Wondering where part five is? If you don’t want to go archive trawling, click here. I normally consider this kind of post “lazy”, but honestly… I need a break. There is so much purposeful cruelty against people, so many in charge choosing to make as many people suffer as possible, all in the name of being morally correct. I will say that there is little that’s moral about choosing to make people suffer. Even when you think they deserve it. Especially when you think they deserve it. Punishing people for existing is wrong. End of.
Anyway. Instead of dragging myself through the thornbush of modern right-wing politics, have a fairytale about a devil who fell in love:
“I thought you hated Tieflings,” said the Kobold.
Spitebane Whitekeep was suffering for his sins. Including that of putting his entire realm at risk of having an activated curse. Just now, he was suffering because he decided to try going one on one with an Otyugh. “There’s an ancient curse on my family that means I have to be sure of that Tiefling’s safety. He’s a Tiefling of my sovereign realm and if I don’t save his blue ass, the whole Earldom could suffer.”
“That’s one hell of a curse,” said the Barbarian. “Did he know about it?”
Spitebane remembered that his estranged brother was at risk if anyone else knew who he was. “I can’t see how he’d avoid knowing about it,” he allowed.
“Then why the fuck did he go down here risking his life for you?”
Why did he? He swore an oath, but so did their shared father. The Earl Valiant Whitekeep had numerous ways of dodging around the Oath of the Keep. Obeying its letter rather than its spirit, or getting other agents to do the dirty work. Or, for that matter, blaming the Barons for keeping him from doing the things that would drain the Earldom’s coffers.
Spitebane hadn’t thought of any of this before he met Kormwind. There had been nobody to point it out before. Nobody to stand an example of what a good oathkeeper looked like.
His brother had risked his own life just to keep an oath. Put it in peril for the sake of that oath.
Perhaps died for his oath.
If he had, then it was up to Spitebane to try and save the Earldom. How had the old Earl Purity, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather to three historical Kormwinds, managed to escape the curse? Spitebane couldn’t remember.
He started to pray. Not any of the formulaic rote things that had filled his mouth and let his mind wander. Not for this. A genuine, heartfelt plea to his god. Tyr tip the scales, there has been a great injustice. My brother has fallen and I wish only to find him. I would rather find him alive, so we can beat the family curse together… but I know that there are prices I may not want to pay. You who let the wolf Fenris bite off your hand will know that there are prices for justice.
Please… I beg as I have never begged before… let me find my brother Kormwind. Help me.
The gods’ voices were silent as always, but this time, a light emerged from his heart. A tiny ball of divine power no bigger than an olive seed. Floating slowly away from him.
Divine Guidance… in a way he had never experienced it before.
It didn’t shed any light in the area around it, it was just a bright point in the gloom. And it was moving. “Up, up,” he demanded, springing into action. “It’s going to show us where he is.”
“We need a long rest.”
“He could be dying! Hurry!” Spitebane walked ahead. Shield at the ready and sword drawn. The light stayed five feet ahead of him at all times. “I don’t know how long this is going to last.”
Inside his head, all that he could think was, Please, please. Let me help my brother for the greater good of my sworn realm…
He and the adventuring crew with him ran straight into a Deep Elf Ambush.
“FOR WHITEKEEP AND GLORY,” he yelled, charging into the deep of it. “FOR BLOOD AND SNOW!”
“For fuck’s sake,” grumbled one of the adventurers in his wake.
It was almost a rout. They were uncoordinated, unorganised, and on the back foot almost from the get go. The one thing missing from the fight was Kormwind’s – Kosh’s – knack for battle strategy. Without his Zemnian-accented orders, the whole lot of them were in disarray.
“What the fuck was that?” the Dragonborn demanded. “We nearly died and look, that light of yours only moves when you do.”
“Yeah, maybe a little caution?” suggested the Sorceress, busy patching all of them up. “If we die, then nobody is saved.”
“He got the blood part right,” muttered the Kobold. He was almost cocooned in bandages. “Can you summon snow and freeze us to death as well?”
“It’s an ancestral warcry,” Spitebane instantly got defensive. “The founder of my sovereign realm, according to legend, paid his own blood on the snow of the mountains as part of the deal that began Whitekeep. Ever since, ‘Blood and snow’ has been the realm’s warcry.”
“Do us a favour and don’t make us pay our blood for it,” grumbled the Aarakokra.
Kormwind’s words haunted him. So you’d have us pay our lives for your vainglory?
He hadn’t thought of it that way before those words reached his ears. He had read much of valiant knights striving to put the world right and laying their lives on the line for the greater good. Those books rarely mentioned the companions or armies’ worth of people mowed down for the same cause.
They never accounted for the lives and families of those sacrificial hordes. It was all about the glory of victory. Never about how close or how risky defeat was. Never about what losing might be like.
Kormwind said he needed to have them. Spitebane imagined that his brother didn’t intend for consequences to happen like this. Their father said that soldiers in his employ had vowed to lay their lives down for the realm. That their families understood.
These people were Adventurers, and their lives were always in the balance. They should be at home with the idea of losing their lives in the field of combat.
It had never occurred to Spitebane that they might not be willing to lay their lives down just for adventure.
The chain of excuses that he was used to employing failed him once more.
If they didn’t want to risk their lives… (they wouldn’t have trusted Spitebane).
If they didn’t want to get hurt… (they had to follow him out of loyalty to Kormwind).
If they didn’t want to wind up in that battle… (then Spitebane would have died without them).
Spitebane didn’t like the unfamiliar sensation of guilt. He had never had to deal with it before he met his brother. Father, and all of his tutors, had let him absolve himself of any guilt with a series of excuses. He was so used to excuses that he kept trying to use them.
There weren’t any excuses, any more. Everything down here happened because of him.
These people who went in loyalty to Kormwind were harmed because he had lead them into danger. He was mostly towards dying because he had charged into danger. If he had had the presence of mind to let everyone have their full rest, they would not be in such peril. They would not be wasting even more time in healing and rest.
Kormwind could be floating further and further away. He could be being consumed by some carnivore of the deeps. He could be held prisoner by some evil force. He could be enslaved by the Zhentarim, something that was an enormous shame amongst the lords of the realm.
If Kormwind had survived to become imprisoned by the Zhents? He would never forgive Spitebane for causing such a massive clusterfuck.
If something more fatal happened to Kormwind, and thereby Whitekeep, Spitebane would have that sin on his soul for the rest of his days.
Spitebane took a deep breath, steeled himself, and did what his father would call unthinkable. “My sincere apologies,” he said, “for everything. I have… come to the realisation that I have been doing things… very wrong. I cannot change what has already come to pass, but I can change what I do henceforth.” In his head, he could hear his father ranting and screaming about weakness and never lowering oneself to the point of asking for anything. Mistakes are what the weak do, he was shouting. Advice is what the weak need. The curdling fear threatened his stomach. They could turn against him. They could stomp him into the ground. They could abandon him and his search in this lightless hellhole. “I would appreciate any help and advice you could give to mend my actions going forward.”
Spitebane closed his eyes, willing himself to stay steady. Some of them were magic users, they could still work some horrible spell on him. If not to kill him, then to make him regret his every living moment thereafter.
I wonder if I’d be able to tell the difference between that and what I’m feeling now? He wondered. Waiting.
Waiting for the hammer to fall. For a blade to cleave his neck. For a spell’s rough damage.
He almost jumped out of his skin when a gentle hand patted his shoulder.
“That’s a good start,” said the Sorceress. “Thank you.”