A small smile had returned to Althena's face. She was grateful that the angori woman, Maya, had visited with her at the devastation that had once been the gleaming white structure that housed Avaren's Warren. It felt good to have someone be so genuinely curious and willing to explore a faith that was so against what she had previously experienced. The ixifar healer only hoped that it was a calling that would suit the vibrant younger woman.
Alone now, however, Althena turned back to the crater, the smile leaving her features as she considered what her next step would be. She had poured all of what little wealth she had into the structure not quite two years prior, having used up what favor she had with the dwarves to get the relatively small structure built. She had no idea what she would do to rebuild the church, for few of the citizens within Jastrey itself venerated the immortal, and offerings to the church had slowed to an almost cessation. She was not even truly concerned of the personal items she lost - the medical kit she had carried for the last three decades that had become a staple in the small hospice, her worn mace or the tattered cloak that had hung on the peg to the door to her chambers. Her true concern was the loss of the structure itself.
That train of thought brought another pang to her heart, as she considered those that did come to the warren for peace and reflection. She had heard no word if anyone had been in the church when the explosion had occurred, and she had not had the opportunity to check on the homesteads of those who frequented the warren. She needed to take that time, however, despite what else may be going on in Jastrey. She needed to prioritize where to expand her energies. Glancing about, she turned with a heavy sigh, settling down upon the torn ground and closed her eyes to meditate and pray in search of answers to questions she was not even certain of.
Quiet footsteps approached from Althena's left, however they ceased abruptly as Lyra noticed the meditating Ixifar.
Her gaze passed from Althena to the ruins of the Warren, slowly taking in the scene. Her expression was primarily surprise at first, though it faded to a mixture of sadness and pity.
It wasn't long before curiosity got the best of her, and she sat in a position replicative of Althena, even closing her eyes too. Though she did periodically pop one eyelid back open to ensure Althena had not changed positions. Whatever strange activity the Ixifar was doing, it would seem Lyra was intent to find out by trying it as well.
Instinct told Althena that someone was nearby. Quietly and without movement, she opened her eyes, surprised that it was the sprite from the Wolf Clan sitting next to her in a manner emulating her own. She tilted her head slightly, brow furrowing slightly at her confusion regarding the other's presence. She tried to remember the other's name, but was unable to pull it from her memory.
"May I help you?" she offered instead.
Lyra flustered somewhat, her eyes popping back open to glance only briefly at Althena before casting her focus downward, shy as usual.
"Er... No, I mean... I uh... " She paused a moment to take a breath and compose herself, head slightly tilted in curiosity.
"What are we doing and what is.. er.. was... This place...?" Her tone is sincere, the young sprite sounds honestly just curious as she gazes out at the ruins again.
An expression of understanding crossing her face, Althena shifted into a more comfortable position. "I was meditating," she says, smiling at the curiosity clearly written upon the younger woman's features. "I was asking Avaren, the immortal I serve, for patience, peace and answers to," the ixifar twists slightly, waving a hand over ruined area where once stood the church, "what I can do about restoring the Church." With a sigh, she twists back to fully face her guest. "Unfortunately, it seems I may need to seek the answers myself, at least for now."
Lyra nodded at the explanation. 'Why don't you just build a new building? Maybe Drogan will help. He is helping Ling build something too.' She paused a brief moment before more questions popped into her mind. 'I ask my river things sometimes too. Avaren is a pretty name, did your river pick that name itself?'
The Undine glanced around a bit, fully expecting to see a river nearby. She was clearly not getting theology lessons from the Wolves
Chuckling at the undine's enthusiasm, Althena replied, "I would need to rebuild here, in the Temple District, and materials cost money. Which, sadly, I have little of," she shook her head, "I need to raise funds in order to do so. And," her smile widened, as she shifted again, "I do not serve a river, such as you do. Avaren was once a mortal woman, just like us, who went by the name Haven Melrose. When she ascended, she assumed the name 'Avaren'. So, in a sense, yes, she did pick her name. I have served as her 'First' for many mestruns, offering healing, peace and whatever assistance I can to those in need. The Warren," she pushed herself to her feet, stretching her hand over the crater, "once housed an orphanage and hospice, as well as my personal quarters and the church where those who wished could seek solace within." Her hand drops to her side. "I can still serve as a servant of the Warming Fire," she says softly. "The structure was simply a place to honor Avaren and offer those in need a place to be."
Lyra nodded slowly, a small spark of understanding slowly forming in her mind as she recalled one of her first few days in Jastrey. 'Like what happened to Thalanir? Avaren is like that?' She paused a moment, before more thoughts and questions burned at her mind. 'Why does Avaren need a building if she isn't here though?'
She glanced around again as she stated that past question, just to be sure Avaren was not hiding somewhere nearby.
Nodding, Althena responds, "Exactly like Thalanir, actually. And, while Avaren does not have need for a structure, some of those who follow her do. We mortals are exceptionally fragile creatures. And, one of Avaren's tenants is to shelter the sick, the mad, the poor and the helpless. Having a church helped me do so, all in Avaren's name."
From down the road a large cart rattled and bounced. Ling at its helm, as it was drawn by a large horse. He wasn't armored, and had only his axe on his hip. He looked as thought he had been working all day, but not in the fields of his farm like usual. A simple tunic, pants, and his thick boots. He brought the cart to a stop before the pair, adjusted his bandana, hopped off and circled around to the tarp that covered the back. He started to untie the tarp from the cart and pulled it back. “I have fifty logs now, but if you need more, tell me. I might need a way to move dirt soon. Then we can fill in the hole.” he stated simply. “After that we can build to your design. You draw it out. I’ll be back. Take care of Star.” he pointed at the horse who was still attached to the cart as he turned to walk away.
The young Undine nodded again, slowly. She fell silent for a few minutes and stared out at the ruins again, lost in thought. A few minutes passed before she once again had questions.
"So... So Avaren tells people to help other people, and you listen to her? Like how Ohren and Dalagorn listen to Aramir." Her inquiry was more rhetorical than anything, and she fell silent to thought for another few moments before speaking once more. "Avaren sounds much nicer than Aramir, though..."
"Yes," Althena smiles again at the undine. "I serve Avaren and follow her teachings and will, which are far more merciful than Arimir's teachings. It brings me joy to do so."
Startled, turning away from the sprite, Althena raised a brow to the elf, watching in disbelief as he turned to walk away. "Excuse me, Ling?" she called out, hurrying to the elf, a slight frown on her face. "I know I am probably missing something pretty obvious, and may even regret the asking, but what is this about?" She stopped, hand on hip, as she studied the mercenary.
At Ling's appearance the Undine startled from her thoughts. 'Oh, uhm.. I... I don't know how to.. to build a....' she stood up, spinning around in a bit of a circle, confused, and then moved to pat Star on the nose.
She called out to the random space around her in a desperate plea. 'Drogan?! Drogan help!'
Drogan grumbles and mumbles, knowing better than to let Lyra stray too far from him. He makes his way into view.
"Wot do ye want lass?"
He lofts a brow at Lyra inquisitively.
Ling stopped by Althena looked at her and rose an eyebrow. He shifted on his feet and looked down at them, hooking his thumbs into his beltloop. “Althena, you may not like the sound of it, but you and I do a similar thing,” he looked back up at her. “I fight to protect people. You help them in a different way. But without you, I wouldn't have anyone to fight for. I've heard rumor that I dont do anything without pay. Then pay me this, teach the children peace… maybe I’ll get to stop fighting one day.”
And with that, he turned and walked away again, as he went he looked over his shoulder and shouted, "See you at the Noz, Lyra."
Stunned by his words, Althena shakes his head, calling out to him, "Is that truly the only payment? Something that I do now and always? It cannot be that simple," She frowns, shaking her head. "I have no desire to owe you or the Wolves any sort of compensation that would call into question my honor or the honor of the One I serve."
Lyra blinked at Althena, 'Why would he say that was what he wanted if he wanted something else.' The concept someone might lie was clearly confusing to her.
Turning to Drogan, she grinned at his prompt appearance. 'We need to build a new uhm... Building for Avaren! A pretty one, with lots of places for sick people.'
Althena turns to the sprite, whose company she has enjoyed greatly. "I am sorry, young one." She turns to the dwarf, her features stern. "I ask that you take this wagon and return it and yourself to wherever the Wolves lair. I shall not have myself nor the One I serve beholdened to the Wolves." She stands before the dwarf, sorry she must disappoint the undine, but determined nonetheless.
Drogan looks at Althena with a lofted eyebrow.
" If ee said shit free...Shits free lass ah wont be movin et.. ye kin take et back yer self if ye want tae. Im goin tae tha Noz since me services dinnae be required ere. Ye may want tae be gittin off her high horse an stop lookin down at those who be tryin tae help yr in yer time of need. So ahll be fookin off now. Have a lovely day in yer crater." To lyra "ahll be at the Noz lov. Come find me when yer done with this one."
The dwarf promptly leaves.
Lyra frowns, confusion and hurt spreading over her features. 'I do not understand... Why will you not let us help you? You said Avaren wants to help those in need... are we not allowed to help those in need too? And you were meditating asking for help, and then we want to help you, and you refuse it?'
Althena frowned deeper at the dwarf, watching him retreat, shaking her head. Turning to the undine, she replies, "I know you have a different history with the Wolf Clan, however, all I have seen of them is warmongering, bullying tactics and a general lack of honor. You may not recall, but I was at the Tower when Ling attempted to usurp it from its rightful inhabitants. I cannot, in good, clear conscience accept this," she waves her hand to the still wagon, "gift or bribe or whatever it truly is." She shakes her head again, glaring at the wagon. "It would be hypocritical of me to do so."
Lyra continued to frown. " I think there must be some mistake... I thought hypocritical meant when you do something you tell others not to, or don't do something you tell others to do. Is it not?"
She waited a second before continuing. "You said that Avaren values helping others, and you help others and want people to do so too... So why is Ling not allowed to help? Telling people to be kinder and help others, and then not letting them do so would make you a hypocrite, wouldn't it?"
She took a deep breath, gathering her courage in order to defend the clan which took her in. "Also, usurp means to take something by force, doesn't it? We were neither forceful nor did we take the tower away.... We wanted to help defend it.... I do not understand why they didn't want our help. If someone came to my river and told me they would fortify and defend it, and live there with me... I would be glad for the help..."
The undine was perplexed, the confusion clear on her face as she tried to wrap her mind around why the Ixifar seemed to act as though her clan were murderers and thieves. "Everything Ling does... Is to protect Jastrey... You heard what he said. He fights for the people. He defends for the people... He wants to help the people... Why does everyone hate him?"
The more she spoke, the more emotional her words became. She was close to tears now, and sat back down, knees hugged against her chest as she struggled to choke back the hurt and tears. "Why do you hate my family for wanting to help you?"
Althena felt a pang of guilt as the sprite broke down emotionally. Closing her eyes, she silently counted. Opening them, she gazed down at the child-like creature. "Things are not as black and white as you portray, young one, and words have many meanings behind them." She continued to watch as the undine huddled on the ground. "As you grow and learn to live in a society, you will realize that. My being a hypocrite, in my mind and heart, would be in accepting a gift from someone I do not respect or have ill feelings toward, simply because it would benefit me. I cannot, and will not, do so." Her voice grew firm as she continued. "And my not accepting Ling's assistance does not mean he cannot attempt to help others." With another sigh, she knelt beside the younger woman, placing a hand upon her shoulder. "And, I do not hate your family, Lyra. I like you." She smiles softly. "However, I do not have a great deal of respect to those who have a history of helping others solely for coin or self-advancement. And that has been the history of the Wolves." She tilted her head slightly. "If they seek to change the way they are viewed in the town, they have a lot of history they need to expunge from the collective memory of many within Jastrey." She gave the undine's shoulder another squeeze and then rose to her feet, turning once more to glare at the horse and the wagonload of wood it was hitched to.
Lyra sniffled, rubbing an eye to clear the tears from it. 'I do not understand... What can we do to prove that things are not the way you think they are, if you don't let us help? How are we supposed to show you that we mean well?'
She furrowed her brow tightly, before changing the question slightly. 'Does Avaren believe in forgiveness?'
She paused briefly to compose her thoughts again. 'We have a saying, the Undine I mean. All rivers lead to the ocean. It serves as a reminder that everything is connected. One's actions often have a way of coming back to them later, and so one should always strive to treat others well. Sometimes that means forgiveness and striving to see the good in people. If you never let yourself see the good, everyone becomes your enemy. You claim Ling never helps anyone, but then refused to let him help you. He did not make himself your enemy today, you made your own enemy.'
The sprite got to her feet, wiping away her tears again with the back of her hand and put on the bravest face she could.
'You said you liked me... You said you want to help people... Then please, I want to ask you a favor.' She bowed her head slightly to the Ixifar in a show of respect and humility as she spoke the words of her request. 'Let me help you rebuild this place. Let the wolves prove to you that they aren't who you think they are. Please, let my family show you their worth.'
"You ask what you can do to prove your good intents?" Althena asked softly, still watching the undine. "This empty gesture," she waves a hand to encompass the horse and its burden of wood, "is not the way. There was no sacrifice in this offering," she frowns. "Ling was clearcutting land in order to build fortifications for a war that no one in Jastrey wants, only he and his Wolves. He has made an attempt to usurp," she tilts her head at the word before continuing, "explaining it's all for the war he plans to bring to Jastrey. He has been advocating for mests now that war was inevitable, despite many who have vocally proclaimed they have no such desire for war. For whatever reason, Ling has decided, for the whole of Jastrey, that war is the only way. But, way for what? To further line his pockets? To bring him power of Jastrey?" She looks down at the undine, her face stern. "Tell me, Lyra, for you seem a creature of good will and an innocent soul. What good ever comes of war?"
Althena turns away, shaking her head. "I am not the most needy of Jastrey," she looks back at the sniffling sprite. "In fact, I would say that of all needs, I have the least. A Warren does not make me the First of Avaren; a Warren does not make Avaren's tenants and teaching any more true than the simple actions of those who follow Her. I," she turns again, her cape fluttering slightly behind her as she does so, "do not need a structure in order to carry out Her tenants. I know this because I did so before I had ever built the original Warren, even before becoming Her First. However," she smiles sadly then. "if you truly believe the Wolves are changed, that their main desire is not war or filling their pockets," she stepped closer, "that they want only to help people without any gain to themselves, then have them help those truly in need. There are many, and many who cannot offer anything more than a fervent 'thank you' for their assistance."
With a heavy sigh, she shakes her head. "If the Wolf Clan does truly desire to change their well-earned reputation with Jastrey, and have only good intentions, then I shall apologize to them for my concerns. However, until that time, I cannot and will not accept this bit of thoughtless and meaningless charity on their part." She walks over to the horse, standing patiently hitched to the wagon. Frowning still, she reaches up and scratches the beast between its wide spread eyes. "And frankly, that both Ling and your dwarf would walk away, leaving this poor creature tethered in such a manner, with a burden of wood that they somehow thought I could unload is telling in and of itself." She turns to look at the undine, her face no longer filled with guilt, but determination. "And so now I need to either leave the creature here and let it wallow, or find one who is of good enough heart to take the poor creature from here and return it to the Wolves. Tell me, Lyra. Is that a person of good intent, one who would not even unhitch a helpless animal, but leave it with the potential to meet harm?"
Lyra frowned deeply, her expression still a mixture of sadness and confusion. 'No one wants a war... Did you not hear when he said that he hopes one day he can stop fighting? He... He is not bringing a war. He is preparing for one, preparing for the many conflicts that are going to arise.'
She patted Star on the neck and began to unhitch the animal, removing the harness and reconfiguring the bridle to be appropriate for a rider.
'Perhaps you forgot when Duroscht's followers attacked the town... Or maybe you didn't yet hear that a few weeks ago an army of trained, armed goblins attacked nearby... Jastrey is a dangerous place... War is here often, and I know one should never chase waterfalls and look for trouble... But there is also always a bigger fish, so one cannot get complacent in their abilities and must remember that someone stronger than they are always is out there...."
Once the horse was untied and readied, the little Undine hopped up onto it bareback. (Ride). "No one left this animal unattended... It was left to my care by my superior, he specifically asked me to take care of Star when he left...'
She sighs slightly. 'I do not understand why you wish to draw your own conclusions to see the darkness in everything, when the good intentions are plainly stated.... If that is what following Avaren means, then perhaps she is not so good as I first thought."
Lyra sighs softly, and then puts on a kind smile. "But that is okay, I forgive you, because it is good to let the rain flow. I will ask the wolves to come collect the cart in the morning, and one day, perhaps, you will see past the bitterness inside yourself and forgive Ling too, for the misunderstanding you share with him."
With that, she gave the horse a gentle nudge with her heels and began to bring it back to the farm at a leisurely pace, allowing it to nibble on the lush grass here and there along the way. The Undine was clearly in no hurry.
Althena tilted her head, listening as the sprite discussed events she would have no knowledge of, unless otherwise schooled in that knowledge. She shook her head, trying to clear those thoughts as being unworthy of the young sprite, who had obviously approached her with a heart full of innocent curiosity, However she could not help but wonder... Before the sprite left the area, Althena calls out,
"Perhaps you need to look beyond your own nose, Lyra," she says patiently. "For you judge one whom you have no knowledge of, you have no right to pass any kind of judgment upon simply because I cannot and will not behave in a hypocritical manner to suit the needs of a few and be manipulated by those who have, as I see it, an agenda that will harm the town and citizens I care for. I have seen far more in this world than you, young one. I know the grays and greens and all in betweens of the shades of black and white, and I know first hand there are no true absolutes. I have walked battlefields that have overtaken homesteads and villages to ease the pain of those dying and have found homes for those orphaned by said wars. 'War' has not touched Jastrey. Chaos, yes; disaster, most certainly. But you have no idea of what true 'war' is, and I hope and pray that you never do," She shakes her head, certain the Wolf Clan member cannot comprehend her words, but she continues. "I have never considered Ling nor the Wolf Clan evil; however, I do take issue with how they have historically behaved within Jastrey. Did you know that just a mestrun ago, Ling said to me that he and the Wolves would assist whatever guard was set up for Jastrey, but for a price? Does that truly sound like someone who has the good intentions of others at heart?" She gestures slightly, encompassing the temporal destruction about her. "You may well find your way to Avaren, Lyra. And, if the path to Avaren - to true mercy, hope, caring for those who are ill and in need - is not for you, I hope you find your own path, one that is true to your heart."
With those words, she turns and dismisses the sprite out of hand, wondering how what she had hoped to be a simple meditative communion with the immortal she served turned into such an unforeseen and stressful encounter with the Wolf Clan. Tipping her head up, she closed her eyes and chuckled a little. "Well," she whispers to the air, "it is Jastrey."
[OOP: Thread closed]
((Just one out of play note to clarify Lyra's IC knowledge. While Lyra has only attended a few events, the two she has attended were Thalanir's Ascension and an attack by Duroscht's followers. She gained IC knowledge of the goblins from Drogan, who was on that mod. That is why she spoke of those events as examples. ))