Big Damn Heroes
Learning the Faith
Somewhere in the woods of the fae lands…
“Hold the symbol in yer mind, and focus. Imagine yer blood as a light that moves inside o’ ya, filling you up till yer bursting with light. Think o’ that light pourin’ into yer hands, on to yer blade. When it feels like there can’t possibly be more, let that light explode out toward yer target.”
To demonstrate, Dalrick pointed to a crow sitting in a tree a few yards away. After a quickly whispered phrase, he held up his rose amulet. Crimson light poured out of it and lanced toward the bird; it died in a burst of energy and blood.
Illeith’atharia picked her way across the forest floor to examine the bird’s body. She was careful to move with as much stealth as she could muster. Early lessons with Dalrick had taught her to always move as quietly as possible; you never know when it might come in handy. Even though she couldn’t hear him next to her, she knew that Dalrick would be close behind.
The bird’s body was cleanly cut; the radiant light had pierced its heart. Brows furrowed in confusion, Illeith’atharia asked, “Why tell me to use my blade, when you use the rose? Which one is your holy symbol?”
Crouching next to her, the grim looking human gave her another of those piercing looks. Fingering his rose amulet, he shrugged a little. “We’re not like those mummy worshipers yer dame floats around with, or even most o’ the other major groups out there. We don’t put our faith in a higher being; higher beings are the ones that made us mortal. They gave us death and suffering, while keeping health ‘nd immortality fer themselves. Nah, we put our faith in ourselves.”
He pulled out his greatsword and pointed to the hilt. The rough metal was scarred with the crudely drawn spiral surrounded by curved lines; the lines mimicked the spiral petals of a rose. “Because o’ that…individualism, ah guess you could say, our holy symbols are a bit flexible. The rose here means somethin’ to me. It reminds me that everything has a price. You c’n pick yerself the most beautiful flower, or gain power beyond imagining. But pickin’ that flower gives you tha chance of getting stuck by those thorns; just like that power usually comes with a blood price. When I got mah sword, I put my symbol on it. When you consecrate yer blade, you put yer symbol on it. That’ll help focus the light within yah.”
Still frowning, Illeith’atharia gently felt some of the feathers on the fallen crow. The fresh blood smelled very appetizing; with a little effort she stopped herself from dipping her fingers in the bird’s wound. “Why did you kill this animal? It seems cruel to kill needlessly when you could have shown me this power on a tree branch or rock.”
Dalrick’s eyes lingered on her fingers for a brief moment before his mouth twisted into a brief rueful smile. He shook his head. “Don’ work that way, lass. Death is a lesson in an’ of itself. These abilities are used to hurt others and there ain’t no getting ‘round that. You gotta know that the price you pay fer using them is that someone is probly gonna die, ‘nd it might be you. Sometimes tha’ price is worth payin’ though. Sometimes it saves yer friends, yer family. Sometimes you show up after the fact ‘nd it just stops the bad guys from hurtin’ someone else.”
She shook her head, “I don’t know if I could do that. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I feel bad when I hit Narith’deare too hard in practice.”
Dalrick bit his lip and stewed over this for a moment, and then shrugged. “Come on; let’s leave this fer the forest critters ta eat.”
When Dalrick began to move away, Illeith’atharia followed him as quietly as possible. As they traveled through the woods, she reflected upon what he had said. A very thoughtful look came across the young Eladrin’s face as she mulled over the grim reality of killing. Eventually she reached the conclusion that he was right. After all, her parents killed people; for the right reasons of course. Still, she disliked hurting people and feared being too involved in bloodshed.
After a few moments, Dalrick seemed to notice that she was ready for the next set of instructions. That patience was something she came to enjoy very much; he always let her take time to think about what he was saying. After he knew she made peace with the subject, he would move on to the next step. It was a very Eladrin way of doing things, allowing events to unfold in their own time. This was especially helpful considering everything he was teaching her was near opposite what her parents had told her all her life.
Taking a seat next to a little stream, the human pulled out some dried meat wrapped in wax paper. Motioning for her to take a seat next to him, he methodically began nibbling on his lunch. As Illeith’atharia moved to join him, he startled her with a rather unusual question. “Are you evil?”
“Wha?...No, of course not!” She flushed with embarrassment and averted her strangely colored eyes.
Smiling quickly, he held up his hands as if in surrender. “Easy now, I didn’t mean no offense. Bear with me a tick though…What about Eladrin in general. Are all Eladrin good?”
Thus reassured that this was another lesson rather than an insult, Illeith’atharia sat down and took out her own wrapped up lunch, “No, of course not. Marking an entire people as ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is a fallacy. There’s bound to be some exceptions.”
“Too true. Now what about undead? Are they always evil?” Once again, his dark eyes seemed to look into her soul; measuring what might be found there. She shifted uncomfortably and ate another bite of her lunch.
“Well…I, I don’t know.” Frowning thoughtfully, she continued to study the ground as the thought it through. “The Sacred Ancestors that Mother reveres don’t seem to be evil. Nor do the ones that Keara’s people worship. I think those are undead. I don’t know if they are mindless undead though…I, I’ve never seen them. But the monster that attacked Mother and Father years ago, that was definitely evil.”
Taking another bite of the dried meat, Dalrick nods. “Aye, there’s no doubt on that one. But as it turns out, undead are jus’ like a lot of peoples; it’s a mix. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot o’ bad ones. Evil to the core. But there are others that aren’t so bad. A lot of them are like you; they didn’t ask to be the way they were created. A skeleton can’t stop itself from being raised, or say ‘no’ to tha necromancer that commands it. Nor can the Dhampire stop herself from being born.”
Frustration welled within Illeith’atharia. Her gut rolled and her throat closed with bitterness as she thought about the nature of her birth. For the most part, her life had been free of persecution about her heritage. But she was always isolated from others; her parents always feared what would happen if it became public knowledge. Intellectually she knew she wasn’t a monster, but sometimes it was hard to remember that in her heart. She was kept entirely alone as a child, and only allowed out into the world after she had learned how to hide her true nature. Even now she had very few friends her age, and none of them had ever seen her take her glasses off. The thought made her nearly unbearably lonely and sad. She could feel her teeth lengthening into sharp points at the torrent of emotion. Carefully gritting her fangs to hide them, she whispered in anguish, “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you know yer not evil. You should also know that there are undead, and yeah, e’en vampires, who worship in the Blood of Vol. They’re not evil either.” His frank gaze was calm in the face of her unhappiness.
She looked up at him, stunned at this bit of information. “What?”
He simply tossed his head in acknowledgement and took another bite of his lunch. “I know yer dame is convinced that every vampire is out to kill tha world. Given what happened to her, ‘tis understandable. But its jus’ not totally true. Undead in the Blood of Vol are holy warriors or priests. They’ve given up their chance at divinity to help us get ours.”
Illeith’atharia shook her head again and looked forlornly at the ground. Her voice was soft and forlorn, “I don’t understand. I thought it was evil blood that caused vampires to exist.”
“If that were tha case, you’d be evil too, wouldn’t ya? Blood is pretty important though.” Resting his arms on his knees, he leaned toward her to emphasis his next words.
“Look here…our goal is to overcome death either through pure strength of blood or by overturning the gods tha’ cursed us to suffer and die. Vampires ‘nd the like, they’re already dead. They spend eternity fightin’ other gods or trying to help us get stronger, e’en though they know they won’t reap the rewards. I’m sure that some intelligent undead out there are raised by evil blood, but those in the Blood of Vol used their inner divinity to benefit the Order as a whole. They’re ever living martyrs. What you do with yer life is a choice; good or evil. The same goes with vampires. Those in the Blood of Vol choose to fight death and suffering, ‘n whatever way they can. The Priest heals ‘nd teaches while the solider fights for the cause.”
A long moment passed as Illeith’atharia digested this information. Dalrick waited a moment, and then continued to quietly nibble on his lunch. After he finished his meal he simply repositioned himself and waited for her to finish thinking. Eventually Illeith’atharia slowly began eating her dried meat again.
After a few moments, she wrapped up the remaining meat. Giving Dalrick a piercing look of her own, she said, “If they aren’t evil, what do they eat?” Her gaze was still a little angry and she could feel that her teeth were still a little sharp. The bulk of her emotions were under control though.
“Blood. Taken from willing donors,” he responded. His gaze was steady and unperturbed. “Every so often, all o’ the Order member that are ‘round get together and have a little service to celebrate the Divinity Within. We all donate a little blood, ‘nd it goes to those who need it. That way, no one gets badly hurt and the holy warriors have an edge fighting the sands o’ time.”
After much thought, all of this made a great deal of sense to Illeith’atharia. She could see why her mother was unhappy with her child learning about this though. Shinnal’thea wouldn’t want her daughter anywhere near anything that remotely resembled the undead, or blood sacrifice for that matter. Assuming that her mother even knew about it; all of this struck Illeith’atharia as very secret. She’d been training closely with Dalrick for months, and he had just now gotten around to telling this to her. He’d been explaining to her about the Blood of Vol, and teaching her their basic beliefs for a while now. But this new tid-bit of information put a whole new completion on things.
“I think I understand now why you all practice in secret,” she mused. Dalrick graced her with a particularly ironic grin.
His expression quickly sobered. “Now that you know this, do you still want ta keep learning? If so, you’ll be my official ‘pprentice, ‘nd I’ll start takin’ ya to meet other members of the Order. They’ll likely be able ta teach ya stuff too. Everyone believes in helpin’ their brothers ‘nd sisters out, to a certain extent.”
Despite her earlier turmoil, it didn’t take Illeith’atharia much thought to realize that she wasn’t particularly appalled by the whole situation. Maybe it was because of her faith in herself; if she wasn’t evil, why would everyone else with vampire blood be evil too? Maybe it was because she was tired of being looked down on by Tethnick’near, and Dalrick never did. Maybe it was just because she wanted to be with a group of people she wouldn’t have to hide from.
As all these things swirled in her mind as she reflected on her answer to Dalrick. After only a little while, she nodded to him and said, “I’m in.”
His dark eyes twinkled with grim delight and a razor sharp smile stretched across his face. “Good.”
To be continued…