Rise of the Runelords VA
Syphacia has the looks and mannerisms of a forest cat. As with all elves, she is slim and graceful, but she combines this grace with lithe precision in her movements and marked purpose in her expressions. After long years in the forest she has learned to glide silently on long strides and show herself only when it suits her.
Syphacia’s skin is fair and smooth, with a slight amber color beneath the surface that makes it seem almost golden when lit by firelight. Her mid-length raven-black hair accentuates the warmth of her skin, and serves to frame the emerald sparkle in her angular eyes.
Syphacia is not one to make a show of herself, and so she prefers muted blues, greens, and violets to the more audacious silvers and golds of other elves. She also will set herself back from most situations, as she finds benefit of knowing the whole of any situation before interjecting herself into it. In this way she is again cat-like – she is transparent in her affections and mysterious in her motives – loving to those she cares for and deadly to those who stand against her. The few that know Syphacia as a friend will see her true smile and find comfort in its simplicity. But those that come across her as an enemy will see only the ferocity and pride in her eyes…if she lets them see her at all.
To say that Syphacia never ‘fit in’ would be to misstate her circumstances—for she had never been one to squeeze herself into the roles and expectations of others. It would be more correct to say that the world fit poorly around her. She was only who she was…it was the world that didn’t understand.
From an early age it was clear that the way Syphacia thought was different—not wrong—not strange or arcane—just different …just offset enough to allow her mind would go places other people’s could not. Her tastes were different, her styles were different…even her humor had a different flavor to it. She was never one to stand out, never one to call attention to herself, she was always more content to stand back and watch than find her way to the front. But those that did know her quickly came to identify the unique skew in her thoughts. Whether they thought it good or ill, it was clear Syphacia was someone apart from them.
This wouldn’t have been much of a problem if Syphacia had been born a human or a halfling, for the history of these races were replete with tales of rebels and outcasts destined to seek their own way. Even the dwarves and the gnomes had examples of those that were not like their brethren, souls that diverged from the traditions that had raised them. But Syphacia was born an elf …and as an elf, things were expected of her.
Part of the blame for her exceptionality belonged to her parents, for neither of them fit well into the roles of traditional elven society. Her father was a metalsmith, a follower of the forge god Torag, and as such a member of a very small minority among the elven religious. Most elves were servants of gods like Calistria or Densa, gods that represented traditional elven aspects of beauty, passion, and tradition. By contrast, Torag was a brutish god—a god of fire and change—a god that demanded constant sweat and toil. Syphacia had never seen it as odd that her father would serve such a god, for she saw the joy Torag’s service brought him. The smudges of soot on his cheeks and the smell of smoke in his hair never bothered her like it did the others, for she saw past them to the smile on his lips and the sparkle in his eyes.
Her mother was likewise different, but this difference came in her manner rather than her beliefs. She was a healer, a master of potions and salves, and a friend to any who needed her help. The problem was, her mother was not content to merely heal an injury and send her patients on their way, she sought instead to remedy the root cause of the injuries and see that they did not happen again. And because so many of the wounds she saw were a result of pride, arrogance, or simple stupidity, her mother earned a reputation as something of a loudmouth, a seeker-of-other’s-business, a nag. Any who came to know her well would not have fostered this opinion long, for beneath any harshness of her tone or abruptness in her manner was always an earnest desire to do good—to show wisdom and nurture growth. But most of her patients never endured long enough to figure this out. Instead they bowed their heads, suffered her scolding, and thought of other things until the treatment was finished.
But it was not just Syphacia’s parents who had a hand in shaping her peculiar way of seeing things, also complicit were her four older brothers. Each of her brothers were gifted—each in their own way—with talents that went well beyond even elven standards or norms. Her eldest brother was a master craftsmen in any medium, a creator of functional art and artistic function. Her second brother was a skilled artist, a master proficient in everything from simple paints to grandiose sculptures. Her third brother was an adventurer, an explorer with an energy and curiosity that drove him ever onward. And her last brother, the handsomest of them all, was a natural performer—an actor, a singer, a dramatist and teller of tales. Together, the four of them represented all the heights of elven culture, every avenue an elven boy could hope to grow up to be. Syphacia lived most of her early years in their exquisite shadows, but never found envy for their talents or jealousy for the accolades they earned. It was enough for Syphacia to be close to them. She treated each of her brothers as a precious gift, and they in turn accepted her the way she was.
Perhaps it was her family influences that set her apart from the other elves she grew up with—for she never had to seek out enlightenment or entertainment. She could turn any corner in her home and find something extraordinary to satisfy her interests, she could open any door and find love and acceptance if she needed it. It didn’t bother her much that the other girls looked on her strangely or passed secrets behind her back…she had her family, and that was all that mattered to her.
- – – -
There was one other Syphacia spoke to, one other that came to know the fullness of her heart. They met by chance one day in the woods behind Syphacia’s home, on a day when the chill of winter had given its first ground to the warmness of Spring. Syphacia was wandering, as she often did, with a fresh blueberry cake from her mother’s oven. She climbed over a rock and found another elf girl, one she had not seen before in her schooling or at village events. Syphacia found a guarded smile and said, “Hello.”
The girl was about her age, but slimmer, shorter, and more demure in all ways. Her hair fell forward to frame her pale face and strikingly dark eyes. She responded timidly, “Hello.”
Syphacia saw the girl’s eyes drift down to the cake in her hands, and thought to ask, “Are you hungry?”
The girl nodded. Her eyes stayed on Syphacia’s hands.
Syphacia moved down to her and pulled the cake in half. She offered part forward and said, “I’m Syphacia.”
The girl took the morsel with one slim hand, “I’m Lorelein.”
They took bites of their respective cakes, chewed for a moment, and then Lorelein ran away. Syphacia blinked a few times, then continued with her walk.
It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
- – – -
It turned out that Lorelein had been born into a home that was strangely parallel to Syphacia’s own. She too came from a big family, but her parents and siblings were sorcerers and spellcasters instead of craftsmen and artists. She too was the youngest of the family, and like Syphacia had never felt quite welcome among the other girls her age. So like Syphacia she had grown up slightly different, and developed into an elf with habits and mannerisms uncommon to others of her kind. Syphacia discovered that Lorelein and herself were like opposite sides of the same coin—they were distinct from one another in all ways, but also strangely of one mind on a great number of topics.
Once Syphacia and Lorelein found one another, they could not be pulled apart. Soon after their first meeting Syphacia met Lorelein again in the woods, and this time they talked and played for hours beneath the sheltering trees. Lorelein showed Syphacia simple tricks of magic, and Syphacia showed her what she knew of the forest. Soon they were laughing and giggling together as if the whole world were their joke. They met one another’s families, and they understood—for the first time in their lives, they had found someone else who understood them. They were still children when they chose to share their hidden names. The sanctity of their shared secret felt like an unbreakable bond between them.
These days were light and magical, and together Syphacia and Lorelein grew out of their family’s shadows into young women of their own.
- – – -
It was chance encounter with a stray cat that set Syphacia on the course she would follow for the rest of her life—a mewing, infant thing she found with Lorelein in the forest. They took it home together and fed it milk from a bottle, then they petted it and held it close and it cried and purred for them. That night Syphacia stroked the kitten gently as it slept on her breast, and felt her heart melt for the purity and warmth she felt radiating from it. In her eyes, it was as perfect as any creature could be. She named it Sawon, and vowed never to let him go.
Pets were not unknown to Syphacia’s household, for her brothers had the same soft spot as she did for the small, warm, and cuddly. At the time Syphacia found Sawon her family had six cats, three birds, two rabbits, a turtle, and a centipede sheltered beneath their roof. Because of this, Syphacia assumed that Sawon would be accepted as all the others had. This might have been the case if Sawon hadn’t been a baby Firepelt.
When her mother discovered what Syphacia had brought home, she told her daughter in no uncertain terms that the cat would have to go. She tried to explain that the Firepelt would grow to be more than two hundred pounds, that its teeth would be like steak knives, that cats of Sawon’s kind were known to kill full-grown stags and wild boar. But none of these arguments persuaded Syphacia, if anything they only endeared Sawon further to her. She wanted to know more about him, not toss him back into the wilds.
Syphacia’s mother saw that she was getting nowhere, and prevailed on the eldest ranger of the village to come talk sense into her. The ranger came, saw the cat, and to everyone’s surprise scratched it under the chin, said soft words, and stroked its back just as Syphacia had done. It seemed for a moment that the ranger might agree with Syphacia’s plan to raise the cat as her own.
Then the ranger looked up at Syphacia and said softly, “You care a lot for him, don’t you?”
Syphacia looked up and nodded.
“And you want him to grow up strong and proud,” the ranger continued, “You want him to be happy …don’t you Syphacia?”
Syphacia nodded again, “I want him to be happy.”
“Then let him be free,” the ranger urged, “Let him grow up in the world that belongs to him. He doesn’t belong here, under roofs, behind glass…growing up here will make him weak, dull, and discontent. If you love him, give him to me and I will take him back into the wild, I will raise him until he can find his own way. I will return to him the freedom all creatures need to thrive.”
Syphacia squeezed the baby Firepelt closer, “But I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. How will I know he’s safe?”
“Because you’ll follow him with me,” the ranger said warmly, “Because you’ll become a ranger and follow Sawon into his world. I can see both the talent and heart in you to follow the wilder path. I can show Sawon’s world to you Syphacia…you have but to ask.”
Syphacia made the decision in an instant, “Show me.”
- – – -
The next months and years were used by Syphacia to learn the ways of the wild, ways that she found came unusually easily to her. She had always loved the forest, always admired its variety, its complexity, its subtle colors and depthless sounds—but now she learned to know the forest, to love it, to care for it, to be one with its simple beauty and ancient ways. From the master ranger she learned to hunt, to ride, to shoot arrows and read animals. And as she studied she watched Sawon mature from a tiny furball to a feisty adolescent, and on then into a majestic hunter and forest king. One day she was traveling through the trees and found a mother firepelt and her kits secluded under the overhang of a granite cliff. Somehow she knew that these were Sawon’s offspring, and had cried at the beauty of them. Her heart felt too small for the love she knew for them.
These years were not always easy, for Syphacia found that neither her master nor the forest were easy teachers. Both were hard, strict, and demanding in what they offered. Syphacia found her way through numerous bruises and cuts, including a fall that broke one of her legs and both of her wrists. With her mother’s help she healed quickly, but she didn’t forget the lessons of the wilderness—that the natural world was not a forgiving place—it was instead a realm that demanded always strength, perception, and perseverance.
She learned also what it was to kill, shortly after she discovered that a goblin tribe had begun hunting and trapping Mierani’s firepelts for their orange-red fur. She took it upon herself to seek out the goblin snares and defuse them, sometimes going so far as to rig them to backfire on any who might try to reset them. It was in the midst of these acts that one of the goblins found her and shouted a shrieking challenge at her to stop. Syphacia drew her bow, raised an arrow, and felled the creature with a single shot to the chest. It was easy.
Afterwards she wondered if she should feel bad, is she should feel some kind of remorse for the killing. She didn’t.
That day in the forest would not be the last time she killed, but it would be the last time that she second guessed herself. Like the other predators of her realm, Syphacia found neither doubt nor guilt in her hunts.
- – – -
In time Syphacia’s brothers took fame for their exploits, and began to disperse as their various talents led them away. Her first brother went Arsmeril to learn from the master craftsmen of Varsia’s most-populous elven city, and her second brother soon followed to find greater outlet for his artistic talents. Her third brother disappeared into the south to find adventure in human lands, and her fourth left for Crying Leaf to showcase his varied talents among the trading peoples. Even her ranger teacher had to leave after a time, explaining that she had to go north to attend to pressing concerns on the Storval plateau. This left Syphacia with only her parents and Lorelein to share her confidence, and though she needed nothing more, she dearly missed those that were distant from her.
She spent most these times near her home with Lorelein, as often the two girls would slip away into the forests to trade secrets and gossip. Lorelein was becoming accomplished in her own right, and could now demonstrate her spells without screwing her face in concentration or raising sweat upon her brow. Syphacia delighted in the way she could make lights dance in the shadows, or how she could throw sounds or voices into hidden corners. But she valued most of all the mischievous smiles that lingered afterwards on Lorelein’s face, the way her eyes would dance and her voice would flutter. She loved the joy her friend found in her magics, and the joy it was to share them with her.
Maybe deep down Syphacia knew that it would have to end, but she never let herself think about it, she never let herself consider how she would feel on that day. So one day when Lorelein grew silent and Syphacia asked what was wrong, she was surprised to hear her friend say, “I’m going away.”
“Away?” Syphacia asked blankly, “Away to where?”
“Magnimar…” Lorelein answered with uncertain tones, “I’m to go in secret and study Sorcery at the royal school. My parents say I need to focus on my studies.”
“You can’t focus here?”
“I don’t know,” Lorelein said with a shake of her head, “I think so…but my parents and my teacher don’t agree. My teacher says there are things he can’t teach me here…secret things that the elves won’t abide. He says I’m limiting my potential.”
Syphacia looked down and her heart pulled tight. She asked, “Do you want to go?”
“Yes,” Lorelein answered faintly, “I do. I want to see what my limits are. I want to become more than what I am now.”
Syphacia nodded because she understood. As surely as she understood herself, she understood.
Syphacia made a decision, and pushed away her sorrow to find a smile for her lips. She asked brightly, “When will you be back?”
Lorelein shrugged, “Years? Decades? I can’t say. My master says human sorcerers can spend their whole lives studying and not master the art…but I don’t know for elves. I know I’ll come back if I can.”
“You’d better,” Syphacia replied teasingly, “I won’t forgive you if you don’t.”
Lorelein tried a smile in return, “I’ll write you letters if I can.”
“And I’ll read them…just don’t forget me.”
Lorelein’s expression warmed, “There’s no chance of that.”
They didn’t hug that evening, nor did they say proper good-byes—that wasn’t their way. Instead they treated it like any other parting, like nothing was wrong. But two days later Lorelein was gone, and Syphacia was alone. She wasn’t sad, wasn’t angry, wasn’t even upset…she was only empty inside…
…and it hurt.
- – – -
From then a slight, yet perceptible change occurred in Syphacia. Her smile dimmed, her eyes dulled, and her graceful strides began to lag. With these changes, Syphacia found a new expression to show to others—a false, empty smile that let them pretend everything was alright. Few of those who knew here even noticed the difference, and those that did assumed that the changes was for the best. They told one another that Syphacia was growing up. They told each other that she was finally figuring out who she was.
The change was more concerning to Syphacia’s mother and father, though they didn’t know what to do to help. They could still make her smile, they could still find her joy when she let them…but everyday it seemed harder…everyday her heart seemed a little further away. They worried for her and prodded her gently about changes they saw. Syphacia told them in response that she was “Okay”, and that they “Shouldn’t worry.” Such responses became her answer to everything.
With time she neglected her studies, stopped her goblin hunts, and spent less time in the woods in general. Her mother noted her lack of motivation, and asked her daughter gently, “What’s really wrong Syphacia? What can I do to help?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Syphacia answered distantly, “Everything’s fine.”
Her mother frowned with concern, “How am I supposed to believe that?”
Syphacia didn’t answer for several seconds. She looked down, swallowed, and then let her eyes come slowly back up. She said to her mother, “I don’t know.”
And she walked away.
- – – -
It was in the spring of her one hundred and twenty-sixth year that a very strange and not entirely welcome visitor came to board with Syphacia and her family. His name was Redgar, and he was a dwarf.
Syphacia was curious at first—she had heard tell of dwarves but had never actually met one before. She expected to find Redgar as the rumors told her he would be—ugly, rude, and totally repugnant. And though she found his smell quite foul and his hairy brown face quite hideous, she was surprised that she didn’t hate him. He was different, this was true…but so was she…and that didn’t necessarily strike her as a bad thing.
Redgar was a cleric of Torag, and had come to the Mirenai wood to learn the art of elven smithing from Syphacia’s father. The two hit it off right away despite their apparent differences, as the language of the forge transcended any differences between their races. Syphacia’s mother was wary of Redgar at first, but in only a few weeks she had warmed to the dwarf as if he was one of her own sons. It seemed she respected Redgar for his stubbornness, his willingness to fight back when she chided him, and his skill for returning grief as well as she gave it. Syphacia found the arguments between them to be both terrifying and amusing—terrifying for their ferocity and span, and amusing for the enjoyment both combatants seemed to take from them.
And so Syphacia grew comfortable with having the dwarf in her home, comfortable enough not to force her tin smile for him, comfortable enough to let herself be herself. She would sometimes find him as he was polishing a fitting or threading chainmail and ask him questions just to get him to talk. It wasn’t the answers she heard from him, it was the passion behind the words, it was that spark of him that mirrored her own light. As with Lorelein, she felt a deep and immediate kinship with the dwarf. And through Redgar, Syphacia found her smile again.
She resumed her studies in the ranger’s skills under her own direction, and was surprised by how quickly the secrets of the art returned to her. She returned her watchful eye to the firepelt prides of the forest, and took up again her raids against the goblin trappers. At night she would return home and listen to her mother argue playfully with Redgar, or eavesdrop on her father and the dwarf as they engaged in endless conversations about Torag and their life’s works. Afterwards she and Redgar would sit together in her family study and read silently beside one another until it was time for the dwarf to find sleep. It felt good to have him there. For a while, everything was good.
- – – -
It was the day after the first full year with the dwarf that Redgar announced he would be moving on. He said it casually over breakfast, as if it should be of no concern. Her father nodded, and his mother teased, “I won’t miss your bootprints in the foyer.”
Syphacia politely excused herself and went outside to begin her day. She found her bow, checked her arrows, and jogged off between the high trees.
She tried to ignore the hollow feeling returning to her heart.
- – – -
That evening Syphacia found Redgar in the study. He was making notes in one of his books, and Syphacia selected another book to pretend to read as she sat across from him. They sat in silence for some time, with only the scratching of Redgar’s pen between them.
“So where are you going?” Syphacia asked at last, “How long will you be gone?”
Redgar’s quill stopped its scratching. He said, “I can’t rightly say.”
“You don’t know?”
The dwarf shrugged, “There’s many places to go. I’ll probably head south somewhere, maybe as far as the Imperial lands, then maybe west to the plateau. I’ll let Torag’s guidance show me the way.”
“And what do you expect to find out there?” Syphacia asked, a little harsh in her tone, “I mean, what are you looking for? You’re good with your hammer, but my father still has much to teach you. Why would you go now?”
Redgar blew on the inked words to dry them as his brow wrinkled in thought. He breathed in beneath his beard, then said, “I’m too comfortable here.”
Syphacia’s features creased, “That’s a bad thing?”
“It can be,” the dwarf answered, “When it stops you from challenging yourself…when it stops you from learning and growing. Torag tells us that the best of us are forged in the keenest heat, beneath the hardest of hammer blows. Comfort is good, it fills the belly and warms the cheeks. But comfort won’t keep your hands busy, and it can’t sustain the heart. For that we must always challenge ourselves…for that we must always move on.”
Syphacia was reminded then of little Sawon sleeping on her chest—warm, safe, and happy—and then of fierce, proud, magnificent creature he had grown to become. And in a moment she knew what she had to do.
She said, “I’m going with you.”
- – – -
Syphacia told her intentions to her parents the next morning, and was not surprised to find them opposed to the idea. Both brought up reasons she should stay in Mierinai, both disputed the soundness of her reasons for leaving. When Syphacia invoked the name of Torag her father relented, though his expression remained glum and his eyes downcast. But this wasn’t enough to get her mother to give up. For the first time in Syphacia’s life, her mother stormed out of a discussion before it was done. She said she didn’t want to talk about it.
Syphacia plans went forward, and over the next few days her mother’s tone softened and her words became more compassionate. Ultimately, she helped Syphacia pick out the riding cloak and armor she would take with her, as well as meals and supplies for their packs. The night before she was to leave, her mother admitted, “I’m just scared…you know I have rights to worry. That’s what mothers do.”
Syphacia rested a tender hand on her mother’s arm, “I know.”
Her mother looked up, and her sorrow-lined face lightened. She said, “You’ve remembered your smile Syphaica. I’m glad for it.”
Syphacia and her mother spent the rest of the night talking and planning and reminiscing on days past. They laughed together…they laughed until it hurt. And the warmth of the hurt gave them strength… strength enough to say good-bye.
- – – -
As they prepared to leave the next morning, Syphacia promised that she would return when she could, and promised to send a message if she found a way. Redgar puffed his chest and vowed to keep her safe for them.
All the elves just laughed. Syphacia looked dubiously to the dwarf and said, “If anything, it’s going to be the other way around.”
The dwarf huffed and looked away…but he did not disagree.
The elves hugged and said their farewells, and then Syphacia and Redgar rode away—she on a slim elven steed, and he on a stout pony from lands west. Syphacia looked up at the sun and found its light warm and comforting on her cheeks. Her blood seemed to be tingling in her veins.
“So Miss Syphacia,” Redgar pondered as they rode, “Where shall we go from here?”
Syphacia thought of her absent brothers, of her master fighting in the north, and her friend Lorelein studying far to the south. And she thought of all the roads inbetween them…unlimited miles and sights and journeys to be had along the way.
The elf grinned, “Anywhere is good.”