Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
The gentle luminance of the sun shined through the spindly canopy upon Andre's entertained face. He enjoyed watching the insects fly around framed in yellow against the setting sun. Valalar for his part never could shake Old Pine's arboreal titans from his subconscious. More importantly he was inexpressibly grateful for the resettlement of his kin to New Sallowing. But absent was any childish enthusiasm Andre possessed.
Gannoriel and Arassërochir lead the way through the city commons. What laid ahead was perhaps the most splendid building in all of Old Pine. It stood gothic and stately, it's four towers rectangular and upright. It was made of an antiquated masonry of amazonite, malachite, and coallike bricks Andre couldn't identify. Vines and greenery covered the exterior, but they dared not intrude on what wasn't thier's to hide. As everyone walked closer Andre took note of the oxidized copper statues of elves, and a great maze of geometry above the main door.
"This is the library of Old Pine." Spoke Gannoriel. "Valalar of any resource we can provide to you so that you may fulfill your oath of vengeance against Thunderthrore, you will find no better place than here." She held open one of the doors and everyone went inside. As Arassërochir led them to wherever they were heading, Valalar couldn't help but be overtaken by an aura of history as he beheld the hallways, studies, bookkeeps, and alcoves. They climbed up a stairwell that led to a new section of bookshelves and tables.
Arassërochir greeted the hidden figure standing off on the threshold of torchlight occupying themselves with a parchment. "Well met remembrancer! Valalar and Andre please meet Éviäarmassë the Loremaster."
Valalar beheld this new elf. He hadn't bothered himself with the city's library, he had been too busy with the construction of New Sallowing and practicing his swordsmanship with Arassërochir and various Old Pine men-at-arms. By nightfall he mourned and dreamt. Nevertheless he recognized Éviäarmassë though he may be a librarian everybody did their best during the construction of the Willowsweep elves' new homes. "Hello Éviäarmassë, we haven't yet made an acquaintance. My name is Valalar and I am most intrigued what you have in store for me and my Wizard."
Éviäarmassë spoke with similar mannerisms to Andre, "Aye, all in Old Pine are well aware of Thunderthrore and Willowsweep, and my Lord and Lady have made your story known to me." He went over to a bookshelf and pulled out an oldish looking manuscript, set it on a table and began to search through its indices. Finally he muttered triumphantly and spoke; "We live in a magical world don't we? Long have those lucky enough to vest their lives in study wondered why." He motioned for everyone to gather near the book and resumed speaking. "To the southwest of our fair Yárafaurë is a great desert. The way between its interior and Yárafaurë is veiled by a perpetual sandstorm. Those that enter it unwarranted are damned to wander aimless in its infinity, the ultimate fate of those souls is beyond our understanding. Our extrapolating has it that passage through can only be gained by the benedict of a Golden Unicorn. Reports say that beyond the desert are verdant foothills dominated by a holy mountain, and these hills and mountains are inhabited by a kingdom of men called Dravidia. The master of this kingdom is a Goddess who dwells upon Her holy mountain, and Her kingdom is in the stewardship of knights templar.
Valalar looked at Éviäarmassë with both impatience and a hint of wrath. Éviäarmassë continued; "Forgive me Valalar, it is imperative you and the Wizard be made aware of all the details. The crux of my monologue is this; within Dravidia is said to be a sword, a sword for people in situations similar to yours Valalar. It is with mythical things of legend such as this Dravidian sword of a Goddess that you hope to stand even the slimmest hope of bringing retribution to your foe the Stormdrake.
Valalar's hint of wrath turned into a modicum of shame; "Please forgive my annoyance Éviäarmassë, I grow more brash with each passing day. Indeed though elves are lofty, we are nothing compared to the strength of a Stormdrake. I have questioned how I will muster mortal harm against Thunderthrore, and you have informed me of a possibility. Andre, my Lady and Lord, have you anything to add?"
Gannoriel responded; "Long has been my time in this world. Though I have seen wars, the changing of lordships. Though I have traveled this continent from coast to coast, and treated with many, I have never seen what lies in the far southwest." Andre and Arassërochir responded similarly.
Valalar took pause. Frightened by the prospect of an odyssey into lands unknown filled with dire treachery. But he was also invigorated by the prospect of beginning to find his way to the doorstep of Thunderthrore, and destroying him. Thoughts of his dead wife and son, of a burnt out Willowsweep, and of his oath consumed him, and his loathing burned all trepidation out of thought. He spoke saying "So as I have sworn so it shall be. Andre are you ready to pack up and set out?"
"Yay. We must prepare for the lands in which we shall treadeth." Andre took heart in the development of his friend Valalar, and secondarily he was excited to learn about the mysterious lands that lay ahead of them and of the magic and wizardry therein.
Valalar and Andre set out with the blessings of Old Pine. Arassërochir had provided them with the most enduring steeds at his disposal, horses rather than Old Pine's more common elk due to the upcoming terrain. At first things were tame as they made their way through the idyllic countryside, passing through the hamlets of men, elves, and toadstools and the quaint groves of scattered woodland. Next came their last comforts in the thin lands of sahel that separated the hospitality of the living to the barrens of desolation. They restocked all their supplies and exchanged their horses for camels at a stable. The stablehands looked on with crude amusement seeing the direction the elf and wizard were going. Both were unnerved as they traveled, indeed the wilderness that now hosted them was awesome and fear-inspiring.
There were salt flats, great mirrors that swallowed Valalar and Andre in the blue yonder of the sky and its flotilla of clouds by day, and by night they'd join the galactic disk and a breathtaking multitude of stars. The only sound was the splish-splash of the camels as they rippled the silver moonlight in the shallow water. Great hilly swaths of dust and gainsboro granite and mountains that stood jasper and garnet at dusk were the two's company. Dried riverbeds that waited through time to port water scarred the landscape, and they were dreadful to behold. All this not mentioning the burning ire of the sun.
Twelve days they traveled, until Andre and Valalar sighted a maroon wall along the horizon. "Look Andre! That must be the sandstorm of which Éviäarmassë spoke!" Momentarily the weariness of their spirits lessened, and they hightailed it into the dust.
They equipped their facial wraps and eyewear to prevent laceration of their lungs and eyes. Andre sensed the faint countenance of the magic of this place, as he peered beyond that he shriveled back in horror as the infinity of the dominion they now trod upon bloated the great yet finite confines of his mind. "Valalar" spoke Andre; "The strangeness of what we have entered pains me. I haveth looked and it is limitless without boundary, it goes on and on in every direction. However there beeth a single abnormality I've found, a blind spot of enchantment behind which I cannot peer."
Valalar looked at Andre undaunted, whether this was because bravery, nativity, or his hell bent focus on finding this supposed sword, or a combination, Andre couldn't tell. "We must go to it." responded Valalar. To Valalar and Andre reality became a timeless blur. To them it seemed days had past, when in reality it was but a few hours. As they came closer to this blind spot the winds picked up and began to squall violently, and the air became dry to the point of sterility. After what seemed like the passage of all time, Andre and Valalar beheld the one that had received them. The disorder of the whirlwinds arrayed themselves, and at first a fearsome glint speared the air, as one looked down from the spiral horn one could see the yellow hairs of the unicorn blazing in the wind, his swanky gold coat exuded proudly and with magnificence.
Andre bowed slightly in knowledge of what he stood before. Valalar for his part stared into the horizontal pupils framed in brilliant amber, trying he supposed to reflect its gaze back at it. "My anchorage to this world grows evermore rusted and brittle. Perhaps I will expire from heartache and my spirit will rejoin those to whom it's kindred to, and I'll be captured in the thralls of regret and rapture." Said Valalar
The Golden Unicorn spoke; "How strange for one of you to show reverence, and the other to meet me in challenge, I find it charming. Valalar runes encircle our existence. So that we may have agency and be free. Who are you to break them?"
Valalar's eyebrow arched somewhat startled that the unicorn knew his name. "You speak in enigmas and riddles. How can two coexisting destinies combine to form free will? Do I interpret your words correctly?"
Again the Golden Unicorn spoke; "How indeed? I speak in riddles because that is my charge and station, inaugurated by Her Grace Ishabooru. You seek the Executioner's Sword so that you may reap vengeance against Thunderthrore. I hope you succeed, truly I do. But you must prove yourself worthy and sound of mind to wield such a powerful weapon."
"And how might I do that?" Asked Valalar
"There are three trials you must undertake, for now don't concern yourself with the other two. Mine is the first and it is thus; you must solve my riddle. Success will lead you on into Dravidia, failure will result in your damnation to join my assembly of souls and wander these immeasurable wastelands until the end of all things. I advise you to consider this with superlative thoughtfulness. Do you accept?"
Valalar was a cauldron of emotion and thought. On one hand he wanted to consult with his friend The Wizard, but he dared not include Andre in his fate if he were to fail. The bubbling disregard for his own safety told him to leap upon his moment. Lastly he took morbid hilarity in the disproportionate results of failure. Andre veneered his face awaiting the doom. "Yes." said Valalar.
You have asked for a verse to ponder, to face the perils of rhythm, the poisons of rhyme,
So take ear to these pointed words, so you may see the inheritance by tasting this lexiconal wine
At the wintertime shrouds of the starless nightfall, before the beautifulest in celerity you always flee,
And like the resounding song of a Cedar Waxwing, it's love and yearning of shadow blazes in secrecy
For what wishes to forsake this world and seek the fastness of yesteryear's mirth?
But can only do so when the foreseeable chameleon is made alike in unfeeling dearth?
"What say you Valalar?"
Valalar bent his thoughts towards the Unicorn's words, doing his best to block out the world with partial success. For perhaps half an hour all three were soundless, and to Valalar outside his mind became an unreality trying to assail his skull. But unreality was cast back against the bony ramparts. Valalar stood aloft with a victorious glare in his eyes, Andre reacted with a subtle terror, the Unicorn remained unchanging in expression. Valalar reached for his ear and spoke; "Take ear to these point words! Are my ears not pointed? By tasting the lexiconal wine I shall see my inheritance of passage into Dravidia. Indeed to me each night is a starless winter evening. When I think of the perfection that was my wife and son I recoil, and afterwards with the intensity of that bird's morning call in my loneliness I wish for oblivion in secret. But alas!" Valalar's speech became increasingly more desperate; "I'd love nothing more than to crawl hopeless into the deepest hole and liberate myself from heartache. But if I did that injustice would continue forever in its taint, and I'd languish forever faced with my own blessed kin's contrite!" Valalar now was kneeling teary eyed and snarling at the Unicorn; "You glorified equid! Do you think I don't know myself? Who can miss the maddening plainness of the vile Storndrake? I am the answer! The answer to your accursed riddle is Valalar."
The Unicorn beheld Valalar with a grim pity, if a unicorn was capable of such emotion. "You have answered correctly. To wield the Goddess's Executioner's Sword, you must know yourself. Any handler of such power must know why they seek it, and any handler of that much power must have the fortitude to weather the anguish and pain ahead of them. Not only that, you have displayed selflessness by not putting your companion Andre in any doom of failure, even when the intelligence of his starion would be priceless to the solving of my inquiry. You're pinned under your own grief, yet you face down eternal damnation and sally forth. In truth those that fail my riddle aren't doomed to wander the desert until the world grows old, that would be unjust. They are knighted into Her Grace's Templars. Go now, the next trial awaits you, may Ishabooru bless you.
Valalar and Andre departed from the Golden Unicorn out into the clarity of a desert now free of bewitchment. They passed through the town of Beth-Tallmë, marked with it's great clay wrought architecture and oases of liquid gold. They quartered that evening in the city of Ezebullon, now in the Dravidian Foothills and out of the sands. The residents and knights of Ezebullon took subtle notice of the newcomers with gazes of intrigue and commonality. Valalar had been stern and wordless. Andre was concerned for his friend and hoping Ezebullon's pink walls, rainbow stained glass, and many common areas of domed pools, amongst other amenities would soften Valalar, he initiated his inquiry. "Valalar, whenst thou brought thine grievances against the Unicorn, what did you meaneth by 'Wanting to crawl hopelessly into the deepest hole. But such action would result in the ire of thy blessed kin?'
Valalar looked at Andre with a solemness Andre hadn't seen since the aftermath of the Great Dismal Swamp. Valalar sighed; "Andre sometimes I have this dream where I'm standing in the middle of a great landscape with a view atop a gentle hill. It's nighttime and when I look up at the stars of Vulpecula, the constellation becomes far more realistic than it should be. As I watch the star fox runs and impaled itself on the thinnest waning crescent moon I've ever seen. The sky turns a terrible red and heaven collapses. As the red sky falls away from its hinges I cower. As the enormity is about to crush my puny form, I awake in a night sweat." Valalar withdrew his bronze sword. "Sometimes I fantasize about throwing myself upon my sword, and rejoining my wife and son. There we're tales of the afterlife in Willowsweep. I fear that if I were to rejoin them, even though we'd be together it would be but a moment and I would become wraithlike damned to haunt the living in my regret and incompleteness, rather than were my beloved and whole souls may yet dwell." After a silence Valalar made a jaded laughed. "Perhaps this uncertainty is why I was always afraid to seek out the theology tomes, or ask yourself, Gannoriel, or Arassërochir."
Andre's heart floundered. What should he say? How does one respond? He thought. Andre looked at Valalar for approval to speak his knowledge to which Valalar nodded. Andre uplifted his staff and created a blue frame, and as he spoke as the storytellers do, his narration appeared within the frame. "Amongst the stars which your kin doth coveteth so great, the angelic maestros grindeth their melodies upon heaven's blazars with bows of celestial steel." Valalar's posture faltered, and he covered his ears in vain. "In halls and columns wrought from unknowable quarries, with every color both known and unknown. The elven souls which haveth left their mortal forms congregate to make merry and sprouteth new roots of Solomon’s fruit on glass fields blanketed with crystalline diaphanous mist. These halls beeth presided over by the High Elven Goddess Lunalynnlë, a being of moonfire, starlight, and nocturne." Andre at this point was choosing his words very carefully in anticipation. "Some souls are reincarnated, though the understanding of this is limited. Others shall remaineth there until the end of days. Regarding thyself, the vengeful fire within ye will not go to those restful realms until thy loathing be quenched. Such is the strange and incomprehensible way of souls."
Andre had been so focused on trying to be truthful and tactful, thinking that Valalar would set aflame with inquisition and ferocity about why his family simply didn't reincarnate. The truth was Andre didn't know the secrets of Lunalynnlë's judgements. However when he beheld his elf friend, Valalar disintegrated into a foreboding defeat. The look on his face was horrible, always more horrible though Andre. What came out of Valalar crawled out of an abyss from the bottommost and most carnal part of the emotional spectrum. All the locals within the sound’s great earshot froze, something they seldom do. It was like the bereaved shrieking of a vampiric lord in fervid heat. What Andre didn't yet know was Valalar's wife had been a human, and his son half-elven, or Leth-Edhellen as they are called. Valalar, deprived of any hope or prayer, wept the night away.