The evening sky illuminated the manor as the haggard crowd of gawking survivors shuffled through the portal, the grounds brought to life by the clamor of delirious squawking birds and the curses of the manor inhabitants struggling to sort them. As the menagerie of Aarakoa filtered through the portal, a towering silver mass covered in more viscera than clothing broke away from the group. Accompanying the mass was a figure no bigger than a child, both of them pausing as soon as enough distance had been put between them and the cacophony. The smaller figure collapsed to his knees, the discipline so carefully holding his emotions at bay finally crumbling, exhaustion and grief and loss dragging him to the earth. The silver mass stopped as if to console the small figure but then shuffled away, its own face haunted, it's gaze unfocused.
It wandered through the manor grounds seemingly drawn somewhere, the inhabitants giving wide berth to the creature as it found its way to the hedge garden, a place accommodating the activities of varied types of residents seeking shelter. There, in a lit section of the garden, the waning light shown upon a surprisingly large collection of makeshift shrines that had been laid out between the trees and hedges to many of the good and justly gods, a well lit place of worship where those of faith could come to give thanks or seek guidance and comfort from the deity of their choosing.
There were a few the creature recognized from his time with his parents, devout druids themselves although he had never thought much of the higher powers: A bronze medal depicting a unicorn, Mielekki, a carved oak leaf for Silvanus, several other small trinkets to lesser forest and nature deities. But for every trinket he recognized there were somehow two he did not: An old left handed gauntlet with what looked like a staring glass eye, a doll bound at the wrists with red cord, an intricate wire triangle of six pointed stars. He made his way through the makeshift temples to gods and demigods until he found it, more instinct than memory letting him know that this was the one: an old hammer with a small brass scale on top, perfectly balanced in the shade of a large fruit bearing tree. It was near the end of the manor grounds, the plants and earth just a few feet away shriveling and dying, devoid of any of the life the delicate tree nearby seemed to flourish in.
He hid his bulk in the shadow of the tree, unsheathing his great axe, the stained silvered blade's appearance a reflection of his gore splattered scales. He gently lowered the blade to the ground and allowed the haft of the weapon to lean against his shoulder as he had when he first began preparation for his oath. Alone in the field of shrines, he sank to his knees in front of the symbol and remained there, staring at it, quietly balancing his thoughts in the scale. Then he did something he had not done earnestly since before he had left his home as a child. His eyes became unfocused, looking into the past as he tried to speak to the gods.
"…Until I entered this valley I had never picked a fight I couldn't win," he paused before correcting, "That I didn't 'think' I couldn't win…But, then I came here, and met him. And began the fight for this valley. And I realized that, win or lose, there was no reason to fight unless after it there was something to look forward to."
He struggled for a moment with his next words before allowing himself to emit them.
"…I…have not been perfect since I've been here," he began, the mumbled words each picked with care. "I've fought for the wrong reasons, but always for what I thought was the right cause," he looked up over the shrines, his eyes focused and accusing, "For your cause. Like he does. Like he did."
He brought his gaze back to the shrine closest to him. "My mother told me to never ask more of the gods than what you need, and the gods will never take more than you can give." His eyes focused and narrowed.
"Ever since I left them I have asked you for nothing and our arrangement has been sound. Even as we do your work here, I ask you for nothing, and I have NEVER worked for anyone, god or mortal, for free."
His eyes hardened and his scaled lips peeled into a snarl. "But now, you take him, from us? From me? Someone you sent to do your job?" He was leaning forward now, the last words spat with such fervor that frothing ice began to form at the corners of his maw, his eyes wild. Before his fury consumed him his eyes slowly closed, his face becoming blank, passive; the rage not gone but tightly controlled as he had done a hundred times before. He opened his eyes, no longer wild, and his next words he spoke as if to a gathered crowd, his eyes scanning the scattered shrines before him.
"I do not know which of you took him, or why, and I do not ask for this in payment, as my actions have been mine and mine alone. But if one of you can return him, I will swear whatever oath you need. I will give my life for your cause, bring glory to your name, gather followers, banish evil, perform ritual sacrifice, organize song and dance competitions, whatever it is you ask of me. As long as you bring him back to me. As long as you allow me to do it beside him."
"Because if we are truly sent to fulfill your will, we will need him back," his eyes closing.
"…I need him back," he whispered.He grudgingly bowed his head in a gesture of subservience and, in a voice barely even a whisper, uttered
His will broken, his pride laid low, his soul bared before the gods, he remained bowed like that for a time. Perhaps considering his next words, perhaps to underline the desperation of his plea, and perhaps waiting for a reply. But as the shadows stretched across the garden, no answers came to him.
The sun setting, he unbowed his head, and slowly got to his feet, eyes still closed in thought. He grabbed his axe, sheathed it, and with a weary sigh, set off back toward the manor. As he began to walk away, he opened his eyes revealing them to be harder than silvered scales and colder than the ice at his lips, a slight gleam of madness and desperation flickering in them. His next words were prepared in a fashion more suited to his demeanor and though he spoke them with vigor he did so quietly to himself and away from the shrines, not willing to jeopardize his request by mocking gods.
"I realize you gods work in mysterious ways, that your will here is not always predictable, that you limit to your involvement in the lives of us mere mortals." He sneered, "But if any of you do care, if for some reason you cannot or will not fulfill this request," his frozen gaze left the shrines of the manor and looked out over the landscape desecrated by beings of evil and power.
"I will find gods who can."