The Chronicle of Eldamri
Tomorrow is the day I die. I am not afraid; all sylvari understand that what lives must one day die. Instead, I feel a sense of… resignation. Regret. I do not want to die, but I have no one to blame for this outcome but myself. My actions have led me here, and the very least I can do for those I love – for those I have hurt – is to accept the consequences.
Tomorrow I will face the fate that has hung over me since before I bloomed, but tonight… tonight I feel the need to leave behind something other than betrayal and broken promises. I am not writing to justify what I have done. I have done much wrong, and have hurt many people that I love. I am not writing to apologize for my actions, for I understand that I do not deserve forgiveness.
Tomorrow I will make amends for what I have done, but tonight… tonight I write for understanding. I write with the hope that whoever finds this will understand why I did the things that I have done, and in so doing, gain some understanding of me. Perhaps in sharing my experiences with you, my unknown reader, I may gain some measure of understanding myself.
And so I ask you to reserve judgment until the end of my tale. Whether I am the hero or the villain of this story, I leave for you to decide, for I cannot tell anymore.
* * *
“I do believe,” Sorrel announced, “that we are being robbed.”
“You are ever a student of the obvious,” I replied, turning slightly so that my back was against his. “Perhaps you might grace me with another of your discerning observations?”
“We are also outnumbered and quite literally out-gunned, as neither of us happen to be carrying any firearms.”
“Thank you, Sorrel. I appreciate your keen analysis of our situation.”
“You are very welcome, Eldamri. Always happy to be of service.”
The summer air was warm but a breeze brought just enough chill to make our walk beneath the heavy forest canopy pleasant and refreshing. We had just rounded a bend in the road, deep in conversation, when we found ourselves confronted by a trio of human bandits. Two more emerged from the bushes on either side of the road, taking up positions behind us. They were all dressed in varying shades of brown and green, with black kerchiefs drawn up around their noses and mouths. Some wore hooded cloaks, but one of the men standing before us – who I presumed to be the leader – kept his bald head uncovered. He was also the only man carrying a pistol; his companions had all drawn swords, most of the weapons in good repair.
“Pardon the interruption good sirs,” the man said, bowing slightly without ever taking his eyes off of us, “but perhaps you might spare a few coins for some poor travellers who have come upon hard times? The gods bless those who share their fortunes with the less, ah, fortunate.”
“Is that really the story you’ll be using?” Sorrel asked, frowning. “Poor travellers? Carrying four swords and a pistol? Come now, you can be more imaginative than that! Let me see… adventurers beset by bandits, perhaps?”
“They could have ambushed you in your camp at daybreak,” I added, leaning on my unstrung longbow, currently serving as a walking stick. “They outnumbered you five to one and robbed you of your purses, leaving you to seek the sympathy of travellers on their way to Lion’s Arch.”
“Yes!” Sorrel agreed, pounding his palm with his fist. “I do so love the irony in that. But not the sympathy part, you’re too well-armed for sympathy. No, I think you should keep the comment about the gods. But then, your targets are currently sylvari, and appealing to your gods would not work on us, would it? First you would have to convince us that your gods exist, and that would be an entirely different conversation.”
“We respect your beliefs,” I said, smiling apologetically, “but we simply don’t share them.”
“Let’s try this again,” Sorrel said, gesturing to the bandit leader. “Start with the adventurer story, but replace the part about the gods with something more different. I’ll let you improvise. Now… begin.”
The bandit leader stared at us, dumbfounded. Some of his fellows shifted uncomfortably, and I clearly heard one mutter “rotting plantfolk” under his breath. It was not the most creative epithet, but by then I was starting to think that creativity was not one of their strong points.
To be quite honest, I was somewhat displeased with myself for allowing this situation to occur. We had heard that there were bandits in these woods, but we were so engrossed in conversation that I failed to notice how the way the road bent around the rocky hilllock to our right created a blind spot that was perfect for ambushes. The thick, leafy treetops of this particular forest also provided excellent vantage points; a scout could easily climb into the upper boughs and watch the road without being seen from below. The ambush was cleverly staged, but I had I been more aware, we might have circled past them without incident.
Of course, it is quite easy to recognize one’s mistakes in hindsight, and not remotely useful in our present predicament.
The bandit leader recovered his wits soon enough and shook his head. “They just had to be sylvari,” he muttered under his breath. Then, speaking louder, “All right, listen up you two. I tried askin’ nicely, but if you really want the truth, then here it is.” He aimed his pistol at my chest and gestured toward my belt. “Hand over your purses or it’ll be your blood – er, sap – waterin’ the ground.”
“Our very first death threat!” Sorrel exclaimed, letting his pack drop to the ground. “Hold on, I simply must record this in my log book.” With deft fingers, he untied the pack and started digging through it.
The bandit leader glanced at Sorrel, his pistol drifting toward him. “What are you-“
The butt of my makeshift staff swung upwards, knocking his wrist upward, reflexively pulling the trigger. A loud CRACK split the air as I swept his legs out from underneath him with the other end of my bow. By the time his back struck the ground, his two companions were starting forward.
One of Sorrel’s daggers spun through the air, catching the bandit to my left in his shoulder, the human’s sword dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers. I parried a thrust from the other bandit and twirled my bow, bringing one end up into his groin. His eyes bulged and his weapon fell to the ground as he doubled over, whimpering in pain.
I stepped onto the man’s back and leapt behind him, twisting in the air to face the bandits behind us. One of them had plunged his sword into the air where my back had been a moment before. I smiled and bowed to him, twirling my weapon in one hand. He hesitated, and I flicked my gaze to Sorrel to make sure he was alright.
The last bandit slashed down at Sorrel’s back, but Sorrel’s body blurred, darkening into a shadow that swept behind the startled swordsman. Sorrel materialized with a pair of daggers in his hands, plunging them into the bandit’s shoulders a moment later. The man screamed as Sorrel used his handholds to drag him to the ground.
My eyes snapped back to the bandit before me as he shouted and charged past his whimpering companion. He parried the blow I aimed at his stomach as well as my follow-up, aimed at his head. When he moved to parry a blow aimed at his left flank, I spun inward, putting my back to him and shoving the length of my bow under my arm as I turned so that the end smacked into the right side of his head. As he staggered backward, stunned, I turned and kicked him in his stomach, finishing him with a thwack to the back of his head as he doubled over.
The leader had climbed back to his feet, but before he could raise his weapon I disarmed him with a stinging slap to his wrist. He straightened with a curse and I stepped forward, driving the heel of my palm into his nose. I smiled at the squishy snap his nose made as it broke, his frustrated curses turning into sobs as he fell to his knees. A backhand sent him sprawling, and a moment later I was on top of him, pinning him to the ground. As he struggled, I tossed my bow aside and drew my dagger from my waist, positioning the tip next to one of his eyes. His struggling stopped immediately.
“I y-yield,” he managed, blood bubbling from his nose.
“Yield?” I echoed, cocking my head to one side. I traced the point of my dagger along the curve of his eyebrow and down the bridge of his nose. “Yield… would you have let us yield if we had refused to give up our purses? I believe you threatened to water the ground with our sap, yes?”
His face had gone pale, due perhaps to the blood rushing his nose, darkening the kerchief where it had slid down over his mouth. He trembled beneath me, his widened eyes following my dagger as I traced the contour of his eye socket. “Plea…. Please…”
I leaned forward, holding the tip of the blade directly over his eye. “Perhaps I should spill your blood on the ground,” I whispered. My fingers tightened on the hilt of my blade. “That would be justice, yes? For all the people you’ve robbed… the people you’ve hurt…” Just one thrust, and—
“Eldamri!” Sorrel called sharply.
I looked up. He stood amidst the wounded bandits, three still on the ground, another – the first man he had struck – thrashing through the underbrush on the side of the road in his haste to escape. Sorrel was watching me intently, the amusement gone from his face.
I glanced down at the bandit leader and realized what I had been about to do. I stared at my dagger, ashamed, and quickly pulled myself away from the human, sheathing the blade at my waist. This is not our way, I told myself. We kill when we must, and only when our lives are at risk. Never when our enemy gives himself to our mercy. All things have a right to grow – The blossom is brother to the weed.
Like all sylvari, I revered the precepts of the Ventari Tablet, but this one rang hollowly in my mind. What right did this man have to live? How many people had he harmed, and how many more would he continue to terrorize because I let him live?
His life is not for me to judge, I thought, pushing away my dark thoughts. “Dark thoughts lead to dark places,” Luminary Malomedies had once told me.
“Well,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted as I retrieved my bow, “that was enlightening, wouldn’t you say? Given the reputation of their kind, I had expected these men to offer more resistance.”
“Perhaps,” Sorrel said, studying me. “These were hedge-thieves… they threaten and occasionally kill, but only when their prey can’t fight back.” He knelt beside the bandit at his feet and pulled his other dagger free, eliciting a sharp cry of pain. He wiped them both on the back of the man’s coat. “We’ve made our point, I think. I don’t believe these men will be troubling anyone soon. Will you, friends?”
“No,” gasped the man whose reproductive organs I had injured. He seemed to finally be recovering himself, but he did not appear eager to straighten up from his prone position.
“That’s good to hear,” I said, kneeling beside the bandit leader. He flinched away from me, murmuring a prayer under his breath. To my surprise, I felt hurt by his reaction, and his fear of me deepened the pain I felt. “You will live,” I said to him, trying to sound reassuring. “I would sincerely advise looking into a new profession, however.” He continued to stare at me, wide-eyed, and after a moment I looked away, unable to face his gaze.
I retrieved the bandit’s pistol and passed it to Sorrel as he shrugged his pack back onto his shoulders. “A gift for our troubles,” I said. “Do you think we should take their coin purses as well?”
Sorrel briefly examined the pistol before tucking it into his belt. “As much as the irony delights me, I think that they’ll need all their coin to pay for a healer. Their wounds aren’t terrible, but they’ll need to be attended to soon.” After a final glance at our would-be robbers, we started down the road once more.
We walked in silence for a long time. I don’t know what Sorrel was thinking, but I was brooding over what I nearly did. Killing the man was against the Ventari Tablet, yet it was what the man deserved. That was the meaning of justice, wasn’t it? To enact a punishment on a criminal befitting their crime? As always, whenever I faced a situation I could not understand, I tried to imagine what Luminary Aife would do. In this case, it was simple. Despite everything she had seen in her journeys across Tyria, she had always revered the precepts of the Ventari Tablet. I did too, despite my misgivings, and so I decided that what I had done was wrong, even if it did not feel wrong.
I was encountering that realization more and more often, it seemed. To my knowledge, I was the only sylvari who felt this way, torn between the teachings of Ventari and what I felt to be right and wrong. It made me wonder if there might be something wrong with me.
She caresses me in the shadow of the Pale Tree, promising, promising. The warmth fades, my tissue chills, and her touch digs into me, filling me with cold, and her whisper becomes a raucous laugh…
“Yes?” I asked, grateful for the chance to avoid thinking of my Dream.
Sorrel was frowning, his eyes on the ground ahead of us. “That bandit you subdued… you were just trying to intimidate him, yes? You were not going to kill him.”
For a moment, I felt the dagger in my hand, saw the blood streaming from the bandit’s broken nose, recognized the terror in his eyes. I imagined plunging the dagger downward, studying his features as his life faded away.
“No,” I said, hoping that Sorrel did not notice my hesitation. “No, I was not going to kill him.”