Today’s post is a little bit different. I recently started my new Pathfinder 2E campaign (more on that next week); when making characters, my wife requested that we try an experiment: she wanted me to create her character for her. She felt that she tended to play the same kind of character over and over, and thought that if I came up with one instead, it might help her stretch her role-playing muscles a bit. She normally plays very calm, polite, centered people–she tends to be the straight man, the respectable face of group. So I thought, to mix things up for her, I’d build her a character that was a bit rougher around the edges. I ended up crafting a lizardfolk Ranger named Braith.
In order to get my wife into Braith’s headspace, I wrote up a short story about her. This is that story. To give a little background: the players in this campaign are part of an alliance of nations who are standing against a large empire called Rehledar, which is run predominantly (though not exclusively) by elves and gnomes. Rehledar has been trying to expand its territory south for decades, with this alliance holding the line against them. Braith is one of the wildfolk: animal-like humanoids who have a strong tie to a type of magical crystal called arkicite, which is found all over the world. Most wildfolk consider arkicite… well, not holy exactly, but extremely powerful and important. Wildfolk come in many varieties; reptilian wildfolk like Braith are called skalan.
Okay, I think that pretty much covers all of the setting-specific terms. Without further ado, here is the story of the warrior Braith:
Braith could still remember the first time she had seen one of the terrible machines.
She had been fighting for years by that point. In the early days, she had been full of fire and certainty—the war could end, would end, as long as brave souls banded together against the Empire. She and her friends would stand together and the waves of Rehledari troops would shatter against them. Their cause was just, their warriors strong; their victory was assured.
It almost made her laugh to remember those days. That youthful arrogance had long since been stripped away. Now, only the fire remained.
Before journeying to the border, she had lived in Garrovar—a secret and sacred place. The people there, wildfolk like her, lived off the land; she’d had to learn to hunt in order to eat. But when she heard of the border war and the threat it posed to her home, she decided to put her bow to better use.
And so Braith became a soldier. She fought the elves and gnomes and the other poor bastards who were foolish or unfortunate enough to march on the Empire’s behalf. Even as the weeks and months turned to years, even as her certainty of victory crumbled, she remained steadfast. But, slowly, the flame within her that drove her onward began to flicker.
Then, the terrible machine had arrived.
It had seemed, at first, a battle like any other. Armored figures charged forward, gilded helmets glinting in the sun, elvish war-cries ripping from their throats (a sound that sometimes stunned Braith in its beauty and its savagery). She nocked an arrow and fired; nocked and fired; nocked and fired. She would shift, sometimes, just slightly, to take better aim or sidestep her enemy’s own shots.
It was a familiar rhythm. She had fought in countless skirmishes just like it—and she had the scars to prove it: a circle of scales on the left side of her face had re-grown in dark aqua instead of her usual teal after a hammer blow had broken her jaw; similar discoloration decorated her left leg from when she had moved too slow to avoid a volley of arrows; and on the inside of her right arm, there was a long, winding patch of flesh with no scales at all (she had been burned with some kind of strange magic; the wound never healed properly).
The almost-comfortable pattern of combat was interrupted, however, when a steel monstrosity charged out from behind her foe’s ranks and tore into her compatriots.
She quickly fired at this new threat, but her arrows bounced useless off its bulk. She watched in horror as its fists (little more than enormous orbs of metal) pistoned out, crushing the bodies of men and women she had fought alongside for months. In the chaos, it took her nearly twenty full seconds to register the glow of the gem set into the thing’s chest.
The Empire was using arkicite—the sacred crystal—to power its death-machines.
All at once, the flame which had been guttering, threatening to extinguish as the long war stretched on without cease, flared back into life. They dared? They dared to use such a beautiful and miraculous gift for their atrocities, their campaign of subjugation? A sound escaped her that she could not have even imagined before this: a long, low, snarl that seemed to carry with it the rage of her entire people. She raised her bow again and rejoined the fight.
In the end, the machine fell, at the cost of too many of her friends’ lives. Long after the fight ended, Braith sat on the battlefield and stared. Observers thought the skalan had broken; everyone knew her long record of service. It wasn’t uncommon for soldiers who had been in the thick of it as long as she to just… snap, one day. Many of them had seen it before: after long battles, or exposure to the spells of the Rehledari Battle-Mages, some folk simply collapsed and never stood up again, or sat amongst the bodies of the fallen and wept until they were dragged away.
But Braith was not weeping. She was studying, learning every inch of the fallen steel colossus. Examining the wounds that felled it, learning its weaknesses.
Eventually, she rose again. She returned to her army’s encampment. She restrung her bow and prepared for the next battle—because one would surely come, and sooner rather than later.
But before she did, she ripped the crystal out of the metal monster’s chest.