by Solomon

Fragility. We are all far more fragile than we appear. Oh, there is no doubt that we hide behind a facade of strength, each of us constructing our own seemingly solid walls between the world and our psyches, yet these walls are riddled with cracks and instabilities that we cannot see for ourselves, until finally, with one superficial blow, it all comes tumbling down. In this manner do we all lie, both to ourselves and to those who know us and care for us. In this attempt at strength do we in fact weaken ourselves by allowing the worst blows to be buffered by the walls, leaving our core untouched and fragile with innocence.

So we live, through the long years of our lives, each day chipping away at our makeshift barriers with all the minor annoyances that are an irrefutable part of life. This security is long, lasting many many decades, and as it lasts it grows thinner, but we don't see this, since the continuance of our will is more a reassurance than a cause for doubt. However, I am an elf. Humans I envy, for however long their illusion lasts, once it crumbles, they are usually quite near to the natural ending of their existence. To my chagrin, being an elf gives me no such comfort. When the illusion crumbles, as it must, I cannot hope for a natural end. I do not age, and so I must endure with the pain of failure far into the forseeable future. This is my curse.

Or perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps this pain that I describe is specific to me. Perhaps it is a creation of my own decaying mind. I no longer possess the faculties that allow me to objectively observe my own emotions. I was one of the strongest of elves, you see, so my loss is that much more acute. Once, I wore the mantle of a great warrior, an elvish general of great renown. Now I sit here and struggle to put pen to paper, trembling in time with the flickering of the candles that I went to such pain to set alight. Now I am alone, profoundly and utterly.

My story must be kept brief, for the sake of my lucidity, but it must yet be told, for the sake of the young, the naive. I know not if this writing will be seen by others who may understand, or if it will instead be burned upon its discovery, but I do not care, for it is as much a personal catharsis as a lesson to those who have left me and betrayed me. As I have stated, my position in my youth was prestigious. I dedicated myself to the work of the High Elven Council in all its forms. To me, the Council was sacred, the cornerstone of all that was redeemable in elvish society. To say I was dedicated would be grossly understated. So, when the Council declared war upon the goblins, I was among the first to volunteer.

My training, I must say, was peerless. On that I cannot fault the Council. The combination of their flawless teaching and my blind determination made me into quite an efficient fighting machine. However, with this alone I was not satisfied. I saw myself as a leader of elves and men. It was this dream that shaped me, my ambitions defining my every action from that point forward. As such, I rose quickly in the ranks of the elven forces, for the wars were bloody and new officers were constantly being brought up to replace those that had fallen. By then end of the first decade, I was almost a warlord in my own right, having earned not only professional prestige, but also the respect and dedication of my men. It is the latter, after all, which makes a great general, is it not?

On that note, I feel I must in more detail discuss my years in the military. I cannot fault you if you find that my words have already made me seem arrogant, for you are right in your judgement. But my arrogance is justified. I was faster, smarter, and tougher than the other soldiers from the first day I arrived. I took more quickly to the conditioning, and I rose in ranks more swiftly as well. For these reasons and many others, I was not well-liked by my peers. One could hardly blame them for feeling envious. But there was one soldier with whom I grew close. His intelligence and ability rivaled my own, yet his ambition was lacking. He didn't believe in the principle behind the war, having been forced into the military by his family. His name was Barrik.

How Barrik and I grew to know each other is a story far to long to tell in full. Suffice it to say that I decided to take him on as sport, really, to attempt to shape and mold him into a fighter worthy of the attention of the Council. He was to be my protege, nothing more. However, when I grew to know him, I found him to be quite fascinating. His stories of life with his family in Illishiet were entralling in a strange way. Having never had a family of my own, I grew to think of his father, his mother, his grandparents--so vividly brought to life in Barrik's words--as my family as well as his. And of Barrik as my brother.

So we spent our years. As my rank rose, I was always sure that Barrik was among my troops, promoting him above the others as a show of deference. Perhaps I was biased, yes, but I was confident that Barrik would show himself to be a competent leader in his own right once he had matured.

Twelve years after I had entered the service of the War Council, the war was almost finished. The goblins had been routed severly over the past four months and their numbers were scattered. I had become a General, with Barrik one of my Corporals. My forces comprised the majority of the Elven Army, my only superiors in stature being the members of the council. They alone could command me.

Reports from the Council showed that there was only one organized group of goblins left, less than five hundred of the beasts under one warlord. By order of the Council, I was sent with one thousand of my finest troops to end this final threat, by surrender if possible, bloodshed if necessary. I chose my troops and four men to lead them with three squads of two hundred troops and a final squad of four hundred, led by Barrik. I had no doubt that we would be successful, since by this time Barrik had become more than I could have hoped for in a commander and I had decided to give him full strategic command of our troops.

So we departed.

I suppose, in retrospect, that blaming myself for the events which followed is simple reinforcement of the self-defeat that I felt at the time, for nothing, nothing in all the world, could have prepared me for what happened next. I have told you of myself, of my mistrust in all besides myself ... myself and Barrik.

The battle seemed straightforward. Five hundred goblins against one thousand well trained troops. Barrik decided that it would be wisest for his troops to spend the night before the battle circling around behind the enemy, so as to surround them and hopefully force them into submission instead of combat. At dusk, he left.

Morning came, and we readied for battle. My troops, six hundred strong, awoke strong and rested. We rallied for battle and marched forward, eventually coming to a halt at a distance of a thousand yards from the enemy ranks. They knew we were coming, obviously. Simply because they were goblins didn't mean that their scouts were inadequate. In fighting ranks, they stood, ready to attack. As soon as we stopped moving, they charged, brandishing their inferior blades high above their heads and shrieking fierce and incomprehensible war cries.

They moved forward quickly, almost too quickly, but as soon as they reached the five hundred yard mark, Barrik flew from the brush behind them, crying his allegiance to the Council and bearing down upon the goblins. The enemy's ranks halted and turned. Seeing Barrik's approach, they froze and waited for his charge to reach them ... and pass through them ... and forge on mercilessly into my own troops. I stood my ground, as any good soldier would do, and held my soldiers to their purpose. The principle of the battle had not changed, merely the situation. And I must say, the situation at this point looked dire. The odds had now been swayed strongly in the favor of the enemy, as my six hundred men now faced the combined strength of five hundred goblins and four hundred troops that they had trained with and who were under command of one of the most brilliant soldiers any of us had ever seen.

Barrik's initial charge was the most damaging by far, as his numbers caught us by surprise and split us in two. The battlefield we had chosen had been selected specifically to provide us with higher ground, a tactic that Barrik was aware of, causing him to aim his strike high in our ranks, forcing us to split in a peculiar manner, trapping the mass of our force, over four hundred men, downhill from Barrik's forces. His plan, of course, was to simply let the goblins devour my troops with sheer force of numbers, while roughly a hundred of his men attacked from uphill to prevent escape. This left him with three hundred men, whom he personally commanded, to combat the less than two hundred men that I had left in my command. My sole benefit was that I had higher ground.

However, I had little chance. As I stated, these men were trained as well as my own soldiers were, making the terrain difference minimal and the battle quick. Within a quarter of an hour, I had less than a third of my personal command left, while Barrik had taken similar casualties. We simply could not survive with these odds. If it were not for the incompetence of the goblins ...

For while my battle raged, another continued downhill, one in which the goblins were severely outmatched. Swiftly, my men routed the goblins, causing them to flee. I thank the gods that my troops did not follow, but instead remembered their commander. With barely diminished numbers, they turned upon Barrik's men and forged uphill. His plan had backfired and he had caught himself in his own snare. Seeing his error, he struggled through the battle towards me.

I waved my men away towards the battle as he drew near, so that I may hear whatever he would have to say. The Council, he said. They had made a bargain. The goblins had promised the location of the remaining dark trolls in exchange for my head, the head of the general who had engineered their defeat. The Council, he said. And I wept. Never before had I shed a tear, but I wept then. I wept for the Council. I wept for my troops. I wept for Barrik. And I wept as I drove my dagger into his chest, feeling his life, his warm essence, pour over my gauntlet and through the mail onto my arm. I let him drop and he bled into the ground as he died. The battle was soon over.

I made my trip to the Council on the day I returned. I still wore the gear that I had fought in, stained with Barrik's blood and the blood of countless other brothers that I had been forced to kill on that day. My sword was strapped to one side, a sack to the other.

I entered and was admitted swiftly, striding into the chamber with a heart as black as that of Death himself. Into the center of the audience room I walked. Never once did I let my eyes leave those of the High Lord as I slowly reached to the bag at my side and drew it open, reaching inside and hurling Barrik's head at his feet in one swift motion. Not a word was spoken as I tore off my insignia and tabard, letting them fall to the floor by me. I then turned and left, silence unbroken.

Not once did any of the Council members see me again, yet I remained known to them. I could not let them forget me. Within a month, the High Lord was dead. Killed in his own bed, throat cut, with no evidence of entrance or exit, no foul play, no physical residue. Nothing. I must admit, I had a bit of mystic help on that one. A peculiar fellow, goes by the name of Tenth, offered to help me. I still don't understand why. With a bit more of his help, I was able to deliver a note to each of the other Council members, warning them of their behavior, and promising them the fate of the High Lord should they displease me. Until this day, my name is still known in the Bitter Wastes, but only heard in whispers.

I am Rachael Los'Sereg, and I am death.

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