This is the last of the Paragon Path tales that I wrote for my Dungeons and Dragons group. Enjoy!
The journey back to Fjornik was a quiet one, everyone wrapped up in their own thoughts. Only the rhythmic beat of the horses’ hooves disturbed the silence, a silence which had been hard won.
Faces flashed before her eyes. Maran. Ena. Doe. Even Vile, she thought with a snort. He was a bastard, but he didn’t deserve to die like that. The last weeks weighed heavily on her, and she knew the others were feeling it too.
“We won, didn’t we? We’re heroes.” she said aloud, more to herself than anything else.
Toofi looked round. “It doesn’t feel like it, though,” she said quietly.
Whisp nodded and fixed her eyes back on the road. Then why do I feel so insignificant?
Gods. Demons. And she just a human. She narrowed her eyes. It was clear that the monsters of this land were too vast to be easily hunted, cornered and slain.
The city seemed grey, cloaked in shadow, its people two-dimensional. Whisp moved through the streets towards the central core, picking her way between huge chunks of masonry. Fjornik was beginning to come back to life, but with most of its citizens elsewhere, it seemed empty and echoing.
The big stairwell had fared better than most areas of the city, and Whisp poked her head into one of the tenth circle rooms. The teleportation circle was dark, the room deserted. I need the exercise anyway, she thought, and began the climb up to the new roof of the city. Floor 50 had been mostly scraped clean, like some gigantic knife had cleaved the city in two only a few buildings were still standing. Clouds gathered above, threatening rain, and Whisp scowled. She walked carefully around the foundations that were left, following the map in her head, until she came to the remains of the Hospit. It had fared a little better than most; some of the rooms actually had three walls, or a bit of ceiling. The room where she had last seen Dawn was open to the sky, the bed and table strewn against the wall. Broken glass littered the floor. Whisp dropped her pack and began to search.
The sun was well on its way to the horizon by the time she found her sister’s personal effects. They were in a leather satchel, hidden under a huge piece of the roof, and Whisp sat down heavily next to them. After convincing herself that the pain in her chest was just a product of so much heavy lifting, she opened the bag and inspected its contents.
Whisp stood and, taking the satchel, walked away. Just like you’ve done your whole life,part of her said. Walk away.
She walked out of the city, into the rising wind, towards a slight rise overlooking the sea. A small tree had grown there, lonely and defiant, and Whisp looked further north to the ruined bulk of Zar’s One Tree, still some miles distant. She nodded; this would do. Something of the forest, and a view of the sea.
She reached into her pack and took out the knife that she’d stolen from Dan, and began to dig a hole, just big enough for Dawn’s things. A rain began to fall, light at first, then heavier.
Whisp opened the satchel and took the items out one at a time. First into the grave was a bow, neatly broken in half, probably when the roof fell in. Next went some red leather, all that was left of Dawn’s armour. Last, a little talisman on a leather thong. Not much to show for a life.
Whisp turned the little amulet around in her hands. It was a seashell with a wave inscribed on it, the mark of Melora, goddess of wilderness, hunters and the sea.
Holding the small fragment of her sister, Whisp waited for tears to come, feeling herself filling up inside. She squeezed the stone, but no tears came, and the pain, the sorrow, the grief over her sister, friends, the nameless fallen multitudes, kindled into sudden anger. She looped the amulet over her left hand and snatched up the knife from the ground with her maimed right hand. Then she drew the knife across her palm, blood immediately welling out to coat her hand, the amulet, and to mix with the pouring rain.
Whisp raised her fists to the skies, blood dripping down her arm, and howled her defiance.
“Melora! Goddess of thorn and wild!” she screamed. “She who drowns ships and crushes mountains! Hunter of all! Carver of this world! Grant me the power to slay demons, to wipe them from the face of this earth! Give me my vengeance, or find me a god that will!”
A single, arcing bolt of lightning blasted down from the clouds overhead, slamming into Whisp’s clenched fists. Every muscle in her body spasmed and she flew backwards, electricity crackling over her chest and stomach. She crashed to the ground and slid a few metres in the slick mud.
Dazed, Whisp levered herself up onto her elbows. She looked at her hand; the cut was cauterised, and she was holding a handful of dust that might have once been stone. She let the dust drift between her fingers and staggered to her feet.
A few feet away, watching impassively, the golden stag was stood. It was glowing, she realised, and was apparently unhindered by the rain. Its coat didn’t even look wet. Whisp took a step forward and it turned, moving down the hill.
Whisp followed. The hunt was dreamlike; she lost sight of the stag quickly, but its marks were there for all to see. Hoofprints in the mud, transient but recent; a few golden hairs caught on a thistle; the slightest depression in a leafbed. The sun set, and rose, and set again. Hunger gnawed at Whisp for a while, then went away. Nothing else mattered.
The trail lead into the Greenwood, deeper and deeper, and then into a small clearing. The sun was shining down onto the only thing in the clearing, a single standing stone, taller even than Kali. Moss covered it, and on its front, at about head-height, a single rune was carved, nothing Whisp had ever seen before. The trail ended in front of the stone, and the stag was nowhere to be seen.
Impossible. Even if the stag had come here, it had to have left as well. Unless, Whisp thought, it’s still here. Exhausted from the chase, she sat down, cross-legged, in front of the stone and prepared to wait.
Hours passed before Whisp realised that she knew what to do.
Whisp’s first stop was the small cabin in the forest where they had spent the night, months ago. Water and food were there, along with signs of recent occupation, or at least visitors. Pawprints and footsteps mingled in the mud. With a full belly, Whisp set out at a loping job back to Fjornik, senses alert. At Varikause, she filled her waterskin and bedded down for the night, but before the sun was up she was on the road north. By midday she was back in Fjornik, in front of the ruins of the Temple of the Raven Queen.
All the temples had been hard hit, some more than others. The Lady of Shadows’ temple felt different from most of them, though; empty, as if her sealing had somehow fed back onto the building itself. A few black-robed acolytes were trying to clear the place up, but without much energy. Whisp walked into the interior, her eyes adjusting quickly to the gloom. A single man was stood in front of the ruins of a statue. He was tall and grey-skinned, his proportions not quite right. He had his back to her and, as silent as ever, Whisp stalked up to him.
“Whisp,” he said, when she was close enough.
How did he know? “Arkan Raith. Still alive then,” she replied.
He turned to her and nodded. “Alive is relative. But yes. Still alive.” He looked beaten, tired.
Whisp gestured around at the temple. “Something of yours has been taken, and you can’t get it back.” She stared unblinking into his sunken grey eyes. “But together, we will find you vengeance.”
Raith cocked his head on one side. “You have a purpose.”
Whisp nodded. “I would share it with you. Seek out Noth, Bladedancer of the Sacred Grove Elves. He lived in the Greenwood. Something of his was taken as well. There are more like us. Justin LaCona, on the King’s Council. Ani Blacktun, at the ruins of Ortmund. Tyli Iasty. We have a common cause.” Whisp put a hand on his shoulder. “I am leaving soon, probably for Koru, and I will seek others like us. We will charge them with keeping watch, gathering information. Hunting, most of all, hunting the demons that stole so much from us.”
Raith straightened slightly, and Whisp saw the spark of life return to his eyes and smiled grimly. “Charge them too with finding more men and women for the fight that we both know is coming. I have no authority to command you. All I have is rage. But if you follow me, we will make such a spider’s web that neither cultist nor spy can escape.”
Looking around, Whisp saw a burnt piece of timber with a jagged end. She went to it and broke off one of the splinters, the charcoal staining her fingers black. “We will watch. We will listen and we will go where we are needed. We will be as a man standing before the sunrise, and the shades we cast will cover this world. We will shroud the land with such a web that we will find every last demon and hellspawn... and take our revenge. Our shadows will be long. They will reach everywhere. They will cloak our allies and terrify our enemies. We will become - no, we will create – the Dawn Shadows.”
She took his hand in hers, feeling how cool his skin was, and scrawled the rune from the standing stone onto his palm.
“And this,” she said, “will be our sign.”
Raith said nothing, but looked deeply into her eyes. Finally a grim, jagged smile raked his face. He gripped her hand. “Darkest before the day dawns,” he growled. Then he turned and walked away into the gloom.