Leafiara/Tales/Cleric of Life, Angel of Death

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Original Story: Jastatos 4, 5119

Easy Battles and Hard Questions

Jastatos 2, 5119 - Leafiara's Sanctuary, Present Day

[Inspiration's Sanctuary]

Bright blue walls are covered with pictures of inspiring landscapes, stunning flowers, vibrant festivals, and beautiful faces; each is tacked in place by golden musical note-shaped stickpins.  Resting beside the oak door is a worn traveler's cloak, threadbare and patched, a rustic carryall, and a weather-friendly instrument.  A writing table with musical sheets, inkpots, and quills stored upon it is set beneath a sunlit window.  Music fills the air with its sweet lively cadence.

You see Maiden Leafiara Autumnwind the Champion of the Fallen.

She is moderately tall and has a well-toned frame.  She appears to be very young.  She has sparkling green eyes and pristine fair skin.  She has shoulder length, tousled cherry red hair pulled into a loose ponytail, leaving a pure white circlet with a leaf-framed polished bleakstone centerpiece pushed high across the crown.  She has a well-defined, heart-shaped face and slightly pointed ears.  She has alternating malachite and azure gloss brushed onto her smooth rounded fingernails.

A tiny iridescent fairy hovers above her left shoulder, flittering its silvered wings as it twirls around.

Miniature yellow treble clefs spiral outward from her before fading away.

She is wearing an asymmetrical cherry red cape painted with vanilla and chocolate sprinkles, some shiny red zelnorn chain mail emblazoned with a large white leaf, a cherry-tinged vanilla cream sundress draped from a chocolate silk collar, an etched militia badge, a pure white silk instrument case with a bold red leaf-shaped latch, a pure white silk gem pouch embroidered with a bold red musical note, and a pair of cherry-tinged vanilla sandals beaded with cookie-shaped pearls.

Her body wore whimsy, but her face wore resignation. She leaned forward in resting position, her cheek pressed flat against the wood of her writing table and her eyes staring vacantly out the window. Until Chrysamber Epoch's compass could be fixed, Leafiara had run out of purpose on the battlefield--and in the meantime she was getting nowhere fast on the puzzles that plagued her far more than the blight.

What was Raznel's goal?

Why had defeating the paragons been so easy so far?

How and why was Raznel choosing the targets for her scarabs?

Leafi reflected on the first night the witch had mystified her. Taken captive on the witch's ship along with seven others, she thought it would be her last night...

Jastatos 15, 5116 - Darkstone Bay, Prelate Chaston Griffin's Ship
[A Large Ship]

A trio of masts rises high overhead, their limbs laden with bundles of white sails and their lengths flanked by heavy rope shrouds. Around the perimeter of the deck, solid oak planks form the walkway, while the center space is spanned by wide-barred grates. You also see a huge white banner emblazoned with a golden crown.

Also here: Kippe who is immobilized, Rowmi who is immobilized, Gavrien who is immobilized, Leafiara who is immobilized, Slivaer who is immobilized, Witch Raznel, Lord Archales who is immobilized, Shinann who is immobilized, Bekke who is immobilized, Prelate Chaston

Raznel gloats and cackles over a ship of captives.

Rowmi angrily grumbles, "Lies, lies, all lies."
Leafiara says, "It doesn't matter. We won't survive to report this."

Revenge Unpursued

At the time her survival baffled her, but it made enough sense now. At risk of undoing herself, Raznel couldn't kill anyone she'd remembered influencing her life while she was Naimorai--and Leafi was certain she remembered her.

That vial of poison Naimorai had given to Deacon Irar for safekeeping during a confessional... he'd given it to Leafi and she in turn to Kayse, but Naimorai must have learned at some point that the vial slipped through the half-sylvan cleric's hands on its way back to her.

Jastatos 31, 5117 - Wehnimer's Landing, Small Park
Deacon Irar lies on the ground coughing and gagging, either poisoned or feigning it.
Irar says, "I'm a good man..."
Irar says, "I never wanted this."
Irar gags.
Irar offers Leafiara a blackish silver vial.
Leafiara stares off into space.
Leafiara clenches her jaw.
Irar says, "Take it..."
Leafiara slowly asks, "You... vowed not to tell anyone about this, didn't you?"
Irar says, "I'll keep my vow."

Leafiara's mind races. It's likely the vial Irar received from Naimorai--and if Leafi takes it, it might be the death of her and Irar alike. She hesitates, but curiosity gets the better of her and the vial passes into her hand. Later in the night, she in turn passes it to. Irar seems to retain no memory of having given it up.

Irar and Kayse were far from the Landing now and safe from the witch, but no revenge was coming Leafi's way? Naimorai had relished the thought with the Deacon... how coldly she'd threatened him, then later made good on it and wrote proudly of it in her journal.

Eoantos 15, 5117 - Wehnimer's Landing, Outside Moot Hall
Irar stands face to face with Naimorai Kestrel.

Speaking to Naimorai, Irar says, "I have lost that which you seek. And I am sorry for that."
Naimorai says, "I do not think you are yet Deacon."
Kayse tilts the blackish silver vial back and forth between her index finger and thumb and glances at Naimorai.
Naimorai leans in close to Irar, her head sliding up to his shoulder.
Naimorai whispers something to Irar.
Naimorai says, "We will consider what has transpired, and meet with you again."
Speaking to Naimorai, Irar says, "Negligence."
Kayse shoots Naimorai a cool gaze as she regards her.
Speaking flatly to Naimorai, Kayse says, "Fine."
Naimorai says, "Carelessness is often rewarded harsh consequences."
Kayse holds the blackish silver vial up to Naimorai, her hand slightly shaking as she gives her the vial.
Speaking to Naimorai, Irar asks, "Consequences?"
Naimorai says, "Please do be more careful out there Deacon."
Speaking to Naimorai, Irar exclaims, "You threaten me?!"
Naimorai accepts Kayse's blackish silver vial.
Naimorai says, "Threaten? Hardly."
Kayse glances expectantly at Naimorai.
Naimorai nods at Kayse.
Naimorai says, "It is most fortunate that there are competent people in this town."
Kayse perspires delicately.
Naimorai says, "Let us hope we can move forward from this slight Deacon."
Naimorai says, "I am sure you wish you could forget all of it."
Eorgaen 16, 5117 - Moot Hall, Mayor Cruxophim's Office
Stephos reads from the nearly-burnt remnants of Naimorai's journal.

Was so rewarding. It's finally come to pass. I have bent the shadows to my form, stepped through them, even walked upon the sacred ground of Koar's altar. I was alive as I tore the Deacon open. It was far more exhilarating than any death before. From the shadows, I can render flesh so easily, perhaps even poison just as effortlessly...

A Matter of Purpose

Sporadic. Erratic. Nonsensical. Leafi couldn't make sense of the present day witch's targets.

Raznel had targeted Balley, Bernadette, Chaoswynd, Darcena, Lylia, Shinann, and Stormyrain with scarabs. For that matter, she'd targeted Pukk to feed maggots. Half of them had no previous run-ins with the witch--maybe didn't even know her at all. Leafiara couldn't identify the connection, couldn't see the through lines, couldn't hear the countermelody.

Targeting the militia? But Balley, Lylia, and Pukk weren't, nor did they have close connections to militia members like Cay.

Targeting those with rare talents? Balley's abilities as a seer, Darcena's heightened senses, Stormyrain's abilities as a seer and blood mage... but what did the others have that Raznel could want?

Targeting the strongest? No... she'd left Roblar alone--and Hoy, Yakushi, Warclaidh, and many others.

Targeting randomly? Maybe... but hoping in the witch's inefficiency was too optimistic a thought.

Too optimistic a thought.

Too optimistic...

Leafi's head snapped up suddenly.

Too optimistic!

Leafiara flew to her feet, her mind reeling, her chair crashing to the floor. It was natural that she couldn't figure Raznel out in the cheery surroundings of her sanctuary, but she'd expected to understand the witch better when she surrounded herself with death.

For over a month she'd searched for answers in battle, in chaos, in the endless slaughter of bandits and the Sanctum's fanatics and monstrosities. One after another fell to the many ways she'd trained herself to kill--a spine ripped out by the force of her song, a bolt of plasma through the chest, a kunai into the eye and brain, a head torched to cinders, a torso vaporized, a neck snapped in two between her arms.

It had seemed the perfect plan to gain understanding.

But there was a problem, glaring and incredible and in hindsight so clear:

Even in violence and death, she and Raznel were nothing alike.

Leafi thrived in the excitement, the danger, the adrenaline, the challenge, the growth, the pay. Battling the way she always battled, even if she did it longer than ever before, there'd been no hope to grasp the witch. At best she could have understood the witch's earlier self--could have understood Naimorai, who was only just developing her abilities, who did at least relish some of what Leafiara did. Naimorai, who admired the creativity of her work.

Eorgaen 16, 5117 - Moot Hall, Mayor Cruxophim's Office
Stephos reads from the nearly-burnt remnants of Naimorai's journal.

I did not intend death with Michol. But he spoke so harshly, and accused me of many things, and threatened to expose me, and my father. I meant only to frighten him. But I must confess, it felt good. I felt alive. The power in my veins, the turn of my hand as he twisted inside out. Some would never possess the stomach to witness it. Instead I looked upon it like art. Like observing the amazing brushstrokes of a masterful painter's work.

Naimorai's motives had been different from Leafiara's, but Raznel's were alien. Raznel did with her enemies the one thing Leafi would never with hers: leave the battling to someone else.

The fire and the smoke. Thadston had brought it up in the context of the blight, but it worked here just as well. For Leafi the battle was always the fire; for Raznel never the fire.

Puzzle pieces began to fit. Raznel would be incomprehensible even to her own younger self; how could it be otherwise? Not after she'd been displaced in time, never belonging, her very body and essence foreign to everything around her.

To have a chance--yes, even so much as a chance--of understanding and anticipating the witch, Leafi had to slip out of her element and make herself feel like she didn't belong.

A Place Out of Place

Jastatos 3, 5119 - Landing Militia Barracks, Reading Alcove, The Next Day
  
Decorated with little fanfare, this small room holds two round wooden tables and a handful of carved oak chairs.  A wide bookcase is guarded on both sides by two stuffed otter statues, and a few steel-incased lanterns for ample light when needed.  A large, tawny brindlecat hide rug is sprawled across the floor.

You see Maiden Leafiara Autumnwind the Champion of the Fallen.
 
She is moderately tall and has a well-toned frame.  She appears to be very young.  She has sparkling green eyes and pristine fair skin.  She has shoulder length, tousled cherry red hair pulled into a loose ponytail, leaving a pure white circlet with a leaf-framed polished bleakstone centerpiece pushed high across the crown.  She has a well-defined, heart-shaped face and slightly pointed ears.  She has alternating malachite and azure gloss brushed onto her smooth rounded fingernails.

She is holding a box filled with sizable stacks of paper bearing TownCrier seals.

She is wearing a dark silk mantle woven with gold braiding, a tailored raw silk shirt of deep rolaren hue, some square-cut honey beryl cufflinks, a gold-trimmed leather belt, some gold-edged black pants, and a pair of distinguished jet black silk boots buckled with gold.

The half-sylvan's clothes felt just as awkward to her now as they had at Silvergate Inn's 5117 Winter Gala as she carefully took in her surroundings. Small. Stuffy. No sunlight. Dead animals. Books.

A great spot to think, if there were none better, but not perfect. Uncomfortable as the alcove was, Leafiara had against all odds somehow both applied and been accepted as a militia member. She did, in some sense, belong.

Leafi turned on her boot heel and marched southward, large box of reports in hand.

Hendoran Outpost, Library

The room is small, but filled with a number of book-laden shelves.  Several simple wooden chairs, which fill the room with the scent of fresh construction, offer sitting spaces for those wishing to partake in the library's offering.  A writing desk is set to one side with a stack of clean papers, inkwells, and quills, a station for soldiers wishing to write home to loved ones.  You also see a wooden door.

Leafiara grinned slowly. Imperial, book-filled, and stuffy. A room fit for the only being even more alien than Raznel: Raelee Svala.

"...though she probably spends more time in that tome gallery I passed."

The cleric set her box down with a thud and began to settle into a seat, then thought better of it, arranged four chairs next to each other near the box, and lay across them with her legs dangling. The chairs jabbed awkwardly against her back and she wanted to be most anywhere else, but she'd convinced herself she had to be here, had to suffer, or she'd never understand the witch.

The clanking of nearby metal sounded the approach of two soldiers and Leafi willed herself not to bolt up and off the chairs, only keeping a watch at the open doorway from her prone position. As the soldiers passed by, they glanced askance at her and she gave them a shrug. One of them stared, mouth half-agape, nodded slowly, and pulled the wooden door closed.

"Must be a Landing type," she heard him whisper loudly the moment they were out of sight.

"Figures. Even when they look normal they're still strange."

Leafi smirked. This was good, though... now she was isolated too. An even better environment.

Cleric of Life, Angel of Death

Leafiara reached into the box and pulled out a stack of her TownCrier reports to begin flipping through them. One question at a time--and the first on her mind was why it all seemed so easy. The Ithzir boy Rodnay warned that it wouldn't be. Pylasar too said it would be ugly.

Koaratos 6, 5119 - Melgorehn's Reach, Planar Nexus
The air bends and shimmers here, odd sounds popping and humming in the distance. The cavern is huge, surrounded by smooth polished rock walls that constantly shift between shades of light and dark. Descending from the tunnel above, rays of bright moonlight shine down, bathing the entire earthen floor in a pool of silver light. You also see an enormous dark blue cocoon.

A group gazes in wonder at Rodnay's cocoon.

A voice says, "But you should be warned. That which must truly be done, when all is said, must be done. It will not be easy and the choices will be difficult."
Koaratos 30, 5119 - Wehnimer's Landing, Outside Moot Hall
The purple mage and a crowd of adventurers.

Pylasar says, "We will know more when Chrysamber arrives. But I am warning you..."
Pylasar slowly empties his lungs.
Pylasar says, "You do not need to go with me, if you do not wish."
Pylasar says, "Murder is not easy or clean business."

So he said. Maybe even so he thought. But the Landing had defeated four of the seven paragons and hadn't faced a difficult choice yet.

...at least... not for me.

Leafiara set the reports aside and narrowed her eyes, staring at the ceiling. Are others truly struggling with this? I'm sure Falvicar did with his father, but anyone else?

Leafi instinctively sat up before forcing herself back down, awkwardly prone against the chairs. The paragons were already dead long ago... sending them beyond the gate would be the right thing to do even if we didn't have to. Leafi shrugged.

"Besides... between bloodsport tournaments and illusionary imperials, I'm having the time of my life out there."

Leafiara smirked. "What a way to go..." She shook her head.

The blight, then? Are these hard choices to others because it's a battle on two fronts?

But she was a cleric and her very work was life and death. Every year there were thousands she could save and thousands she couldn't, and to dwell paralyzed over the latter only meant she'd surely fail the former. Leafiara had her times of mourning, especially over those she could've saved if she'd acted differently, but the rest of the death didn't touch her; Gosaena's angels came when they came.

One day they'd come for her, possibly even before this war with Raznel was over--but until then Leafiara would force herself forward as long as she could muster the will, doing what she could, a hero by the mandate of necessity, personality, and her own childhood promises.

Leafi batted no eye at the many deaths of a blight beyond her understanding, but focused only on the fight that she knew well. Those who still lived had a greater duty to serve the living than mourn the dead.

Maybe the choices are difficult for others... I'll put aside that question for now.

Call of Revenge

Next, then... why isn't she targeting me? Maybe she doesn't have endless scarabs, but I'm not catching the blight, leprosy, moulis, nothing. Six weeks since I took Mynalari's gown and even that hasn't cursed me or exploded. She's not after me at all?

Not that I haven't had close calls while I was alone... She dug through the reports anew.

Imaerasta 11, 5119 - Wehnimer's Landing, Cheridin Ave.
Leafiara sends a platinum ripple of energy toward a giant as it drags Shinann's body away, but with the mere point of its finger the cleric's body tears open with bloody wounds before bursting into flame.
Imaerasta 13, 5119 - Wehnimer's Landing, Rooftop
Leafi quickly and desperately dodges the movements of a huge arachnid, but her magic can't affect it and her blades hardly scratch its carapace. The creature snares her in a web and moves ominously toward her before a volley of black arrows flies toward it from the surrounding roofs.
Imaerasta 27, 5119 - Oronthal's Time Pocket, Demonwall
Sir Cryheart leads a group eastward, but Leafiara stays behind, looking in wonder at her surroundings--only for Disean to charge her position and swing his blade at her.

In the month since paranoia had taken hold of her, Leafiara had to admit to several fleeting moments when it almost seemed she was attracting the witch's attention--but only almost. Battling a giant, battling an arachnid, battling Disean himself... But it's not the same as being singled out. Each of those times, I attacked first. Why is it... why is it they'll retaliate, but they won't initiate?'

Over and over she'd asked her brother Chaoswynd, but he had said maybe there was no answer.

Imaerasta 11, 5119 - Wehnimer's Landing, Town Square Central
Though surrounded by others, Leafi speaks primarily with Cay, her adoptive brother.

Speaking to Chaoswynd, Leafiara says, "...I don't understand. Why does she keep targeting the same people..."
Speaking seriously to Chaoswynd, Leafiara asks, "Really, I mean it. Do you have any theory?"
Speaking to Leafiara, Chaoswynd says, "None that would make any sense, other than vindictiveness on her part."
Speaking to Chaoswynd, Leafiara asks, "Why kill Balley only to then imbed a scarab in her? Or why imbed a scarab in Shinann only to then kill her?"
Speaking to Leafiara, Chaoswynd says, "Perhaps there is no explanation, because perhaps she's just completely mad."
Speaking insistently to Chaoswynd, Leafiara says, "No, there has to be a method to this. There always is."
Speaking to Leafiara, Chaoswynd says, "There isn't always an explanation for everything, Leafi."

I refused to believe then. I refuse now. If there's any chance of an explanation, I have to look for it. In 5116 Raznel cursed me before I even knew who she was, much less had any thought of ending her existence... Maybe she had to curse me if she remembered that as Naimorai, but still, now she's not attacking me when I am coming for her head? And if she does remember me from her time as Naimorai, why no lingering anger over anything I did?

Leafiara banged her fist against the back of the chair. "Why? Why isn't she out for revenge--"

The half-sylvan stopped short and took a deep breath, then let it out.

Remember, we're opposites. So revenge can't fascinate Raznel. ...since it fascinates me.

Leafi dug through older papers of prior years.

The 5117 mayoral debates. Rowmi asks the candidates about their greatest weaknesses; Leafi speaks on her fear of becoming consumed by vengeance.

Charlatos 18, 5117 - Moot Hall, Chamber of Justice
Rowmi curiously inquires, "We all hold things close and are slow to reveal honest weakness, but this has been empirically shown as a fault in a leader.  My question: what is your darkest secret, and how will you rise above it like Walkar could unfortunately not?"

Cruxophim and Hapenlok give their answers, and then...

Leafiara wryly says, "After those two went before me, this is probably going to seem trivial, but..."
Leafiara acknowledges, "I secretly struggle with feelings of vengeance overtaking me. I only told a couple friends about this before tonight, but while Chaston lived I dreamed--and daydreamed--of personally executing him with my own hands."
Leafiara taps a pair of fingerless eonake-studded sylvan gloves emblazoned with leaves that she is wearing.
Leafiara admits, "These eonake studs... right through his skull."
From up on a narrow stairway, you hear Ariond yell, "She kicked a puppy once when she angry!  That's her big secret!"
Leafiara says, "My friends had to remind me that if I become too motivated by vengeance, I might be haunted by it forever. I'll gladly kill in our defense, but a personal vendetta is different--and they reminded me I'm one who restores life."
Leafiara admits, "Yet when Carenos spoke with us recently one night, outside this very hall, I wished we were outside the town gates so I could kill them and there. Even now I want to kill him, even if I had to become a vigilante, because he once killed my best friend."
Leafiara clenches her jaw.
Leafiara honestly concludes, "All I can say is that I do fight those desires and I trust my friends who know me well to keep me in my right mind. I save lives. That... is who I am. Who I have to be."

I wonder if others took that seriously or if they were all like Ariond. But it's one of the few things I always take seriously...

Next report. 5118. The first Rone has just been captured. I helped make that happen... but I was never sure it was the right thing to do.

Charlatos 30, 5117 - Moot Hall, Rooftop
The first Rone, Malluch Burdos, unmasked and bound by ribbons of blood.

Speaking absently to Rone, Cruxophim states, "And look at what you've become. What do you think Lana would think of what you are now? Look at you."
Speaking tiredly to Rone, Cruxophim reminds, "I've always been a monster. You had a choice. But you chose.... this."
Speaking to Rone, Leafiara states, "I kinda like what you became. Even though you were after the Rooks, you're so much like them... but just like the Rooks, you picked the wrong targets."
Rone weakly says, "It does not end here."
Speaking hopefully to Rone, Leafiara asks, "Oh?"
Rone weakly says, "I knew it never would with me."
Speaking tiredly to Leafiara, Cruxophim warns, "It's a road you can't turn back on."
Speaking surreptitiously to Cruxophim, Leafiara wonders, "Is it?"
Speaking coldly to Leafiara, Cruxophim repeats, "Yes."
Speaking musingly to Cruxophim, Leafiara says, "Maybe someone will prove that wrong."
Cruxophim whispers something to Leafiara.
Leafiara whispers something to Cruxophim.
Leafiara winks at Cruxophim and flashes a sly grin.

Not like Crux was the only one who's warned me...

Even though the bandits Leafi patrolled for struck first, the speed and eagerness with which she slew them had haunted her--always wondering if she was destined to one day surrender to the call of The Huntress, to walk the path of vengeance, to become the next Rone or Rysus.

Everyone warned her. Chaoswynd, Cruxophim, Khylynnia, Lyrna, Marijka, Saranja, Shinann... one after another, over the years, they all told her no one could turn back.

Yet still Leafi couldn't cease watching those who walked the path of vengeance, equally curious and nervous, equally hopeful and terrified at the prospect of someone proving they--and in turn she--could give in without losing themselves.

Next reports. 5117. Cruxophim was considering pardoning Stephos DeArchon. I thought... no, I hoped it was all a ploy to lure him in.

Ivastaen 30, 5117 - Moot Hall, Mayor Cruxophim's Office
Cruxophim meets with advisors Hapenlok, Leafiara, Sareyna, and Stormyrain.

Hapenlok says, "So the last thing I needed to hear right now, was that you're considering pardoning a man who has done far worse to this town than I could ever contemplate."
Speaking to Cruxophim, Stormyrain says, "Talk to Cryheart for knowledge of the Empire, that is not my area of expertise. Repercussions from the town alone would be more than I would be willing to pay as Mayor. Stephos would die. You would get the brunt of the anger from the large group that detests the man. Demons if I can even think of a single group that supports him, at all."
Hapenlok says, "I'd be at the head of the line, too."
Hapenlok says, "He'd love to be a martyr, and I'd love to make him one."
Leafiara speculates, "Well, as I was saying... do we think that Stephos would dare to try stepping into town if the pardon was extended?"
Speaking nonchalantly to Leafiara, Cruxophim informs, "I presume that is the entire point of the pardon, so yes."
Leafiara neutrally says, "I don't have the strong feelings that Stormy or Hap do, but if we'd prefer him dead and giving him a pardon would give him confidence to enter town, then..."
Cruxophim bemusedly admits, "I really do not understand the level of emotion regarding Stephos.  Frankly, I could care less one way or another about the man."
Leafiara neutrally concludes, "Extending a pardon would be expediting his death."
Leafiara admits, "I'm not above inviting him into town with a smile, all the while knowing some assassin or other will end his life."
Speaking amusedly to Leafiara, Cruxophim reminds, "Nor am I, but it would do little to help our reputation as a lawless town."
Imaerasta 19, 5117 - Moot Hall, Mayor Cruxophim's Office
Cruxophim meets with former militia captain Maags, current captain Shinann, and advisors Hapenlok, Kayse, and Leafiara. 

Speaking curiously to Cruxophim, Leafiara asks, "Rumors on the streets were that someone pardoned someone?"
Leafiara vaguely praises, "Well, if it was you, and you certainly shouldn't say so publicly if it was, then good work."
Speaking calmly to Leafiara, Cruxophim reports, "Stephos DeArchon, and his wife Alendrial."
Leafiara suddenly says, "Oh."
Leafiara glances suspiciously at a varnished modwir door.
Speaking to Cruxophim, Leafiara whispers aloud, "So we're going to assassinate him as soon as he enters the gates, right?"

Next report. 5118. The second Rone seeks to pursue Stephos. I wanted to undo the Rone treatment, but if we couldn't catch him to get that sorted out, I hoped at least his mission succeeded...

Imaerasta 23, 5118 - Temporal Rift
Time and space seem to swirl around you. You catch brief glimpses of events both past and future. Beyond these strange and confusing visions extends a vast, ever-changing field of stars, pinpoints of light against unfathomable utter blackness. It is very cold here.

Thrayzar, the second Rone, confronts adventurers. Captain Stormyrain looks visibly saddened.

Rone darkly says, "It is time to gut DeArchon. May his silver belly bleed."
Leafiara smiles quietly to herself.
Rone walks off into the distance.
Stormyrain glances out.
Stormyrain glances sharply at Leafiara.
Speaking quietly to Leafiara, Stormyrain snarls, "Wipe the smile off your face."
Pietra blinks at Stormyrain.
Pietra glances at Leafiara.
Speaking to Pietra, Leafiara professes, "I think he's earned it. But we do need to find a cure for Thrayzar too."

Do I surrender to vengeance? Do I keep resisting? Can I keep resisting? How long?

Never an easy answer, always a challenging question. Leafi rapped her knuckles lightly against her cheek. Every week that question of vengeance consumes me... so if I'm right and we're opposites, the witch doesn't think on it at all. Either she doesn't care about it or, at the least, she's committed to it without hesitation.

The Unthinkable

What would I never do? That's where I'll find my answer to what Raznel's up to.

Leafiara rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

I wouldn't lie. At least I'm pretty sure I wouldn't lie... mmm. What am I absolutely sure I'd never do?

I wouldn't take prisoners. If I wanted to seek revenge, it would be in the most direct way. Take no prisoners. Kill 'em all unless they surrender.

Imaerasta 30, 5119 - Silverwood Manor, Quiet Garden
Xorus lectures on Bonespear Tower.

Xorus says, "What should be clear is that the sword was intended to imprison the demon before it was summoned."
Leafiara thinks to herself, "Bah, imprisonment. Either kill the thing or don't."

...but she hasn't been taking prisoners or even hostages. I kept planning for that, but it's not how she operates.

Leafi withdrew a notebook from her mantle and flipped through it.

Scenario 13: A prominent Landing political figure is taken hostage
Scenario 14: A prominent militia member is taken hostage
Scenario 15: Several less prominent militia members are taken hostage
Scenario 16: Civilians are taken hostage
Scenario 70: I'm taken hostage
Scenario 84: Taladorian refugees are hostages
Scenario 85: Raznel has control over Taladorian hostages

I'd never work with Ta'Vaalor since they hate my kind. But I hate Raznel and she's not working with me...

The half-sylvan stared blankly at the ceiling, then snapped her fingers.

...unless she is.

Leafi flipped again through her notebook.

Scenario 20: Raznel has already had control of the mayor for some time
Scenario 21: Raznel has aready had control of Thadston for some time
Scenario 23: Raznel or Quinshon somehow uses my vow to Reannah against me to make me a liability

I'd already considered the possibility she's using me, but I could never peg how exactly it would work... it seemed unlikely, but so did some of these others that have come true or might be on the verge of it.

Scenario 47: Grishom Stone offers aid conditionally
Scenario 48: Quinshon betrays Raznel
Scenario 54: The Hall of Mages offers aid unconditionally

And the most unlikely one of all was...

Scenario 1: We'll be fighting uninhibited against Raznel and her forces

On the surface, a best case scenario--but underneath, I always considered it the worst. Part of me was relieved when Raznel started her attacks...

Scenario 3: Raznel blocks someone else's ability to access the mana flows
Scenario 4: Anti-magic areas
Scenario 12: Raznel unleashes a widespread plague
Scenario 14: A prominent milita member is taken hostage
Scenario 18: Raznel takes control of Hapenlok (again)
Scenario 27: Confrontation with Disean
Scenario 71: Combat with demons
Scenario 72: Combat with the undead
Scenario 82: Other adventurers join forces with Raznel
Scenario 88: Raznel's improved her scarabs

...because it meant she at least considers us threat enough to bother. Ignoring us would mean either we're beneath her concern or she needs us alive.

Trouble is: she's ignored me. It's Scenario 1, but on a small scale. She isn't letting the Landing fight unimpeded, but she is letting me fight unimpeded. Does she need me alive? Scenario 23. Using my vow against me. I told Reannah I'd protect her children. But what did I say exactly...

Leafiara dug again through her old reports.

Imaerasta 19, 5117 - Stone Baths, Hearth
Reannah sits with a crowd, struggling to smile despite her thinning hair and sunken cheeks.

Reannah quietly says, "I wish only to protect my children."
Reannah quietly says, "To live long enough to see them married off, prosperous, enjoying life."
Leafiara gently says, "You will live to see that... and longer still."
Reannah quietly says, "If I do not..."
Reannah nods to Leafiara.
Reannah quietly asks, "Will you promise to protect my children?"
Reannah peers quizzically at Leafiara.
Speaking gently to Reannah, Leafiara say, "Of course. Protection... is what I do."
Reannah nods.
Reannah quietly says, "Protect them from every threat and danger, no matter what mask or veil they wear."
Reannah peers quizzically at Leafiara.
Leafiara scratches her head.
Leafiara curiously says, "That... is an oddly specific request..."
Leafiara amicably says, "But if they aren't harming anyone, then my duty is saving lives."

Leafiara let out a sigh of relief. ...only if they weren't harming anyone. Raznel can't get me on this one unless she twists my words or Quinshon would have to rewrite my memories. Or she'd have to make use of what I said that other night... mmm, what did I say that time? A shame I didn't record that one...

She shook her head.

Either way, it would only be possible if Raznel's a mentalist now, has a mentalist with her, or Scenario 48 is actually 49.

Scenario 48: Quinshon betrays Raznel
Scenario 49: Quinshon pretends to betray Raznel

Does Raznel have another way to get to me? The black blood curse? Dennet did ask if it lingered...

Charlatos 10, 5117 - Wehnimer's Landing, Town Square Central
Dennet Kestrel's thoughts ring out over the amunet.

For Cruxophim, once, or perhaps still servant of the supposedly deceased Lich King, how can the town and its people trust you, given your nefarious ties, time and again?
To Hapenlok, self-proclaimed puppet of the witch Raznel, he who lost his voodoo doll back to her clutches, if you pull the strings of the town, how will they know if she does not pull yours?
To Leafiara, once cursed and stricken with the black blood disease, can we be certain none lingers, and you are not a silent danger planted by the Prelate to ensure chaos if he was defeated?"

No. That was misunderstanding... or misdirection. Sowing doubt. Dennet didn't know anything--or he wouldn't have risked letting me near his wife two months later.

Ivastaen 21, 5117 - Hendoran Outpost, Outer Courtyard
Dennet Kestrel stands before a large crowd.

Dennet says, "So in the interim, I would like to invite Shinann, Leafiara, and Sareyna to help in the care of Lady Larsya, and furthermore, my wife, Lady Reannah."

...but that doesn't mean I'm not a "silent danger" or that something horrible wasn't done to me. It only means Dennet wouldn't be in a position to know--at least not in Charlatos or Ivastaen. Later on he might have learned something...

Leafi retrieved one of the reports she'd set aside earlier.

Three possible bodies to move Reannah's soul into. Shinann, Sareyna, and me. Sareyna's human. Shinann, just looking at her, has to be more sylvan than I am. Even if we were all viable options, of course the best choice for Reannah's soul would be the body with the longest lifespan.

But we weren't all viable.

Eorgaen 16, 5117 - Moot Hall, Mayor Cruxophim's Office
Stephos reading from Naimorai's journal.

This time, it will work. We will use a living body. Out of the three, Shinann has been chosen as the host. The other two who watched my mother have been ruled out and...

Shinann wasn't chosen just for her lifespan. Sareyna and I were "ruled out." I'd wondered why... I thought it might be that the black blood curse affected Shinann and me differently. Others had different ideas.

Eorgaen 18, 5117 - The Shadow of Melgorehn's Reach
A crowd stands in the shadow of the Reach, where Rodnay has just gone to live.

Speaking curiously to Cruxophim, Leafiara asks, "Do you by any chance still have that blood sample you took while I was being cured last year?"
Speaking to Cruxophim, Leafiara adds, "Or at very least do you remember studying it?"
Speaking to Cruxophim, Leafiara explains, "I'm concerned since I was apparently ruled out as a host for Reannah--and this was after Dennet questioned many months ago if there might still be something wrong with my blood."
Speaking tartly to Leafiara, Cruxophim informs, "You were clearly too sassy, that seems obvious."
Leafiara speculates, "He might have had a legitimate reason to believe that and I have to know."
Speaking to Leafiara, Arnylon says, "Hair was the wrong color."
Leafiara nonchalantly says, "Not a chance, everyone tells me they love red hair."
Speaking to Leafiara, Madmountan says, "Maybe it wasn't your blood, but maybe your soul is too feisty."
Leafiara flashes a quick grin at Madmountan.
Leafiara laughs softly, trying to hide her amusement.
Speaking bemusedly to Madmountan, Leafiara says, "Well, I could only hope."

Back then I liked Madmountan's idea. Feisty soul! He had a good enough explanation, a reasonable guess--of course he did. It's Mad... gives Xorus and Owly a run for their money as the smartest guys in the Landing. Might even beat out Pukk.

It's an easy answer, maybe even a true one, but I can't take the risk that it's wrong. What if I was right from the beginning about the lingering black blood? Shinann and I had opposite reactions when we were being cured...

Eoantos 11, 5116 - Hendoran Outpost, Alchemy Lab
Leafiara sits bound to a chair before a crowd, the black veins of Raznel's curse bubbling up along her face as Brieson's black salve works its way toward a cure.

The black veins stretch and expand, stretching down to brush Leafiara's lips.
Leafiara shivers.
Leafiara tentatively asks, "Um... am I supposed to feel cold?"
Shinann says, "I felt hot."
Leafiara carefully asks, "S-so... if getting hot was part of getting better, then getting cold is probably getting worse, isn't it?"
Speaking sharply to Brieson, Cruxophim ventures, "Should we bleed some of the excess?"
Brieson nods at Cruxophim.
Speaking gently to Leafiara, Cruxophim assures, "Remain calm. Also, would you mind if I cut you, ever so slightly? Just curious."
Speaking offhandedly to Cruxophim, Leafiara says, "Already told you yes."
Cruxophim makes a careful incision along the bubbling veins on Leafiara's neck, allowing the blood to flow in a small trickle which he guides to a nearby bucket.
Leafiara blinks.
Leafiara uncertainly says, "I can feel my cheeks again... a tingling."
Speaking absently to Leafiara, Cruxophim mutters, "The veins are narrowed, but I can't tell yet if the blood has completed any kind of transition."
Brieson asks, "How do you feel?"
Leafiara breathes very slowly and looks much calmer.
Leafiara says, "I'm feeling less cold now... warming back up."
Brieson nods.
Leafiara hopefully says, "A good sign? I hope."
Brieson says, "Please, observe what you feel for the next few days."
Brieson nods to Leafiara.
Brieson says, "Strange."
Brieson says, "You felt heat."
Brieson nods at Shinann.
Brieson nods to Leafiara.
Brieson says, "You felt cold." 

Shinann was the first to test the cure; I was the second. In the heat of the moment, having the opposite sensations, I hadn't felt that scared since the first time I died when I was a little girl...

But later that night Gavrien and Kippe volunteered, and later that week Bekke. When they were cured, it was swift but ugly--body parts turning into maggots, worms, even fire elementals. It all seemed so random and I was relieved it hadn't happened to me. I was all too eager to write it off as "unpredictable" and think nothing more of it...

Even now, it's tempting to write off the witch's actions as random--but just because I can't see her reasons doesn't mean she doesn't have them. Raznel herself said we half-elves are fortunate...

Jastatos 15, 5116 - Darkstone Bay, Prelate Chaston Griffin's Ship
Speaking to Chaston, Archales asks, "Why have you been ordering your Blameless to catch half-elves trying to leave the Empire?"
Chaston says, "You are impure. An abomination to the Empire, to the God-King."
Raznel leans in and whispers, "...isn't it so darling, that he believe such?"
Speaking to Chaston, Slivaer exclaims, "You can stop this. You can stop all of the madness!"
Raznel says, "Oh, he could, if he believed it."
Raznel says, "He can do much, if you make him believe it."
Raznel cackles!
Bekke asks, "Why half-elves, Raznel?"
Raznel cackles at Bekke!
Raznel asks, "Interesting...isn't it?"
Raznel says, "You're not cursed..."
Raznel cackles!
Raznel says, "You are fortunate."

At the time we thought maybe she was talking about our longer lifespans, since the crone had once been human. Who could have ever guessed how she became so old if we hadn't seen it in Pylasar's memories?

She took our blood on that ship--used it for her blood marble sphere and later on for the obelisk that destroyed Talador. We saw where that blood went...

But that was only the second time my blood was taken in that war.

Jastatos 8, 5116 - Wehnimer's Landing, Cleansing Camp
High walls of dark wood have been blackened with smoke and stained with blood. Filth and tattered rags litter the ground, and heavy metal chains dangle from the corners of the chamber, like steel vipers coiling outward. The cramped area reeks of sweat and burnt flesh. You also see a half-krolvin prisoner, a white-robed Wehnimer's acolyte and a white-robed Wehnimer's acolyte.

A captive Leafiara struggles in vain against her bonds, glowering.

The acolyte leans in, pulling a small, black bug from his robe. He places it on Leafiara's arm and the bug expands, filling up with blood. It turns from black to sanguine, and then he removes it from her skin. He places the bug inside of his robe.
The acolytes then look at the half-krolvin prisoner, and they both nod. The acolytes withdraw blades and stab the half-krolvin prisoner to death.
Leafiara tilts her head to one side, wondering what was just done to her.
Leafiara glances at a half-krolvin prisoner.
Leafiara shakes her head.
The acolytes look at Leafiara.
Leafiara mutters, "I know you won't tell me what you did. You haven't said a word to me this whole time."
Suddenly, Disean enters the area.
Leafiara glances at Disean.
Disean says, "I will handle her from here."
The acolytes nod.
The acolytes leave, stepping over the half-krolvin corpse.
Leafiara dismissively says, "Mindless acolytes."
Leafiara shakes her head.
Speaking to Disean, Leafiara adds, "Not that you're any better."
Disean moves over to Leafiara.
Disean grabs Leafiara's hand.
Leafiara glares at Disean.
Disean pulls Leafiara to her feet.
Disean says, "Flee."
Lord Disean's group just went out.

[Cleansing Camp]

Squat windowless wooden buildings form a half-circle facing a dirt-covered stretch of land. Large, white-armored men stand like silent golems near each building, their dark, hollow eyes regarding their surroundings with a cold, but calculating stare. Numerous long tracks have formed in the dirt, leading up to each building, indicating the struggle of bodies dragged inside. You also see a squat windowless building and a squat windowless building.

Disean points out.
Leafiara raises an eyebrow.
Leafiara asks, "Flee?"
Disean says, "GO."

Chaston's acolytes took me and bled me, then Disean freed me--even though he'd been one of the Blameless himself.

Surprise. Confusion. Relief. I thought that would night be the end of me, so I considered Disean a rescuer. I didn't understand why, so I took the first explanation others gave: Disean had been showing signs of breaking free of Chaston's mind control. Simple rebellion.

But the next week on the ship we confirmed that Chaston himself was manipulated by Raznel. Disean might well have been breaking free from Chaston--and right into the clutches of the witch.

Leafi shook her head and withdrew a quill from her mantle, then wrote in her notebook:

Scenario 98: Disean was always under Raznel's control

It's only a possibility, not necessarily true. But where did those acolytes go with my blood? I've brought it up to Shinann and she thinks all of the blood from the cleansing camps was used for the obelisk, but maybe that's too obvious when we're talking about Raznel. She doesn't always relish the kill--she goes for suffering and torment.

I never asked further why Disean came to my aid--no, more accurately, why only to my aid. A simple explanation would be like I thought yesterday about why Raznel let us all go from the ship... she needed me alive because she remembered me as Naimorai.

Leafi paused. That might even be why Sareyna and I were ruled out... Raznel herself might have ruled us out to ensure her own creation--making sure Naimorai was in position to get trapped in time. Thadston keeps saying there are spies for the witch among us. She could have passed information to her spies, who'd then pass it along to her own younger self.

The half-sylvan let out a slow breath as she stared into space.

The question would be... even if that's why I was "saved" those two times, does that mean there wasn't more to it? Maybe the acolytes didn't go where the rest of the acolytes went. And maybe Raznel needs me alive for more than one reason.

But to what end?

Leafi flipped a few sheets ahead to a blank page and jotted down more notes.

Black blood curse: Opposite reaction to Shinann. She felt heat. I felt cold.
Reannah selection: Shinann was chosen. I was ruled out.
A difference in our blood.
5116: Raznel targeted us both, but me more than her.
5119: Raznel targets Shinann repeatedly and ignores me.

I don't think Shinann was a captain yet back then--and as for me, I wasn't even a militia member or anyone of prominence at all. Not yet an officer of any organization, not yet a noteworthy upstart mayoral candidate, nothing.

Wait... is that why she's not targeting me? Does she need me in place for something I can influence now that I couldn't then--

Oh no.

Leafi turned pale, flippin back through her notebook.

Scenario 33: Raznel takes control of Mother
Scenario 34: Raznel has already *had* control of Mother for some time
Scenario 35: Raznel *is* Mother
Scenario 38: Reannah is alive
Scenario 39: Reannah is Mother

Farfetched at best. Impossible at worst. ...but so was Quinshon betraying Raznel. And I wouldn't put it past that Fortney filth to have been working with the witch, eliminating Rysus to get Mother into power. Some of the people who seem happiest with me for my role in getting rid of Rysus are the very same ones I'd suspect of working with Raznel...

Leafiara clenched her jaw. The hour was late, but there was much, much more to think on. She wrote a last note for the night:

Scenario 99: Raznel's already been manipulating me for some time