"It's not so bad here," Alorah commented, "once you get used to it." She looked over her shoulder and observed her guest. "But to be honest, I can't quite understand how you made it this far." Lightning struck somewhere outside, briefly illuminating the cave they were in. She could make out his features; how he was watching her, his face contorted with rage.
"I know," she confessed, reading his expression. "You must be wondering how someone like me managed to take you out without even lifting a finger." He growled in response. "But you must understand; I am not alone."
Alorah spent the next few minutes in silence. She was testing her limits, exercising how far could split her attention between subduing him while simultaneously spurring the fire's flames.
"You know, I've only been here for a month. During those first few days I thought I was going to die. Nearly did too... But I made it, and now I'm stronger because of it. That's why I'm here. Back home I was weak, I see that now. The One True God knew that, so He brought me here. It's just another test. Fire and water, and this time I won't fail."
Alorah rose to her feet. Her guest stood as well, mimicking her movements down to the last detail. She turned to him and smiled.
"By the end of our journey, you too will come to know the One True God."
It's early morning. Dew still clings to the grass. The others start to wake. I couldn't sleep.
A rush of beating wings. I look up. A flight of larks break through the canopy. It's a pretty image.
The camp is alive now. Soldiers go about their morning rituals: A fire is lit, water gathered, and food laid out. I'm not that hungry.
I can see a hill in the distance. I climb it. It gives a good view of Bandos' tower; a thin line jutting up from the horizon. I start to draw.
The sun is above me by the time I'm done. I head back to camp and eat. On the way I meet and talk with Toby. She hides her pain well.
From camp I see the white walls of Falador. Very pretty. I draw some more while I eat. Lothar comes up to say hi. I stop drawing to talk and resume when he leaves.
Evening arrives. I visit the city. It's very big and reminds me of home, though some people stare and give me strange looks. A few shout insults. I ignore them and keep walking.
I find a place in the park and sit down. From there I can see Armadyl's tower. It climbs above the walls of the city. Small figures with wings circle it, dipping and diving. I watch them while I draw.
Night comes. I leave the city and return to camp. A few soldiers are still awake. They go about their duties. Some wave at me while others don't. I find my tent and go inside. It's quiet so I hum a song while I look over what I drew.
They're pretty, but not as pretty as the real thing.
Like the earth, we are firm
Like the fire, we are fierce
Like the wind, we are free
Like the water, we are —
Lothar's concentration was broken when one of his aides entered his tent. "Sir," he said, "they've returned." Despite what would normally be good news, the tautness of his aide's jaw betrayed this. Lothar could tell that something was wrong. He immediately rose from behind his desk, forgetting about his work, and made to follow his aide.
"Take me to them."
Judging by the sun's location in the sky above him, Lothar figured it was around one or two o'clock. His aide led him past the series of tents and bonfires that made up his company's campsite. Overall there were at least fifty of them altogether, not counting the other groups led by his other officers. Looking to his left, Lothar could make out the white walls of Falador through the foliage.
He and his aide proceeded to take a right, where the path led into the forest. It was then that Lothar heard it. A noise he'd grown to fear. His aide came to a stop beside him.
"It's... It doesn't look good, sir." Lothar nodded and dismissed him. He then prepared himself for what he was about to see.
An hour later, Lothar staggered into his tent feeling sick and weary. He knew his choices had cost the lives of several good men and women, but that was what was expected of him. He led these people, lived with them, knew each and every one of their names. He made the hard decisions so they wouldn't have to. In the end, he had to make peace with what he had done.
Lothar sat down behind his desk and sighed. It would be a few hours before they needed him again. Enough time to forgive and forget. He reached down and grabbed the bottle of whiskey he kept for just these occasions. While pouring himself a shot, he noticed his unfinished poem from earlier. At the time he couldn't find the right word. But now... Lothar knew it by heart.
Lothar's aide returned later to inform him of the funerals. They left together and stood with the rest of the company as their comrade-in-arms were laid to rest. As their leader Lothar was expected to say a few words. He knew just what to say.
Like the earth, we are firm
Like the fire, we are fierce
Like the wind, we are free
Like the water, we are finite
Dean's eyes shot up open; he sat up straight in his bed, his heart pounding, his mind racing. It took him a few seconds to register where he was.
"It was just a dream," he said aloud. "Just a dream..." Despites his reassurances though, his body still trembled. It had been so vivid... Dean rolled out of bed. He knew any attempts to go back to sleep would be useless so instead he washed and dressed himself all the while replaying what he had dreamed in his head: A terrible land, wrapped in shadow and smoke; great stretches of black earth twisted and jutted into the sky. Dean gulped. It was definitely no place he ever wanted to visit, ever.
Half an hour later, he was walking through the streets of Varrock. Lamplighters were the only other people he came across as they went about putting out the lamp posts from the night before. As Dean walked, he found the chill morning air helped clear his mind and set him at ease. Soon, his mind began to wander...
How was it that he could walk the streets without worrying about the events transpiring throughout the world? Gods were fighting in the next kingdom over, and yet here he was more concerned with a nightmare he had; instead of sending money to relief organizations, he'd bought himself a silly dream dictionary; furthermore—"No," he chided himself. "I can't keep thinking like this. It'll only drive me crazy. Besides, denial is perfectly normal..."
Normal. It felt funny using that word. How was anything normal anymore? A year ago, Guthix wasn't dead, the other gods weren't waging war and were certainly not on Gielinor, nor were there rifts appearing everywhere, shedding their strange light and energy. How could things change so much, so fast? Dean, too preoccupied with his own thoughts, wasn't aware of the person in front of him until the moment they collided. He quickly recovered and caught the boy by his arm before he was sent sprawling backward.
"My goodness! I'm so sorry," Dean blurted. "I wasn't paying attention." The boy brushed himself off and gave him a shake of his head.
"It's okay, sir. I've been looking for you anyway."
"Is that so?"
"You are Ptolemy Dean, right? I have a letter for you." The boy held out a thin parcel in one hand, which Dean took. He paid him in return with a few coins from his pocket. The boy spun around and jogged off, no doubt eager to spend his money away. Dean then turned his attention to the package. As he read the words printed on it, his heart skipped a beat.
It was a letter from his brother.
"It really is good to see you again, Roz," my brother, Richard, said, using the nickname he had given me when we were younger. He smiled and drank some of the tea he had made for us. I did likewise and was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted just like how mom used to make it. "It's been years since we last sat down together and talked."
"I couldn't not come visit my little brother again, especially when I'm in the same city as him," I pointed out. We were sitting in his dining room where two windows offered a nice view of the street outside. The fireplace had been lit to fight the chill of the early Wintumber morning. Overall, my little brother was doing well for himself. I guess all the time he spent writing those stories of his finally paid off.
"So," I piped up, "where's Don?" Richie gave me an exasperated look.
"He's already left for the lumberyard. No doubt he sensed you coming and thought it was the only safe place left in Varrock." I couldn't help but laugh. Richie shook his head, but I could tell he was just as amused as I was. "You know, you seriously scared him the last time you were here."
"Good. I wouldn't want him getting too comfortable."
"He's a good man, Roz," Richie chimed in, his voice sincere. "Just give him a chance." I shrugged my shoulders, a noncommital gesture. Richie knew that was all he was going to get out of me and so changed the subject. "What about you then? Find anyone special yet?" I hesitated with an answer.
"Aha! I knew it!" He chuckled. "You have that look about you."
"What? What look? I have no look," I countered.
"Oh no. I see what you're trying to do." Richie teased, "I know you, Roz. You can't change the subject with me." I grumbled. Gods, I'd forgotten how annoying a little brother could be. "Just tell me!"
"Complicated?" Richie frowned as though he'd never heard the word used before. "How's it complicated?"
"It just is."
"Roz," he remarked, "if you have feelings for him, then you should tell him that straight to his face. It's that simple." I remained quiet. "How else do you think I got with Don? He certainly wasn't the one who"—he stopped—"Roz, what's wrong?" I looked away and rubbed my eyes. I didn't want him to see me like this.
"It's nothing." Seeing he didn't believe me, I added, "I just... I remember a time when I was the one giving the advice."
"Times have changed," Richie quipped.
"Yeah," I reflected, "They truly have..."
Sacheverell had the sensation of falling, but as far as he was knew, he was lying down on his bed in the Forinthry Ossuary. His whole body ached with the fever that possessed him, sapping his strength and faculties. Why, it was only yesterday—or was it the day before?—when he had been walking the streets of Hallowvale with Helisende. They had talked for what seemed like an eternity, enjoying each other's company as they had so long ago. All the while, Sacheverell felt something he had not felt for so long stirring inside him: Peace. It was only then did he realize he was hallucinating, as the sky and ground around them dissolved into nothingness.
Sacheverell struggled to rise from his bed, but a firm hand kept him from doing so. "No," a voice spoke, "you must rest." He felt something being poured into his mouth, followed by severe pain as whatever it was blistered his throat. It was not long before he lost consciousness once more.
Sacheverell was a child again, back in his home in Hallowvale, surrounded by his favorite childhood toys. He saw his doll resembling a forgotten icyene hero, his wooden blocks with the symbol of Saradomin carved on all four sides, and his worn toy skypouncer. Sitting down, he began to play with them. As he did, Sacheverell sensed his father's presence behind him and heard his words as he argued with his mother, whose voice he had long forgotten.
"For Saradomin's sake, he's just a child! He needs this. We need this." Sacheverell looked over his shoulder to find his father, but instead what he found was a field of dead icyene, their wings torn and bloody. He felt the doll in his hands transform as well, but he refused to look and see at what it had become. "I won't allow our only child to die without knowing something other than endless war." His father's voice faded away.
Much to his horror, Sacheverell watched as his house collapsed in on him. He cried out for his parents as the weight of the debris crushed him.
"Shh," the voice whispered. "Drink this. It will make you feel better..."
Frustrated. That's how Steven felt; completely and utterly frustrated, and he didn't even know why. It had to do with something he'd done—or rather didn't, come to think of it—but whatever it was he just couldn't remember. Angrily, Steven broke his stance and turned his back on the active energy rift. There's no point in even trying. I can't concentrate like this. He stomped to his tent, grabbed a heat globe, and then left the cave, hoping the cold air outside would help clear his head and set his mind at ease.
To say it was cold outside would be putting it lightly. Steven could barely stand still without shivering, even with his heat globe and his fur-lined cloak and robes. Although the snow and wind bit sharply at his face, it did have the desired effect. As he breathed in the air, Steven felt his frustration ebb away. As he calmed, so too did his mind. His thoughts began to wander until they Steven found himself thinking about divination.
Why was he drawn to it so? He figured it was because of how he was raised. Weaving things together had always been a part of his life. It was much more than a hobby to him, and now with divination it was a way of life. Steven had woven together so many things with divination, most of which were necessary for his survival. But he was always careful never to overindulge; as a druid, he greatly respected nature and wove together only what he absolutely needed before returning what was leftover back to the world.
But what if divination was more than it seemed? What if it was a gateway to a whole new method of production? Surely with enough effort, he could iinvent things far greater than—Steven stopped. What he was thinking of would require loads of divine energy, much more than the small amounts he used regularly. Even if he did try to make anything substantial there wouldn't be anything left to return to the world, to repair the damage done to it by greater beings than him. No, I couldn't do it, he resolved. The world is more important than that.
Steven returned to the cave. His mind was as clear as crystal. Divination was too important to the world. No doubt there others who were already abusing it, using it to invent at the cost of the world's health. No, I won't allow that. Steven knew Gielinor had to be restored to what it used to be, how he remembered it as once being before Guthix died and the gods returned. He vowed then and there to protect it from those who sought to manipulate its energies for their own selfish purposes.
As he packed his belongings, Steven recalled the moment when the news of Guthix's death was made clear to him. Although he mourned the death of his god, Steven was hopeful. Somewhere in the world there was someone guarding the world from the gods; a World Guardian, as the other druids put it. And now, just as that brave adventurer had done, so too was Steven taking up that responsibility. No longer would he sit back and let the world go to ruin while he wasted away in some icy cave.
No more waiting, Steven concluded. No more hiding, for I am a World Guardian.
Toby paced outside Lothar's tent, the butterflies in her stomach fluttering like crazy. It's just Lothar, you big baby, she scolded herself. He'll get why you did it. Even so, she couldn't help but feel nervous. Her body still showed signs of the injuries she'd received while fighting against Bandosian forces—a fight Lothar had been unaware of. Come on already, just do it! Toby tightened her fists, took as deep a breath as she could, and stepped inside.
"Listen, Lothar," she blurted out before he could say anything. "I need to tell you something." She paused, the sight making her freeze. Toby then noticed a bottle of whiskey on his desk. She gave a mental shrug before reaching forward and helping herself to some without asking for permission. It didn't have the same kick like the kind back in Keldagrim, but it was enough to get her going again.
"I'm sorry, okay? It was really stupid of me to go off on my own like that. I knew it then and I know it now. I put myself at risk when I shouldn't have, and I'm just... I'm really, really sorry." Silence. Toby had to bite her tongue to keep from screaming out what she wanted to say next. Instead, she gave herself some time to sort out how she wanted to say it and took another healthy dose of liquid courage.
"It's just that, ever since I left the order with you I've felt like I had to prove myself to you. That's all that was: Me just trying to prove to you that I'm capable of holding my own, just like you." More whiskey. "I like you, Lothar," she stammered. "Like really, really like you. And I hope that you like me too." That was it: The big reveal. Toby stood quietly to let her words soak in.
"From now on, I swear that I'll do things by the book. Whatever you say goes and—" Toby stopped and listened. Her eyes went wide. Reaching forward, she hastily returned the bottle of whiskey to the desk and turned just in time to see Lothar came into his tent. He raised an eyebrow at her.
"Toby?" The corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly into a smile. "What are you doing here?" His tone was warm instead of hostile, just like it was whenever he addressed her. It set Toby's heart aflutter. She quickly recovered.
"Oh, I... I just wanted to let you know how much I liked your poem." Lothar stepped closer, his arms crossed. "The one from the funeral," she added weakly.
"I see. Well, thank you. I don't normally share them, but the moment felt right." Toby meant to nod in agreement, but it felt more like an autonomic response. "Was there anything else you needed?"
"No," she spoke quickly. "Not really. Actually, I should get going. Catch you later, sir." Lothar bid her farewell as she left his tent. Once outside, Toby sighed. She wasn't sure whether she should feel relieved or if she should hate herself.
Tomorrow, she promised to herself. I'll definitely tell him tomorrow.