So, our DM has apparently arranged that our Duendewood characters will have been moving down to meet up with the Dark Army while we're currently playing our Solari characters in the dream-world of Fanaxia. This has led, among other things, to my True Elf barbarian/horizon walker Ruin reaching the Temple of Amun where my half-dragon Paladin Tavros from the Solari party got most of his training. And that means... well... you'll see...
The Temple of Amun sat atop a high hill -- or low mountain -- just outside of Caristhium, and its builders had taken full advantage of the fact. The ways to reach it were narrow and steep and easily defended and the temple itself was a single, large citadel; but the space within was composed of sheltered gardens, wide and sweeping stairs, and broad balconies carefully placed to take advantage of the view. There were magical fountains that drew water from the air, and a massive library that his mother would have ached to visit. Despite himself, Ruin was beginning to admit that he actually rather liked the place.
He still wasn't entirely certain why they'd stopped there, but Martini had been insistent and that was good enough for him. She didn't always share her reasons and he didn't always understand her motivations, but he knew she wouldn't betray them. And somehow between them, she and Geddy had managed to talk their way inside.
It probably helped that Geddy was one of the Heroes of Fort Dedo. Then again, given the way they'd been given free run of the place, maybe that hadn't been as important as he'd first thought. The Temple of Amun didn't seem to be terribly convinced that the elvish nation was an enemy of the human kingdom. The halfling priest who'd greeted them at the gate had been friendly and welcoming, and they'd been allowed to enter with all their weapons and equipment. If anyone was keeping tabs on them...
"Hi," said a voice nearby. "I'm Aesa." The owner of the voice was a young woman, dressed in white robes that were trimmed in runes picked out in some sort of brass-colored thread. She was studying him curiously, and seemed completely indifferent to the fact that he had his two-handed scimitar across his legs and was gently polishing the edge with a whetstone. "You're a true elf, aren't you?"
Ruin nodded and turned his attention back to his blade... and then looked back at Aesa. "And you--"
She nodded back. "Thinblood," she said. "It's okay to say it."
"I wasn't going to say that," he told her, even though he'd absolutely been about to say that. He went back to his polishing.
She came forward, but stopped just out of reach of his blade. Not that he was thinking about taking a swing at her, but still... she knew the safe distance, and that caught his attention again. This was not the sort of priestess who had never been around blades before. She met his eyes and said, "My mother was human, and my father was an elf. When my father was driven out -- he went to Duendewood -- my mother thought I'd be safer here, as an adherent of Amun."
Ruin blinked. "Are you?"
She nodded, then said: "That's what I wanted to let you know. That you and your friends are safe here, unless you do something to... I don't know, hurt people or steal things or something. Amun is a god of all peoples."
Ruin stared at her. She was young and arguably even pretty, though the short cut of her hair and those figure-concealing robes did her no favors; but she seemed too absolutely sincere to be trying to trick him into some sort of confession. "No," he said. "We're not here for that. And that's the humans' job, anyway."
She fell silent, studying him, still just out of reach. "How do you mean?"
He put the stone away. He took out a cloth and cleaned his blade. He oiled it, and eyed it, and finally sheathed it again. Aesa just stood there, waiting. "Raiding. Killing. Stealing. That's what the humans of Sol Povos have done to anyone of elvish blood for centuries, now." He looked up at her face, saw uncertainty and determination, and then looked around. "Maybe it's different here. It seems to be, for you. But in Duendewood, where I come from, humans are always a threat. It's not even that they want what we have; it's that they assume it's theirs already."
Aesa said, "Oh." She looked thoughtful. "That sounds terrible."
Ruin leaned back on the stone bench and looked over the stone railing of the balcony at the sunset and hoped she'd go away.
Instead she said, "Are you angry with me? Because I live with humans? Because my mother is one of them?"
Ruin looked back at her and then, almost reluctantly, shook his head. "No. We all have to do what we think is best, with the information we have. Your... your background, your understanding, is very different from mine. That's all."
Aesa nodded at that. "Can I come and sit beside you? The sunsets are very pretty from here."
Ruin gave a short, sharp nod. Then he managed to hold himself still as the girl came and settled beside him. "It seems like a good place," he offered. "And the sunsets really are excellent."
They sat in silence for a time, and Ruin was starting to allow himself to believe that he might get to simply enjoy the setting sun, when...
"So if you hate humans so much, why are you here?"
He turned his head deliberately to look at Aesa, then turned to look back at the sunset. "I'm not entirely sure. My friend Martini caught word of someone called Mother Mia, and led us here to see if she could find her."
"Oh, the assassin," said Aesa, and then put a hand to her mouth. "I mean, she's retired now. She's taken vows. And she's very sweet, really. Please don't tell anybody I said that."
Ruin blinked, because actually that explained a lot. "...That would probably be her. And no, I won't say anything."
Aesa lowered her hand slowly. "Your friend Martini is an assassin too?"
Ruin nodded. "By training, at least." He wasn't going to admit that she was also an assassin by inclination, or that she was one of the most effective killers he'd met. Too many of the humans considered killing in battle honorable, and killing by stealth dishonorable -- at least unless they were doing it themselves -- and Aesa, while she wasn't an adherent of Helios, might share their views.
"That's pretty neat. I'm still figuring out what I want to do. I mean, I've prayed to Amun and He's granted me spells, so I'll probably join the clergy here but... I don't know." She glanced at him, then quickly looked away. "I pray to Corellan, too, and sometimes I can feel His presence."
She said it quickly, almost defensively, and Ruin answered in spite of himself: "I have a friend who's a paladin of Corellan. His name is Werendril... he's still in Duendewood, though."
"My first friend here was a paladin. Tavros. He was a half-dragon."
Did you pester him as much as you're pestering me? Ruin kept the thought to himself, and instead asked: "What happened to him?"
"Oh, well, there was this thing... Tavros and the others went and rescued some people, and he ended up fighting a hill giant all by himself, and I guess word got around because some people came from the King and took him off to the capital to be a Solari."
"A half-dragon," Ruin said reflectively. Well, if you're going to face off with a hill giant, I suppose that would help.
The sun was halfway gone, and still sinking slowly; Ruin sat and watched it. Aesa sat beside him and stayed quiet, and finally he started to relax. Only the barest sliver of the sun was still visible and the last of the day was giving way to twilight when Aesa said, "You don't talk much, do you?"
Ruin shrugged. "I barely know you."
Aesa bit her lip and looked away. "You're right. I'm sorry if I'm bothering you. It's just... you and your friends are the first elves I've seen in a long time, and you're the first true elf I've seen ever, and I just really wanted to... I don't know. Talk to you. Make a connection."
Ruin frowned -- thoughtful rather than angry, but Aesa drew back anyway. Then he said, "Fair. Except I don't know what to talk about."
She hesitated, then relaxed. "I mean... We could talk about fighting. Tavros and I used to spar sometimes, back when I still thought I could maybe become a paladin. I was never very good at it, though."
Ruin shrugged that away. "It takes practice -- or in my case pure, undiluted fury." He paused, then added: "For you it's going to have to be practice."
That startled a chuckle out of her, and she smiled. "Would you come and practice with me, then?"
Ruin considered. He didn't have anything else he particularly needed to be doing, and it did sound like fun. "As you wish," he said.