Cynical Faith

Chapter 5

Perhaps among all the Chosen, I am the one who feels the most out of place. When my life began in a port town in Incaria, I believed that I would become a fisherman like my father, and his father before him. Or, if I lacked success, perhaps I would have become a fur trader like my mother's family. I had three successful uncles who sold pelts to the Gor in the Braeg, and the ports to the north, and it would not have been a bad life.

And yet fate had a different idea in mind for me. When my father died, I took work with a different kind of tracker than the fur traders and fishermen I'd grown up with. He was a woodsman, a friend of my father who had once traveled with him. From that woodsman I learned how to hunt both animal and man alike. The latter was much easier than the former, for few men know how to move through the natural world as easily as they do through their cities.

That work eventually led me to The Shade, where bounty hunters can find work every day. I have no love of violence, though I learned that at times it is necessary to bring about justice. I don't believe justice and vengeance are synonyms, though some would have you believe that to be the case. I do not believe all things considered crimes are truly crimes, and in The Shade I could be selective in the jobs I took, for they were plentiful enough to allow me to retain my integrity.

Yet, despite the ways in which I sought to build a better world, I one day fell victim to the belief that vengeance would give me what I desired. I gambled everything for the chance to get even, and instead I was imprisoned by the very enemy I had sought to kill.

But the path I traveled introduced me to a man named Grim, of whom you have already heard mention. He does not see himself as among the Chosen either, and perhaps that is the reason why we are both here. Grim taught me the value of a life and encouraged me to always seek to become greater than myself.

We all have the potential to become more than who we are born to be. We are born to be innocent, naïve, and without an ounce of experience except the warm darkness of the womb. But we are born with the tools to expand beyond that. We are given wonder, curiosity, and a desire to expose our senses to everything around us.

It is easy to track the movements of someone who feels they do not belong, for they walk too carefully, and their steps are unnatural. By seeking to avoid notice, they attract it. Simply walking into the wilderness does not make one wild.

But one must never lose sight of the value of one's own self. Become the wolf, but do not lose yourself to the wolf; you are more than all that you will ever be, for they are all only stops in your journey.

Walk naturally, for you belong here, and you belong everywhere that you are. Isn't that why you traveled there?

       ~Dogo

~    ~    ~    ~    ~

"I think we need to go back to the point where you called us an infestation," Grim said, interrupting Naxthul's work on the control panel once again.

"You were not the infestation," Naxthul replied. "The state of society was the infestation."

Grim didn't like this answer either, as it still left too many questions in his mind. "But that doesn't make a difference. We were a society, and your answer to a sick society was simply to wipe us all out? That seems like an overreaction to me."

Naxthul sighed and abandoned the control panel entirely to meet Grim's eyes. "You don't seem to understand, Grim, we couldn't have opened the demon gate without help from the infestation. In order to cure a disease, one has to understand its nature. We needed samples, and that meant the infestation had to provide them."

"So now you're saying you harvested people?" Grim asked incredulously.

Naxthul raised an eyebrow and said, "You already knew this."

The reality of that statement set in as Grim recalled the last few days before the demons invaded. Khalis had found him in the Temple of the Mountain and castrated him. Though Grim had managed to kill Khalis two days afterwards—and regrew the testicles he'd lost—the experience had completely traumatized Grim.

He'd only recovered from that with Prism's help, and he had never had an answer as to why Khalis had done that to him. It was one of the things that had made him want to hunt the Vhor during the early years. He wanted to know why he had been attacked, and it seemed like he was finally about to get that answer.

"Are you saying that I brought about the end of the world?" Grim asked.

"No," Naxthul replied immediately. "There are six samples required for us to open up the gate. Six—one for every category of analysis. We must know the damage each causes; the kinds of bonds it forms; how it acts when on the move; how it acts when at rest; the cycles it passes through; the nature of its form."

"And so Khalis got one of the samples from me," Grim asked.

Naxthul nodded and explained, "You aren't the only purity of Stillness, but you are the one Khalis was able to sample. You felt the purity of stillness strongly enough to be a proper sample for long enough time that he could reach you."

"I don't understand," Grim said, shaking his head.

"The six purities were named upon six questions. The question of Stillness is: 'what damage could be done to a dancer to make one long for stillness?'," Naxthul said. "He must have sampled you at a moment where the evils of society— the infestation— had made you long to be so contrary to yourself that you were resonating with the pulse of the infestation's resting state."

"And what of the other questions?" Grim asked. "Who else suffered like I did?"

"Master Janlynd, for starters," Naxthul said. "I never met her, but she was the first. The purity of destruction, for 'what would cause a healer to destroy life'?"

"I've asked that question myself," Grim replied.

Smiling gently, Naxthul said, "I'm not surprised, given your history. I'm sure your abilities surpass any other healer of this age, though Veil could've likely given you a challenge."

"Perhaps, though she does not know half of what I know about what a Fedain is capable of," Grim said. "I have rebuilt my body so many times over the centuries that I know every possible way my cells are configured. I can destroy and reform them at a whim, and I thought I might even be able to change form like you if I could study your essence long enough to know the pattern."

"That is an interesting hypothesis," Naxthul said thoughtfully. "Is that why you've hunted us all along? To become one of us?"

Grim shook his head. "I'm sure you already know the answer to that question, but I'll answer it anyway. I hunted you because we are both unnatural things who do not belong in this world."

Naxthul was surprised by this statement, and he pulled back from Grim slightly. "You still believe yourself unnatural?"

Grim acknowledged the point with a nod. "It is unnatural to live forever."

"Your time will come, eventually," Naxthul said. "It comes to all things."

"Then why force its hand?" Grim asked.

Naxthul gave him a confused look and said, "Do you believe I was advocating suicide? I had no such intention."

"You advocate murder," Grim replied. "And we have both killed enough to understand the weight of a life. I believe that about you, even though I remain unconvinced that you truly understand, for yourself, what it means to be mortal."

"We force its hand when a force is too destructive and must be stopped," Naxthul replied. "There must be a balance."

Grim smirked at that and asked, "But if death comes to all things, then how do you know that the destructive force is not simply righting the balance of the cosmos?"

"You do have a point, and one I raised during my own Trial, when I was but a mortal facing the one in my position now," Naxthul said. "I do not know if my answer will satisfy you, but I have contemplated this question for many ages."

With a wave of his hand, Grim said, "By all means, give me your answer."

"The simplest law of the universe," Naxthul said, "is that change is constant. Whether you call this entropy, divine will, or ignore it altogether, it happens. The basic law of life is that it will do everything in its power to survive. To resist entropy, life seeks complexity, to become that much more difficult to destroy."

"But are not humans more complex than bacteria, yet the latter survives conditions humans cannot," Grim replied.

"But is that true from every perspective?" Naxthul asked.

"Elaborate."

Naxthul continued. "Humans do things that bacteria do not and cannot do. They build things; things that will last for many generations to come, and possibly even outlast all of humanity. They tell stories. They build memories, both private and public, and pass down traditions. Yes, there are some animals who do some of these things as well. But why do we do these things?"

"So we can be remembered?" Grim asked.

"And by being remembered, we continue to exist. Life, resisting destruction. We remember to survive," Naxthul explained.

"So when we are no longer remembered," Grim said, "we cease to exist?"

"The self always remembers its own existence, or it ceases to be self," Naxthul replied. "Or if I wanted to simplify that, simply remember who you are, and you'll be fine. After that, you can always redefine who you are as needed."

"What is the true purpose of the Trial, then?" Grim asked.

Naxthul sighed, hesitated, then replied, "The world is as alive as we are, or rather, it is even more so. With all the vast complexity the world has, it has no respect for the lack of complexity in its fauna. We are insignificant, except for when we are trying to destroy it. To return to the earlier metaphor, rarely does a human consider bacteria unless that bacteria is making them sick."

"So the world does consider us an infestation," Grim replied.

"And we act as intermediaries on the world's behalf," Naxthul said, "to target only that which is a problem, for otherwise the world would simply eradicate everything and start from scratch. It is complex enough to know how to rebuild itself."

"Why worry about saving it at all?" Grim asked. "If it's defective, shouldn't it be rebuilt anyway?" Before Naxthul could answer, Grim continued. "No, I suppose if you accept that change is constant, then all defects are subjective."

"The world likes its creation, and thinks most of it is wonderful and beautiful, but would rather that destructive forces not exist within it outside of the world's control. Natural disasters belong to the world, but the actions of society do not," Naxthul said. "The Trial is like removing tumors from the body, so that the healthy cells can go on living."

Grim considered this momentarily before responding. He had followed Naxthul's logic up till now, but there seemed to be a hole that Grim could still exploit. "And what of the tumor's right to exist? Are they not made of living matter?"

Naxthul chuckled at that. "I wish one day you will understand and accept that you and I are alike. I also asked that question, and I'm sure Ghayle did as well, when she met my predecessor. 'What of the lives of the malcontent?' My people screamed that in the streets seconds before they were slaughtered by the military. All they wanted to know was why the rebels had been executed without a trial, and the government murdered them for questioning."

"I sympathized with those rebels, but I was not on the street that day. I sat at a telescope, looking up at the sky and ignoring the world," Naxthul paused, inhaled deeply, and let out a pained sigh. "I worked at a government facility, working in the field I had always dreamed of working in, and I wasn't about to jeopardize that for a little protest. The demons invaded the very next week and made it all irrelevant anyway."

"What is the point?" Grim asked in exasperation.

Naxthul glared at Grim before responding. "It is the instinct of every system to resist change that divides it, and accept change that either makes it stronger or more complex. Sometimes, strength is viewed as bonding with others who share your form, and this is often where the problems arise. Fedain thinking themselves superior to Humans would be a good example. The Oligani resisting anything from Ultaka, or the Lodani clan warfare would be others. The societies of your world were so bogged down by perceived superiority that they resisted the greater complexity that comes from accepting diverse members."

"And so that justifies ridding the world of them instead of teaching them to change?" Grim said.

Naxthul shrugged. "It is the right of any system to attempt to survive. It is the right of any system to sow order and disorder in whatever manner it chooses. All systems are in search of balance between the two forces, it is only when the systems are out of balance that we must act."

"But regardless of what we do, that balance will always be disrupted," Grim replied. "No matter how hard you try to avoid becoming the enemy, it is impossible to avoid taking on some of their traits, simply by engaging. Let me tell you a story, Naxthul."

 

~    ~    ~    ~    ~

For a decade, Grim lived with Yatha and her family at their ranch. He was treated as a brother and uncle, and he assisted Quan with various maintenance tasks around the ranch. He also took trips into town to meet with the old historian, Nages.

Nages had been a librarian in Xarin, the capital of Ultaka, before the demons invaded. His concern, however, had begun with the rebellion against the aristocracy. He'd already smuggled a collection of books he deemed too valuable to lose out to the country. His sister, who had not made it through the war, had a secret storeroom there for him to keep the books safe.

And the books remained in the storeroom, with very few being allowed to visit the library itself. The simple reason for this was protection, for everyone in the town had heard tales of the Inquisition. To many, the creeds that Neredos had established with Veil's help had seemed like a wonderful idea. They had framed it with all the best political language they could muster. The Knights of the Firmament would stand as a force against the demons, in perpetuity, and their duty was to rid the world of dangerous elements that could lead to the demons coming again.

Of course, Grim knew better than anyone that the motivation behind the demonic invasion had never been determined. Or, if it had, the motivation had never been made public. Neredos might have had the answer, having learned it at the gate perhaps, but, if so, he had not bothered to share with anyone else other than maybe Veil. There were simply too many 'what if's' for Grim to be satisfied with any of that logic.

No, whether Neredos and Veil's intentions were good or evil, the result would be the same. Innocent people were going to get into trouble for doing innocent things, and all in the name of preserving Neredos and his rule. Anyone who joined the Knights of the Firmament would do so because they believed in Neredos and his rule, and they would stop at nothing to preserve it.

So far, it seemed the Inquisition's focus had remained on limiting technological and magical development. They didn't immediately harm any mages or engineers attempting to set up their own practices, but such people were offered very limited options. A mage could either stop practicing, join the newly formed government and accept significant regulation, or be considered an enemy of the state and summarily killed as one. Engineers were given much the same options.

But for outlying communities such as this one, the dynamic was slightly different. These were the people who wanted to avoid as much connection to the new government as possible while still living with other Humans and Fedain. Not that there were many of the latter here, as there hardly seemed to be many of them anywhere these days.

Both the Gor and the Elroks had returned to their own lands to rebuild, and they cared little for the affairs of humankind now that the war was over. Both had decried Neredos and his policies, though some of the Gor had remained behind—led by Villar Elrhanadan, Kaeral's son—to keep a presence in the Everbright City. They had agreed to abide by Neredos' regulations for as long as they remained there.

The most surprising thing to happen had been Odiran thulu'Khant's rebellion—surprising only to those who did not know Odiran personally, of course. Everyone was still speaking about how Odiran himself had tried to assassinate King Neredos, and how the triumphant Knights had driven them back into The Shade.

Grim was certain it had been a strategic retreat on Odiran's part, and a means to an end. After all, Odiran had been prepping The Shade for a long time. The Knights of the Firmament would've been hard-pressed to fight in the caves beneath Pentalus which Odiran's forces would've already known quite well. No, there would be another rebellion at some point, once Odiran figured out how to kill an immortal.

The failed rebellion had incited a peculiar reaction in the populace. Everyone had an opinion, but they were largely echoes of the two major sides. The majority remained attached to what was familiar, and that was Neredos' rule, while the few who sided with Odiran joined him in The Shade. The remainder simply wanted nothing to do with any of it, and joined the outlying communities in hopes of escaping the political strife.

But they had brought some of the customs with them, and stories of what life was like in the Everbright City and Pentalus. All political strife aside, both were made to sound as paradise when compared to simple country living. It was this which inevitably led to disruption in the life of Grim and his friends.

The first great change happened when Grim decided to leave the ranch and take up residency with Nages. It was not to get away from Yatha and her family, but to be closer to the vault of knowledge. Nages had a wealth of history books, including a few on ancient history. A decade of domestic life had made Grim wonder if he might resume his interest in archaeology, despite having now reached middle age. It was never too late to start something, he had decided, and Nages was more than happy to allow him access to the books in exchange for his protection of the archive.

Few in this town knew Grim's true identity, and Nages only did because Quan had told him. Nages was grateful that someone of Grim's martial prowess could present as so unassuming. It made him the perfect guard for the archive. No one suspected that a Fedain, especially one of his size, would be protecting anything important.

And so, Grim gained access to the library both night and day, and was able to shut out the world for a while. Within a few months, however, things had changed at the ranch. Kae, Yatha's son, had grown into his teenage rebellion and ran away to see the wonders of Pentalus and the Everbright City.

After his brief attempt to follow Kae and bring him home was met with failure, Grim helped more around the ranch again. There was a great sadness in the family, one which Grim was surprised he felt so deeply. But he had come to love them as if they were his own flesh and blood, and they all felt the loss of their son and hoped he would return.

A year passed without any word, but then the Inquisition stepped up its number of patrols in the area. Though it was carefully hidden every time the Knights came to town, Quan's tractor was one of the first things discovered. It was almost as if someone had told them exactly where to look. Quan was beaten for failure to cooperate with the search, then was left to die in his own field. Yatha found him in time to stabilize him and send for Grim, but Quan was never the same after that.

Quan began actively opposing Neredos and the Inquisition. He never resorted to violence, but he joined a large protest on their way to Pentalus. When he returned, he was in even more pain than he had been before. He had seen his son, now wearing the uniform of a Knight of the Firmament, proudly marching through the streets of Pentalus in a military parade. They had exchanged words, and Kae had disowned his father, denouncing him as a traitor.

There were even more patrols after that, as the Inquisition had caught wind of Nages' secret archive. Quan was killed four years later, for refusing to move out of the way as the Knights marched through the streets. The Knight who murdered Quan received a reprimand—not for the murder, but for negligence that impacted the investigation; they hadn't yet questioned Quan regarding the archive.

The only thing that kept Yatha from running off in vengeance was the need to take care of her daughter, Jin. They worked the ranch together in their sadness, with Grim's support, and the help of several friends. The worsening tyranny of Neredos bothered Grim, but it still seemed too far away for him to do anything about it. After all, Yatha needed him, and so did the archive.

Nages died a year later. While the Knights did not kill him directly, they were responsible for his death. He'd been ambushed while carrying a stack full of newly acquired books to the archive—along a route he'd thought secret—and ran deeper into the woods to escape the Knights. A misstep near a ravine earned him a broken neck. The Knights didn't even bother to retrieve the body, only the books, which he'd conveniently dropped just before the ravine.

Grim's friends were dying, one by one, and all he could think about was protecting the archive as he had been directed. That's what Quan would've wanted, and Nages especially. He had to protect the knowledge.

He couldn't help but feel that history was repeating itself. Once again, the world was falling apart, and here he was obsessed with something else. Even though it was a purpose greater than his own life, he was ready to ignore the problems happening outside to preserve what was immediately accessible. But eventually the trouble came to his own door, and he was no longer allowed the luxury of avoiding it.

The Knights learned the location of the archive after Grim had spent nineteen years in the town. Kae himself led the Inquisitors to the cellar where the books were hidden, and where Grim stood waiting, hoping to talk some sense into him.

"What are you doing here, Kae?" Grim asked, standing still as the thirty Knights spread into a ring outside the cellar door. It was hidden in the hills north of the town, and could not be found without a guide or a significant amount of luck. Kae had to have brought them here, though it had been nearly a decade since he had last visited the place.

"We are here to seize the library you protect," Kae replied. "Uncle," he added with a snarl, "I know all about your true histories now. They say you used to work closely with Odiran thulu'Khant, and opposed the true King."

Grim realized he had a decision to make, and sooner rather than later. This was likely going to end only one way, with death, but he had to try something first. "I don't oppose anyone, Kae, except for needless violence. You should know that about me."

"You haven't seen me in nine years," Kae replied. "And since you and my parents lied to me about who you were, it makes little difference what you say now. I can't trust you, especially considering what you've been doing."

"Preserving knowledge?" Grim asked. "That is a crime worthy of death? How could you truly believe that?"

"Save your breath, Kae," one of the other Knights said. "Why are we wasting time talking to this one? You held your tongue when we shackled that witch out in the Dorram. Let's just be done with this mission already."

Grim eyed the soldier momentarily before returning his attention to Kae. "You see? Suppressing knowledge ruins everyone's day."

"How hypocritical of you," Kae replied. "For one who lied to me for a decade. Step aside, Grim, or we will kill you."

"Arrest me then," Grim said. "Do you really want to kill me?"

"I will if you resist," Kae said, his eyes as hard as ever.

The time for the decision had come. Grim hesitated, bowed, and stepped aside. He waited for two of the Knights to approach, one carrying bindings and the other with his sword drawn. As soon as the sword bearer reached him, Grim rushed forward and impaled himself on the blade.

Agonizing pain roared from his gut, but it was no more painful than an Aika quill or the flames of an Ibrix. Grim ignored it with willpower he had not tapped in two decades, then placed his hand against the surprised face of the Knight bearing the sword.

On instinct, he siphoned energy from the Knight the same way he had stolen it from the demons. Instead of simply melting the man's flesh away as had worked in the past, Grim stole pure life force from the Knight and transferred it to himself. His wounds ached to heal around the blade in his stomach, but their inability to heal around the sword did nothing to stop Grim from draining all the energy from the Knight in a matter of seconds.

The Knight's shell fell backwards, pulling the sword with him as he crumpled to the ground. He was but a withered, aged husk now, so old in appearance that he could've been the great-grandfather of anyone here, Grim included.

While Grim had been expecting the instant death of his target, he did not have time to consider why this kill was different from the last time he'd killed a human. Instead, as soon as the first Knight dropped, Grim was already moving on to the one with the bindings.

He caught the man around the throat and said, "If you struggle, I will do the same to you." Then he turned toward Kae and said, "If you want your man to live, I suggest you—"

Three crossbow bolts slammed into Grim from the side, one narrowly missing his throat and cutting a gash across his cheek instead. Grim killed the Knight in his grasp the same way as he had the first, then used the armored body as a shield against the next round of crossbow bolts.

None of the bolts had struck him anywhere vital, but they were painful. Grim instructed his body to minimize the damage as he moved, the bolts tore and jostled inside of him as he rushed forward, into the midst of the remaining Knights.

The rest of the encounter became a blur of steel and flesh. Grim did not know where one Knight ended and another began, but he used their numbers against them, creating confusion by darting between them. Whenever he could find it, he touched their exposed flesh and sucked their life force away. It was as if he was back in the middle of the demons again, wading through them, killing everything he could. Instinct had taken over entirely, and he no longer thought of the ramifications of what he was doing. Death was the only answer here, either his or theirs.

And in the end, Grim was the one left standing. When he finally came back to his senses, he surveyed the scene. Not all of them had died by his hand, but most had. The others had been killed in the confusion, taking a stray blow from one of their comrades. Grim searched for Kae, but couldn't determine which of the aged corpses belonged to his adopted nephew.

He'd killed humans. For the first time since saving Prism, he'd defended his obsession with violent force. Kae's accusation rang in his ears, reminding him of his hypocrisy.

But that didn't change anything now. Thirty Knights of the Firmament were dead by Grim's hand, and the archive was compromised anyway. This event would trigger a full investigation, with hundreds of Knights descending upon the town, until they searched everywhere for the culprits and the archive they had defended. Grim's duty had ended, and he had failed.

When he finally made it back to town, Grim headed straight for Yatha's ranch. Yatha took in his tattered, blood-stained clothes and knew immediately what had happened. She had seen the Knights in town the day before, including Kae, who had ignored her completely.

"Did they get it?" Yatha asked. "Did they get the archive?"

Grim shook his head. "And Yatha, you need to know…"

Yatha put her fingers to his lips and said, "No. I don't. He died nine years ago. Whatever I saw in town yesterday, that was not my son. If you tell me, that will break the illusion. Don't tell me, Grim. You did what Quan and Nages asked of you."

Grim nodded, although he did not understand Yatha's perspective. "There is something, which I must tell you regardless. They are all dead, but that will not stop the Knights from coming. I have to leave, or they'll level this town to get to me. Someone will have to protect the books, as well."

"Where will they even be safe?" Yatha asked.

"Send them to Odiran," Grim heard himself say.

"Do you really think Odiran can protect them?" Yatha asked.

Grim didn't think much of anything anymore. He felt heavy; a pressure settling on his chest and mind, one not unlike the desperate state he found himself in when he first lost his energy reserves. "He's the best chance we have," Grim said, "for at least we know where he stands."

Grim turned to go, and Yatha caught his arm. "You don't have to leave like this, Grim. Let me go with you, and Jin and I can help you survive. You are family, and—"

This time, Grim put his fingers against Yatha's lips. "I could've grown old and died here, and it would not have been a bad life. You still can, resisting Neredos' reach by remaining the stalwart person you are. Keep raising those horses, and when the time comes to resist the regime, you put them to good use."

"And where will you go?" Yatha asked.

"To stop this," Grim replied.

 

~    ~    ~    ~    ~

"My question to you, Naxthul, is which one of us was guilty?" Grim asked. "Neredos for his tyranny? The Knights for their brutality? Odiran for inflaming the situation with his rebellion? Kae for his brainwashed madness? Or does the fault lay solely on my shoulders for the deaths of those Knights?"

"All of you bear fault," Naxthul replied without hesitation. "Every raindrop makes the flood wider and deeper. You could list fault endlessly, but this is not a question of fault."

"Then what is the point?" Grim asked.

Naxthul sighed and paced away. "That's just it, Grim," he said, turning around after a moment. "The reason we're all here is to figure out why we're here. Forces which interfere with that discovery are the ones which are most destructive. Who is responsible for the pain in society? All of us. Who is responsible for the progress of society? All of us. The point is for all of us to work together and increase our complexity. You cannot do that with an organism that is eating itself."

"I still think there has to be a better way," Grim said. "There must be a better option than to summon demons."

"Of course there is!" Naxthul snapped. "But all those options can fail, and once they all have, the only choice left is to restore balance."

"Why can't you trust the balance to restore itself?" Grim asked.

Naxthul sighed heavily. "You can, but that implies risk. Every day you wait is another gamble. Will this be the day things improve, or will this be the day that it all falls apart and destroys us all? That risk wears on you over the years, the decades, the millennia. Sometimes you win big and things go back to a more harmonious existence, but most of the time you lose just a little bit. You slide ever closer to the gaping maw of that abyss."

Grim frowned, seeing a dark reflection of his own past in those words. He had spent nearly two decades with Yatha, waiting for things to change. At one point he'd had the ability to change the world, and had fought alongside the greatest heroes of his age. But when the world started slipping back into its old patterns, he had guarded an archive of a few hundred books, letting things grow steadily worse.

"How were we supposed to stop it?" Grim asked. "How could we have prevented the Trial? As individuals, I mean. I was just a boy, what could I have done differently?"

Naxthul smiled, nodding appreciatively. "Again, you ask all the same questions." He moved closer and spoke with softer tones. "I do not have a perfect answer, because I did not witness the degradation of your world, only mine when this was all mine to safeguard. But I do know that individuals can do a lot to change things. They take risks that people will listen. They bare their soul to the world to show the realities of pain and love, and they inspire others to do the same. The flood is built by raindrops, and it has just as much chance of creating fertile land as it does of destroying what's in its path."

"Like Master Janlynd," Grim said.

"And like you, and all the heroes who fought together," Naxthul replied. "Think of all the things you accomplished together while facing the demons, and tell me if your same harmony could not have made the world better before the war?"

"But I was just a youth," Grim protested.

Naxthul shrugged. "And yet you felt so deeply. Like stars shining brightly in the night sky, there are amazing things that can happen when we become beacons of light in times of darkness."

"Show me more," Grim said.

 

 

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