Ruin sat in the dirt and fed another branch into the fire. He touched the amulet around his neck and held it up, then let drop before it could draw his attention into visions of other lands and other worlds. At first, he had thought that such was its entire purpose: to teach its wearer to understand different places, different planes.
But touching it, he was faintly aware of a corresponding presence, a second amulet worn around his mother's neck. The two were a pair, attuned to each other, and their correspondence had led him to the cell in the dwarven dungeon where his mother had been languishing while the servants of Vecna had slain the dwarves and used their corpses to create a necromantic fighting force almost without peer.
So he knew that his mother was in the family manor, no doubt dealing with the servants and her apprentices and the hundred-and-one issues that had come up in her absence. And she, touching her amulet, could be reassured that Ruin had gone no farther than the woodlands that composed the bulk of their family lands.
Their escape had been the stuff of nightmare legends: Ruin and his companions had been ripped from their bodies and thrust into a strange realm. After battles and investigations, they had finally been drawn through a second rift and found themselves inhabiting animated skeletons. Self-aware and unbound, they had turned on their supposed creators/controllers, fought their way clear, rescued Baethira, and sailed back to their own graves on a galleon full of animated skeletons. Digging themselves up and returning to their original bodies had been almost anticlimactic... but returning to the world of the living had been a profound shock.
Baethira had survived her imprisonment and rescue, and though somewhat battle-shocked she was able to vouch for them. Reverend Marshall Mercy had revived to find that his three pet snakes had not returned with him; in rage and grief, the human priest had turned his back on all things Elvish and returned to the human capital. Azrael and Martini had returned home to find that their father had taken his own life, leaving their mother Nyshala alone with her grief; they were still with her and their younger brother Joseph, comforting and recovering.
Ruin fed another branch to the fire, hoping that Nyshala was recovering as well. Aegnor Dwint’lithar had been active in politics, both locally and in the larger realm of Duendewood. Nyshala Dwint’lithar, on the other hand, understood those politics as only a politician's wife could... and rumor had it that she'd done more than her share to... support his career. He knew his mother wanted to have Nyshala quietly on their side, and having seen Martini's work as an assassin he could only agree.
He looked up as an older man stepped into the clearing. The man stood still, just inside the clearing, letting Ruin look him over. He wore a plain brown robe, and carried a simple wooden staff; he was a true elf, but by his clothing he could have been a religious penitent or a poor traveler anywhere in Sol Povos. After a moment Ruin asked, "Saeledhel?"
Ruin hadn't seen the High Druid in years, but the man was still recognizeable. Despite his apparent youth, he carried a distinctive silver streak above his left ear. And his face was the same, right down to the faint scar just above the left eyebrow...
Saeledhel nodded. "I am told that I should ask how best to call you."
Ruin shrugged, nonplussed. "I appreciate the courtesy, but you might as well call me Ruin. Very few think to ask, so most call me that. I may even choose it formally, someday."
"Unusual," Saeledhel observed, as he came and seated himself across the fire from Ruin, "but not inappropriate."
"So what brings the High Druid to my campfire?"
"Oh, many things. A confluence. When you reach my age, your decisions never have a single cause or motivation."
Ruin considered that. "...You came to pontificate, then?"
The druid -- who looked no older than himself -- chuckled. "Also a peril of living to be my age," he said. "I wanted to see you, Twiceborn. I have looked upon the ones you call Azrael and Martini already. I do not claim to understand the full pattern of what is happening now, but it seems the three of you will do much to shape the course of events, and their interests are... in some ways... narrow. So now I wish to know what guides your decisions."
Ruin chuckled and tossed a log onto the fire; a wave of sparks gusted into the air. "Many things," he said. "You might call it a confluence." He looked up, tracing the light of distant stars through the branches of the trees overhead, so he did not see the High Druid's expression. "It turns out that happens at my age, too." He drew a breath of the night air, then released it. "At first it was a need for revenge coupled with a desire to see our people freed," he said. "And I suppose that has not passed. The humans are still capable of horrors, all on their own. But the roots of this current war seem to trace back to the priesthood of Vecna, and possibly to the god himself -- whoever he was originally. And so I want their blood too, for pushing us into this conflict, for making it impossible to quell the human horrors without committing horrors of our own."
"And if it comes to a choice between revenge -- or even justice -- and peace?"
Ruin looked back down at the fire, then across it to the High Druid. "I will do what I think is best for our people. If we can make a treaty, I will abide by it... and make sure the humans do as well. I am not so sure that there can be any peace in the face of whatever the servants of Vecna have planned. I've seen too much of their manipulations." He stopped, drew a breath, and fed another stick into the fire. "Were it in my power, I would slay the god himself and end the whole thing now, even at the cost of my life. But my mother requires a more disciplined approach, building support and power for the new king, and I abide by that not only because my duty requires it. I believe her when she says that such is the only path that will reach our goal."
"I see," said Saeledhel, his expression reflective. "Then will you take a message to your mother for me?"
"Tell her that the druids stand in defense of Duendewood... and we will help her support the king against all threats, whatever their origin, location... or rank."
Ruin met his eyes across the flames. "My mother would tell you that we will take allies wherever we can find them," he said, "but I stand certain that you knew that already."
Saeledhel nodded and stood. "I am somewhat sorry that you never found a place among us," he said, "but I am pleased to see that you have found your own way. Tread carefully, and trust to your strength."
Ruin sniffed. "Try not to get yourself gruesomely killed, old man." But he grinned as he said it, and the High Druid grinned back.