Chapter 2 - Aftermath

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It’s been two days since I killed the Dread Wraith. I’ve been asleep most of that time.

I asked Ruintharon what I do. What do we do now this is over. It isn’t, of course. The Draugr magics have not ended – the peoples still fight the undead - but the source is gone, their power diminished.

I admitted to him that I called out to Vaetta to catch me when I fell from the sky with my friends. I think I might be the first since the shadow war to do that. But it was Brenna that caught me. Talk about awkward. She talked to me. Reminded me about the inspirational part of her creed. I shared ale with her.

He was annoyingly chipper. He doesn’t really care which god I follow, as long as I don’t give up hope. He’s sure I’ll find my path, now that I’m a hero of Anvar. I wish he wouldn’t call me that. It’s that grin when he does. Like he knows something I don’t.

I wonder if all heroes have felt the same lack of certainty I feel now. I hope they have. Ruin said they do, which was strangely reassuring. Sometimes I can almost buy into the belief that I helped bring about the change. Not alone, but that I played a part by choosing to do so rather than being buffeted on the winds of fate.

It’s been a three days.

Already songs are being made of the Two Crowns and the Dwarf hero that emerged. Bah. Privately I hope my part will be a small one, though to my people I doubt it will. Without Ruin, I might not have come this far. Without Illaneal, Betta, Zeb and Anzuth, I would be dead. Without Ukmaz I would have lost my soul to a demon.

Sometimes I feel like a fraud. Others I remember how I felt with the blade in my hand and Veredain’s words in my ears – how the blade bit into the creature that devoured worlds. On these days I remember Brynn Sja Brenna’s words to me - she told me that sometimes the need to inspire is greater than the truth of the act itself, to spur others to greatness. She said it gave them Courage. I offered that it gave people hope. Arguing with a god – if only the Clan had seen that. Turning to Vaetta is so rare, so… strange to our mind, but I had nothing else, and her light was there. And then Brenna, not Vaetta, saved me, though she saved my friends. As long as I remember this was not my doing alone, perhaps others thinking so will fan the flames of their own zeal.

Perhaps my faith is not gone after all. I did meet her. Hard to argue with that kind of fact.

Also, I have realised that because Veredain is in Brenna’s halls after binding his soul as I did, so to is my soul is not doomed to sit with Baelar’s for eternity. The Orc tried to cheat death. Mine, and my soul, was willingly given – all I could do was hope it was enough. I still have Hope that I might reach the divine halls. I did the deed because it was right, but it’s effects were far-reaching. It seems I have inspired many, though not my intent. More obvious to me, I gave Hope back to the Dwarves, even if we do not see it.

I know what I must do.

It has not yet been four days. It is some hours before dawn.

I saw his face as I slept. That of the Dread Wraith. Telling me it was all for nothing. That he was not in fact Dead, only held. Only stalled.

On the fields of battle over the Necropolis, my friends stood against him and one by one they were slaughtered, as he laughed manically and sucked their souls out of the air like an all-hungering void. Then, he turned on me and raised his monstrous poled blade over my head.

I awoke, screaming.

As I lay there in the darkness, I knew I would fight him, just as I did in the Necropolis, even if it meant dying against him. I wouldn’t let him take this world. I would fight. I would make sure everyone else would cling on. Not give in against evil, though it was all around.

I understand hope.

If anything this tells me my choice is the right one.

Petition for Vaetta

Hope is...... Hope is a stregnths from within still courage

Chance brought me to the Vale.

Courage and hope are the same NO POINT

The difference between Hope and Courage is small, but importantly crucial. Courage steels you in the present. It is the bravery of warriors and the will of mages. Everyone can hope Hope is for all, at any time. It is what everyone who cannot find courage clings to until the fires of courage can be found again. In the darkness when all seemed lost, in the waiting for the battles that come, Hope sees all races through. Even us! Though we thought Vaetta left us, we turned away from Vaetta – and in this war, she came back for us.

That’s it. That’s what I say.

It has been four days.

Today I took my requests to the Empress. I think I managed to surprise her. They say catching devotees of Rhundr off-guard can only be done by the most peculiar of individuals, and these days I am forced to consider I may be such. One of two to bind a soul for the Empire. One in eight centuries to call on Vaetta for a miracle. The first of my clan to be offered an Imperial request since the founding of the Empire when we claimed our mines and forges.

If Verundain agrees, Vaetta will be returned to the halls of the Empire.

It was the least I could do. When I had nothing, no faith, no courage… I was sent mercy in the form of Vaetta’s faithful, and they stood by me at what might have been the end of all things. I owe them, and her, everything.

I also asked for a potent focus of Earth, and that my conscription be considered fulfilled, but we will see.

My dream reminded me of something, lost in the recent exhaustion and chaos. Though the Dread Wraith Leader is destroyed, or at least stymied, his original four allies may yet live. I do not wish to sour the taste of victory, but I am not certain I can trust to fate that the other Dread Wraiths fell alongside their leader.

I do not know what I will do with this thought as yet. I am sure it cannot have escaped the mind of others.

It has been six days.

I found my image carves into the rock this morning, simply saying “Wraihslayer” beneath. I reacted poorly – the magical blast destabilised the whole corridor and they had to call in an Earth Ritualist to shore up the foundations.

I need to be aware my magics are stronger these days.

The battle is finally over, and there was a victory feast in the great hall with the Two crowns as the guests of honour. I suppose that includes me now. If I’m honest with myself, feels a better fit than the Dren’Dar.

I met Verundain the younger, her majesty’s daughter. She was stunning. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone so beautiful. We shared a dance, and she laughed at my awkwardness. I’d like to mark that I was rakish and charming, but it would be a lie. All I could do was not shake and offer her a drink from Brenna’s tankard.

I hope I get to see her again.

It has been seven days.

Ruin and I met for a drink today. This last week has been so surreal, it was refreshing to talk together, as friends.

He told me that Ilaneal has asked for Refuge from the Empress, to make a new Farhaven. I’ve heard mixed things about Farhaven. I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not. But I hope they succeed. We talked about my dream, and the Dread Wraith’s banishment. His advice was the same as always – to trust to hope that we had destroyed them. I am not so sure I can do that, not yet. Veredain never found the Dread Wraith, so they say, which meant he never was able to strike a blow as we did.

After a few drinks I told him what I’d asked from the Empress. I’ve only seen him that happy on his wedding day. I almost regretted it after the look he gave me No I didn’t. It was the right thing to do. That fucking smirk though. Ye Gods. And when he said he’d make a faithful out of me yet, I almost swung for him. Ass. I think Ruintharon likes making my like confusing. He reminded me I am a hero now, by any reasonable definition – seems to think that’s a funny thing to remind me.

I’m going to miss him when he leaves.

It’s been nine days.

The fighting continues, though the unliving lack their former control and zeal. They have regressed to mindless forces, caving under the Empire’s armies.

Ilaneal and Ruin have set off back towards Refuge. They want to be in a place where they do the most good, bring the most hope – and prepare for their family. The Empress has granted it to them on a thousand year lease, to be renegotiated when the time comes. Being Attuned, Ruin reckons they may even make it ithat long, though I’m not sure I believe that. Spiderpuncher – Elizabetta – has gone with them.

Ukmaz and Zev have gone back to the Orc tribes. Anzuth to the Forged.

I have stayed in the Empire.

Without them – my comrades - I feel very alone. I miss them.

The words of Veredain the Second Emperor lay heavily on my mind. That there is nothing like feeling the Soul Blade in my hand – and he is right. I drew it for the first time since the siege and in that moment I felt more sure than I have since the day. Sure of purpose, but without goal, if there is such a thing. The magics of the soul – my soul - reside in the sword, and I know I named it well for Courage is what it gives me.

I need to do something. And I feel I will not find that purpose here.

I will head for Refuge. The Two Crowns helped me find purpose. Perhaps I will find it again.

It has been ten days.

The Emperess called me before her today to discuss my request. The High Priests of the Empire have been deliberating over the last few days. My people cannot be rushed, but for a request of this magnitude I am surprised they wish to see me.

Her majesty has refused.

Actually it is not as clear. She admitted fully that without Vaetta, and had we given up all hope, the Vale would not be found, the sword discovered, and the Dread Wraith banished. But, as I feared, she could not simply reinstate her to the Pantheon.

The Council of High Priests have agreed that faith of Vaetta should no longer be discouraged. This was a small step for what I felt fair, and I am sure this evident in my expression as the Empress explained further. She said she cannot restore Vaetta because she is not faithful of Vaetta. Verudain brought Brenna as a devout agent of her faith.

She did say that should someone try and restore the faith of Vaetta that the Empire would of course support it, as it does all the faiths on which the empire is built. She had that smile as she said it, the smile that says no good deed goeth unpunished. That really, no-one else is notable enough and tied to hope enough to bring about that kind of change, even though she never actually said it.

I suppose I should have seen this coming.

I also announced my plans to leave the Empire’s lands and return to Refuge. As a budding spot between the realms, a place of emerging commerce and trade, perhaps I might have more inspiration than the chambers of the Empire. But now before them, I must do work to lay the foundations of the faith of Hope and Prosperity.

She also granted me a powerful focus of Earth, something I will treasure forever.

It has been two weeks to the day.

I have been given half-a-dozen of the church of Rhundyr’s researchers, to help me find the lost secrets of Vaetta. The day after my meeting with the Empress I saw those records – they are innumerably vast. Walls upon walls, rows upon rows of scrolls, books, charts and maps, records from the earliest days of the Dwarven people.

Within the last four days it has become painfully obvious that I am no researcher. I was a passable clerk but the insight and forethought it takes to find and uncover the correct information will take a long time. Athaya, the human form of Vaetta, has domain over luck and fortune – I could really do with some of these talents.

The one advantage of this research is I have been so exhausted the dreams of the Wraith have not tormented me these last few nights. Or I have been so weary even in my dreams have not enough strength for my mind's eye to see them.

I have agreed with Yvette (the senior researcher) that they will continue their research in my absence, and that they will direct anyone looking for me towards Refuge after I leave.

It has been one month.

I had planned to leave some weeks ago, but people seem to be finding reasons to keep me here.

We (that is, Yvette, Dagon and I) opened the wing of the Imperial chapel meant for Vaetta. It is more important the research continues, so I undertook the restoration alone. Cleaning and restoring has taken several days, but with others doing the iportant work of uncovereing Vaetta's histories it has fallen to me.

In finishing the restoration I felt a great sense of pride, and, yes, of Hope. Leaving this behind is a landmark for Vaetta. Her statue is beautiful, the sealed vault of this wing meaning it is preserved incredibly well. The tapestries of the blue roses hang on either side, and at her feet, I have lit the candle again, and asked the initiates of the temple it is kept lit at all times. I want any who feel hope’s spark to be able to come here, and feel comforted. Inspired. Hope is not the fires that burn in Brenna’s wing, but it is a simple light in the darkness.

They seem amiable to the request, although I did have to correct them when they called me priest. I don’t know how one might be considered a priest, given there has been no ordered worship of Vaetta in eight hundred years. They seemed confused at this, and I discovered people are already thinking of me as Vaetta’s agent and that my request to the Empress is filtering through the city. Further I have realised that in restoring the chapel alone I have only created more infamous precident.

I think I really have to leave.

It has been five weeks to the day I will be setting out for Refuge tomorrow alongside a caravan that will trade with the town.

One of the oldest traditions in our people is that of the Deed-name. Usually one acquires one either from a single monumental event in their life, for from one persistent demonstration of behaviour.

Some people have started calling me Wraith-slayer to my face, not just inscriptions on walls. Seem to think it’s me, not the Sword or the people that got me there. I don’t know if I am ready to believe that yet. That would make the victory mine and it is not mine alone. Still, Brynn Sja Brenna’s tankard keeps me out enough to weather the accolades I remain unsure I deserve. One of her Priests is certain I am blessed and set for the divine halls.

Others have started calling me “the Hopeful” – this one I learned from the temple acolytes and they seemed very reluctant to tell me. I am not sure how I feel about this – I do not want my name to supplant the message.

Perhaps it is for the best that I leave the capital. Yvette believes she has a “strong lead on historical worship” at long last, I have informed her to pass information to me by ritual when it becomes evident.

Getting back out of the Empire feels right. I’m still figuring out my way. Maybe Ruin can give some useful advice when I get there.