Finally, at long last, the horrific night was ending. We had confirmed our worst fears; the fallen could not truly be destroyed. Nightfall brought the shattered armor that Craven and Klauss had managed to down in the daylight back to it’s horrible animated motion. It had reforged itself quicker than our strongest magics could possibly hold back. It was only due to the combined efforts of the Almaniveh and the Archmages of the Isles that no casualties were taken throughout the night. It was pandemonium inside the research tower where it was being held. It was almost impossible to contain. Somehow we managed to bludgeon the unstoppable juggernaut of death back into an immobile stupor, shattering it once more with spells and restraining the pieces.
The White Lady had warned us of this… The Dark Lords domain was more than just the crushing dark of night. His are the dead. His greatest minions cannot be ended by mere death. When his Almaniveh fell in ages past, whatever powers they held in that moment became his to forge anew. In the ages since, I have come to realize why Liora and her people value children and family as strongly as they do… Only through the passage of the strength from ancestor to the youth does the strength of the Threads remain beyond the reach of the darkness…
Val was sitting on the edge of the palisade, he was spinning one of those damned cursed coins again. A nervous habit he had picked up ever since that day… He was staring deeply into the distant west, as the first hints of sunlight began to encroach from behind. Sunlight that could never reach further than perhaps a half a mile west of where I stood.
I knew better than to ask about the coins… His refusal to give them up had nearly brought us all to death blows. Craven had wanted to just kill him and be done with it, and he nearly had. Val’s testimony at the trial had ensured animosity between them. Once the taint of the Dark one is upon you, how can you possibly be trusted? Karlstaff agrees with Craven of course, but he has chosen to acquiesce to Liora’s will… Liora, who truly believes this can only be done with every possible Almaniveh standing united. I am… …unconvinced. If the taint does ensures your fall to the will of the dark, perhaps none of us deserved to live.
Val’s face is troubled. He doesn’t turn to acknowledge me, but he knows I am behind him. For a time, we both just revel in the brief joy of silence. He is the first to break it, and I feel a sense of loss as the moment passes. “How do you convince yourself we’re doing the right thing?” He asks me hesitantly. “You saw that village… they’re just people, trying to live their lives like any of us.” His voice is so very tired… “That… That little child…” He pauses, unable to finish the sentence for fear of losing his composure.
We have been friends since we were children. We grew up together. We played in the river and chased the village girls, trying to tease and tickle them. At times I see a darkness in him that scares me, but in this moment I see only my childhood friend. He is frightened, and tired, and pushed far beyond what human minds were ever meant to bear… His burden, my burden, Klauss’ burden… How could any of us keep going in this never ending war?
I respond after a moment of thought: “I don’t know, but stopping the Dark Lord from dominating the world seems like the only right path.” My own voice is perhaps as exhausted as his. How many days and nights with nearly no rest now? We attack, push back the darkness during the days light… The night, the night brings the counterattack. The battles during the day were the most rest we could hope to find. The fight was so much easier during the day.
We had seen the depths of the Darkened Lands… We had been to the library. We all knew that the horrors the Dark Lord placed at the edges of his territory paled in comparison to the strength he held close. The Dark Lord is a paranoid and nervous god. He possesses a horrific complete domination of his people, and any one of the people born in his land are open to becoming a conduit for his power at any time. But these are just tiny flecks of what he is capable. His true strength is held tightly, kept near his citadel. Gods help us when we must face his hand… Gods help us…
I could only imagine which of the horrors Val was pondering in that moment. For myself, I knew that the only way forward was to stay strong. My people were holding their own, as were most of the united tribes. The strength and creativity they were able to bring to bear when all of the tribes stood united was awe-inspiring. For a moment, a brief fear struck me regarding the innovations of war. Both sides of this conflict were bringing to life notions best left un-imagined. Even now, the captured Fallen was inspiring new and frightening changes to the Golem-Works. I shook it off, and resolved myself.
“We have to push again soon…” My voice trailed off halfway through the sentence. He knew. Of course he already knew. We hated it, it was a raw nerve to aggravate every day, and it left us drained down to the very soul. It was the same weapon, re-modulated, but close enough all the same, that had been used to commit genocide not too long ago. We were supposed to save the world. We were supposed to be the heroes. Instead we were directly responsible for the annihilation of the entire Queendom. How many died there? How many had the Dark Lord killed? How many had we? I couldn’t bring myself to try and think on the numbers…
He went to stand, and I offered him a hand up. “There has to be another way…” He said, his eyes still locked towards the west. “We don’t have long before it gets here, we all saw it, and it saw us.”
I shuddered. “So we do what we can, while we can…”
He said nothing for a moment, his eyes finally dropping as his head went slack and his eyes peered at the ground in front of him. He sighed, then replied. “Yes… we all must do what we can…”