The Gray Druid - The Diary of Aoth Sepret
It is a thin journal, worn from many years of travel. Within it are the words of Aoth Sepret, a druid of Akadi, written in Mulhorandi with an elegant hand that idiosyncratically mixes the Infernal script of Thay with a scattering of traditional pictograms.
The Dialogue on Duty
[In Heptios, a bored crowd, and equally bored woman, are seen. The woman sits on her chair, dejected.]
Crowd: Where is he!? Where is the coward!?
Tisiphoebe the Orator: Gone! Hiding! Afraid to match words! Ask me not his whereabouts, for I know not.
Aoth Sepret: Was there to be a battle of words here?
Isolde Garibaldi: A debate with but one participant? That cannot be.
Crowd: This is the worst. Ufino was meant to debate Tisiphoebe, but the coward did not show.
Aoth: What was the subject of debate?
Crowd: The subject was on the topic of the liberated slaves. Ufino's position was to persuade the administration to let them go free. Tisiphoebe's, on their duty to Heptios.
Isolde: That's perfect! Aoth's great at subjects of liberty.
Tisiphoebe: What's this? You've no air of Heptios. Foreigners, afoot?
Aoth: My air is of anywhere.
Tisiphoebe: Everywhere? No, your air is here, and now. You can tell by the smell. And the heat in your lungs. You are in Heptios.
Reyhena Jorino: Akadians are foreign to no land, they say.
Aoth: Or to all lands. But surely liberty and duty are not at odds, Tisiphoebe. One cannot have duty without freedom.
Tisiphoebe: And what knows a foreigner of Heptiossan duty? Having lived abroad, afar, away. Not here, amidst the city, with its roots and virtues.
Aoth: Name me one duty one can perform in chains.
Tisiphoebe: Servants to Heptios must earn their keep and their place. As I have. In service to the legion, and in defense of Heptios. Freedom is not taken. It is earned. Only that which has no value is taken without effort.
Aoth: So then, the oxen must be the highest citizens of Heptios. Who has served and earned more than them? Their labor feeds all, and they ask for little in return.
Tisiphoebe: They ask for that which we all do: that which Heptios can provide. For there would be no oxen - or much of else - were it not for the order and laws established here in Heptios. From which we benefit from birth, a debt accrued, to be repaid in time. With due service to our great Heptios.
Isolde: [aside] To be born with a debt to pay sounds ~abysmal~.
Aoth: How many oxen have repaid this debt? In the last year.
Tisiphoebe: Again, with the oxen. Oxen are animals. They can never be citizens. Would it that our administration and legion be run by oxen, now?
Aoth: They have earned it, yes? By your own logic. They should make the best administrators. Unless there is a difference between you and them.
Tisiphoebe: Let us speak then. On the nature and difference of oxen, men, and women. An ox is but a beast. Without reason. Without the virtue required for citizenship. You compare slaves to oxen, but they differ greatly. For in a slave is the potential for virtue and the capacity to earn citizenship.
Aoth: And the capacity to reason, do not forget.
Tisiphoebe: Certainly. Else, there would be no potential for citizenship.
Aoth: So the capacity for reason is also a requirement for citizenship, agreed?
Tisiphoebe: It is one of the reasons an ox cannot be a citizen. Very well. Yes, we are agreed on this. But let us agree faster, for I am weary of so many questions.
Aoth: Labor without reason is meaningless then. In fact, we can easily eliminate labor from that equation, as we have shown it does not help the ox.
Tisiphoebe: We are no longer agreed. Hard work is the greatest virtue of a slave. And the surest and fastest way to earn citizenship, through military or civilian service. It is reason that distinguishes the ox from the slave. Not hard work. In that they are the same. Reason alone distinguishes the slave for citizenship.
Isolde: [aside] Why should hard work even be a virtue, when keen minds could contribute so much the better if they weren't stuck doing 'dishes'? I'd be terrible at one, but great at the other..
Raazi: [aside] I thought single combat was th' greatest test o' ones virtue.
Heptiossan: You sound like an Akanaxan.
Aoth: Ah, but virtue depends on choice, yes? Citizenship is granted to the slaves who choose virtue, who choose work...
Tisiphoebe: Yes . . . In that we agree . . .
Aoth: If a slave has the capacity for virtue, they already have liberty. Otherwise they are indistinguishable from the oxen again.
Tisiphoebe: And whyfore would -capacity- be enough? All men are capable of war. Yet some cower from their duty as legionnaires. The capacity of a slave for citizenship is clear. But I do not see why this should override their duties, to Heptios. These escaped slaves escape only from their own debts.
Aoth: Override? No, perhaps not. But without the slave's liberty, their duty is meaningless. As is the hard work of those who remain.
Tisiphoebe: You mean to suggest that duty can never be fulfilled if it its fulfillment is entirely forced?
Aoth: I do. I think the ox would agree. One cannot have duty without freedom, as I said.
Tisiphoebe: And what then would you have Heptios do? Simply -permit- the escape of these slaves, who were not freed? Tell me now how that is virtuous, considering all other slaves remain?
Aoth: What reason do the escaped slaves have to return? If their capacity for reason guides them to a different conclusions, what will convince them to give up their freedom? Force? Force cannot create citizens, because what mattered was the capacity to choose virtue.
Tisiphoebe: If they do not wish for Heptios' bounty, then they have no reason.
Aoth: Ah, wise. Perhaps you must persuade them with bounty.
Tisiphoebe: I am convinced. The foreigner has convinced me. The escaped slaves should be forgotten. If they never return, so be it.
Crowd: Agreed! Forget the escaped slaves! Men aren't oxen!
Slave: I demand citizenship!
Isolde: I knew we'd picked our champion well!
Tisiphoebe: Hm. Well done, foreigner. Well done.
[Grimly, Tisiphoebe the Orator returns to her seat, and reaches for her goblet to drink in defeat.]
((Thanks to Flom and all for this moment!))
It's just so rare I get to call you a dope. You know I waited so long to open that box because I knew it would be so much easier with you there, right?
Her smile is the world. What a gift that laughter was. I told her I can recognize pain, but it escapes me what to say or do. I heard Damian’s image call her ‘daughter’ one more time, and even without seeing her face, I knew the right action was beyond my abilities to mimic. Pain like that it too complicated. Sometimes a touch leads to distancing or a kind word causes anger. When the tears flow, everything becomes unpredictable. She deserves better than I can give, I said. And then, the assurance that she knows me and needs me to simply be me? I feel as though I am drifting a league high even when my feet touch the earth. She is mine, mine, mine.
Why not call it love? I never thought I could own that word, so foreign it felt. Better to soar and run and leave them wanting, never to look back. That was how I lived before, but I want her love more than the adoration that Keerla gave. It is sweeter than the play of distance and desire with Hannibal. The pull to be hers is greater than urge to become Karrick’s favorite. The devastation I would feel if she turned me away. I would stop wandering for a time to see this through. What else is that but love?
So I have begun to work on her family. My little challenge at the feast was to make them see that the word ‘friend’ was inadequate. Thalaman is simple enough. After the devastation at Jiyyd, his twisted fountain should be hardly a chore - and then a favor in return worth far more. I do not know what value the widow has within the family, but I instinctively want to please her. She seems to love the game played boldly, but I sense she will ask more some day. Adrian and Kasimir, open books both but the pages bear the intractable language of grimoire…
Bess’s acceptance of my non-revelation gives me a little hope for an unrelated task. I will have to speak more of the unspoken to persuade Isolde. Her friendship has changed me, but it is time for mine to change her. She’ll never see deceit in every action, and I would not want her to. But these are demons. Isolde must be shown how Miranda works. Dividing people into players and pawns. Showing favoritism according to the usefulness of each piece. We are toys to her, nothing more. Some to be played with through little dramas, some to be dominated or burned. She tosses the dice to reward us for accepting the danger that her presence represents. In that philosophical debate in the commons, she spoke like me - all calculated revelation empty of true vulnerability.
We cannot trust a single word she says. We cannot choose any of the paths she lays in front of us, because she wins in every scenario. I know this as I know her. This is who I would be without my faith.
Did I never record Aldoon’s story here? Sebrienne’s request has left me reminiscing (that most tempting of sins).
He plotted to free an ancient evil, one from those shifting times before the great pantheons and memory. What a fool Aldoon was - risking the entirely of the Plane of Elemental Air in his ambition. As punishment, the Great Caliph bound him to his own scimitar, which the Caliph gifted to me.
“You are no gaoler,” Aldoon told me whenever he threatened and bargained for release. I remember the cleric of Sharess calling it slavery, as if the government of Peltarch had any jurisdiction over faith. This was not about power or justice, in my mind - this was about the bending to the will of Akadi. So I denied Aldoon’s every offer. Then Damian fell ill, some tangle of fate, and Isolde or Reyhenna asked me to summon him.
Aldoon had not yet atoned, but we needed a djinni’s power. So I summoned him and offered his freedom if he would help. Then, to our surprise, he confessed his inability to do anything. I remember every word of the conversation that followed.
“I have resigned myself to learning from my mistakes,” he told me as the confession poured forth. “It has not been pleasant. But it has at least been somewhat comforting.”
“What have you learned thus far, Aldoon?” I asked.
Where once there had flown a noble djinni, a whirling tempest of anger and arcane power, now there floated a humble, bent shape. “I have learned not to underestimate the power of mortal conviction. It seems, to me now, that even the smallest rodent could outrun the swiftest landcat. Or cage it into a scabbard. I shall be honest with you, Aoth of Akadi. Even if you were to undo my binds, I do not think I can help this man. The threads of Fate woven around him are as numerous as the highest of djinni, and I am no longer even a noble.”
The truth of his change was there in those words, which the old Aldoon could never have uttered even as a bluff. “Here is the deal I will make for you," I said. "Remember, whatever you choose, this is the first choice of your new beginning, your new life as Aldoon the Free. I will break the tether. That is the whole of the deal. Do you accept?”
He hesitated, wavering on his smokey tendril. “I admit freely now that I am somewhat frightened at the prospect. Is that not ridiculous? You would break my tether even after I slew your kin at the Temple of Akadi?”
“Do you not think I will do it again?”
“I cannot know what choices await you. I can only see you are different today than you were that day in the Dragonspine.”
“I am powerless and broken. The Great Caliph neutered my ability to manipulate fate. I tell you now, earnestly and plainly: even if you release me, I cannot help this man.”
“I cannot grant wishes either, yet here I am. I think you understand more than you realize, Aldoon the Free. It is frightening. Do you accept my deal? You must say it.”
“I . . . I accept.”
“Then in the name of the Great Caliph of the Citadel of Ice and Steel, I release you, Aldoon the Free. You have served your sentence, and changed as all things under the sky must change. There are as many ways to be noble as there are directions to travel, Aldoon. You have as many choices and more before you.”
Like Sebrienne, he too felt he needed to pay for the dead, as though they had not already sated their revenge in the plane of air. I had only ever wanted him to admit a mistake. What will Sebrienne learn from her atonement? The wind will blow where it blows.
Now, as I recall that night of hours trickling toward a fatal dawn, my mind’s eye focuses on Reyhenna, so silent in her grief for the father she had only recently found, the father she might soon lose. The rage I feel now, remembering her so upset. Today I would carve a path across the countryside to search for a cure. I would pick up the towns and turn them aside. I would bring down the storm upon any soul who denied her joy. I did not know the value of her smile then.
I do not know when I stopped thinking of the pull as their voices and it became my own. Perhaps it was always there, as my first circle said. Amid the intolerable peace of Marigold, the voices grew louder until I, at last, found I could take an elemental shape again.
The restored freedom was intoxicating. There was an impulse to try anew old games. A new record in crossing the Trackless Sea. Push new limits in flying toward the moon. But Akadi had other plans for me.
A few days later, Sebrienne requested my attention. An absolution. Over the dead she left behind, the ones for which there is a price on her head in Calishite gold. She knelt before me as I explained to her the limits of Atonement, that I could not speak for any god but Akadi, that I could not grant forgiveness in the name of the dead. But the past weighs her down like chains, and on that Akadi has something to teach. The dead mean nothing. That is only man’s law. But the sorceress could be so much more if her magic did not summon fear and doubt. I can cast no Geas, but I hope to guide her as she learns, much like Aldoon, that she was always free.
So the prayer bells have watched over me as I communed with the winds. I may begin a fast within a few days, to clear the coiling thoughts of this human flesh. Though it strikes me as almost amusing how these tasks are equal parts divine and mortal. As I commune, my elemental heritage roars with possibility, and my thinly stretched humanity interprets.
I mentioned Sebrienne’s request to Elaine, Leena’s replacement. Our friendship quickly felt like it had withstood the same tests of time and trials of hardship. Elaine thought the request might have comforted me, in the acknowledgement of my standing, but no, no I said. I felt a great sense of power. A thrill, if I am honest, Thao. She had only just complimented me on my effectiveness against fire giants, but that power is nothing. Shaping minds, that is what this diary returns to again and again.
(When I am not being an embarrassing bore. How much did you suffer sharing my memory, Thao? No less than I.)
Long after the fractal vision has ended, the sense of filth lingers. The stickiness or the little grains that gather in the hair, between fingers. The tremors in the dark, pulsing beneath me. The heaviness. The unbearable heaviness.
She seems soft, my other. Is it a feint? Where I connived and charmed to escape punishment, did she play the dutiful daughter? It would never have occurred to me to dress a cold heart in a domestic apron. If she is empty inside, she pulls it off well enough that I have doubt.
What she must experience when she wakes in my world. The rushing cold. The vertigo and loss of self as my outbound senses whirl and twist in every direction at once. Does she wake wrapping herself to shelter from the lingering chill? Does she hear the wind still rushing in her ears?
She must be like me. A human origin but with a soul already conjoined with elemental spirits. What would it mean to merge these collective minds? Would there be space to breathe for any of us? The fractal confusion, that great unknown, has its tempting qualities. But my bones resist.
The others seem so like their counterparts. For Hannah and Reyhenna, or Roslyn and Quillsider, the fractal confusion would be a cup overflowing, but the same vintage. Poor Laurent, doubled in mad ambition even before he began cutting holes in his memory. For Isolde and Cat or Inno and Jonni, it may be an expanded awareness, new tools for their kits. Sebrienne and Niebes may be the closest to our situation, but I can imagine what the studious could do with the raw power, or what the innocent may dream into being with new understanding.
Thao plays the true believer (she has a cause, how familiar), but she must doubt our situation as much as I do. We are different. We are not merely two minds. We are opposite ends of a conflict older than time. We are antithesis.
Then I see my spear. The whirlwind bound within metal, singing its own tenuous stability. I remember being hesitant to strike with it at first, expecting it to crack like lightning. I was thinking too of omnimentals before we encountered one. If we were four, could we find balance easier? That seems hardly more logical than two. But what can one say with four voices? Less than they could say separately, I am certain, yet my spear sings.
It dawns on me that I am not even writing Katrin, am I? Am I hoping she will see this? Shall I begin conversing with mirrors next?
Very well. Thao. I hope you do read this. I hope you remember writing this.
If you dream this in time, know that I can be convinced, but I am not keen to sacrifice who I am. If the discomfort is too great for you as well, if you find you have already achieved what you wished, give me a sign, and we will divide with whatever tools are on hand.
I was wrong, Katrin. I was certain Horgrim had doomed himself. Either the hand of the dead god would destroy him in its own quest to pollute the land or he would learn to control it and decide its usefulness was not yet extinguished. I was prepared to end him, should the latter occur. But Isolde, her kind heart never depleted, had the right this time. The arch magus was freed from the cursed artifact, and he is now resting, whole as ever. Now it is Isolde’s turn to pay a price, but I suspect she will pawn the damned sword onto another, willing host.
Horgrim’s undead staunched waves of the far things. We easily dispatched the remaining legions when Horgrim could no longer control his army. It is not the tide of horrors that leaves me trembling, it is what came before. We have a vision of the unfathomable intelligence, the Gatecrasher, the one our arcanist may serve. Tall, humanoid almost, but with a neck that never ends and arms, a plethora, spiraling in all directions. We felt it in our minds this time. Like someone dining within our skulls. Is this who is to COME FORWARD?
How does one shield the land from that? Too terrible to look upon, too beyond the senses to strategize against. I wish I had paid more attention to our Conjuration tutors, Katrin. But then, could you had stood before that army of nightmares? Could Ephesta, ever my better? The past is not the home for my wishes. I am no arcanist, no planeswalker. Toril herself, the elements, are my tools. If only we were certain we had time!
Now to find solace. I hear Isolde and Reyella downstairs, waking the rooster with their laughter. Reyhenna with them. Shall we see where this night ends?
I have been lost in memory, Katrin. Reliving a speech that felt like the world shaking, but it was heard by too few and acted upon by fewer.
"Brothers and Sisters of the Wild, Druids and Protectors, I have been thinking about the day after the planar convergence is healed. Not out of pride, not for believing victory is owed to us, but from dedication to securing a future where we, this Circle, can prevent another disaster of this scale. This, the greatest conflict of our age, must have meaning if there is to be hope for life in this realm. The sacrifices of the years, it must change us. I think of the day after because I do not consider the demons alone to be the source of our trouble. The struggle does not end with their banishment. When the war between Peltarch and N'Jast reached its peak, the natural order was threatened. Well before the fateful decision that scarred our charge, the land. That is the mistake we must learn from.”
Did we learn, Katrin? Hargakku, Shapeshifter, and Lonetree remained in their wood. Other elders and apprentices have scattered. I said those words standing beside my sister, who is gone. My own eternal sister who fought beside me through the worst. (Remember us standing atop the bluff? The smell of Thanatos still hanging in the air. The bodies and blood and bile, but the two of us alive.) We were night and day--not enemies but twin spirits whose difference was our power.
“In our Circle, many faiths work together. The faithful of mortal enemies, Malar and Mielikki, sit at each other’s side. A druid of Talos apprentices under a druid of Sheela Peryroyl, and we do not call that strange. We call that peace.”
We failed. Not only because the Far Realms has battering rams to split our plane. No, we-- I wanted to teach the people of Narfell that strength comes from opposition as well as unity. Peace means disagreement, peace means losing and being better for it. But The Circle of Jiyyd failed. The memory faded. I too lost my anchor and gave in to the voices on the wind. I lost my old purpose and dealt in mere trifles.
If we had succeeded then, could we have stopped these runes earlier, Katrin? No, perhaps not. It is not for this that I lament. (And I do lament, Katrin.) It is poor, poor Horgrim Blackweave who paid the price. He is already lost to us, Katrin. He is so alone, so misguided, so empty of company, challenge, light, life, questions. He has set upon a path so straight and narrow that any fool could follow it to the horizon. The hand of the dead god grafted to his arm, and he thinks he knows the price. He dreams he will sacrifice for us, but such power is not ever so glorious. He turned to undead aid again, and I doubt the end of this quest will see him turn back.
But that is the future. It may be plain, but it is not yet written. The faithful live in the present. Action lives in the present. Father taught us to battle every scenario in our mind, and so we will fight the Far Realm while hoping for an upper hand against Horgrim’s curse. We have fought necromancers before, and we will again. Today we need allies.
And so you ask me, Katrin, a smile ever so coy… “are you any different, o druid?” I have no answer for you today. But I am alive yet, and the living grow and change. So I will seek conversation and experiences with those who will chide me, as my sister once did. I will balance my inclinations. Sebrienne first, I think. Her innocence is a cool glass of white wine.
Down, down, down, down, down, and down again. Under a continent of soul-crushing rock. The sense of importance in the mission increased as we descended. No twist of tongue could deny that we had to go. And so grew the unnatural aura until one hardly believed we were standing within Toril at all.
It was Devils first. Cold, calculating, and seeing time with an outsider's eyes--but familiar. And now rewritten atop, something of the Far Realms. Two hands at work. Both more dangerous than the last.
There you were, Katrin. I thought you lost, but you were nestled between a ceremonial robe and a bag of traps. Make of that what you will. I wonder if any new druid found you? I met one of them. Serenity. You would not like her, but I did before I learned her name or that she was a member of the Circle. She is much more pleasant company than you. Who was this person writing on your pages? Please do not say it was me. So tedious. How could you bear it?
"Peltarch hurts my feet. Everything is so close. I can smell the earth on my clothes. But I cannot move just yet."
A lie then, but a truth now. I have an appointment with the regent's council in Peltarch. You know, I am actually looking forward to rooting out the devils' accomplices. Even if it means sitting through a statement from the master of coin, but I do fear the devils will make the whole affair less entertaining than even that in time. I met the most amusing paladin recently. Picking locks. Roughing up the nobility. The finest, but he's fallen now, naturally. The devils' doing. Likely out of play for some time, the poor fellow. The Peltarch Gaol. How did my past self neglect to destroy it so many times?
Am I growing sentimental, Katrin?
It seems evil to me that a being should be alone. Whatever the cost, companionship is a noble pursuit, is it not? The pulse behind so many stories. So a few lives have been lost in this tale? What does that matter? Those people had opportunities to make themselves something. These heroes, they summon our kin on a whim, never concerned with the nature of the thing they summon. They force our kin into golems and other machinery. Which is worse?
Is this my problem, Katrin? You know my thoughts on my human kin. What of my other, later heritage? I have no urge to destroy Aldoon, and he has wronged me worse than your father ever did. It is different somehow, the purity of the elemental mind. Do I see myself in this Smoke? Am I too searching for companionship?
They call him aberration. Do they think the same of me? No. Of course not. Sentiment, friendship. They see me as a peer. So they call him the aberration, but he has a mother. Perhaps we should find her, if she survived. Mothers so often do not, I find. The cost of pouring your being into another.
Look at me, Katrin. Sentimental. Impossible.
Peltarch hurts my feet. Everything is so close. I can smell the earth on my clothes. But I cannot move just yet.
There are good days too, Katrin.
Witnessing a story reach a conclusion. Simply knowing that it is possible. Two joined upon a mountain exactly like a novel would have them. Equals, complementary.
Making a request of a god. Having the patience and the space to think, to wait on a god's timescale.
The freedom to simply travel, to embrace both those outsider's impulses that whisper within me as well as that very, very human core. Oranges, mist, and spray of the sea. 600 miles from those who know our names.
"Now the difficult work begins."
I did not even begin to suspect, Katrin. How utterly impossible these days have been.
I never even wrote in these pages the words "Knights Requietum." I knew from the start that it could not last, and every time I sat, I found myself at a loss for commentary. Or is this merely the story I tell myself? Perhaps I was simply embarrassed. (I can hear you laugh in my memory. Stop that.)
The Knights were meant to be the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Order of the Watchful Repose. For objecting to the charter and praising the Furies, I was given a position of leadership. I ask you, Katrin: ill-fated or not, how do you decline a puzzle such as that? I could see value in the order, but I began carelessly. I expected to be the lone voice of tolerance among paladins and clerics. Then, incident by incident, I saw how wrong I was. How can so few people make more mistakes than the entire Legion? The days have been dizzying. Either Shae is incompetent or a Cyricist, and I do not know which is worse.
This should have been a test of my dreams. I expected to be a teacher among the order, and saw that was needed. The conflicts were amusing at first, and dallying, I took them less than seriously. I saw only the challenge of bringing the knights together, seeing how their differences might complement the other. Balancing compromise and coexistence. All things the Circle must teach. It seemed so perfect an opportunity.
Then the vampires returned, and I began to see how this was not an order of the faithful. Far, far from it.
A certain sort values escape over understanding. They replace righteousness from the heavens with self-righteousness, with the unfalsifiable belief that surviving is moral. Dissecting any decision is an attack to them. They are either victim or victor in everything, and both outcomes are decked in garlands. I do not know how to reach these minds.
Look at me, Katrin. "Moral." When have I ever written a word so dreadful? The order left me tired, Katrin. I felt dull and chained. I failed. I see no future in reclaiming the order's name. Everyone speaks ill of it though the trial has not even begun publicly. I did not like this feeling. So I have left.
"This land tries very hard to give me a conscience."
It is as I told the new druids. What Leena referred to as the a "call." That call is all the difference. In the Knights, I felt surrounded by amateur actors on a stage during a festival, reciting half-remembered lines in an old tongue. Among the Circle, at least, we understand our roles. There are three new druids in fact. Leena rushes them toward apprenticeship. Perhaps she fears they will leave if she does not, but we risk becoming like the Knights if we are not careful. We do not have the demons to unite us, and already the other elders have retreated.
We should talk on that, Leena and I. At least with her it is never torture. Even if the bathhouse, as we dissected my failure, I felt at ease with her. I do not know how she sees me from so many angles at once, nor how despite that, she yet has such unswerving faith in me of all creatures.
"For you, I wish victory. For you, I wish to take something from this, and every other thing you encounter, and not be lessened in any way by someone else's foolishness. Even when it's mine."
Perhaps this is exactly what I would have come to write myself by the end of this page. I should thank her for sparing me the agony of finding those words myself.
It is done.
Now the difficult work begins.
Is it pain or control, Katrin? I have watched others die and recover. Do you remember our aunts who were so frequently born again in Kossuth's name? They are like that, these friends. They torture themselves over their faults. They obsess over stiff muscles and dull senses as if they are portents of moral failings.
After many victories, Leena lost her life to death magic by one of four balors. This convinced her to trade in her ironwood. We traveled the orcs together, she wearing little more than a nightgown. I flung my spear about, but I loaned her no healing magic. That is what they want, those who return. They yearn to feel the pain of their uselessness. To burn their limits into their consciousness. Sense and caution are not what they need.
But Leena went too far.
As the warrior Thyr recruited for a trip toward the lava caves, Leena proclaimed her uselessness. In any measure, she was no weaker than I had been days before, and she is capable of far more than she was when we met, when we committed ourselves and the Circle to ending this nightmare in Jiyyd.
It would have hurt our cause worse to scold her in public. We cannot let the Circle's name be muddied now. So in the belly of the orc cave, I spoke my only demand. We have too much work to do yet. Well after Glymphimhor's forces retreat, we will rely on the faith of others in our wisdom and guidance.
Laerune fell in the same fight. A spell little magic had hope of countering, it seems. "Why do we do this?" she asked. She who relishes pain, who admits pleasure in killing. She who promised to teach me to beg, Katrin. "Why do we do this?" It took a few questions of my own to learn she meant treks into hostile territory. Slaying goblins, orcs, and such. The dark twin to Leena's desire to burn the old, this apathy is not unusual.
Though the priest was with us, I answered honestly: I go to observe others. This was tested the next time I traveled with Laerune. I had meant to show her the other knights the bugbear mines. Laerune can be vocal in criticizing another's leadership, but she rushed headlong into every conflict. Of all the knights thus far, she seems the most valuable. I did not know whether to run at her side or guard the others. I thought drugs. Perhaps the influence of the Loviataran sorcerer. Nothing fit until we talked later and Laerune described the "burning passion" at work.
I should have seen that. But in a course of days, to go from that existential anxiety to such passion? This is unusual. Most return to their comfortable middle. I wonder what tomorrow brings. I wonder how this might be used.
You must want to know of the knights now, Katrin. You will have to wait. The grove stirs, and Leena seems prepared to make a speech…
Another significant gap in dates…
I do wonder, Katrin. Did I fly over you as I crossed Thay? Had you looked up to see a swiftly crossing cloud, one cloud among the countless of your years, this one alone thought of you in return.
I traveled in search of insight. I crossed the Great Waste bound for the Glittering Spires. I visited the kenku village where my staff was created. We had little to say to one another. The druids there misunderstood my intent. They insisted I keep it.
I traveled to Mulhorand next, where Nut-Akadi was revered as protector once. I found little evidence of the faith in Skuld, but an old druid of Sebek told me I would find inspiration among the monuments in the Land of the Dead. I traveled up the River of Shadows by boat. The valley of the dead was like a recurring dream of mine. Shifting sands, silent penitents and groundskeepers wandering among the dilapidated stone. I found nothing that moved me once the eeriness had passed.
I made the pilgrimage to the Shaar, to the ruins of Blaskaltar, for Midsummer. As the crowd of Akadi's faithful gathered, I found that I was not recognized. That amused me, so I kept my identity hidden. I listened to their many arguments. I watched their diverse rituals. I learned much, but very little of what these presumptive leaders of the faith wished me to learn.
Now I have returned to Narfell. There are many new faces, and many old problems. Though nothing else was achieved in my travel, I return feeling anew and capable of hope again.
There is a significant gap between the date of this and previous entry.
I have watched Wick loaf around the glen since the fall of the demon Ruin. The woods are not free of demonic influence, but it is enough for him: his dream come true. While he rests, the demons could yet take control of the woods before the end of the year. Visions are too dangerous that way, Katrin.
I am learning a similar lesson myself. I changed when I merged with the elementals and brought their experiences into my own. I told the damned guardsman I had lost some humanity. I knew speaking such a truth was a mistake, even other druids refuse to discuss this aspect of shapeshifting. But the elemental voices wanted the freedom to speak. Restraint is not their language. So between building this coalition, delivering news good and bad, these inner voices preoccupied themselves with possibility, with an opportunity for growth. The Circle of Jiyyd, I might as well whisper like a child with a crush. Should I write it on my skin too? Fancies I could be working toward long after my more mortal peers lie in the grave. Yet without foresight, without vision, how do I persuade others to look beyond the immediate? The short term victories they crave mean nothing if all of this must happen again and again and again.
Katrin, this is not whining, not angst or paranoia. They are talking of activating another demon-born artifact. They believe the words of a succubus, Katrin. A succubus. They are willing to repeat the same mistakes - note for note - as what birthed all of this. Madness. Utter, impossible madness.
In my change, I forgot those first lessons taught to me by my uncle, the Red Wizard, the Archdruid. Power shapes reality. Those with power decide truth. If they believe themselves invincible, people will fear them as such. They will take, they will harm, and the others will believe it the only way to victory. Here in Narfell people hunger for that sort of power. There is a vile entitlement. A refusal to regret. A blindness over mistakes. Lessons of the past go unlearned even as people face their consequences. Discussions of means and ends proceed as if the gods themselves had not descended to Toril to learn the same. But no, these heroes are the cleverest, the fastest - their past victories justify every decision. Or they sacrifice for their people and therefore their compromises cannot be condemned.
What do we do, Katrin? The Circle cannot win this alone. We cannot win this by hunting those who abuse power. We cannot win this with allies who predictably play into the demons' hands at every opportunity. So what do we do?
Change is the answer. Always the answer.
A lack of experiences is not the problem, Katrin. Pain is no longer a problem. I fail to write because nothing is fixed enough for words. Any day now could change my interpretation of everything.
There was pain however. So much that I cried like a child, and like a child I wondered if there could ever be an end to it. The events were quite confused. I fell to an immolith. Leena managed to revive me, but not before a demon found me in the Fugue. Whether the damage was done to my soul or body first, I lost my arm. Necromancy prevented the wound from regenerating. My shoulder was rotting flesh, dying, yet alive enough to feel.
No– I am recounting events in a version well-rehearsed by now. Is this why I keep you, Katrin? I think not.
I do not know you any longer, Katrin. What can I say to someone I do not know? That is why I do not write. Farewell.
The ink of this last line is smudged as though the diary had been closed hastily.
There is a long gap between entries here. Between the previous and next dated pages, there is only one sentence - written in an inelegant hand on a line that curls at the edge of the page.
I will not be spurred or spooked like some mare.
Revisit these next pages carefully. Forget the illusion that this diary is a series of letters, a game, a trifle. Read and remember. Read that you may survive.
You were curious about the devils and the Golden Light. Paranoid even. With Roslyn, you went beyond the hill giants and into the ogre gorge. The names: Hannibal, Isolde, Alvaniel, Rasuil, Jojono, Anheim, and Tanya, Atel's daughter. Kimara and Salin were there among the ogres but would leave shortly.
Beyond the fire traps, the ogres died by another hand. A fantastic, masked swordsman. (Already you suspected, Aoth. Remember.) The swordsman stood among others - the Night Parade - and on the ground a man in Cerulean blue.
Here understand this is no feint, no wishful thinking, no rosy-reflection: you sensed a trap. In your bones you knew the Cerulean suspicious though there was no evidence yet. Your bones knew the truth on sight.
Saved, the Cerulean demanded a teleport, fast passage, to the location he had been studying. You wind walked. There was an opening, a portal, which responded to Roslyn's amulet. Some story was invented about Sarah Snow. (Remember, Aoth, when the details and explanation rely on another's feeling, how far can you trust them? Question how far you proceed, how much you risk, for another's understanding. Question.) Hurry, hurry, everyone said against their own judgment. No time to prepare. You saw, as everyone saw, the mistake as it was being made.
The keys, the hallways were familiar. It was all familiar. Believing the others had the truth of it, you suspected that the group was influencing your surroundings. Dabu's towers. Korvan's woods. All a reflection. Then Tanya dispelled it all, washed away the illusion. Why did you not understand, Aoth? Ask yourself that. This was no dreamscape, no memory. Divination clarifies memories and dreams, does not destroy them. Instead you thought it a game: think of Brightwater, you said. (Foolish girl, why are you laughing?)
The twisted orcs appeared in time to spur you to rush, to forget your misgivings.
Then the Cerulean found the third key alone. That was the moment your suspicion solidified. Why did you trust Isolde to find the truth? Foolish girl, trust yourself alone. Remember how he requested to enter first? A double-bluff and you all fell for it. Remember.
The cage sealed. The very moment you feared. Did you cower? lash out? panic? No. Your training below ground is a success. Fear no more. Trust in yourself.
You survived, Aoth, but remember this. You survived because you use spells sparingly. You survived on instinct, and your instincts would have spared more trouble had you listened.
You will find scrolls to resurrect the dead.
You will carry potions of true seeing.
You will not tread laughing into illusion again.
You will question.
You will demand.
You trust only Akadi.
Revisit these pages and remember.