"Wake up! Yeh you! Wake up! Stop yer drooling, it's disgusting!"
"I think he can hear us. There is no need to shout so. There you are. Now open your eyes, and look about you. No? Very well. Just listen, then. You don't remember anything, do you? Do you even know who you are? Be not troubled. The Curse has finally taken you. Memories will come back, with time. It's not my place to tell you who you are, but I can tell you what you re."
"You're a HALF BREED! A witless, cursed bastard! That's what ye are!"
"Do shut up! Don't listen to my vulgar brother here. You are an Aelfborn, the same as us. If he's a cursed bastard, dear my brother, he's no more of one than you!"
"That's as may be. We're all cursed, all three of us. Where are his bones? Where are my father's bones, you strumpet!"
"I'll not play that game with you now, simpleton. Do try to compose yourself. 'The Low Blood is sluggish, the High Blood sighed,'"
"'While the High Blood brings madness, the Low replied.' I know all yer riddles, you peacock. Don't waste my time with 'em. I know all about Rydall Rhimetamer, the half-blooded Bard who was cursed ne'er to forget a single word he ever heard, or the slightest thing he'd ever seen. The knowledge filled his head to bursting - all them songs and rhymes and tales and simple memories trapped inside his skull. They drove him mad, and they burned him for it. But then, we all go mad, we Aelfborn, don't we?"
"I fear he speaks the truth. We are all Aelfborn, hybrids of fair Elf and stubborn Human, doomed to be outcasts wherever we go. Our race is no race at all, for never shall any Aelfborn sire or bear a child. Our parents, be they Fey or Man, they remember their long histories with pride, writing chronicles and telling legends of better days and mighty deeds. Not so with us. We have no history. The heritage of both our parents is denied us.
There have been a lucky few, it's true, who have made a mark on the flow of history as our dear parents record it, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like scraps from their high feast tables, sometimes Men or Elves actually allow their misbegotten pups a footnote in their histories. More often than not, an Aelfborn's name is only remembered to be reviled. Like Sesherin, Cambruin's Champion who some say turned traitor. Nobody will ever know if his hand actually drove Shadowbane through Cambruin's back, for the high Confessors that hold him in chains cut his tongue out every day at dawn. I wonder, how many times will poor Sesherin be flayed alive before they decide justice has been done?
We have no past, nothing more than the dismal or sordid stories of our conceptions and our births. Can you remember yours? Was you mother some Human princess, seduced by a shining fey in the midst of a forest glade? Or was she some Highborn Elf child, taken at sword's point by a gore spattered soldier? Were you born of tragic love or the horrors of war? You don't even know, do you? How typical. Most Aelfborn live as orphans, abandoned by both their parents, treated like beasts by any kind enough not to slay us out of hand."
"Ye may as well stop askin' this one questions. It's clear as ice, the Curse has his tongue. What's that? Oh, ye do speak! It's a miracle, praise the Archons! What's the Curse, you ask? Why, it's the reason ye can't remember yer own name, an' why yer too scared to open yer eyes. The Curse is what drive all us half breeds mad. It takes some sooner than others, an' never touches any two quite the same way."
"Why are we so afflicted? The tale is an ancient one, and tragic. The wisest Magi and Loremasters call the Curse by it's true name, the Mother's curse, for it was the Elvish Queen Silesteree Allvolanar, daughter of Gilliandor himself, who pronounced our Doom in the Age of Twilight. After the Dragon had been defeated, the All-Father lingered long among the shattered spires of the Twilight Kingdom's greatest city. There He recovered from his grievous wounds, and Silesteree herself tended Him. In return for all her care, the All-Father wandered away again, but not before He had wooed the queen and left her with child. When Silesteree learned that it had been the All-Father's hand that had roused the Dragon in the first place, she seethed with anger, and pronounced a curse of madness and ruin on any born to Elves that had not pure Elvish blood, even her own son. Saedron the Fate Weaver heard the queen's cry, and wove her words into the tapestry of fate. Draethen, her son, is revered by many of our kind as the first of the Aelfborn. And while the True Son was troubled by the Curse throughout his life, he learned to master it through the discipline of steel. Is it any wonder that so many Aelfborn walk the steady path of the Jen'e'tai? Perhaps someday the rigid focus of blademastery will calm the fevers in your mind."
"Fah! I've heard that tale as well, an' I didn't believe it the first time. Nor should you. Everyone with a whit of sense knows that Draethen weren't any manner of Aelfborn: all Aelfborn are of Human blood! No other mixture will take. The All-Father (blessed and praised be His holy name) may be the maker of Men, but that don't make Him a Man himself. He's a God. And before you bring the wording of that Elf witch's curse back up, explain to me why Elf-blooded babies born to Human mothers also fall to the Curse! No answers, eh? Yer eloquence has failed ye? Save yer fairy tales, for I know the true cause of the Curse. It lays in the blood itself, the mixed blood that leaves us all brothers and sisters. Haldogrim of Nordanwick, the finest Alchemist who ever lived (who, let me hasten to add, was of mixed blood himself) distilled Aelfborn blood into its basest essence, and found the root of madness in it. Elf blood, said he, holds too much Bile (hence the traditional surliness of the Elvish temper), and nothing exists in the Human blood to balance it. The Elf blood poisons the half Human flesh, and breaks the mind. It's no legend that drives us mad, 'tis our very natures."
"Alchemy is a sham, a refuge of charlatans and tricksters who pass themselves off as true Magi. Not that I believe Haldogrim's ludicrous explanation for one moment, but even if I did, it is obvious that if anyone has poison in heir veins, it is Humans, not Elves. Why, there is even proof of this to be found in ancient history. As it is sung among the -- "Not another fairy tale!"
"Do be quiet! Call it a fairy tale to the Invorri Skalds who sing it, I dare you. Among the Northmen, it is still told how the All-Father was bitten by the great Serpent, paying agony and madness for wisdom. The serpent's venom lingered in the All-Father's blood, and is it a mere coincidence that the All-Father quickened the Titans with blood drawn from his left hand, the very hand the Serpent smote? There's your bile, brother alchemist."
"Oh, so now it's the All-father that's cursed us? There's no new tune there, either. Malorn and his torch wavers have been crowing it from rooftops ever since their Temple was first founded. To them the Curse is a divine punishment, the bitter price of miscegenation. Empty vessels are we, so they say, full of Spirit, but vulnerable to Chaos and possession by bodiless demons. Hogwash! They quickly forget that there've been Aelfborn far longer than Confessors or Templars, an' that there were learned folk who heard the All-Father's will five thousand years ago. If we Aelfborn all be abominations in the All-Father's eyes, why has the Holy Church always been so kind to us? Prayer and faith can also calm a tormented soul, and the routine of monastic life can cool fevered blood. Indeed, was it not Kellast the Aelfborn, Saint Kellast the Conciliator, who first convinced the Bishops of the Elvish Church and the Cardinals of the Human Church to join together into the Holy Church as we know it? In the Testaments of St. Kellast he presented a lengthy parable that likened the conflicts of Men and Elves to the Curse that torments every Aelfborn. As prayer saved him, so devotion to the All-Father might foster peace. Another fairy tale, no doubt, but I like the sound o' this one better."
"As many of us have found peace living as Druids, the Mother's Curse tempered by the hand of the Green Mother, Mother of All. Some still even claim that the marks work. What marks? Here, open your eyes. Do you see your face in the glass? Those marks. No, not the blood - what's underneath it. The tattoos. Almeus the Young was charged by Paolus, the first king of Brethild to cure his son, an Aelfborn born of an Elvish concubine. The wizard tattooed the boy from scalp to sole in scarlet signs, woven with spells to calm the child's spirit. According to legend, the spells worked. And so it is that Elvish and Human parents alike tattoo their screaming babes, warding them against possession by demons or the Curse of an angry ancestor. Many Aelfborn succumb despite the tattoos, but our parents keep painting us all the same."
"Aye, it's the pain of it that does the trick, I'll warrant. Here, look at me arms - see these scars? When the voices get too loud and too many, I draw a blade across the skin. The pain and the blood bring the World back into focus. For some half breeds, the thrill of battle is the only calm they have left, the only time when they can truly be themselves. But with all this talk of cures and curing, dear sister, there's one question ye haven't even asked. Who says this Curse is even a Curse at all? Our esteemed parents, the very ones who are ashamed to even look upon us? They don't like the way we rant and gibber, so they brand us as accursed. How like them. In the days since the War of Tears, there's some among the Aelfborn who've turned their backs on Elves and Men, and gone into the Wilds to live. They let their madness take them, and live like feral beasts, painted from head to foot and armed with deadly bows. Wyldkin, most folk call them, and they leave any who trespass in their woods hanging from the tree boughs, scalped and bristling with arrows. Good riddance, says I."
"Savage! Don't listen to him, child - you are a Child of Aerynth, not a beast. Savage treatment by our parents need not breed savagery in us. Of all the folk trapped on the fragments of the World, we Aelfborn alone found hope in the Turning. Once we of mixed blood all died young - rare indeed was the Aelfborn who lived two score years, and most died in half that time. Some say that the Curse kills us with age, but more blame the cruelty and strife of the World. Since the Turning, no Aelfborn has died."
"Not even poor Sesherin himself, try as they might!"
"Yes, brother, not even him. For the first time, Aelfborn can achieve true age, and some have found wisdom waiting for them. There are now Aelfborn walking the fragments who have lived for more than a century, and some of them claim that the Curse is a storm to be endured, but one that passes with time. We had not the means to survive it before, but now we have no alternative. With the passing of our madness, these elders say, comes a new awareness of the World and an appreciation of the Now. Some of them have sent out the call to their scattered kin, and for the first time in history thousands of Aelfborn have gathered together and founded new kingdoms, kingdoms of our own. The greatest of these is ruled by a Ranger whose name has been carefully hidden. Folk call him the Briar King, and some say even the Wyldkin answer to his will. Tales say that all who come to the Briar King's land draw lots, and the token drawn grants them membership in a family, a group of Aelfborn who drew a like-colored token. Elders serve as mentors to the young, and the wisest help all endure the Curse. For the first time in history, Aelfborn are building a home, and forging ties of kinship. In time, we orphans born of war shall make our proud parents tremble, and regret every wrong that Elf or Man ever did to us. They have denied us any past, but we shall seize a future!"
"More fairy tales! We're half breeds - no more, no less, and we always will be. As if I'd trust any other Aelfborn anyway. Even the Briar King and his dear subjects can't escape the curse. All the Turning has done is make our torment eternal."
"We shall see, dear brother. We shall see."
"Where are his bones, my father's bones?"
"You should know, you dullard! 'Twas your hand that buried them!"
"Aye, search your feeble memory. And your hand staved in his thick skull!"
"I never did! It was you, all the time! You're the murderer!"
"Haven't you forgotten, my dear brother? We're the same, you and I - and this wastrel here! Can't you remember?"
"No! Never! I'll kill you! I swear it!"
"For that you'd need hands, dear boy. I remember the smell of the flesh boiling off of father's bones as we burned him. How he sizzled! The flesh withering and dying, revealing the black bones beneath--
"No! You demon, you hag, get out of my head!"
"It's my head too, dear brother. Don't you remember?"
At this point the Aelfborn prisoner ceased talking in either of the two voices, and only wailed and sobbed. After some time, the prisoner rose to his feet, and tried to strangle Inquisitor Heveron through the bars of his cell. Luckily, the Templar bailiffs quickly intervened, and the prisoner was dispatched.
I have sent this transcript to you because the revelations regarding the so-called Wyldkin and the mysterious Briar King sort well with rumors that have plagued my diocese this summer past. I respectfully request, honored Lictor, that you pass word of these tidings to the Temple leadership at large, for surely the prospect of an organized nation of misborn half castes may pose as great a threat to our righteous flock and the salvation of all Aerynth as the plague of stillborn Shades. The council of Justicars must know of this impending threat. I see no other recourse but to launch a full crusade into the Elder Forests, as soon as sufficient Templars can be gathered.
Humbly rendered this ninetieth day of the ninety-seventh year of the Ascendancy of Malorn the Just, the Living Saint, Kindler and Keeper of the Cleansing Flame.
Korwin of Mangarth, Confessor
Tribune of the Order of the Iron Cage,
Monastery of Saint Eldarn the Thrice-Martyred