Test of Strength

Ando’ri’s rite of Passage

From the journal of Ando’ri Immeral, dated April 6, 1376

1.

I was eighteen when tested to join the Eladrin society. Every young Eladrin is faced with the same task to prove his or her value to the general population, or to be exiled until such time as their test can be completed. Very often, Exiles are never seen again, but not always. Sometimes Exiles return home and overcome the very challenge they failed. At that point, they are welcomed back with open arms. Vocation doesn’t matter. Craftsmen, Smithies, Sailors, Chefs, Leaders are all faced with an appropriate task. Tests of Skill, of Wisdom. Tests of Intellect, Tests of Piety. My test was the test of a warrior – the Test of Strength.

I was never much of a fighter. I could hold my own on the playground skirmishes, sure, but I was more likely to be found in the Libraries of Ioun than on the training grounds. Much to my father’s displeasure, I was never anxious to attend my mandatory training. As the child of a soldier (and a nobleman, at that), I was required to learn how to efficiently kill using the weapon of the Eladrin: a long, ornate blade. It was later in life that I truly came to respect the blade and what it could do in the right hands.

What did hold my attention was the concept of tactics. Apart from my normal schooling, I would spend hours over dusty tomes that had been forgotten by most. Learning how leaders used men to achieve victory was an unmatched thrill. By the age of ten, I could best most opponents at chess – those unfortunate enough to defeat me found me dogging them for weeks, asking them about their strategies. I dreamed of wearing armor adorned with the crest of the Eladrin, charging into battle and knowing exactly what to do in order to best my opponent.

My father saw none of this. All that he saw was a boy obsessed with his studies. I knew that he never expected me to become a soldier like him. Truth be told, his influence had little to do with my decision: Ioun’s poise guided me to my calling. Thousands of years of history had gathered and were largely ignored by my people. I learned battlefield techniques in the depths of the library that were being taught to advanced officers of the military. And I was eight! I could read descriptions of battle and envision the formations of the soldiers. Usually I would know what both armies were thinking before the events played out, and I could predict exactly what would happen. I knew I was destined to become a great warrior.

My father had approached me and asked, as tradition dictates, what I wanted to test to become. I replied “My father, I long to ride a horse into battle and lead men to victory against the enemies of the Eladrin”. I could tell that he was surprised, yet his only response was a slight narrowing of his eyes.

“Very well. I will alert the High Council” he responded. I swallowed hard, realizing that I had reached the point of no return. He turned and left the room and I fell to the floor, shaking. I knew at that moment what great generals must have felt before a decisive battle. Success was surely an option, and I would accept death, but disgrace? Exile? These thoughts plagued my mind. And being the son of a nobleman, my test would be much more difficult. As each test was unique, there was little I could do to prepare. I stayed on the floor for some time, wondering if I would fall like so many do. Eventually, I stood, my resolve returning. I would begin my test the way that I began all of my trials: I would prepare as best I could, with Ioun’s hand guiding me. I made my way to the libraries to study the annals of previous Tests of Strength.

2.

I shifted in my armor, its weight a comfort against the pressures of the day. It was a crisp morning, and the wind that blew brought a shocking cold. Yet the spectator stands were full of Eladrin, all somber faced. There was no jocularity among them, no outbursts of excitement. No – Eladrin excitement is quiet and building. It is a nervous energy that chokes you like a thick fog. I subconsciously pulled at the collar of my jerkin, trying to get more air.

It wasn’t often that spectators were allowed to view Trials, and most of the time, Trials consisted of something fairly mundane, like carrying a heavy stone from one city to another. Some Trials just asked the tested boy to apprentice with a master for some time, at the end of which, the master would give a verdict of whether the apprentice should pass or not. Even when spectators were allowed to view trials, most of the time it was at most a few family members. The spectator stands at my trial, however, were filled with Eladrin from all walks of life. Apparently, I was to face a challenge worthy of some awe.

The preparation I received for this trial was brief and cryptic. A day prior, a messenger arrived at my doorstep, carrying a missive. I was instructed to gather four of my most combat-worthy friends and be at the arena at sunup, ready to fight a worthy foe. I assumed that his defeat would mean my passing of the test. I quickly assembled a roster and rode to their houses, asking them to help me in my endeavor. Most said yes, although not all. I had to substitute for people who valued their lives and honor over their friendship to me. But eventually I found a fighting force that was capable. And soon we gathered on the field of battle, awaiting our enemy.

The arena was a circular field, sixty feet or so at its widest point and pitted with hills and craters. I immediately began to recall battles where such a terrain gave one side or another a definitive advantage, and then my surveying eyes fell on something curious near the wall of the arena. There was a pit that was a little too well formed, that looked as if an Eladrin hand had tried to cover it. My eyes narrowed, and I identified it for what it truely was: a Fool’s Exit.

This clever trap was a pit that fell some distance. At the bottom of the pit was a pressure-plate that activated a sliding grate at the top, ensuring that whomever was foolish enough to stumble into it would not be able to rejoin the battle. I came upon this trap while researching past Trials, and I said a quick prayer to Ioun for her blessing.

As I continued my gaze across the field, I noticed at least four similar pits. They dotted the perimeter of the arena, like numbers on a decrepit and broken clock face. I pointed them out to my comrades with a word of warning. No doubt our opponents knew of these exits, and would attempt to lure us into them.

I ordered my small command to do some basic calisthenics to keep their focus tight and their muscles from binding. We had been waiting in the arena since before sunrise, but already the sun had risen into the morning sky. We had been waiting for at least two hours.

Suddenly, the gates opposite us opened with a din that broke the silence of the morning. Eladrin trumpets sounded, and several Eladrin wizards entered the arena, murmuring the incomprehensible sounds of an incantation. I knotted my hands into fists and my stomach dropped when I saw that their words bound a green dragon into submission. It followed them into the arena like an obedient dog.

I turned to my friends as the wizards began to break their incantations, a plan already forming in my mind. My stout friend Berrian spoke first.

“Kord’s Strength! We must slay this beast quickly or else become its next meal. My friends, charge the beast with all of your might!” he exclaimed, drawing his sword from its scabbard.

I quickly grabbed his wrist and slid the blade back. “Perhaps, if this was your test, we could all die today. But as this is my charge, you will follow my lead and do as I say. We may even live to see the sun rise again.”

“Now, here is the plan. Berrian, you charge at the beast with your shield high and your defenses keen. You three, spread out around the beast and await my instructions. Attack the creature, but be careful! A powerful enough blow may take his focus away from Berrian and I doubt any of you are sturdy enough to withstand even one of his blows.”

My friends nodded in understanding, and I shared a look with Berrian. I could tell his ire was raised, but I also knew he would follow my lead. I turned toward the beast. Its handlers had made their way out of the arena, and the creature was starting to come out of its addled state. Off in the distance, I heard an announcement proclaiming that the battle would begin, but my mind was so sharp on its goals I hardly registered it.

I motioned to Berrain to charge the beast and hold its attention. With his shield raised, he let out a cry that I’m sure the gods must have heard and ran at the green monster. I unclasped my blade and ran in after him, hoping that my plan would work.

The boys- no, the men who fought alongside me that day were true warriors. They moved with a terrifying grace and followed instructions to the letter. Berrian angered the beast with powerful blows, never letting his defenses fall. I would watch the dragon and alert Berrian when to strike, and I was pleased to say that we were making progress against it. I had a watchful, calculating eye during the entire encounter, raising my friends’ morale and vigor, and quelling their fears and hesitations. As we progressed however, I knew that unless we changed our strategy, we would tire ourselves and become clumsy. We could not afford mistakes, so the fight had to end quickly.

Suddenly, a plan entered my mind. A terrifying, dangerous plan that would surely mean the creature’s demise if we should succeed. Failure, however, would not only mean my death, but the death of four other souls – souls who risked their lives for my own benefit. It was in that moment that I felt the weight of leadership for the first time. It was a quandary I could spend years pondering, but in those frantic moments, all I could do was trust my instincts.

“Berrain, yield him to me! All of you, be ready to strike the creature with all you have on my order! No denori! For Ioun!” I barked, striking a decisive blow into the creature’s back. It reared onto its hind legs in a furious rage. It turned to me, and I ran as fast as I possibly could. Luckily for me, I only had but twenty or so feet to go before I reached my destination – one of the Fool’s Exits. I turned back to make sure the creature was still craving my blood. It was, and I jumped in.

It required all of my strength and a great deal of luck, but I was able to claw and kick at the walls of the pit and stop myself from falling. My legs were spread in a wide “v” shape and they trembled with adrenaline and fear. I scolded myself for not maintaining a more muscular frame as I waited to see the head of the creature. Finally the sun’s light was blotted, and its cold green eyes glared at me. It brought its head back, and then lunged at me with its jaws and its claws. I could have died then, had my timing been off by even a second, but Ioun blessed me again, and I let myself fall just in time. I struck the pressure-plate at the bottom of the pit and heard a satisfying sound as the grate closed on the creature’s neck, pinning it.

“Now, my friends! Attack the beast with all that you have!” I squeezed against the walls of the pit, attempting to dodge the beasts attacks. It was trapped, but it was still thrashing about. I could feel its anger and its hatred. “Strike while the beast is held, or we are done for! Attack!” I frantically attempted to dodge the creature’s strikes, but my luck could not hold out forever, and a powerful clawed hand finally found me, and knocked me to the ground. I couldn’t have been in the pit for more than a minute, but it seemed an eternity, first dodging, then squirming away from the claw of the beast. He powered through my defenses and raked his claws against my flesh, again and again. All I knew was darkness and pain, and then, finally, the frightening sensation of falling as I lost consciousness.

3.

I slowly opened my eyes to a blinding whiteness all around me. I pathetically fought the bright light, my eyes adjusting at a snail’s pace. I then realized that I had no idea where I was, and a brief panic overcame me. But I assessed myself, my surroundings – I had no pain, no trepidation. I sighed and coughed, then smiled as I whispered “Elysium”.

“Not yet, my son”, a hard, steady voice sounded from somewhere nearby. “Those who return from Elysium sing much higher praises then those who must spend time at Rahadarai Hospital.” I heard shuffling, and my father entered my limited field of vision. In his hand he had a small, metallic object. “I believe this belongs to you”. He bent before me, pinning the object to my robes. I realized that it was a Medal of Strength. It meant that I passed my Test, and would be able to train as a soldier for the Eladrin Military.

“Ioun’s Blessings”, I whispered, fighting back tears. “Thank you father, I shall never forget this day, or your face at this moment.”

“No, I doubt that you will. This emblem is not the only souvenir you received today, my son. Can you move?” I nodded yes, and he helped sit me up in my bed. He positioned a set of mirrors, and removed the tunic from my gown. My eyes filled with terror, and I stifled a cry. My torso and backside had become a labyrinth of twisted scars. It sickened me to look at, and I cast my eyes aside.

“Do not feel ashamed, Ando’ri. These scars represent the sacrifice you made for your fellow soldiers, your friends. It was your courageous act that allowed them the opportunity to slay the dragon that did this to you. Look upon these as a reminder that a soldier must always make the lives of his comrades his top priority. You are now a part of a great and noble family, and you have rightfully earned your place beside us.” He smiled, and we spoke a little more, although nothing of any importance. After a while, I began to feel pain creeping up from my wounds. My father noticed this, and took his leave, and I plummeted into sleep.

So began my career with the most skillful military in the Prime. I wish that I could say it ended with similar pomp and joy, but sadly, I cannot. The famous Dwarven military commander Chiron Fallstaff teaches that it is important to know one’s beginnings, and that day marked the birth of my adulthood. My military life was fledgling, but it grew strong and capable, and it is why I am who I am today. No matter what the future holds for me, I know who I am because of the ever continuing Trials of life. I am Ando’ri Immeral, the Dragonscar. And I am, and forever will be, Eladrin.

Player’s Note: Ando’ri wrote this journal entry two days after being exiled from the Eladrin homeland for failing to defend an object of national importance. After attempting to contact his wife and son and being rebuked by her, he left the continent. He has been subsequently drifting, finding work where he can, mostly as a soldier of fortune. His spirit grows weaker and weaker, and two years later he is a shell of his former self, an alcoholic who escapes from the world into a bottle.

Test of Strength

Guardians of the Eld Robin