I’d seen a man with the tendrils of shadows wrapped around his face, with a smile so unnaturally wide. I’d seen a “corpse” wandering the village after nightfall, begging for help that would never come. And I’d seen the Dragon archer himself, walking on Conviction in monstrous dragon armor.

To say I got no sleep that night would be euphemistic. I spent it cowering in abject terror, jumping at each distant crackle of sound in the shadow forest, and scanning the darkness for signs of the long scream. Even when morning light flooded through the gaps in the walls, the rest it brought was fitful, and dreams of weeping corpses plagued my mind. I saw her, (Orchidna) , creeping up my leg and plunging her needled fangs into my thigh - and I screamed myself awake. As I blinked away the nightmares, the blue outline of her demented smile lingered behind my eyelids.

My colleagues weren’t faring much better. I awoke to them arguing. The healer pressured the mage to call for help from another guild. One of the others said they would have their friends transfer in. The warrior retorted that outsiders were not welcome here, and that they’d interfere with Conviction’s entire way of life.

“Is academic philosophy more important than saving a life?” The healer hissed. Her voice was a low but jagged whisper. “They’re gonna throw it in the woods, and we’re just gonna sit here?”

“Get a hold of yourself,” He snapped, unconcerned with his volume. “You’re a year away from being a professional cleric. You know that level of contact would do more damage to their culture than a few spiders.”

She looked to me for support, but my meek demeanor told her I wouldn’t take a side.

“I...I just want to get the heck out of here,” I offered weakly.

“Very compassionate,” she shot back.

The wails of an infant echoed in the distance. The healer grimaced. I suddenly realized the catalyst of their disagreement.

“You can’t save them all,” He said, throwing his hands up in a helpless gesture. “People die. They’re killed in war. They starve. There’s fires. Floods. Disease.”

“We could take it with us,” She said.

“That’s not what they want,” he replied, shoving a finger in the direction of the noise. “Your job is to be a ghost here. Not a mother. Not a doctor. Not a savior. You’re acting like one of the fresh recruits right now. You know better than this.”

Her glare eroded to a helpless gaze. She wiped her eyes. He looked at me to ensure I wasn’t about to chime in.

“That’s the bad part of life, kids,” he said. “People die.”