Chapter 10: Solitude
Almonihah made good time as he headed back north. He slowed down a bit when he hit the jungle, however. Zrathanzon hadn’t had enough time to properly train him on all the dangers of the area, so Almonihah was making sure to be extra cautious as he traveled.
He did manage to avoid any major incidents in the jungle, though he did have a couple of close calls with monsters prowling the area. Once he reached the other side of the Lost Sea and started ascending, he noticed a definite chill in the air. Fall was coming to a close, and winter would soon begin in earnest. It was not a good time to attempt the pass.
He scouted around the area just above the jungle for a good winter campsite. He found a place where a stream made its way down into the valley, headed towards the Lost Sea. After checking around, he confirmed that no large predators had been in the area for the last while, so he set up camp.
He had developed a marked preference for sleeping without a tent, but he set one up in anticipation of the snows. He supposed he could have made his camp a little bit lower in the valley, where the snows never reached, but despite the time he had spent in various other climates, he still felt most comfortable in forests. The jungle was full of wonders, but he knew it also had dangers he might not be aware of. He was much more familiar with the dangers of the forests.
The winter passed fairly uneventfully. While Almonihah did have a few brushes with dangerous creatures, and even had to kill a winged, leonine creature (he later learned they were called manticores), his skill kept him from serious harm. Zrathanzon had, indeed, taught him well.
He ranged wider as spring started to thaw the mountainsides, venturing into the jungle and the surrounding forests. He had hardly sat still during the winter, but it felt good to just wander around, observing the plants and creatures that called the Valley of the Lost Sea home. He found them better company than most men he had known—excluding, perhaps, the Rangers.
Once he was reasonably certain he wouldn’t be caught in a blizzard, Almonihah headed for the pass. While it was bitingly cold at the level of the cave, the half-bronze dragon could handle the temperature much better than he had as a child. He was soon through and going down the other side.
Spring was already turning to summer in the great central plain as Almonihah descended from the Dragon’s Teeth Range. The Ranger could see small figures moving on the plains as he descended—the great herds of the plains, and the Plainsmen who hunted them. These he made sure to avoid. Zrathanzon had said that, while friendly folk, they had some strange ideas about half-dragons. Almonihah had never bothered to ask what kind of strange ideas they were, since he’d gotten the impression they weren’t the lethal kind of strange ideas. Still, he didn’t feel like bothering with people, so he made sure to avoid them, his keen eyes easily spotting them on the plains long before they saw him.
It was truly summer by the time Almonihah reached the North Forest. It felt good to step back into the familiar shadows of the trees. While it had been something like two decades since Almonihah had lived in a house, he felt on coming into the shade of the forest that he was coming home.
Then he noticed he’d stepped in under a blood vine.
He quickly dodged its first attempt to ensnare him, a swift slice from his longsword chopping the vine in two. He quickly looked for the root of the vine, and, finding it, ran over and hacked at the base of the vine. After a couple of chops, the vines overhead quit moving. Inspecting his work, Almonihah nodded in satisfaction and continued on into the forest.
Almonihah meandered about in the forest until the middle of fall, his wanderings carrying him generally east. He enjoyed the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, and the difference between the immature abilities of his past and his present skill in avoiding the hazards of the North Forest. As the leaves began to fall from the trees, he began to think of his travels in the area with Zrathanzon, and of how there had been a certain point beyond which they had never gone further east. Why was that? What was there?
Was it where his mother had died?
Despite the pain the thought still brought, Almonihah decided he needed to look at the place with older eyes. What he was looking for, he wasn’t sure, but something drove him to look.
He found the place when the first snows started to fall. It must have been complete luck—he had no memory of how to get to the place, and the North Forest was vast. The forest was already well into the process of reclaiming the area his father had cleared, and the cabin where he had lived was hardly recognizable. Only the symbol of Bahamut etched on the remains of the stone that had formed the base of their fireplace told him it was the right place. The logs that had once formed the cabin were scattered and rotting. Before long, nothing recognizable would be left of them.
Almonihah poked around the area for a long time, careful not to damage the young trees growing in the area. It was after the sun had set that he finally left and set up camp. He still didn’t know what he had been searching for, but he knew he hadn’t found it. Whatever it was, it wasn’t here.
He headed generally north and west as the snows deepened. Despite the cold and snow, Almonihah still traveled, some restless urge impelling him to move. It was on the day of a true blizzard, in which even he didn’t dare move, that he finally realized what made him even more restless than normal.
He had no purpose. He had sworn in to the Ranger Order, and he meant what he had said, but he couldn’t sit and wait for Javni’Tolkhrah to come to him, and he was still too mistrustful of human company to stray close enough to human settlements to protect them in more than just a general sense. The wilds called to him, yet they provided no purpose, no meaning for life, just… life.
He wrestled with this feeling of purposelessness for the entire winter, and spring found him still meandering aimlessly west with no true reason to be anywhere. He tangled with some of the beasts of the forest a couple of times, and the thrill of adrenaline and the hunt banished the feeling of meaninglessness for a time, but it always returned. In time he began to seek out monsters to fight, justifying it to himself by saying he was keeping them from attacking the human villages to the south, despite the fact that he knew they rarely strayed so far from their lairs.
After one particularly close call while fighting a pantheron (an unusually large panther-like cat with a leonine mane), Almonihah finally admitted what he was doing. He was acting like the creatures he most despised, those who hunted for the pleasure of the kill rather than to live. And in a way, he was risking his life precisely because he had no reason to live. He looked to the south, thinking of the other Rangers risking their lives for something that had meaning so many miles away. Perhaps, in the coming year, he would go back, and join the Line, at least until he found what he truly wanted to live for.
Until then, he decided he’d like to climb a mountain again. He and Zrathanzon had climbed a few mountains before for the sake of training, and something about the focus and concentration the activity required appealed to him.
Having a destination and a goal sped his feet and lifted his spirits as he headed west. He reached the Stormpeaks in the middle of the summer, in the month of Kazrati. He found a peak that looked difficult, but not impossible, to climb, and began his ascent.
The effort and the mountain air seemed to clear his mind. It was a difficult ascent, as he had hoped for, and doing it alone made it all the more dangerous. There were a couple of times when he was hanging with his claws jammed in a crevice to keep from falling that he was sure he was an idiot for trying to do this alone, but the truth was, the danger just made the challenge more satisfying.
He did, in time, make it to the peak of the mountain. While it was not so high that it still had snow on it in this, the warmest time of summer, the air was chill and clear. Standing on the peak, he could see for miles to the east, though higher peaks blocked his view to the west. The view stirred the old memories of flight in him, both those on Varack’Nara and those he was sure were from his dragon ancestors.
He spent a couple of days there, thinking and simply enjoying the view. The memories of flight made him think on dragons. They lived for longer than any of the Races of Men, even elves. He wondered what purpose they had for their long lives. As he thought, he realized that the only dragon he had ever really known was his father. While Almonihah had met a couple of dragons during the course of his travels with Zrathanzon, and they had even killed a red and a blue dragon that had been raiding human settlements, he hadn’t really had a conversation with a dragon since his parents had died.
He was still thinking of dragons as he descended from the mountain. As he neared the bottom, a thought struck him. He was half-dragon, but he had in all honesty lived his whole life mostly as a human would. A human who was a Ranger, certainly, but a human nonetheless. Shouldn’t he be more somewhere halfway in between how a dragon and a human lived? But how did dragons really live?
Almonihah snorted in amusement at his own thoughts. He knew intellectually how dragons lived, just as he knew the habits of the various animals and monsters of the wildernesses of Draezoln, but that wasn’t really what he needed. Without the knowledge of what a dragon’s life was truly like, this train of thought didn’t really help him.
As he left the mountain and headed back into the woods, he felt more at peace than he had a few weeks ago, even though he still didn’t feel like he had a purpose for his life. He was looking for a purpose, and perhaps that would be enough of a purpose for now.