This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our second Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Stepping back on board Strike shifted his weight on his forward foot, he stepped to the left and the right then behind him, after his attack on invisible cockroaches he lay full length on the deck with one eye closed. Running one hand in front of his vision he then squatted down and using a dagger he levered up a board that looked exactly the same as the others, revealing a hidden smugglers compartment; prising the deck plank loose and setting it to one side he leaned down and pulled out a bulging leather pouch. Inside the bag was more sapphires than I had ever seen before, on the Sapphire Islands these things were used as marbles in children’s games but outside of the Islands these little stones that shone blue in the light like the sun glinting off the ocean were much rarer.
“The boat looks not as bad as I first thought, with the Orc arrow and spear holes? Two to three days’ work at most.” Strike said casually making the leather purse magically disappear into his pocket.
The attack from the Orcs had left us all wounded but Strike most of all, his proud heritage would not allow him to show any weakness and he set about moving the boat closer to shore as possible while I kept a lookout for driftwood, Korra went into the Captain’s cabin for any information she could use in her ballads. Whilst I was healing the wounds inflicted by the Orc’s spears she emerged with a Ships log written in quill and ink.
“Most of it is usual reports. Weather, wind direction, discipline of crew, that sort of thing but here in the margins are some strange shapes. Look, they’re all over the place, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of order but the same symbols appear again and again.”
Korra showed the ink drawings to us but neither of us recognised what they were.
“Very interesting but we have more important things to do. We need driftwood for a start.” Strike said throwing the anchor over the side with a splash.
A jaunty tune travelled through the air as we were collecting anything we could use, closely followed by a middle-aged man pulling an empty wooden handcart behind him.
“HALLO THERE!” He yelled waving one hand over his head.
“Hello.” Strike returned his greeting.
“How are you this fine morning?” He enquired before looking us up and down and adding, “You look like you’ve been in the wars.”
“Bloody” Strike replied flatly.
“It seems that strange things are happening even on well-travelled paths such as this,” the man said almost to himself.
“Oh, how?” Strike asked.
“All the local villages, Three Rivers included are all hysterical, they say the woods are coming to life, mythical creatures are being spotted, Orcs are attacking settlements. It’s all getting a bit crazy at Three Rivers; as a merchant I can recognise a powder keg when I see one. And I says to myself it’s time to move on, a stone mason can make a fortune there.” He explained shaking a substantial oiled leather pouch which gave a rich heavy chink of coins.
Powder Keg? There aren’t many who know what one is outside the Sapphire Islands, I thought but stayed quiet, this man liked to talk.
“They’re paying for stone hand over fist there. It’s needed for all the settlements being turned into villages. I’m on the way to the village of Crossmount in the shadow of the Great Peaks, there I am going to pick up another concession of stone and sell it on for a profit; when I’ve finished I’m off to Gate town and spend some money. Money talks there if you know what I mean?” he said with a wink.
Strike took one look at the pouch and for a moment his eyes widened at the thought of such wealth, you would have to watch him closely and know him well to spot the involuntary reaction of the thief but it was still there.
Pausing for breath the merchant looked us up and down again, “What is it that you do?”
“Tell you what, help me repair the ship and I’ll sail you up as close to Crossmount as the river will allow,” Strike said expertly avoiding the question.
“I’m not a ship builder, but unskilled labour for a ride, yeah sure. You have a deal my friend.”
Nodding his agreement Strike then turned to us, “We need dry wood for repairing the ship and wet wood for tar.”
“When you say wet do you mean green wood or wood out of the ocean?” Korra asked.
“Green, we need sappy wood to make the tar,” Strike used his slow for children and the hard of understanding voice again.
To while the time away Korra offered to pay for the merchant’s life story.
“Well I’m honoured, but it’s not very exciting. My name is Tibbs, I grew up in the Sapphire Islands and when I could work I went into the family business; I moved over here to quarry the stone and sold it on and moved to Three Rivers and found any amount of crazy people all telling me these stories of walking trees, Orcs attacking people and the creatures returning to the forests so I moved back down here, saw your ship and well here I am.”
While Tibbs regaled Korra with his life story I felt the need to check the way of the land, his voice faded to a background whisper as I felt my spirit merge with the ground; nature was still out of balance but this time I was ready for the wave of aggression and managed to control it as it washed over me. The voices of the people around me got louder as I returned still feeling a little on edge, like the feeling you get when you’re expecting something horrible to happen but never does.
Trying to explain these emotions I began listening to the wildlife chartering around me as I continued on with my work hoping they would be able to help. All their hoots, squawks, squeaks and clicks as clear to me as my own language, but no matter what the animal they all said the same thing.
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” the many voices of the forest shouted excitedly. That was strange, my kind did not meet often, only when a decision would affect all of us or perhaps a celebration or mourning. I put down my tools and walked over to the tree line, hunkering down I tried to attract a rather more intelligent animal and was rewarded with a magnificent red and blue macaw landed nearby on a branch at shoulder height.
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” he broadcast to the world.
“Where is the meeting?” I asked in Elven.
“ELF CITY. IN JUNGLE!” he screeched.
“What in the ruins?”
“NO! ELF CITY! ELF CITY!”
“BIG THINGS! IMPORTANT TALKS!”
“Are all elves expected to attend?”
“WE TELL THEM, WE TELL THEM!”
“What about those who have not heard the message? I did not know until now?”
“WE TELL THEM! WE TELL THEM!”
“They have asked you to tell us?”
“WE TELL THEM! EVERYONE!”
Now a macaw is considered an intelligent animal but it is still only an animal, and from his answers I realised that was all he could tell me, I found some fruit and gave it to the bird for his trouble, thanked him and walked back to the ship.
Strike watched me carefully as I climbed back on board, as far as he could see an Elven Druidess was talking to a parrot which was shrieking incomprehensibly at her; silently Strike handed me an Orc short bow and a number of crude arrows, nothing more than a pointed stick with black feathers attached with twine.
“Keep the rest of the tar, we’ll need it for repairs, weapons, stuff like that.” He said to Korra who walked past with Tibbs as if nothing had happened.
“It’s looking a lot better” he said to me, patting the ship also carefully ignoring what just happened.
“It will get us to the edge,” Strike replied, forgetting himself for a moment.
“What do you mean the edge? Don’t tell me you believe those old wives tails about dropping off the world?”
“The edge is what I call home,” Strike explained.
“Oh? And where is that?” Tibbs enquired
“Northlands” Strike said simply. Tibbs suddenly looked a little uncomfortable as all the tales of his childhood flashed though his mind.
“Oh! Well it’s not often you meet a Northlander who is not trying to rip your throat out, sorry, no offence meant,” he added quickly, as if that would make an insult suddenly a compliment. “I mean, back home your kind are a sort of boogeyman to scare children into doing what their told. The Sapphire Islands don’t usually deal with Northlanders; well not until recently anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” Strike questioned a little guarded.
“Some of the Sapphire Islands have fallen to the Northlanders, it was a brutal and bloody attack, and I have no idea how to be honest. Refugees are flooding in to all the coastal villages, that’s how I heard about it. I’m a bit worried about my family on Mercia to be honest, well not close family, second cousin really, but the Emperor is there so it’s well guarded, that’s some comfort I suppose. I wouldn’t want to wish a Northlander on anyone, not even my worst enemy, no offence meant,” he added again with his hands up submissively.
Strike ignored his comment and shoved the boat, with a little more force than necessary out into shallow waters; using the moment that Tibbs chose to remain silent I told Strike and Korra about the message the macaw had given me.
“Do you know when the meeting is?” Korra asked.
“The bird did not say but if it is all over the forest then it must be soon” I replied.
“I will drop you off at Three rivers, then take Tibbs with me to Crossmount where I’ll make the boat seaworthy then come back for you, yes?” Strike offered. I was a little wary of leaving a Northlander thief alone with a merchant but I had other more pressing concerns at that moment.
“Will you come back?” Korra asked. It wasn’t the coming back that worried me more the coming back alone with a heavier purse.
This train of thought was suddenly pushed to one side as we rounded a bend in the river and saw a village, much like the wooden settlements of the humans in other parts of the rain forest. The residents were pushing wooden hand carts but instead of the usual loads of stone, food or wood these were piled high with corpses, these poor people had not died of natural causes as the black crude arrows still bristled in the pale bruised flesh sometimes accompanied by the deep slash marks of spears.
Lining the way were grief stricken friends and family members wailing and sobbing for their losses; following the cart pushers down the bank to where the bodies were heaped into pyres we saw priests of River Morton saying prayers to their gods, when they had finished a torch was put to the kindling stacked around the deceased and burned. Once the flames had turned the piles to ashes, grim faced men with shovels filled deep pits and finally the humans were returned to the earth.
“Northlanders use burning boats for the worthy, there is a complete lack of spirituality here,” Strike muttered.
“And for the unworthy?” Korra snapped.
“Icebergs” He replied.
“And do the poor get the same?” Korra spoke sharply. It seemed to annoy her that he was criticising their way of life.
“We build a boat when needed. If there are a lot, like after battle then we build a big ship,” he replied simply, ignoring her bait.
“Elves bury their dead,” I interrupted, no one had asked me but maybe if they heard another species death rites then maybe they would stop arguing. “We bury them to give them back to the earth, eventually everything returns to the soil.” I did not add that it seemed a little barbaric to cook them to a cinder first, that and burying them so close to the river must cause some sort of sickness.
My attention wandered back to the corpses on the carts, the arrows making the bodies look like porcupines; they looked a lot like the Orc’s crude arrows but not quite like the ones that made a low buzzing noise past my face like an angry bee earlier, they were sleek black shards of death. I drew my friend’s attention to this and we slowed the pace of the boat to get a better look.
“If the tales are true, then this sort of arrow has not been made for many, many years.” Korra began.
“The dark wooden shafts and black raven feathers suggest Northlands. Orc arrows are crude, not much more than a stick with a pointy end and feathers at the other, these arrows are very skilfully made, almost paper thin but as strong as steel,” Strike added.
“In tales of Edwin the Great of the last great battle when the world was young where Man and Elves joined together, light against the dark it is said these arrows helped win the war.”
“They look Elven crafted” I said, this worried me, “Why would Elves be making war arrows?”
“Maybe we will know more after the meeting.” Korra suggested.
“Maybe, I have no idea why a meeting has been called so yeah maybe” I replied.
A woman saw our ship while we were discussing the finer points of Orc and Elven weaponry and waived to get our attention.
“What happened here?” Korra shouted over to her.
“They were killed! We are only simple village people we stood no chance against the Orc raiders or the other Evils that lurk in the forests! Oh my poor Ted leaving me with two kids to feed and care for…” Her words were drowned out by the heart wrenching sobs that shook her whole body. An older man took pity on her and placing an arm around her patted her shoulder.
“There, there, we’ll manage somehow. We’ll get by. It will all be alright.”
“If you’re staying on the river be careful, some fishermen were taken not too far from here. BE CAREFUL!” The woman shouted before grief overtook her once more.
Korra silently took up her flute and began playing a sonnet that reached right into the souls of the grieving people and somehow comforted them for as we rounded the next bend some smiled at the memories of the departed and sang along, yelling their thanks until we were out of sight.
* * *
Three or four days later we arrived at the bay of Three Rivers, it was a large town, bustling with people all going about their daily lives, buildings were being erected around the shanty village, showing that in the eight months that Korra had been away it had doubled in size and was still growing. Piles of stone and wood were being carted to wherever was needed while work crews shouted out instructions to one another trying to meet the demands of the growing population.
As we approached the dock one of the local foremen shouted over to us.
“Ho there! Are you traders?”
“No, well he is.” I said pointing to Tibbs.
“Eh? Well I don’t know if I have anything they need at the moment,” Tibbs panicked.
“No, we’re traveling to the Elf meeting” I tried.
“Sorry? What? What meeting?” He clearly had not heard the messages through the forests.
“No we are collecting supplies,” Strike cut in.
“Well if you find any granite or other workable stone then think of me. My name’s Roberts,” he sounded a little disappointed before turning to shout orders at his work crew.
It took just over a day’s walk through the rainforest, it usually only took me about half a day but with Korra not used to the overgrown trails and hidden shortcuts that lead down to the hidden valley; from the hill path overlooking my homeland you could see a towering ziggurat rising from the centre of the city. It looked lost and forgotten in the way that vines, plants, leaves and on occasion small thriving trees covered the masonry but looking with Elven eyes the vegetation embraced the stonework making the many parts one and the same.
The outskirts of the city were being taken back by nature but that was only because the five thousand or so left of my kind that once inhabited the island had now dwindled down to roughly one thousand. Usually there were only two hundred and fifty to five hundred who stayed in the walls at one time, mainly the wiser elders the teachers, the children brought from all over the known world to learn of our customs and choose their life calling and the mothers if they were between the ages of new-borns and seven summers old. The ones eight summers and older lived in the school houses where they learned life lessons, hunting, fighting, herbalism, music until they chose their strongest subject then focused on that, mine was Druidism.
Walking through the open gates, as tall as the trees around us I could see that all thousand were in the square gathered around the sacred building, all with their backs to us, looking towards the loan figure of an elf, the wisest of our kind, rich in years, white hair hanging long past his shoulders, smooth pail features looking both old and young in the same glance and clad in brown and green robes, echoing the colours and textures of the rainforest, my old friend and mentor Silanthus.
Korra leaned in and whispered “Can I record this, will they be insulted?”
“If you can understand it then yes, if they do not wish you to tell sagas of this day then you will not understand what is being said.”
She knew already from her time with me that if she tried to speak our language and participate as much as she could in our customs then it would not offend but welcomed and encouraged. All thousand were enthralled with the words being spoken by the wise elderly elf with their right hand held at shoulder height palm facing up. In the centre of their palm was a flame as green as the forest around a symbol of honesty and sincerity of their thoughts and emotions.
“…this being the first meeting in hundreds of years. I thank you all. You know what we have to do and why. The world is no longer ours, it is now the time of the younger races, we must step back and release our grip on nature and let the younger races assume responsibility for the land. I will now hear the arguments for and against.”
“I have seen the corruption in nature from man. I have seen an Ent’s rage against humans, influenced by some form of blood magic. How can we leave them to care for the lands if they are using nature against each other? Orcs are reportedly attacking human settlements for no other reason than they are there. How can we leave them to fend for themselves against something they have no idea about other than they are monsters of the forest?” I spoke before anyone else had a chance too, it seemed important to share what had been witnessed in our ruins.
“That is not our concern. They will have to fend for themselves eventually. Our time here is almost over, we cannot stay to cluck over them, for all time like an over protective hen” Another voice shouted from the crowd.
“But we need to protect the younger races, we would not abandon our children the way some of you wish to abandon the humans, we need to protect and teach them how to be independent before we depart.” I argued.
“I agree with Demanor! How would you prefer them to remember us; as parental types that did not abandon them in their hour of need or the type who turns their back on those when they need it most.” Another voice called out across the square.
The argument lasted long enough for the sun to sink low in the sky, neither side would back down then one anonymous voice attacked from a different angle.
“…Besides, if we do leave this world what of our own infants, who would tutor them in our ways?”
“Pfft! There has not been a birth in fifty years and what happened then?”
“Now you can’t believe in superstitions?” An elf scoffed.
“Did it not crumble into ruins as he came of age?”
Every Elf knew of the ruins, they had been where the humans had asked to settle, before the Ent decimated the settlement, the story of how they became ruins was not so well known.
“Now, no one knows what happened.”
“It caught fire on his coming of age day. He must have perished with the others who lived there, you all know there were no survivors.”
“Now, now my friends, we are losing sight of why we gathered here.” Silanthus said, before words turned to actions.
“Nature is no longer our friend, it is showing us that our time here is almost over. It has become clear that we must board the Great White boats and travel to the Lands of the Young. Demanor, as one of our more powerful Druids, what is your decision?” Silanthus suddenly directed the discussion to me.
“I will stay and defend the corrupted.”
There were murmurs from the crowd, some surprised at my decision, some not.
“Then we are divided but still one, No one will be forced to stay or to go. Those who wish to leave will take the last of the White Boats and travel across the waters to the loved ones who have already crossed over. We will be saddened for the loss of those who choose to stay but the new generations will be enriched for it. The boats will leave in five days and there will be no going back on your decisions. For those who are undecided I will be in my chambers for council.” The wise old Elf nodded and carefully curled each finger over his open palm until he had made a fist. The light in our hands faded as he stepped down and vanished into the ziggurat. And with his departure the crowd began to break off into groups, discussing what should be done while all the time being recorded by Korra.
Unbeknown to Korra or me, Strike had fallen back into his old ways, after leaving us at the dock he had taken two days of Tibbs affliction of having his brain directly wired to his voice making him say every thought that passed through his mind. Being with him only for a short time I can say from experience that it was like being constantly under fire from words, you did not get an opportunity to voice your own opinion as he would speak for you, leaving you weary from his barrage of words. If, and this happened very rarely, if he had run out of things to talk at you about he would fall back on whistling a tune through his nose that if hummed properly would be pleasant. But accompanied by the nasal orchestra and teeth aching hum would even make the most holy of men toy with the idea of murder.
Leaving this man with a heavy purse with a Northlander thief was probably not one of my better notions, when Three Rivers was far behind them and Tibbs was busying himself with gathering ropes from the side of the ship, Strike silently crept behind him with his dagger poised in his hand and without any warning slid the finely honed blade across the merchants throat. Tibbs coughed, and clawed at his throat fighting for the breath that would not come, deep crimson droplets seeped quickly through his fingers before the pressure behind his fingers forced out the final surge of blood that sprayed across the river. Acting quickly Strike grabbed the body by his waist, cut the strings that attached his purse to his belt and in one fluid motion guided it into the river, reducing the splash into nothing.
Strike watched the slow flowing water close over the bloodless corpse, making sure that it sank before continuing his journey to meet us back at the water front.
* * *
Two days after we arrived in the Elven City the debate still raged on as to stay or leave on the final voyage on the Great White Boats, both sides produced very compelling arguments but there was no swaying either side; Korra busied herself by talking to as many Elves as possible, young, old, wise and average, no one including Silanthus escaped her request for their memoirs. Many rejected her request, the first being Silanthus, he was happy for her to talk to anyone willing to share their story with her but as the greatest decision ever made for my kind hung in the balance he polity but firmly refused.
After speaking with a number of Elves Korra learned that now almost three quarters of my extended family wanted to leave, it left a knot in my stomach to learn this but at the same time I understood why.
Another day passed, leaving only two more before the mass exodus. Although I knew Silanthus would be preoccupied I requested an audience with the Eldest and Wisest Elf before he left, thankfully he granted my wish, winding our way through the vast corridors of the ziggurat Korra and I finally managed to find the passageway that lead to Silanthus’ chambers. The wooden walls were intricately calved showing pictures of Elven legends, great elven thinkers, fighters and healers all framed in leaves, vines flowers and trees of the Rainforests.
The heavy wooden door was closed, indicating that he was already in council, we began to make ourselves comfortable when the door burst open so violently that it bounced back off the wall and nearly hit the emerging elf in the face, he caught it in one hand and channeling his anger slammed it back into the door frame and strode down the corridor. I thought about going after the elf, but I did not recognise him nor even guess as to what had vexed him so, he may have not wanted a stranger prying into his affairs. In addition to which I had to inform the head of the Elven Council what I had been experiencing with the moods of the lands and the abnormal craftsmanship of the Orc arrows. I hesitated before knocking, a flash of uncertainty crossed my mind of what sharing this information would actually achieve when three quarters of the Elven population wished to travel into the mists.
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and out of politeness knocked and waited.
Entering the cool stone room was refreshing and a welcome change from the sticky humid air of the living, breathing forest, like the hallways connecting the chambers throughout the Ziggurat vine, flowers and trees had been painstakingly engraved to echo the rainforest landscape, while some living creepers had crept in, and spread all over the room, another reminder that our time here was growing short. In the centre of the hall trees had been trained to take the shape of chairs, encircling a large wooden table covered in books, scrolls and ledgers. Surrounded by these documents and maps Silanthus sat, with a pensive look on his weathered face, his chin resting on steepled fingers.
“Please be seated,” he spoke in Elven, I looked over to Korra, expecting at any moment for a confused look and a request for translation, none of this happened and she said her thanks in Human and sat down on the smooth trunk of one of the chairs. Slightly taken aback I sat beside her.
“I thank you for seeing us at such short notice,” I spoke in Elvish, it seemed that Korra had been hiding talents from me.
“It is no intrusion, I said to everyone present that I would be here for advice. Now what can I help you with.”
“Sorry to disturb you at such an important time, but we are looking for information,” Korra spoke in Human.
“And what information is it that you seek?” Silanthus answered in elven; that was when I realised that some sort of charm must have been cast over the city for the gathering.
“Silanthus, I have seen and felt many things over the past few days that are deeply troubling to me. I have seen an Ent wake from it’s slumber and carry out unprovoked attacks on the humans and their settlements, on its back was a symbol drawn in blood with a dismembered hand nailed to the centre of the markings. We found a severed hand, fingers ragged and bloody from where it has been dragged across stone to make similar markings. We have been attacked by Orcs for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we have seen villages ravaged by Orc attacks, again apparently unprovoked and in the bodies of some of the victims arrows, seemingly Elven crafted but with Orcish influences. I feel the hate, the anger and the pain that something is inflicting on the Lands. I do not think the Humans are ready for our departure, I feel a war is coming and we need to stand and aid the younger races.”
Before I entered the room I had no idea how to explain my concerns but sitting in front of the wise old Elf the words seemed to form of their own accord in my mouth.
“This is indeed troubling, I had heard Oak Heart had awoken and has shown his displeasure towards the Humans by destroying one of their settlements.”
“Did you know which one?” I enquired, his lack of compassion intrigued me.
“We were aware, the humans requested to utilize the ruins as a settlement while they gathered what they needed form the forest, after the fire we had no use for them, it showed us that nature was taking her power back from us,” he explained with no remorse for those who had lost their lives.
In a way I understood his dismissive manner, things, whether they be people, animals or plant were born, grew and matured and then died, it was nature’s way and as distressing as it was for those left behind everything had its time, no more no less; but standing by and watching it happen, watching infants upset the balance of light and dark when we had the opportunity to educate them to maintain the equilibrium did not sit well and waves of nausea washed over me as any hope of convincing the Elves to stay and help began slipping away with each response.
Choosing this time to change the subject somewhat Korra produced the ledger found on the abandoned ship, “This is the diary of the ship we found, most of it I can understand but there are strange symbols drawn in the margins. They are scattered throughout, can you read them and are they important?”
Welcoming the change Silanthus took the journal taking time in studying the pages. He shut it with a snap and handed it back to her, “Hmmm. The code is showing stone traded for blue gems. It looks as if they did not want the authorities to know. Zephandius will know more.”
From his tone it was clear that the discussion was now over, as I opened the door to leave he called me back, “Demanor, have you made your decision?”
My hand stayed on the door handle, I did not want my old mentor to see my face. I was beginning to lose respect for what I was considering cowardice, “Yes I have.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“I will stay and defend the Humans. I will try to guide them on the right path.”
“I respect your choice but in five days we will be leaving and there will be no reconsidering your decision.”
“I understand that and it also saddens me that I will never see you or my people again. But if circumstances change I will be there with you.” Even as I said those words I knew I would not be going.
* * *
Far to the north, Strike arrived in the river bay of Crossmount and with a little inquiry and exchanging of coins he quickly found a pot-bellied, ginger bearded stonemason named Erik; after a great deal of haggling, even when his newly acquired wealth was at no cost to himself Strike still fought tooth and nail to keep it in his own pocket, Strike loaded up the stone and began his southward journey to Three Rivers where he knew he already had a buyer.
* * *
Outside in the courtyard of the Ziggurat a crowd had gathered around the Elf that had not so long ago stormed out of Silanthus’ chambers, he was young and full of the tales of old when the Elves and Humans banded together and fought against the darkness; his passion had infected others longing to write their own names in history and as he spoke more and more gathered round.
“…the recent decay in nature and our bond with it is a sure sign that the old ways of putting off what needed to be done and letting the rot of darkness sit and fester rather than take action and halting the decay has resulted in nature hereself forsaking us in the same way as we have forsaken it! Some of us more in tune with the lands than others have felt the rejection and confusion in its spirit. The stories of the old races returning is a sign brothers and sisters, a sign! A sign that nature’s creatures are showing their disapproval through anger! I say that as an older, more experienced race than the humans, brothers and sisters we must be teachers to the younger races, who are as children to us, brothers and sisters. And, as tutors, we must exercise a firm hand and chastise their behaviour…”
I let his words wash over me as I reached out to the land, though more in tune with its moods now I could still feel the animosity and resentment growing stronger and stronger.
I observed the onlookers, many were deep in thought or nodding their agreement, as Zephandius continued.
“…nature is showing her displeasure at the newer races coming of age, the whole settlement; snuffed out! The neglect and failure of the elders must be rectified we, brothers and sisters must stay and shepherd the younger people. How would you like them to remember us brothers and sisters? Those who left us to pick up the pieces and clear up the mess from bad judgements? Do not be one of them, I beg you, stay and make a difference.”
The sun, high in the sky when we arrived was beginning to set, an indication of the length of the young Elf’s rally, I stood in awe at the power of his words, I could not argue with his line of reasoning but his tone suggested some sort of revolution. Korra did not seem to detect the undercurrent, maybe there was not one to be found but then she could be so preoccupied with recording the departure of most of the Elven population she may not have noticed.
Two more days passed. I spent the time listening to the crowd, trying to understand their mood better. The general consensus was that the Elders knew what was best for all concerned and who were we to interfere with the High Council? Yes occasionally the darkness came but the darkness tried to snuff out the light with every generation. Our battle had been won and it was time for us to make way for humans, whether they overcame the darkness or not was their concern, not ours. A few of the younger Elves believed that, yes of course they would misbehave, they are children compared to us, and that is what children do, not on purpose but because they were children. They needed teaching, that was the favoured saying, we needed to teach them, but we were elves and teaching Humans the ways of elves did not seem acceptable.
I said my goodbyes to friends old and new and with Korra still scribbling down hurried verses and humming snatches of tune I walked away, from the Ziggurat worried about Zephandius’ influence over others. I could see that his heart was in the right place, to id and support the Humans until they could govern themselves, but the way he spoke suggested of subduing them into compliance with force if necessary rather than suggestion and guidance. As one proud race to another I could see that Humans would rather die standing than live on their knees.
* * *
The ship was deserted when we arrived at the riverfront, we had not waited long before Strike sauntered around a wall of crates waiting to be transported onto a cargo ship, his face, as usual gave nothing away.
“We need to have a talk on board ship,” I said before he managed to greet us, I knew that spies form all over the known world would be around, not necessarily sent to watch over us but any little tidbit of information could be dangerous. Boarding Strike’s unnamed ship I immediately noticed that it was unusually quiet, as welcome as the break from Tibbs constant need for making himself known, it was unnerving not to hear it when anticipating the noise onslaught.
There was a body on the deck, lying face down, as though it had been unceremoniously dumped until he became useful. I will admit I had a sinking feeling and a though of well, that explains the silence, when I looked at it again. Whoever it was it wasn’t Tibbs.
The shirt had a number of clean tears between his shoulder blades one which still held the Elven influenced black arrow, I looked at Strike, my thoughts must have been clearly shown on my face as he held his hands up in defence.
“It’s not Tibbs, it’s a fisherman I found on the way here.”
I continued to hold his gaze.
“He decided to stay at that place we went too, after he left I was traveling along the river to meet you and I came across a small fishing boat, floating, looking unmanned until I saw this man, dying on the floor. He said that his boat was set upon by elves and they were attacking Human settlements, he was trying to get to the capital to warn the king. His dying wish was that I passed the message on.”
“Elves?!” I yelled a bit louder than I should have done in surprise, shoving the questionable whereabouts of Tibbs firmly out of my mind.
“That’s what the man said,” Strike answered.
“Oh and there are rumours that King John V is planning to make mining stone in the Great Peaks illegal but no one knows why. So that’ll be why stone is so prized at the moment.”
“I will have to give the message to the King,” Korra said.
Strike and I looked at each other.
“A Northlander will not be welcome in Rhomer.”
“Fair point, and it won’t seem believable from and Elf.”
Korra pulled the arrow from the corpse and placed it in her bag.
“Elves?” I queried again, I had just returned from the elven city, from my recollection all my kind had been at the meeting, how could it be elves?
“First I need to talk to Silanthus, we don’t have much time.”
* * *
The sun was setting when we arrived back at the elf city, the Ziggurat was disserted and so was the court yard, eventually we found my people gathered on the riverbank, flaming torches enhanced the muted light of sunset giving everything an eldritch glow. Tendrils of mist snaked through our feet, merging with others from out on the water blanketing everything at ankle height in a rolling white haze.
Enormous long white ships with swans heads carved into the prows with the stern echoing the shape of a swans feathers held high protecting chicks on its back with a tall backed seat sculpted into the plumage for an elder to guide her on her voyage were already leaving shore, heavy with the Elves who had decided to leave.
I sought the crowd of faces for Silanthus, praying that he had not left yet.
“SILANTHUS!” I yelled, after a fruitless search.
“SILANTHUS!” I shouted desperately.
I saw a figure about to board turn, he saw me and I breathed a silently thank you to whoever was listening to my prayers; directing another elder to take his place on the ship Silanthus pushed his way through the crowd towards us.
“Demanor, whatever troubles you?”
“Silanthus, my friend has a message for the king. A message that tells of elves attacking human settlements…” I began but had to stop to catch my breath.
“We are all here, how can that happen?” he said waving his hand behind him in a gesture to show how many where there.
“I know, I thought that too,” now I actually came to tell my old mentor about it, it did seem rather unlikely.
“Humans may have been mistaken. We are leaving tonight.” He turned to leave.
“We have an arrow of which we spoke,” I said quietly he would have to believe us and stay now.
“May I see it?” he asked.
Korra nodded and pulled out the evil looking implements of death, Silanthus took it from her and studied it for a moment before handing it back, neither impressed, intimidated nor surprised at the sleek, parchment thin arrow.
“Very disturbing, it is not Elven, we have not worked war arrows for hundreds of years,” he said shrugging slightly then handed it back to Strike.
“Someone is and is dragging your name down with them,” Strike pushed.
A slow condescending smile creptover the old Elf’s face, in the same way he would humour a child, “Names do not matter, we are leaving tonight.”
“Running away,” Strike egged on.
A chuckle accompanied the patronising smile, “Our time is at an end, we are stepping aside to let them make their mark on the world, as we hope you do. We intend to depart at midnight, if I can help within that time…”
“Tell us where the arrows came from,” Strike interrupted.
“If it will help. I can cast a divination spell but my powers are waning…”
“I will do it,” I snapped impatiently, I was beginning to realise he was only doing it to humour us, no intention on seeing it though, Silanthus nodded and silently guided us to his chambers; along the way he collected a number of herbs, leaves, berries and once in his private room he began to pound them into a paste in a polished wooden pestle and mortar.
Once satisfied with the mixture he uttered an incantation which I repeated back, gripping the bowl in both hands he held up the pungent concoction, ”Take the arrow in both hands and close your eyes. I will anoint your eyelids and if successful you will see. Demanor, you are young, the effect of this ritual can be profound, even those as powerful as I can still be emotionally effected, do you wish to proceed?” He warned.
I closed my eyes, took in a slow breath, nodded and exhaled.
“Then do as I say.”
Holding the arrow out in front of me I flinched as I felt the cold paste being smeared across my eyes.
It all went dark and I felt myself falling.
* * *
For a moment everything is silent, then the darkness melts and I am no longer in the Ziggurat. I am floating in a white, weightless, world, transparent, peaceful and silent, I am free and I am safe.
Then, like a trap door beneath the gallows, I feel a sudden jerk, then a drop and I am plummeting through the open sky, falling, falling like a stone towards the ground. Before I hit the ground I feel a tug and like a swallow darting after an insect on a summer evening I am swooping though the forests. In moments I am miles away from the Mainland and in front of a huge, blackwood, half rotten, warped tree.
Nothing but death surrounds this twisted apparition, bones and skulls litter the ground around it and seem to be entwined in the bark, what light that does fall here turns syrupy and black as its shadows falls onto the pulsing, writhing white roots.
I look to the branches of the tree, they looked as dead as the rest of the tree but there was something there, on the leafless limbs was some form of fruit, lumpy, glistening grey, diseased looking as it was it was still a form of berry.
I look at the shadows hiding the white roots, no, not roots but bone, the slithering roots had ensnared the bones around them, giving them a life of their own; behind me was a huge thump as something heavy hit the floor, a fruit, the colour of blood and bigger than me had fallen under its own weight.
It split with a stomach-turning squelch splattering the ground with a pail slime, the thing twisted painfully and where a bulge had grown black, glistening claws ripped through the flesh, clawing a hole in the side and pulling itself out of the collapsing husk, I had just witnessed the creature’s birth. It stands, unmistakably an Elf, the high beautiful chiselled features of my Kin, but they were cold and cruel rather than radiant. The alabaster skin replaced by the warty, grey flesh of an Orc, the high, perfectly formed brow replaced by the horn ridged head of an Orc, the caring smile replaced with bloody yellow tusks of an Orc. I shuddered, it seemed like the best and worst of both races
The creature looked around, the forgiving eyes of the elf replaced with the remorseless pure black eyes of an Orc, it opened its mouth and filled its lungs before a bestial cry, reminiscent of the roaring of an orc but blasphemously mixed with the added intelligence and harmonious tones of an Elf echoed around the clearing.
* * *
I open my eyes and see I am on my back on the floor, Korra, Strike and Silanthus are all standing in the same place as when I left but Strike had the point of his rapier against Silanthus’ neck while Silanthus is holding his hands palm out submissively.
“Really?” I sigh and pull myself up.
“Yes,” Strike answers before sheathing his sword.
I look at Silanthus, who seems to be unmoved by Strike’s threat and go on to explain what I saw.
“…a mix of Elf and Orc, the best and worst of them.” I finish.
“Best and worst of which?” Strike asked.
“Both” Silanthus and I answered together.
“So what do we call them?” Strike demanded.
“Pfft, Black Elves,” I hazard, name was not important at this moment.
“Well I do hope that was of some help, but now the last of the White Boats are leaving, it is time for me to depart.”
Although I knew this would happen it still struck deeply as he walked down the corridor for the final time, not once looking back.
“So how many want to stay?” Strike enquired.
“From what I have been hearing, about fifty in total,” Korra answered after leafing through her notes.
“We need to tell those who are staying,” Strike shook his head, we all knew it would not be enough.
I ran to the platform entrance that overlooked the courtyard, “My friends, my family, those who are staying to aid the Humans. I have, this moment returned from a vision quest, from a land unknown to me seeped in death. There I saw the putrid fruit of a blackened tree give birth to a creature both beautiful and cruel…”
Those who had turned to listen gasped.
“See I told you brothers and sisters, it is…” Interrupted the voice of Zephandius.
“I am not asking you to go against what is in your heart. It is your right to leave or stay,” I shouted over him, “it will not be held against you, but I believe you should know what will happen regardless of your choice.”
The sound of Korra’s flute floated over my words, I stopped speaking as memories of when Humans and Elves fought side by side against the darkness, whatever I said could not have been any stronger than the pull of the old tales.
Zephandius still tried to rally more followers, reminding them of the hardships endured to have the lands the way it was and as Silanthus boarded the last White Boat we had just one hundred and fifty of our once proud and widespread race choosing to remain behind. Silanthus took his position on the back of the boat and with a wave of his hand the Great White Boat moved silently, without ores or sails, out into the river.
He raised his hand to me with sadness in his eyes, I returned his wave blinking hard to stop the tears from falling and with a heavy heart watched my people disappear from history.