Chapter 50: The People
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A/N: Bula learns more about the elven half of her heritage, Mikael and Avina learn more about their would-be allies.

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They make good time once the Sylian Elves are leading the way. With Mikael giving Avina a piggyback ride and using some of his magic to make sure she doesn’t fall off, he and Bula ascend the side of the tree alongside the High Executor and his soldiers, following them up onto a large branch that then takes them to another large branch and so on and so forth.

He keeps expecting them to make some sort of comment about him. Like maybe they can sense his status as an abomination or something. But he doesn’t get the sense that they know who or what he is… or if they do, they don’t find it any more objectionable than everything else about him, Avina, and Bula. Either way, they lead them all through the lower branches of the massive Sylian Trees, until finally…

“… Of-fucking-course…”

There, in the distance, is the edge of what can only be described as a city in the trees. The sort of thing right out of a storybook, a fantastical elven settlement made entirely of wood, nestled high above the ground in the lower branches that they’re now traversing. It looks spectacular, Mikael has to admit. Something that shouldn’t be possible, but clearly is in a world like Vaclatora.

He tries to keep his exclamation under his breath and contained, but that doesn’t stop everyone from catching him anyways given the way Avina is glomped onto his back and both Bula and their elven escort have enhanced hearing. When the High Executor gives him a narrowed eye glare, Mikael clears his throat, deciding to quickly change the subject as they continue to make their way closer to the literal treehouse city in the distance.

“Ahem… err, if it’s not too much to ask, what was that thing back there? The one that was stalking us and that you all put down?”

The query makes Daylor tilt his head to the side, his lips curling into a frown.

“That? I suppose if you have to call it something, call it a Child of Syl. They roam the Sylian Woods in great numbers and we have gotten VERY good at fighting and killing the ones foolish enough to prowl on their own.”

Mikael’s eyes widen at the High Executor’s words, because they imply that there are more of those massive creatures and some of them actually like to hunt in packs. He considers that for a moment and a shiver runs down his spine. One of those things… he had no doubts that he and Bula would have taken the monster down regardless of elven intervention. But more than one? Maybe a whole pack of them? Two or three, sure. But six? Twelve? That, he wasn’t so sure about.

Regardless, they soon arrive at the city proper. Most of their escort peels off to other duties, while a handful stay with them and the High Executor as Daylor Krislamin leads them along some walkways. Mikael can’t help but marvel at the feats of construction, engineering, and architecture all around them. Avina, judging by her constant gasps and sharp inhalations of breath next to his ear feels the same way.

Finally though, they arrive at their ultimate destination. Up here in the lower branches of the Sylian Woods’ interconnected canopy, some of the branches look like smaller but still giant trees themselves. It’s into a hollowed out ‘tree’ that Daylor leads them, with the last of their escort staying outside to guard the entrance.

As Mikael lets Avina down off of his back, his Soul Mechanic standing on her own two feet once more, he doesn’t fail to notice Bula’s clear tension and agitation. The half-orc warrior never wanted to come here. But now here she is all the same. And all because of him too. Stepping over to her side, Mikael places a hand on Bula’s shoulder and whispers into her ear.

“Hey. Don’t forget, we’ve got your back. No matter what.”

He’s a lot quieter this time, fully intending for his words to be only for Bula. And yet, even as some of the tension bleeds out of the half-orc at his assurances, Mikael notices one of High Executor Krislamin’s long ears twitching out of the corner of his eye. The man didn’t just have enhanced hearing, he had impeccable hearing… perhaps better hearing than Mikael and Bula in fact. Better hearing than most of his own kind as well.

As Daylor turns to face them, Mikael adjusts the elven leader’s threat assessment up a fair amount. Even still, when he waves a hand dismissively at Mikael and Avina… well, that just won’t do.

“You two may leave. I shall have a couple of my soldiers give you a tour and assign you to lodgings while I speak with the High Priestess Candidate privately.”

This is a man very unused to being told no, Mikael notices even as he and Avina both proceed to tell him ‘no’.

“That won’t be possible.”

“I’m afraid not.”

The High Executor’s jaw clenches and his eyes narrow at the disrespect, but Mikael isn’t having it. Still, he tries to be a little diplomatic.

“Apologies but our place is here. At Bula’s side.”

Even that doesn’t seem to sway Daylor… until Bula herself huffs and speaks her mind.

“They stay.”

For a moment, that distaste from earlier flashes across High Executor Krislamin’s face again. He clearly doesn’t appreciate being told what’s going to happen. And yet… Bula’s words have the intended effect that Mikael and Avina’s had not. He offers one sharp nod before crossing his arms over his chest.

“Fine. You may stay. Still… be grateful. Know that you are the only outsiders who have been allowed in the Sylian Woods in quite some time. Normally, we simply kill all of your kind on sight. Only your status as obvious comrades-in-arms to a High Priestess Candidate afford you the right to continue drawing breath.”

Bula bristles at the implied threat, but Mikael just gives her shoulder a firm, comforting squeeze. At the same time though, he makes eye contact with Avina, seeing his own confusion reflected back in the Soul Mechanic’s gaze. The High Executor’s words did not line up with Timothal Dawnguard’s own account of his short time spent in the Sylian Woods. Though… there were a number of possible reasons for that.

Number One, Thayla’s father might have run into some ‘kind elves’, a group that couldn’t be bothered to kill them all and were willing to just let them leave with a ‘never return’ style warning. Number Two, Thayla’s father had self-admittedly gone to the Sylian Woods in his youth. So it was possible that when Daylor said ‘quite some time’, he meant within the last few decades AFTER the incident that had caused the Order of the Rose to forbid all official missions into the woods.

In the end though, it didn’t really matter. It certainly wasn’t worth calling the High Executor out over the discrepancy, not when there were more pressing things to question the elven man over. Clearing her throat, Avina speaks up to call one of those more pressing things into question right then and there.

“You keep mentioning that Bula is a High Priestess Candidate. What exactly does that mean?”

For the first time, the High Executor looks surprised. Daylor’s eyes widen and he looks between the three of them, visibly taken aback. Then, his eyes narrow again, focusing on Bula in particular.

“You don’t know? Truly?”

Bula huffs, only Mikael’s comforting hand likely keeping the half-orc from getting a lot more physical with this meeting. Still, she shakes her head with a broad scowl spread across her face.

“Know what? How could I know ANYTHING?! You dropped me at the border as an infant for fuck’s sake!”

The High Executor looks down for a moment, muttering under his breath in what might have been elvish curse words. When he looks up again, he looks somewhat… drawn. Weary, definitely.

“Yes. The stupidity of that choice haunts our people to this day. I assure you; I was not one of those that voted for your expulsion. As hideous and grotesque as both your conception and appearance might be by elven standards… you still had the blood of a High Priestess flowing through you. Throwing you away was a decision made by a weak-minded Council that no longer exists. It’s only me now.”

Well that was certainly fucking ominous. Of course, Avina isn’t quite done prodding just yet.

“That still doesn’t answer the question. You’ve been calling for Bula. You wanted her to come here. Why? What is a High Priestess Candidate?”

Daylor bristles at that, the elven male clearly taking significant umbrage with Avina being the one to address him. But then, Mikael doesn’t think any of the three of them would be any better. The High Executor is clearly incredibly racist… just not AS racist as his kin from the sound of things.

Glowering at Avina for a moment until it became obvious she wasn’t going to be cowed by a simple look, the High Executor finally huffs out a breath and looks back to Bula.

“Your mother was Renna Wysalynn… the last High Priestess of Syl. As her daughter, you have her blood flowing through your veins… making you a viable candidate to replace her as High Priestess.”

For a moment, Mikael finds himself trying to imagine Bula of all people as a High Priestess. Maybe… maybe a High Priestess of War and Violence. But seriously, it was a bit of a tough ask. That said, something about what the High Executor had said sticks in Mikael’s mind and he finds himself asking a question of his own.

“Syl. As in Child of Syl. Sylian Woods. Sylian Elves. So that would make Syl…”

Rolling his eyes, Daylor waves a hand through the air.

“Syl. God of the Sylian Woods, yes. Though we do not call ourselves Sylian Elves. That is a human name. If you must title us… we are The People.”

The People. Implying that everyone else weren’t actually people. Yeah, Mikael was going to keep calling them Sylian Elves or Elves in his head. But… he could exercise basic diplomacy by not saying as much out loud.

Seeming to take the ensuing silence as tacit agreement, the High Executor nods once and then continues his explanation.

“Through our High Priestess’ connection to Syl, The People could not just survive the dangers of these woods but thrive as well. We were the indisputable rulers of the Sylian Woods for centuries… nay, millennia.”

Mikael exchanges another glance with Avina. Sounded like there might have been a pact between elves and humans after all a long, long time ago. Or not. Based off this asshole, it could have just been a general agreement not to step on each other’s toes, maybe.

“However… eight years ago, Renna took her own life, leaving us without a High Priestess… and even worse, without a High Priestess Candidate to replace her.”

Here, Daylor gestures to Bula with a half-hearted sneer that doesn’t seem solely directed at the half-orc at least.

“After your… conception, your mother refused to ever let another male touch her, even from among The People. She had no other children after you. In the end, her experiences at the hands of the orcs finally got the better of her after many years. When she killed herself, she doomed us all in the process.”

It’s obvious that High Executor Krislamin is very frustrated by the loss of Bula’s mother, and not just because the poor woman apparently committed suicide as a direct result of the actions Bula’s father committed against her so many years before. Rather callous of him to act like Renna’s death was some great imposition on him. A glance in Bula’s direction shows that the half-orc is taking all of this in stride… at least in her own way. She hasn’t tried to pull her weapon on Daylor yet so at least there’s that.

Still, they’ll have to have a talk later about all of this. Mikael could guess that Bula would act like she didn’t care. This… Renna Wysalynn might have been the woman who gave birth to her, but to call her Bula’s mother would be quite the overstatement.

That all said, Daylor’s grave tone and words about Renna’s death ‘dooming them all’ didn’t exactly sit well with Mikael. They felt like the elven man was trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill, especially with all they’d seen so far. The Sylian Elves certainly didn’t feel doomed if their gorgeous tree top city was any indication.

Mikael didn’t like the idea that the High Executor was projecting his anger at Renna onto Bula. As though it was somehow Bula’s fault that her birth mother had taken her own life and left them in dire straits or what have you. Clenching his jaw, he leans forward with a scoff.

“You certainly don’t seem doomed. You all took down that Child of Syl in the blink of an eye and it certainly seems like you’ve got a great thing going here. A hustling, bustling, lively city right outside that door.”

Stiffening, the High Executor sneers in response.

“As I said before, we are quite capable of taking down a single Child of Syl when necessary. It is not the solitary ones that we concern ourselves with. As for this ‘hustling, bustling’ city as you call it…”

Here, the elven man looks to be in actual pain for a moment, staring off into the distance as he remembers things that seem to cause him no small amount of discomfort. Finally though, he gathers himself and looks back to all of them.

“I mentioned the Council before, did I not? The Council of Executors. Nine Seats in total, one for each of The People’s Nine Cities. Led by a High Executor from the High Capital of The People.”

As Mikael absorbs his words and begins connecting the dots, there’s a sinking feeling in his gut as Daylor grinds his teeth together, clenching his hands into fists at his sides.

“Without the High Priestess, The People have no connection to Syl and thus no protection from the dangers of the Sylian Woods. In the eight years since Renna Wysalynn ended her own life, a city has been lost every single year, starting with the High Capital.”

Suddenly… the High Executor looks young. Lost, really. He stares down at his suddenly open hands for a moment before continuing on in a somber, sober tone.

“They’re all gone now. The High Capital. The other seven cities. Where you stand now is the LEAST of our cities. I, Daylor Krislamin of House Krislamin, am the only Executor left of The People, making me High Executor by default.”

Clenching his hands back into fists, he lifts his head with a fire suddenly reignited in his eyes as he gazes at Bula with a fanatic sort of glee.

“But not all is lost. A High Priestess Candidate is returned to us. If you can connect to Syl as your mother once did before you, then The People can be saved.”

Well. Shit.

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Plug: The next TEN chapters of The Soul Engine can be found over on my Patreon at all times!
 

A/N: So now we know why the elves need Bula so badly in the first place. Does it make them more sympathetic, knowing they're on the verge of extinction? Or are they still a bunch of long-eared pricks? :P

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