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 Post subject: Vows [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 9:31 pm 

Joined: Sep 22, 2013
Posts: 889
by RavenoftheBlack
Status: Public :diamond:

Even the birds and the insects fell silent as the four massive doors opened at the far end of the grass-covered courtyard. Those who were gathered there, three or four dozen youths waiting to learn their destinies, watched in awe as four robed figures emerged, each through a different door, each wearing a robe of forest green. On the far left was a Rhox, white like three-days’ snow, her robe trimmed in a deep blue. Next to her was one of the turtlefolk, his massive shell draped in a robe trimmed in white. Beside him walked a second Rhox, this one a dark gray shade with black trim lining his costume. At the far right, an ancient Aven woman walked, her robes trimmed in red.

They were the Abbots of the Path of the Majestic Storm.

Each of the venerated Abbots carried two large baskets, one in each hand. They paused in silent thought just beyond the doors of the Great Abbey, and then, without so much as a glance at one another, stepped forward as one toward the massive bowl affixed to the stone steps leading down to the courtyard. They stopped again as they reached it, surrounding the vessel in a half-circle so that everyone beneath them could see their faces. Staring reverently into the bowl, the four Abbots set down their baskets, paused again, and then turned their heads to the white Rhox, who nodded, and turned to those assembled below.

“Welcome, initiates!” She bellowed, her voice falling like the rain over the youths. “You are here because your Calling Time has come. You have heard the Call, you have answered the Call, and you have passed the tests that we Abbots have set you to. You have proven your worth and your dedication to the Path. The time has come to determine your Vow. Prepare yourselves, for this is the moment of your lives.” She paused, meaningfully. “Let the Acorn Auction begin!”

A nervous rustling rippled through the crowd as anticipation overcame their decorum. This was the moment that they had been waiting for, some of them for all of their lives. A few of the turtlefolk found themselves retracting their necks, and then forcing themselves to fight the impulse. One little foxfolk man started rubbing his paws together, matting the fur down as he did. Some of the Rhoxes began to shift their weight from one massive leg to the other. The largest of them reached up without thinking and lightly touched the side of his horn, a habit he had had since he was a child. Some of the Aven ruffled their feathers and had to fight to calm themselves down.

As the anxiety in the initiates grew, several more robed figures appeared through the doors and moved to stand by the Abbot who shared their decorations. There were two for each Abbot, and each one picked up one of the baskets and held it up as if in offering, but the Abbots stood there motionless. Once they were in position, an elderly fox walked out to a platform set up above and to the right of the bowl and those surrounding it. He cleared his throat once, and then spoke, his voice reverberating throughout the courtyard.

“Dorn, of the village Boethyn-along-the-Hedge. Step forward!”

The crowd fell silent again, apart from the sound of them moving out of the way of the largest Rhox in their midst. Dorn had not expected to be selected first. He was a full year younger than most of the others, allowed to accept his Calling Time early because of the extraordinary promise he showed. As he walked, Dorn kept his head high and proud, but again found himself lightly touching his horn. He stepped out in front of the crowd, but, as he had been instructed, did not move from the grass up to the first stone step. Once Dorn stopped, the fox continued.

“Initiate Dorn, have you committed yourself to following the Path of the Majestic Storm?”

“I have!” The great Rhox answered, his voice booming louder than he had intended.

“And do you swear the Sacred Oath that you will take the Vow of the Way which selects you?”

“I do!” Dorn replied, just as loudly as before.

“Very well!” The fox turned to face the Abbots, although they did not look back at him. “Venerated Abbots, Dorn of Boethyn-along-the-Hedge is yours. You have heard his words and you have administered his tests. Which of you will accept him into your Way?”

Without a word, the Aven Abbot reached into the basket next to her, plucked out an acorn, and tossed it into the massive stone bowl. Without even realizing it, Dorn curled his lip upward. Dorn had met each of the Abbots days earlier, when he had first arrived in the great city of Canolf-at-Riversmouth to join the Path, and of the four, he had liked the Abbot of the Lightning the best. The Path had two Branches, and four Ways. The Way of Lightning and the Way of Thunder made up the Axe, the military might of the faith, while the Shield was comprised of the Way of Rain and the Way of Wind, the healers and the protectors. As the Abbot of the Thunder dropped two acorns into the bowl, Dorn found himself remembering the life that had led him to the Path and to this moment.

Dorn had lived in Boethyn-along-the-Hedge his entire life. As the name suggested, Boethyn was built up against the Hedge, the gigantic, leagues-long, stories-tall wall of foliage dotted with fortifications. The Hedge marked the border with the Shade, an ancient neutral zone between them and their vile enemies, the humans. His mother, a cleric in the village, had taught him well in the ways of the Path, and Dorn had never questioned that his fate would lead him there some day. His father was a local laborer and a member of the militia, always watching along the Hedge for any sign of the unholy humans and the treasonous creatures who called them allies, the centaurs, the minotaurs, and the kithkin. Through his parents, Dorn had grown up faithful, and vigilant, and strong.

Even as a child, Dorn had been nearly a head taller than the other Rhoxes his age, and far larger than the foxes, aven, or turtles. He was the fastest, and the strongest, and the most determined of anyone in the village, and everyone knew he was destined for Canolf-at-Riversmouth one day. He spent his days with his mother, learning of the Path and everything it entailed. He spent his nights with his father, patrolling the Hedge, yearning to feel human blood flowing down his horn. A year before he came of age, Dorn bested all challengers in Boethyn in civil duels at the Spring Festival, and all agreed that he was ready to follow the path.

“Are there any more bids, Venerable Abbots?”

The fox’s voice brought Dorn out of his thoughts, and he caressed his horn as he realized he had lost track of the bidding. He scanned his eyes over the Abbots, but their faces were inscrutable. Had the Abbot of the Lightning won? Dorn hoped so. He had no more control over his fate than a seed tossed by the storm, just as it should be. And just like that seed, he would take root wherever he landed, and he would take his Vow, as he was sworn to do. But Dorn was built for battle, and he longed to charge with righteous fury into the ranks of their enemies. The Way of Lightning would allow him to do so, as well as convert those who could be saved to the Path.

“Then, it seems that Dorn of Boethyn-along-the-Hedge will take the Vow of…”

“Wait,” the turtlefolk Abbot of the Wind said. “I have one further bid.”

Slowly, deliberately, the ancient turtle reached over to the basket and, instead of scooping acorns out, he grabbed the entire basket and emptied its contents into the bowl. There was a collective gasp from the gathered initiates, and for a moment Dorn thought he saw shock on the faces of the other Abbots. In the long and storied history of the Path of the Majestic Storm, no initiate had ever received a bid of an entire basket before. It was unheard of, and everyone knew it. The Abbot of the Lightning clicked her beak several times, staring down at her baskets of acorns, and then at the crowd below her. She reached down and grabbed the basket she had not yet drawn from and held it for a long moment.

“It would pain me greatly to lose one of such promise,” as she spoke, she cast her eagle’s eye down on Dorn, who was lightly brushing his horn. “But he is yours.” She pulled the basket back and returned it to her robed underling.

The Abbot of the Wind nodded once, and the foxfolk elder spoke again. “Very well. Dorn of Boethyn-along-the-Hedge will take the Vow of Wind. The next bid will be for…”

The fox continued to speak, but Dorn did not hear. He was ushered to the side of the courtyard to wait for the proceedings to conclude as he pondered his fate. All his life, he had assumed he would become a part of the Axe, either a soldier in the Thunder or a warrior-priest in the Lightning. He had always assumed he would be on the front lines as the forces of the Path recaptured the savage, tainted parts of the world that the humans had long ago schemed away from them. Even though he always knew it was a possibility, he had never truly pictured himself in the Shield, guarding caravans and tending to tomes and parchments.

It could be worse, he told himself as he waited. Those of the Way of Wind were warrior-priests, too, just as those of the Way of Lightning. But where those of Lightning were the soldiers and knights of the sacred army, those of the Wind were guards and garrison soldiers. Better, at least, than the Way of Rain, who raised neither weapon nor shield, but rather tome and salve. Dorn would have taken their Vow too, of course, had that been his fate, but he would have been miserable, watching his great muscles wither under a lifetime of preaching to those who already walked the Path. At least on the Way of Wind, he might yet do some good. If luck was with him, he might even splatter the blood of some vile human across his shield.

A few short hours later, Dorn stood to take his Vow. Beside him stood the five others that the Abbot of the Wind had won in the Acorn Auction, the fewest any Way had ever selected. The Abbot’s unprecedented bid on Dorn had prohibited him from bidding highly on many other initiates, but the Abbot seemed pleased with the outcome as he came to administer the Vow. Dorn bowed his head, caressed his horn, and spoke the words solemnly and earnestly, pledging himself forever to the Way of Wind. Inside, though, Dorn could only wish that some day his dream of smiting the evil human scourge would find some way to come true.

* * *

Several years later, after ceaseless study and training, Dorn’s dream found him when war broke out. He had trained at the Abbey in Canolf-at-Riversmouth with rigor and determination, and he excelled there as he had in his home village. He progressed through the initiate ranks faster than any had before him. He was stronger than any warrior the Way of Wind had to offer, and was honored as a true child of the Storm. He also excelled in his studies, absorbing the words of the Path thoroughly and completely. Before his first advancement, he had already converted three of the Lost to the Path. The Abbot watched Dorn feverishly, and Dorn was his favorite pupil. Time passed quickly, and Dorn took his final Vow, the Zealous Vow, nearly two years earlier than any of those who had sworn the first Vow with him.

The Abbot of the Wind went to Dorn the day the Rhox took his Vow and was officially made a Zealot of the Path, feeling vindicated in his bid at the Acorn Auction. In deference to Dorn’s accomplishments, the Abbot allowed him to choose his assignment, offering him the pick of anything under the providence of the Way of Wind. Dorn, still hoping to find a way to expunge the world of the blight of mankind, chose to become a pilgrim, wandering the lands of the Path in search of Faithful to protect, Lost to convert, and Humans to destroy. The Abbot granted his request, and gave to him the most finely crafted scutum in the armory. The massive shield was oval, and covered most of the large Rhox’s body. It was painted white, with an intertwined pattern of leaves and vines ringing the circumference. Dorn accepted the gift gratefully, for he had come to prefer shield combat during his time in the Abbey.

Before Dorn set out on his eternal pilgrimage, he was also outfitted with a fine suit of plate mail armor. The armor was specially crafted for the large Rhox, covering his torso, arms, and legs completely. He brought a pair of armored boots with him, but he kept them in his traveler’s pack most of the time, rather than walk with them on. He refused gauntlets outright. He took a half-helm that covered the top and back of his head, but left his eyes, snout, and horns exposed, and ready to use. The metal of the armor was thick and dark, and etched with glyphs and symbols important to the Way of Wind. During his time in the Abbey, Dorn had had similar glyphs etched into his horns, which he still ran his massive fingers along from time to time, often without realizing it.

Dorn was in Boethyn-along-the-Hedge when news of the war struck. Dorn hid his excitement from his family, but hurried back to Canolf-at-Riversmouth as soon as he could. While the Abbots of the Path were highly venerated throughout the society, they were the religious leaders, and not the political ones. And so, while the Abbots were more than willing to lend troops to fight the evil humans and their corrupted half-human allies, not even they knew what had started the war. Undoubtedly, the humans had broken the truce that had created the Hedge, and the Shade, and the humans’ Great Bulwark beyond it, in the first place.

The soldiers of the Way of Thunder, and the warrior-priests of the Way of Lightning, led the charge into the Shade. Dorn cursed his luck once again, as he was placed in charge of the defense of Tyrtal-at-Highcrest, one of the most vital strongholds along the Hedge. The human-led alliance attacked there four times while Dorn commanded there, and many felt their skulls crack and their spines snap against the thrust of Dorn’s shield. But the enemy were legion, and while Dorn threw them back, he lost colleagues and friends each time. And every time Dorn rushed after the fleeing foe, others would attack behind them, and more innocents would be lost. Dorn felt as though he was a solitary dam against an endless flood, and even he was being pushed back.

The war had been raging for years, and Dorn’s scutum was stained red with human blood. It was evening, and winter was just beginning to creep up on the Hedge. The air was brisk, fogging in front of Dorn as he moved. It was not truly snowing yet, although there were a few meandering flakes in the air. Dorn had left Tyrtal-at-Highcrest with his most trusted remaining soldiers and friends, the few left who had not fallen to the accursed enemy or been recalled to Canolf for reasons Dorn could not begin to understand. They were deep into the Shade now, in an abandoned human town that, had they honored the treaty from generations earlier, would not even exist.

Dorn was looking for any sign of the humans. It had been several months since their last attack on Tyrtal, and the Zealot suspected that they must be planning some large-scale attack nearby. The town he was moving through now was in shambles. It looked as though it had been deserted years before, and even then, appeared to have been a civilian village, not a military camp. But Dorn was suspicious. The treachery of the humans knew no bounds, and he knew that no human could be trusted to abide the rules of warfare and leave civilians unmolested. If they were waiting here in ambush, he would find them.

They had been looking around the small village for a short time, and with no signs of life, Dorn was just about to order the others to move on. Just then, though, the Zealot noticed a small curl of smoke escape from between two boards of the wall of the house he was searching. The wall looked solid enough, but Dorn was sure what he had seen. Suddenly he realized that the room he was standing in was significantly smaller than it had looked from the outside. Slowly, contemplatively, Dorn brushed one thick finger across his horn, and then, as quickly as he could manage, threw himself shield-first against the wall.

The boards splintered and flew inward, where Dorn found nearly a dozen humans gathered around a tiny fire, huddling in fear and for warmth. Dorn’s large eyes lit up and a smile crossed his face.

“I knew it! Schemers! Murderers!”

“No!” One of the humans, a frail old man by the look of him, screamed. “Please, we are no threat! We came here to escape the war.”

Dorn looked the old man up and down. He had never seen a human out of his armor, but he doubted most of them were as boney and weak as this old man. His age was obvious in the wrinkled face and the thin hair. Dorn decided that this man must be a general, likely gathering his troops for a coordinated assault on the Hedge. The Zealot scowled. He would never allow that.

“You will not deceive me, foul one!” Dorn lifted his shield to bash the human as the old man fell backwards into the arms of his cohorts.

The Zealot was just about to strike when he heard a loud, commanding voice sound from outside the house. “What are you doing?” The voice boomed.

Dorn turned around, and through the broken wall and missing door, he could see another human, this one clad in full armor and astride a horse. Dorn snorted loudly, the air leaving a puff of fog as he did. Ignoring the old man and the cowering humans, the Zealot charged outside to confront the newcomer. He discovered quickly that the man was not alone, but had with him several more mounted humans, none of whom were armored like the speaker was. As Dorn emerged from the dilapidated house, he brought himself to full height, which put him about level with the mounted human.

“I knew this was a trap,” Dorn snorted.

“Trap?” The man asked. “This is no trap, friend. We…”

“Do not dare to call me friend, vile one!” Dorn interrupted.

The man put up his hands. “I mean no offence. We are scouts, sent to make sure all of our people are out of the Shade. Surely, you must know that the war is over? Our leaders have signed the treaty. It was weeks ago, you must have been informed.”

“Lies,” Dorn hissed. “You dishonorable vermin! You would set traps with civilians, lie about peace treaties!”

The man urged his horse backwards a few steps, anxious to get away from the angry Rhox’s reach. “You call me dishonorable? You were the one about to assault innocent refugees, were you not?”

Dorn began to growl. “How dare…”

“No, hold on,” the man said again, holding up his hands. “No one was hurt. There is no reason we can’t just forget about this. The war is over, I tell you. There is no reason for us to fight!”

The Zealot brought his free hand up, feeling one of the engraved glyphs on his shorter horn. After a moment, he refocused on the mounted human. “This war will only end when the last human is buried or left to rot. Attack!”

The others with Dorn moved to engage the riders, albeit slower than the Zealot would have liked. The armored man, obviously a commander of some sort, deftly reeled away to rejoin his men further behind him. He called out as he did. “Damned fool! There’s no need to fight!”

But Dorn was already closing in, and the scouts behind the commander closed the distance to defend him immediately. Dorn pivoted his body and brought his shield to bear, his massive frame already reacting to his spell as he braced for impact. The horsemen crashed into him, but Dorn deflected each and every attack with his scutum and his plate mail and his magic. The onslaught seemed to last all night, as it always seemed to when Dorn waited for his opportunity. Finally, the horsemen seemed to tire, and Dorn reached up with his free hand and touched another glyph, this time on his longer, foremost horn. The spell flashed in his mind, and he cast it, immediately feeling the strength flow into his muscles. He grinned as he moved to attack.

The human riders went flying, crashing to the ground or into the shanty walls with thuds that the Zealot found satisfying. They tried to organize themselves to attack the rampaging Rhox, but they had no luck. As Dorn scattered the last of them, the commander himself reappeared, swinging a large sword at the Zealot’s head. The blow caught Dorn by surprise, and even with his magical strength, he found himself reeling. He brought his shield up to block the next attack, but surprisingly, it never came. Instead, he heard the man yell something that he couldn’t hear over the ringing in his ears. When he lowered his scutum, all he could see were the forms of numerous humans clamoring to run away from him.

Enraged, Dorn shook his head clear and started to charge for the retreating enemy. Before he could take half a dozen steps, though, the commander reappeared, cutting off his path. The snow was beginning to fall a bit heavier now, and so Dorn skidded to a stop a few paces away from the treacherous human. The man looked at the Zealot, his eyebrows raised in the center. There was a strange sort of desperation in his voice as he spoke.

“Please, listen to me! Let them go! I’m telling you, the war is over. If you don’t believe me, then take me prisoner. I’ll go peacefully. Just spare them! Then when you learn the truth, you can release me, and I swear, I’ll bear you no ill will. What do you say?”

Dorn nearly found himself considering the offer, until he glanced around the deserted town. Immediately, he spotted the bodies. Many were human, crushed by his own shield. But the others were his soldiers, his friends, killed in a human town by human hands. Dorn turned back toward the commander.

“Treachery! Murderer! You killed them!”

“But…” the man began, stammering. “But, you attacked us! We were defending ourselves, and anyway, more of my men lie dead than yours! Please, end this!”

“I will!” Dorn screamed, closing the distance between himself and the commander in seconds. The Commander panicked and tried to turn away, but the Zealot was too quick, and struck with his shield, smashing the human and his horse alike, sending both spiraling to the ground. The Commander tried to twist out of his saddle, but he was too late. His left leg was pinned beneath the horse. He did not even have time to maneuver his sword before the full weight of the Rhox crashed down on his skull, shield first.

Dorn was just about to charge after the other fleeing humans when he heard the sound of flapping wings on the air. He turned, and saw four Aven closing in on him from the direction of the Hedge. As much as he wanted to hunt down and destroy the humans, Dorn forced himself to wait. The Aven landed moments later, and moved immediately to join him.

“Zealot Dorn, we have been looking everywhere for you. We were told you were to return to Tyrtal-at-Highcrest over a week ago! We waited for you.”

“I have a war to win,” Dorn said bitterly, looking around.

“That’s just it,” the Aven said. “You don’t. Had you come back when you were supposed to, you would have known that. The war is over. The humans have agreed to a peace treaty. One of the agreements is that we will both stay out of the Shade. You are to return to Tyrtal, and from there, Canolf.”

“This can’t be,” Dorn said, disbelieving.

“It is,” the Aven assured him, offering a parchment. “The war is over.”

Dorn grabbed the parchment and scanned the lines, cursing his eyes and his leaders both for the words he read. With one massive hand, he crushed the parchment and dropped it to the ground. Then he walked over to where his soldiers’ bodies were. As he stared at them, he began to breathe more heavily, the fog hanging thick around his face as he did. He looked at each of them as he spoke through clenched teeth.

“I promise,” he began, then stopped. “I swear,” he tried again, but gave up. He shook his head. “I vow it. I will see every human punished for this insult. I don’t care when, or how, or who, but I will punish every one for their wicked crimes. That is my vow.”

* * *

The war had been over for a few years. As commanded, Dorn had returned to Canolf-at-Riversmouth, where the treachery of his leaders only compounded. Dorn had actually been reprimanded for his actions during the war. Those same treasonous ones who had soiled themselves by signing a peace treaty with the humans accused Dorn of frequently leaving his defensive position and go on the attack, which they maintained was against their orders. When everything was said and done, the Zealot’s fine standing in the Path and the support of the Abbot of Wind cleared him of any formal charges, but he was told in no uncertain terms that he would never again hold a military command.

The Abbot sent Dorn back on his pilgrimage, charged with protecting those who deserved it and converting the rest. Dorn travelled throughout the lands of the Path for many seasons, fulfilling his assigned purpose to the best of his considerable abilities. But his mind always drifted beyond the Hedge, where the bodies of so many of his friends and soldiers lay, unburied and probably desecrated by those depraved humans. The thought enraged the Zealot, but not nearly so much as his standing orders to do nothing about it. Every day, he imagined some new atrocity the humans were committing or plotting to commit, and every night, he drifted off to sleep imagining the vengeance he would one day deliver upon them.

Dorn returned as frequently as he could manage to Boethyn-along-the-Hedge, partly for his family and his friends, and partly because it was a convenient location to keep an eye on the Shade. The conditions of the unholy peace treaty said that neither side could venture there, but Dorn did not trust for a moment that the humans would honor such a demand. They were vile creatures that defiled everything in their wake, and the treaty they had somehow tricked the leaders of the Path into signing was no different. Whenever he would visit his home village, Dorn would spend entire nights staring beyond the Hedge, his scutum held tight in his flexing hand, just waiting to see them cresting the horizon.

One of Dorn’s visits home was during the summer season when a drought had taken hold. What little rain fell was consumed immediately by the Hedge, which needed whatever nourishment it could gather to stay strong against the probable attacks of the humans at some point in the future. Dorn knew it had to be coming, and he couldn’t blame the Hedge. The grass was dying in the scorching sun, and food supplies were becoming dangerously low. There were no places nearby to even graze, and if things did not improve, the village would be hard-pressed to survive the coming winter.

Dorn was certain the drought was another trick of the humans. Likely, they were bringing some dark magic to bear against the Path, or perhaps against Dorn specifically, in preparation for an impending assault. One day, when he saw a young foxfolk woman collapse from weakness, Dorn decided he had had enough. There was plenty of water and fresh grass beyond the Hedge, and he was a Zealot of the Path. He would not let his friends and family die when their salvation was right there within the Shade. And so, Dorn gathered several people of the village and led them to graze and to gather food beyond the Hedge.

Their first foray into the Shade went well. They encountered no trouble of any kind, despite Dorn watching like a hawk for any sign of the troublesome humans. They found enough food and water to hold the town for a few days, and they returned hopeful and happy. The drought, unfortunately, did not end, and three days later, Dorn led them out again. Once more, they found what they were looking for, though even these watering holes were beginning to dry up. A few days later, they went again, and this time, they had to go further out to gather the same amount. There were wild animals throughout the Shade that were also consuming these resources in increased desperation, and nearly every watering hole was dry by the time Dorn and the others reached it.

It was nearing the end of summer, and Dorn and his foraging party were out in the Shade again, pushing deep into the neutral zone. They were following the tracks of some deer, hoping they would lead to a source of water, when they heard voices on the wind. Dorn’s attention snapped toward the sound, and then he saw them. A small group of humans, hunters by the look of them, harvesting meat from their freshly downed game. Dorn’s muscles tensed, and his breathing became heavy. The hunters were still some distance off, but Dorn could feel the stench of their wickedness settle on him.

“I knew it,” Dorn said, staring. “I knew the humans would break the treaty!”

Without another word, Dorn broke into a run straight at the humans. They noticed him immediately and panicked. They gathered up what little meat they could and fled in a pack. Through his rage, Dorn briefly noticed that two of the humans were smaller than the others, but he dismissed the thought and focused on catching up to them. Unfortunately, they were near another of the humans’ poorly constructed towns from before the war, and the humans tried to hide in the decrepit buildings.

As Dorn burst into the deserted town, he stopped, trying to decide which of the humans to hunt down and destroy first. He took three steps into town, and then became aware of a sound, like heaving, catching breaths. Dorn followed the noise to his left, where a wooden door hung on a single hinge, leading into a tiny house. With one great motion, Dorn kicked the door open, and beyond it, he saw one of the two small humans, a male, his face wet from sweat and tears. Dorn took one step at the tiny creature and raised his hand to his horn.

“Leave my son alone!”

From behind Dorn, the largest of the hunters charged at the Zealot’s heavily armored back. As he leapt at the Rhox, Dorn knocked him away with a slight motion of his shield arm. The human went flying a few paces backward, staggered and hurt. Dorn turned back to the small human and raised his shield high, preparing to crush the vile creature with a single strike.

“Please,” the injured man managed. “Please, there is no game left behind the Bulwark! We only came here because my children were starving! Please spare my boy!”

Dorn felt something he had never felt before. The man’s words meant nothing to him. Humans lie as a matter of being, just as an Aven flies. But those words did explain why the human in front of him was so small. It was still a child. The Zealot tensed his arm in preparation to strike, but he found himself holding off. This boy was a human, true, but he was still a child. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was deserving of mercy.

Dorn’s world turned inside out at that moment. The concept of mercy made no sense when placed alongside a human. Humans were the very embodiment of evil, responsible for every travesty, every ill, every wrong in the world. How could innocence and evil coexist in the same frame? Suddenly, Dorn felt as if he were running, though his legs remained motionless. He felt as if he were running a stampede, and the world itself was rushing away around him. And although he did not move a muscle, his speed continued to increase, until everything around him was an incomprehensible blur. Still he felt as if he were running, eternally, blindly.

Then, suddenly, he stopped. It felt like crashing into a stone wall. Dorn’s chest constricted and he felt pain all throughout his massive frame. He fell heavily to one armored knee and had to use his scutum to support himself. It took him several moments to regain his vision, and several more to recognize the sounds of battle nearby. Dorn looked around to see where he was, but the human town and even the Shade were nowhere to be seen. The Zealot looked up to the sky, but instead of the fresh, vibrant blue he was used to, Dorn saw a sky of sickly purple. Dorn was shaking as he forced himself to stand. He was in some sort of forest, but the trees were thick and twisted in a way he had never seen before.

The realization sunk in slowly, although no true understanding accompanied it. “This is not my world,” Dorn said to himself.

Before he could think any further on the matter, a form broke through the trees and ran in Dorn’s direction. The great Rhox looked over at it, confounded. It had feline features and was completely covered in fur, but walked upright like Dorn himself. Dorn wanted to speak with it, to ask who it was and where he was, but before he could, another shape broke through into the small clearing, one that Dorn recognized all too well. It was a human, astride a strange bird mount. The human laughed as the bird leapt into the clearing, and laughed harder as his lance punctured the cat creature through the back.

Instantly, Dorn pieced everything together. Humans were evil, and Dorn had contemplated showing one mercy. As his punishment, Dorn had been cast out of his world like an orphaned child. He had failed the Path once, but he would never do so again. As the human noticed him and began to size him up as an opponent, Dorn touched his horn and felt himself grow strong again. He swore one more vow, this time that he would never again show the weakness of mercy to any human. And no human would ever again evade the righteous wrath of the Zealot’s shield.

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