Friday, January 23, 2009

A Question of Faith

As Aengus sits at the table of Lady Lorilee vas Roman and listens to her story, he finds himself in a troubling state, both emotionally and spiritually. He has always believed in the existence of good and evil, and directed his every thought and action toward upholding the good and vanquishing the evil. This twisted and soulless place called Mordent, however, has shaken the very bedrock of Aengus' faith. Here, there seems to be no good. Any deeds or thoughts that could be defined as good seem to be rewarded with more depraved cruelty. Aengus has yet to meet anyone who seems genuinely selfless and generous. Even Aengus' god, Aengrist, has become increasingly distant. Most troubling of all, the goodness in Aengus' mind and heart, which carried him through so much, has begun to feel wan and sickly.

As Aengus sits and stares into his glass of tepid ale (even the ale tastes poorly in this cursed place!), and his mind finds its way through the events of the past, a frightening contrast takes shape. Aengus had joined the miners who were heading for Tigalda Island not because he wanted gold, but because he hoped that the isolation and hardship would help him deliver his message to them. When they arrived, and were rounded up at spearpoint at the dock and shipped upriver to work as slaves on that wilderness fortress, Aengus had welcomed the turn of events, for he saw it as a sign that Aengrist had smiled on him and frowned upon the avarice of the miners. Even as they slaved in that cold, tangled wildreness, as they quarried rock with bleeding hands and struggled to bury those hundreds upon hundreds of sharpened stakes into the rocky, frozen ground, Aengus' faith remained steadfast. He had no particular hatred for the dark-haired, black-liveried soldiers who mercilessly whipped and bullied him and the others; instead, he felt a pure hatred of the evil that compelled them to act so cruelly. Even they were redeemable, if only at the edge of a sword.

When Aengus and the other slaves finally revolted after Ord-laf arrived and rallied them to action, Aengus found himself in combat for the first time in his life. He fought with a pick, and managed to split the skulls of two soldiers before he was able to pick up a dropped scimitar. The violence was pure, the killing just, and Aengus found himself empowered by a righteous rage that made him virtually unstopable. It was during this fight that he discovered his healing power, as he prayed over a fallen comrade and watched the man's gaping wound miraculously close. Over the months that followed, Aengus and his fellow rebels fought many engagements with those brutal soldiers - they were mercenaries from a place called Ugyhuria, he later learned - and each time, he felt the same righteous strength, the same purity of purpose and action.

After he inexplicably arrived in Mordent, Aengus thought that perhaps Aengrist had sent him here to save these corrupted and downtrodden people. When he met Brynja, the towering Northwoman who personified strength and goodness, Aengus' hunch was validated. Together, they would rid this land of whatever evil was suffocating it. The elf, Aarkuhn, did not seem to fit with this idea, but Aengus believed that he, too had been sent for a reason. The strange energy that leaped and crackled from his fingertips seemed divine enough, even if the individual who controlled it was less than angelic.

This had all changed when Brynja died. What sort of world was this where such a beautiful champion of good could die such a squalid and meaningless death? Something was different after that. Aengus' thoughts seemed darker, his heart heavier. Still, he tried his best to keep his thoughts pure, and push on.

It was the fight in the tavern, he realized, where he first saw the troubling change in himself. When that toothless cur spat on him, and called him those unmentionable names, Aengus felt the sudden urge to draw his sword and split the man's skull. At that moment, he hated not just the evil of the man's actions, but the man himself. A slow death would be too merciful, Aengus thought. Better to strangle him slowly, or gouge out his eyes and mutilate his genitalia. These thoughts flased through Aengus' mind involuntarily, and it took all the strength of will he had to resist drawing a weapon and punch the man instead. He was relieved - nay, he was overjoyed - when Kildyn drew his cutlass and turned the fight into a deadly one. He had freed Aengus by giving him no choice but to kill. The fight ended as Aarkuhn immolated the last of the local thugs as he attempted to flee. A year ago, Aengus would have been horrified, and righteously furious, to see a man struck down as he fled. After a year in Mordent, Aengus instead took a dark satisfaction from the man's final contortions.

Was there any meaning in Aengus' presence in this sordid land? As he listens to the lady's story of incest and murder, he begins to wonder if this is instead a curse, or a plot by some evil god to corrupt him. Why else would he be here, in such strange company?

He regards the pirate, Kildyn, who sits at the table with him. The man seems to have no conscience, and looks out only for himself. The fool must have climbed and descended the quarry wall three times before finslly deciding that he had no choice but to fight. His cutlasses are deadly, and Aengus certainly respects his skill with weapons, but Aengus wishes that that skill could be trusted. It would not surprise Aengus at all to see those blades turned on him, if the pirate's short-term benefit seemed to recommend it. Aengus neither likes nor trusts Kildyn, and hopes that the pirate's rapacity leads him elsewhere sooner rather than later.

The elf, Aarkuhn, is a different story altogether. Although Aarkuhn seems to have little more conscience than Kildyn, Aengus senses that there is something good buried beneath the elf's polished, impassive exterior. Perhaps this is merely wishful thinking, or misplaced gratitude for Aarkuhn saving his life. But perhaps not. Aarkuhn has never tried to flee, even when things looked hopeless. He could easily have left Aengus to die next to Brynja, but he remained, and risked his life to resuscitate him. The action was good. Aengus likes the elf, despite his initial suspicians, and hopes that he is right about Aarkuhn's alignment. One thing was for certain: that energy that he controlls, which has become noticeably more potent of late, is most welcome when Aengus finds himself in battle.

And now this talk of another family, the vas Ravens. Is Lorilee vas Roman being honest? Or is she just another corrupted soul who is trying to mislead him? What if the vas Ravens are the good in this muddled war? What if he finds himself fighting for an evil cause? He will have to watch his step, and question everything this woman asks of him. He will not allow his soul to be dragged into darkness, not now, not ever.

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