Chapter the Forty First: One Woman's Madness Is Another's TruthI returned to Qintarra, my mind thinking on the Bedokaan over the course of my journey. They struck me almost as a relic of the past, a race that could not exist anywhere but here in the far reaches of civilization. It shamed me to admit it, but Kan Kerai was right, in a way, to wish ill upon the race of men. If his tribe had existed to the South of the Grey Mountains instead of to the North they likely would no longer exist.
Upon first re-entering Qintarra I spied Mr. Winde still staring out at the trees, although his countenance seemed a bit easier. His hands were relaxed at his sides instead of tensed and he breathed the forest air in deeply. "Good day, Mr. Winde. Have you heard from your missing hunter?"
"It was no trouble at all, sir. I'm just glad to have been of help." I took the armor from him and handed it off to Virgil carefully, wiping my hand off on my dress afterwards. Now where was I...? Right. I travelled across the bridge to the Northeast and onto Raven's platform. She stared at me as suspiciously as usual, but I tried my best not to be confrontational. "Hello, Raven. I've removed the humans from Falcon's Ache."
I sighed heavily, trying to think of where to begin. I didn't particularly care to share the details with her, but I knew there would be no seeing the Silver Lady if Raven detected any dishonesty on my part. To be safe I had to disclose everything. "That... is a long story, Raven. I don't suppose you're overly familiar with the Black Mountain Clan, or the dwarf called Stennar Rock Cutter among them. You see... that dwarf escaped, I know not from where, and he met his end on the I.F.S. Zephyr.... I, too, was on that zeppelin and when it crashed I was the only one left unharmed. In his last moments, Stennar gave me a ring, which I traced to Gilbert Bates, and Bates has had me searching for the missing clan ever since. I'm here now on behalf of both Gilbert Bates and Loghaire Thunder Stone to inquire as to the exile of the Black Mountain Clan, at the hands of the elves... in the name of the Silver Lady."
She seemed troubled as I related my tale to her, and she stood in thought for a long time after I mentioned her mother's name. "A dark tale, full of pain. And it would seem that the blame lies with us, the elves..."
Her concern actually seemed genuine and she seemed to be reconsidering her former opinion of me even as we spoke. Certainly I wasn't simply another human curiosity visiting Qintarra for my own sake... even if curiosity did play a strong part in it. "There are elves involved... do you know the name of M'in Gorad?"
This is no time to be concealing information. Do you care so little for the plight of the dwarves?! "What, Raven? Do you know where I might find M'in Gorad?"
She shook her head, still lost in thought. "No... you need to speak with my mother of these things... she will know what to do..."
Although it seemed like she was brushing me off, I knew I wouldn't be granted an audience with the Silver Lady so lightly under any other circumstances. Truly, Raven was troubled by what I had said. "All right... is she in that door behind you?"
Raven nodded, as though suddenly becoming aware of my presence yet again, "Yes... but be warned, my mother is a magickal being of great power. Her spirit swims in the flow, and sometimes she is more of that world than this one. What she sees is not always what we see, so her answers might seem strange to you. Ask what you wish to know, and LISTEN. When you're through speaking with her, come and find me..."
I gulped uncomfortably. I'd nearly forgotten just how potent she's supposed to be. This is going to be unpleasant to say the least. "I will, Raven. Thank you for your help." I walked past her, unhindered, and into the chamber beyond. It was dark, lit only dimly by a pair of magick lanterns on either side of the room. My skin burned as I stepped into the chamber and I almost wanted to cry out in pain, but I clenched my teeth and fought back the tears. No matter how uncomfortable it was, I had to go through with it. I wondered idly if increasing my technological inclination further would make such encounters more or less tolerable. On the one hand I would suspect it would make the pain even greater, but on the other hand my own inclination would better offset hers and I might feel the force of her power less potently. It didn't particularly matter in the end, I was here now and nothing would change the pain that I felt in so being.
Her voice was shallow and ethereal, echoing despite the cramped chamber. As Raven had mentioned, she truly did not seem like a being fully in this world. It was a frightening thought to contemplate, and I began to understand that her seclusion was not merely a symptom of her status. She truly didn't belong with the rest of the elves... or the rest of the world. "Greetings to you, Silver Lady. I thank you for this audience..."
Her voice haunted me, echoing, piercing my very soul with every word she spoke. "I know you've come far... and I've expected you for a long time, now. I've seen you approaching from both east and west, traveler... and you bring them with you, all of them... they've no choice but to follow."
'Them'? Virgil, Vollinger, and Terry? Somebody else I've not met yet? This woman truly does speak in riddles. "Please... I don't understand..."
I gulped uncomfortably yet again. "I will try, Silver Lady..."
"What is it you seek, traveler...?" She asked, staring at me... or almost at me. It would've been more accurate to say that she was staring through me, and hers was a gaze that I could feel piercing every aspect of my being. My skin felt like it was on fire, and the air in the room burned in my lungs even as I breathed it.
"Do you know if I'm the Living One?" It may not have been directly related to my reasons for being there, but if there was one question I would get answered before I passed out from the pain it was going to be that one. It was something I simply needed to know.
She laughed, her voice a curious mix of a raspy old woman and a Panarii choir. It was at once a discomforting noise and a musical composition. "The Living One? Oh, traveler, why would you think I would know of such a thing?"
Because you purport to know all that is, was, and will be? Perhaps? "It's a prophecy... I assume you can see what is to come..."
She laughed again, louder and more musically. Her voice became many voices and those voices were the strings on violins, the blaring of trumpets, and the exotic pattering of primitive drums. "It's an interesting thing about prophecies, traveler. They're no clearer to one such as myself, living both in and out of the stream, than they are to you, walking the shore. The flow swirls AROUND them, until they are ready. And in the end, really, is it going to matter who someone pointed a finger at?"
I sighed dejectedly, "That would be comforting if people weren't trying to kill me."
I suppose that is an interesting way of looking at it. "You've a point, there. What can you tell me of the Black Mountain Clan?"
She paused for only a moment, then her eyes flickered eerily and she spoke, "Yes, I can see them... but the ravens are circling, and the storm rages but subsides, and yet there is lightning and then shadow, and then the storm howls again, tearing... I can't even look at it! Wait... oh! Look! They've taken in a small child with machine-dreams, and hands of hinged metal, and a heart in which coal burns brightly...
"I see a flame atop a hill, burning so brightly! And below, a field of wheat around a pool of water... and the flame spitting fire and consuming the wheat and the lake, and losing itself as well... It's dark here... so dark... and the flame is here, too, but this flame burns black onyx and cold, and shadow is its child... are they here as well? I can't see that far... A plain of mirrored glass, a sky of white, a lone figure. Wait... which is the reflection? I'm unsure."
I frowned, quite thoroughly confused, "You're speaking in riddles, Silver Lady."
If you're going to answer like that again, no. I sighed. "M'in Gorad... what can you tell me of that name?"
Again, she seemed lost for a brief moment before latching onto something in the sea of dreams that she floated upon. "M'in Gorad... an old name, traveler. Oh...! A man is screaming, and carves a key with his fingers, and the birds have plucked his eyes out... and the wolf watches, motionless, his paw in the air... A tear in the curtain, and only darkness beyond... a crooked finger points eastward, adorned with a ring of blasted stone...
"A hand that sees, but is blinded... a man draped in truth, wearing a mask... And they hide! The lost children! They hide! A gray mist, even to me... but there! He runs! Dropping veined and painted leaves! And the flock comes, talons outstretched and wings of fire, and he is consumed... but the leaves! Run quickly, traveler! Find what was left behind! In the place of smoke and water... he is there! He is there! I see no more. The stream is again calm. Was there anything else?"
I paused momentarily, trying to make sense of anything that had just spilled out of her mouth. "No... but I understand almost none of what you said..."
With a heavy sigh I simply said, "Characteristically cryptic, dear Lady."
She laughed again, though quieter now, the instruments subsiding from their past crescendo. "I go now, traveler. We will meet again... though I'm not sure on which side. No matter. Farewell..."
It might not matter to you, but I'd rather prefer to stay alive if you don't mind. Bewildered I stumbled out of the chamber, at last the fire on my skin diminishing to an unpleasantly warm sensation. Raven stood outside, staring at me curiously. "H-hello, Raven... I... spoke to your mother, if you could quite call it that. I'll be damned if I understood one bit of what she said, though. I asked her about the Black Mountain Clan and she started talking about lightning, and Bates, flames and wheat, a pool, dark fire... a mirrored plain..." I shook my head trying to dispel all of the nonsense she'd crammed into it.
Raven nodded, "Let's take it one step at a time, shall we? I'll help you try and make sense of what she said."
That would be... uncharacteristically helpful of you, Raven. Thanks. "All right. She saw ravens, and lightning, and a violent storm."
On second thought, maybe you're not that helpful after all. "What about the small, machine-like child... Bates?"
She nodded, "Yes, that one is obvious. She saw him because he plays such a large role in their fate." Fair enough... can't deny that.
"What of the flame that consumed a wheat field and a pool of water?" If Raven could make any sense of that then I truly would be impressed.
She frowned slightly, "I'm not sure what that represents, but I know that fire, in her visions, often represents magick. And the water, you say, quenched it? Or did the flame burn itself out?"
Hell if I know. "There was one last part to her visions of the Black Mountain Clan. A dark place, with a dark fire... and a mirrored plain."
Odd. Yes, the whole damn thing is odd. I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks so. "She also had visions of M'in Gorad. An eyeless man, in pain, carving a key... a wolf with a raised paw... now that I think about it, that's probably related to Caladon..."
She nodded, "What the screaming man and his key represent I have no idea, but you're right on the other part... the official symbol for the city of Caladon is a wolf with one paw raised in the air."
Finally it seemed like we'd found something amidst all the nonsense. "Perhaps we need to begin our search there, Raven."
She frowned, "I'm not so sure. Remember, my mother's visions are shackled by neither our eyes nor our time... the events she describes might be in either the future or the past... let's look at all she's said before we go any further..." Perhaps I was being too eager to return home. My mind had leapt at the sudden conclusion.
I started grumbling. She was right, of course, I was just annoyed about the whole thing. "All right. Her next vision was of a torn curtain... a ringed, broken finger pointing east..."
You could, you know, share your thoughts instead of being half as cryptic as your damned mother. Ugh. "A hand that sees, but is blind... a truthful man in a mask... Wait! That sounds like the symbol on an amulet I've seen."
Raven inhaled deeply, suddenly concerned, "Interesting. That's the ancient symbol of the Molochean Hand. You say you know of it?"
I nodded, "Yes... they were an ancient order of assassins."
She stared at me intently, explaining it to me further, "The Molochean Hand were assassins for what used to be known as the Derian-Ka... the ancient Order of the Dead. The Derian-Ka were a shadowy group who formed during the Age of Legends. Their membership, and their agenda, were always very secret. I know little about them, beyond the most cursory of knowledge, but there have always been rumors about who they were, and what they were doing..."
I was terribly interested in anything she had to say on the subject considering just how personally I was involved in it. "And their connection to the Molochean Hand?"
I scoffed in annoyance, "These amulets and the attempts on my life might say different."
She frowned and stared at the wooden platform for a moment, "I agree... but I don't know why they would be involved in this business. Very interesting..."
Interesting to you, perhaps, but regrettably serious for me. I suppose it's a whole lot more of a bloody curiosity when you aren't their target. "Let's get back to the topic at hand, I suppose. What do you think the vision itself means?"
"I don't really know, although it would seem that perhaps they are being mislead..." I remembered the book that Joachim had left in the Stillwater inn, and my conversation with Virgil about the Hand being 'not all bad'. Combined with this vision it was certainly an interesting idea. "Blindness in my mother's visions is sometimes associated with deception. As far as the man in the mask who is draped in truth? I have no idea..."
That makes two of us, dear girl. "What about the last part? Lost, hiding children... a man runs from them and drops leaves..."
At last she let out a great sigh as if what she was about to say would lift a great weight from her shoulders. A weight, I expected, that would suddenly fall upon me. "This one is most interesting of all. And it seems that my fears may very well have been correct..."
I don't think I like where this is going one bit. "I'm almost afraid to ask. What does that mean, a dark name?"
Her eyes stared straight into mine and she spoke terribly clearly. She was dead serious. "A Dark Elf name. Do you know of the Dark Elves?"
I had read about their possible existence, certainly, but it had only been a categorization... a method by which the author of the book distinguished between various elves he met based on their attitudes towards him. It seemed awfully prejudiced, but the way Raven spoke about it seemed like he may have been on to something. "I've heard very little of them... could you elaborate?" Looks like that book was on to something after all, then.
She leaned up against the massive, hollowed out tree and began explaining, "It's a long story, but sometime during the Age of Legends, many years before even my mother was born, there were a group of elves who separated themselves... there were philosophical differences, and they were no longer welcome in our forests... those elves became what we know as the Dark Elves..."
Although I was interested in what she had to say about the Dark Elves, I also didn't want to pass up the opportunity for a unique point of view. After all, that was one of the simple pleasures I indulged in throughout my journey. It kept me going when I most wanted to give up and just go home. "I've spoken with a Panarii priest about the Age of Legends before, but if you don't mind I would like to hear an explanation of it from an elven point of view. Humans tend to have rather different opinions on history, for obvious reasons."
"I see... thank you, Raven. Now back to the differences between you and the Dark Elves...?" I hoped I didn't interrupt her too badly. She didn't really seem to mind. The Raven I was talking to now was a whole lot more agreeable than the one I'd first met, but I supposed I looked quite different in her eyes now as well.
She paused, thinking of where she left off, then continued, "They believe that this world, and ALL of its races, are subject to elven rule. They believe that elves are superior because of our close connection to nature, our power in the ways of magick, the longevity of our physical form. They see the other races as bumbling children who need our guidance, regardless of its severity.
"The elves of Qintarra, on the other hand... in fact ALL other elves, believe that everything and every one has a rightful place in the experience which forms this reality. Elves feel that very little, if anything, ever happens that isn't part of the natural progression of that state. They feel no superiority because of their... advantages... that is just the role they have been picked to play..."
While it may have been true that elves had a number of physical and magickal advantages, I couldn't help but feel somewhat insulted at her arrogance. I felt silly, then, for being insulted that elves were elves. "What about Dark Elves, then? Do other elves see them as a violation of the natural order?"
I detected the slightest hint of anger in her voice and in the way she stood in that moment. "'Unfortunately'? Do you believe differently, Raven?"
Her face became like stone, unwilling to give out any further information. "I believe... well, let us say that I don't always see eye to eye with those in Qintarra concerning the 'rightful' place of the Dark Elves. MY role here is as protector. I will do so, regardless of the cost."
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that, for all her willingness to discuss her mother's visions, she doesn't want to tell me anything of herself. "Let's get back to your mother's visions, then."
She nodded, "My mother's vision of the lost children was referring, I believe, to the Dark Elves. They were hidden from her because they are hidden from ALL of us... through magick and isolation, we've not seen where they live for almost 500 years..."
It did make a certain sense, though it struck me as strange that they could hide out from even the Silver Lady for such an incredible length of time. I supposed it was only my human view of things that made it seem like such a long time, however. "What about the man... who was the man running from them?"
Now that's news to me. Why have I not heard of this?! "Who was he?"
She glared at me as though I'd been interrupting. "As I said... he was a researcher... a strange little man, a bit overdressed, but kind-hearted and very intelligent... I was young then, a mere 160 years old... he was the first human I'd ever seen..." she stared off into the space behind me, her eyes drifting off into nothing and a smile slowly forming on her lips.
There's obviously more to this man than you're letting on, and of course I'll be damned if you're willing to tell me about it. "Do you remember his name?"
Her eyes snapped back into focus as she suddenly remembered my presence. "His name... it was long ago, but I remember because he said it so often... I think humans just like hearing the sound of their own names." She laughed a bit as the memory washed over her. "Terwilliger... Dr. Renford A. Terwilliger. I can hear him saying it even now." She laughed some more as she thought on it.
As much as you try to hide information about yourself, you certainly do reveal quite a bit of it with your body language, dear girl. Deception is not your strong suit. "What were the 'leaves' he was dropping?"
Leaves... leaves... leaves... nope, not ringing a bell. Who the hell paints leaves? "What is the place of smoke and water?"
Raven shrugged helplessly, "She could mean almost anywhere, but if I were to make a guess I'd say she was talking about the human city of Tarant. It lies in the Gulf of Morbihan, and its... what do you call them... factories? They are always belching smoke into the skies. That, and..." she winked at me and a sly grin spread across her face, "I know that Terwilliger was from there."
It must be nice to have such untarnished memories of the past... or at least to be so distant from them that they do not hopelessly bind up your thoughts and your actions. It makes me long for the lifespan of an elf, for everything to be so much less... immediate. "Well, what now? All of these visions are fine and dandy, but I haven't a damned clue where to start."
She stared at me intently, "You have a place to begin your search, my friend." Friend? Have I really improved that much in your eyes? I supposed I should have been grateful that she was willing to so severely reconsider her initial opinion of me. "It would seem that if you need to find this M'in Gorad, you're going to need to find the village of Dark Elves. The only person who may know where they are is Renford A. Terwilliger. He may or may not be in Tarant, but it's a good place to start looking..."
May or may not? I don't know how old you are now, but when 'young' is 'a mere 160 years old' I have a hard time imagining your childhood crush is still alive. "Then I will find the Dark Elves. To Tarant I shall go..." Raven stared at me and shook my hand.
As flattered as I was, I didn't feel I particularly deserved any kind of admiration. My path was not an enviable nor a respectable one, it was just my own and I walked it as best I could. "I'm no hero... I just want people to stop trying to kill me. I want to go home." My heart sank as I said the words aloud and realized just how true they were. I missed Frederick terribly.
Raven slowly stopped shaking my hand and dropped it, looking away briefly. "Perhaps I misjudged you... but no matter. Your actions, however they are motivated, are noble. Good luck. Return to me when you've found the dark elves, and tell me what you've discovered."
I nodded, "Very well. I'll return when I know more... good bye, Raven." I turned and I walked across the bridge leading to the platform.
Vollinger let out a great sigh as we walked, "Now THAT was a heavy bit of conversation, wasn't it? All those strange visions and interpretations, and now this business with the dark elves? You're dragging me along on quite the journey, Samantha."
I chuckled at him a bit. "Yes, I am, aren't I? Are you saying you're beginning to tire of it?"
"Not in the least," he smiled, "actually, I rather enjoy your company. You're an interesting woman, I'll give you that. I guarantee there isn't another like you the whole world over."
I sighed, "I can't tell if that's an honest compliment or not. You're right, of course... I don't know of many women that carry an axe around and use it to defend themselves from an ancient order of assassins."
Terry let out a muted woof and Virgil clapped me on the shoulder lightly, "I'm pretty sure that's meant to be a compliment, Samantha. Honestly... I... consider you to be a friend. If that's all right with you. I mean, you're important to the Panarii as well, but..."
"Oh shut it, Virgil," I smiled at him, "I'm honored to consider you a friend. I don't care about the prophecy one way or another. As the Lady said, does it really matter in the end who somebody pointed a finger at?"
He sighed dejectedly, "I suppose not, I just... nevermind. I'll respect your opinion... as a friend."
I clapped him on the shoulder as well, still smiling, "And I'll respect yours as well, Virgil. I mean no offense to the Panarii, I just don't think the prophecy really matters at this point. Let's... let's just get to Tarant, shall we?"
"Tarant?!" an unfamiliar voice shouted out. A scrawny little elf skittered out in front of me and held out her hands. "You said you're going to Tarant? Pardon... my name is Swyft. Would you perhaps be interested in some work as a guide?"
I looked at Virgil and Vollinger uncomfortably, but neither seemed to have any helpful input. "Er, what exactly did you have in mind?"
"I suppose that sounds agreeable enough... I am headed that way anyway."
She started bouncing up and down and then hugged me, all the while shouting, "Yay! I get to go to Tarant! I am so excited!"
Something is not right here. "Um... just how old are you, anyway?"
She put her hands on her hips and glared at me, "I am 150 years old. What does that matter?"
Erk. "Isn't that just a tad young for an elf to be out on her own?" In human years she was probably closer to the age of 12 or 13, which wouldn't be a problem for some but she obviously had been rather sheltered. Tarant would certainly be a rude awakening for her.
She practically shouted at me in response, "What are you trying to say?! I am mature enough to make my own decision!"
Right. Of course you are. "I am sure. Are you ready to go?"
"Yes!" she shouted, skipping alongside me happily.
Great. Well, whatever. It'll be 300 more coins than I had before and I just have to babysit a child for a couple weeks on the journey back. Virgil glared at me with uncertainty and pain in his eyes, and I was quite well aware that it had nothing to do with our prior conversation. Sorry, friend. I just can't pass up easy coin.
I made for Stillwater, intending to stop there for a quick rest after the trip over the mountains and before heading down to Tarant. It was only a slight bit out of the way and resting in a proper bed would do me some good.