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The Plain of Sorrows, Chapter Two

No banter today, we're just going to get things posted…



It’s all your fault…

The thought wanders through my mind as I push forward, shivering hard in the darkness of the barren plain surrounding me. For days now I have been fighting an internal war of regret and blame.

Did I bring it all on myself? Have I fallen from grace?

I must have, and for that transgression I need to be punished. For is it not the way of Abdiel the Judge to punish those who transgress against the law?

I’d killed my men; by my error they were all dead. And for that I must pay the ultimate price…

But it wasn’t your fault, a little voice in the back of my mind whispers. They, each and every one, knew the risks that came with the task.

Yes, but who am I to carry on while others died? Has Abdiel deserted me here as a punishment? Has Abdiel turned his back to me? Is my day-to-day existence in this strange place my punishment?

I must deserve this, or I wouldn’t be here. I am only being punished for their deaths. I’d leave me here too, I suppose. Cull the herd, remove the impurity for the sake of the rest…

I shiver and wrap my cloak about myself, trying to get warm.

I’m so cold. I wish more then anything I was home in Triskellian where it’s warm.

But no, better not to think that. Here was home now, where nothing made sense and I am truly alone in the world.

And where you get the treatment you deserve. After all, it’s all your fault. They all died for your mistakes, for your breach of faith! Another voice chillingly taunts me from the depths of my own mind.

Just think, who in your life haven’t you hurt? Can you name just one? If you hurt them all, then perhaps that should tell you something. You’re no paladin of the light… You’re a murderer! And there is no salvation for murderers!

“No,” I whisper, pressing my hands over my ears, as if that could block out the voice that coils though my mind like a venomous serpent.

Like Father Duquesne said, boy, you were made to hurt people. You’re just now realizing that fact. You fight for peace… Fight – for – peace… You’re a hypocrite to your very core! Abdiel hasn’t deserted you, you deserted him!

“No,” I whisper again, pulling my cloak about myself as trembling grows so hard my teeth chatter; yet I stumble onward…

It’s all your fault. All of it. If you hadn’t been such a drain on your parents they wouldn’t have sent you to the monastery in the first place. If you paid more attention to the teachings you’d have been a Penitent rather than a Sword Arm. If you were better. If you behaved. If you did as you’re told, then I wouldn’t have to hurt you! The voice rises to a crescendo of remembered pain and fear, the past mingling with the present in my mind.

“Oh please,” I whisper, squeezing my eyes tightly closed. “Please don’t hurt me. I’ll be good, I swear I’ll be good. Just don’t hurt me. Please, love me. I don’t want to be alone. I won’t ever do it again.”

But, of course, my whispered promises fall on deaf ears; for there is none alive here to listen to them…

It’s all your fault…

“Araagh!!”

I sit bolt upright, sweat trickling past the tender spot on my forehead slightly above and between my eyes, and I look around wildly… Seeing nothing but darkness…

“Just a dream,” I whisper. “I was just another dream.”

I find myself sitting in the back of a wagon as it bumps slowly along a well-worn trail. My traveling companions are near; I can feel their concern, but I cannot see them. A thick fur blanket has been spread over my legs; I can feel the soft warmth of it and feel the rich texture but again it too is swallowed in the darkness. I feel odd, disconnected, like what I’m feeling isn’t coming from my extremities and that the world has gotten much bigger over night.

“He’s awake,” this time it’s the voice of Tatianna, the Elven Princess in our company. Then the voice of Ta’Resh rumbles next to me, “How are you feeling Aaron?”

“Like I’ve been asleep for a week, very itchy and sore,” I say as I turn blindly towards the voice. “Is it really this dark here? Where are we? What…”

Ta’Resh rumbles again, “Shhh… Be still Aaron.” As he places one of his immense paws on my chest and gently forces me back onto the piled furs under me. “You’ve had a rough few days and some things are a bit… different… now. Just lie back and rest.”

I give in and slump back into the furs, then I feel one of his paws under the back of my head and the spout of a wine skin at my lips, “Drink Aaron, it’ll help you rest.”

I take a slow pull on the wine skin and am quickly overcome by a thick, warm feeling as the world recedes from me once again.

-sunlight-

-warm sunlight-

I pry open an eye to find myself still lying in the back of the wagon under a pile of furs. Sunlight streams through a canopy of trees above me and a beam of the golden-emerald light is warming the side of my head. The colors are the first thing I notice; everything is so incredibly sharp and detailed and I find myself distracted by every little movement of branch or leaf…

I yawn greatly, roll onto my side and up onto an elbow to peer over the edge of the wagon. Roughly twenty feet from me is a fresh fire pit and the snoozing forms of the Elven Princess, the feline warrior, and the half-elven warrior. I can sense that the druid is off to the south a little ways and that Aryntha is nearby as well. As I’m looking around suddenly the huge furry head of Ta’Resh pops up in front of me and I instinctively pull back and blink him into focus.

“How ya doin sunshine?” he rumbles then cocks his head at me, as if noting something about me for the first time. He shakes his head and reaches out to pick up my hand and check my pulse as I sit up the rest of the way.

I look down to where he has my hand encased in his huge paw and suddenly realize that he seems to have doubled in size. I then realize that the arm he is holding is not only much smaller and more lithe than the one I remembered, but is also covered in a pearlecent white fur as opposed to the black I am accustomed to. If it weren’t for the fact I can feel his forefinger on my wrist and his engulfing grip on my hand, I wouldn’t know this arm was mine.

I immediately look over at my other hand, which is equally as odd as the arm. Where I used to have three fingers and a thumb, I now sport two thick fingers of equal length and a thumb, all of which appear to be missing a joint and are capped in a rose-grey and sharply pointed hoof-like nail.

As I look over my hand much as if I had never seen this appendage before I also notice the long white hair that grows from my elbow down the back of my forearm to my wrist. I look back to Ta’Resh questioningly.

Ta’Resh releases my other hand apparently satisfied that I’ll live a bit longer, “Umm, yeah. You weren’t in very good shape when you stumbled into camp. The druid and the princess tried to heal you for hours… You were pretty messed up… and then this started to happen.” He reaches down and picks up what my mind recognizes as my tail, the sensation comes from what would be labeled as ‘tail’, but what he’s holding looks nothing like the tail I remember… This tail is white, nearly five feet long, tufted on the end, and has a ridge of the same billowy white hair as my forearms along its length.

“Ta’Resh, what has happened to me?” I ask and my ears flick forward in surprise at the sound of my voice. I clasp my hands to my throat and encounter yet another oddity in the fact that my chest is now covered in a thick mane of fur, again white, that seems to cover my shoulders and throat, and comes to a point at my sternum. It reminds me vaguely of the manes the bigger deer would get around their necks and chest in my homeland. “What the…”

My ears flick again and I stop to listen to myself. My voice is higher in timbre and no longer resonates from my chest; almost musical, like the Elves sound though with more of a nasal inflection.

“Ta’Resh? I think I either got hit on the head very hard or I’m still dreaming…” I look down along myself and find that abdomen is covered in the same nearly translucent white fur as everything thing else I’ve seen and I seem to have lost nearly all of my muscle tone. The fur is quite thin on my back and sides but somewhat longer along my midsection and continues under the blanket. I flip the fur blanket off of myself to find that I’ve been graced with a long loincloth similar to that which the feline warrior wears which serves to preserve my modesty at least. But it’s not the loincloth that I find disturbing: My legs, or at least what I assume to be my legs, are longer and impossibly thin and graceful compared to the tree trunks I remember from what seems to be only a few minutes ago. These are also covered in this alien fur like the rest of me with long cascading hair that runs over my knees and the backs of the lower legs where it swirls around my cloven hooves…

“Cloven hooves!?” I squeak.

Where I once had glossy black, dinner plate sized, solid hooves that were shod in polished steel I now had, by comparison, tiny and well dainty even, rose-grey cloven hooves like that of a deer or goat. Experimentally I wiggle my new appendages and am rewarded with the sight of the two toes that now make up my hooves doing as I bid them.

Amazed I heft my leg up and hold it so I can examine my new feet and yes, as I had expected to find, my dewclaws are hidden in the wispy white feather that surrounds my feet. The two hooves that make up my foot are quite long and pointed and the nail is much harder than what I remember. I let go of my foot and lean back onto my elbows to let all of this information and sensation sink in…

Ta’Resh, obviously relieved that I’m not completely freaked out, rumbles again in something I take as him excusing himself while I ponder.

I’m obviously smaller than I was and far slighter of build; so much so that I would have to figure this body had never seen a single day of weapons drill or marching. In fact I really reminded myself of the runners I had always seen on the battlefield; those who were very lithe and exceedingly fleet of foot, and who carried the all important command satchels from company to company.

I look around the back of the wagon hoping to find my great sword, “Lightbringer”, in an attempt to prove to myself that I am still me, and not some odd creature that merely remembers being me. I find the hilt of the sword poking out from under the pile of furs and shift myself over to uncover it. In the process I kink my very much too long tail, swear under my breath, and grab the thing to flop it over my lap.

I pull back the furs to reveal Lightbringer, which gleams happily in the sunlight. As I look down the length of the polished silver blade I discover that the sword I once wielded with but a single hand, though it was technically a two and a half hand sword, is now nearly the same length as I am, and at 3 stone, impossible to wield. The hilt alone is as long as my arm and I can barely get my hand around it, there is no way I could wield the weapon in my defense.

I sigh and let go of the sword, and sit on my haunches trying to understand what has happened to me. I look over the blade before me, touching it lightly with my hoofed fingertips and noting that I can feel the solidity of the metal, but not its texture. Suddenly I catch a glint in the sword’s polished silver surface, a flicker of light reflecting from something above me, and I turn my head to look… Nothing but the dark branches of the trees above me, and the sun is mid-afternoon and in the sky before me.

Confused I look back at the sword and see the glimmer again. Something that should be right above me is flickering in the surface of the blade.

I look again and find nothing and go to once again examine the mirrored surface of the sword when a rogue breeze catches in my mane and flips my forelock down into my face…

I instinctively reach up to tuck the stray bits of forelock back behind an ear, much as I used to do in my youth, then two things hit me; the first being that I tended to keep my mane in a military brush-cut which made my helm much more comfortable and kept my mane far to short to fall into my eyes. The second is that my mane was black, like the rest of me used to be, and this long flowing hair is stark white. So white in fact that it picks up both the blue cast of the sky above me, and the green of the woods around me.

I reach up and run my odd fingers along the top of my head and the back of my neck to discover that not only is my mane now several feet long and very thick, its also just as white as the rest of me. I also discover that my ears no longer simply stand at the top of my skull; they are now much larger and stick out slightly to the sides of my head.

Obviously whatever has happened to me, has happened to every square inch of me.

I sigh again and begin rummaging around in the wagon looking for my obviously far to large steel breastplate. I find it and a scrap of cloth with which to polish it a bit, and then get a good look at my face…

Reflected in the shiny surface of the armor is a face I simply don’t recognize blinking back at me. The nose is long and thin, dished slightly with small goat-like nostrils above an almost cleft upper lip and a long white beard that starts under my cheeks. This is in almost direct opposition of what I know my face to look like with my big Roman nose, wide bridge, and big nostrils.

My eyes are huge now with golden irises that emphasize the oval pupils and making it nearly impossible to tell what I’m looking at. Not that my big brown eyes were any easier to discern, but the gold makes my gaze rather creepy in my opinion.

By far the oddest thing I discover, and the fact I hadn’t noticed it till now making it even odder, is the rose-grey spiraling horn that rises about a two feet from my brow. This horn, I soon discover, is very firmly attached to my skull and no amount of wiggling does much more than wiggle the rest of my head. Its about three inches across at the base above and between my eyes, and tapers to something akin to a sewing needle at the tip as I quickly discover and which leaves me holding the palm of my hand in pain. I find that if I look as far up as I can, with just my eyes, I can just catch the spiral of it out in front of me, which explains why I hadn’t seen it till now.

I sit back again on my haunches and contemplate the position I’m in. Somehow, and for some reason I can’t fathom, I’m not who I used to be. Of course who I used to be wasn’t from where I currently am, so perhaps this is just a way to make me fit in… Perhaps there are others who look like I do now out there.

I decide that I’ve had about enough of this sitting around and scoot myself to the back edge of the wagon. As I’m still feeling slightly disconnected from myself, I gingerly ease my legs over the edge and place my feet on the ground… So far so good.

I push myself up, and the thought of just how little I weigh registers somewhere in the back of my mind as I teeter there, leaning against the wagon and waiting for my sense of balance to return. I stand there weaving slightly and decide to take a few steps…

The ground feels oddly warm to my feet, which makes little sense to me and is quickly written off as mere confusion. My odd feet give me far more information about what I’m standing on than I’m used to; angles, solidity, slip… I used to merely march across the ground but now I can feel it, truly feel the ground beneath me.

While I’m busily analyzing all of the new sensations I suddenly find myself face-down in the dirt behind the wagon. I manage to catch my fall with my hands and knees and avoid serious injury, but it still drives home the point that I’m pretty new to this body.

Ta’Resh comes skidding around the back of the wagon and in that basso voice of his asks that which all beings inherently ask when someone falls down, “Are you ok?”

I nod, “Yeah, I think I’m ok. Just my first day with my new feet…”

Ta’Resh chuckles and helps me back to my hooves. “I think you might need a walking stick for a while” and making sure I have a firm grip on the wagon he strides off into the forest.

Around me the rest of the party begins to stir. First the Elven Princess gets up and promptly wanders off to a nearby stream, then the feline warrior, Silthran, who looks at me quizzically.

“Is that you Aaron?” he ducks his head slightly and squints at me.

I nod, “Aye, it’s me… I think anyways. Ta’Resh tells me that things were a little sketchy for me when I made it to camp.”

It’s Silthran’s turn to nod, “Yes… Yes they were. I am hoping you don’t mind that I loaned you clothing. It is not the metal you were wearing, but it is light and will allow you to move more freely should you need to.” He then shakes his head with a toothy grin, “I still say that metal can you wore was a bad idea, Aaron. You could not help but be hit by your enemies as you clanked across the battlefield. No stealth, no speed…”

I chuckle, “I’m more inclined than ever to agree with you my friend… Mostly because I can now put three of me in my armor.”

He strides over to me… Well, there is no word for how the feline actually moves, as it is a flowing action that starts with him in one place and ends with him in another, but it’s the best we’ve come up with.

He towers above me now, eight feet to my six, where the other day we stood eye to eye, “You have gotten smaller.” He says with his usual flat statement of the obvious. “What manner of magic is this that can turn a mighty warrior such as yourself into this mere wisp of a creature?”

“I really wish I knew.” I say with a sigh while looking up at him. “I have a feeling though that this was important and that it needed to be done.”

“Your God did this?” He asks.

“Well, I’m unsure as yet. I don’t think Abdiel is present in this place, but I have had visions of a regal lady, dressed in white and surrounded in a glow of virtue that has come to me on several occasions now. Somehow I think she is responsible for this.” I say as I wave a hand at myself.

“I have wanted to ask you about such things, for I believe you are one with your gods and my Goddess seems to have deserted me here.”

I reach out and pat him on the arm, “Have faith my friend. I don’t believe we were abandoned here as much as we are on loan to whoever this goddess is in my visions, for a greater purpose. I suggest you seek her out in your own ways and she will let herself be known to you.”

He bows his head to me, “You are as wise as I had hoped Aaron. I will go and meditate on this.” Then flows into the trees in the direction the princess went.

I teeter there for a few minutes, stepping carefully around the perimeter of the wagon in an attempt to get my legs back under me. Ta’Resh returns with a staff he’s made from a fallen limb about seven feet long. Its freshly stripped bark gives it a pleasant smell and smooth texture as he hands it to me.

“Here, use this to help you.” Has says as he hands me the twig he appears to be holding.

“Thanks Ta’Resh. Hopefully I’ll be able to walk along side the wagon now rather than taking up all the space in it.”

He nods and heads over to the fire pit to skin and smoke the two large rabbit-esque animals he caught.

A moment later the druid enters the clearing and, upon seeing me standing, shakes his head and comes over to me. It’s a relief for me to see someone who doesn’t blot out the sun while talking to me.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing? I gave Ta’Resh strict instructions that you were to stay covered and resting. The furball is going to be the death of me.”

He begins to rummage about in one of the various pouches hanging from his belt while I stand there agape and eventually produces a fine white powder wrapped in a large waxy leaf and hands it to me. “Here, mix this in a skin of wine and drink it all… It’ll keep the nausea at bay.”

“What nausea?” I ask just as the world makes a sudden left turn and I grab the side of the wagon as if I’m drowning.”

“That nausea, now stop trying to make my day more difficult than it already is and get your overly hairy self back into that wagon.” The druid merely stands there, pointing, as I inch my way back into the wagon and mix the powder to drink.

Satisfied that I’ve done as instructed he pulls out a small sickle shaped knife and heads to the north muttering something about “stubborn” and “mule” and I can hear Ta’Resh chuckling under his breath as sleep overtakes me.

I awake again in the evening with the smell of the fire and the voices of the party going on about some group of centaurs…

“I don’t care if there are a million of them out there. They fired upon me and my honor requires action to this threat.” The voice is that of Silthran and he sounds quite agitated.

The Druid speaks up, “You were trespassing on their land… My people would have done similar.” And the half-elven warrior echoes his sentiment as he bites into another slab of venison.

Silthan growls, “How am I supposed to know I’m trespassing when they haven’t made any indication as to their borders!”

I sit up in the back of the wagon and try to un-stick my tongue from the roof of my mouth… The nausea is gone but I feel a bit woozy from the wine now as I slowly crawl out of the wagon and stand up. I’m a bit steadier on my feet this time and once I finish ladling some water out of the storage barrel and into me I feel downright good for the first time in recent memory. I grab one of the half-elf’s spare cloaks and fasten it around my neck then grab the staff Ta’Resh gave me and set about hobbling over to the fire.

Tatianna is the first to notice me, “Horsey looks funny.” She says in her four-year-old mode; her curse trapping her as such. The others stop their bickering and turn to look at me.

None can meet my gaze for more than a heartbeat and I attribute it to these creepy eyes.

I ease myself down onto a convenient log and examine the fire, “What have I missed?”

All at once they begin speaking; Ta’Resh mentioning centaurs, Silthran being indignant at their firing at him, the half-elf warrior saying that we were told to camp here for the night, Tatianna going on about “horsey people”, and the Druid being conspicuously silent. Missing is Aryntha who I determine though the babble to be scouting out the centaurs to determine, if he can, what they plan to do with us.

It turns out after parsing the four conversations that we had determined early in the day to check out an odd river that flowed under a mountain wherein we discovered a huge underground mural that depicted a creature similar in appearance to myself, now, who was leading a parade of animals into a big blue vortex of energy.

Once that was noted we continued on into a large forest that lay between where we were and where we want to be. Silthan and Aryntha went on ahead of the party to scout it out and while Aryntha could see little trough the treetops, these centaurs that seem to think Silthan is an emissary of some evil mage fired upon him.

Words were said on both sides and eventually one of the leaders of the centaurs came and parleyed with us. It was determined that we should camp here for the night and they would deliberate on allowing us though their forest, providing us a guide to get around their forest, or simply sending us on our way and if we set foot back on their territory it would be open war…

I thought on this long and hard, unconsciously stroking my new beard as I stared into the fire and thought while everyone else carried on as to what the best course of action should be. I eventually came to a conclusion and stood, leaning heavily on my staff and clearing my throat.

“The way I see it our camping here this evening is a test of our trustworthiness. These people see us as a threat from events long past and it is up to us to prove to them that we pose them no threat.” I turned to look at everyone gathered there as Arythna sauntered back into the clearing. “We may even be able to learn more of this puzzle that we seem to be in the middle of. For if these people fear a mage, then that mage must have lived before the war that destroyed them and that would mean that they have tell of things greater than 150 years ago.”

Everyone stopped their heated debate and looked at me, then looked at each other, then back to me.

Ta’Resh was the first to speak and his booming voice could probably be heard in the centaur camp, “Aaron is right. They have done nothing to provoke us other than get Silthan’s attention…”

Silthan stands and points at Ta’Resh, “They tried to kill me and I’ll not stand by…”

The Druid, conspicuously silent during this whole thing, speaks quietly yet with a force that silences the great cats. He holds one of the centaur’s arrows in one hand as he stands and points it at Silthan, “If they’d desired to kill you, you would now be very, very dead. These arrows are both blunted and have white fletching… Signal arrows. The ones they carried when we were talking were bladed, dipped in Veras Sap and fletched in red… Killing arrows. A mere nick from a Veras envenomed weapon causes near immediate paralysis. It passes quickly, but it would have given them ample time to skin you for your pretty white hide.”

The Druid sits back down, muttering something about “babes” and “woods” and goes back to grinding something in a small mortar and pestle.

The cats look at the now seated Druid, agape, fingers still raised in exclamation; then seat themselves.

After this it is determined that we should all get some sleep and see what the morning brings. It is also determined that I should once again sleep in the wagon due to my obvious ordeal and while I argued this, I secretly agreed with them. My joints still hurt and I felt the nausea returning, and a night on the hard ground would probably do me no good.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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