Quest for Starfire
"The only Mercy is a sharp blade and a strong arm."
A half-elf, who is nothing short of comely. Although, the deep scars that run from his right temple to his left eye make him a bit less…approachable. This foreboding look is accented by his eyes, a gift from his Holy Father Kord. When looking into Thalion’s eyes an enemy will see nothing but an endless sea of dark blue, and his own inevitable doom. Upon proving himself, Thalion was given a gift by his new companion Quinn, a tattoo of a lone warrior before a field of enemies. This vivid picture is displayed on his back.
Weapons were not, strictly speaking, allowed during the Festival of the Sun. The celebration of the summer solstice was a time of joy and dancing and singing in praise of Pelor. And in his honor, no sword could be raised or bow strung. Any quarrel must be set aside. As a Protector of the Realm though, Thalion felt he could get away with the simple short sword hanging at his side. The comforting weight anchored him as the crowd of elves flowed around him and danced beneath the soaring expanse of the Temple of Giants.
Twelve trees made up the Temple—a gift from the Fey over a thousand years ago. Now they rose three-hundred feet in the air, their bark the color of old blood as though the beating heart of the Feywild had been exposed. The branches arching overhead held the sun. And between each massive trunk, cleverly woven vines told the story of the world; their flowers laced and luminous like the stained glass found in the cathedrals of Men.
Thalion stood below a depiction of the sea at night—pale hibiscus scattered across a clematis sky—remembering when he was younger and often imagined a Corsair ship sailing those waves of wisteria. Behind him, the singing and laughing of the Elves did not penetrate the solemn silence of the Giants towering above them, and to Thalion the scene was distant and muted as the flickerings of fish underwater, mouths opening and closing without sound.
The familiar voice drew Thalion from his thoughts as he turned to see Longshanks standing beside a dark-haired Elf in rich robes of gold. “May I introduce Saif, cleric of Pelor. He has recently returned from a survey of the Astral Seas” Longshanks said with a slight bow, “Saif, this is Envinyatar, our newest Protector.”
Thalion smiled politely and nodded in greeting. He hadn’t needed Longshanks to tell him that the newcomer was a cleric or that he’d been travelling. And judging from the partially healed scar under Saif’s right eye, the journey had not been uneventful. The cleric stood with a familiar tension, left hand lightly gripped, and Thalion didn’t need to see the calluses to know the hand was used to holding a quarterstaff. Something stirred in Thalion’s memory: a rumor, a name spoken in hushed tones: Starfire. He opened his mouth to ask what news Saif brought from outside the Realm, but the cleric spoke first.
Thalion stiffened at the low voice laced with contempt. His right hand tightened reflexively on his sword hilt. Saif looked from him to Longshanks as if waiting for the punch line, a sharp little smile on his face. “You’re not serious?” the cleric said, his laughter like ice thrown on a fire.
Once again all sound seemed sucked from the room. Thalion felt a nervous thrill amongst the crowd, saw embarrassed smiles flicked his way, but no one spoke. And in their eyes he saw the pity of an adult for a child who will never measure up. He looked to Longshanks, but the older elf’s gaze was focused somewhere over his head. Thalion knew he had to leave before he made the terrible faux pas of beheading a cleric of Pelor during the Festival of the Sun. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said and strode from the temple, blood pounding in his ears.
Thalion shifted his weight as he lifted the greatsword. It was not his normal weapon—the pommel did not provide adequate counterbalance for the long blade and so swings easily became wild and uncontrollable. He had learned to keep his arms close and use his own weight to offset the blade. He positioned the sword over his right shoulder in the classic telda guard and then sliced the blade diagonally downwards in a powerful arma hew. And then he was off, in the only dance he knew well, and in his hands the unbalanced blade flashed and struck as perfectly as the most finely crafted weapon. Longshanks’ words echoed through him: “A true master can make even the crudest blade sing. A poor sword is no excuse for poor swordplay.”
When he was 14 and just starting his apprenticeship with the bladesmaster, Longshanks had refused to allow Thalion any weapon of quality. “Why should you use a blade finer than yourself?” He’d been forced to use falchions with broken grips, shorts swords with bent cross-guards. Some blades were dull or so crudely made they didn’t even have a fuller. And he had learned to use them all expertly. And even though Longshanks had long since deemed him worthy enough to use a true Elvin sword, Thalion still practiced with the broken blades, the poor imitations. They were difficult and took more care and thought to wield.
As he brought the greatsword down into a fool’s guard, he was startled by a light step, and looked up to see Groth step into the clearing. The sun had fallen low while Thalion practiced, and the shadows of the surrounding trees drew close. There was no telling how long the Eladrin monk had been watching. As always, he looked like he stepped from the air itself.
“You do dishonor to the day,” he said.
Thalion growled and threw down his sword. “Damn the day!”
“Envinyatar,” Groth rebuked sharply.
“Envinyatar, Telcontar, Thalion…why do you bother? There is no name you can give me that will make them forget I’m a half-elf. Half-human,” he said.
“You were never ashamed before.”
Thalion moved so swiftly Groth blinked but did not step back when the young half-elf stopped a mere foot from him and hissed, “I’m not ashamed.”
Groth sighed. “It has been many years since you let such thoughtless words bother you. The names, the slurs—yes they can be hurtful—but they are only words. They have only the power you give them. You know this. Who then are you angry at?”
“I forgot,” Thalion whispered. He waited for Groth to speak, but the other remained silent, and Thalion forced himself to continue, “I was too complacent. I let myself believe that being made a Protector of the Realm,” he couldn’t help the sneer that entered his voice as he spat out the now meaningless title, “meant I was accepted, so when that condescending bastard threw my parentage in my face…” Thalion bit back the rest. His voice had risen to a shout, and he forced himself to take a deep breath before continuing at a more normal volume. “I just—I forgot how quickly the laughter and smiles can turn to mockery, and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. Not today.” He had let his guard down and so had been unable to parry the unexpected blows. Longshanks would be ashamed of him—perhaps that’s why his old instructor had looked away. Thalion pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes against the headache beginning to pound in his right temple. “I’m such a fool.”
Groth did not disagree.
“Why?” Thalion asked when the silence became too much, when he no longer cared how childish he sounded.
The Eladrin hesitated, and Thalion feared for a moment that the monk would step back and vanish into the forest. “You cannot understand,” Groth said at last, “what they—what I—see when we look at you. You are so young and yet already a quarter of your life is spent.” The sun had gone in, and around them the night creatures of the forest were waking. Groth paused, apparently listening to the low, mournful hoot of an owl, before he added softly, “You are dying in front of me.”
Thalion flinched back as if struck. He could no longer meet Groth’s eyes. “You will die too,” he said, “they will all die.”
“Yes, we will die. We are not immortal. But our deaths will not come for hundreds of years. How many years do you have left? Fifty? So little time for the investment of one’s heart. We are not all as brave as your mother, who risked not only watching your father grow old and die but her children and her children’s children. Many would call it a mercy that she died when she did.”
Groth met Thalion’s furious glare without flinching. “Yes, mercy. She was saved from great pain. If you lost your parents a thousand times over, you would only begin to understand that pain. The dread of unavoidable loss over and over again, that would taint deepest love—that is what the Elves fear and what they see in you. Forgive them.”
Thalion turned his back on the Eladrin. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. He could forgive their fear. He could not forgive their cowardice.
“You will have to learn to control this anger, Thalion. It is easy to show compassion and understanding for those like ourselves. But you will have to deal with the petty, the vindictive, and the fearful and not turn away. The sun does not rise for the good and just alone. Pelor’s light shines on all.”
“If someone was in need, I would help. I’m able to separate my personal feelings from—“
“And if that ‘someone’ was a Drow?” Groth interrupted.
Thalion’s mouth snapped shut. He could feel Groth’s gaze on the back of his neck.
“As I thought,” the monk said quietly. “There is a raven for you.”
“What?” Thalion said, whirling around. The clearing was empty. He scanned the skies, the trees for any sign of black wings. It was a raven that brought the news of his father’s death at the hands of the Drow—a raven that carried the news of his mother’s accident. Always ravens—hateful and monstrous like shreds of Death’s own cloak torn and scattered in her wake.
Finally, his eyes found the dread shape. The bird perched on a low branch at the edge of the circle of trees. And for a moment, nothing moved but the eye of the raven. The silver capsule fixed to one scaly leg glimmered like a bit of starlight.
Thalion forced himself to approach the bird, forced his hands not to shake as he unhooked the capsule and unfurled the note from within. It was from Chigaru—he was going to die. But for a Deva, death was cheap. Thalion’s heart started beating again. The raven flew away.
“How many times have you died?” he asked and then winced at his own lack of tact. He felt his face heat and looked away afraid of the rebuke he knew he would find in the Deva’s eyes. But Chigaru only laughed, a soft sound like the shifting of sand, and Thalion found the courage to look up.
“A better question,” Chigaru said, “would be ‘How many times have you lived?’ We Deva do not die as mortals do. I have little knowledge of Death or the dreams of eternal sleep. Dying, now… I know something of dying.” Thalion opened his mouth to interrupt, to ask…but Chigaru held up his hand. His dark eyes grew distant, and when he continued, his voice was ancient and remote as the stars: “My eyes close and open again. Death is a mere blink. At times, I feel I’ve never slept.”
The bitterness in the Deva’s voice caused Thalion to grit his teeth. “You would prefer to stay dead?” he bit out, heart racing. The old instinct to fight and keep fighting rose inside him, though what there was to fight against he didn’t know. The glade remained peaceful and quiet.
Chigaru smiled sadly. “You are angry with me. It is…understandable. You have only one life to live and are beginning to feel its brevity. The Raven Queen stands ever at your back. But Thalion,” Chigaru leaned forward and seized the half-elf’s hands, gripping them tightly, “mortality is not a weakness. Your father did not fail anymore than…”
Thalion wrenched his hands away and stood. “What does my father have to do with anything?” he hissed. He did not understand how his thoughtless question had descended into this.
Thalion crossed his arms and glared. He wondered how that purple skin would bruise.
Chigaru had become very still: a shadow among shadows. When he spoke, his white teeth slashed through the gloom like a knife blade. “Thalion, I know you better than I’ve allowed myself to know anyone for a long time. And I know you will not listen to anything I say now. But hear this at least: when you battle, do not fight Death—she is not your enemy. And do not envy the immortal. Our lives are a continuous waking into new worlds and different sunrises without even the memory of dreams.”
Thalion shook off the shadows of that last conversation with difficulty. Chigaru had always been able to see through him and throw him off balance. The Deva even had the gall to claim Thalion was following the wrong god. “You value courage above compassion, Thalion, do not deny it.” Whenever Chigaru signed his letters (even ones asking Thalion to go on dark and dangerous journeys), there was always a mocking quality to his parting line, and Thalion saw this note was no exception: May Pelor protect you.*
At the Garden of the Graves Thalion almost lost his soul…his being.
“The only mercy is a sharp blade and a strong arm.” His father’s voice—close, so close he should be able to see the speaker, feel the breath of his words. Thalion tried to lift his head, the metallic tang of blood thick in his mouth, but his body no longer obeyed his commands. All was darkness and the suffocating silence of the Heart. The voice may well have risen from his very bones.
“I am the flame and the fire and the sun.” His own voice now, harsh and jeering. Thalion watched the darkness coalesce before him and out stepped the Other from before, his other self. But not a perfect double this time. His doppelganger’s smile was unnaturally wide, showing more teeth than a mouth should hold, and it walked with a jerky, twitching step as if its knees were broken and bent backwards as easily as forwards now. Its arms dangled limply at its sides. The mouth didn’t move when it spoke: “The light of all lights and of all lights, one.”
Thalion’s sword lay beneath his right hand, but his fingers refused to close. His breath rattled in his chest as he struggled for purchase, and the Other scuttled closer. It was breathing in time with him, amplifying his own panting breaths into something indecent and sinister.
“You wish to spread Pelor’s light to the darkest places of the world,” it said through immobile lips, “but have never dared shine that light into the darkest reaches of your heart.” The Other’s neck bent sharply to the left, snapping with a sickening crack, to lay its head on its shoulder. The grin never faltered. “Why would Pelor protect you?”
Sweat dripped down Thalion’s face and mingled with the blood pooling in his mouth, dribbling from his lips as he raised himself to his feet. His breath shuddered in his lungs like a death-rattle. His double watched, eyes mad and wide and full of raven wings. Thalion staggered, barely maintaining the grip on his sword. His limbs trembled weakly as a newborn’s. With a last, great effort, he managed to lift the sword of over his right shoulder. He met his Other’s eyes. “The only mercy,” Thalion whispered and brought the blade crashing down.*
Not shortly after, Thalion ran from his faith. He was alone and stranded in a desert, and Kord came to him. Now he fights along side his brothers of The Faith. The Brotherhood of the Mountain. With his brother Shadow by his side, Thalion seeks to find Starfire, and stop him.