Bad news is never a good thing, and waking up to it is even worse. However, a stint of bad luck has led to an observation I had missed and a change in the Quest forever more. It is a simple change and subtle, to be sure, but the impact is quite important.
It began when I was awoken from fretful, itchy sleep by a too-loud conversation between a pair of trappers. I would have tuned them out for sake of slumber, but the topic of discussion bolted me upright and out the door. It seems they had passed the Black Knight on his way to hunt the "Smiling Lizards" of the Seord Fal, and no sooner had the woodsmen made it to the city than they felt his passing on the aether. The debate was whether or not to go looking for his gear to salvage for resale.
Intent on preventing such a piracy, I headed out into the wilderness north of the Enclave. I graced one of the many orphans in town with a few coppers to deliver my whereabouts to Damaria if she were to awake, but I was confident that I would be back before then. A little foolish on my part, perhaps, to run to trouble with no companions, but the Black Knight had been true to me for so long. How else could I repay him?
The Seord Fal is a river that cuts through the island of Hara'jaal. It is deceptively languid upon the surface, but strong undercurrents make it a one-way journey down stream for all but the strongest of swimmers. While travel without the burden of armor would be easier, I would not recommend it because of the predators that swim along the river, the Sleek Hele'la.
Also known as the "Smiling Lizard" for its rows and rows of overly large teeth, the Hele'la is at home in the water as the fish which serves as its primary meal. The reptile is comparable in size to a Gor'tog, and its scales are smooth like a snake's. Powerful muscles propel it easily through the water. The speed at which it can swim makes it a risky business to attempt to escape by swimming away. They were quite content to circle while I labored in the Seord Fal.
I waded south until I came across a bend in the river where the currents eddied and quite a bit of flotsam had washed upon the shore. There I felt his spirit touch mine, and a haunting voice gave rueful greetings. The swirls of the river kept his body in place while his spirit drifted free and in search of aid. It told me that Quassia was also lost somewhere nearabout, though she was thankfully alive.
It seems Quassia had been busy with her gweths, and there was a moon mage, a ranger, and at least a couple priests on their way to succor the spirit of the Black Knight. I resolved to make their task somewhat easier, and I attempted to pull my companion northward to the shore. My swimming was not up to par, and I found myself floundering in the backwater. While I was exhausted, a Hele'la came to visit.
If I could not remove the Black Knight from the river, perhaps I could spend a little time in his company. The Hele'la attempted to make certain I did so as another corpse. As soon as it had reached striking distance, the beast's teeth sank hard into my left arm. Its serrated teeth added to the pain of the attack, and I found myself backpedaling when my senses finally managed to deal with the shock. I called upon the patience of Eluned, and a Banner of Truce soon floated above the waters.
If I may jump ahead of myself, I must say that the Hele'la is a very powerful opponent. It could take an impressive amount of damage, and it was fast enough that it did not suffer from its lack of armor. Its primary attack was its bite but, on occasion it would spit a yellow stomach bile at any near-by prey. This liquid proved poisonous, though not as deadly as I've seen elsewhere. If not for the companions I had, I would have had some difficulty in dispatching them. They carry no coins, and while they can be skinned, I could not manage even a passing pelt.
Such thoughts of treasure were far from my mind, as I set a field dressing to my wounded shield hand. A few moments later, I felt the hairs upon the back of my head stand on end. Somebody had located us, though I knew through the Black Knight the rescue party was still a distance away. After a brief debate, I sank the corpse with stones into the river. This would keep it hidden from any would-be thieves while the cold water kept the flesh somewhat preserved. The Hele'la had shown no inclination to bother with carrion, so I deemed it a safe chance his body would remain untouched while
My efforts were unnecessary, for it turned out to be Stormhand and Glimmerglass in search of this silly tin-can. We debated pulling the Black Knight up from his watery storage, but the absence of any clerical aid made it a fruitless gesture. We marked the shoreline, and the pair towed me to dry land with an enviable skill in swimming.
The wait upon the ship from Ratha (I would later learn that these worthy heroes in aid of the Black Knight came all the way from Aesry) would be a long and grueling one. I do not take well to inactivity, and Stormhand and Glimmerglass were of like mind to keep busy. I had thought to face again the Hele'la with such good company, until the warrior mage mentioned Polo'izh. I had not believed them to be on Hara'jaal, but the pair assured me that to get to the Enclave, one had to travel through their territory. My fever of a few days ago had kept me from noticing these creatures.
Now, Stormhand is easily my better in terms of martial skill, and he was concerned with facing these beasts. We figured to explore the grassy maze of the Glaren Kweld until I had seen enough to make notes, and then we would attempt battle.
What I saw on the first exploratory trip was that the Polo'izh are land-based lizards, with the smallest I saw measuring near the dimensions of a pony. Their small scales are shaded toward natural camouflage, although there were five distinctive varieties based on the predominant undershading. Amber, Green, Brown, and Grey are those I spotted, and I did not lay eyes upon the fifth. I am told that you can judge a Polo'izh's maturity and thus how difficult an opponent it could be, by its coloration, but we had no idea in what order in which these observed colorations fell.
Note that even as we were simply exploring, we were in great danger. A Polo'izh's tail can move quite fast, and it is strong enough to stun everybody in the immediate vicinity when it flails. You can be an arrow-shot's distance away, and still feel the stunning vibrations. Twice we were almost set upon in this way, but we managed to shake the off the shock before the offending Polo'izh could take a leisurely snack.
I had seen enough, and we decided to fight. Stormhand had warned me, and I soon discovered for myself, that the Polo'izh's ability to hide rivals that of a Moon Mage in Refractive Shield. This turns out to be quite true, as the creatures would phase into visibility just as they came close enough to reach us. Not only that, but the lizards have an almost foolproof method of escaping foes too difficult for them: They simply vanish into thin air. Where they go is anybody's guess, but if a Polo'izh vanishes, you can remain in place, and it will return to the same location it left.
Polo'izh are very deadly, and I fully expected to join the Black Knight's spirit in patient wait for the priests. A Brown Polo'izh decided to grace me with an advance, and I settled into my combat stance. Face-to-face with the creature, I could see its feral hunger bright in its eyes. Its attacks were simple but effective, and twice my shield buckled under its powerful blows. Surely the Brown Polo'izh was the weakest of the bunch, for my axe bit hard into its scales just as easily its teeth bit into my body. I saw Glimmerglass and Stormhand begin to flank the beast, and before I could get out "I must face this alo...", the warrior mage's sword had joined mine.
After this, the battle was swift, and we were triumphant. I was a little bit irked at the presumption of my companions: Had I not said I must face these creatures one-on-one? Then Glimmerglass's wisdom set upon this childish thought.
"Is death your goal in this, Nobleborn?"
"No, no, no...I do not wish your deaths on this Quest."
"I speak of yours. You would have perished if you had faced it alone, would you not?"
"Ja, most likely, but I must face them alone to gain courage..."
The elf smiled, and when Glimmerglass smiles like this, it is as a falcon must smile when pouncing upon a particularly delicious meal.
"Courage? Is it not just as cowardly to face creatures with an empath's skill behind you?"
"Urm, that is different..." I was somewhat perplexed and was wondering if perhaps the Seer was correct: Had I been wrong to bring companions upon this journey?
She sensed my turn of heart and lay a soothing hand upon my shoulder. "Nobleborn, we act because we care for you. There is no shame in using our help...are not your friends also apart of you?"
"I...urm...that is..." My mouth opened and closed for several minutes as I pondered and attempted to grasp her logic. How like a gasping fish out of water I must have looked. Eventually I realized that the elf was correct.
What is a paladin without companions? It is not our nature to "do it alone." Our skills, our prayers, our gifts as a whole are built around the concept that we are there to help others...and without their help in turn, we are lesser creatures. Courage shared by the group is stronger than courage hoarded by the individual. Leadership has little effect when you have nobody to lead. Noble deeds for one's own advances are simply acts of selfishness.
I had been wrong to think "face each creature" meant to do so alone. Not once had Peri'el told me to do so without aid, and Damaris had shown me what I needed to succeed upon this quest: companions. How could I have been so blind for so long? Ego had taken the place of courage within me to think I could face the horrors of Elanthia without a friend at either side.
My mouth slowly closed as enlightenment dawned, and I nodded to both my companions. "You are right, Glimmerglass, I should have seen this sooner."
Over the next few hours, my muse Damaria would join us, and we'd hunt again the Sleek Hele'la's. With such friends as these three, the beasts fell quickly. Dear Quassia was found and rescued by the seer and her mage, and some time was spent in simple company. Acting as a whole, we were greater than our separate parts.
Even the Black Knight's predicament showed the value of companionship. He who claimed to have fallen so far from the path of the Paladin was made whole by those who loved him. To these people, I give my highest praise and deepest thanks for coming so far out of their way: The clerics Tazzon and Corravik, Saralle the moon mage, and the Black Knight's rangerly niece Kivian. These good-hearted folks prove that the measure of a Paladin's soul comes not only by the deeds performed, but by the deeds of kindness returned.
May the kindness you give,
Exceed what is necessary.
May the kindness you receive,
Exceed your expectations.
>To be continued<