Rumors are that much has changed in the 14 months since I last wandered the streets of Elderine and amongst the ruins of Alberstoll. A new government is in place, promising hope for the down-trodden and jaded veteran as well as the upstart newcomer. The people of Isya are a vocal bunch, difficult to please and expecting so much. I pray the new regime can deliver.
I arrived back in Roumen via the King Crab's Folly, the ship was in need of repair, but still sea-worthy. Roumen was quiet, a few veterans lined the docks, but remained quiet. Even upon approach, the war-worn vets stared emptily at the sea, glowing weapons at their side, but little joy on their faces.
I spotted Roumenous near the fountain, but decided to avoid him. He always seemed to gaze at me a bit too longingly. It made me uncomfortable. I decided to avoid the Free Battle Zone, no doubt there were familiar faces in there, but this wasn't the time for that. I headed towards the portal to Elderine.
Before I reached the portal, I was stopped by Maria, a look of shock on her face, as if she'd seen a ghost. No words were exchanged, just a teary smile along with a hug that lasted longer than normal. It was nice to see her as well, we parted in silence.
I wandered the streets of Elderine, the once bustling hub of activity. Sadly, it's not what it once was. The marketplace is sparse, and those vendors that remain charge exhorbitantly for their wares, hoping to claim as much gold as possible from the dwindling population. It's a sad state of affairs.
Shutian greeted me warmly as I approached, offering both a handshake and a hug. I've always admired the man, standing stoically in Elderine's square, rain or shine, a pillar of consistency and honor. He showed me the list of Kingdom Quests and how few volunteers are willing to go now. Mara and Marlone continue to raid the coasts, while adventurers flock to their decoys in the Sea of Greed and Burning Hill, the adventurers drawn simply by the hope of a meager trading card drop. They sell these cards to the rest of the population, rightfully profiting off their efforts, but sadly, they're misdirected. All the gold in the world will not keep Isya alive, only a strong community can.
Shutian looked sorrowful, the first time I've seen the man break his normally cool demeanor. I watched him gaze a mournful eye at his surroundings, and noticed him cringe with every cruel word being shouted around Elderine. I gave the man another hug. He straightened himself up, nodded to me a thank you, and went about his normal business.
I headed over to Kyle, along the way I heard some whispers and saw some finger pointing in my wake. I returned a smile to those that chose to stare, hopefully breaking their uncomfortable gaze. Kyle looked beleaguered as usual, it's a difficult job to be responsible for so much of Isya's possessions. Everything in my account was as I had left it, thankfully, just a bit dusty. I gave Kyle an Isya Blossom I had picked along my travels as a thank you for his safekeeping, the Isya Blossom was his mother's favorite flower. He smiled at me for remembering.
I climbed to the top of the Arena stairs and sat for a while, uninterrupted. Myzen's eyesight was getting worse, no doubt Avon was mixing even more powerful remedies for her. I was able to pass her by unnoticed. I will catch up with her another time.
As I looked down on Elderine from the stair, a flood of memories returned to me. The Civil War, an event allowing Isya's newest adventurers to test their mettle against one another without their purses tipping the scales. The huge Boss Battles, where wave upon wave of Isya's fiercest creatures climbed the walls and laid waste to the town. The winter festivities, the beautifully decorated tree granting magical bonuses, and the beautiful holiday music. The parades and dance parties, impromptu gatherings of Isya's citizens, both rookie and veteran alike, just exercises in fellowship. All of that seemed so distant now, like it wasn't really Elderine at all, but some other mythical city.
Elderine has definitely changed, the facades are still pretty, the streets gleam, the trees are healthy, but sadly, the people are not. Morale is low, the cunning and manipulative have taken over. People need hope again. This is a quest that even I don't know if I can undertake.
But know this, it won't be for lack of trying. I promise you this Isya.