Some final thoughts about an imaginary friend

Note: After wrapping up a close to two year RPG campaign yesterday (where our heroes saved the world from certain doom – you’re welcome, world), I found myself thinking about the eventual fate of my character. That’s not a typical thing for me, but this wasn’t a typical campaign, either. So, apropos of nothing, I give you the rest of the life of Dorim Ironheart, bloodmaiden of Haela Brightaxe:

He always meant to return to the surface, of course. The holiest day of the Lady of the Fray all but required it. When the sun shone brightest, the bloodmaidens looked into its glare and saw Her sword. It was not a ritual of memory of action, but simply to bear witness to Her, and to make what promises one may in their own heart. Axe Held High Day it was known, and Dorim intended to attend it as was his duty.

Only there never seemed to be time. Not once he had returned to the Underdark with the deep gnomes, fulfilling the promise he made to his onetime companion who had sacrificed all to aid in the great battle. There were walls to be built, an armory to be organized, and borders to be defended. He always intended – each year – to return and see the sun, and bear witness. “Next year,” he told himself, and returned to his work training the small ones who had pledged themselves to the defense of their people.

Dawnbringer he had left in the keeping of the dwarves above. She had spent too long belowground, and the darkness frightened her. She tried to argue with him, but not that hard, and Dorim expected that wherever she was, her light shone brightly indeed. It was better this way, he reasoned. She had her work, true, but she also deserved peace. Better chance to find it above than down in the depths with him.

The closest he came to the surface was an annual visit from a trading caravan, bringing much-needed materials for the rebuilding settlement. The prices were good – suspiciously so, but the caravan came from Bruenor Battlehammer, and Dorim supposed that he had earned a discount for the work he had done, after all. Still he intended to return one day. Perhaps next year. Once the Duregar learned to leave the city alone. Once the Drow demonstrated that they could honor a treaty for more than a week. Once the gnomes stopped dying in such numbers in each battle. Once he trusted that Senni wasn’t putting on a brave face when she urged him to return above for a season, a month, a week.

Next year for certain.

It was all Kyris’ fault, really. Who would have imagined that a minotaur would show him what it meant to be bound by a vow? Damn fool nearly got them all killed when they first escaped, but he came back at the end, sure enough.

Time passed, and Dorim’s responsibilities remained much the same. He regretted much, but little so much as this mistrust of the tiefling there at the last. While she was of a fell race, she had lived up to her name, and when he allowed himself to think of it, he was ashamed of his actions. Once, he thought to write to her but how would he do so? He spent time in contemplation, and stopped himself before scrawling his lifeblood into a book the way he remembered seeing her do at times. It was hard to recall which of those memories were true and which were nightmares. Some were both.

Dorim remembered his rituals, and if Axe Held High was lost to him (next year), Greengrass and its Time of Spawning was always honored. The gnomes didn’t shatter captured weapons with quite the vigor that Dorim would have preferred, but their clever devices got the job done, and they understood the purpose – to chant and boast of their own deeds, and prepare for the next onslaught. There was always another battle to come. They would be ready.

There were times when the dwarf could forget that he was a legend in his own right, that he had helped to lead these people – well, mostly their parents and grandparents, now – to safety, and back again to their homes. Those times of forgetting were peaceful, and seductive, and he knew they couldn’t last. Usually the hum of their song of flight was what brought him back to reality, and he remembered the horrors that led up to that moment of desperation. The bare escape from the Drow. The grim moment of facing Demigorgon for the first time. The druid who had risked his own skin to carry Dorim away. Wyn, the thief whose fear of losing herself had driven her to madness and a horrific end. The others who stood beside him and who he had failed to protect. The fallen angel who had been redeemed through his own bravery. Dorim could almost forgive that one for not letting him rest in the Beholder’s lair, the first time he had dared to call to his Lady and had – somehow – been heard. It would have been a hard way to die, but a pure way. It was the last moment of untarnished joy that Dorim could remember.

He considered a journey through the other places of the Underdark where he might be welcome – the freed slaves of the Beholder’s realm, or the myconoid settlement where his comrades had stopped a wedding and saved a people. Perhaps even to the surprising ally who had sent them on that last series of impossible-but-inevitable errands. But in the end only one journey called to him, and it was time. His most promising sparring partner finally defeated him three times out of ten. The healers learned the prayers to return their fallen allies to health, and they would continue to improve. Senni, of course, had departed some time before. And most of all, after so long in the dark, he was ready to face Her once more.

It wasn’t the day of Axe Held High when he emerged, but even the winter sun brought tears to his eyes after so long, and he swore that the Luckmaiden’s blade shone above him. Whatever day the calendar read, it was time for one last observance, and he was well-prepared. He began the Commemoration of the Fallen, reciting the ritual from memory, and if he got some of the words confused, well, that seemed only appropriate. He had been away for a while.

The recitation of names took some time, and the dwarf felt tears roll hotly down his cheeks without shame. It was good to remember, even when it hurt to do so. That was the burden of having lived through it, and honoring those who had preceded him was his work now.

At length, his words ran out, and he murmured one last prayer for those he’d failed to name, whose deeds had nonetheless been worthy. The sun, dimmed by the season, crept out from the clouds, almost – but not quite – too bright for him to bear.

And so it was that one hundred twenty seven years after the return, Dorim Ironheart, hero of the Exodus, ally of myconoids, witness to the great march, inspiration to Bruenor Battlehammer, slayer of demons, second sheriff of Blingdenstone, and last remaining member of the Steadfast, again heard the voice of Haela Brieghtaxe, and returned at last to Her embrace.