FACTIONS: THE FREE
Never Coming Home
Everyone I know has suffered under the yoke of something from their past. I’m no exception. There’s no need to name it or compare it to the struggles of others. Doesn’t matter what it is; pain is relative. Whatever the battle people face, and I say this with zero judgment in my heart, too many get crushed beneath the weight of it.
If it goes unattended for too long, the wound grows, feeding on all the good around it until all that remains is the familiar shape of someone you used to know. A pale shade trying to survive in a world of eggshells and isolation.
Everyone in North Hold could hear the sound of whistling as the figure approached. A deep throaty tune carried for miles by a light breeze. On any other day, it could’ve been a shipwright returning home from the fisheries of the interior. Even its silhouette coming up the tree-lined curve seemed at first like a broadly built man with a rucksack thrown over his left shoulder.
To the boy chopping firewood near the stump, it was the father he’d prayed for finally returning home after a long winter. He wasn’t that far off, but when he heard his mother’s heartbroken
scream, he wiped the optimism from his eyes, refocused, and looked again.
The figure that stepped into view was a giant unimaginable thing, hewn from rough stone. A monster with a barely familiar face surrounding deep, sad, glowing green eyes. Slowly, the behemoth fell to its knees, its arms outstretched. Desperate for recognition as the man it once was.
All the terrified boy could do was recoil into his mother’s arms and wail. One last painful reminder of Tyrin cruelty.
The Free are Stonekin, who returned home, changed by Long Winter. Many, far dimmer than they were before, all of them stronger too, by a factor of ten or more. Where once they were fathers and brothers, they became protectors and builders too different in form and function to rejoin the families they loved. Opting instead for a new life outside, free of fatigue or cold or hunger, while still near hearth and kin.
A little over a hundred years later, North Hold remains littered with Stonekin. Almost all of them remnants of Long Winter.
While their lives of flesh and blood are little more than a distant memory, an ember or two of their old humanity remains, tethering them to these lands and their familial bonds long after time consigned their heirs to the dirt.
Now, with the events of Long Winter passed into history, the Stonekin have become trusted guardians. Each of them standing vigil over the communities they once knew.