The Shattered Spectrum: The Next Generation


…It’s funny how quickly you can notice the little differences. I woke up this morning without the smell of brewing tea on the air. You don’t properly notice a lot of the things you enjoy in life until they’re gone. It was only a week ago that Okenna abandon- no, departed from us to go to the Dark lands. Things have changed without him. Like I said, it’s funny how quickly you notice the little differences. Traveling all day leaves a man much time to think, too much time in fact. We’ve been moving nonstop ever since we got to the blue, and so much has happened since, that now it feels strange to have time for thought.
As the travelers press ever north, the Dwarf and the Elf lead from the front deciding the best path through the forest. The Orc, the Lady of the White, and the young rogue follow closely behind, each lost in their own thoughts. In the back, The Gunslinger walks, and stops a moment. He turns his head west and watches the sun set upon the eaves of the green wood. He knows that somewhere not far beyond the beautiful sight before him, the Darkness looms, and that there beyond that walks his friend… Ashford Hughes takes the moment to light his pipe, but he is interrupted by a call from Charisma, beckoning him to keep up lest he fall behind, and so he finishes his ritual and continues his march northward. His feet fall into a slow steady rhythm. His mind is left to wander, and to reminisce…
I still have the dreams about that day, and just like it did in reality, it always turns into a nightmare. Things hadn’t gone perfectly to get where we were, but we had a clear purpose. It was the day we were to speak with the council of the Blue. We had a plan that involved using Charisma’s unique talents to purge the council of those who would serve the Dark Lord. Some things went our way, such as the council’s decision to open communication with the Green, and to provide aid to the Dwarves. Some things did not turn out as we had hoped, such as Agmertis deeming it necessary to invoke martial law. Okenna was particularly vocal about the event. Of course he was. He always did have a way of standing up for the little guy. Rose would’ve liked him. Of note to me was the council’s decision to utilize their “Doom Cannon” A dramatic, if appropriate name for a devastating weapon. I was a fool to not have seen the following events coming. The Dark Lord’s plan was executed flawlessly. It was a night I’ll never forget.
Rain falls upon the floating isles and lightning strikes the sky, illuminating the corpses of the fallen. A father holds his son for the last time. Memories of love and laughter flood the mind of the father. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you…” Ashford closes his eyes and pulls his son close, finally answering the question in his mind of if he is even capable of doing what he’s about to do “I love you…” There is a loud boom, and a flash of light, but it is not the weather. There is then a silence, accompanied only by the sound of rain. “…Dad…Why?” The last words of Jon Hughes come weak. His eyes are absent of the Darkness that was there only a moment before, as blood come out of the corners of his mouth. A tear cuts across the spatter of blood and grime on the Gunslinger’s face. The body of his son falls lifelessly from his arms.
I barely remember the rest of the disaster around me at the time. Just…images. Nolkan, fallen in battle. Charisma, completely still on the pavement, her blade broken in two. Tavok, kneeling over her, screaming at the sky. Braith, standing next to the Dwarf, tears falling from her eyes. Hawgr, staring at the blood on his own hands. The weapon we would use to try and save Tavok’s people, gone over the edge of the cliffside. I have never seen so much devastation in one place. It was then I saw Okenna with a shocked look upon his face, coming to speak with me. “No,no,no…” He said “What have you done?” At what he told me next, I felt a rage such as I have only felt for one other man ever before. “I could have saved him… In my meditations, I’ve-” He pauses. “I’ve learned how to save someone from the Darkness.” My knuckle was sore for the rest of the following week. The Monk’s skin is like stone, but I couldn’t hold my rage. It took all I had to keep Nox Terminus holstered and stop myself from ending Okenna’s life right there. Maybe I should have, but enough lives had been taken that day. I was done.
“I could have saved him.” The words repeat in Ashford’s mind as he looks down at the crumpled piece of parchment in his hand, the note Okenna left behind for him.
It was one hell of a way to get the last word in. The monk did always try to do so in his many debates with Charisma, Tavok, and even myself on more than one occasion. I may not have always agreed with his ways, but Okenna never failed to stand his ground when he truly believed in something. I know our decisions have made him consider leaving us in the past, especially during his argument with Tavok after we left the library under the sea of glass. It always frustrated Okenna greatly whenever he thought we were dismissing what he had to say. I know I didn’t always heed his advice. Most recently, he didn’t approve of the way I left things with Rissa during the tribal festival, which is amusing in a way considering he’s a monk. I know he just wants me to try and be happy, but I can’t afford such distractions. Or is that just what I’m telling myself? By the gods, I miss you Rose… I can’t just move on. I didn’t expect Okenna to understand that. What I did expect him to understand was that even if I did not always follow his words, I did always listen. It’s why I was able to forgive his decision not to tell me about his…ability to save my son before it was too late. He told me what it would cost him, his own soul, forfeit to the Dark Lord. He told me he would’ve made that sacrifice given the chance, but couldn’t tell me about it because he was convinced I would’ve stopped him. To my shame, I wasn’t sure he was correct, but now…Forgive me Jon, but now I believe Okenna was right. I would’ve stopped him. Hell, I would have killed him before I let him willingly give himself to the bastard who took my family from me. Kind, beautiful, Rose. Jon, brave and enthusiastic. Amelia, kind as her mother and smarter than her old man will ever be.
Ashford takes the crumpled note, smoothes it out, and places it back in his bag. He closes his eyes, trying, and failing as usual, to manage his grim thoughts. The ever present surge of power in his right side isn’t helping either. He doesn’t know how much time he has before… The Gunslinger lets out an exasperated sigh, as one does when they realize they’ve been unconsciously holding their breath for whatever reason. He’s reminded of how much the burden of stress was eased by the antics of the Monk, like his addiction to brewing tea, and all his talk about meditation and tranquility. The briefest of smiles crosses the corner of his lips before returning to the usual frown, as he scolds himself for again getting caught up in the memory of someone he’s lost. It only brings pain after all.
Okenna, I hope you know I… I do trust you. That’s hard for me to say after what happened at the Floating Isles. Hawgr and Charisma see what you’ve done as a betrayal, and though I do not see it the same way, I cannot completely say that they are wrong to feel the way they do. For Charisma, it’s the emotional aspect of it, as it often is. For Hawgr, well… You know how he is about the warrior’s path he walks. I hope you know what that means for him should you ever return… Summaris is mistrustful of you, though I doubt that’s any different than it ever was for him. I don’t think he fully trusts any of us. It’s his intentions that I worry about the most, which is odd to say considering you’re the one among us who is in the Dark lands. Braith was… well, you hurt her Okenna. You were always there for her, in a way the rest of us can’t really be. I was also affected by your departure. The three of us, Humans amongst the like of Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs, we really had something. It’s hit her pretty hard, but ultimately I think she might see as I do, and as Tavok does. Tavok reminded me today that we… That we’re a family. He sounded like you, and despite the quarrels you’ve both had in the past, the young Dwarf has placed complete faith in you. Indeed he seems to have become quite a man of faith as of late. He has truly grown, and though he’s ever still a bumbling idiot from time to time, I see but a mask concealing a keen wisdom and a cunning intellect. Qualities developed over time through trial and tribulation, but also honed in part I’d like to think by my own counsel and by yours. I’ve seen the effects of your lessons on him regarding the consideration of every life shaped by our actions, and my thoughts become dark at the notion of what kind of potential king he could become without your influence in his life.
As for me, I cannot help but feel as if the decision you’ve made now, to leave so suddenly, feels very much like your choice not to tell me about your ability to save my son. Now you’ve gone to my daughter, this time before I’ve gone and made a mistake I can’t take back as you see it. I know that what you’re trying to do, you’re doing for the world, and now you’re doing it for Amelia as well. I will always be grateful for that, but there is something I need you to understand. My children are gone… I finally realized this when I first saw my son’s eyes after he tried to kill me. They were devoid of any life, any joy, any love, any sign at all that the boy I raised was still there. The Dark Lord took Jon, and left only a murdering, obscenity screaming, hateful abomination in his place. Only when I destroyed it, was my son released from his torment. That freedom is all I want for my daughter, and for myself, but not before I complete the mission. I know you want to bring her back from the Darkness, but even if the cost weren’t too great, even if you were to somehow succeed, and even if one could truly return to life as normal after being Val’s slave, what would she come back to? Her home lost, her mother and brother slain, and her father dead in all but the most literal sense. I’m…not the man I used to be. I know the pain of losing my family, and it is a pain I hope my Amelia never has to feel. No, after all she’s been through, Amelia would be returned alone, to a world literally tearing itself apart. I’ve lost them Okenna, my wife, my son… and my daughter, and I hope you haven’t lost yourself trying to change that. I’m not ready to lose my brother as well.
A rumbling of the earth and a call from Tavok up ahead brings Ashford’s focus back to reality. Summaris has taken to the sky in avian form, scouting it seems. The terrain here is unstable, and the Ranger must use his skills to lead the travelers safely through it. It is a long and arduous journey rife with the violent and ever present tremors of a suffering world.
I don’t know if we can stop this. I think I’ve begun to comprehend what Okenna was trying to say in the letter he left behind. About unifying the Spectrum. The whole Spectrum… I think Tavok and Summaris understand as well. I may understand it, but I don’t know if I can accept it. I don’t think I can, but what does that mean? For Okenna? For the world? The mission is the only thing that matters, it always has been, but what if it’s compromised? The world needs the Spectrum. The Spectrum requires unity. Unity requires peace. Peace requires…
As he marches onward into the night, the Gunslinger wonders if he will have the strength to make the decision he knows he must, when the time comes…
[[:okenna | Ashford Hughes]]


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