The Maguuma jungle was a nasty place for those who came ill prepared. The towering trees, the rampant undergrowth and the vines that seemed to lash out at unwary travellers, combined with vicious wildlife made it the perfect place to get lost and die a horrible death. It was no wonder that few dared to stray far from the roads lain down by the sylvari.
Yet here I was, picking a path through the wild with great effort, following Graymane. For an old charr, he was surprisingly quick, but more important, he knew the land well.
“Are you keeping up, cub?” he quipped as he leaned against a tree, waiting.
“Yea yea,” I muttered under my breath while striking out at the vines that were in my way.
“Don’t worry,” he said when I finally reached him, “you’ll get the feeling for this land someday.”
Someday, perhaps, but not this day.
It would not have stung as much if had it been the first time we set off together, but that was not the case. Over the past two weeks I travelled with him several times, and although I had to skip on pay to accompany him, the relief I felt when I was out here was payment in and of itself.
Even now, as sweat ran down my fur and the humid air seemed to choke me with every step, I felt much more at ease then when I was at the tavern. The sun beating down on the canopy above made it seem as if the roof overhead consisted not of leaves, but made from many shades of liquid green glass, shimmering and moving ever so slightly.
Back in Ascalon, I never had any trouble staying in the city, or even visiting taverns. But here, I always felt uneasy and out of place. The sylvari were friendly enough, but they somehow made me uncomfortable. It might have been the way they looked, like plants, or their blasted inquisitiveness—always asking questions best left unspoken—and giving comments best left unsaid.
“It’s time we prepare for lunch,” Graymane stated.
We did not take any lunch with us, we never did. So instead, we had to go out and find edible plants and fruits. Well, we was a big word. Graymane sat down against the tree’s trunk and waited for me to bring him the food. He examined them and decided if they were good to eat or not.
He was a patient teacher. Never did he get angry or frustrated when I brought him edibles that turned out to be poisonous and not edible at all. Instead, he explained to me how to recognize these plants so I would not make the same mistakes again. By now, I managed to gather enough to eat in a short period of time.
For a while now, he just sat there and stared at what I had gathered for us.
“You learn fast, cub, faster than most,” he said, examining me.
He bared his fangs as he grinned at me.
“Well, are you going to stand there all day, or actually sit down and eat?”
“Blast it!” Graymane cursed under his breath.
I just raised an eyebrow in response.
“What? They’re just twigs, aren’t they?” I whispered in response.
“No, they are not just twigs, they are the Nightmare Court!”
I glanced towards the three sylvari standing below us. We were up on a cliff high enough to be out of hearing range, and covered by shrubbery. The vegetables did seem to wear much darker clothing than the rest of the plants, but still, I did not understand my teacher’s fuss.
“The Nightmare Court,” he said, picking up on my confusion, “is to the sylvari what the Flame Legion is to the Black Citadel.”
“So, they are hell-bent on the destruction of the sylvari?”
“Well, their tree, specifically.”
Let them, I thought.
“Wherever they go, they bring trouble.”
“So?” I scoffed. “Let the weeds weed themselves out.”
“What?” he whispered, staring at me with wide open eyes.
However, there was something more behind those eyes of his. He seemed to be disturbed, shocked and… worried?
“How can you not care?”
“I just don’t see how it is our problem,” I replied with an angry shrug.
“It’s no good to care only for yourself, you know?”
“Bah,” I scoffed. “I don’t even care for myself.”
While Graymane was staring at me in total shock, I too, was surprised at my response. Did I not help those sylvari in the Shiverpeaks? And did I not help the Wolfborn fight the grawl? I did, but why, really? All I really wanted was to be left alone and die a miserable death, yet I kept landing in situations that made me help others. Perhaps that was my atonement, to go around helping others.
“That’s even worse,” the old charr whispered. “I don’t know what tore you away from your warband, but you can’t just stop caring about yourself!”
“Then what!” I roared.
The sudden sound immediately drew the attention of the sylvari below. They knew for sure we were here, but it was obvious that they did not yet know where we were. I drew my bow and an arrow and drew back hard on the string before releasing it. The arrow hit one of the courtiers in the head, creating a fan of sap as the twig slumped down to the ground. The other two fell before they realized what was going on. Each time I released the string, some of my anger flew out with it, until I felt exhausted and empty.
“Then what?” I asked with a cracking voice.
“Kumara,” Graymane whispered gently while Thornfang nuzzled my paw, “I know nothing of your past, and nothing about your future, but I do know you as you are now. You’re a bright cub, and your heart is in the right place. Well, most of the time anyway.”
I knew he meant it as a joke to take away some of my unease, but it did not work.
“From what Silias told me, you protected his tavern,” he said.
“That was my job,” I said In a curt tone.
“Well, yes, but still. You took the job, didn’t you?”
“I needed the coin.”
“Cub,” he sighed, “if you look at everything like that, you will die a lonely and miserable death.”
“… And what if that’s exactly what I want?”
“Then you need to grow up and let go of your self-pity,” he said as he stood up and moved away, down towards the dead sylvari.
“Self-pity?” I fumed as I stood up to follow him.
“Yes. How else would you call it?”
It took me a few minutes to get to the bodies. Graymane was there way before me, but I dragged my paws, thinking about what he said. Calling my situation self-pity angered me, mainly because deep down, I knew it was true.
“It’s a good thing you decided to intervene, cub,” Graymane said as he sat squatted next to one of the bodies. “Everything about them tells me that they meant trouble.”
“Does it?” I sighed. “Who knows, these bad twigs had their own lives too. They made some bad choices, but in my rage, I took away everything from them.”
Graymane studied me intently.
“Cub, you’re really weird.”
“What?” I replied agitated.
“You say that about others, those who choose to do harm, yet you cannot accept yourself?”
Granted, that was weird.
“I guess,” I replied with a shrug.
“Well, we better get moving,” he sighed with a sad smile. “Night is almost upon us, and I for one, don’t want to be outside when that happens.”
Night fell, and here outside of the tavern, it was cool. The small clearing allowed the heat of the day to dissipate as the moon came out. As I lay on my back, with Thornfang snuggled against me, I gazed at the stars. It had been so long ago since I last did that.
Last time was back in Ascalon, long before I decided to become a scout, when I was still in the farhar. My mother was a trainer at the fahrar, although she did not teach me, off course, so she was always close by. However, she was busy all the time, so she rarely came to see me. But every now and then she did.
One day there was a power struggle in our group. Three cubs got in a fight that would later be known as the Day of the Bearer: a battle for the control of the warband. The strongest cub of our group won, a vicious female named Allia, leaving the smartest, Karto, and the most agile, me, in her wake.
To be honest, I never wanted to be at the top of our group, no, I enjoyed being good enough to be depended on without having to carry the burden of responsibility. However, when my mother came that evening to visit, it still felt like a heavy loss. She was a trainer, a great responsibility, and father was a centurion. I felt as if I failed them.
She didn’t say anything to me, but took me out of the city and into the plains. There, we lay on our backs and stared at the stars. For minutes she said nothing.
“I heard you got into a fight today.”
There was nothing I could say, really.
“I also heard you didn’t win,” she said after a handful of heartbeats.
“Yes, I lost,” I replied bitter.
“No, you didn’t win.”
“Isn’t that the same?”
“It is not,” she said in a soft tone. “You fought, but others were stronger. Did you keep fighting to the end?”
“Didn’t you fight with Karto and Allia?”
“You three do everything together. Are you still friends?”
“I think so?”
“Then you didn’t lose, you just didn’t win.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Do you see the stars, Kumara?”
“Do you see how some shine brighter than others?”
“Look at the stars. Like those stars, your deeds will be visible and remembered. But look at the brighter stars. Your deeds are important, but you will be remembered better by who you are. Never let your actions dictate who you are. Instead, let who you are influence what you do. You will make mistakes. We all will, but the difference between the gladium in the stockade and the gladium whose statues loom over our roads, is that the heroes never let their mistakes bring them down or change them. Do you understand, Kumara?”
“No, you don’t,” she laughed as she ruffed my mane. “I’m sorry, it was a long story. I hope you will remember this and understand it someday.”
“Someday I will understand, Mom.”
Someday I will understand.
Today, I did.
End of Part Four