Scales of War -- Online game
Shadow of the Sun
Brindol is a nice quiet town. Not much to see here most of the time. Stories tell of the occasional raid, or small trouble. The locals tell tales of a particular group named the Red Hand who rampaged in time now past, but I can’t say there has been much going on here over the last few months.
My life at the Shrine of the Sun is peaceful. Quiet benedictions, the occasional healing of wounds or disease, it’s not a bad place for a Drow to settle down. Ok, yes, I’ll say it’s odd for a Drow to serve at a shrine dedicated to Pelor. Some would say it’s odd for a Drow to be on the surface in the first place, barring some incursion for dastardly deeds of course. Why am I here, and not in some dank tunnel in the Underdark, fighting all the vile creatures of the blackness? I’m not there because Lloth is an evil bitch.
Blasphemy, I know, but so very true. Due to that bloated bag of vile, I was told I could never be more than a foot soldier to be used by her priestesses in some never ending game of power and deceit. Try and learn more than wielding a sword, and those chirping harpies force you down to your knees, or reduce your rank. Seek to understand strategy, or interject ideas of politics, and they scoff, asking how one of such inferior birth could hope to understand such lofty topics at best, or lash you as they do their slaves at worst. I couldn’t stand it.
How many years I was forced to bow down, I can’t say. It’s hard to tell the passing of time when rest is staring at a blank wall while you fuel the rage burning inside of you. With no passing light, or seasons, days, months, years, decades became meaningless. I was cursed to a seeming immortality in a personal hell. We’d go out, raid some target or another. Sometimes it would be another drow conclave, or duergar, or a large force would root out a possible illithid den. Mostly I followed orders, did my duty, but never tried to gain notoriety or fame in these raids.
One night, after many long rest cycles of hushed whispers and planning by the chittering hags, we were roused and started a long hike. Going out more than twice as far than ever before, I noticed the air around us changing. It seemed, alive. For the first time I had a sense of something more to the world than our dark caves. Strange noises echoed down the tunnel along with the smells. Later I came to learn them as the hoot of an owl and the squeals of its prey. We were near the surface world. The fabled land where the very light could leave you weakened, and all of the inhabitants were disgusting forms worthy only of death.
We came to the entrance of what I now realized was a small cave, set in a deep ravine. Water flowed along the floor, some number of feet distant I could not tell in the surprising gloom about us. My eyes were confused by the natural light coming from above, filtering through the trees. In places I could still see the outlines of my group where they were in deep shadow, but the rest was a faded gray. After a few minutes, we pushed on, trying not to stumble as we adjusted to the odd light.
The priestess with us made motions for us to spread out. She seemed as anxious as I had ever seen one of Lloth’s chosen elite. We crept to the edge of a clearing, creeping on our bellies. As I came to a break in the underbrush, the shock of the firelight penetrating the darkness burned an image into my eyes which I’ll never forget.
A number of small creatures sat around a roaring fire. On the other side of the clearing, a pair of wagons was pulled up, upon which more of the diminutive shapes stirred. On a signal from the priestess, several of the figures jumped up in surprise as they were outlined in a glowing purple light. Without a sound, the slaughter began.
The smaller figures scrambled for weapons, scanning the edge of the firelight. Several which were lit by the darkfire dropped as small bolts sprouted from them. Others were able to get their weapons out, only to be slain when swords flashed out of the shadows, covering the ground in a red spray. The fight was over faster than I expected; I had not even drawn my sword.
The priestess was in the middle of the clearing, barking orders, pointing hither and thither, guiding the despoiling of the bodies and wagons. She seemed in a great haste, and in looking to where my internal compass said was east, I could see the sky changing to lighter shades of gray. I was enraptured by the encroaching light. I still can not explain it, but I made up my mind then to never return to the darkness. The order came to move out, but I remained crouched in the underbrush, silent as death. In her haste, the priestess didn’t bother with a headcount, and began the short journey back to the cavern we had emerged from, and then to the dank of the Underdark.
Once I was sure they were gone, I did a quick survey of the battle scene. My kin were brutally efficient. I could find nothing of real value, but was able to bolster my rations, and lucked upon an extra water skin. In the ever brightening world, I was finding I could see less and less. My eyes were starting to burn and my head to ache. I set back along the path we had come, hoping to find another cavern to hole up in, and plan.
It was a close thing, but I managed to find a small grotto before the light became too intense for my eyes to handle. I won’t bore you with the details of my acclimation to the surface, but any resident of the Underdark who decides to migrate to the light can freely tell you, it is not pleasant, easy, or short.
What was pleasant however, was watching the sun rise. To feel it’s warmth wash over you, driving out the chill of the night. The first time I dared to not hide from the unveiling of the great orb, I wept. The pain of the light on my eyes was only a small part of it, the raw beauty of seeing a world not in grays, but in the vibrant color meant to be witnessed staggered me. I sat there for awhile, basking in the glory of the light. Even with my eyes wrapped to protect them from being blinded through the lids, the warm light flushed my skin.
Months went by, and I learned quickly how to snare game grown used to being left at peace in the darkness. Water was plentiful in this ream, and through trial and error, I learned which of the local flora would accentuate flavor or sustain me when game proved too elusive. My forays in daylight grew longer, with less protection. My heart was at peace, mostly.
As time lingered on, and adaptation and survival became less of a concern, I found myself desiring more. I may have hated the priestesses, but I never realized how much the others of my clan meant to me. We were always taught to never trust, never expect, never question. When you go on repeated raids though, you do learn to trust those who watch your back over the course of time. I can not say we were ever close enough to term it friendship, but the bond of warriors, brothers only in blood and battle.
I could never picture myself rejoining their ranks. The more time I spent in the light, the more I found myself cherishing life. It’s abundance surrounded me. The smells and sounds of it flowed all around me, enveloping my being. I was finding myself needing to share these revelations. I needed others who could see the wonder in the world of light. So I began to seek them out.
Now I know I was in the mountains north east of Brindol called the Giant’s Shield. I followed the Witchstream westward out of the hills, always wary of other beings, and proceeded on until I came to a break in the wilderness. Before me was a flat plain, with a road moving like a pale ribbon across it. Road and plain ran off into the distance to the northwest and southeast. Far to the west, I could see the start of a great forest. Looking up, I caught the rising sun over the path to the southeast, so I started in that direction.
I stayed well off the road, holding to tall grass, ditches and stream beds where I could. I passed a couple farmsteads on my southbound travels, ducking out of sight if anyone could be seen. Traffic on the road began to pick up the farther south I moved. Humans, some elves and dwarves driving wagons or leading their beasts of burden as they traveled to their destination.
I tried approaching one such group, two farmers by the looks of them, leading a pair of oxen towing a cart. Even though I approached with my hands tucked under my arms in peace, at first sight of me, the young one scrambled to pull a pitchfork from the cart, while the father pulled a sword I had not seen from under his cloak. They began shouting, and my rough translation then of the common tongue noted the cries to be for help. This stretch of road was at least a quarter mile from any structures, but I knew any attempt to approach would only be met with hostility. I fled back into the grasses, to be lost from sight.
Eventually, I ran into a river. The Elsir was flowing well, but did not look to be in a flood, or particularly strong of current. Across the river, the land looked to be well tended and more densely settled. To the west I could see a stone wrought bridge, flanked by a pair of towers, with what I had to guess was a gate between them. Moving a good way upstream, I waited until nightfall to try my swim across.
The next several days were very frustrating. I would find small groups of people, traders moving up and down the Dawnway, farmers in their field, and approach with my sword sheathed and hands tucked. Each time once I was close enough for them to see my indigo skin and white hair, the reaction was the same, fear or menacing threats.
My grasp of the local flavor of the common tongue slowly began to increase as I watched the town and it’s participants, eavesdropping from the roadside, or ducking behind farmhouses to observe the occupants. All around me, people lived in peace, working their land or going to and fro to ply their trade. This seemed like the perfect place for me to find what I was looking for, but how… how do I join them when all they see is dread incarnate, forged by the reputation of my race.
My supplies were running low, and not wanting to resort to thievery from the people I was hoping to reside with, I came to a decision. Moving towards the least used southern gate, I found a secure looking place to store my goods, stripped to a bare chest with leggings, I timed my approach to the gate to occur with the rising sun. No one was moving on the road at this time, though I could see some activity behind the walls as the city began to stir with the day. As I approached the point I knew the guards would see me, the sun broke over the world. With arms raised high over my head, I walked with quiet calm towards them.
They kept an eye on me, but did not react. As I continued in the same manner, I could see a puzzled look on their faces. As I moved to pass between them, one simply said, “Welcome to Brindol,” and as he leaned towards his partner, I could hear a muted whisper, “Why do we always get the strange ones?”
Realizing they were not going to attack, or even respond beyond a few spoken words, I lowered my arms and continued through the gate. Why were these particular guards so relaxed, when the country side was so anxious in my presence. I counted it as odd behavior of a different race, and proceeded onward.
The town was just beginning to awaken in the light of the early dawn. A couple of people were setting up stalls outside of their home or store, some looked at me curiously, others saw me, shrugged and went back to their tasks. I was more confused than ever. Meandering around the edge of town, I was shocked when I saw a white haired figure striding toward me. As he approached, the red of his eyes burned into me, and I felt my stomach drop. Another drow, here?
He stopped abruptly in front of me, breaking stride with a militant precision. After a couple of heartbeats, all he said was, “Follow me.” Turning on his heel, he set out at a brisk pace. At this point, I was glad not to be in irons, and with hope and trepidation conflicting in my heart, I followed a few paces behind. We stopped at a storefront. He pulled a key from his jacket pocket, unlocked the door and ushered me in with a hushed tone. All around were small items, handmade trinkets and ornaments. Some rough used weapons and armor were on racks towards the front of the building.
“Who are you and why are you hear?” He asked when the door clicked closed behind him. The language was that of my homeland, though the accent strange in my ears. He moved to a desk with stacks of papers, and sat down. I felt as if I had arrived at an inquisition.
Responding in kind, choosing my pacing carefully so any inflection may not give a wrong impression, I simply stated, “My name is SanK’age. Why I am here,” I let out a long sigh, “is a long tale. The sense of freedom, the smell of the night air lured me away from Lloth’s oppression. I’ve come to love the feel of the sun on my face and grass under my feet, but I am no animal. I have become…. lonely. I am here searching for a home, am and tired of the wilderness.”
My answer either troubled him, or untapped some well of sympathy. It was a quiet minute before he replied. “Lloth’s…. oppression?” He shuffled some papers on his desk, lost in thought. “Well friend-of-the-sun, welcome to Brindol. I am Fiem K’Oargren. The locals here have taken to calling me ‘Sam’. I would prefer you do the same when they are around.”
Feeling more at ease, I relaxed. “So I shall, as deference to your kindness. You seem to have comfort here. Are the people so trusting, or has it been a long struggle to integrate yourself in their lives?"
A moment of pain seemed to flash across his face, perhaps as he remembered the painful transition to surface life. “A long struggle, and one I’ll not see broken by someone like yourself. Mind your ways and do not anger these people, or I will put your down myself.”
This unveiled threat set me back slightly on edge, so I took a few long breaths, and chose my next words quite carefully. “My ways… I don’t even know what that means anymore. Be a slave to the whims of Lloth and her priestesses was what I was raised with. Pillage here, slay there, do as you’re told. That can not be me. I seek something more, without the bloodshed and death. Solace. To be able to, I don’t know the words to describe it. Provide assistance to others in staying free? You need not fear me."
‘Sam’ let out a heavy sigh. “Solace you say. You will have it here. Nothing has happened here in 40 years.”
“Truly? Forty years of peace. No struggle for the right to exist? People are able to choose their paths? I find it almost unbelievable.”
“Yes … that is the word I would use too. Unbelievable.” He stood, and moved from behind his desk closer to me, “Tell me, you can end your mask of ‘solace’. Did the Emissary send you?”
Started at the change of approach, I could only stammer, “Emissary? No. I’ve had real contact with no other sentient being since I abandoned the raiding party which brought me to the surface. That was many long months ago. I was always told the surface would be inhospitable, but that has not proven to be the case. I wear no mask, for probably the first time in my existence.”
“Erm … " The drow shifted nervously to his other foot, “Good. It was a test. We do not want trouble in this town. It is a good thing for you my actions have paved the way for others like yourself to live here in peace. You may repay the debt later.”
“I may very well incur more debt before I can begin to repay. My meager possessions are stowed outside of town, but I would assume in this society, they would be of little worth. How shall I go about finding shelter, sustenance, and begin to belong as you do?”
Sam snorted, “I came here with money, so I’ve not had to beg. Some of the taverns can always use help. Since you like the sun so much, why not ask the Shrine of the Sun? They often take in stragglers. Now, I have work to do. Off with you.” He returned to his desk with a dismissive motion, and seemed to busy himself with shuffling papers. I hesitated for a moment, until he looked up, glared at me once more, and returned to the notes and tallies on his desk.
I slipped out the door, pondering the change in mood. Once back in the ever brightening daylight, I looked around, taking in the town, gauging reaction to a half-naked drow standing in the street. I scanned the rooftops looking for what could be the Shrine of the Sun as mentioned by ‘Sam’. Several large buildings towered over the rooftops, so I headed in that direction.
More odd looks, but no confrontations followed me as I searched for a way through the twisting streets. I was looking up, trying to reorient myself, when I crashed into a rotund man with his arms full of papers and vials who was looking down in thought and rushing about on some errand or another. This turned out to be Andronsius, the local alchemist. I’ll tell more of this encounter later, but it was he who finally led me to the Shrine of the Sun, and introduced me to Kirk Woodhead, Head Cleric of Pelor in Brindol, and organizer of the temple.
So as I said, life is quiet here. I’ve taken my vows and been trained by the clerics at the temple. My duties have not been harsh, and mostly, helping people remain free in their choices. I’m truly happy for the first time of my life. As part of my vow, and acceptance into the faith, I forsook all violence, to a reasonable point at least. There seems to be no current threat to my breaking of that vow, though the books of lore seem to say Pelor will punish those who break it too often.
Recently, I’ve met the most curious Genasi lady who insists we are married by some tradition of her people. She’s a bit odd, but seems to really care about me, and I to her. That as well is another story for another day. Perhaps I’ll let her tell it. We’re headed down to the Antler and Thistle this evening for a night out on the town.