I lay shivering for many moments and listened to the baleful forest. Silence surrounded me. Fear paralyzed me. My soul filled with the horror of the events that had just transpired. Visions assaulted my mind with images of ravenous wolves biting and tearing into the flesh of my companions while screaming in agony. My legs called out to me, begging me to flee this terrible place yet my heart did not have the courage to continue. The cries of pain and terror filled my heart as I shuddered and wept.
I begged for death's mercy to take me. The thought of being torn apart and eaten alive by the demonic wolves was too much for me to bear. Praying to the All-Father I begged him to have mercy on me, to save me from this horrible fate. My heart sank as the still closer howls of the wolves sang out their dreaded song for me.
Despair gripped my being. Hope seemed a luxury that my soul could no longer entertain. A cold calm fell upon me as I prepared to embrace death in any form that would come and take me from this horrible place.
My eyes showed as if from a dream the faint flickering of light dancing among the ancient trees. The illumination appeared to be coming from just over the nearby hillside. I dared not believe that salvation had come for fear that this would be another cruel jest of death. The howls of the wolves filled my mind with an insanity that sent my body racing towards the last flickers of hope and life.
After crashing through the underbrush I collapsed on the edge of a small clearing occupied by a single campfire and its solitary companion. The cloaked figured did not stir as I slowly and cautiously approached.
I called out to the stranger uncertain how to proceed.
"Greetings... I beg thee pardon for this intrusion. My companions and myself were assaulted by a vile pack of wolves. I am Delar, The Soothsayer and Truthspeaker, royal bard to the noble Loather Shaton'Gor lord and sovereign of these lands."
I had hoped that my title and allegiance to the local magistrate of this land would spark some response from this stranger yet the figure did not stir in the slightest thus prompting me to continue my plea.
"I humbly request any assistance thou could offer me as I can guarantee to thee that my lord and master is very generous man and would pay a very handsome reward for my safe return to his keep not far from here."
The stranger still did not stir and I immediately feared that this man if indeed it was a Son of Men at all either could not hear my words or even worse choose to ignore them entirely. My fears became more acute and were all but assured that this stranger would offer me no assistance when the figured stirred.
The stranger slowly straightened as if awakening from a deep slumber and turned its face upon me. The eyes that stared back at me reflecting the fire were those of no ordinary man and immediately my hand fell to my dagger. My soul cried out to me to flee back into the dreaded forest and face my death with the wolves when finally the figure whispered out to me.
I was about to reply as etiquette required of me announcing my official title but was interrupted by a wave of his hand and a greeting to join him at the campfire. Hesitantly I moved forward across the clearing and sat down across the fire from the stranger.
"Thou speak the word of truth?"
Before given an opportunity to reply the figure turned his face back to the campfire and resumed his unnatural stillness. The silence was very disturbing only broken by the slight crackling of the flame that sent dancing fairies of light into the night sky.
I strained my eyes peering around the clearing dreading to see some shadow of movement of my dreaded pursuers. With much relief I concluded that the fire seemed to keep the darkness and those cloaked within at bay. After a great pause I begun to think that my new companion had somehow fallen into slumber when he continued.
"Truthspeaker tell me what thou knows of Malorn?"
Without hesitation I inquired, "I assume thou speak of Saint Malorn the Just, Kindler and Keeper of the Flame the founder and greatest patron of the Church of the Cleansing Flame?"
Before my mind could fully comprehend what my mouth had spoken I saw a sudden change take over my companion. The stranger's right hand began to shake slowly but gaining in intensity, it seemed granted life and a will of its own. I feared at first for the well being of my new friend, alarmed he had taken ill, then I feared for myself. The stranger suddenly reached over with his other hand grasping it by the wrist as if it were a venomous snake readied to strike. This strange sight tested my waxing bravery as my sanity pleaded with me to flee screaming into the darkened forest.
Before my fleeting valor could be vanquished the stranger continued.
"Yes he is known to some as such. Thou no doubt also heard that through him the Confessors and Templars work their "miracles" of fire, smiting the unrighteous and unholy."
My strange companion's changing demeanor left me unsure of myself as I cautiously nodded my head.
"Well then Truthspeaker, tell me more of what thou know of Malorn."
I sighed and continued after a long hesitation.
"Malorn stood by the High King when he was treacherously slain. During the act of the Turning, Malorn called forth flame from his mighty blade and slew the High King's assassin, the Betrayer."
"Loudest in his mourning in his reverence of the High King's memory, Malorn founded a sect devoted to avenging the dead king and redeeming the world, the Temple of the Cleansing Flame. Malorn is revered as first among the Blessed Saints by the worshippers of the Flame."
With a slight nod the stranger replied after a long pause.
"Let me tell thee, Truthspeaker, what I know of Malorn. The young Malorn was conscripted to fight the Elvish Host invasion during The War of Tears. This bloody war raged for many years filled with deeds most foul."
"Valdimanthor the Elfking and his legions laid siege to Malorn's birthland burning, destroying and slaughtering all whom did not flee. Malorn was confronted with his world destroyed, family tortured and brutally murdered."
"Malorn's soul burned with fury, rage and without bounds, consuming him while leaving a hollowed shell. Malorn became cruel and afflicted with a horrible madness, a slave to his wrath. It was these tainted times that ignited the unholy Flame."
"The High King Cambruin won his crown on the field of battle while he waged bloody campaigns against Valdimanthor the Elfking and his legions. Malorn proved to be an accomplished killer thus invaluable in Cambruin's conquests. Malorn notorious for disobeying orders in his mad quest for vengeance against the Elves still became one of the Shining Companions of King Cambruin."
"Gerriant the White knew well of Malorn's reckless conquest for retribution told Cambruin of his insanity. Cambruin disregarded Gerriant's warnings knowing that Malorn's ways though barbaric, brutal and often reckless were indispensable. Malorn's fury would aid Cambruin's bloody crusade to exterminate the Elves and lead to the destruction of the Elvish Empire."
While his tale was told my strange companion's facial features were locked in steel, his body stressed and taught. His voice began to fill with a fury that I began to fear for my very safety.
"Thus the events were put into motion."
"The War of Tears was concluded with the siege of the Elves' last stronghold, Kierhaven. The Elven Royal Guard having given a Blood Oath to protect the last heir of Valdimanthor, his daughter Zandaineia, fled the battlefield pursed by the three, King Cambruin, Gerriant the White and Malorn."
Suddenly the stranger's voice changed with a disturbing rapidity while his posture softened. I believe it was the mention of the Elfking's daughter Zandaineia yet I could not be certain.
Speaking as if to the wind the stranger continued yet he seemed to have forgotten my existence entirely.
"Memories... My sacrifice is that I never knew why I blame myself this way? Now it is clears to me, I see that thou are testing me! It drives me away. I set out of the darkness that my life was born to."
"Everything... I can't remember. Consequences stretch my sanity beyond its limits. It's been a very long time since I could say that I am sorry..."
My companion appeared as if on the verge of weeping and my heart filled with sadness for the pain I saw in his eyes. I feared to move and break his trance. In silence I sat as the firelight reflected on the shadowed silhouette of the stranger. The illusion left by the dancing flames filled me an indescribable sense of grief and sorrow that even now I can not comprehend.
Before I had the opportunity to react the stranger revered back to his steely visage and continued his tale as if never interrupted.
"It is here that thou history and truth take separate paths."
"The final night of the War of Tears Cambruin the High King, avenging angel of the All-Father himself, had finally laid waste to Kierhaven. The great Empire was no more, her towers toppled and spirit broken."
"Cambruin and his two companions gave chase to the last of the Elven Empire's fleeing soldiers. The three fought twenty. After the vicious battle Cambruin, Gerriant and Malorn came upon the Elven Princess carrying with her an Aelfborn baby."
"Zandaineia begged not for her life but the life of her infant son. Gerriant intercepted Malorn when he moved to slay the Elf Princess filed with vengeful wrath. Gerriant's morality could not allow the slaying of the helpless Princess and her child. Gerriant refused to become consumed with the same cruelty of the Elves thus even with their destruction would their evil live on through the Sons of Men."
"Consumed with burning rage Malorn turned on Gerriant slaying him. His insane fury was then let loose upon on the helpless Princess whom was viciously murdered and mutilated. Stricken in horror Cambruin dropped to his knees at the side of his now dead friend. Cambruin consumed with guilt for not heeding the words of Gerriant that Malorn was insane was blinded to his final betrayal."
"Malorn, before Cambruin could react, took Shadowbane, the Sword of Destiny, from the stunned and grieving High King and stabbed him through the heart. The High King was driven back and pinned to the Mighty Tree, and his heart's blood ran out upon it. Cambruin died, betrayed, and Shadowbane's curse was fulfilled once again."
"The heavens burned with a flame of the darkest black and the thunderous sky weep with tears of blood. The World itself was Shattered, broken and torn asunder."
"Shadowbane forged by the hands of Gods had its curse for Malorn. A dull red glow in the eyes of Malorn was shared with the gleam of that dark blade. After the Woeful Strike that killed Cambruin soaked in the blood of an angel, Malorn's curse took birth and he became known as the Kindler and Keeper of the Flame as he burst into an unholy inferno."
I wanted to close my soul to the words that were spoken by this dark stranger. My mind screamed out that these were all falsehoods! This could not be the truth. The very foundations of my past were being questioned and I wanted to shout out denouncing this blasphemy. The stranger calmly waited for my mind to sort through the consequences of all that was spoken, my distress being most obvious.
"This tale that thou have told is rather bold. What proof do thou have to back up what thee have spoken?"
A frightening change took swiftly over the stranger.
"Who are thou now Truthspeaker? Do thou proceed to be my Judge? Have thou found me guilty of heresy against the All-Father, of sins of thought and deed. Has my guilt been revealed to thee? Are thou now my Confessor, the slave and servant of the unholy Cleansing Flame? Shall I confess all to thou, while thee break my bones, cut away my diseased flesh and reduce my body to ashes so that my defiled soul can be purified?"
The stranger leaped upon me with an inhuman growl as I fell back taken by surprise. Futilely I tried to draw my dagger yet was knocked sprawling to the ground. Terrified I began crawling away from the dangerous stranger whom towered over me. I was certain that death had come for me yet the stranger seemed to be fighting some inner demons.
I tried to apologize in vain for anything I had spoken that offended the stranger but with a savage snarl he shouted for me to be silent.
"Everything thou speaks to me, brings me one step closer to the edge of sanity and I am about to loose control! I can not endure this anymore! All these thoughts, they make no sense! Nothing seems to go away, over and over again! Obscuring that which is real!"
"There is darkness deep within that pulls at me beneath the surface. Consuming. It is the lack of self-control I fear is never ending. Controlling. Obstructing reality. I can not seem to find myself again..."
"It's been awhile but I can still remember the way thou taste."
Dread flood over my being the likes of which I had never experienced in my entire life. My blood went cold as ice as I stared into the eyes of madness. The stranger's mouth curled up into a fierce snarling grin. Fear paralyzed my mind, consuming all reason in terror. I tried to cry out in horror but even taking breath was beyond my reach.
It was then the stranger fell to his knees and roared out as if wracked with agony. His hands warped into claws before my eyes. My sanity was pushed away and I knew the end was near. The stranger's head fell back inhumanly howling that broke my mind and I screamed out in terror.
The stranger began convulsing as if struggling to master his own body. Tears streamed down his face.
"Braialla, have mercy on my soul!"
"Mother! Mother! Zandaineia no more! Please, I beg thee stop! No more!"
The words of the stranger were lost in shrieks of anguish. The cruel claws turned traitor to its master and viciously raked into the stranger's chest leaving grotesque gashes streaking his torso. The self-mutilation was terrifying; it was as if twin souls waged a battle within one body.
The stranger suddenly collapsed unmoving and all was silent. Many moments passed before the courage of movement returned to my body and I was stricken with indecision on what to do. Flee into the darkness my sanity demanded leave the madness behind. Before my fleeting bravery could be vanquished the stranger stirred.
I tried to crawl away from the dreaded fiend that took guise in human form. To my astonishment the stranger staggered back to his position next to the fire and continued in his sorrow and misery. The anguish wracked his entire form and tears flowed down his face.
As if whispered across a vast void the words of the stranger reached my ears.
"When Malorn turned to finish the deed he did not find the son of the Zandaineia. The werewolves chosen protectors listened as Braialla the green mother wailed in pain. They watched, but did not Act as Malorn killed the High King Cambruin. Though that is our shame, and the source of all our Rage they did steal from Malorn the last heir of Valdimanthor the Elfking the Princess's half breed son."
"Malorn later proclaimed an Aelfborn traitor betrayed and murdered the High King Cambruin in the chance that the escaped son would tell his tale. After Malorn's lies none would believe the truth. To further his deceit Malorn condemned the werewolves whom he suspected witness of his hideous act."
"Malorn was then free to release his rage, consuming all in the unholy Flame. Malorn's evil did not end with him. His curse gave birth to the Church of the Cleansing Flame where the dammed fire spreads like a plague. The Turning, the world's Sundering, will not end until the evil of the unholy Flame is extinguished forever."
"The bastard son of the Princess, the Aelfborn named Azifar, grew up in the guardianship of the werewolves. Over time I learned the ways of the ranger and became one of the Pack. Condemned to live in the shadow of lies while the Betrayer, Malorn, and his minions consume all the world in their unholy inferno of damnation."
"So Truthspeaker thou now know my tale and thus all of your false illusions have been dispelled. I only offer the truth, what thou, Truthspeaker, choose is yours to decide. It has been decided that thou will not be prey to the Pack and thou, Truthspeaker, will take the truth back with thee. Malorn's curse, The Turning, will not be broken until his dark legacy is ended."
What else could I do? I ran away into the night...Long Live the Syndicate!