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The Pilgrim - A Urealms Story
Chapter 1: Humanity
As I set out northwards to the lands where only the subjugates of Yvander prowled, I recall the conversation which affirmed me of my path. It was with the Grand Seeker of the Order of Seekers; my devotion, my guiding light through life. The order, it is everything to me. It defines my actions. It forms my thoughts. It culminated in The Pilgrimage.
“Must you go through with this, Iyov?” the Grand Seeker uttered. “The Great Pilgrimage has never been successfully performed since the Birth of Magic. To go and hear the truth from the gods themselves… none have taken the trial since the death of Phanto and survived.”
I contemplated these words, cleared my throat, and spoke. “It is necessary, Grand Seeker. Times have changed drastically. The records of the divines no longer make sense in this world. You speak of them as similar to us, of flesh, yet in all the land I see no empathy beyond humanity. You speak of the trial as a necessity, yet the Order of Seekers has only abandoned it because it had seemed impossible, when understanding the gods is a task that none have accomplished. You speak of death as a loss, when I do not fear death when the stakes hold true enlightenment. Yvander himself holds this philosophy close. Have I not proven myself to be a true Seeker, following Yvander’s guidance towards this true enlightenment? Surely, the Pilgrimage is the embodiment of his decree.”
“Yes, Iyov. You are certainly right, but knowledge can be learned incrementally. One does not need to lean over the abyss to understand its depth. One does not need to discard everything for the sake of knowledge.”
I shook my head. “I do not seek to simply know the depth of the pit, I seek to understand what lies within. Only the gifted know what lies in the far corners of the world. I intend to bring these depths to the light, and show horrors, wonders, truths to humanity.”
The Grand Seeker exhaled as his demeanor alighted with admiration. “Well said, student. Well said indeed.”
The Grand Seeker twirled his floating chair around, to face the night sky. Phanto was shrouded behind a funerary veil of clouds, eternally mourning the loss of a true god. A god that could now never come to the light of mortal understanding. The icy-blue lights of the frozen city below were like candles beneath the vast sky.
“If you wish to take this journey, then I will not stop you. I shall give you my blessings, in fact. You know the physical risks, yet I do not think you know the pain of the mind.”
“Pain of the mind?” questioned the scholar.
“Only us elder Seekers know of this pain. ‘Tis a pain that one is better off never feeling. It is a pain of limitation. Imagine, seeing a new color in this night sky. One that the Aspects have not defined. One that you have never noticed, and yet you seem to be the only one to see it. And yet you cannot tell anybody, as you have no words to describe it. And if you describe it as simply a color no man has experienced, none will believe you. You will be cursed to see it, yet never be able to express it. It offers no betterment, no purpose. It is knowledge that could perhaps save humanity, yet humanity cannot fathom it. That is the pain of the mind. A pain that Yvander’s teachings have never told me.”
“You may risk your life, and break yourself upon the altars of the Aspects, yet all its sole service will be to drive a single man insane.”
The air held still.
“I have seen it myself, Iyov. It is the reason why many Seekers simply retire to Yvander’s side, and never dare to take The Pilgrimage.”
The Grand Seeker inhaled, and took a long exhale. I closed my eyes, and rubbed my forehead.
“If true enlightenment is madness, then I will be mad. I wish for nothing else.”
Chapter 2: Yvander
I arrived at the Winterstone, a series of ice caves upon the sea (a physical Winterstone is said to lie within Yvander’s chambers, but I was not in the mind to see it), deep beneath the surface. The Winterstone was not far from the ancestral capital of the Highbears, 10783 paces, and the domain itself was heavily guarded by the Highbears who had devoted themselves to the Aspect of Frost. They stoically asked my business, and I showed them the insignia given to me by the Grand Seeker, giving me permission to speak with Yvander. Although the attendants scoffed at a lesser Seeker hoping to comprehend Yvander’s insights, or even hold the attention of a being devoted to a knowledge that I could not give a gossamer touch upon.
Yvander’s Bed lay beyond a labyrinth of ice. The only directions were to simply head down, and to always follow the cold as it gradually thickened. Vast chambers of sleeping disciples led the way to the Bed. I could not tell whether or not they were dead, seeing as how frost had formed upon my clothing. Magical fire fizzled instantly. The only true warmth to be found was in the acclimation to the frost. Even so, the pain was incredible. My body desired no more than to crumple to the ground and try to warm myself, yet my mind knew that doing so would end up in me freezing to death.
After hours of wandering through tunnels lit only by luminescent water beyond the ice, Yvander’s Bed lay before me. Standing at the entrance, the cold was the harshest it had ever been. It had somehow lapsed over into feeling like searing heat. It stung through the many layers of furs, as if my body had been submerged in boiling oil.
Yet when I crossed the threshold and felt the presence of the Frostlord, I felt nothing but numbness. I felt disconnected from my body. All I could truly sense was my brain, and as a consequence (or perhaps the intention) was that I could feel my mind intimately. I could sense my thoughts arising from an actual location, feel as it led to another, feel parts of it beating as if it was the second heart of my body. I could still see and sense the world around me, yet it was a dazed perception, as if I was in a dream. In that moment, the sight of Yvander was as interesting as the ice I had been staring at for hours. But the thought of him drove my will. I could feel this thought take precedence amidst all the excited chatter. I tell you, this sensation alone was enough to become enlightened.
I remember little of the world around me. Many Seekers, bear or otherwise, joining their deity in dream. The eldest attendant gesturing me forward, knowing me without any exchange of words or thought. The overwhelming presence of Yvander, a power that penetrated this fantastical numbness. His body lay motionless as I stood in front of him, and as I heard him speak to me.
“Sleep, child, and I shall teach.”
And so I did.
I remember being taken to a place, yet I cannot remember quite what it was like. In fact, I do not remember what Yvander was “physically” like in this state of consciousness. All I remember was… well, I cannot describe it. A pain of the mind. It is a miracle of the divines that I can even recall it. Perhaps it is because I have pondered this moment immensely, or perhaps it is because Yvander himself branded it upon my meager mind.
Here is the only way I can write it.
The ringing of a stoic bell. A slap for my ignorance from the rancher. An image of the Spire, my first sight of it. I read of Yvander, read of his grand quest for wisdom; practical knowledge, far different from the radical experiments of Quintara Lotus. Devoting myself to his way of wisdom. The conversation with the Grand Seeker. The excitement of just a moment ago, of finally communing with the Aspect I had felt most connected to.
An image not of me. A young elf studies his book, and is told that elves are the only non-divines worthy of life. Yet he looks up, stares up at his strange friend, waiting on him to finish his studies to enjoy the splendors of youth. That feeling, confusion. Ages pass in a blur, with only shouting and steel reverberating. Lifeless eyes, eyes of the friend. An elf removes the dagger from her flesh. He walks on. An elven child materializes, holds his hand. The roads become trees. The trees become stone. Yellow eyes and fangs, glowing in the darkness. They sit. The old man builds a fire, lights it. The child screams. The old man hits her, tells her to look. She looks around. She laughs. She turns back to the fire. Her eyes are yellow bulbs, and fangs grow from her incisors. They both laugh.
Darkness envelops me. Again, I see the lifeless eyes. I look up, see a battlefield of broken bodies of all races. The sun and the moon pass over many times, a day within the ticking of a clock. Bloody faces rise, distend, bodies stretch and turn brown. Eyes fall out of their sockets, drop to the ground and split. Rotten faces smile in bliss. Legs sink into the earth. Arms break into tentacles, grasping towards the sky. The earth hardens. Leaves sprout. Flowers bloom. The corpses are trees, yet I still see the ghastly faces of the damned. The child and the man walk through this place. Stop to pick up a flower. It turns into an eyeball. They are happy.
Once more I see lifeless eyes. Hundreds of them. They were cut down by a sword. An elf crouches towards one, inspects its face. He walks on. A boy joins him. He fades. The boy grows. The sword remains. It is dropped. Picked up. The boy stops before a skull. It disintegrates. He presses on. The eyes return. One pair glows. A shout. The one joins the others. The boy with the sword crouches. His flesh sinks into his bone. Yet he is happy.
The eyes. A family is crowded around a casket. The child is stabbed through the heart with a shard of pure ice. His corpse is frozen. They are all sad, and all but one mourns. Another boy. He walks off into darkness. He finds the corpse of his brother along the path. He resolutely turns and continues on. There it is again. He turns. Again. He turns. The shards line his path, but he is not afraid. A bell rings. He drops to the floor, asleep. He is in Yvander’s cave, and he dreams with him.
Joy. The cold slap of the rancher returns. I turn to face myself, sleeping before the mouth of the Aspect of Frost. We linger there. The Grand Seeker comes to my body, yet he vanishes. The world spins.
A dwarf girl of a noble house sits by the fireplace. Passive magic floods from her. She sticks her hand in the fire. She screams. Two great hands clasp her, and her flesh is healed. She is happy. She sits by the fire once more, and a cold breath mysteriously extinguishes it. She thinks nothing of it, and merely turns around and walks. A stoic bell rings in the distance. She grows rapidly. Laughter and shouting is heard. Bodies begin to fall around her, their blood spilling onto her path. The girl cries, yet walks onwards. Rotting corpses line her path. The ringing grows louder. Her hands alight with blue flame, and she throws a great fireball into the darkness. A trident comes back, impales her shoulder. Her right arm falls off. She merely sighs. The ringing grows louder. The icy fire within her hands grows brighter, ignites her skin. The house turns into a cave, covered in black stone. Moans of dying men are heard all around. The ringing grows louder. The black stone turns to ice. The cold breath tickles her charred flesh. Yvander now stands before her. She smiles, and sleeps before him. Others, despairing in sadness, arrive not long after. They too, smile, laugh, rejoice, and descend into dream. Yvander laughs in pride, accomplishment.
The burning slap. My heart is alight with anger. I desire to shout, yet already I see an elf with icy blue hair. He is reading a book. Not to himself, but aloud. Children of all the races sit around him, legs crossed. Some disregard him, others listen intently. They enjoy his stories, learn from them. It is easy, cheerful, helpful. They clap when he is done reading the book. The children turn away and walk into the darkness. The elf is pleased with himself, and arises from his chair. He turns. Sees his mother dressed in white. She seems troubled. The elf tries to talk, and his mother’s face shrivels like a rotting gourd. Screams resonate all around. The woman melts, her flesh becoming one with the belly of a great dragon, the new walls of the chamber. Torment echoes all around the hollow shell. The elf collapses, covers his eyes, and weeps. I felt something dark. Adventure? Suddenly, the elf ceases his tears, and is smiling with glee. The screams do not halt. He skips over to the book on his chair. He tears out the pages, scratches his hand and writes in his blood. He is pale, tired. But he is happier than he has ever been before. The screams do not halt. The children return as adults, and they are afraid. He presents the book. All run. All ignore the elf. All but the Highbear, the one who still glows with light. Yet he, too, is afraid. He hands his writings to the Highbear, who sits and reads. When he puts the book down, he is no longer afraid. The elf motions his friend to lie down, and they do. They dream. They are happy. The screams do not halt.
The Grand Seeker’s face appears once more. He mouths familiar words. The pain of the mind. His face is wiped away by the cold. Once more, I look down upon my body. I look around. See the multitudes joining me in dream. Those who are awake are contemplating. I hear their thoughts. They are pondering words of ages past, uttered by their host. They haunt them still. Yet they do not give up. A horror grasps at them. They take its hand, and shake it. It recedes. They continue to ponder. I continue turning, and their number increases. The cave expands beyond reason, beyond sense. Infinites dream. Infinites think. Perhaps I see answers, perhaps I see the same thoughts of this age. Of ages past. Future. Pain of the mind. Within the center of it all is Yvander. He laughs. He is happy. The screams do not halt.
The dream ends. I wake.
Of course, one cannot easily understand my thoughts and memories. Although not many of these memories are mine, and seem more as lives witnessed by Yvander. In addition to the event described above, I have also picked up a few points from conversations with the disciples of Yvander. I will complete these ponderings once the book is done, but here is what I know as I rest within Winterstone:
- Yvander is vaguely omniscient: he can see many lives all happening at once. The limit of his powers, if any, are unknown to me.
- Yvander’s core belief is that suffering leads to enlightenment.
- Yvander sees the Birth of Magic more as the Birth of Despair: Despair was added to every entity’s soul upon the death of Phanto.
- Despair and sadness is NEVER to be feared. It allows for growth, and true wisdom.
- Those who give into despair and die are weak, and not capable of achieving wisdom. They do not allow society to grow, or collective wisdom to grow. They deserve to die.
- Yvander Hexes those who he believes have wasted potential. Those accompanying the cursed are doomed to die eventually, lest they leave before it is too late. Some Hexes are more generally unlucky, and do not guarantee death and loneliness. Either way, no magic seems to detect the Hex, perhaps only the Divines can see it.
- The purpose of the Hex is to either bring them to Yvander after ages of torment, where they will lead a more fulfilling life in his service, or perish in futility.
- The Hex is one of Yvander’s proofs that suffering leads to enlightenment. All of those who do not die eventually become Yvander’s closest disciples.
- Froststones are similar to the Hex. Their purpose is to teach families and children that the world is dangerous and uncaring. This is the main reason that children are strangely attracted to them.
- Perhaps there are other anomalies caused by Yvander? Scrooges are one example that comes to mind.
- Highbear culture is highly influenced by Yvander. Lowbears are based upon Yvander’s teachings that the weak must undergo a degrading, isolative, and dangerous trial in order to become strong enough. The massive amount of tiers in society are based upon experience in tragedy and strife: politicking is not a show of strength.
I do not know whether or not I wish to become a true Seeker after knowing of Yvander’s Hex. There are other... chilling thoughts, too. The elves wanting to kill all other races, for instance. Nevertheless, I am still compelled to continue The Pilgrimage. Yvander’s disciples have given me a sigil of ice to take with me on my next destination to Rokesh’s realm, the Copse of Blossoms. I hope a slice of paradise will give me a reprieve from this chilling cold.
Chapter 3: Rokesh
The Copse of Blossoms lay a short distance from the borders of Azveltaria, about 578 paces from its westernmost point. Before I reached it, however, I stopped within the capital of Azveltaria, Ninjaru. While I was enjoying a night at its premier tavern, The Porcelain Porc, I was approached by a messenger, giving me an invitation to the royal palace. I asked him why, and he told me that Lyn Azveltara herself was interested in my current progress with the Pilgrimage.
So I came to her abode, and was even further surprised that I was given permission to speak to her within her personal hot spring. She welcomed me, and was quick to question me. Her presence bristled with intimidation, and her eyes reminded me of the cold of the Winterstone.
“You are Iyov of the Order of Seekers, yes?” she emitted warmly.
“That I am, your grace. I assume that you know of my new purpose, should you know of my name and station. May I ask why you have taken an interest in it? I have learned much from just Yvander, yet I already know it is but a step into what I will learn.”
“I have had a certain interest in the Dragon Aspects as of late. You’ve come to my realm to visit Rokesh, yes?” The coldness of Lyn’s eyes reminded me of the Winterstone.
“Indeed. The Aspect of the Earth should be pleasant compared to the wastes that houses the Winterstone.”
Lyn smirked. She advised, “You would do well to not underestimate Rokesh. We have outlawed her Copse amongst the Azveltarians, as those who venture there never return. The powerful magic there prevents us from looking in, and any scouts I’ve sent have gone silent the moment they’ve entered. Supposedly, it is paradise, but I believe Rokesh demands your devotion as a fee of entrance.”
“Indeed? I did not expect this. Thank you for the information, your grace.”
The conversation continued for awhile. Much of it seemed mostly idle to me, and irrelevant to the topic of this journal. Yet there was one other thing which interested me.
“You’ve met Yvander, yes?” Lyn cocked her head, but her countenance remained as stone.
“Yes, your grace. The Winterstone was my first destination. He taught me much, yet it is a single step towards enlightenment.”
“What did she teach you?” she quickly stated.
Though her speech made it clear that she was interested, her poise made her seem bored. I could only conclude that she was trying to hide something from me.
“Forgive me, your grace, but it is hard to say for certain. I was bestowed with visions of lives, lives not of my own. Whether it was of the past, of the future, or was happening now, I could not be sure. What I can say with certainty is that Yvander adores suffering. Those who suffer are brought to him as disciples in the pursuit of wisdom. He does not seem to care for mortals, as his disciples ponder what he says to them, yet he never seems to give the answers directly. I would almost say he embodies dreams.”
Lyn remained silent for a moment. “Interesting.”
And the topic changed.
That morning, I set out from the palace to the Copse of Blossoms. As I have wrote, it was a short distance. The city rapidly faded to countryside, flagstone faded to gravel. Not long after, the forest followed, and the roads became overgrown and paved only by the feet of travelers. Suddenly, the forest broke into a clearing, with otherworldly trees ahead. Their bark was a myriad of colors: gray, green, purple, red, blue, and white. Their leaves were just as outlandish, featuring striking cyan, pink, yellow, orange, violet, and black. I could say nothing of their structure besides that, individually, their bases stood as sturdy as the foot of a dragon, and they reached to heights twice as tall as the Spire of the Seekers. All around and upon the trees grew iridescent ferns and mosses, concealing what lie within. The leaves and flowers along the trunks were gargantuan, large enough to be clothing for a gnome. Every color, every shade, every sensation the eye could perceive was present upon that unreal canvas. And it was made wholly enchanting by the presence of dancing silhouettes, beckoning from beyond the foliage. It was the very definition of a land of wonder.
The clearing before the Copse stretched out in a large circle, with a circumference of about 440 paces. The grass here was still green. All around the clearing was the noise of a festival from within the wonderland. Voices, instruments, and laughter echoed from parts I could not see. I recalled the words of Lyn Azveltara, recalled the knowledge that the sigil of ice from the Winterstone would protect me, and ventured inside.
As I climbed through the shrubbery, I felt my mind begin to drift away. It was very much the opposite of the Winterstone’s presence. It was as if I was becoming drunk with warm mead. Yet I did not feel concern at this loss of higher faculties, as a primal rhythm of joy began to pulse in my blood. It warmed my limbs, gave me a feeling of limitless energy, limitless potential. I laughed in glee as I ran. I felt like a child, winning a race against my friends, where nothing else mattered but the present moment. A saxophone called out my name. I shouted, “Wait for me, I’m almost there!”
I burst through the foliage, and found a forested field filled with people of all races, dressed in Azveltarian finery. A kobold child faced me, and bade me greetings. I ran up to him, picked him up, and embraced him. We laughed together.
The time I had spent here was like an orchestrated whirlwind. Thousands of things were happening, the glade was filled with man and beast alike, each of them expressing heartfelt emotion, but I felt at ease amongst the chaos. I felt as if I knew everyone, understood everything that was happening, and felt no risk in doing whatever I pleased.
There it was, a quartet of sonorous Porcs singing the popular tavern tune, “The Barringsters Trounced.” Harps, flutes, lutes, drums: Instruments to form an entire orchestra stood off to side, joining in as they felt. There it is again, bulky men wrestling in the mud, tearing off their pants and taunting each other. Once more, a Kobold girl pirouettes around a scarred Dwarf, landing in his arms. They kiss. The crowd cheers. I nearly missed it, as a lumbering Elephalk stood up on its hind legs, and did some sort of goofy yet bewildering dance. And there it was, the song of a million mellow birds, a great choir of impossibly controlled chaos in the untouchable boughs above. They sang for all of us. They sang for me. I loved it.
I do not know how long it was before I approached a beautiful girl of a race I could not recognize. She had great wings, the color of cream, a feathered body, and windswept hair. I bade her to tell her name, and she replied, “Yuke, of the Beenu. I’m the only one of my family who could make it here, but I’m making new friends every day!” I gave mine in return, and told her I could be one of her friends. “Oooh, so exotic! It’s almost as if you came from a land beyond time itself. Romantic! Say, you’re new here, aren’t yea? I would know a face like yours, after all. Come on, I’ve got to show you something!”
We ran together towards what seemed like a banquet table. She twirled in the air three times, and vaulted over the shoulders of two elderly elves, who shouted in joyous recognition as she did so. We stopped at the table, which was covered in massive pots of golden berries and liquor. She picked up a handful of the berries, and handed them to me with an excited smile.
“What is this, Yuke? It smells delicious.”
She gasped out, “It’s called Dionysiast, and it’s the food of the Divines. Try it, come on now!”
I grabbed the berries out of her hands, and chomped on it inquisitively. Silvery juices flowed down from my chin, and a grin of pure joy was omnipresent in my voracious chewing. The fruit could only be described as divine. It reminded me of the first bite I had ever taken of an apple, with such sweetness. And yet it changed again, reminding me of the perfectly fried steak of wild Ramster I had made on my journey south. And, oh! The barracks at the ranch, where my mother had made a Baby Berry Pie the day of my departure. I was flooded with joyous memories, and filled to bursting with a sensation of ecstasy. It was entirely serene.
My memory then flashes to a great tree with many taps along it. One simply had to press the top of the tap, and a green powder was released. When ingested, it would give a fantastic sense of power. Some taps were even designed to inject it directly into the flesh when pressed. When I licked it off my hands, I was filled with a sense of vim and vigor. I was as young as ever!
I remember other trees like it, too. One tree would produce such a sweet smell that it would relax the body entirely. It was the place to have conversations. Yuke and I stopped by this tree for a long time, and talked amongst a great crowd of people. Although there was much laughter to be had, I cannot remember what we had talked about.
Within the Copse, the sensation of time is, to say it lightly, distorted. My next memory was of Yuke, feverishly playing a lyre amongst a dancing crowd by firelight. The leaves of the trees would ignite themselves at night, and give off a wonderful candlelight. Yet nothing truly burned, and the leaves never withered in their own heat. When this light combined with the colors of the sunset, the world was like a masterpiece painting, dashed with vibrant colors. This painting was made real by the song of Yuke. Her lyre was shaped uniquely, so that her winged arm could gracefully pluck the strings with each individual feather. It produced a song that I’m certain none other than her could reproduce. The other musicians watched the master at work, unleashing her song-filled heart upon her thralls. They chimed in with their own strokes to complete her grand vision. The army of flutes were an acapella choir, while the lyre sung the boisterous lyric. The birds did not stop singing for us, charming insects buzzed and chirped from every direction, the distant drone of frogs surrounded us, making every pore of the night alive. Jubilation; there is no other word to capture it.
At this time, I vaguely recall talking to a stout dwarf with a beard like a dress, who was smoking a tree leaf which caused heightened clarity in regard to the senses, as if the world was more colorful than before. Beneath his glossy hair, his magenta raiment was adorned with symbols of green serpents, and gilded with gems and shiny metals of all kinds.
I do not know what I had said beforehand, yet the man responded, “Yes, I’ve made everything here to suit every need, and every desire, all for our betterment. It’s perfectly designed.”
“Designed?” I inquired, as my mind found a grip within this haze of splendor.
“Yes. I told you my name was Rokesh, didn’t I?”
“You’re the Aspect of Earth!?” I exclaimed.
The man laughed. “Yeah, man! You got anything to ask that ol’ stud? He’s standing right here.” He laughed again, probably finding himself hilarious.
“I-I came here to talk to you. I’ve taken on the Pilgrimage of old, in order to revise that old text to better suit the Aspects of the modern age. Tell me, can we go someplace private, to talk?”
The dwarf scratched his beard in contemplation, shrugged, and smiled. “Suppose we can. Go north of here, past the Dionysiast table, until you come to a great cliff. There you can clear your mind, and we can both talk about… whatever it is you said.”
I shook his hand vigorously and thanked him. “Ah, but stay here awhile, alright? Listen to your lover’s song. You’re gonna wanna stay here.
I nodded, and turned back to face Yuke. I swayed to her song. I did not notice that the strings had become weak and discordant, as if they had started to fray and snap. I continued to bask in what remained. I closed my eyes, and imagined a life here forever. No pain, no worries. No need for knowledge. The chill of the Winterstone would no longer pang in my bones. It would be bliss. Just bliss. I heard a thud, and opened my eyes in curiosity.
Yuke had collapsed.
Her eyes were convulsing, and her tongue had rolled out of her mouth. It was as dry as a piece of jerky. And yet, she still smiled.
I don’t know why I did it, but I walked up to her, bent down, and happily said, “Goodbye.”
By this time, the other musicians had taken up the silence. I turned to face them, and bobbed my head to the new tune. It was just as good as the last. I was about to ask Yuke something about the song, yet when I looked down, there was nothing there but a patch of multicolored flowers.
As I write this now, I cannot believe that I had thought nothing of it.
I looked around and saw the dwarven Rokesh laughing with another group of revelers, and was reminded of what I was going to do. I walked north, waving and hooting to my fellow patrons as I left the boundaries of the Copse proper.
After the Dionysiasts were a substantial distance behind me, I felt the drunken haze begin to lift. My thoughts returned to me, as if they had surfaced from beneath an ocean. I inhaled deeply and paused for a moment, collecting myself. Though my joy had only drained but a drop, I could organize what I was going to say. I pressed onwards, and found the cliff. It was home to the largest of the trees, whose boughs covered what seemed to be the entirety of the Copse. Its leaves, too, were like torches on the beach. I looked around, and sat.
I was not waiting long before the earth beneath me rumbled. I had hardly any time to acknowledge it, as a great vermillion serpent breached the earth. It climbed the tangle of branches of the ancient tree that surrounded us. The branches groaned under the massive weight of the Aspect. As its body was still rising out of the earth, the head descended. I gasped in awe as I looked upon the face of Rokesh. Muscled vines climbed about his body, his beard a brazier of opalline gems, and crowned by perfect diamonds intermingled with the colorful branches that formed the sky of the Copse. From beneath the crown emerged a set of antlers. Though they were similar to a Tarandos in structure, they were wrapped by vines, and annabergite crystals grew upon their tips. Malachite, agate, citrine, emerald, alexandrite; gems of all types studded his scales. A claw slammed into the earth, and the land quaked as Rokesh touched the earth, his earth. A blast of air was exhaled from his nostrils, and my own pair was overcome with the scent. It was a fresh morning rain in one moment, and then the smell of blossoms, and then the musk of the deep earth. As it began to change again, the body of Rokesh glew intensely, and then ceased unexpectedly. The dwarf I had met was sitting in front of me, bow-legged. The apocalyptic chaos had been cut, as if it were all produced by a sole conductor. One who held seemingly effortless control. Nought remained but the distant call of birds over the main stage of the grand party, still singing for me. The conductor waved, and beckoned me to sit.
“Talk to me, Iyov.”
“W-Well, uhm… This Copse. It’s a paradise for mortals, as we both know. But why did you decide to make it?”
Rokesh placed his arms behind him, and leaned back. “It’s not just for everybody, it’s a fun place for me, too. I like to party. Mortals, immortals, we all feel pleasure. We crave the happy moments, try to lose the bad stuff. Everybody feels this way, y’know? But of course, SOME of the Divines gotta be all uptight about it. I get a lot of flak for it from my brothers and sisters.”
“Brothers and sisters?”
Rokesh snorted. “The other Aspects. Vlaurunga and Ouro’ras really get on my ass about it, too. They think I’m irresponsible. Not worthy of being an Aspect. Yvander’s especially uptight, too, but he still respects me. Quinty’s cool, though. Always liked my lil’ sis.”
My mouth went agape. I’d never thought a Divine would speak like this. Hell, I’d never thought they would consider one of their own to be irresponsible. “Why do those two think that way?”
Rokesh shrugged. “Beats me. Guess they think I don’t do nothing but jack.” He chuckled to himself. “Quinty already does that, but she doesn’t get blamed. Anyway, I made these, uh, foundations of nature, and I did it well enough so that it manages itself, but it ain’t enough for those two. Just because I have power, they want me to be more ‘active’ and ‘authoritative’ in the world. But fuck ‘em. I ain’t doing that. Just causes more stress, and I don’t need that shit, man.”
I snickered in amusement and shock. “So what do you do, then?”
“I party, man. You see that. But just because they won’t leave me alone, I gave ‘em a little compromise.”
“And that would be?”
Rokesh paused for a moment. He breathed in sharply, and responded, “I bury places.”
“You’re going to have to explain more than that.”
He ceased leaning, and looked me in the eye. He spat, “And what if I don’t wanna do that?”
I was about to scoff and take offense, until I hastily realized just who was threatening me. “Y-y-you don’t have to answer it specifically i-if you don’t want to! You can just, uh, give the general details. Y’know, i-if you want, that is.”
Rokesh cracked his neck. “I bury away places that hold too much sadness. Places that people just wanna forget. Places that gotta be forgotten, or else it’s just a bomb, waiting for some kid to press the button. You kids have a real penchant for trouble, you know that?”
Rokesh smirked, but his eyes did not lie. They shone with hatred. It was in that moment that the Copse was no paradise, given by a creator who took pity on us, but a playground. A zoo, and we were predators on display. Broken enemies, made to dance against our nature, just like the animals of the Copse. The birds no longer sang for me.
“...So, what would you say I, as a mortal, should do to better live in this world?”
Rokesh leaned back again, as the demon in his eyes was snuffed out. “Accept things as they are. If you don’t like it, well, that’s what the Copse is for. I got a good example for you: that Yuke girl, she’s one of the last of her kind. Saw her entire city get wiped out by a group of nasty dwarves, Some sort of buddy-buddy move with a couple of those bratty elves. That’s hard stuff, man. She came here to forget, and she’s been a happy gal ever since. Listen, if everybody just came to the Copse, nobody would be dyin’ like that. No war. No greed. No pain. Just peace. That’s the way everybody wants it, right?”
Rokesh plucked a low-hanging leaf from the tree, placed it in his mouth, and lit it up with his fingers. The realization of what had happened to Yuke began to sank in.
With venom, I uttered, “So how many have died here, dragon?”
He smirked and rolled his eyes playfully, and stared up at the branches above. “Dunno what you mean. There’s nothing rotting here. No pain, ‘member? Good vibes only. You seen somebody die here, kid?”
I pursued my lips, and felt my blood boil. And yet, as if it were quaking earth, it pacified as I discovered the true nature of Rokesh.
“I’ll take my leave.”
Rokesh waved casually back at me. He did not face me. “Come talk to me anytime you like, kid. Hang loose.”
I got up, and looked around in a daze. I knew I could not go back to the Copse. So I walked down the cliff, and went around it. The picture of her deathly visage began to bore its way into my eyes. I started to run through the foliage. I was pricked by thorns I did not realize were there before. I began to cry. And yet, as soon as my feet stepped into the clearing outside of the wonderful machine, I collapsed. My whole body became wracked with pain. Beams of torment rattled my brain. I could not move, could not think, only scream. My body convulsed, and the only mental notion was the primal desire to run back to the Copse, relieve myself of this nightmarish misery. I began to crawl back to the foliage. My will screamed against it, but my body would not listen. It was a starved beast, seeing the baited trap but caring not. It must feast again.
As a last hope, I clutched the sigil of the Winterstone around my neck. It numbed my body, and I could not move. All I could do was breathe in the fear, like a cursed man on a surgeon’s bench.
Night had fallen when the amulet had melted away. I was competent again, but I was still drained. I felt exhausted, and most of all, parched. I grabbed my hip canteen, wondering how it was that I felt so thirsty. Yet as I drank deeply, I noticed that the canteen was still full. I had thought I spent a full year inside the Copse, and yet I had drank nothing during my stay.
Limping and full of questions, I found the path back to Ninjaru. The boughs of the trees gave way to an open sky of stars, forming shadows out of the tall towers and pent roofs of the capital. I returned to The Porcelain Porc. I slammed open the marble door, silencing the patrons. I willed myself forward, and demanded the bartender to tell me how long I had been gone. Confused, she answered that I had only been gone a day.
I held my head in defeat. The tavern resumed its camaraderie. I looked around, and found it held no joy.
I resolved to make camp outside the city, and get an early start on my journey to The Kiln. I already knew that I would not be able to speak with Vlaurunga herself, as I would die long before I could ask so much as a greeting. So I will follow a rumor within the annals of the Seekers, of a society of Dragonslayers that the dwarven clans rely on when their only alternative is utter annihilation.
As soon as I’m done writing, I’ll have to douse my campfire. It’s hurting my eyes, and yet I cannot fathom the reason why. What I do know is that I’ll see her face in my dreams, rotting on that elysian field. Still smiling, knowing nothing of her fate. And I will know that she’s waiting for me. I can see her again, talk to her, kiss her, if I just go back.
But I have to fight it. It is a hunger I cannot sate, a thirst I cannot quench, a pain I cannot cure. The song of a siren is not enchanting because it tells of a bounty, it enthralls because it offers the hope of a better place. It is the addiction, the lust, the dark dream that all mortals cradle within the folds of their hearts.
Her eyes will be flowers, and I shall pick one. We shall laugh. We shall cry.
That’s the way it is now.
Chapter 4: Vlaurunga(Coming December 20th)
Chapter 5: Quintara Lotus(Coming December 27th)
Chapter 6: Golestandt(Coming January 3rd)
Chapter 7: Ouro’ras(Coming January 10th)
Epilogue: Kallisto(Coming January 17th)