Latania strums the last few chords of an old elvish ballad. A moment passes before the crowd around her is released from the reverie that had captured their hearts. Mugs strike tables and feet stomp the floor as several patrons call out other requests. A raised hand settles the noise to a dull roar.
"I met a young woman the other day, who I now consider to be a dear friend. When I first talked to her I could not help but notice a sadness in her eyes so deep, I felt as if I were staring into the depths of the abyss. How such a dreadful melancholy came to possess the heart of one so young is the next story that I want to tell."
Latania takes a candle carefully sets it in the middle of the table. A serving girl sets it aflame with a twig from the fireplace before moving to extinguish the other candles in the room. The flame flickers and dances, casting deep shadows on the walls. She stares into the candle for a long moment, as the room around her settles into silence.
"There are many a day when I wish that I had been born to some blissfully pampered royal life. To have all the delicacies and indulgences that life has to offer, brought to me on silver platters by adoring servants. The common masses worshipping my every thought and whim just outside my closed castle gates. Like so many others, I have a more than slightly skewed perspective on what it means to be nobility or royalty. We see the the face that they present to us, smiling and serene, seldom realising that there is a much deeper relationship between ruler and serf. I learned that day that there is a more profound story going on, hidden behind many of those closed castle gates."
Latania takes another candle from her pouch, lights it from the first and settles to the table. The shadows on the wall still flicker, but many are lessened.
"This story begins in one such kingdom. Generations ago, a young woman fought for many years to carve a place of peace and safety from a blasted, barren and demon infested wasteland. Over time, others flocked to her banner, taking up her cause. They made her a queen, the first of her line, to rule over the domain she had fought so hard to build. But the fight against the demons was neverending. Desperate for a way to make a more lasting impact on her enemies, she had a magical scepter created. With it, she could harness the light itself, to drive the demons back into the darkness, far from her home. But when dealing with demons, nothing is ever quite that simple. They learned a way to corrupt the heart of the scepter, poisoning its purpose, mutating its desire into one of hatred and revenge. As the days went by and the heart blackened, the young queen knew that something was dreadfully wrong. Unable to protect her people without the power of the scepter, she found a way to remove the heart, hiding it deep within the castle itself, sealing away its taint. Missing a key component however, the scepter lost much of its power. With the queen's hold on the demons diminished, they were once again able to regain a toehold on her kingdom. And so began a lifelong struggle to keep them at bay. Generations of daughters took up the scepter to defend their kingdom, to protect it from the horrors that lurk through more than just their nightmares. With this task they also accepted the keys to what lay beneath the castle, and the knowledge of what would happen if scepter and heart were ever reunited."
Another candle, and even more of the shadows flee from the light.
"The woman with the sad eyes is one such a daughter. Her name is Nereid Undines and like others before her, she was raised in the knowledge of what the future would hold for her. She studied the magical arts, becoming a skilled wizard, preparing to take over the role her mother had held before her. She was not prepared for the age at which this would happen. While fighting for her kingdom, the queen was struck with an illness that quickly robbed her strength. Near death she summoned her daughter and pressed the scepter into Nereid's trembling hands. Within days the queen was gone. The king, wrought with grief over the loss of his wife retreated into seclusion, seldom to be seen outside his chambers. Nereid was bereft of family, thrust into her role as queen many years too young. Despite this she shouldered the mantle of rulership proudly, seeing it as her chance to serve the kingdom that she loved. But she did this alone. Until she met a prince from another kingdom. For the first time she understood what love meant. For the first time she could look to the future and see a family around her once again. On the day of their wedding, celebrants from all over the kingdom came to express their wishes to the happy couple. The festivities went on for hours. During that time, the demons were also gathering, in numbers vastly stronger than ever before. At the culmination of the ceremony, moments before the couple were bound in union, they struck, quickly and hard, across the entire kingdom. Nereid raced out to defend her people against the intruders. Although at first she thought that she had pushed them back, it soon became apparent that her power and that of the scepter were failing against the combined masses arrayed against them. The defending forces, Nereid among them were pushed back into the castle. The young prince, her fiancee, rushed to her side. "Release the heart my love," he urged her. "Restore the scepter's full power and you will have the strength you need to fend them off forever." Blinded by love and fear of destruction, she did as he said. In the center of the castle she released the magical wards that sealed the heart away from the light, reuniting it with the scepter."
Another candle, and the room is no longer a place of shadows, but of a growing light.
"Freed of confinment, the power and taint of the heart flowed back into the scepter. For a long moment, time stood still as Nereid battled with the scepter's corrupted will. Rather than allow it to steal the life forces of those in the castle around her, she offered up her own, momentarily sating the ages old hunger that burned within the heart. Although weakened and near death, she was able to command it and with the scepter's power renewed was able to banish the demons that were rampaging across her land. Staggering back to the castle, wounded and exhausted, she stumbled into the arms of her fiancee, her true love, and her greatest betrayor. It was no effort for him to strike her down and take the scepter. Laughing, he revealed himself to be no mere man, but in truth a god, devoted to the powers of darkness. Ice cold hands of fear gripped her heart as she realised what she had done. He did not even try to stop her as she ran from his presence. He raised the scepter to the sky calling down the Veil of Darkness to blanket the land in shadow and fear, blocking the light forever. Under his rule, the demons could return to the land. Nereid fled the castle, knowing at that time that there was nothing she could do to stop him. She vowed that she would see him laid low, and the light returned to the kingdom that she served."
Latania places one last candle on the table with the others, but this time she does not light it.
"But how do you stop a god? Some would say this cannot be done, that gods are far beyond the ken and skill of we mere mortals. I say not so. There lies within each and everyone of us the potential for greatness, the stuff of legends. I saw in her eyes, beyond the sadness, a dedication to her task, and a will so strong she could move mountains, or defy a god. But she cannot do this alone. You may think that you can do nothing to help. I say not so. Even the smallest candle sheds light into the darkness. And when combined with others, " she lights the last candle, bringing even more light to the room, "can fend off the deepest of shadows. I would ask one thing from all of you as moved by this story as I was. Each day, as the sun sets and darkness falls over Xen'drik, light a candle. Place it near the window and offer a prayer to the woman who now challenges the very heart of darkness itself, to bring a new dawn to her people. Together we will light her a way home."
(The author of this story and the voice behind Latania Halfbeat, better known among the DDO community as Mysterra, offers thanks and inspirational credit for this story to Syriania, the voice behind Nereid Undines. For the rp'ers in our midst, this is one of the many tales that Latania would tell while chillin out at a tavern. If you like what you have read and want to support the story as well as make an impact on the its progression then feel free to rp that your character has heard it. .... and light a few candles of your own!)
Latania smiles, and the tune changes to an old elven ballad.
"What makes a man or woman a hero? What makes them brave the greatest dangers, to throw themselves beyond the safety of their normal lives? Let me tell you the tale of one such hero, an elf named Jacian, who walked through the very fires of Fernia itself for the one thing that he wanted most dearly."
"I first met this young elf many years ago, while I was travelling through the countryside some days outside the great city of Sharn. He told me then that he was on a quest, and that his would be the greatest glory that any man could achieve, should he prove to be victorious. He swore to me that he was near the end of his journey, on the final most difficult venture that he yet been tasked with completing. He begged me to help him, to stay with him so that his bravery could be cronicled and related to the judge of this challenge. Intrigued, I agreed to assist him. We ventured into the wilds, facing many dangers along the way to recover a lost tome of elven history. When we returned to Sharn, we were admitted to the Phiarlan enclave, to meet with a chamberlain of the house. He duly listened to our tale and then handed the young man a letter, before leaving us. Jacian threw the letter to the floor and stormed from the room. Of course I picked it up and read it.. who wouldnt? It was another task, this one more dangerous than the last. Shaking my head, I went and tracked my friend down."
"I found Jacian, his head buried in Ghallanda ale, having successfully drunk himself to a stupor. Around him were dozens of other letters, each like the one he had just been given. Each was written by the same hand. Each task greater than the one before it. I finally understood that he had been at this task for some years. So with the help of a few strong men I poured him into his bed and carefully collected the letters."
"The next day, we set out again, another task on the horizon."
"And on our return, another letter.."
"We went about this for near three more years, collecting letter after letter, performing deed after deed. Each time we spoke to the same chamberlain, each time we were given another letter. I stayed with him for those years, recounting each task in every detail. Something about this man's drive, this man's hunger for the promised reward, made me believe that this greatest glory, had little to do with wealth or power...."
"... and I wanted to know what it was."
"We nearly died on one of those tasks. Were it not for the brave fellows who were our companions then we would have. When we returned to yet another letter, my dear friend had finally had enough. He lost it. He pushed the chamerlain to the side, insisting that he be permitted to speak to someone else, that surely he had proven his worth. The house guards began to assail us, seaking to remove is from the building. We fought through room after room, hall after hall, in a search of the house. It all came to a finish in the main audiance room of the house. We burst in through the door, guards hot on our heels, to discover the Mistress of house Phiarlan, Baron Elorrenth, sitting on her throne at the end of the hall. Beside her was a young wisp of a girl, trying very hard to make herself invisible, and failing miserably."
"For those of you who dont know House Phiarlan that well, this is very odd.... She may as well have been holding a big sign over her head that said "look at me!!!" for all that she seemed to be trying to hide.
"As the guards are dragging us from the room, with orders to see us executed, Jacian manages to spit the gag from his mouth. Just as the doors to the audience chamber are about to close he screams, "Taschta. Please! All I wanted.. was to tell you. that I love you!!!"
"We were then thrown into the dungeons to await our trial and ultimately our execution. I must say to those who have never been in there, House Phiarlan's dungeon is quite nice, as dungeons go. Some hours later we heard a small voice calling out to us. Well to Jacian anyway. It was Taschta come to rescue us."
"To recount what was said between them would be to dishonor the friendship that I hold for the both of them now. It was a deeply personal moment and not one that they would wish others to hear. In the end however, Jacian refused to leave the dungeon, preferring to end face his execution rather than live without her."
"Suddenly the room shifted. We found ourselves back in the main hall, Baron Elorrenth still seated in her throne. She looked down upon Jacian, "Is this true, that you would rather face death then live apart from my daughter?"
"Jacian, his voiced chocked by sobs can only nod."
"She waved a hand to the chamberlain, who approached with a writing table and quill. She penned a few words on the paper and then handed it back. I watched Jacian's face darken as the letter was handed to him. He must have read those few words a dozen times, his face going as white as a sheet. Then he whooped with joy and charged his lady love to whirl her around the room in a fierce embrace."
"I was then ushered from the room. Private House business I was told."
"Some years later, I recieved an invitation to a wedding. The ceremony was to celebrate the formal union of Jacian Maquearth d'Thuranni to Lrayan Taschta d'Phiarlan. As the celebration was drawing to an end, Jacian and I sat down over a cup of Ghallanda ale, to recount all the tasks that we had done together. We drank until the night was old and the birds began to chirp. When he slipped into a doze, I took out the pouch of letters, intending to give them back to him, when I saw another in his hand. It was the one that he had recieved the day we had been separated."
"It said simply. "Facing your greatest fear was the only victory that ever mattered. Your tasks for me are over. Your duty to my daughter may now commence."
"It was the same hand as all the rest."