I enter the tenement, struggling to climb the rickety ladder up, past the second floor, to the garret. I find the room just as we left it, empty but for the clay pot of alchemically enhanced oil we had left there.
I slump against the wall and slide to the floor. There’s a crack in the wooden wall, and I stare out through it at the misty street below, looking for anything that might reveal whether I’ve been pursued. Nothing. The mist is starting to break apart, revealing bits of wet weathered wood siding on the buildings opposite and the damp, dun-colored muck of the street. The air smells of rot and filth. Some distance away, I hear the clanging sounds of the smelter, the calls of elves upon the dock, the myriad cacophonous noises that make up a city. Nearer at hand there is yelling, an angry dispute, which ends abruptly with the sound of a slap and muffled tears.
I will be so glad to see this place burn to the ground. I wish it would happen in such a way as to burn every degenerate here, every sick, twisted corruption of elvenness that doesn’t deserve to be free. Elves like Calmorien. The woman from the market who chopped off the child’s finger. The robbers and the thieves. The murderers. The abusers. The sellers of addictive, destructive herbs. The ward bosses and their enforcers.
I try to think of one elf worth saving in this hellhole. Just one. One decent elf. One elf the free elves outside could look at without reproach. I can’t come up with even one.
Certainly not me. I don’t deserve freedom. I am a murderer. A thief. A rage-filled violent killer who just ripped out the throat of another elf with my own teeth. The world would be a better place if I were to pull out my sickle and slit my own throat.
The sound of yelling rises again, from down the street. Through the crack, I see an old nana, shabby skirt pulled up in a futile effort to keep it above the mud, moving as fast as her twisted old bones will allow, looking back fearfully behind her. As I watch her, a clod flies from behind her, catching her squarely on the back, knocking her slight form down into the street. She cries out in fear and anger as she goes down, a sound which is rapidly drowned out by laughter and hooting as a swarm of small children runs up, beating her with sticks, rustling through her clothes until one lifts a grimy hand in triumph, clutching a copper piece. He runs off, while the rest of the howling mob follows.
The old woman lies in the mud for awhile crying, and then rises slowly, painfully. She turns around and hobbles back the direction she came, still crying.
I haven’t seen anything today that wouldn’t be right at home in a warren of degenerate goblins or a barbaric village of savage orcs. None of us deserve freedom. The world would be better off if we all burned to death in tonight’s conflagration. A fire to sear this place clean. To purify this evil place and the evil within every elf here.
I turn back to the splash bomb behind me.
I can do it.
I know where every bomb is. With a lantern and some torches or wicks, I could begin the fires early. During the afternoon, when the rains won’t be pouring down to inhibit the spreading of the flames. Before everyone is gathered to escape, before the tunnel is ready. I could put a fiery end to this perversion.
I close my eyes, caressing the oil pot, imagining Elftown burning, imagining tomorrow morning’s rains falling on a desolate smoldering wasteland of debris and ashes and corpses, imagining the dismayed humans walking in shock amongst the ruin of their oppression. It feels like justice.
But it’s not.
Murder is not just. Well, Calmorien’s murder was. He deserved it. But mass murder is not just. Killing everyone in Elftown might make the world a better place and hurt the humans. But it’s neither fair nor just.
Ugh. Much as I want to burn down this hellhole and everyone in it, I can’t.
The elves of Elftown are what we are because of our environment. In a sense, we are all victims, even the most vile and vicious among us. The poverty, the confinement, the desperation, the suppression of our elfhood – all of these things molded us into something we weren’t meant to be. But we didn’t die. We didn’t reject life. We persevered and did what it took to survive as best we could. If we changed because of the conditions, maybe by removing the conditions we can go back to how we should be. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can become civilized; if I can be an elf like they are portrayed in our songs.
But goddess, I deserve a chance. I deserve a chance to be more than this hellhole has made me. And if I grant myself that chance, shouldn’t everyone else have it too? Not everyone I know is a monster. Fëan the apprentice grain seller isn’t. The dockworker who told me I was a hero isn’t. Neither is Enturi, once you get to know him. They deserve a chance at freedom.
And I will do my best to give them that chance. Tonight.
I rise wearily to my feet. I need food and rest. But I have something else I have to do first.