The center of the continent known as Elian is known as the Dragonus Selian, as it was called by the ancient humans, the land of the dragons, a cold place to where the sun never has need to travel. The human-like races such as Elves, Dwarves, and Humans live in the Solis Orbis, a circle of Elian, which lies underneath the path of the sun. Between the Solis Orbis and the dragons' lands is another circle, the Mortus Selian, the dead lands. The brightest part of the day is no more than twilight in these lands, and very little grows or lives here. Winds blow hard and cold across the rock, and rarely do decent folk travel here. No nation, other than some nations of orcs, has ever permanently resided in this place, though a wanderer may on occasion happen upon some small anarchic villages of outcasts.
A man, Laitres, was traveling along this circle. There was no snow on the ground at this time of year, but he still wore thick clothing to protect himself from the wind. He carried with him no food or water in this barren place, and he had no destination. Towards the end of the day, when the fading twilight was already mostly gone, he finally collapsed. He was not overtaken by exhaustion, hunger, or thirst, though he certainly felt all of those things, but from despair.
There, on the ground, he awaited death. Despair had drained his life from him, and he did not have even the will to take his own life. In place of the hope for the future of his life was now the hope that he will sleep here until he dies. Yet he did not die, but merely rested. Against his will, his strength returned to him, as did a minuscule yet pestilent desire to continue living.
He awoke in the dark, remembering nothing more than an emotion from his dream, a transcendent emotion that only mocked him now. He knew that he could not stay on the ground with that dream to torture him. Therefore, he stood, awkwardly, and he surveyed the land around him. The wind had died down. He did not know from which direction he had come, and though he did not have a specific destination, he did know that he could not return from where he came.
He then saw a campfire in the darkness, and he knew that he must not have come from that direction. Terrified of what was ahead, he began to move towards the camp, praying that whoever was there did not know who he was. As he approached the campfire, he saw five tents the sizes of small rooms around it, and he saw that there were two more campfires beyond this one and more tents around those campfires. At the closest campfire were three figures sitting on rude benches around it, and Laitres approached them.
Torvus was one of the three figures at the camp. He was a bald man with a thick, dark beard, and he was old, but far from frail. With him was Ruptrus, a younger man, thin, clean-shaven, with long, blond hair, who thought very highly of Torvus. Also at the campfire was Lynadhel, a dark-haired elf woman. Torvus looked out into the darkness, and there he saw a figure moving towards the camp, but the figure was still too far away to determine if it were a person or an animal. As the figure came closer, Torvus saw that it was a man, and he stood to greet the man.
"Hello!" said Torvus. "Welcome to our village."
Laitres came out of the darkness and into the light of the fire, and removed his hood. Torvus saw that he was wearing well-crafted clothing that had now been worn by the weather, had short, curly red hair that was now disheveled, and beard stubble. This was a very wealthy noble, or at least he had been a noble until recently.
"Hello," said Laitres. He was terrified to tell them who he was, but reluctantly said, "I am Laitres." He was surprised to see a settlement here, and he did not think quickly enough to give himself a new name. He hoped that this man would not ask him from where he came.
"Hello, Laitres," said Torvus. "I am Torvus. This is Ruptrus and Lynadhel." He motioned towards the two at the fire, who both smiled in a friendly manner. "Please, join us. You must be tired, having traveled here to such a remote place."
"Thank you, sir. I greatly appreciate your company."
As Laitres and Torvus sat down on the benches, Torvus began to speak.
"Well, we're glad to meet someone new. People wander out here once in awhile; actually more often than you might imagine. Not too many people know about this place, though. It's just not big enough to be noticed, I suppose."
"You said this is a village? How many people live here?"
"Well, I think there are eleven people here right now. I know it looks like a camp, but we've become fairly settled here. We've become somewhat of a small community. We actually work together and help each other out. There’s no rules or any kind of enforcement or anything of that sort. We're just too small of a group for that. That's why I like it here."
"What would you do if someone were to cause problems?"
"We are the problem causers."
Laitres was confused, and he looked to Ruptrus and Lynadhel, who were both laughing quietly to themselves.
"I mean that we're a pretty unusual group of people," continued Torvus. "We just don't really have that problem. We're just a small group of people, and we've never really had to deal with a problem that couldn't be solved easily enough. I myself am a hunter, so I bring back meat for everyone here. Other people do their parts. Some people don't do anything because they don't really need to. And that's how we work. Travelers like you come by, and sometimes they stay, sometimes they leave."
"That is very interesting," said Laitres. "I had heard that there were some small settlements out there, but I had never given much thought to what they would be like. What sort of people come to this place?"
"What sort of person are you?" said Ruptrus, with a smile. Laitres looked at him, and rather than grasping Ruptrus' meaning, he merely hoped that he would not need to answer. That moment of fear seemed to be a very long time to Laitres, but it was a brief and lighthearted moment of contemplation for Ruptrus.
"Many different sorts of people come here, and they come for many different reasons," said Lynadhel. "We have different interests and we come from different societies. For that reason, this place is more learned than you might expect. Some of us are nobles," she said while smiling, "and others are not. All of us, however, are more common. We do not usually speak in high words unless necessary."
Laitres looked at her as she was speaking, and he believed that he could see a kindness in her eyes. There was an instant familiarity, and he knew that he could easily be taken with her. For that reason, she became a new object of his fear.
"And we always enjoy telling someone about who we are, if he is willing to listen," said Torvus. "But let's talk about both of us. You must have been walking through a desert for some time. We have some food and water, and you are welcome to take as much as you need."
"Thank you. I greatly appreciate your hospitality."
Being hungry and thirsty, but also having just slept, Laitres accepted the food and drink as well as the company of his three new companions. He was very uncertain of these three, being afraid of what they would do should they learn of his past. He was, therefore, uneasy while in their company. Nevertheless, he enjoyed their conversation, and they spoke to each other long into the night, until the dawn of the Mortus Selian came, which was barely noticeable.
"Well," eventually said Ruptrus. "I have been awake for some time now. I now go to retire. It was a pleasure to meet you, Laitres."
Laitres said, "Thank you, Ruptrus. I am glad to have met you, as well."
Ruptrus then stood and left, entering a tent. Lynadhel looked to Laitres and said, "I, too, am thankful to have been able to speak with you on this night. I am also going to retire, but I would like to speak to you another time, if possible."
Laitres attempted to appear pleasant, but he was unable to speak to Lynadhel.
Torvus now remained, and he turned to speak again to Laitres.
"That tent over there is empty," he said while pointing at the tent behind Laitres. "You can sleep there if you want, or, of course, you can leave if you want."
He then moved next to Laitres, on the same bench, and said to him, "Listen. I know why you're here. It's the same reason everybody else is here. You're running from something. So are we. We're the rejects of society. We're the outcasts. We don't have any place in their world. Most of us came here as a last resort. I, myself, wanted so badly to be accepted as a soldier in the Kurdor brigade. But I had… Certain thoughts… Some ideas… That were not acceptable to Kurdor. I acted on those thoughts and tried to stage a mutiny. It didn't work. That was fifty years ago. There may still be a price on my head there. I came here. Back then, there was another man, Tiris, and he was the first that I met here when I wandered out of the wilderness, like you did. He taught me how to hunt. I've been here since.
"Tiris killed a man. He was from Saradil, from Parun. It's a farming area. He had been a farmer. He had tied a cart to his two horses and was taking his wheat to market on a road through the woods, when a thief jumped out of the woods and stole a few bundles of wheat. Tiris chased the man, and he caught him. He beat the man and retrieved his wheat before the man loosed himself from Tiris' hold and ran. When Tiris turned around, his cart and his horses were gone. The thief was a distraction for another thief to take his cart.
"About a year later, he saw one of his horses tied in front of a store in the market. He hid from view and saw a man who started to mount the horse. He recognized the face of the man he had beaten. Infuriated, he approached the man, and he unsheathed a dagger and stabbed the thief to death in the middle of the market.
"Tiris knew that he did not have any ability to defend himself before a tribunal. He ran. He came here, just like I did. Just like you did. All of us did something that made us unacceptable to society. Most of us feel remorse. Some of us feel great remorse, and we have difficulty accepting ourselves. But, here, in this place, we tell our stories to each other, and we don't judge each other, and we don't fear each other. In this place, we are free, whether we deserve freedom or not. In this place there have been murderers, thieves, slanderers, kidnappers, swindlers, and Tiris told me that there was once a vampyre, though he felt a need to leave because the temptation to feed was too great."
Laitres was beginning to understand that this may be a place where he could live, though it was radically different from the life he had hoped to live. Surely if a vampyre was welcome, he would be. His life had been so crushed without hope that even learning of this life gave him some small comfort.
"You are correct," said Laitres, feeling a desire to unburden himself, but still with great reluctance, "in saying that I am running from something. I would rather not explain what it is, though. I am sorry."
"That's fine," said Torvus. "You don't need to, unless you want to. I can't speak for anybody else here, but I won't press you."
"Thank you," said Laitres. "I think that I will go to the tent now."
"Yes," said Torvus, "Me too."
Laitres then stood and walked into the tent. There, he saw a simple cot, very different from the luxurious beds and cushions to which he had grown accustomed, but a very welcome sight nonetheless. There, he slept deeply.
When he awoke, he sat upright on his cot, swung his legs over the side, and put his feet onto the ground. Leaning into his arms which were propped beside him on the bed, he sat there in contemplation. He was far from making decisions, but merely trying to organize his understanding of the events of the last few days.
The tent door did not close entirely, and through a small gap, Laitres could see outside. As he looked outside, he unintentionally met the eyes of Lynadhel. She noticed him and smiled, and stood, beginning to move towards his tent, and he was afraid.
She came in to the tent and began to speak to Laitres. "Hello, Laitres. Do you mind if I speak with you?"
Though he was in great fear and desired her to depart from him, Laitres could not deny her request, for she had a great power over him. With great difficulty, he said, "No, I do not mind."
Lynadhel then smiled, and sat on the covered ground across the tent from Laitres.
"I can see that you are very afraid of something," she said, "but you should know that whatever it is that you fear is not in this place. This village is a neutral space. You may say whatever is in your heart, and there will be no punishment. I do believe it will help you greatly to relieve yourself of your burden. It would be of great benefit to you, and I am willing to listen to your tale."
Still very afraid, Laitres had great difficulty speaking, but he found that he still was unable to deny her request.
Torvus and Ruptrus were still asleep in their tents when they heard the terrified scream of an elf woman. In a panic, they leapt from their beds and came out to join the others in the camp, and they saw Lynadhel running away from Laitres' tent. She was crying hysterically, and she had blood on her hands and clothes.
"Help me! Please, help me!" she was screaming. "Kill the monster!"
"What is it? What happened?" said Torvus.
"It's that thing," she said with much difficulty while continuing to cry, "That is not a man. It is a monster! I went in to talk to him. It changed before my eyes. It is here to hurt us all." After hysterically crying again, she said, "You have to kill it. You have to!"
"Okay," said Torvus, "Someone take her away. Ruptrus, get a sword. Anybody else who can, follow us, but stay outside of the tent."
Torvus and Ruptrus approached the tent with great caution, and they heard nothing inside of it. They removed the door quickly, and looked into the tent. There, they saw what they both recognized as Lynadhel's dagger on the ground, and there was blood on it. A trail of blood went to the back of the tent. Laitres had left the tent by going underneath the side.
While surveying the scene, Ruptrus said aloud, "Why did she bring a dagger when she came to speak with him?"
Laitres ran into the wilderness, attempting to stop the bleeding from his side with his hand. He had moved out of the way of the blade when Lynadhel attacked him, but it had still cut into his side. He was not in immediate danger of death, but the pain from the wound was great.
After running some distance from the village, he turned around and saw that he had climbed a mountain, and he could see the village below. He could not see any of the villagers ascending the mountain, and he had hoped that they would not pursue him.
Coming to a more level area on the mountain, he sat, facing an unknown land with no visible settlements. There, his thoughts consumed him and enslaved him. His hatred of himself continued to torture his soul. He hoped to stay there until he died of thirst or blood loss.
He had not been there for more than a few hours, but he had convinced himself that he had been feeling the fires of hell for many thousands of years in this cold place. In his trance of despair, he spoke aloud, "This is only the beginning of hell."
He then heard a deep voice behind him speaking a language that cannot be represented in any written human-like language.
"Hell?" the voice then said in the common tongue. "No, this is not hell."
Laitres turned around and saw a great dragon behind him. He had never seen a dragon in person, and he did not know if this particular dragon was malevolent. Laitres was far too terrified to move, knowing the great power of a dragon.
"You do not need to fear me," said the dragon. Laitres took small comfort from that statement. He had been taught that malevolent dragons attack human-like creatures on sight without speaking, but rationality left him when he saw a dragon in front of his eyes.
"Your kind usually call me 'Dharji'," he said. "You are not far from hell, but you can easily turn back."
"I'm afraid," said Laitres, trembling, "That I have no other place to go."
"I believe I can help you," said Dharji. "I know of one other place you may go."
"What place will allow me to enter?"
"From what I can tell of you, an outcast of outcasts, no place other than hell will allow you to enter. Yet, in spite of that fact, I know of one who can help you. This one will transform the very substance of your soul."
Laitres, still trembling, did not know how to respond to this.
"Continue on this mountain path," said Dharji, "the same that you are already following. This path would lead to hell were it not for the structure put in your path. Your path leads directly into the structure, a small cabin. Enter it. There you will find one who will help you."
Dharji then spread his wings and flew away, leaving a bewildered Laitres. Laitres stared into the distance as the dragon flew towards what he assumed to be the Dwarves' mountain homes.
Laitres, no longer having a will of his own, did as Dharji told him to do. He followed the path to hell, and turning a corner, he saw the small cabin. It seemed to be barely maintained, but it was still standing, and still obviously a home to someone.
Whoever lives here, he thought, must have a purpose to be here. Nobody would come this close to hell and remain without reason.
He opened the door and entered the cabin without much thought. Even had the dragon not told him of this place, he likely would have done the same. When he entered, he saw a dark-bearded dwarf sitting in an uncharacteristically luxurious cushioned chair in front of a fireplace smoking a pipe and reading a tome by the light of a lamp on a lampstand above and behind him. The dwarf responded to the sound of Laitres entering by turning around to see him there.
"Hello, there!" said the dwarf in a characteristically low-pitched dwarven voice. He then stood and placed his tome on a table next to his chair. "You must be the one I have been waiting for. I came out here specifically for you, you know."
"No, I do not think I am who you are waiting for," said Laitres. "I am just wandering."
"Of course you are. You are lost. You have no idea where you are. Well, now you know. You are Laitres, correct?"
Laitres was confused, but said to the dwarf, "Did the dragon tell you my name?"
"Dragon? Which dragon? As a dwarf living in these mountains, I see many dragons. To which of these are you referring?"
Laitres stumbled before saying, "Dharji."
"Ah, yes," said the dwarf. "Dharji is a very honorable dragon. I have the utmost respect for him. However, I have not spoken to him for some days. No, he did not tell me your name. My name is Grahli."
"Are you the one that Dharji said I should meet?"
"Me? No, I sincerely doubt it. Only if he was mistaken. No, the one you are to meet is in the next room."
Without any formal farewell to Grahli, Laitres left the room he was in and entered the next. There, he saw a man facing the direction of the door, apparently doing nothing more than staring ahead before Laitres entered. However, when Laitres entered the room, the man looked up at him and smiled. The man had dark, short hair and a thin beard. He appeared to be quite strong and he wore simple clothes. He walked towards Laitres, and he stretched out his arm towards Laitres' wound, and some power in his hand healed the wound.
Laitres' mind was clouded, and he knew of only one thing to say.
"Can you help me?"
"Yes, I can," said the man. "What has been troubling you?"
The events of the previous days were chaotic in Laitres' mind. Thoughts were too unclear to express as words, and memories were too powerful to recall. Laitres' eyes began to water, and he fell on the ground, feeling as though he had fallen through the floor and into the ground, though he knew that he did not.
His voice choking, Laitres began to speak, "I had a family. I was respected and loved among my people. And then I did something. Something for which they would not forgive me. Something that changed the way that they saw me. My wife looked at me, and then she looked away, for she was afraid of me. She was afraid of me not only in spite of my love for her, but because of my love for her. My children did the same.
"What am I, that my love is to be feared? I am not a man, elf, or dwarf. When someone that I love so dearly rejects me so adamantly, so conclusively, and crushes my very soul without mercy, I would do anything for redemption. And I have tried everything. And every horrendous and detestable thing I have done since that time was in hopes that it would bring about my redemption. Yet it never came. Everything I have done to try to earn redemption has brought me further away from it. Even now, they hate and fear me, not as they would hate or fear a man, but as they would hate a demon and a beast."
"Was this woman at the camp that you just left?"
"No. This happened some time ago. The elf woman merely confirmed what my wife, she whom I most trusted, had already told me. I am not a human. My greatest fear is that I may become so evil that I become an orc. I wish to go to hell before I become an agent of hell on this continent."
"Human, you cannot become an orc any more than you can become one of my kind."
Laitres found enough strength to sit upright on the ground, but not to stand. The man continued.
"Your story reflects the plight of many. Some of the most atrocious acts committed by the most evil of men were in hopes of gaining redemption. Yet, it is foolish to attempt to redeem yourself. It is impossible. It is nothing other than irrational to even suspect that you can. Your struggles are in vain. You are an empty and evil man and your deeds reflect nothing else. How, then, can an evil deed produce redemption?
"And your understanding of redemption is errant. You desire redemption in the eyes of your people, but your people are in the same condition as yourself. Without exception, all of you are in need of redemption. Some more than others. Many more than you. Those who are redeemed in the sight of the people are unregenerate in my eyes and in the eyes of my kind.
"I tell you, I am here for you. I am here so that you may be redeemed in ways that you could never have understood on your own. You will be redeemed because I will be the one to redeem you; you will not redeem yourself. I will do what you cannot. I will take the burden that you cannot carry. You will then be transformed, and your evil ways will be left behind. Following that, you will join others like yourselves, in a city of those who have been redeemed.
"You will not ever receive redemption in the eyes of your former tormentors. Redemption is beyond the scope of their minds. True redemption, however, that will fulfil your soul, is redemption in the eyes of the Sprites."
Laitres knew very little of the Sprites. Very little was revealed beyond the myths that the Dwarves had given them. It was rare for any human to see a Sprite. He now knew, though, that he was in the presence of a being of infinite power.
"Come. I will take you to the realm of the Sprites."
The man then transformed in front of Laitres and revealed his true form, light. The light surrounded Laitres, and he was forced to stand. The light then caused him to walk, and it brought him into a new kingdom, a kingdom that could not possibly be described here.
Laitres felt a weight in his chest and a weight in his mind removed. He had been justified. He felt within himself a new will, and he became far greater than ever before. He had been sanctified.