Day 30… 31?: I’ve been having a reoccurring dream lately. I’m standing on the edge of that town, Tyrisany, and I’m watching it burn to the ground. Again. But this time it’s different. I’m not feeling that same, gut-wrenching feeling I feel every time I reflect on my last day as a Boltcaster. I don’t feel sorrow for the town or even yell in vain at the burning, smoldering people running past us into the woods who are too much in pain to know they’re dead. The only thing I feel is regret.
And it’s directed into my own soul.
In the flickering flames and twisting smoke I can see afterimages of slack-jawed, dead-eyed badgers. Above them, in the clouds that are too dark for the actual time of day, I can see Jed – my aging mentor – standing impossibly parallel with the ground below me, his feet anchored in the clouds. His face is Jed’s but his body… his body keeps swirling in and out of the form of Obad-Hai’s leaf-covered tunic. His eyes are dead, his hand cold and accusing as he points at me. I am not the ranger I should be.
And I know it.
My days are melding together, and I’m not even sure if the others I travel with have noticed that I’m not really there with them. Then again, upon further reflection, Marcus may have some inkling. He was able to make the perfect shot with my own crossbow whereas I couldn’t even land one bolt. I watched, a prisoner in my own flesh as he loaded an air-runed bolt in to an orc’s head. Instead of feeling ashamed at my lack of performance, I was numb. I could only sigh the internal breath of emptiness.
I will go to sleep now. Jed/Obad has a date with his failure and who am I to deny them?
Day 32… I presume: I dreamed again last night.
In the dream I stand outside of the cave myself and my companions are currently in. In the clearing just beyond the opening the edge of Tyrisany stands, unmarred by flame or rule. It is night. The forest we trekked through to get here is gone and in the place where I stood, watching the town smolder, is a large, leaf covered man.
I try to speak but cannot. I try to move but I am frozen to the gravel below me. The green figure before me speaks, his voice one with the ground, synonymous with the wind.
“You live in torment for your own failures,” the man says with the world around him. The trees sigh at his inflection. “I cannot watch a follower of the Natural Path destroy himself. Be free of your mistakes only be accepting them. Make them a lesson and not a punishment.” The figure lifts his arm, revealing a large sapling carved into an impressive quarterstaff. In the direction of the staff’s end marks the entry of two large, hairy beasts emerging from the intact buildings of the fictional Tyrisany. “Behold, your charges.”
The two animals step into the moonlight. They are the badgers I helped to end without thought to their natural balance in this forest. Their eyes are closed but their noses twitch and I know they are filling their lungs with my scent.
“They move freely, here.” The man sets his quarterstaff down and turns and I can see in the pale, silver light the long, wrinkled face of Obad-Hai. “You, in the land of the living, should do so as well.” The moon casually crumbles out of the sky and I wake up.
I sat there, in my bedroll, covered in sweat and gasping. Each breath was like a new one, every smell of this forsaken cave a novel and noteworthy nuance. I felt around me, taking mental note of my belongings. Everything was there and, as I began to relax, I realized what I was really looking for. I expected to feel the butt of a staff in the dank dirt below me, holding up the weight of an old god.
As I start to march now with Marcus, Sharn, Trent, and the new comers – the half-giant behemoth Khord and the lithe one Carsys – I wonder… how much of that was actual divine intervention and how much of that was my own coping mechanisms?
As I heft the weight of my crossbow and feel the click of a clip being loaded, I realize I don’t care.
I am a ranger.
Day 32… I presume: With a renewed sense of vigor, I marched through crowded rock tunnels with our unlikely crew (Minus a Mot, I was glad to note. I wasn’t sure when he left, but I was glad of his absence.) and kept one wary eye on our orcish guide, Grishold. He’s as mentally dull as most would expect of his race, but it is his experience of these caves and the network of the ‘orcish ranks’ that we are relying on. It is his natural line in this I will let him run its course.
Grishold led us away from a barracks and gave us brief and unsurprisingly list of things a storehold held. It wasn’t until we reached the door leading to the magic weaver of these caves that Grishold clammed up. Evidently the grip of fear this magic user had over these orcs was enormous.
After a long and unremarkable conversation on what the door’s marking meant, the conversation turned to how to open the door. I examined it to try to find a hole to put my mirror in but it was uncharacteristically well made with no room to wiggle anything through. Up to this date I have yet to find such craftsmanship in a cave. It was… odd.
Finally, as most things do with a group such as this, it turned to brute force. Various members through their weight on the sturdy, perfect example of cave-system carpentry and they succeeded in busting and splintering a fraction of it away. I took position with my back against the opposite way and made an off-handed comment to the giant, Khord, that we could have used the expertise of a hack and slasher, motioning to his sword.
I never intended him to take it to heart as he did!
After the door was broken, the hulking figure ran massive-sword-first into the opening and was swallowed by the gloom beyond. Only a click, a swoosh, and a cry from Khord let us know the way ahead was trapped. We all rushed in – except our orcish charge, who most all seemed to forget about – to check on Khord (and of course this hindsight, but I don’t think the trap was intended for such a large target…) and was promptly ambushed by two orcs that were in prime position to kill us. They were massive, armored and especially ugly. These were orcs meant to maim.
My first instinct was to to capture them, at least one of them, and I set upon to do so. My reasoning was to learn more about the magic user in these caves by using Grishold as a mediator of sorts. I loosed a lightning bolt intended to stun and possibly knock out the first and closest orc, but with aim that almost righted itself mid-shot, I drove the crackling, blue-white bolt into the orcs skull and fried him from the inside. My first internal response was that I had failed but… I swear it seemed right.
After my ‘failure’, I pleaded with the rest of the group to leave the remaining one alive. One of us, the female Carsys (who commands a wolf, it seems. I must admit the action seemed most fortuitous…) had major qualms about doing so, but after showing her that the orc may yet be useful as a source of information, she consented.
Just as a wave of recently-dead men arose from their resting place and proceeded to thrash the party.
I knew that some, such as Trent and Sharn, had gods on their side so I yelled for one of them, if not both, to turn them. Both stood silent and grim as they realized that they were not yet strong enough in their faith to perform such miracles. (I assume.) But then Trent, in a deity-driven rage the likes of which I have never seen, unleashed a wave of holy power that laid to ruin every opposition in our path. Both the orc and the wave of undead were destroyed. In the flash I caught a glimpse of another figure deeper in the cave before the light proved too much for my darkness-weakened eyes. I was struck dumb.
It was only after the battle I found out that the rage of battle I heard shortly after the holy smiting was the group coming together to take down the magic user of the caves, a witch doctor.
I lay here now, pen loose in my fingers. I feel rejuvenated and drained all at the same time. I will learn more of my victory when I wake tomorrow. For now, though, I’m just too exhauste___________________________________________________ __ __