by Grant Smuts
I recognise the truth now. All those years in some battle-hardened company, hungry for glory, hungry for fame and fortune. I remember my brothers and sisters-in-arms, men and women proud to serve and protect their lands. We stood on the backs of fables, wielding magic and blade with equal fervour. Steel gauntlets, black cloaks, like the legendary Order of Saint Audren across the sea. We sought out monsters and slew them, and believed ourselves heroes, warriors without peer. Yet ten years ago, as my father told it, the eastern coast erupted in civil war and we stood back with our hands raised, clearing ourselves of involvement. We did not engage in politics. We simply served as a bulwark against the dark. But what of the darkness within the hearts of men? Are we to simply accept that as irreversible, irrevocable truth? I admit, I walked the path of heroes for selfish reasons. I longed, at first to make a name for myself.
But after seeing all the hell in our world in ruined cities and dead children, I’ve recognized something crooked inside me, something withered and lopsided. It was not until I uttered a few bitter words to a friend that I recognized the truth of my cynicism. Fighting it, I continued to struggle on, to ‘fight the good fight’ as they say. Why? I suppose that even though my beliefs were shifting, falling into the dark, I was hoping that I would be proven wrong. That there was a place of peace, where hope is rewarded, where mercy is found, where kindness and generosity may flourish. For a long time, that guided me, even as I developed a reputation for aloofness and selfishness. It didn’t matter, I told myself, if I wasn’t understood. All I sought was a place where such things are forgotten and good deeds are remembered.
I cannot say when it was that even those lofty ideals faded away. When I removed the mask of cynicism to show my true face, I found that I was looking at it in my hands. The innocent face in the mirror was a stranger to me, someone far too weak to do what needed to be done.
And I knew that I no longer belonged anywhere. Without a second thought, I committed my first betrayals, orchestrating an escape of some significance. But first I sought to challenge the ideals that once drew me. I spat in the face of my former masters and teachers, and caused two deaths. I sought out the injustice in my heart and found nothing in it but ruthlessness. I knew I had new goals, unvoiced until the moment I looked at everything I used to be.
I fled to my old home, knowing that I could not remain here for too long, and I sought out my father’s crystal, hoping to find some answers, wondering if he had stumbled on the same truths I have.
It was here that I received a curious letter, from a man named Q. Though the words were cryptic, I understood them perfectly, and I understood the revelations he had – truths he could only have gleaned from one place. I’ve decided to leave, for a time, to seek out my fortunes in Streggan’s Keep. There will be a war to be waged, that much is clear. And when it is done, I will return, and seek out the death I’ve been dreaming of.
What is this urge, I wonder, that brings us to such ruin?
Time will tell. But for now, I will make my way to the hidden places, to where the gods lie dreaming.