Monday, July 29, 2019

The Journey Back

Ruin stretched up and then settled back onto his saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. Ordinarily he hated traveling by horseback; he could move nearly as quickly and steadily on foot, and a horse was just one more thing to keep track of. But the Baron had provided these, and had seen them off personally as part of his efforts to countermand the things he'd been forced to do while under the mind flayer's control. It hadn't seemed right to refuse.

They'd freed Bridinford and its Baron from the pernicious influence of Xarnax the mind flayer, and they now had much better idea of just what sort of sort of efforts the human king was making to disrupt things here in Duendewood... or maybe it was the king's advisor; Reverend Mercy certainly seemed to think so. Ruin himself wasn't sure the distinction mattered; the human king could hardly be innocent in all this...

Unless he was a helpless puppet, as the Baron had been. That was an uncomfortable thought. Surely such a thing should be impossible for a human king, with warriors and mages and clerics to protect him. He could only barely imagine a course of events where this odd little band would end up trying to rescue the human king in order to establish Elvish freedom and sovereignty, but if it came to that... If that's what we needed to do, I would do it.

If you survive that long, said another voice in his head: Darvinin's, unsurprisingly. Ruin's twin brother had always known what he was doing, had always tried to show Ruin what he should be doing. Many times it had been helpful; other times it had been the most irritating thing imaginable. And even this faint reflection, this Darvinin-voice in his undermind, was both correct and irritating: he'd come within a mouse's whisker of dying at least three times in the last day.

The first time had been in the fight with the druid -- a fight which, in retrospect, had been stupid, unnecessary, and evil. They should never have put themselves in a position where they had no choice but to kill the man. But Ruin had charged in to help Martini despite his misgivings, and gotten himself turned into a frog; if Martini hadn't still been attacking the bear, it could have dispatched him with a casual gesture.

Then he'd charged in against the shambling mounds. Admittedly, that had partly been an attempt to lure Gorsack the Magnificent and his flesh golem into fighting on the front lines, but that certainly hadn't been all of it. He could still feel the dark inside of him, twin to the rage, calling him to see how close he could come to death and still survive. It didn't take any great wisdom to see that sooner or later he'd step too close and life's shadow would claim him.

And finally, of course, there'd been the confrontation with Xarnax. That one, at least, had been more a matter of surprise and desperation than unconcern and poor planning. He'd known the thing was going to kill them unless they somehow managed to kill it first. Attacking out of reflex hadn't been a bad thing, and he'd done some real damage. Still... with a little more thought, he could have positioned himself where the mind flayer couldn't have loosed its attack against the whole party at once.

He needed a better reflexive strategy than hitting things as hard as he could and hoping they fell down. It might have been effective before, but they were running into a whole new class of enemies now.

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