He should have known. By virtue of his own poor luck, he should have realized that it wasn’t safe to simply hold the rear of the battle. In one moment, Aedra was at his side, cunningly lobbing spells from afar while he let his arrows loose through impossibly small gaps afforded by his shifting allies in the small hallway. The next, something descended heavily upon her, the tactile arms of some magical beast lurking above, that violently ripped her from beside him and took flight with her before the half-elf had even a hope of reacting. He saw it; a darkly colored monstrosity, blue as the veins in his own body, with tentacled arms waving menacingly about to strike at whatever was near. It enveloped Aedra, crushing down onto her body with torturous sounds that clawed so strongly against his ears, it was as if the agony resonated sympathetically in his nerves, causing his jaw to clench painfully. The pitiful bow he wielded now struck with such little force, he may as well have been picking the rocks from his feet and throwing them.
He felt a sudden ethereal tug on his body. Above, he saw a small warbling of space around the beguiler. She was attempting a spell; he knew her intentions. He opened himself to the translocation, wholeheartedly. But no sooner had the magic been cast than he was wretched from inside whatever hellish dimensions provided for such travel, deposited back into his body, and made to watch once more. He knew not what had happened, but her efforts had failed. And as he gazed back up, the impotence and helplessness that he now felt lanced into him and seared like a iron from the forge. The beast tightened its grip. Its tentacles slithered sickeningly around the elf’s body with the increase in force. It lurched, sounding from its beaked maw a hideous groaning growl. Shyrrik swore that he heard something snap.
She was shucked from its grasp then. Her body tumbled lifelessly from within its tangled mass, unconsciously careening towards the floor beneath. Shelving all responsibility to continue the assault against the creature above without hesitation, Shyrrik stole towards the elf’s falling body. He caught her as gently as one could manage such a feat, and was immediately aware of the bruised and broken state she was in. Blood dripped from her mouth; she was bleeding internally. As he set her down to the ground, before she was touched by the saving graces of the minotaur, the ranger felt the elf’s chest tighten, and heard her sigh out laxly. And he knew, in that small splinter of time between heartbeats carrying on unabated, that she had died.
At first glance, the ranger hardly recognized his traditional vestments where they hung neatly over an assembly of wooden bars, amid many tiered racks of weapons, leathers, and plates. Lingering undeniably was the latent sense of fatality in the mine, that he and others like him who had been interred there were now its ilk and of its essence. Even the invigorating freedom he’d been awarded could not completely clean him of it; like all things, he took it in stride. He pulled his clothes down and examined them. They had not been donned by another, nor abused in any way, and likewise for his weapons and armor as he caught sight of them resting nearby. The archer chose a corner of the room to retreat to, the extent of which any privacy could hope to be had among them, though it was that the ranger was lost for the greater bit of his propriety as of present, and likely would remain as unabashed until their exit. He shed the soiled slave rags, and dressed himself then in attire more fitting of a ranger and of the man known as Shyrrik.
Though, he felt, recognizable only in appearance.
The mine was quiet. He could not be sure if it were truly calm outside the door of the magical room, or whether it sheltered them from a great and calamitous manhunt throughout. Shyrrik knew not how many guards they’d killed, and he knew not how many remained. As the group presumably laid to rest for an evening’s worth, the archer sat upright against the walled stone with his bow laid across his lap. In his hands, he held an arrow. It was noticeably different from the others, longer and fletched in silver. He twirled it between his fingers, staring at it deadly. His thumb brushed the bladed head. It pricked him even with modest pressure applied, so incredibly sharp was it, and a single drop of blood bled forth down its pointed tip. He watched with grim fascination as the metal hissed, drawing the blood into invisible pores in its surface, drinking greedily of it until it shimmered as immaculately as before in the dim light. A life vampire, searching for a soul to steal. He was briefly revisited by the conflicts of earlier days in this journey, and in some sardonic way, he longed for their relative simplicity.
Occasionally, the ranger would hear noises from outside the room, or so he thought. Immediately was his bow drawn into the ready, brought to aim much more quickly by his paranoia and unease. It would quicken his heart, he would heave nervously, and then his fears would lag long afterward, even after the phantom sounds had passed. Shyrrik slackened with time, but his nerves would not relax. Reaching into his satchel, he sought out the only therapy he’d ever known, rushing to the comforts of pen and parchment. A luxury he had been robbed of for so long, and now hurriedly invoked.
Never has it been that I have made to spill my soul with such eagerness, only to be left wanting for words. I am truly unacquainted with such a thing. Where do I possibly begin? Perhaps this discourse, destined for lengths woefully sustained, would be best prefaced with the great relief I feel upon returning to your presence, silent reader. Long was my absence, and many are the stories I have yet to tell. You must know outright, that I am not the same as once I was. I introduce myself to you now as Shyrrik, a woodsman and a half-elf, and in that I have not changed. But even the tales of death I have woven just pages prior, I am not so certain of them. My eyes are colored to the world a different sort, and I know not what to make of my time here in this mine. I will explain to the best of my ability, for I am under duress and not clear of mind.
Upon our arrival into this place, it was not long before we understood the devious goings-on here. Within mere days, our senses and our good lucidity were compromised to the degree that we might be more willing to cooperate. These ill effects have since faded, and I am thankful for it, yet I find myself not completely washed of their stench. Many horrendous things have occurred here. The greatest depravities, demonstrations of cruelty, an endless toll of death. I have seen such things, but from the safety of a perch on which I could observe and calculate the deplorable extent of man’s darkest lackings of conscience. On the day of the revolt, I murdered a human, and I did so with nothing but the blackest hatred seeing my hands forward around his throat, before I sent him to his death. As I looked up, I saw bloody conflict across the hall. But I was not struck with the same sense of separation, as I had come to see these matters up until now. T’was no longer a matter of constituent parts, but rather of a whole that acted in accordance with a design made known to me in a moment of revelation. I became privy to the rhythm of the slaughter, even despite my impotence, and knew then a warrior’s urgency. Never have I struck out in hatred. What further puzzles me, however, is the pointed lack of guilt I feel now for it.
My wolf was brutalized, and in my grief I was stricken with a wretched illness that ravaged me so thoroughly that even such as I, a slave and an instrument of burden, was quarantined from my peers. As death patiently awaited my arrival, I was visited by…something. A vision I cannot fully describe, for not the human nor elven language carries the words I seek. I am now want for a greater understanding of these figures that call themselves “gods.” My bleeding spirit was mended by this effervescent presence, but I was not brought to a greater peace of mind for it. My confusion lies therein, for I had always thought of the gods as beholders of a great secret that man and creature were blind to, for sake of their impurities. And though my assumption that I was to be advised in matters of faith was accurate, it was not my expectation that it would manifest in self-affirmation. For it was conveyed to me that I, myself, was the vanguard of life’s mysterious majesty. I was encouraged in my indulgence of untamed emotion, and permitted confidence in my primal justice, rather than made saintly and relieved of my responsibility as an arbiter and a learner. Succinctly, I was promised closure, but only of my own making, and this realization both empowers and belittles me. It was, in a sense, the soft breath of mortality on the back of my neck, and perhaps a testimony to what I already held to be true; the will has no boundaries, yet it finds no quarter.
Our escape is proving difficult, yet perhaps not more so than I anticipated, merely by virtue of my tendency to expect insurmountable odds. During the battle in the hall, a black dragon emerged from the waters – from whence it came I have not a hope of knowing – and took Ejnar away. I was swarmed with guards, and could do nothing, yet as I watched from atop the dais, I sensed somehow that the creature was not intent on consuming her. And that is what we now march for, to find Ejnar so that we may exit this contemptible place. I worry for her. I know not whether she is safe, or whether she has suffered greatly in her time here. It is my prerogative, naturally, to seek Aedra’s counsel on this. But, as you might imagine, I feel that is not in my best interest, nor in hers. Aedra is…unwell. She is stable and mostly of her own, evidenced clearly by her usual lack of charity – and then, of course, her nigh intolerance of myself. Yet, something has come undone within her mind. I am overcome by a dreadful sense when I gaze upon her, as if the bits of sympathy that I had worked to coax from between the iron bars on her heart have been destroyed by something dastardly. Ritualistic defilement is not something I thought Aedra to favor, yet in the hall I witnessed something cancerous driving her to wanton destruction. For a long time, I’ve felt as though I have been reasonably near to the wounded soul I see in her. Now, I fear, I may be losing hold of her altogether…nevermind that I seem to be incapable of protecting those I have pledged to. What test is this, I wonder.
Some small fortune, it seems, has come to us as the mind-crippling effect of this place has seemed to dissipate. Most notably, Kraytol has returned to his heightened intelligence, and I must admit that I am happy to reacquaint with him. Perhaps Aedra was correct when she spoke of his precious naivete, for when I drown in cynicism, he is a gentle comfort. Whatever good tidings we can thresh from this nightmare, however small, most prominent is the health of our party members. Yablo, that cunning devil, seemed to rise from the dead himself after that bastard cleric touched him with some unholy curse. I will not let that man from my side just yet, for above all others at this time, he is my confidante and he who I may speak freely to. I am not sure how much more I can bear to see my friends rescued from the brink of death. I cannot heal, and by all good measure it seems I am incompetent to protect as well. Vexed not for this was I when I rode in the rear as a conscript, but per my judgments, I have come to invest in them. But I am conflicted, for I feel gripped ever more strongly by the wiles of destiny, yet I stubbornly refuse to accept the relegation of myself and my compatriots as vessels for an unchanging fate.
Now, I sleep. For just outside this room, battle waits.