Chpt. IX: Sixth Journey

Rauron says:

Anar DF 2016 Mural new

“So, this painting. Hmmm. Are you sure about this? It’s a long story. If you didn’t know me before the things in this painting happened, I imagine the previous paintings and stories would be confusing. Alright. If you’re really interested, let’s make ourselves comfortable around the fire pit Guruthon made and I’ll tell you all about it.

This all happened in the first summer after I had started my officer training in the capital of Shanaehan. During my time in the capital I had made contact with several figures of influence, who had given me specific missions to accomplish on the world of the dragons. With these missions in mind, my training at the capital was put on hold, and I was assigned to the Anarquendor again to join them on their journey to this far of land. I met up with them in the glade where a group of druids would perform the necessary rites to transport us to our destination, using the deep magics of the wood. We went through the motions with the calm of experience, me holding my breath and closing my eyes as the arcane forces were woven into the proper spells. Moments later the Anarquendor stood in the familiar woods of the land of the dragons.

We set up camp quickly and efficiently, opting this time to claim a smaller area within the grounds of the Green army. This smaller set-up was a strategic choice to allow for a more concentrated defense, in case of an emergency. Now that we had established several strong alliances within the Green camp, fewer Anarquendor needed to be assigned to the mission in the dragon lands, so Autherdir Tegingûr employed the more traditional war band campaign tactics of our elven army.
With the setting up of the camp quickly out of the way, there was some time to spare before the matters of camp politics needed to be settled. Tiwion, Torben and I used this free time to explore the nearby city and acquired some mead. This little indulgence out of the way, I had several talks with my fellow Anarquendor -whom I hadn’t seen for some months during my training- and one lengthy talk with Condaghor Idilwen in particular. I was still getting used to her new rank, but fortunately during the conversation she didn’t notice or cared that I sometimes forgot about her title. I trusted her as a friend, and addressed her as such.

As night fell, a meeting was set up with many of the most influential figures of the Green army. This meeting was held each year on the night prior to the camp’s official elections, to discuss who considered whom the most valid candidate to run for the various leader positions. I had never attended this meeting before, but in light of my training, Autherdir Tegingûr deemed it beneficial to have me observe quietly. During the meeting it was decided Kronon would run the Inner Council and Lynn would lead the Outer Council. The position of warlord hit a momentary snatch, as no suitable candidate could be decided upon. Eventually Bjorn of the Hiruf was opted, and when he was called into the tent to be presented with the opportunity, he expressed his surprise and gratitude and accepted the offer. I had a few reservations, but I was only allowed to be present to watch, so I kept my tongue.
When the meeting was concluded, I had a brief talk with Yuna, Robert and Parthalan. They had all been present at the spring festival in Mauvetiën, where they had each given a drop of blood at my request to be used in a ritual. After the ritual had taken place I had letters written and sent to them, containing a covert message. As this was a matter of some importance, I was eager to find out if they had received the letters and their hidden meaning. To my annoyance, but not to my surprise, at least one letter never reached its destination, as Robert of Elysiën had never received it. Maybe it had simply been lost, but I could not rule out my actions in Shanaehan were being supervised and the letter had been intercepted.

After the meeting I was present at a conversation between Yuna, Kronon, Tegingûr and Idilwen. The conversation involved more politics, but mention was made of the order of Soron. There was also some talk of the night missions planned this year. At this I perked my ears, as these covert operations always have some appeal to me, though as it would turn out I would have little opportunity to get involved.
After these talks Sylvitharion and I had the first guard shift of the night before retiring to our beds.

The next morning started of with some camaraderie and laughter. A few of us had received personal letters, including Lalaith. It seemed her mother was pushing her to start a family, which prompted plenty of silly remarks. No mention was made of a letter concerning me though. This was odd, because I knew an order should have arrived from High Command. When I carefully asked the Autherdir about this, he confirmed such an order had arrived, but he would discuss it with me later. This vexed me, because I was already informed about my mission beforehand and knew time was of the essence. But without the Autherdir’s official acknowledgment there was little I could do. Instead, I spent some time performing my duties around the camp. I accompanied Tiwion to the ritual circle of the Green camp, where the arcane blessing was in progress. Being a spell caster, Tiwion was very much interested in these things as he was expanding his magic knowledge. But even I, without a shred of mystic aptitude, could tell this ritual was executed poorly, and none of us was surprised when it failed to produce any results. Back in camp my carpenting skills were called upon to perform some repairs, which kept me occupied for a while.

After all of that was said and done, I considered it high time I should get started on my mission, but unfortunately neither the Autherdir nor Condaghor Yava’In or Condaghor Idilwen were in camp. Neither had a Minui been assigned to supervise things. This left me in the awkward position of needing permission without having anyone to ask it from. I proposed Guruthon should then be Minui, since he was the Autherdir’s Pengil, but the consensus placed command in my hands, as I was the one training for officer. This put me in the equally bizarre position that I should give myself permission to leave camp and start my mission, which I did all the same, but not before assigning Tarias as Minui in my absence. He had taken the roll before and I knew him to be comfortable in that position.

My mission included the dagger which had been blessed by many of the avatars the previous year. Unfortunately it still lacked the blessing of the Copper and Green avatar. My first priority right now was to get to Copper, while I still had the advantage of the Peace of the Dragons, an accord which states no violence will be committed against another camp until the Grand Opening Ritual takes place. This assured at the very least I could have a meeting without being skewered on a blade. The followers of Copper are many things, but they are also strictly hierarchical and obedient to such creeds.
I arrived at the gates of the Copper camp and requested a meeting with Lady Winter, a High Priestess of the Copper Dragon. The conversation was… interesting. I requested a blessing of the Copper dragon, which would help me fight the avatar of Chaos, a well-known enemy of Copper. It seemed to me this would be an easy deal from their point of view. After all, at best an outside force would oppose one of their enemies, at worst an insignificant elf would get himself killed. As such their violent opposition took me completely off guard. Lady Winter proved an intimidating presence, angrily refusing any cooperation until Copper got what she believed it was due; victory and dominion. If the Green would aid them in this, only then would she consider relaying the message to her Avatar.
After that thorough dismissal I returned to camp and reported to command. The Autherdir seemed to accept I was put in charge by general agreement, not by my own devices. He made no more comment on the matter.

There was little else for me to do before the Grand Ritual at nightfall. I learned from Eferil the ritual circle of our camp had been blessed again, successfully this time. At the conclusion of the ritual a spear had appeared. The spear was apparently an artifact of the Red camp, but it had some symbols on it relating to Alkanas, King of the Hunt. Apparently talks were had with House Mirakis of the Red camp, an influential faction that our Autherdir had some dealings with. The Red had received a sword, also with symbols on it. Others would look into the matter, but that is all I heard of it.

At the fall of night, everyone gathered at the hilltop dominating the center of the battlefield. It was time for the Grand Ritual. Because the Green had achieved victory last year, the Anarquendor had been called upon to arrange this powerful ritual. Our shamans Yava’In and Sylvitharion would guide the spiritual forces, invoking ancient powers. In doing so, a story would unfold, wherein several mighty hunters needed to defeat a powerful, towering beast of formidable strength and cunning. The beast proved impossible to defeat in single combat. Only when a pack of hunters worked together could they overcome the creature.
I watched this ritual far from the back of the gathered crowd, strangely uncomfortable with the forces at play. I can’t tell if the beast was actually real or simply an illusion manifested as part of the ritual, but the fighting angered me. Whatever the case, after its defeat its powers were imbued in a stone and given to some of the hunters who had participated in the trial. These hunters included Finn, Yuna and Robert.
After these proceedings, the Avatars were manifested, showing themselves one by one. The appearance of the Avatar of Chaos made me nervous in anticipation of what was to come.

The ritual concluded, all the Anarquendor returned to camp quickly. Rumors of a coming fight made us alert, and soon enough we were besieged by an army of orcs. I and Tarias were allowed to join the fray outside our camp walls. The battle was held in the pitch dark of night; an intense affair were army tactics were of little use and the object of survival centered itself around the sole individual and his opponent. A thrilling affair that I greatly enjoyed, though the battle lasted only briefly and was quickly concluded in our favor.
Even later in the night the Anarquendor set up a small expedition. We had learned the Cavern of Knowledge had again manifested this year, unveiling deep and hidden secrets which could prove important. Condaghor Idilwen, Tiwion, Lalaith, Guruthon and I crossed the dangerous battlefield to find its entrance. At the sight of that dark and foreboding tunnel into nothingness I came to a halt. Fortunately there was no need for me to go inside. Guruthon and I kept watch outside while the others had a look around. Many letters were found about Sontara and here lover Milkaras. While the subject of Sontara was of great interest to me, I would have been of no use anyway, my reading being what it is. From what the others told me I learned Sontara received from her lover Milkaras the poison which would be Sontara’s final gift to the Red people, to end the war. A statement which history proved to be dire as it was ominous.
Having learned what we could, we hurried back home, and after a long day returned to our beds.

The next morning again saw a lot of running around. Now that the war of the dragons had officially started, moving around on the battlefield was a much more dangerous affair. As such we moved around in packs. Some of us returned to the cavern to uncover anything we might have missed. Again I took up position outside, avoiding having to step into the subterranean dark. Other Anarquendor had just completed their magic training at the mages guild nearby and joined us. From Lalaith I learned Alyan was currently in the blue camp, to have a meeting with several other mages of various camps. I was very interested in the outcome of this meeting, as Alyan would try to arrange a meeting between me and the Champion of the Copper camp through a contact he had in the mages guild. Unfortunately I would later learn this was a dead end, but I appreciated his efforts all the same.

It was already near noon by the time we returned to camp. While we were away, some humans had approached our shamans with the request of a ritual. One of them, a shaman himself, had been cursed with a dark poison. It would take a ritual to banish it. Sylvitharion and Yava’In felt up to the challenge, and accepted. Many of us gathered around to watch as they set about performing their arcane craft. Two totems were summoned. First they called upon the snake, who would use its own venom to attack the poison which infected the human. At the manifestation of the great esoteric serpent I felt my own totem react and move in accord with this mystical vision. In the corner of my eye I could see Autherdir Tegingûr was equally affected by these powers. After the snake the second totem was summoned; the rooster, called upon to help the human shaman, as he hailed from a barren world, and the rooster represents fertility. But the manifestation of the rooster was a grizzly affair. Apparently Yava’In had deemed Liri, a human affiliated with the Calenar, unworthy of the rooster totem he had once been given. Liri, who had been standing with the onlookers of the ritual, was pulled into the center of the circle, and Yava’In unleashed great shamanistic powers on him. An occult apparition that was the totem of the rooster exploded from the body of Liri, draining the human of his life force. I know Liri later recovered, but I can’t say what scars the ordeal have left him. At the very least he was severed form the rooster Totem. The human shaman at least was saved from his curse, and thanked Yava’In and Sylvitharion profusely for their help.

Things settled down for a while, and I had the chance to finally talk to the Autherdir about my mission. Sylivtharion sat with us as we spoke and would join in now and then. The Autherdir was very disapproving of the letter of instructions he had received, even felt inclined to disregard them as the proceedings were very much out of the usual. The mission had been sanctioned by Autherdir Gawain, whom I had spoken in the capital Shanaehan. Normally our Autherdir could overrule another Autherdir if it involved one of his own men. However, the mission had been approved by a higher ranking officer who was not mentioned by name in the letter. As far as Tegingûr was concerned the issue was muddy, all the more because the orders were exceptionally dangerous. But I had also received this mission in person and knew where they came from. I knew what else was involved, and how small my window of opportunity was. I had received plenty of instructions, many of which required utmost secrecy. Now my own Autherdir was ordering me to spill these secrets, and I found myself at an impasse, restrained by ties of loyalty. Whom did I trust most? The Autherdir and Sylvitharion had plenty more to say, but none of it changed the fact that I’d have to make a choice at some point. Shaken by some of the things that had been discussed I played for time, which they gave me.

While I had agreed to hold back on executing my mission, I still needed to complete the preparations. This included meeting with Copper. To that end I had been working with the diplomats of our camp, namely Lynn the Kender and Anthem the human. Both of them had gone some lengths to arrange a new meeting between myself and a diplomat of Copper. As my discussion with the Autherdir concluded, Condaghor Idilwen informed me they awaited me at the gate to join them on a diplomatic mission. I quickly stopped by the Green Avatar and explained to her my situation with the dagger and the unwillingness of Copper. To aid me in my endeavor she gave me a small gift to present to the Copper Avatar as a gesture of conciliation, at least in this matter. With this in tow I joined the diplomatic mission on their first stop in the Black camp. Other members of our mission included our warlord Bjorn and the orc Ch’Kar. At the Black camp we discussed an alliance of Black, Green, Gold and Blue. I also learned Gold was considering an alliance with Chaos, which increased the pressure on my mission. Chaos had always been despised by everyone; this had been my selling point from the start. If the Gold camp would now change their opinion, their Avatar might revoke his blessing, and who knew how many more Avatars might change their mind.
Immediately after this meeting, Anthem and I proceeded to the Copper camp, where we would meet with the Copper diplomat, Miriam. On our way there we saw large parts of their army mobilizing. I assumed this was a good thing, as most high ranking members of the army would be out of the camp, shortening the chain of hierarchy between myself and their Avatar. Miriam did in fact receive us at the gate and let us in, straight into a gathering ground filled to the brim with armed soldiers, who were preparing to march as well. We got halfway into their camp before the first of them realized I was an elf, at which all of them promptly started pointing and giving me a low scornful ‘Ooooh!’. At this, a flustered Miriam apparently realized the mistake she had made. She quickly escorted me back out, leaving me to wait by the gate as she presented my case to Lady Winter. I could hear the ensuing tirade across the wall. Seconds later a clearly berated and chastised Miriam stepped outside, dismissing me yet again. No elf would ever set foot inside, so I had little choice but to leave the matter in the hands of Anthem.

I returned home just in time to help prepare for the next ritual of our shamans. Asgard of the Hiruf was about to receive the Totem of the Otter. For this ritual we had prepared a large tub of water, to appease the Totem, and to strengthen the connection. Yava’In would lead the rites, while Sylvitharion would be the medium. A part of every totem ritual is to measure the value and determination of the recipient. This can take many forms, like a test of will or cunning. Though like most things in nature, most often it’s a test of survival. At first, it was amusing to see the Otter and Asgard getting acquainted, testing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A few blows were exchanged, but befitting the totem, the Otter proved mostly playful. Then suddenly something changed. Maybe the presence of the totem was too strong, or Asgard had done something wrong, I don’t know. The struggle turned very serious, wounds being inflicted. The water turned red and the combatants nearly vanished in the spray of water going up around them. Yava’In managed to desperately pull Sylvitharion out of the water and managed to make the Totem disappear. A lifeless Asgard was all that remained, drowned. The Anarquendor and Hiruf rushed forward, doing everything possible to return him to life, but to no avail. The Hiruf were devastated and outraged. Tensions rose and accusations were thrown at the Anarquendor. Eventually it was Bjorn of the Hiruf who through his tears told his men to back down and leave us alone. The Anarquendor quietly cleaned up the ritual. I would later learn Asgard was not in fact dead, but it had been a very close call. He recovered from the trial, and was thankful for the Totem he had received, even if he was unlikely to recommend the experience.

We took our time to settle down again, enjoying a hearty meal and resting up a bit, after which a couple of visitors appeared at our gate. These were people from the Grey camp, led by a man named Aron. They had heard about me as an elven shapeshifter, and requested if I’d be willing to represent Dargas, the King of Change, in a ritual. This took me of guard, both because I didn’t know I had any reputation to speak of, and because it was unclear what I was supposed to do in this ritual. Fortunately Amroth arrived in our camp at this time. This human is well versed in the tales of the Green Kings and could provide Aron with more help. Apparently the ritual they sought did not require the blessing of all the Green Kings, just one of them. What’s more, it could prove dangerous of me to represent Dargas in these rites, for while Amroth deemed me an excellent choice, being an elven shapeshifter like Dargas himself was, I knew next to nothing about him. As I had no further role to play in this, I left Amroth and Aron to continue the conversation without me.

Night was falling when the opportunity arose for another conversation with the Autherdir. Again Sylvitharion joined us, providing the occasional insight. I explained I could not make a choice yet. I needed to learn more about all the sides involved, nor would I idly betray my loyalties. The conversation turned away from hierarchy and rank, and gradually became a matter of personal trust. To garner some credence they revealed some things I will not repeat. We talked well into the night, and they spoke of things that upset me; things I found difficult to believe. They then suggested I speak with Hadingur, which I promptly did.
I found Hadingur in the camp of the Calenar. We spoke till well past the rising of the moon, and he confirmed many of the stories, expressing his own suspicions and fears. His most adamant advice was not to trust anyone.
With these thoughts well in mind, I returned to my bunk to get some rest.

The next day. Well. The next day would prove eventful. It started of early, with us running the gate shift of the Green army; a tradition we’d been upholding for a few years now. Nothing much happened during this time, safe for a small incident of some peasant insulting Tegingûr. After the gate shift I had a good talk with Tarias. He had seen the letter containing my orders, and while he worried about me and hoped I’d act as safe as possible, there was nothing in the letter that surprised him, even if the orders were suicidal. He agreed a soldier’s life should be secondary to the mission. After all, that’s what it meant to believe in a cause. Gods know Tarias had to sacrifice his fair share of recruits during the undead war. It wasn’t the most uplifting of talks, but I felt bolstered in my resolve knowing at least some others saw the sense of the orders I’d been given.
I also had a discussion with Condaghor Yava’In. She was frustrated about the lack of care humans showed their Totems. I proposed this was because to humans it was all about getting the totem, like a trophy. Completing the ritual was the end goal to them. They didn’t consider it a commitment, a bond to be maintained. Yava’In considered these words and saw truth in them. She was pleased to note I’d grown closer with my totems and had given the bond at least some thought.

I still had an hour to spare before I’d head out with some other Anarquendor on a mission. During this time I was invited to a game of Hive with Autherdir Tegingur. I had not played this game before, but I knew how it worked. Each player was given a set of pieces that could be placed and moved by fixed rules. The goal was to trap the queen piece of the opponent by surrounding it with your own pieces. While the game in itself was simple enough, I couldn’t help ascribing it with deeper meaning as a lot of things were still left unspoken between myself and the Autherdir. As the game progressed I appeared in a losing position, until gradually I managed to force him to play his entire hand, leaving him with no more moves to make while I still had plenty of pieces at my disposal. While this wasn’t the conventional goal of the game, he conceded this was a victory for me. I was probably reading too much into it, but I couldn’t help but reflect. Through patience and attrition I’d fought my way out of a losing position.

I didn’t have long to gloat. Tiwion and Lalaith were waiting for me. I’d be joining them on an errand, making a quick stop in the Silver camp where we would meet up with the Khargas family, with whom I had some dealings. After this was done we made our way to the city and the mages guild. The guild had sent out a request to track down a charlatan, who was tarnishing the guild’s good name. Tiwion and Lalaith had picked up this matter to gain some credit. They indeed managed to track down the charlatan and set up a false meeting to lure him in a trap. They then returned to the mages Guild to report their findings, and with an escort of constabulary went to the meeting with the charlatan, where he was apprehended red-handed with his illegal wares. For their excellent service they were rewarded a hefty sum of currency, but more importantly the guild took note of their skillful actions.
While all of this was going down, I had a chance encounter with the Chaos Avatar. It just so happened he arrived at the mages guild during our time there, and very briefly I considered making my move then and there. I had the dagger on me at all time, not wanting to leave it out of sight. Lalaith caught the meaning of my sudden tenseness when she saw the Chaos Avatar and fixed me with a look. ‘I know of your orders; I’ve read the letter.’ She said. ‘Please don’t do anything stupid.’
I hesitated, but then relented. I did not want to make a move without the blessing of the Copper Avatar. I did regret losing this opportunity to strike the Chaos Avatar outside of the protection of his camp.

As if played by fate, the moment we returned to our camp I got word that Anthem the human diplomat had acquired a special edict from the Copper camp, granting me a meeting. With whom was unclear, but it was progress all the same. I did not wait for permission from the Autherdir and headed out immediately, not wanting to waste this opportunity. As I neared the Copper camp I was glad to see the Copper army heading out, Lady Winter amongst their numbers! That was one obstacle out of the way. At the gate of Copper I was again met by the diplomat Miriam, as well as the high diplomat of the Copper camp. The meeting had indeed been arranged, but allas I had to wait a long while as the Avatar was still attending to other matters. As I waited, the Gold Avatar and his entourage approached, a corrupted looking orc in his wake. The arrival caused a lot of fuss, and eventually the Copper Avatar stepped outside her camp to meet her brother on the field. It seemed the Golden Avatar was petitioning on behalf of the orc to receive a blessing on his staff, in which he was gathering the power of all the Avatars. Seeing this all unfold I immediately knew my chances were shot. The Copper Avatar vehemently refused to give away her blessing to anything unpure and strode away. After all that I played a long shot and asked if the High Diplomat would at least relay my request and the little gift of the Green Avatar to the Copper Avatar, but he soon returned, stating that, much as expected, she refused both.
I returned to the Green camp and the Green avatar, to return her gift and admit failure. I still asked her blessing, as I was committed to see this through. She gave it, after which, really, there was no more point in delaying.

It was still early in the afternoon and sun was out in force. Even so a coldness swept over me as I approached the Chaos camp. This place always glowed with a dark, sinful allure. Change for the sake of change; a sweeping aside of the control of nature. To step in to it was like nothing I could properly describe. Alarmed trepidation was the least of it.
The gates stood wide open. A few… things stood around, largely uncaring for who entered or left. Sticking to the story I had concocted, I first asked around for the High Priest, whose name I already knew was Zianos. I arranged for him to introduce me to the Chaos Avatar, to which he happily complied. He led me deeper into the Chaos camp, the scenery turning ever more grotesque. Warped creations, statues part flesh and stone, lined the walkway. Orbs of sinister green emitted an oily, almost tangible light. An offensive stench assaulted my nose; something both greasy and fierce. All these sensations blended, twisted and reformed, the barrage reaching its peak as we entered an enormous pavilion.

There sat my target.

I had seen the Chaos Avatar before, but never this close, never with its full attention pinned on me.
I steadied myself and remembered my training. The only way in or out was the entrance at my back. There were no other guards in here, but I had seen plenty of potentially dangerous figures walking around outside. The Avatar himself seemed unarmed. His staff leaned against the wall behind him, too far to reach while seated. The Witch sat to his immediate right, also not wearing any weapons. The High Priest Zianos had entered with me and took a seat by the right wall.
I had to go about this carefully. A direct assault was too dangerous. Considering the Avatar’s power, the time it took for me to draw the knife would probably be enough for him to undo me. I stuck to my plan, spinning a tale of how, being a shapeshifter, I felt the call of the camp of Chaos. But I feared its reputation and wanted to see for myself. A good lie always leans on the truth, after all. Both the Avatar and Witch indulged my questions, feeding me words that writhed like worms. When I figured I had won enough credit, I proposed I submitted to the forces of Chaos by means of a small rite. Asking his permission, I drew out the blade, and asked if he would allow me to take a drop of his blood. He agreed, still showing no sign of alarm. I was certain he’d know my anxiety by now. If not for the oddly spicy musk in the air, I’m sure the odor of my sweat would have given me away. My hart raced as I pricked his finger and caught a drop of his blood in a little vial. He did bleed, and I had secured this much at least. I had hoped the blessings of the dagger would have done… I don’t know, something at inflicting even this minor wound, but he gave no reaction. I took a deep breath. It was time to go all in.

I lunged!

The dagger went in, all the way to the hilt…

Nothing.

The Witch was the first to laugh. A high-pitched cackle, which told me all I needed to know. I retracted the dagger. There was blood on it. Blood on my hands, too. The Avatar did bleed, but the wound meant nothing to him. Even as I watched the damage I’d done vanished. Even his robes were unscathed. But that was alright. At least there was blood. At least I had that right.
Someone struck me on the side of my head, toppling me over, my ears ringing. A second blow struck my lower leg. I screamed. There was a lot of laughing and talking in that language I hardly understand. More blows and pain. I was fighting unconsciousness by this point, my vision swimming. The Witch caressed my face with her long taloned fingers and muttered incomprehensible things in a sweet voice.
Suddenly I was dragged to my feet and clad in chains. One of the armed figures pulled me along. I limped as good as my mangled leg would allow. The Avatar and Witch strode out of the camp, accompanied by an entourage, me being towed behind. A parade across the battlefield, all the way to the Green camp.
I saw the Anarquendor on the battlefield, and they saw me. I watched as the eyes of the Autherdir lit up with recognition. I nearly panicked as I saw the outrage in his face. He was going to charge an Avatar! I frenziedly shook my head. Don’t interfere! Don’t do anything stupid!
The moment passed and the little parade marched into the Green camp. I was dumped in the middle of the gathering grounds. The Chaos Avatar and his Witch set of a tirade, the meaning of which was clear to me, even if I couldn’t understand the words. None of it mattered. I was still alive and safely back in my camp. The followers of Chaos abandoned me there, satisfied with their display. That wasn’t the end of it though.

I lay there on the sweet grass, my body smarting from the injuries I’d suffered. Even as I was breathing in the fresh smells of nature, I could feel a sickness creeping up on me, a feverish chill running through my body. All the bruises and cuts burned, but this was no surprise now that the rush of danger was wearing off. It was the utterly bizarre feeling of the blood on my arms that focused my attention. I sat up with a pained groan. Something was wrong. I’d managed to undo the binds holding my hands, but I had not moved from the place I had been thrown down. Only moments had passed since the Chaos Avatar had left. Someone came up to me to ask what camp I was from.
‘The Anarquendor. Get the Anarquendor. Quickly!’
The sensation intensified. It did not hurt at first; it was in fact disturbingly familiar, much like the signs that warned me the transformation to my beast form was imminent. But there was something more to the powers at work here. Something raw and primal; a driving, creative force, apart from the natural order. It seeped from the blood on my arms and coursed through the rest of my being, antagonizing my shape shifting. Instinctively I fought back, at which point the pain began.
Autherdir Tegingûr ran up to me, nearly took a hold of me.
‘Stay back! Don’t touch me!’ I yelled and he reeled back.
Tarias arrived moments later.
I gestured at my arms, by now in agonizing torment. ‘The blood, get it off! Collect it! Don’t lose it!’
I’m glad Tarias didn’t question me and immediately set to work, carefully scraping as much of the blood into an empty vial. By the time this was done the call of the transformation had become unbearable. Whatever power was at work, it was beyond my resistance. I started yelling and trashing as the Anarquendor around me pinned me down. The struggle that followed was a horrible mess; fragmented visions and sounds. I heard the whispers of my totems, the snake and the beaver, fighting this unknown thing. I felt the surge of the beast form, mingled with my own being. Something else called out to me, an ancient voice, terrible and incomprehensible. Then I heard myself, growling and yelping, speaking in a voice not my own. Idilwen was there, her face close to mine, healing me, and we called out to her, asked her to join us, but she pulled away, or was forced away. There was singing, which at least for a moment was like flotsam in a storm; something to cling to while everything else surrendered to the deep. Tarek loomed over me, shouting angry words alight with howling power. I snarled at him, and he wounded me, cutting strings I did not know I was holding. The last vision was of Tarias, cutting away the black tendrils coursing through me.

I passed out for a while, exhausted to the core of my being. By the time I regained my senses I was lying in a tent, surrounded by a lot of people. Outside night had fallen. I slowly became aware of the change that had taken place, the halfway form between elf and beast that had come over me. This may sound stupid, but it did not upset me. I’ve grown used to the shifting of my physical form, and even if this particular shape was new, the experience was not unfamiliar. I was confident it would fade in time. I was simply too numb to worry about it at the time.

As soon as it became clear I was awake enough to stand, the Autherdir ordered all of us to get back to our own encampment, where an awkward debriefing followed. Despite my condition, I maintained my mission was a success. I had used the enchanted dagger to attack the Avatar of Chaos, I had acquired its blood, and I had survived. None of this particularly convinced the Autherdir, and for a brief moment he genuinely looked tired.
‘Chain him to his bed.’ He ordered. ‘We will deal with this in the morning’.
I didn’t protest. Even if I had the strength for it, it made perfect sense. Who knew what corruption still lingered inside of me? So I slept a restless sleep, manacles around my wrists and feet, while Guruthon, Tarias and Eferil stood guard outside the tent.

Despite all that had happened, the sun dawned unperturbed the next day. I awoke feeling somehow detached, for lack of a better word. As if I missed out on something. As if there was something I should know but had forgotten, or something I should feel, but couldn’t. On the whole I felt remarkably well rested, but, noting the fur on my arms, I was surprised the changes had not faded. I passed the morning in silence. Some Anarquendor gave me uneasy looks, but others came up to me to assure that for them nothing had changed, and I was still the same Rauron; a gesture I gratefully embraced.
Still in chains, I had another long talk with Autherdir Tegingûr. Again a lot of things about my orders remained unspoken and unrevealed, and I cannot say if what meager answers I gave satisfied him. Even when he ordered the chains removed, there was a dangerous warning gleaming in his eyes. I was free to move amongst the Anarquendor once more, but first I was to undergo another ritual.
Together with Sylvitharion, Autherdir Tegingûr, Eferil and a few other Anarquendor, I presented myself to the Green Avatar to explain all that had happened. She listened with a carefully maintained expression on her face. Whether she condoned or condemned my actions I could not say. Her pose was unreadable, stoic. Sylvitharion proposed a rite to burn out whatever corruption might remain, to which the Avatar agreed. In this she was assisted by Amroth, who was often by her side. He offered a piece of Dragonglass to be used in the ritual. This gesture surprised me, as I was aware of the arcane and symbolic value of this rare material, and I thanked him profusely.
The ritual itself was over quickly compared to all that had happened the other day, though I do not want to understate the effort put in to it by everyone involved. The Avatar herself took a dominant role in its proceedings, her natural magics taking root in all the scars left behind by the warping of Chaos. She did not undo what was done, as such is not the way of nature. But rather, from the havoc in the landscape of my soul she let sprout a little sapling. This would represent both my bond with nature, and in turn the control I had over my own nature. How I chose to nourish it was up to me, as long as I did not squander the gift.

We had barely returned to our camp when word arrived that some people of the Chaos army wanted to talk to me. I had obvious reasons to be suspicious, but I wanted to see what this was about all the same. After a brief discussion it was agreed I could meet them in the company of Sylvitharion and Condaghor Idilwen. We met the two strangers out on the battlefield, beyond the gates of the Green camp. They were mostly unremarkable, appearing to be nothing but simple humans. We spoke only briefly, and their words by themselves were of little interest. They wanted to see the one who had attacked their Mother, referring to the Chaos Witch. Even so, there was something markedly uncomfortable about this conversation; a deeper meaning I didn’t quite grasp. On an impulse I wanted to present hem with something. I turned to Sylvitharion, who promptly handed me an old animal cheekbone to offer as a gift. They accepted it with mistrusting eyes, uttered some final threats, and we parted ways.

Soon the time came for the final battle. In last year’s battle I had enjoyed the advantage of my beast form, and I had hoped I might repeat the act. I had slowly begun to master the shape shifting, had even been able to actively call upon the change. But obviously the situation had changed. My form remained frozen between elf and beast despite my fiercest attempts. I still didn’t worry about it, sure I’d figure it out soon enough, but I feared the Autherdir might exclude me from the battle. He did nothing of the sort though, and raised no objection to me joining our warriors. Almost instantly I felt the thrill of the fighting to come. All the armies gathered on the field of war and arrayed themselves for the coming onslaught.
We did not have to wait long. A thundering boom echoed across the field and all the armies began to move. We were positioned near back center of the Green army, close to the Avatar and the banner, so at first I had a pretty good view. There was a lot of motion, with very few solid lines being drawn. The Green army gathered with its allies, and through a bizarre twist of fate I found myself fighting side by side with warriors I had seen in the Chaos camp. Chaos had allied with the Gold camp, who in turn were allies of ours. I would sometimes catch sight of the Chaos Avatar, at which something inside of me stirred and I grew indecisive. It was Condaghor Idilwen who kept me focused, always appearing by my side as the two of us joined the skirmishers on the outskirts of the fighting. Eventually the Green army was torn apart, leaving us stranded in the fray. I ended up with the healers of Istar’s Faust, who patched up my injuries to the best of their human abilities. Eventually we regrouped near the Green banner, as it was being taken to the Ritual Circle, marking its defeat. Neither I nor Idilwen were ready to lower our weapons just yet. With the Autherdir’s permission we joined the Grey army in a fight against the Blue. This battle was fierce and short-lived, but Idilwen and I had great fun all the same. At last the fighting died down, though I can’t recall who won the battle.

After the battle we rested and recovered. No one had any serious wounds to attend to. Some weapons and armor needed repairing, but for the most part our fine elven craftsmanship had proven ample durable.
In this interim while waiting for the final results of the battle another situation occurred, the details of which were unclear to me. Something had happened between Condaghor Idilwen and Hadingur. Some forbidden passion on the human’s part? Someone informed me Hadingur had had his emotions removed, and some grizzly scars around his scalp attested to this. Whatever the case, a lot of people, both human and elven, were very angry with him.
A ritual was performed. Condaghor Yava’In and Sylvitharion called upon various totems to confront Hadingur. They had done this before, so I was not unduly aware of any dangers. At some point Idilwen was involved in the matter. Yava’In assumed the spirit of the raccoon; a summoning of which I understood neither the meaning nor its link to Idilwen. Then suddenly, the unthinkable happened.
Sylvitharion tore the Raccoon spirit out of Yava’In and destroyed it, tore it in half in a spray of gore and blood.
Panic and consternation ensued.
I had no idea what to do or who to protect. Condaghor Yava’In staggered to my side and clung to me, so I braced myself to defend her against whatever. Idilwen lay on the ground in the center of the ritual. Sylvitharion and Autherdir Tegingur were still moving about, shouting things. Idilwen had made a choice? What choice? I could tell my fellow Anarquendor were as hesitant to act as I was. Hadingur was screaming at the other side of the field, his fellow Calenar struggling to keep him pinned down on the ground. There was no doubt about the sentiment painted on his face. He was raging, overcome with blind fury. The ritual subsided. As if by some instinct the Anarquendor formed a line between Idilwen and command, and she was taken to our encampment to recover.
One by one we all parted, unsure of what had just transpired or what the Autherdir and Sylvitharion had done. There was a lot of guessing and speculating. Both Partalan and Hadingur spoke to me on separate occasions, pointing out their suspicions and misgivings. I also had a talk with the Autherdir and Sylvitharion, the third of this kind in as many days. Again I was told things that jarred me, but I obeyed their commands, not sure what else I could do.

With the setting of the sun Lalaith, Tiwion and I were given permission to leave the camp. The Khargas family of the Silver camp had sent word, but it wasn’t until now we had the opportunity to answer their summons. At the gates of the Silver camp something happened that gave me the first glimpse of the trouble I was in. Animals needed to be leashed or chained before entering. When it occurred to me and the others they were referring to me, the situation almost turned ugly. Before anything could happen Arinion of the Khargas family met us at the gate as he was on his way out. We addressed him, and he showed surprise and hesitation at the sight of me. This was the first time I realized just how much this bestial form could prove problematic. Still, after the initial trepidation he was courteous as always. In the fading sun we exchanged words, songs and gifts. The nature of this conversation was personal, so I won’t bother you with it.
Now that the sun had set we immediately continued on to the Great Ritual Circle. The closing ritual of the Feast of the Dragons was about to begin. In this arcane spectacle of mystic lights and otherworldly music the Avatars were called out one by one, until at last the winner was revealed. Our alliance emerged victorious, Black claiming the title in the end despite our defeat in the final battle. Our army cheered along, and the mood upon returning to camp was joyful. Perhaps because of this the Autherdir was lenient towards me and allowed me to visit my friend in the Pack of Tarek. I stayed there for the remainder of the night, enjoying their hospitality and having long and meaningful conversations with Karuvena, Tarek and Mouril.

The next day marked our departure back to the Weylin Woods, but still my body remained fixed in the half-beast form. This was cause for some serious concern. I needed to return to court to complete my mission, but in my current condition I was bound to face a lot of scrutiny and questioning. I asked the Autherdir for help, to which he agreed, but first we needed to get home.
We gathered in the glade from which we had emerged and prepared to be transported back home by the druids who awaited us in Weylin Woods. This spell only takes a few moments, but through some aberration of chance, instead of arriving amongst the ancient trees of our homeland, Eferil and I would be detoured for many weeks before we’d arrive in Weylin Woods.”