Dear readers, I am most excited to write to you today to introduce you to one of the most remarkable members in my party, the Half-Aarakocran monk Vedika, Destroyer of Chaos. She was gracious enough to invite me into her abode, a humble cottage by the sea, where I presently write this missive.
A salty, fishy smell saturates the air—fed, of course, by the sea, but also by the massive racks of trout drying in the sun just outside the cottage. The odor assaults my nostrils so savagely that I can only barely make out the more familiar aromas of the sage, yarrow, and chamomile that grow in the garden.
As I write, she stands before a table, grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle into a fine, green paste. Her hawkish eyes narrow in on the paste as if it were prey and she were circling above it in the air, calculating just the right moment to strike. I sit on an improvised stool (an empty barrel, actually). Aside from the preparation table and the king-sized bed on the other side of the cottage, there is naught here in the way of furniture.
“We can start,” she says, not looking away from the task at hand.
“The interview. We can start. I see you writing your pretty words.”
Her tone is blunt, but the words stab like thorns. Was that a compliment or thinly veiled sarcasm? Her expression is inscrutable.
“Oh… Well, I was just setting the stage, you see. I didn’t want to interrupt; you looked so engrossed.”
“I am no fool. I can cook and talk at the same time.”
“Of course! I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were… Please don’t take offense to my… Truly, Vedika, I…”
Still pounding at the paste with her pestle, she looks up and raises an eyebrow at me. Blood rushes to my face and my hands ball into fists. How dare she make me look like an oaf! After I took all the trouble of venturing to this malodorous shack in the middle of nowhere! Who on The Grid does she think she is?!
“I do not think you are an oaf,” she says nonchalantly. “Nor do I think my home is a ‘malodorous shack.’ But I’m sorry if I made you feel unwelcome. Bad habit.”
Is she reading my thoughts? What kind of monk is this woman?
“Not reading your thoughts. Reading your writing,” she sighs, gesturing to the piece of parchment in my lap, which, as I look down, continually fills with enormous, angry letters, courtesy of the quill wrenched between my tightly clenched fingers.
“Oh,” I manage.
She sets down her mortar and pestle, sits down, and opens her hands in what I can only presume is an apologetic gesture.
“You have my full attention,” she says.
And so the interview begins.
I apologize for my harsh words. I didn’t realize you could see my writing. Truly, Vedika, you have a very charming home.
Please. No offense taken. Aarakocra, monk, passive perception—you know how it goes.
Ah, yes. I sometimes forget how keen your kind are. Wait! I mean… By “your kind,” I didn’t mean… I’m not… I-I worship an Orc deity, for the record!
Not a lot of Aarakocra from where you come from, no?
Well, no. Please forgive my faux pas.
Like I said, no offense taken. That kind of thing was pretty common growing up.
Growing up? Yes, yes, why don’t you tell me more about that? Where do you come from?
A little hamlet called Dunfayel. It’s not on The Grid. It’s what you would call a “slum,” I guess. A place for all the people that “respectable” towns didn’t want. Refugees. Convicts. Heathens. Half-breeds. Yes, half-breeds in my family’s case. My father’s tribe cast him out for having an affair with a human. Aarakocra culture is very insular. Sometimes I wish I could have been raised there. So many things could have been avoided… But, then again, so many things I would have missed out on.
Indeed. Were it not for you, the terrible phantom Chaos would never have been destroyed!
So you heard about that one, huh? It’s funny, because I was actually the one who released him, before I was even born. My mess, so I cleaned it up. No big deal. Not to brag, but I didn’t even get knocked out during that battle.
Eh, it’s a complicated story. I’d rather not talk about it now.
But to return to what I was saying about the things I would have missed out on if I hadn’t been born under these circumstances—I mean friends. Journeys. Experiences. Lessons. The things that make life worth living.
What I’ve learned is that life is such an absurd thing. We are born into this world with nothing. We chase after all these things—achievements, money, pleasure. And then at the end, we exit this world with nothing. Some people say the meaning of life is to make a mark. A legacy. Something to prove that you existed, something that others will remember you by. A book, maybe. Or a religion. I think gods are immortal only because people remember them. Those people, if they actually existed, died a long time ago. But are the words we read really theirs? Or are they the words of other people who wanted to be remembered? There’s a word for that kind of writing on The Grid. It’s “fan fiction,” I think.
Anyway, I used to be like that. Seeking a legacy, I mean. I wanted to make my father proud. I wanted to be the best monk in the world. I wanted to be a legend. So I meditated a lot. I trained hard in the dojo. I joined a party and went on a quest to slay Chaos. But even after doing all of that, I didn’t feel fulfilled. There was joy and relief, but that faded away after a couple years. I felt empty. Restless. I thought, “When I die, I may be remembered, but I won’t be there to see people remember me.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the world I leave behind will have no Chaos in it. I want other people to be free. But there will always be something evil. Always. If not Chaos, then Greed. That’s why I live in this cottage. I want only the things that I need to live. Nothing more. Here, it’s simple. I can feel my connection to the infinite.
“Infinite,” hmm? That’s quite…deep. I think I know just the place for you when we visit the Faire. It is called Aetherea. I hear it’s a very spiritual place, good for that sort of contemplation about infinites and eternity and whatnot.
Oh? Aetherea, you said? Excellent! I’ve been looking for a good meditation spot. Out here is good, but I’m getting too used to it. I haven’t traveled much since I defeated Chaos. Too many people chasing after me to hear my tales of victory. Ahem, not to brag or anything.
Suddenly, I am assaulted by a sense of vertigo. The words on this piece of parchment begin to rearrange themselves into strings of some alien tongue. I shake my head. It must be the depth of what Vedika is discussing—all of this business about the absurdity of life.
I must admit, I’m feeling a tad…confused. I myself am a devout worshipper of the great Brunhilda, yet I—forgive me, Brunhilda—find myself wavering ever so slightly… So then, Vedika, why bother doing anything? Why, for example, bother joining this quest to battle the Unweaver?
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to confuse you—or make you doubt your devotion. Gods are important; they give your life purpose. Serving them can be very rewarding for you and all of humanity. My father was a devotee of Saint Cuthbert, before he passed away. It made him a good man. Protective and selfless to the very end… For me, though, I have to make my own meaning. That meaning isn’t about making a legacy. I’ve realized that it’s about helping people now, in the present, for the present’s sake. All we have is right now. So make things better for right now. A moment passes, and then you make that moment better, and so on. Make life worth living. I want to make life worth living for victims of the Unweaver. No, that’s the wrong word. Survivors of the Unweaver. Even if I can help them for just one moment, that’s something.
I find myself unable to continue with the interview. My stomach has begun to knot up, and an urge to vomit rises like hot air on a summer day. It must be her hypocrisy! Yes, what a piece of work she is, speaking like some enlightened monk and humble-bragging about her victory against Chaos. I can see her ego expanding around her head like a ridiculous halo!
“How…incredibly noble…” I manage to sputter out between waves of nausea.
“You don’t look very well,” she says, taking my free hand. “You’re turning green as an Orc.”
I don’t know how I’m managing to continue writing. Suddenly, I fall off the barrel, tipped by an invisible hand
I haven’t the foggiest idea what Vedika just said, but it sounds like a curse. She kneels by my side, stroking my forehead.
“I’m sorry, Adair. Really, really sorry. The paste is stronger than I thought.”
The paste? I look up at the table, at the mortar and pestle.
She couldn’t have. No, it’s not possible. I didn’t even ingest it!
“It’s a prototype—to reverse nausea among survivors of the Unweaver. Just a whiff is all.”
“Do you even have…a proficiency in…medicine…you imbecile?” I gasp.
She rears back like a snake about to strike. “Excuse me?!”
“What in Brunhilda’s name…have you done…?”
“This isn’t my fault, okay?” she huffs, removing a canteen from her belt pouch and putting the rim to my lips. “Maybe it’s just ineffective on Wood Elves!”
I try to resist—Brunhilda knows she must be trying to poison me further—but my slender neck is no match for the lean muscle of her forearms, and she pours the liquid into my mouth.
Thank Brunhilda. It’s only water.
“Geeze, how weak is your constitution, Adair?”
“Strong enough that I can keep writing—wait! No, don’t take the paper——————
This interview is officially over. Sorry, Adair. Sorry, readers.
We’ll see you at the Faire.