Posted: June 21, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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“We just missed the ritual,” Craig added, “another failure. We were faced with a no-win choice; pursue the ghouls or chase the necromancers. No matter what choice was made we lost. There was only the four of us, we couldn’t split up and go after both. We would lose on both counts if we tried.”

The group sat in silence as the fire crackled before them. Shan’s eyes drifted over her companions as the orange light of the fire flickered over their faces. The silence stretched out until Shan could hear the wood hiss and pop. Sparks danced into the night above their circle before fading away.

“We could see no sign of the necromancers’ movements,” Craig continued, his neck bent and face downcast, “the ghouls had made a mess of the area. The necromancers were the biggest threat but the ghouls were the more immediate danger. It didn’t really matter, the ghouls had destroyed any chance we had to pick up their master’s tracks. There was only one path left open to us: follow the ghouls.”

Craig placed a couple logs onto the fire sending a swarm of sparks into the cool night air.

“If we had only arrived earlier,” he continued. “If we had gotten there before the ghouls had been raised, before they could complete their ritual… It was a failure, the necromancers had escaped. We pursued the ghouls with the hope of catching them before they could do any damage. We chased them across the expanse of the forest but we couldn’t gain any ground. We failed to catch them before they killed everyone in those two camps…”

Samuel cleared his throat, “I’m going to check the perimeter.”

“I’ll join you,” offered one of Shan’s soldiers.

Shan watched as the circle broke up, people retired to their bedrolls or disappeared into the dark that surrounded them. When everyone had left there was just Craig and Esther left at the fire with Shan. The druid’s eyes were locked onto the warrior, his eyes stared deep into the fire.

“Seers are rarely accurate on timing,” Esther quietly broke the silence. “Their visions are often confused and clouded even to those who witness them. It is often hard to discern between the past, present, or future. There is rarely any clarity to be found.”

“The Goddess is rarely clear in her messages,” Shan agreed. “There are often conflicting interpretations to her words.”

The old warrior shook his head slowly. “I was a poor choice to guide you. My life has been but one failure piled atop another. I fail myself, I fail my family, I fail my people.”

“Life,” Esther chuckled, “is failure. Every successful meal for the owl is a failure of the mouse to survive. Success does not exist with failure. It is Nature’s will, its design at work.”

“Dozens of men are dead because we failed to prevent the ritual,” Craig pointed out, “because we failed to prevent the ghouls from passing through the forest.”

“And their people are now aware of a danger they could never have contemplated,” Esther countered. “The light of life can only exist beside the shadow of death. It may not be obvious to us, but nature allows no death to be in vain and no life is ever truly wasted. We may not discern the connection but we need to keep faith that it is there.”

“And how do the undead fit into this divine balance?” he questioned.

“Some people choose to twist the natural world for their own ends,” the druid spat. “It doesn’t occur to the same degree in the lesser animals, but is very common among the species that claim the label of ‘intelligent.’ Nature is very resilient, she accepts all her children’s attempts to force their will on her. Even the smallest life attempts to change its environment to suit its perceived needs. This is by her design, change amuses her.”

“She controls these changes through the cycle of life and death. It is why every death feeds a life, why every life ends in a death. Her cycle is perfection,” Esther took in Shan and Craig’s gazes one at a time before she continued, “but some of her children are more determined than others. She has many tricks available to right things; weather, the ground itself, her loyal servants. She can even use her more independent children to police themselves. For every person determined to break her cycle, there are more willing to fight to right it.”

“Life and death. Success and failure,” Esther continued, “these are the constants provided to us by Nature. She gives us the freedom to make the journey on our own. We fill in our own destiny while she observes and quietly guides.”

“And it is her will that everything I do ends in failure,” Craig summarized. “Goodnight, ladies,” he offered as he got up and left to his tent.

“It is not always easy to see our place in nature,” Esther said.

Shan had listened closely as Esther explained her view of the world. There was some sense to the view but it seemed too simple an explanation of the world. There was a guiding hand at work in the world, Shan had been taught this from an early age. The Goddess guided everyone’s destiny, Her influence was obvious and absolute. Shan had no doubt in Her existence.

“And the Goddess?” Shan asked. “Where does she fit into this cycle?”

“You will not like the answer,” Esther replied.

“My Faith is not so easily shaken,” Shan pressed.

“We know a little of the Goddess and her rise to power,” Esther began. “The ruined tower was not always a destroyed relic. At one point it was a beacon of power, home to a civilization that rivalled the greatest among your twelve. Although it fell many lifetimes ago, we still remember some of the teachings from that time. That, however, doesn’t matter.”

“The Goddess,” Esther explained, “was an entity determined to dominate nature and the cycle. She did for a time. She succeeded in binding a nation to her will. She forced thousands to adopt a system of belief that has endured unto this day. It was an amazing accomplishment, to be sure, but she could not break free of the cycle. Death took her, her world view would live on in her people but she could not escape the fate of all living things. Death takes us all and the cycle continues.”

“Your Goddess was an impressive mortal,” Esther concluded, “but she was no deity. Nature birthed her and to Nature she was returned.”

“How does she still speak to Her chosen?” Shan asked.

“Does she?” Esther countered. “Has she spoken with you?”

“Through Her teachings, yes,” Shan answered.

“But not directly?” Esther attempted to clarify.

“No,” Shan admitted.

Esther nodded. “Nature speaks to us constantly. In the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. In the first cries of the newly born, in the final rattling breath of the dying. In all its beauty and its ugliness, Nature speaks to us.”

“You have given me much to consider,” Shan said. She got up and went to her tent. It was late and morning would break before they knew it.

“Sleep well,” Esther offered, her gaze lost in the dance of the fire.


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