Sometimes, when you reach out the darkness, when you cry out in the night for justice – it hears. And the night responds, and it sends a spirit of justice to assist you. And this is one of those stories. Many, many years ago in the Lindenwoad, the hordes of Garreth Redclaw marched across the nations. Under fearsome leadership and a violent hand, Garreth and his horde had marched across the plains and had come to the Lindenwoad, seeking to get past the mighty forest and continue their march into the great city of Althea. No armies had withstood them, and any rebellions had been cut down with the same swiftness and vengeance that had become his calling card. His men marched into the Woad, behaving as animals – fighting and clawing, pillaging, and taking many of the citizens into slavery to serve as harem girls and as foot soldiers. It was while passing through the Woad that they encountered a sorcerer by the name of Vadros. He watched as the horde came towards his own village, the way that they destroyed others in their way. He heard the prayers to Alseta from villages ahead of his own, and watched the prayers go unanswered as they were enslaved, and watched the billowing smoke from the temples as Garreth razed them. And Vadros began to work to save his own village in the woad.
He rode along a hunting party of Ketephysian hunters, striking and fighting where they could. But when they were overrun, once again, no god came to help them. Vadros fled the party as the Redclaws overtook them, trying to return to his own village – but when he arrived, Garreth and his men had already carved through it. Vadros had watched in horror from his hiding place as the cut down his neighbors and family, and as they forced those still standing to kneel and accept slavery. And it was in that moment that he reached out to Calistria, praying that of all the Gods, at least she would hear his plight. And in the night, he lamented as it felt that the gods themselves did not hear or care. But something did, reaching beyond its veil and speaking to him in hushed whispers, words hidden in dreams. Vadros listened to it all and returned to his village, begging and beseeching for something to take the pain from him. In the midst of the village, something had grown from the anger and the pain, and it heard Vadros. It stood in front of him, and spoke in a voice ancient and beastial. “I am the La’reth, taker of vengeance and harbinger of sorrows. I have heard your pleas when the gods have not. I am the wrath of a people oppressed and downtrodden, of ageless simmering anger, of those who have fallen to the unjust. I am vengeance upon the wicked.”
Vadros had fallen to his knees before the figure, terrified and awestruck. He begged the La’reth for a way to save his people, to defend against a greater opponent who fought without mercy. And the La’reth accepted, needing only a physical form in which to assist. Vadros opened his mind, becoming one with the miasma, and in that moment he knew the battles of a thousand kingdoms. He saw every blow that had killed the just or innocent in a hundred wars, and he heard the voices of those who had died defending their freedoms. Picking up a blade from the fallen body of one of his former neighbors, he raised it to the sky, as if challenging even the gods to halt him now. The night became his, and he began to hunt Garreth and his men with ease. Night after night, he moved between trees silently to pick them apart. He coated his face and skin in the ash of his village, becoming a spectre in the night. And he became a legend among the troops, spoke of in hushed whispers even as far as Althea itself. But as he hunted, he forgot the ways of a true hunter. He began to hunt Redclaw’s men with their own tactics, becoming like a feral beast in the night. The people that had once seen him as their savior started to fear him just as much as they feared Garreth.
The La’reth would rend and tear, blood flying, the Woad echoing with screams as he found his prey. Gone were the bow and the dagger, and it attacked with claws and jagged blades. The La’reth would wound its prey just to stalk it throughout the Woad for hours, toying with it before descending like a maelstrom. It’s prey would be found publicly displayed, heads severed and limbs torn. Eventually, even Garreth Redclaw grew afraid of the beast. The people of the Woad now feared it more, and began to ask for anything to save them. When it fell into the camps of prisoners, they would hide in terror and pray for mercy as it descended on guards. Garreth hunted it through the Woad for weeks before finding the La’reth, and he charged into battle against it. The screams and howls of agony echoed through the Woad as they fought, and the morning sun shone on the severed head of Garreth at the entrance of Vadros’ village. While the Redclaws fled, the elves of the Woad dealt with a new terror. When the first hunting party encountered the La’reth, it violently attacked – killing all of the hunters and flinging them into the land so violently that the bodies cracked rocks and trees.
Vadros had used the tactics of monsters to hunt them, and in doing so, he had become one. He realized that he could no longer control the beast within him, the creature that had grown to hunger for blood and violence, the spirit that now sought vengeance for any sin at an equal level. And he returned to the village of Mahal, where it had all started. Sitting in the middle of the town square, he called the creature forward to request that it leave. The creature had replied “No. You invited me. You welcomed me. You created me. And I am what you wanted. I am vengeance without limit, I am the actions that must be taken. I am the rage of your people, the gift of those that you called for. I am you, Vadros, and you are I. You have never felt the purpose that I give you. I am what makes you feel alive, and you can no more separate from me than you can your very soul. I will take vengeance on all who have done wrong – for no one monster is worse than another in the eyes of the reaping. All sins are equal in the final count.” Vadros had heard the words, his blood running cold even as he felt the spirit settle. He had made his plan then – perhaps the la’reth was correct, and he could not remove him any more than he could his own soul. But if he had been willing to create, he must be willing to destroy.
It was a dark night and a slow process, but Vadros had set for the Ebon Mountain to the north. A large and imposing crag of blackened stone, it had taken days for him to climb, constantly arguing with the la’reth and fighting it. It was on the peak of the Ebon that he had found the Cells of the Eternal, the hidden chambers where the gods themselves had once plotted and planned. It was here that he had found a tome of abandoned knowledge, reaching out in his time of need once again. Now a god listened, something formless and beyond time, a creature of immeasurable knowledge and terror. It sat upon a throne, covered in robes of dull yellow in distant and grim Carcossa, its interest only peaked by the desperation and knowledge that Vadros’ offered. As he sobbed and begged, the king in yellow rose from its ancient and unknown rest, entering our realm briefly. It reached out to Vadros, a pallid and veinless hand of failing flesh offering help. And Vadros did what he knew his must.
He could no more be rid of La’reth than his own soul, and he offered both to any spirit that would release him. And the touch of the ancient being released him into madness beyond knowledge, and he stepped with the creature back beyond the veils of our world. Left behind was a pale mask of pallid white and dull yellows, a reminder of the dangers one faces when they think only of vengeance. Left untempered, the passions and emotions of a man create a monster. When one thinks as a monster, they open doors that should be left closed. They welcome in something that only is waiting for a welcome. The La’reth always hunts, seeking a chance to take vengeance against any creature that does not follow the ideals that it does. It waits for bad children, for those who oppress, for those who take advantage of the trusting. The La’reth waits to consume the soul and personality of them as certainly as it did Vadros, and it is a caution to anyone who believes their cause is absolute. The La’reth is a caution to us all, a warning to be cautious in our own exuberance as even the best of intentions has a way of being corrupted. Becoming a monster to stop a monster will only create a new one to replace it.
‘Hush, thy childe, do not stray far from your righteous path,
or The Faceless One shall seek you in his wrath,
He preys on sinful and defiant souls,
and lurks with the halls of the Woad,
He has hands of ebony and smoke,
And a touch as soft as a silken cloak.
Fear the Faceless One, thy childe,
For he shall take you to a dark place -
And what shall become of you?
No one knows, so be good little one -
Even now he waits for deeds undone.’
- A loose translation of a writing by an unknown Elven writer.
“When you see the La’reth,
look down when it walks by
A person, high-born, will die.
A murder, quite often
not enough to fill the coffin
and under the dirt they will lie.”
- A children’s rope-jumping rhyme from the Woad