Almonihah had a vague idea of what he wanted to do, but he needed to do some research first. He started by asking around the fire at night for more stories about Falloen Surebow. As the half-dragon had expected, he didn’t get a whole lot of information he could trust, but it did further awaken his curiosity.
What he really wanted was something that Falloen had written. He asked Imlloen about it, and was rather surprised to find that he’d actually written a journal which was still in existence. He was a bit less surprised when he learned that some magic had been involved in its preservation. Imlloen seemed a bit reluctant when Almonihah asked to look at it, but he allowed the half-dragon to read it after some strong warnings about what not to do with it.
Almonihah spent as much time over the next week with the journal as he could. He had to get some paper and writing materials for himself for taking notes. If the other Rangers guessed what he was up to, they said nothing, though they did give some odd looks at times.
It was only when he started trying to requisition supplies that Imlloen called him in.
“Almonihah,” Imlloen said when the half-dragon entered his office, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Planning t’ cross th’ Madlands,” Almonihah responded, meeting the Commander’s stern gaze unflinchingly.
The elf sighed. “You know I can’t support that, and that means the Rangers won’t supply you.”
Almonihah just shrugged.
Imlloen stood up explosively and spat out an Elvish oath. “Almonihah, I lose enough Rangers just holding the Line. I can’t afford to lose another one to crossing it.” He wasn’t quite shouting, but his sudden anger was startling.
“’m done with the Line for a while, ‘nd I’m not going t’ get myself killed,” Almonihah growled back.
Imlloen slammed his palm on his desk. “That’s right, you’re not, because you’re not going to cross the Madlands. You’re not even going to cross the Line! If you’re so tired of the Line, you can go north, but I am not going to let a Ranger go kill himself just because he thinks he’s Falloen.”
Almonihah’s response was as much a growl as speech. “’m not Falloen. I know what t’ watch for, thanks t’ him, so I’ll have a better chance at ‘t.”
“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since Falloen crossed the Madlands? Centuries! Thinking that Falloen’s journal gives you some kind of edge is exactly the sort of thing that will get you killed!”
“’nd that’s another reason I need t’ go. We don’t have a clue what’s going on. ‘nd something is.”
“And you’re the one to do the job, huh?”
Almonihah shrugged. “Got any other volunteers?”
The office was silent for a long moment. Finally, the elf slid back into his chair with a sigh.
“I’ll have to think about it, Almonihah,” he said. “I still think you’ve got a good chance of getting yourself killed, but from what I’ve seen of you, you’d go off and do this without Ranger support. And Naishia knows, we need to know what’s going on in the Madlands that’s making so many Madness-Touched come across the Line.” Imlloen sighed, then waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll give you a decision next morning. Just… let me think about this.”
Imlloen called Almonihah in again the next morning. The Ranger Commander looked like he’d hardly slept.
“Your first priority will be coming back alive,” he said without preamble as the half-dragon walked in.
Almonihah snorted in amused agreement.
“Your other priority will be seeing what’s changed since Falloen’s time, especially anything that might hint at why the Madness-Touched are coming across the Line in such numbers.” Imlloen paused for Almonihah to nod in acknowledgement, then continued, “But I don’t care what you think, if you get the slightest hint that you won’t be able to complete the crossing, you come back here as fast as you can. You do this, and you can have whatever supplies you need.”
Almonihah nodded again. Imlloen looked the half-dragon in the eye and said, “Do I have your word?”
“You have my word,” Almonihah responded, evenly.
The elf held his gaze for a long moment, then sighed and said, “I still have deep reservations about this, but… you’re right about one thing. We’ve gotten too complacent about just holding the Line. We need to know more about what we’re up against, see if there isn’t something more we can do. I still feel like you’re going to get yourself killed, but someone needs to take a look on the other side of the line, and you’ve got about as good a chance as coming back as anyone else I can think of.” He was silent for another moment, then said, “Go talk the the quartermaster and get what you need. See me again before you leave, though.”
The half-dragon nodded one last time, then turned and walked out the door. Just before he closed the door behind him, Imlloen said, “Just… come back alive, Almonihah.”
It took Almonihah the rest of the day to prepare. He would need a lot of food and water—Falloen’s writings suggested that even the water in the Madlands was tainted, and was to be drunk only when heavily diluted, and even then only at the edges of the Madlands. Eating anything from the Madlands was out of the question.
The next day dawned bright and clear, a beautiful spring morning. By now, the everyone at the Headquarters knew exactly what he was doing, and while some of them still tried to dissuade him, most responded to his farewells with their own well-wishes. Imlloen settled for a few last admonitions, and he even walked outside to watch the half-dragon walk from camp.
Almonihah glanced back, a bit surprised at the response to his departure, then focused his gaze on the south. A good day’s travel would put him at the Line, and after that… the Madlands.
Christmas Eve post! Though… it’s not a particularly Christmas-y post. Oh, well.
So who thinks what Almonihah is doing is a good idea?