Appearing just outside of a lush and beautiful forest, the party treks on. After a few hours a song reaches their ears through the trees.
[Music: Turn Loose The Mermaids (Instrumental) by Nightwish]
They hikes towards the music. They approach an opening by a river, where they see a robed elf leaning against a tree facing the river, playing the lute. As the song plays on, they see phantom copies of this elf appear, each one playing a different instrument in perfect unison. Samuel pulls out his pipes and walks into the grove, joining in the music. The elf regards him with a slight smile and nod of his head and they continue to play. The music is entrancing.
Eventually the music stops. Carefully laying down his instrument but remaining seated, the elf looks at no one in particular. “Welcome, travelers. I am known as Voidsong. What brings you to the fair realm of Miranveil?” His voice is lyrical.
“Somebody asked for us, actually. We have come to help them.”
Voidsong cocks an eyebrow. “Oh, really?” he says. “Do you know this person?”
“Yet you come to their aid. It must be something quite important. I don’t suppose you would care to tell me who it is that you seek?”
“We’re looking for Tahrmyl Valandrin.”
The smile on Voidsong’s face disappears. A cloud of darkness spreads over his fair features. He slowly rises to his feet. “The elf you seek is a weakling and a fool. His is an errand of futility. It will only lead to death. And that death will only lead to worse.” He pointedly eyes the Tree tattoo on Vere’s face. He rolls up one of his sleeves, brandishing a tattoo of a lute colored in a green aura of divinity. “You know of which I speak.”
At seeing his tattoo, the party is hopeful. “You know of our quest then, of that which we face. Join us. Help us fight. Help us win.”
Voidsong laughs bitterly. “Win,” he says. The laugh cuts off abruptly. “There is no winning. Not when we have to face him. There can be no victory. There is only the endless cycle of war and death. However, not all must be lost. In fact, I have a gift for you, should you choose to accept it.”
“I love gifts!” one of the party says.
Voidsong chuckles grimly. “You may want to think carefully about accepting this one. I offer you the gift of oblivion. A true death. A peaceful respite from this eternal cycle in which we are all stuck. My song will be your guide into the void.”
The party looks at each other uncomfortably. Hands go to their weapons as they warily turn their gazes back to the Voidsong. “No,” someone finally says.
He sighs sadly. “I will not force you to accept this. It is your choice of whether or not you wish to pass quietly into the night, or if you want to engage in a war that cannot be won.” His eyes begin to moisten. “I weep for you. I weep for what will happen to you, for when you realize the doom that awaits you all.” Voidsong turns, picks up his lute and walks into the forest.
The party continues to Miranveil. They are met by a scouting party and brought back under careful scrutiny. They are finally brought to see Tahrmyl.
“Thank you for coming! The True Mother told me about you, about how much you have done.” He shows them a tattoo on his left shoulder. “I asked you here because I need your help in serious and personal matter. I want you to help me stop my brother Ki’ethar, killing him if necessary.” Tahrmyl tells his story:
Tahrmyl reached the Tree with his two brothers, Eldul and Ki’ethar. Unfortunately their kin, the elves of Miranveil, remain obstinately doubtful about the truth of things. Rebuked by their Elders for their “foolish, youthful fantasies”, Tahrmyl is disheartened and begins to doubt himself. His brothers remain staunch, so much that it keeps him going. Unfortunately, they draw the attention of Asmodean’s agents to themselves. Eldul is killed so that he and Ki’ethar can escape. Grief-stricken and thoroughly discouraged, Tahrmyl abandons the cause and seeks to pick up the pieces of the life he had before he had been to the Tree. The Elders are pleased with his decision and make his transition easier for him. Hoping to set the example for his younger brother, he is surprised and saddened by Ki’ethar’s disgust with him and refusal to abandon their quest. By his own actions Ki’ethar gets himself exiled from Miranveil.
Years pass. Despite his wanting to live a normal life, Tahrmyl cannot shake off what he has learned, nor forget his younger brother. He blames himself for Ki’ethar’s exile, and over time that burden drives him to do something about it. He searches for Ki’ethar far and wide.
Unable to find a trace of him, Tahrmyl returns to Marinveil. Just outside of its borders, he hears a familiar song being played. Racing to it, he finds his brother. His joy is soon replaced with a cautious fear. Ki’ethar regards him dispassionately and offers to kill him mercifully to remove the crushing hopelessness of a meaningless life. Tahrmyl is horrified. He offers to help, but Ki’ethar tells him that no one can be helped; all are equally doomed. With an unnerving coldness in his eyes, Ki’ethar says that he will let him leave and continue his life, but only because they are brothers, which once meant something.
Heartbroken, Tahrmyl returns to Miranveil and finds that several of their kin have disappeared without a trace while outside of the city. Faint echoes of a mournful song are sometimes heard on the wind around the time that people disappear, but is gone before anyone can find its source. In the pit of his stomach, Tahrmyl knows that Ki’ethar is responsible. Afraid to go to the Elders, he returns to the Tree for the first time since Eldul’s death and asks for guidance. The Tree tells him that there is a group that can help him and possibly save his brother. They are in Cambria, and they can be contacted either through Jarvis or Armon. Wanting to deal with the matter as quickly as possible, he sends a letter via magical means to Armon, explaining his problem and desperately seeking help.
After hearing his tale the party relates the story of their encounter with Voidsong. “So you have seen him then. I am glad you were able to resist his offer. You’d be surprised how many people he persuades into accepting his ‘gift’. His music can rapture even the undead. Some of our own kin have fallen victim to him, but the Elders refuse to accept this. They believe the danger lies elsewhere. I do not understand their steadfast refusal to see the truth of him!”
The party agrees to help, but it is late. They are invited to spend the night with Tahrmyr, and do so. In the middle of the night, they find themselves awakened by a haunting melody. Some of them step outside and see Tahrmyr standing at the rail, staring off into the direction from which the music comes.
[Music: It’s Hard to Say Goodbye, by Michael Ortega]
“Our mother played this song,” Tahrmyr says. “She played it when a dear friend of hers passed on. She never talked about it; she could never find the words. She would say she didn’t need to, and played this song. It spoke for her. From then on, whenever someone close to us died, she would only play this song. I think it’s what moved Ki’ethar to immerse himself in music. When words failed them, it was this song that communicated the tenderness of their souls. It’s rare for him to play this.” He lowers his head, choking back emotion. “It reminds me of better days.” After a moment he turns to go back inside. “Please, get some rest.”
The next morning the party goes back to the where they met Voidsong before. They do not see anyone there, but a voice greets them, seemingly coming from everywhere at once.
“I thought perhaps you came to accept my gift. Instead, I see you keeping company with a sniveling coward. Begone.”
“Ki’ethar, stop this!” Tahrmyl yells into the trees. “You can’t keep doing this just because I failed you so many years ago!”
An unnerving laugh echoes in response. “Is that what you think? That I persist in this ‘foolishness’ because you failed me? No, brother. I do it because I have accepted the truth that you could never bear. I have seen the inescapable end that awaits us all. And what am I doing about it? I am offering others a way out. And what about you? What are you doing about this? What have you done with the knowledge that has been imparted to you?”
Tahrmyl has no response. He lowers his eyes.
“Nothing. You have done NOTHING. And what of the rest of you? You ask me to fight? You think you can win? I name you fools and ignorant liars. Prove me wrong. Defend yourselves.” At once a frightening and powerful song thunders from all around them.
[Battle Music: One Winged Angel (Final Fantasy: Advent Children)]
A fierce battle ensues, with Voidsong and his phantom copies hiding throughout the forest while a colossal worm battles the party. When it is slain, it rises from the dead, continuing to fight on for Voidsong. After a bitter struggle, the party has Voidsong at their mercy. Tahrmyr begs him to stop.
On his knees and staring at the ground, Voidsong speaks to no one in particular. “Where were you?” he says softly. “Where were you when we needed you? Where was such strength when my brothers and I were overcome, when it was needed most?” There was no blame in his questions, only despair. He gazes up at the party. “Perhaps…if there are more like you…maybe he can be stopped…” He raises the sleeve of his other arm and shows a tattoo of a worn and rotted lute in a gray aura of withering. He looks at his brother.
“There is but one thing I can do still. Please, take me back. I will show the Elders the truth of things.”
The party escorts Voidsong back. The scouting party almost kills Voidsong on sight, but Tahrmyr manages to convince them to let him speak to the Elders. The Elders themselves are about to dismiss him before he can ‘poison them with his silver tongue’, but they finally concede the matter and let him speak.
Voidsong strides forward. He smiles back at Tahrmyr.
[Music: It’s Hard to Say Goodbye, by Michael Ortega]
“Elders of my people. You have stoically refused to give ear to our words because we have been unable to answer your questions to your satisfaction. You have ignored our insistence that we have had to hold our tongues not because we wished to, but because failure to do so meant destruction. Things have changed. Though I am no longer under the same restraint as these”—he gestures to the party and Tahrmyr—“the consequences remain the same. What I do now, I do to make up for my wrongs.”
“All of creation is threatened with annihilation. The World Tree has revealed to me, to us, that there are but two other deities besides Herself: Her children, Elysius and Asmodean. They have been at war since time immemorial. There has always been balance. With each death comes life, and with each life comes death. The True Mother is the vessel of it all, taking the souls of the dead and giving them new life. You, I and everyone here, have lived and died countless times.”
The skies darken overhead. “Brother, no! Don’t do this!” Tahrmyr yells.
“Recently, the balance has begun to shift. Asmodean has discovered a way to disrupt the cycle and take what rightfully belongs to his brother and make it his. He is stealing the souls of all creatures loyal to Elysius and corrupting them. They do not make it back to the True Mother. They become bound to him, twisted and corrupted by him to bolster his army.”
A slight tremor pulses through the ground. Everyone present begins to look fearful. “Stop! Please! I beg of you!” Tahrmyr screams.
“I have been given the blessing of Elysius.” He reveals the green tattoo. “But I have also been seduced by the dark promises of Asmodean.” He reveals his gray tattoo. “He taught me that everything has been set in motion by the True Mother to keep Her alive. Just as She breathes life into us, so does She also need us to nourish Herself. By taking in our souls, She continues to exist. Our deaths are what sustain Her. In order to survive, we must continually die. Thus exists the endless cycle of blood and death.”
A circle of fire begins to burn around Voidsong. He doesn’t seem to notice the flames that lick at his feet. “No! You don’t need to do this! We can find another way! Please, just stop!” Tahrmyr shrieks.
“Asmodean has told me that he only seeks to end this cycle. He once thought nothing of our being used as merely food, but has grown to lament our plight. The pain at the loss of a child, the despair of having someone you love die in your arms, the emptiness of being powerless to stop the death of a friend…an eternity of this has moved him to end this game we call life. He wants no more of it. So he gathers the souls of all and prepares them for a final war, a final death. This final death will be more painful than any of us could possibly imagine. It will be nothing less than the culmination of all of the pain that we have felt throughout every life we have lived. Truly it is a horrific end. We cannot allow this to happen.”
The flaming circle burns with greater intensity. A giant hand bursts from beneath Voidsong’s feet and lifts him into the air, crushing him in its grasp.
Gritting his teeth in agony, Voidsong continues speaking. “And now…my soul is his. Please…” he looks down at the Elders. “Fight…him…Save yourselves, and all…of creation…” Voidsong looks over at Tahrmyr and manages a weak smile. The hand disappears into the earth. The fires subside. The darkness in the skies recede.
The crowd stands still in stunned silence, save for one. Tahrmyr stumbles forward to where Voidsong was standing before crumpling to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably. He throws his head back and screams a primal scream. It is borne of rage: rage at his weakness, rage at what has become of his brother, and rage at the evil that destroyed him.
“I will fight you!” he screams at the sky. “I will cleave my way to your side and take my brothers back! They will not be yours forever! I will come for them!”
Afraid to approach Tahrmyr, one of the Elders walks up to the party. “Please,” he asks, “can you take us to see Her? To meet our True Mother?”
Before they can answer, Her voice speaks in their heads. “Open a portal. I wish to see my children.” The party does so.
The Elves of Miranveil all become Treebearers. For the first time, the party begins to feel ready for the impending war. They return to Cambria to report to Armon.