately, and slumped back down onto his belly . . . though the giant sloth did slowly creep forward enough to reach the pile of leaves before settling completely.

“What say you, creature?” the satyr inquired with a mocking grin, snatching the elf’s arm above the elbow as he passed.  “Time for one more beating before my King throws you from the mountain?”

The hunter looked sidelong at his teacher, expressionless.  “Our King waits for me.”

Nomanti shrugged as if it mattered not.  “Your tardiness will reflect poorly on you.  Do you believe I would be blamed?  So far as the King of Thorns knows, you wasted time here shaking in fear of this meeting.”

This time it was the hunter’s turn to shrug.  “Then do as you will, Master, that I might get on with the honor of my meeting with our King.”

The fey glared at him for a long moment before finally letting go with a disgusted shake of his head.  “Go, filth.  I grow tired of even beating you.  How fortunate that I shall not have to see you much longer.”

The lowly servant merely nodded his agreement and continued forward up the mountain.

Behind them, Haranim lowered his head back to the foliage collected for him, the powerful muscles in his limbs relaxing.

As the elf progressed up the natural mountain path to the predetermine location of the audience, he cast a glance out over the aspen grove to the wide mountain range beyond.  Pristine white snow crowned every tall peak above the snow line, and the highest of them wore a regal cloak of billowing cloud.  Deciduous trees blanketed the valleys below in a rolling green carpet, while thick and pointed conifers clawed their way high up the mountainsides.  From his current vantage, the elf spied half-a-dozen hawks drifting on the swirling air currents, their keen eyes searching for prey.  This living landscape--so overwhelmingly beautiful and majestic--cleansed the deepest parts of him and reconciled the last battling vestiges of mortality and self-preservation within him.

He knew beyond doubt that he could--and would--die for it.

Minutes later, the hunter arrived upon the lonely ledge where his future would be determined.  Standing at its very edge, looking out over a seven-thousand-foot drop, resided the King of Thorns.  With armor crafted from the dagger-like thorns of the hawthorn tree, and a helm that featured the long, curving horns of a mountain ram, the King hardly needed to try at intimidation.  The greatsword slung on his back appeared forged of the mountain stone, with elk horn bands used to fashion portions of the guard and grip.  The pommel formed a snow-capped mountain, and a rivulet of water constantly flowed its own course like a glacial river along the length of the sword.  Its name, Delve, was widely known, and widely feared, by all fey in the Mindspin Mountains.  In virtually every way--save for the birdlike wings covered with the green leaves of Spring instead of feathers, and deep emerald eyes that showed irises instead of only a solid coloration--the erlking’s appearance resembled that of the elf.  When studying the two from afar, one might mistake them for father and son.  A grave mistake that would be, of course, as the Lord of the Forest’s Fury was indisputably fey, while the young hunter most assuredly was not.

The elf crossed the ledge until he closed to within thirty feet of the fey king, then dropped to one knee and bowed his head in deference.  Silence followed.  He knew better than to speak first, and the King of Thorns was renown for making his subjects remain kneeling for hours before saying his first word.  Good fortune trailed him this day, for he had not to wait so long.

“You are weak,” the King said, examining the panorama before him.

“If it pleases the Fury to say so, then yes,” the elf replied in strong, dignified sylvan.

The King of Thorns swiveled his upper body a fraction to the left to peer at the mortal with eyes more ancient than the mountain they stood upon.  “You would disagree,” he proclaimed--the erlking never asked--in a voice that sounded like wind eroding stone.

The elf remained bowed, never making eye contact.  Without leave, such would get one thrown off the mountain.  Perhaps that may well be his fate anyhow.  “I am as the Fury dictates.  Never could any creature be more.”

“Then you desire death.”

“Such is the destiny for all worthless beings,” the hunter answered stoically.

The erlking smiled.  “I would grant you this desire, mortal.”

“If it pleases the Fury to do so, then yes.”

As the elf’s final word began, but before he finished speaking it, the King of Thorns stood over him with the blade of Delve drawing a thin bloody line across the back of his neck.  The hunter remained perfectly still throughout.  Had the erlking wanted him dead at the moment, nothing he could have done would have prevented it.  Also, the fey king’s movement had been so quick, he had not even registered it until the line of pain flared up.  To shift now could mean severing his own spinal column against that impossibly sharp blade!  He only hoped the King of Thorns chose not to force him to maintain this position of absolute stillness and supplication for long, and, again, fortune favored him when he felt the mountainous sword lifted away.

“My Queen has taken a liking to your nurturing heart,” the fey king sneered.  “She assures me you are a protector.”

“I am pleased to have found favor in the Cascading One’s eyes,” the elf replied, emotionless.  Inside, the furious beating of his heart expressed a resounding appreciation for the Queen’s approval!

“I give you leave to be a protector, then” the King of Thorns declared, slinging Delve onto his back.  “Rise,” the erlking ordered as he returned to his place at the edge in a more normal pace.

The hunter stood, but continued to keep his eyes downcast.

“Still, I grant you your desire,” the Lord of the Forest’s Fury revealed.  “You are weak, and I despise weakness.  If the inhabitants of the wilderness do not kill you, be assured your own sentimentality will.  You are not long for this world, mortal.”

“The Fury is most wise,” the elf professed with a deep bow.

“From this day forward, you are my Queen’s creature,” the King of Thorns informed him.  “If you should but utter my name in the wind, Delve will finish what it started.  I desire no further words from you.  Remove yourself.”

He obeyed the fey king’s command without delay.

“The Fury permitted you the slow descent?” Nomanti’s tongue lashed him upon entering the aspen grove.  “That hardly seems fitting for the likes of you.”

The elf arched an eyebrow at the satyr as he approached.  “Truly?”  He stopped and graciously provided his former teacher with a clear avenue to the path ascending the mountainside.  “If you believe an error in judgment has been committed, please, take it up with a higher authority than I.”

The fey’s face reddened with embarrassment, and he sputtered in an attempt to find something to say, but knew he had been trapped with his own words.

“I thought that to be the case,” the elf confided, then continued on beyond the satyr.  “My thanks for the years of training.  You have taught me much.  I am the Queen’s creature now.  Farewell, Nomanti.”

“Do you believe this to be the last we will see of each other, rodent?” Nomanti snapped at his back.

“Certainly not,” the elf admitted without slowing.  “It almost certainly will be the last I see of you today, however, and that is enough.”

“You wretched, pathetic creature,” the fey growled, grabbing for his staff.  His hand quickly shied away from the weapon when Haranim hoisted up onto all fours.  The megatherium had a menacing look in his eyes that Nomanti could not miscomprehend!

The hunter held a hand up to stay his friend, then half-turned so as to meet the satyr’s eyes with his own.  “The time for that has passed,” he said in earnest.  “I am Adanedhel now.”

“As though that were any better,” the fey spat furiously.

The hunter offered a conciliatory nod.  “Admittedly, it is not much,” he conceded, “but it is enough.”  He turned his back on the satyr again and called for Haranim to follow him, which the megatherium promptly did.

“The Mindspin Mountains are not so large a place,” Nomanit growled, his words sounding very much a threat.

“Agreed,” the elf replied.  “Should we meet again within its expansive confines, know that I shall look forward to hunting orcs with you.

The close-knit companions of Adanedhel and Haranim departed the fey’s company without another word spoken.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Wed Jul 20, 2016 5:48 pm

“This one is heavier,” Adanedhel explained to his companion, kneeling beside a small rock partially covered in lichen. He called Haranim’s attention to a small portion of the lichen that had been damaged by something forcefully pushing down upon it. “That would make three in this group. Scouts.”

The megatherium stared at the elf for a brief moment, then rose up and ripped leaves off a low-hanging branch from the tree next to him.

“Truly? Could you not at least feign interest?”

In response, Haranim’s long tongue uncurled to wrap around a small grouping of leaves and pull them back into his mouth.

Adanedhel chuckled and shook his head. “Well, enjoy your snack, my friend, because these prints are fresh. The orcs cannot be more than ten minutes from here.”

“Perfect,” a melodic voice emerged through the trees. “My slowing you will hardly matter, then.”

“Sath,” the hunter greeted, then glanced over to the megatherium. “No warning at all?” When Haranim plopped down on his side munching the mouthful of foliage, it dawned on Adanedhel that his friend’s behavior had been the warning. The giant sloth knew of the faun’s approach, and so decided he had a bit of time for an early meal.

The fey arrived opposite Haranim in almost supernatural silence. “I received word you wished to speak with me.”

“I did,” the elf confirmed, standing. “During the waning moon, I came upon a small band of travelers amidst the northern peaks. Most were human, but one among them appeared as an orc, yet less bestial. She possessed tusks, but far less pronounced. Her skin was green, but lighter and smoother than any orc I have seen. And her temper was . . . . ” Adanedhel paused a moment, considering. “Jovial,” he finally decided with a look of bewilderment. “She laughed and joked and even sang a song . . . a beautiful song with a beautiful voice. I must admit, friend, I felt at a loss. So confused was I at the sight and the sound of her that I could not bring myself to raise a hand against her.”

Sath listened to the young elf’s confusion and nodded sadly. “You witnessed a half-orc,” he said quietly.

“A half-orc?” Adanedhel queried, no less confused at hearing the term.

“Yes. A union between an orc and a human,” Sath clarified.

The elf looked aghast. “Humans breed with orcs?”

“Not willingly,” the faun explained. “I need not clarify for you that orcs ruin all they touch, for that you well know by now. Half-orcs are yet another physical manifestation of that simple truth. In their constant hate-filled striving to satiate an unquenchable, instinctive lust, orcs violate the women of other races over the course of their destruction. The lucky ones perish quickly. An unfortunate few survive the brutality to find themselves carriers of their tormenters’ progeny.”

Adanedhel found himself holding his breath as he listened to his former teacher. “The Cascading One emphasized our handling of orcs with indifference,” he recalled, “but the beasts make it exceptionally difficult to not hate them.”

“You would be wise to heed our Queen’s words,” Sath warned him. “Far too much emotion exists in hatred, Adanedhel. Hatred leaves room for future remorse, which can lead one into the realm of forgiveness. Orcs neither want nor deserve such compassion. They are not worthy of it. Indifference protects you from an inherent weakness possessed by all mortals: sentimentality. Orcs are pests--particularly savage and brutal pests, certainly, but merely pests all the same. Dispose of them as such and think no more about them.”

“I understand, of course,” the hunter reassured the fey. “Never have I doubted our Queen’s lessons. Where do half-orcs fall, however? Does their orc blood require our indifference?”

Sath smiled and slapped the elf playfully upon the cheek. “No. At the very least, they deserve our pity. At most, they deserve our respect for overcoming the tainted blood within them, as the female you witnessed clearly had done. At all times, they must be watched for any hints that the darkness within seeks to overwhelm them. You may admire them for their fortitude in keeping the darkness at bay, but never come to trust them, for it is always there and may emerge at any time. Half-orcs suffer from the weaknesses of mortality, as well, and may grow fatigued in their fight against the darkness that always resides within them. When the blood of the orc shows through and begins to dominate, be quick to put them down as you might a rabid beast--not because you desire to, but because it is best for the beast and all who may have later come in contact with it.”

Adanedhel considered the faun’s clarification on half-orcs for a long moment. The thought of separating pest from progeny felt strange to him, almost inconsistent, though the idea that its human blood could counteract the orcish blood seemed plausible. More than plausible, actually, since the half-orc woman he had seen exuded not a single orcish tendency. Thus, he decided, a certain sound reasoning must be inherent within the words of his former teacher.

Finally, the elf tipped his head in acceptance and appreciation. “My thanks for the illumination. It has settled the disquiet growing in my heart that perhaps I had done the wrong thing letting her live. Now, please do not think me inconsiderate, but there are pests about that require our attention,” he indicated himself and Haranim. Having enjoyed his short break, the megatherium yawned while climbing to his feet.

“I have traveled some distance to speak with you,” Sath feigned disapproval, “and now you wish to just cut and run? The least you could do is inquire as to whether I would like to join in the hunt!”

“It has been nigh on three winters since last I have communicated with anyone other than Haranim,” Adanedhel declared, placing a fist over his heart in a conciliatory gesture. “Of course, I would be honored if you would join us for this day’s small festivity.”

“With such an invitation, how could I refuse?” the faun accepted with a grin.

With a smile and nod, the hunter started off with fey and giant sloth in tow. Within the hour, the Mindspin Mountains orc population had diminished by three.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sun Aug 07, 2016 11:57 pm

Everything had gone quiet.  Tiny rodents had stopped scurrying, and playful birds had halted their chirping.  The mountain breeze--cool even in the midst of the summer--tickled the foliage in the trees and caused their incessant chattering, which sounded like madness whispering in the newly-discovered eerie silence.  The flickering leaves cast moonlit shadows across the hardened soil that brought it to life, as though sable swarms of insects skittered about the valley floor.

Eyes of molten gold flashed from high within those boughs, where the hunter perched in ambush for orcs that might traverse the hidden trail below.  As he turned his attention east along the trail, a lock of his golden hair--washed silver by the moon--escaped the confines of his deep green cloak and traced down his chest like a beam of starlight.  A short bow rested at the ready in his left hand, arrow set upon the string.  Whether this stillness was attributed to incoming orcs or some other predator he could not say for certain, but if the former, he intended the first to be dead before its companions even realized the danger.

The entire tree suddenly jolted around him, forcing him to grab the branch overhead to stop from falling out of it.  Glancing down to its base, Adanedhel saw Haranim staring back up at him.  Something in the eyes of his companion registered as absolutely wrong to him, and he studied the megatherium’s face with concern.  He spied fear there.

Haranim was terrified.

Never had Adanedhel witnessed such a thing from his friend of forty winters, and the sight of it now confused him.  What could possibly affect the giant sloth in such an adverse way?  Might the number of orcs coming up the trail be too significant in number?  If such were true, he would simply allow them to wander by and hunt them individually throughout the night.  Haranim knew that.  They had used the tactic many times before.  Something else, then . . . but what?

His tree rocked again, a little rougher this time.  “Kela, Haranim,” the elf instructed his companion, motioning towards the north after regaining his balance.  If what was coming frightened his friend so, he desired the megatherium to depart, that he could weigh the threat from his place of safety above.  Tracking his friend would prove very little trouble.

Haranim glanced up the trail quickly, then hoisted twenty feet upward on his hind legs, so his head resided half that distance away from Adanedhel’s position.  Pleading urgency filled his eyes, and his jaw opened just a bit for emphasis, as if he might tell the elf they must go.

Kela, Haranim.  Kela,” Adanedhel now begged his companion, aptly concerned at the giant sloth’s behavior.

But it was too late.

The hunter perceived the heavy pounding of many onrushing feet in the distance.  They beat the ground with a reckless fury and no consideration for stealth.

“What . . . ?” Adanedhel breathed softly in bewilderment as he watched the ravening pack careen through trees in the moonlight.  A score of creatures with pallid, emaciated flesh wrapped so tightly about their bodies that every bone threatened to explode outward from it formed an onslaught intent on he and Haranim’s position.  Some had foreheads with the steep slant akin to orcs, while others appeared much more human, but all had hairless heads and bodies.  Likewise, they each shared mouths lined with razor-like teeth and long, thin tongues that lashed outward a foot or more in anticipation of a meal.  Claws consisting of elongated fingers and nails hard as iron left gouges in tree trunks as they rushed past.  One actually ripped nail and fingertip off--leaving both planted in a trunk--as it surged forward, and it cared nothing at all for the lost digit!

Haranim’s resolve steeled as he rotated around to face the pack, and his visage erupted into a silent snarl.  Without another second’s hesitation, the megatherium pushed its great bulk forward in a lumbering charge that splintered and downed small trees in his path.

N’uma, Haranim!  Khila!” Adanedhel cried out, shaking off his shock and horror of the ravenous pack upon seeing his friend’s courageous, driving assault.  He swiftly brought the bow up and fired the nocked arrow over the shoulder of the onrushing giant sloth.  The missile buried into the right shoulder of the first creature, barely slowing it before Haranim’s twenty-thousand pound frame barreled over it, leaving an unmoving, mangled corpse in his wake.

The megatherium’s charge finished with a double fore claw pouncing of a second creature that crumpled beneath the imposing weight.  The rest of the pack converged on him like a swarm of voracious crows, their own claws raking and sharp teeth biting.  Haranim accepted those painful strikes without a sound of protest, ripping torsos asunder with each swatting claw that connected.

His second arrow having flown wide, the hunter fitted a third and drew it back.  Before launching, he noticed a solitary creature farther behind the pack closing more slowly.  The thing looked much the same as those creatures piling onto his friend, but with a bluer tint to its skin and facial features that appeared more crooked, angular, and deformed.  Though its eyes gleamed with hunger, something else existed within them, as well.  Cunning.

Recognizing this newcomer as a serious threat, Adanedhel angled his bow a touch higher, took aim, and released.  He failed to see the fruits of that missile, however, as just before its impact Haranim reared up to his full height, sending clinging creatures flying away.  Despite his companion’s ferociousness, and the pack’s diminishing numbers, they refused to disperse.  The giant sloth bled from two dozen wounds, but he continued the rampage against this repulsive enemy that just kept coming back at him.  When opportunity presented itself, the hunter flung missile after missile into the fray, searching the trees beyond for the allusive newcomer between each shot.

Corpses littered the ground surrounding the megatherium, and only a handful of the creatures remained, when the unthinkable happened.  Though blood washed and matted Haranim’s thick fur, Adanedhel had seen his friend absorb a great deal more punishment in the past.  Most of his wounds appeared more superficial than anything.  As he reared back again to swat away the thing clutching onto his side, the megatherium went suddenly still, as if time had somehow stopped moving forward for him.  His mighty claw halted mid-swing, head twisted to the side and a wide eye stared down at the unnatural target, all frozen in place and instantaneously vulnerable.

Adanedhel watched in horror as the clinger’s four companions converged voraciously, climbing over Haranim like they might a tree in search of ripe fruit.  One sought the giant sloth’s neck and scampered up to stand upon his shoulders, gloating over the magnificent megatherium that his destiny was to simply be this perversion’s next meal.  The hunter buried an arrow between the thing’s shoulder blades, which knocked it off the giant sloth and propelled it twenty feet toward the ground, where its head crunched sickly to the side upon impact.

As if realizing for the first time that the elven threat existed, the last four creatures broke off their preliminary feasting and bolted for the tree he resided in.  Their chaotic zigzag pattern of movement confused the hunter’s next shot, which stuck in the ground nowhere near the onrushing threat.  Two arrows inhabited his quiver as the first of the wasting humanoids reached the base of his tree, and the elf stole a quick glance to his companion only to find Haranim still rigid in that barbarous pose as he set the penultimate missile to the string.  The click-clack of pointed claws digging into wood demanded his attention below, where the inhuman creatures scurried up the trunk to get at him.  Bow bent as he pulled the string back to the corner of his mouth and took careful aim.  The one nearest him hissed when it drew within ten feet, its tongue testing the air like a serpent.

The loosed arrow ripped its bottom jaw clean off and embedded into its abdomen.

It continued to climb without slowing, a product of its abnormal hunger and not having the anatomical workings of the living.

Adanedhel cocked his head a bit and scrunched his face in a combination of confusion and revulsion.  “What are you?” he inquired rhetorically, not certain at all if he truly wished to know.

Having closed the distance to only a couple feet, the creature launched itself upward in an attempt to grab him, but the hunter interposed his short bow between them.  When it latched onto the weapon with both hands and sought to haul itself up onto even footing, he pushed out, released the bow, and let each fall the thirty feet to the valley floor, hitting numerous branches on the way down.  The short bow survived the fall; the same could not be said of the creature.

With the other three fast approaching, Adanedhel knew his position quickly grew precarious.  Though his branched spear enabled a higher degree of dexterous handling, its length hindered him in combat amidst the boughs, and thus provided his enemies’ tooth and claw with the advantage therein.  The limb he perched upon splayed out to the northeast, where a second, relatively thick limb from a nearby tree stretched out near to it.  Perhaps, he decided with very few other options available to him, close enough to be reached with the most infinitesimal of leaps.

Elven grace helped the hunter stand and walk along his thinning branch with relative speed.  The next of the inhuman creatures arrived on the same branch and followed a mere ten feet behind.  Having no means of egress now, and feeling the bough beginning to give way with both their weights upon it, he quickened the last few steps and leapt for the corresponding branch.  The limb from which he sprang gave out just as he vaulted from it, stealing some momentum, and his destination--he soon realized with some disdain--required a bit more than the most infinitesimal of leaps . . . . A hand darted out to clutch at the strong limb, but the effort succeeded in only slicing open the tip of his left index finger.

Another limb a few feet down punched him in the stomach, then issued a resounding crack as it snapped upon impact.  Deadened velocity found the elf falling almost straight down into a crooked branch that raked up the shaft of his spear and back.  The leaf blades that “branched” from the spear caught it and jolted him further off-balance.  Another blow to the gut and slap to the face by a younger bough arranged him into a disoriented sitting position that landed the hunter onto a final branch with the back of his thighs.  As he slipped over backwards, the battered elf maintained just enough conscious wherewithal to keep his knees angled at ninety degrees, enabling him to hook the limb and dangle there with the ground ten feet below.

Adanedhel opened his eyes, but a few seconds passed before his vision slipped back into focus.  The creature whose weight had broken the branch had apparently taken a more direct route down, and now clawed its way across the earth with a right ankle and leg completely shattered.  Above, he heard the shaking of leaves and creaking of boughs, which tipped him off that its companions had somehow successfully crossed over into his own tree.  Reaching up to grasp the limb that supported him revealed a wash of pain from a cracked rib, but the hunter grunted through it out of necessity so as to lift his body enough to straighten his legs and glide them under the branch.  He allowed for agonizing full extension so as to minimize the drop and fell into a crouch a few feet below.  White spots flooded through his vision, and he stuck a hand on the ground as an anchor to prevent from collapsing.

After taking a breath to get settled, the elf gathered his feet and ended the maimed creature’s progress with the branched spear he grabbed from the leather sleeve on his back, then put a short distance between he and the tree to await the coming threat.

Within moments, the final two gaunt creatures dropped from the green foliage, one after the other, and quickly stormed toward Adanedhel.  When the first neared, the hunter swung his branched spear in a wide, circular arc over his head and sliced into the foul thing with the bladed leaves from reach, knocking its charge offline.  He provided a swift jerk to shred its dry, dead flesh and shortened the spear by sliding the smooth shaft through a loosened grip to half its length.  The creature failed to compensate for its veered course, and Adanedhel easily dodged a swiping claw.  Before it could slow enough to readjust its position, he jumped back and flicked his arm forward to lengthen the spear in the reverse motion he had just used to shorten it.  The foot-and-a-half long spearhead pierced its eye, resolving its attempted pursuit.

The last creature pounced upon him, sinking its claws into his shoulders and thrusting those wicked teeth at his neck.  The hunter rammed the butt-end of his spear back into the thing’s chest, not so much to damage but to put separation between them.  The maneuver worked, pushing the humanoid beast away.  He immediately leaped forward and spun the branched spear around to smack his attacker upside the head.  Skull cracked from the force of the blow, but, unbelievably, the feral beast just lunged at him again.  Changing tactics, the elf ducked and sidestepped, permitting it to pass by to his left, then quickstepped around back of the creature and threw a haymaker at its weakened skull with the hardened leather and sharpened bone cestus worn on his right hand.  The punch caved in that side of its head and released an explosion of ichor unlike anything he had ever seen.

Adanedhel refused to look at his hand as the creature slumped to the ground, repulsed as he was at the sight.  Nothing about these things felt natural to him, and he wanted nothing more than to be away from this soiled place of ruin.

Khila, Haranim,” he called to his friend, but the megatherium simply stood statuesque as he had for the last couple minutes.

Worried for his companion, Adanedhel moved to check on the giant sloth and discern the cause of this awkward behavior he exhibited.  As he drew close, a sudden and reprehensible odor overwhelmed him. It was unlike anything he had ever known.  His gut heaved, and he retched all the contents of his stomach right there on the ground beside him.  The sickness rolled over him so swiftly that he clasped tight to his branched spear and used it to prop himself up until the queasiness passed.  It did so in short order, but his body continued to rebel against the stench, which smelled to him as scores of fish left to rot in the hot sun for days on end.  Not excited about the notion, but knowing that he needed to inspect his friend, the elf drove onward one foot after the other.  He tried to call out to his companion again, but the sickening reek forbade any such action.

What awaited him was most unwelcoming.

A pool of blood and viscera splayed across the earth from the eviscerated megatherium.  A vertical wound nearly four feet in length had been savagely torn into the bottom half of his body.  Haranim’s luxurious fur coat was matted with copious amounts of blood, and, while his countenance maintained the same appearance as it had in the moment of this strange happening, no signs of life endured within his eyes.  How the megatherium had kept upright was but another mystery added onto this grotesque conundrum.

Adanedhel staggered backward at the initial shock, but then he noticed something no less revolting, though even more disturbing: a portion of his friend’s body bulged out momentarily.  Closing his eyes to the unholy sight caused his other senses to garner more feedback from the scene . . . .

Something feasted within his friend.

The hunter’s eyes opened wide, a mix of repugnance and rage roiling about within them.  Despite the inhibiting sickness brought about by the powerful and lingering stench, the elf tensed the grip on the branched spear and bellowed out a feral challenge to his friend’s defiler.

All motion within the megatherium’s body abruptly stopped.  A long pause stretched on for what seemed an eternity before the flaps of Haranim’s hide parted like a curtain to slowly reveal the blue-tinted and contorted face of the creature he had shot earlier.  That face, pushed out between his friend’s hide, rotated and swiveled chaotically, as if the disgusting thing had no control over its movements, or perhaps its hunger prevented it from keeping still.  Regardless of the reason, the hunter now had a target to pinpoint his wrath.  The branched spear dropped into readied position as the elf charged without so much as a whisper of sound preceding the attack.

The abnormal monster exploded outward from the megatherium, but the heavy, restrictive hide prohibited any real maneuverability.  The spearhead skewered the creature through the diaphragm before it could turn left or right.  It clamped down on the shaft to immediately pull itself off, but the bladed leaves punctured through its hands and severed fingers, foiling the tactic.

At the same instant, Adanedhel used the defiler’s own momentum to hoist it into the air, planting the butt of the spear upon the ground to help suspend it nearly nine feet up.  The creature slid down on the sharp branches, further making an ichorous ruin of its insides before the elf shifted his weight and propelled the thing headfirst into the valley floor.  Impalement and the subsequent drop failed to kill the abomination, but the elf wasted no time in springing upon it and pummeling its head to an unrecognizable pulp.  He only ceased the pounding when he heard the massive corpse of Haranim crashed to the earth.


                                           
************


Adanedhel traveled through sun and moon for three days without rest.  He never stopped to eat, and drank only handfuls of water wherever he crossed a river or stream.  No pains were taken to watch for danger via trail sign or ambush.  The morose elf journeyed despondently through all terrains and obstacles until he arrived within the dale to which Sath had brought him forty winters ago.

Once within those familiar confines, the hunter began in earnest that which he knew best: to track.  He sought any partial print or sign for his quarry, working back and forth along the width of the valley.  The first indicator that he had located the proper trail appeared in the trees overhead.  There, the elf detected lower branches cleaned of foliage despite the trees being perfectly healthy.  With that telltale sign identified, finding the trail of what caused the phenomenon proved quite easy.  He stalked the creature systematically for the next couple hours before coming upon her resting beneath the tree that would undoubtedly provide the leaves for her next meal.

Upon discovering the giant sloth, her fur streaked with grey and features drawn with old age, Adanedhel dropped his head in shame as he advanced.  He walked to within a dozen feet of the elder megatherium, close enough to get her attention, and fell to his knees before her.  Silence lingered for a long time as the elf stared down at brown earth, his thoughts churning with the emotions kept bottled up the last few days.  A deep breath calmed the turmoil, and he looked up into her face to convey the sadness of her son’s passing.  There in her eyes he saw a mother’s sorrow and realized she knew why he had come.

Her grief broke him.

“Forgive me,” Adanedhel blurted before the sobs racked him.  Unspent tears from the previous days poured out of him now, the debility of the sudden, overpowering despair bent him over at the waist.  The musculature in his shoulder strained as he propped himself up by the arms and the weeping convulsions placed continual tension upon them.  “I could not save him,” the elf wheezed, the words barely audible from his lack of breath.  His head shook childishly from side-to-side while beads of bloody sweat trickled down his skin from the anguish, and throughout it all he gasped the phrase, “I could not save him,” the pain of the lame expression unbearable even to his own ears.

Hopeless.  His words proved incapable of assuaging the guilt.  He left his friend to die alone against that swarm of . . . he knew not what they were!  How could he have not even come down from the tree?  He claimed that he could not save Haranim, yet had he tried?  Rather than fight next to his most able companion, he remained in relative safety like a coward.

Hollow words designed to appease.

All strength fled from him after many long minutes of hyperventilation, and the elf collapsed onto his side, his tears quickly polluting the ground where his head lay.  The torrent of disconsolateness left him a pathetic heap upon the earthen floor, his energy sapped.  Still he cried, unable to stop the mess of emotion that conflicted him concerning the ineptitude and futility of his efforts.  Dirt rubbed his cheek and the corner of his lips raw as he feebly apologized with the only words he knew to be true, “I am sorry.”  He repeated them now like a mantra, feeling more and more worthless with each passing moment.

Minutes slipped by into hours, and near the end his words of recompense became garbled and incomprehensible.  “I should have listened,” the elf mumbled at the last; then, “Why did I not listen?” before exhaustion finally overtook him.

Too downtrodden and self-absorbed within his heartbreak, Adanedhel never recognized that the mother had gotten close enough to lay her head next to his.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Thu Aug 11, 2016 6:00 pm

Adanedhel sat alone upon the ledge, the crisp bite of early fall nibbled upon his nose and exposed fingertips. The sensations hardly bothered him, except as a reminder that he yet lived when one worthier than he did not. Thoughts concerning life and death humbled the elf quite often, for he could not understand how one so strong and beautiful and regal would die so horribly while another so small and uncertain and insignificant would live. No amount of logical reasoning helped make sense of it and only kept him confounded and in misery.

Haranim meant ‘kingly’ in elven. It was a name aptly given. His name, Adanedhel, meant ‘an elf’ in the same language. Sath had given him the name, and it, too, was aptly given. In him resided nothing significant, nothing of worth or note. In him resided a spirit whose only purpose was to perish and find some measure of importance in the dying. He knew that to be the measure of his life. In his name one found only generality, and not by accident. It acted as a prompting for humility, that existence meant nothing save for doing what was necessary to ensure the proper outcomes for this land and the people that survived upon and within it. To act rightly, to serve courageously, to strive for fruitfulness; none of these things brought merit to his life. Virtue could only be realized in the end, when all selfishness and pride and desire and vengeance were released in that one final breath. Perhaps then, in the deed leading to death, any quality that shined brightly enough to be recognized might earn the elf a new name.

A worthy name.

Perhaps a name such as Haranim.

To dwell on such aspirations, however, seemed wrong to him. They were above him, as much so as the King of Thorns or the Queen of the Frozen Falls were above him. One should never be preoccupied with matters beyond him, lest he succeed in failing the test before its completion. What worth could he ever find then? None. Only a dwindling existence of dire sorrows, empty platitudes, and a useless name that would remain meaningless and quickly forgotten.

Yet, as Adanedhel gazed out across the open expanse of the eastern foothills to the Mindspin Mountains, he could not shake the hollowness so prevalent within him. Over a year had passed since his friend’s death, and the loss weighed upon him like a mountain. His teachers had prepared him for the inevitability of his own death--even pressed upon him the necessity of it for gaining any consequential meaning to his life, but none had readied him for such a loss as the elf had experienced with Haranim. It meant nothing to lose a life without intrinsic value, but how does one cope with the extinguishing of a life with exceptional inherent value? Especially when such a death could have--no, should have--been avoided?

The expectation, he knew, was that no such problem should have ever been faced by him. Had either Sath or Nomanti been beside him now, both would have declared with obvious resentment toward his cowardice that he should have given up his life so Haranim would have lived. In so doing, a magnificent creature would have continued on to its destined purpose, and he would have achieved his life’s significance: to die defending the greater good. Thus, he had failed his Queen, he had failed his teachers, and he had failed his truest friend.

What was he to do now?

In the distance, the elf spied the frontier town of Trunau, its people busily harvesting what crop had survived through the fickle summer season and the dangerous raids by orcs and other beasts. He admired their resilience to the perils of the region, their ferocity in the face of whatever menace threatened with each new day. Often, Adanedhel had considered going there to meet such a strong and hardened people, but Sath’s warning about them lingered ever in his mind. Openly approaching the town’s inhabitants could be unpredictable at best, disastrous at worst, and he wanted no part in interrupting what solace they had built for themselves there.

Even so, the Cascading One had spoken highly of their efforts to secure freedom in spite of the resounding odds against them. Sath had proclaimed a reason for appreciation in their presence and purpose here, as well. And, had not the King of Thorns gone to their aid when a great orc threat might have overcome them? Perhaps, there upon a tall hill at the foot of the mountains, Adanedhel had an opportunity to make amends for what he had blundered so severely. He would not forget his costly mistake in giving his friend up to die, and he could not forgive himself such a grave error, but to defend these people might serve as some recompense to all whom he had unintentionally betrayed through his fearfulness.

The hunter nodded once to himself as a way of solidifying his decision in the material world. He would become a guardian to Trunau, a friend from afar to protect their freedom and the lives of their children and children’s children. “The fault of a year ago will not be repeated,” he resolved into the wind, that his oath could be carried throughout the majestic mountains, and they would hold him accountable to it.

“So long as I live you will live,” Adanedhel promised the town. “My life for your life.”

The elf retrieved the branched spear beside him and climbed to his feet. Most of his energies had been spent within the mountains themselves, not in the foothills outside of them. He needed to begin familiarizing himself with the lay of the land there so that his charge could be carried out properly. He also desired to know how close orcs tended to get to Trunau in the dark of night, and on how regular a basis. Their tracks would tell him that news and give him a more thorough understanding of where his presence might be required more frequently.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Sat Aug 13, 2016 6:03 pm

The hunter jogged with more urgency than usual a couple hundred feet south of the Kestrel River.  Very few caravans traveled to Trunau throughout the year due to its distant frontier location, which made the first to come out of Vigil incredibly important to the community.  Typically, that caravan departed Lastwall within a day or two of the Spring equinox, and Adanedhel had made it a habit to keep watch for its coming over the last few decades.  On this occasion, he had spotted the short column of wagons the fourth morning after the equinox and started out to secretly escort it toward the town soon after.  The sun had set behind the mountains three hours ago, and he knew himself to be close, but that fact had not spurred on his current swiftness.

Two hours ago, the hunter came upon easily identifiable tracks of over a dozen orcs that had crossed the Kestrel River and progressed on an eastbound collision course with the westbound caravan.  Another unfortunate reality pertaining to caravans heading for Trunau was their size: they tended to be small, which equated to few guards for protection.  Though capable of fending off attacks by wild beasts or orc scouting parties, the likelihood of their surviving an ambush by a full-on orc raiding party was slim at best.  How he might help stem that slaughter he knew not, but that he must try went without saying, regardless of the cost.

The first shout of warning arose over the next hill, and a cacophony of orcish war cries immediately followed.  Adanedhel quickened his pace into a flat out run, unslinging the bow as he worked up the slope.  The hunter took a knee the moment he crested the hill and surveyed the situation.  A bonfire in the midst of the circled wagons provided him a clear view of the attack.  The orcs had fanned out to surround the caravan, a tactic that forced the defenders to spread out and reduced their ability to aid one another.  Orcs were brutal, overpowering combatants when they could get victims into one-on-one encounters, but were incontestable when permitted to swarm over a single opponent.  Their current strategy enabled them to do exactly that as the sleeping defenders scrambled too slowly to help their standing companions nearer the perimeter.

His own battle plan formed within those first couple seconds of assessment.  If he sought to kill the orcs, the massacre would be over before ever he finished off the third mark.  No, this fight required faster movement on his part and slowing the enemy down.  The more he could inhibit the orcs’ advance and allow the defenders to gather themselves, the better the chances that more of the defenders might live.

The hunter sprang forward into a sprint and swept down the hill, cloak billowing out behind him.  The first arrow slipped from the quiver at his side, twirled between agile fingers, and fitted to the string as he hurried into the valley of the attack.  The elf stilled that stride in a heartbeat and loosed, taking his first target square in the back as it traded blows with a guard.  There was no waiting to see what came of the combatants; the moment the missile reached its destination he bolted away to the right, hoping the distraction had worked to give the defender an upper hand.

Arrow after arrow flew into the fray, each aimed for the torso of an orc body because it offered the largest target.  Occasionally, a shaft fell a brute, but most served to confuse the savages to turn the tide of an encounter.  Adanedhel flitted about the edges of the battle, firing his bow from within sixty feet, then scampering back outside the orcs’ darkvision to reposition.  In less than a minute, the south and west sections of the circled encampment were under control as merchants reinforced the guards there to drive back the threat.  His strategy had proved successful there, changing the course of the fight for those involved.

Unfortunately, the turn for the better on this side of the caravan had drawn further defenders to where they saw the potential for victory, thus weakening the north section where the orcs had gained the upper hand.  Merchants willingly fought for their lives, but their battle acumen failed to take them where they were necessary, settling instead for where they believed the best chance for survival existed.

To the north, Adanedhel caught sight of a solitary figure donned in a tattered white cloak with shoulder guards that resembled jaggedly severed wings and arrayed in several broken, golden chains squaring off against an orcish brute.  Two badly wounded guards bled crimson upon the ground behind the brave warrior, and both tried as best they may to crawl back to the inner portion of the encampment.  A second orc--the caved in, left side of its face the victim of the defender’s morningstar--pulled itself along the ground after the pair, its lust for death and destruction refusing to let it perish before the most possible carnage could be rendered.  Furthermore, the elf noted a fresh pair of orcs pinching in on the figure’s position from the left and right.  Perhaps the figure did not see them, or perhaps did not care that the beasts came, for if the post was abandoned then those wounded attempting to escape would surely die.

If none aided the warrior, he knew, all three would meet that similar fate.

Continuing his dance about the perimeter would take him there too late; only a straighter course might get him there in time.  Hence, the hunter abandoned the darkness and rushed into the light.  He dashed passed the outer ring of action now made more manageable by the merchants’ arrival and cut through a pair of wagons into the inner circle.  The hood of his cloak billowed as he sped to the right of the bonfire, which caused a wisp of hair to escape that streaked gold in the light of the roaring flame.  With arrow already set to string, the hunter halted all momentum between the retreating wounded and let fly at the orc closing from the left.  It buried into the brute’s sword shoulder, provoking a startled recoil that stopped its forward progress momentarily.

Short bow dropped harmlessly from his left hand and branched spear slid silently overhead into his right as Adanedhel moved forward one, two, three strides, gripped the haft with the left behind the right for additional power, and skewered the crawling orc through the center of the back in a single fluid motion.

Whether the white-cloaked warrior saw him, or simply felt his presence there, the defender gave ground to the orc so as to reposition at Adanedhel’s front-left.  Broken chains rattled as the guardian parried the orc’s falchion with a twist of her body--indeed, it was at that moment that the elf recognized the figure to be female by her bust and flowing blood-red hair.  Her new, closer location brought the rushing orc from the right into contact with him first.  The savage beast performed a two-handed, right shoulder swing meant to behead him hastily, that it might get on to the joy of bleeding out the one it had come for originally.  The hunter swung the shaft of his spear--still impaled within the dead orc’s back--out wide to intercept the attack, then propelled himself upward into a wicked uppercut with the cestus worn on his right hand.  Serrated bone spikes drove up hard behind its lower jaw, just in front of the larynx.  Having never released the spear with his left hand, the offensive maneuver also pulled the weapon from the deceased orc, which enabled him the mobility necessary to lightly brush her right thigh with his knee as he spun completely around behind her.

Identifying the message there, the warrior swiftly shifted into his former position with a backhand swing of her morningstar against the newly staggered orc.  Spiked ball ripped into orc flesh where the neck meets the shoulder, dropping it like a sack of grain to the earth.  Amazingly, the brute still moved after, but the force of the blow had made its right arm useless, not to mention disorientated it.  For a moment, at least, that orc was out of the fight.

The orc that had faced her originally, however, stepped in to cut down the elf that had taken her place.  Using a maneuver uncharacteristic of its brutal nature, the orc thrust its falchion beneath his guard and sliced a red line along his left side.  Adanedhel accepted the feeble attack for what it was and jabbed out to his left with the branched spear, toward the charging orc there.  The beast dodged by sweeping its upper body sideways to narrowly miss the spearhead and not get thrown off course.  Little did the brute know, however, that the jab was not the attack, only the setup.  Pushing briskly forward with his right arm, the barbed leaves along the spear’s shaft pierced the side of the orc’s neck, and its momentum carried it through even more of them, leaving a gory mess in their wake.  Not ones to be deterred, the orc powered through the shredding maneuver to swipe at the elf, but the strike was badly off-balanced and missed everything.

Even better, the hunter altered the course of his right hand downward, which allowed the spear’s haft to become a shield that brushed the first orc’s falchion out wide of his body so it could not get a second easy slice against him.  Planting the butt into the ground with his left hand to solidify his defensive posture, Adanedhel used the cestus to puncture holes into the side of the original orc’s face.  He then pivoted around the vertical spear to flank that orc with the woman, but maintained his primary focus on the orc that had entered in from the left.

The morningstar pummeled the chest of the flanked orc, though its armor appeared to absorb most of the blow.  Still, the blow forced it back a step and dazed the brute, because its counterattack against her wobbled lazily to her left side.

The second orc, blood gushing down its shoulder in waves, bellowed out in a crazed rage and swung its falchion with every ounce of strength remaining in it.  The heavy blade would have severed his right arm clean off had the elf not tucked in close to the shaft of his spear, which put him inside the heaviest--and deadliest--portion of the blade.  The thinnest section of the falchion, that nearest the cross guard, impacted against the branched spear, stealing much of its momentum, so that the small amount of the weapon that gashed his arm failed to cut deep.

Adanedhel leaped away from both orcs and dropped the bladed leaves back down upon the grotesque and gushing wound at the second brute’s neck.  Those razor sharp blades lacerated deeper still, and the beast’s thrashing to get away from the cutting tines only helped to bring about its end.

Now to his left, the warrior and the orc fought one another to a standstill, neither getting the upper hand against the other.  A simple spear thrust to the back of the orc helped end stalemate.  After slaying the last of the standing brutes, the white-cloaked warrior turned her morningstar upon the nearly dead one that even now groped at her ankles in an attempt to hinder her.  When she rotated about to inquire of her unexpected ally whether he might require help for the wounds she knew he had taken, she found that he was no longer beside her.

The hunter’s eyes flashed amber at the outer extent of the firelight when he took in one last view of the courageous woman.  He desired to see her once more before departing, though he refused to let that look linger for more than half-a-second before disappearing into the dark night.  The sounds of battle had died down, indicating that the rest of the caravan members had indeed gotten the best of their attackers.  Such was good, as his short bow remained within their circle of wagons.

The loss hardly concerned him; the elf knew where he could get another.

As he crested the hill north of the encampment, Adanedhel’s gaze fell back over the caravan.  He told himself this final check was to ensure that none attempted to follow him, but his eyes scanned the aftermath of the battle until they settled upon the familiar white cloak, which he noticed crouched over one of the sorely wounded men.  While done in combat and solely that they both might survive, the physical contact he had made with her was the first he had known with anyone or anything not trying to kill him in nigh on seventy winters.  The significance of that instant, though he could not know it now, had changed him.

Though completely unaware of how or why, she saved him that night.

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Re: For What It's Worth (Adanedhel's Story)

Post  The Sub-Creator on Tue Jul 04, 2017 10:38 pm

Adanedhel had watched the pair from the shadows throughout the day as they meandered about the deep green foliage of the valley. A dozen times he thought to introduce himself, but each time the elf failed to exit the periphery due to lingering doubts within him.

A pair of winters had passed since he helped defend that small caravan from an orc raiding party, yet the memory of it had seared into his brain and would not leave him in peace. On all accounts, the defense had proved successful--with the caravan saved, its casualties few in number, and the orcish death toll high. Still, its recollection haunted him daily. His thoughts returned to the event ceaselessly and weighed upon him as though his insides had become iron. Movement felt lethargic, uncoordinated . . . meaningless.

The hunter held fast to his oath throughout this loss of . . . of what? Of himself? Was ever there anything there to lay claim to? Of his mission? No. His sense of purpose remained intact. Thus, the elf failed to comprehend how such a success left him reeling so. Left him saddened. Confused.

Empty.

The last time Adanedhel remembered feeling similar to this was after Haranim’s death. Admittedly, the emotional aftereffects of that incident seemed dissimilar from now, but close enough in their nature that the uncertainty of it led him here. Back to this place, where the elf believed he would never have the courage to stand again. The only place where joy had found him once. A part of him hoped--perhaps prayed, but to what he knew not--that joy might find him again.

So, Adanedhel observed mother and son as they ambled away the day, desiring nothing more than to speak with them, but dreading what might come from such interaction. Who was he to think himself worthy of looking these noble creatures in the eye, after all? Her most of all! Who was he? Both nameless and a coward. These things which defined him earned the hunter no right to speak with her.

Especially considering the reason for his need to be here remained a mystery.

In spite of himself, and with great trepidation, the hunter broke from the shadows and camouflaging greenery with hands out wide from his waist in a non-threatening gesture. The massive megatherium turned a lazy gaze in his direction, not bothering to rise, though her much smaller son climbed to all fours and took a single step forward, hesitant but curious. A quiet snort from mother froze the youngling in its tentative tracks.

“I come in peace,” Adanedhel called out to her, forcing himself to make eye contact and not cast his vision to the valley floor. Looking upon her face brought back painful memories. The elf could see his old friend in subtle ways: the curvature of the snout which hooked just a fraction deeper than most megatherium, or that patch of discoloration in the fur on the left side of the head, just behind the ear. The similarities were vague this far removed, but not unrecognizable for one who cared enough to see them. He knew these characteristics so well that her identifying him as a stranger--possibly even a threat to them--wounded Adanedhel deeply.

“I knew your great grandmother for a brief moment in time,” the elf continued, voice strained, “and her son was a brother to me. Four decades he hunted the evils of these mountains by my side until the day he . . . he . . . . ”

Adanedhel’s voice choked on the word. It refused to pass his lips even now, over half-a-century after the fact. The grief remained too near.

Rather than wrestle with it any longer, the hunter clenched his teeth and swallowed hard, letting silence reign for the moment required to collect himself.

“I am lost,” Adanedhel confided at last. He whispered it, as if afraid that something hidden in nature might hear and punish him severely for uttering the phrase. “I do not know why. There is a way I am to go, a people--an ideal--I am to protect. I know this and I have given all myself to it, as is my duty.” The elf raised his arms out wide in an all-encompassing, yet questioning, gesture. “I am a guardian of all this . . . of all that is so much more precious than I.”

Slowly, the hunter’s shoulders slumped and hands thumped back to his sides. His vision blurred as he attempted to blink the moisture from eyes of amber. “Yet I am lost.”

Adanedhel tilted his head back to examine the boughs overhead. Ever changing patches of blue sky appeared sporadically with the swaying breeze, and the leaves rustled with laughter at his expense. He dared not believe them to be weeping for him.

“I thought that--” he began, returning his glassy stare to mother and son once more, “that perhaps . . . . ” Perhaps what? he thought, berating himself through another awkward silence. Damn him, why was he here? Why could he not understand any of this? How could it be this hard to say anything comprehensible?

Frustration spun the elf about. In this jumbled and confused emotional state, he found his feet had commenced walking without his brain realizing it. It took overwhelming willpower to command them to stop again. In that fierce instant of desperate inner turmoil, when his body sought to act of its own volition and his mind fought to regain dominance, Adanedhel’s tongue suddenly rebelled as well.

“I cannot walk with them!” he blurted, the words carrying a volatile mixture of anxiety, anger, and profound weakness.

His head bowed in silent mortification, as the stares of both megatherium bore a hole straight through the back of him. Had Sath heard him exclaim such a thing he felt certain a harsh beating would have followed. Nomanti would have killed him. Both would have been in the right. What a selfish utterance after so long a time. What absolute betrayal after all they had done for him.

Yet, in his very gut, Adanedhel knew those words to be at the crux of the issue. He could not take them back, so he sought to expound upon them instead.

“Sath warned me of this a century ago--that I should one day desire to walk among them; that I might even feel a form of kinship to them. Not in my most uninhibited thoughts would I have ever believed him to be accurate in assessing me thus, but now I cannot question the validity of his insight. I know it to be impossible, but . . . . ” Adanedhel breathed out the continuation of that conclusion in an effort to gain more time to reflect upon it. “I have a superior understanding of the world around me, Sath once said, and for that I could only ever be an outsider to them. I have oft wondered about that these past few seasons.”

The elf pivoted back to face his company again. The attention of both remained transfixed upon him. “Am I so hard to understand? Would they stand aghast at my deeds, or confused at my reasons for performing them? Am I so complicated a creature as that?” He shook his head timidly. “I am not so sure.

“It strikes me as irrefutable that neither of my former teachers believed I should live so long, and, in doing so, perhaps I have only aggravated the problem. Can a mortal outlive his usefulness to purpose? Since the day of Haranim’s death, I have avowed that it should have been me lying dead upon the ground.” Back again, that pesky wetness, threatening his composure. “Cowardice”--Adanedhel’s voice cracked with the word, causing its pronunciation to be mangled horribly, but he soldiered on--“yoked me to that t-tree, dripping f-fear from my pores rather than s-sweat. I c-could have s-saved him,” he choked out, fists clenched so tight his palms bled. “I sh-should have saved h-him. I--”

The pent up rage and guilt released itself in a primal scream that saw the small megatherium scurrying back a few steps toward the safety of his mother, who had herself quickly lumbered up onto all fours. The piercing wail drowned out the laughing leaves and momentarily silenced the rising chatter of the valley’s inhabitants. All energy drained away from him as the excess emotion depleted the air in his lungs, and the hunter dropped to his knees with sagging shoulders and dead arms. As a minute stretched to two, Adanedhel remained a crumpled mess upon the hard ground, his expression broken, eyes hollow, and breath shallow.

“I did die on that day,” he mumbled the dark secret into the eerie stillness. Adanedhel had known all these decades, somehow; had hidden the truth of it behind a dark cloud of responsibility to the realm and to the people of Trunau. His soul had festered with the unclosed wound, and it had killed him just as any gangrenous wound left unchecked would. That air continued moving in and out, and blood still flowed round and round, only helped to complicate the already baffling nature of this protracted realization.

Then came the sudden flash of a woman warrior in white--the determination of battle grim upon her countenance--like an intruder sweeping through the graveyard of his recollection. The hunter recognized a faint tingling sensation in his knee which promised to awaken the rest of him from his stupor. The warmth of tears stimulated the nerve endings within his cheeks, and he discerned that they streamed down his face without any scruples concerning his dignity.

Life.

For all that time spent dead in his own skin, she had infused within him some semblance of life once again. That was what he had been feeling all this time . . . why he could not leave the memory of that battle behind him. She had sutured the festering wound and started the slow, methodical process of healing a gash he had believed mortal. He recalled the vast number of wounds and injuries given him by his fey teachers--some deep within the very bone, and how painful the recovery from them had been. In many ways, this felt the same to him, except the wounds were far more extensive than anything physical.

“I do not want to be alone anymore,” Adanedhel admitted. The confession oozed of personal weakness, but he endured the shame of it because the words needed to be said. Perhaps Sath understood his frailty from the beginning, which had prompted the faun to bring he and Haranim together. Another branch of wisdom extended but not immediately grasped by the hunter. As badly as Adanedhel desired to walk with others like him, his Teacher knew it could never be. Such did not mean that companionship needed to be spurned completely.

Companionship required growth, however. Death was inevitable within the Mindspin Mountains, but none need die alone.

As Adanedhel conjured that thought, a small snout wormed its way under his right hand and lifted it from the ground. Intuitively, he began to pet the head of the small megatherium that had saddled up beside him in an act of submission.

Maksa,” he spoke softly the elven word for “soft.”

Then he smiled.

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