Chapter 40: Shades of Grey

For six years I have served the Emerald Guardians. I was proud to wear their leaf on my cloak and eager to serve the people who had felt such torment at the fall of Takish Hiz. It was a joy to travel to the far reaches of Tunaria as an agent of the Guardians. It may now be my greatest pain.

Scores of orcs have fallen to my arrows. The goblin witch, Tesht'uzu, spit out her last curse when my blade crossed her throat. I traveled to Diren's Hold and defeated the great bear, Trapmaw. But then my duties changed. I was sent west to find a Tier'Dal Enchanter and his prisoner, an elven maiden whose mind had been broken with his poisoned words. I found them at an inn in Highbourne. The Tier'Dal's wicked magics ceased when I cut off his hands and then his head. A stab of my guardian's blade ended the screams of the mind-warped elven maiden. It wasn't until her hand reached out to her dead lover that the truth reached me. Charmed vessels do not cry over fallen masters.

Troubled, I followed new instructions to head south through the desert of Ro to recover an artifact of the church of Tunare stolen by a fallen priestess. It took me weeks to find her, deep in the swamps of Guk on a ruined pyramid of an old, dark god. She was in prayer to whatever dark god she now served when my first arrow tore into her side. A wolf-shaped demon attacked me from the shadows. The elven enchantments of my blades ripped into its ghostly form and it burst into smoke. Tesarin Moonstrider clutched the chalice to her breast, her prayers never ceasing, even when I plunged my thin scimitar through her chest to the hilt. It was difficult to understand the prayers she whispered as life left her. One thing rang clear. They were prayers to Tunare.

For six years I have been an agent of the Fayspires. Through bureaucratic double-talk and false patriotism they have turned me into a weapon. I believed I was a ranger of Tunaria, serving the will of the Mother. Tunare has left Tunaria and left behind the salted earth of a once-great elven empire. Ranger is not the right word for what I am. The world is not black and white. I am Tarlin the Grey.

I am an assassin.

- From the journals of Tarlin of Tunaria

Loral pushed the worn leather journal across the table, knocking over his glass and spilling his red wine on the table. The words hit him like a hammer. It shattered a fog that had surrounded him since the days he left for Kunark. Their missions had never been to rescue the elf maiden, Fironia Vie, but to fill the treasure-rich lands of Kunark with those who served their interests. It had all been a lie.

For decades Loral had followed the church's orders, traveling throughout Kunark, Velious, Luclin, and now the outer planes. Their motives or goals were never clear. Loral had never asked for justification. He was trained to follow the will of the church. Now images of his past flashed into his mind as the words of his father, written five hundred years earlier, rang in his ears. The death of the Overking Bathezid, the death of Venril Sather himself, the vampyre Xalgoz, General V'Ghera, Trakanon, Nagafen, Lady Vox, King Tormax, Innoruuk, Cazic Thule, Terris Thule, Bertoxxulous, Rallos Zek and his sons, all of them had been slain with Loral's assistance. Hundreds had been slain to further the goals of the council of Felwithe, expanding their lands, their influence, and their coffers.

Loral had been their weapon.

He left the city of Tanaan at once and traveled to Felwithe with only one thought in his mind. He must face Yeolarn.

The stone door slid open, splashing the room with harsh light. Loral walked in, silouetted black against the white light of day behind him. His explosive entrance sent the guards' hands to the hilts of their blades. They softened when they recognized Loral, not because they no longer thought he was a threat, but because there was little they could do about it if he was.

Allia Moondancer smiled when she recognized Loral under the hood of his cloak but the smile dropped when she saw the fury in his blue eyes. As unthinkable as it was, Allia saw the truth of this visit. If this conversation did not go well, elven blood would spill in the church of Tunare.

"How long have I been an assassin of the church, Yeolarn?" Loral roared. "How long have you built me into the dagger of Felwithe? How long did it take you to decide to feed me to the Shissar? How surprised were you when I returned?"

Loral stopped dangerously close to the platform where Yeolarn stood. The Tunarian priests had the words of their battlemagic on their lips, but few had great expectations for their success. They foresaw their magics flowing off of Loral's enchanted armor like water. They saw his ethereal hammer swing out impossibly fast, crushing the steel helmets of the guards along with the skulls inside. They saw his magic, a chaotic magic fueled by a demon some had whispered, rip through them like thousands of blades. All of the priests stood tense and ready. All but Yeolarn, who leaned heavily on his staff as if Loral's questions added weight to his shoulders.

"We sent you to Ssraeshza because we could not send an army. We sent you because you ARE an army. How long have we battled Crushbone? How long have we kept the orcs in check when you alone could kill every orc in Crushbone in two hours? We do not send you to Crushbone because the orcs are necessary for the stability of Felwithe. You are an agent of the church. We send you to the far reaches of the land. We send you into the pits of hell and we send you alone."

The scarred shield burned on Loral's arm. Deep in his mind he heard the whispers of Xuzl. THEY HAVE BETRAYED YOU, ELF, AS THEY DID YOUR FATHER. RAISE YOUR HAND AND SHOW THEM WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. GIVE THEM THE JUSTICE THEY DESERVE..

"Felwithe is no single entity, it has no single mind," Yeolarn continued. "The motivations of each council member is as different as we are from the Tier'Dal. Some sent you to Luclin to see if Felwithe was in danger. Others sent you to die. We have many agents in the lands, each acting independently. Some are killed. Some break under the strain and turn against the Mother herself. But you return. You always have."


"Fironia Vie's name was a banner for our interests in Kunark. Venril Sather needed to die, whether a threat to Felwithe or not. Emperor Ssraeshza needed to die, whether he would have left his temple or not. We send you because there is evil that must be destroyed. It is not about the safety of Felwithe, it is about good and evil. It is about the will of Tunare."

Loral's head swam. Behind his eyes Xuzl screamed for release. Visions filled Lorals mind of Xuzl exploding from the church and burning all of Felwithe in a great ball of fire.

"You knew the truth before you walked in that door. You act in the interests of Tunare, in the interests of good. You have done so before and you will do so again."

Yeolarn handed Loral a scroll sealed in wax.

"Takish Hiz has been found."

Silence filled Loral's mind as both he and the demon within his cursed shield considered this news. Then the voice of Xuzl screamed again in a tongue thousands of years older than the elves. Loral silenced him with a single thought, a single promise.

He would release Xuzl in Felwithe.