The sun crept over the mountains to cast its weak light upon the shallow valley which hid the squat stone fortress known as The Monastery of the Sundered chain. The dawn found a lone figure standing still and silent upon the high defensive curtain wall, watching the pass for any sign of approaching danger. He was alone: no other sentry need watch while Reverence stood atop the wall. The initiates whispered that Bahamut himself watched with him on the nights of his duty.
Although the sentinel was, as always, statue-like in his vigil, the tranquillity was suddenly broken as the door to the interior of the squat stone monastery opened. A second figure emerged from the doorway and strode across the stony ground toward the watcher. He climbed the steps and stood beside Reverence for some time before either spoke, a ritual they they had shared for some time now.
The huge form of Reverence turned slowly to his friend. “Benn, they are are returning.” His voice was deep but quiet. “Brother Valasaar approaches.”
Reverence raised his hand to point ahead and the half-elf turned to look down the path. Three horses and a pony came trotting around the bend. At the head of the trio was Dargoth the goliath astride a huge shire horse built for pulling wagons of stone. The horse must have been 20 hands, but still the battlerager’s feet almost scraped the floor. Behind him was the lean, dark figure of Corren. The shadar-kai swordmage’s features were fixed in a habitually sullen expression, as though he were brooding upon the mysteries of life, or perhaps death. Finally came Marcus Brandale, his eyes alight with the knowledge of ages. No work of arcane lore worth reading had escaped this mage’s attention. And from above swept the dragonborn Valasaar Moonscale, upon his outstretched wings. The Swordpriest of Bahamut landed heavily upon the floor in front of the gate.
Benn looked towards the sun. Judging by its height above the peaks they must have ridden from Overlook at dawn.
“Greetings friends! Are you going to open the gate? Or shall I ask Dargoth to do it?” Valasaar’s gravelly voice echoed around the enclosed killing ground before the gate.
Benn smiled. “Of course my Lord, we don’t want you undoing all of our hard work!” With a laugh the cleric jumped down and swung open the heavy iron bound doors. The Dawnriders filed into the courtyard just as a number of initiates were led from the monastery by Hadrin Blayne and Nadaar. Each initiate was wearing a tabard emblazoned with the symbol of Bahamut, the head of a platinum dragon, upon a purple field. Hadrin and Nadaar walked over to join in the greetings, leaving the initiates to gaze in awe at the legendary Dawnriders.
Reverence resumed his watch while Hadrin and Nadarr commenced sword training with the novices. Benn led the returning heroes into the Monastery and turned to Valasaar. “We have heard nothing from Rahbn these last few months. I fear he has left your company for good.”
Valasaar nodded. “We thought that might be the case. We sent riders from Overlook this morning calling for a replacement from across the Elsir Vale and beyond. With luck we will find someone to fill his boots, although many will be put off by the danger.”
Benn frowned and hesitated before replying. “Have we heard false news? I thought the Githyanki had ceased their war upon us. That you had secured peace by overthrowing Emperor Zetch’r’r. Is this not true?”
“It is true enough,” replied the dragonborn. “But Tiamat was behind the war. She was pulling the strings and her evil knows no bounds. We have despatched two of her exarchs, we think a third escaped us, and there will be two more setting enemies against us as we speak. The threat to this land is far from over and I fear our hardest battles are yet to come.” They walked through the dark corridors in silence for a short time, lost in their own thoughts until Dargoth cleared his throat.
Looking round at him Valasaar smiled. “Yes of course, enough of this talk, I believe it is time for breakfast. Do you have any Pie?”
“Pie for breakfast, Valasaar? In all my studies, the only thing of which understanding continues to elude me is your capacity to consume pie!” Marcus mocked gently, before turning to a pair of large chests strapped to the back of the pony. “Please try to save me something, I must deliver this latest donation from Sayre to the library before I eat, and see how the improvements to the chambers below are progressing.”
The Pig and Bucket was well known as an adventurer’s tavern. It was a very busy and fairly rough establishment in “the blister”, a notorious part of the city of Overlook. In the back section of the inn sat the Dawnriders, a section curtained off for the last week in order for them to have some privacy while they “interviewed” a number of prospective members. They needed a fifth man, but so far it was proving difficult. They had spoken to over a dozen adventurers in the last four days and none of them had come close to the standard and experience they were looking for.
Marcus and Valasaar were discussing their options, reviewing the copious notes Marcus had taken on each applicant, when the curtain parted and a young woman with raven hair entered. She was adorned with the trappings of a warlock and had a fey aura about her. All attention turned in her direction as she stepped up to their table.
She stood before the four heroes, judging each before beginning without so much as introducing herself. “I understand you have defeated two of Tiamet’s exarchs and two more are upon your door… I want the one who got away.”
She didn’t wait for a response, instead turned and began to leave the cubicle.
With a quick cough to clear his throat, Valasaar caught the woman before she departed. “Who, so bold a woman, do we have come before us?”
She paused with the curtain half drawn, then slowly turned back to face the dragonborn. “My name is Sethlah Erinstraad. Some call me the Witch of Steramore, but I care not of meaningless titles. Sometimes it has its advantage.” She returned to the table and gently placed a dark crystal before the party. Their eyes were drawn upon the shard as it appeared there was something writhing within.
“I have my reasons,” she began, regaining their attention. “I have heard of the Dawnriders, and of their…” She paused as if to make certain of her choice of what she should say, “loss. I care not of glory but merely to carry out a promise I have made and shall see through.”
Marcus began to ask of her promise but was quickly cut short.
“It is my promise.” And with this she discreetly stroked a small raven feather that hung from a cord about her neck. “Suffice to say, the threat upon these lands is grave.”
The shadows within the cubicle seemed to darken as she briefly uttered something incomprehensible before reclaiming her crystal from the table. “I fear no enemy. I have no need to. I won’t sit idle, allowing these champions of Tiamat to claim a prize they don’t deserve.”
“I will leave you both to consider what I say.” She paused for the briefest moment as she pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and then in an instant, was gone.
Valasaar turned to look at the others in turn, all as speechless as he was. “Well my friends it would appear our search is over. I like her! Do you think she will come back?”
“If she wants us to run after her she’s out of luck. But I hope she does return: that way we can get back to working out what we do next,” Corren replied in a frustrated tone of voice. “I don’t dispute the need to keep our numbers up, Valasaar. I do think we have greater concerns. Tiamat is a goddess. It sounds impossible, but unless we can find some way to get to her and dispatch her permanently, everything will come to nothing. Meanwhile, we’re tying up our best researcher -” a nod to Marcus “- making interview notes.”
“Have faith Corren, Bahamut has guided Sethlah to us and Bahamut will show us the way.” Valasaar stood and made to leave. “You are correct in one thing, we have preparations to make. I will leave a message with the barman to direct her to the monastery should she return, and I have no doubt she will. That show was for our benefit.” He shrugged his huge shoulders, wings stretching slightly with the gesture. “It worked for me…”
Having slid the last bolt across the door, the barman stood up and began to wipe his hands in his apron. Removing the note from his pocket, he sighed gently. “Would have been a good one I reckon.” He turned round to make his way to discard the parchment in the fireplace when a soft voice startled him.
“You really should make sure the place is empty before you lock up.”
A sly grin formed across the young woman’s face. With her hood up, it was all that the barman could see of her as she sat hidden in the shadows.
“But…” as he struggled to regain his composure, “I know that it were all clear…”
“Relax,” she whispered as she rose and made her way towards him. “You’re ok. It’s not like you’ve seen a witch or something, now is it?”
Now the barman recognised the woman as she came into the light and removed her hood. Trembling, he stood, not quite yet himself.
“Is this for me?” she asked as she removed the folded parchment from his hands.
“Umm… ye.. yes m’am,” still unable to to gather himself.
“Thank you then barman.” She then pulled her hood up again and began to make her way towards the locked door. “Have a good night. Oh… and do remember to check thoroughly before you lock up, won’t you.”
And with that she gave a sly wink and a giggle before disappearing once again.
With the mysterious woman now gone, the barman’s strength returned to him. With a shudder and wiping a heavy bead of sweat from his brow, he turned and rushed to the bar, taking hold of a large bottle of port and downing the whole.
As Sethlah stood in the middle of the street, she still giggled to herself. “Oh you are cruel.” She turned back to the tavern but then decided against it as her smile broadened more. “He’ll be better for it.”
She turned her attention to the parchment in her hand, reading it in the faint light cast by the street lantern. “The Temple of Bahamut, eh?” Pulling her cloak in about herself she melted into the shadows as she made her way on into the night.
The windowless interior of the sleeping quarters was dominated my a towering statue of Bahamut, lit by ever burning candles. It was the last thing the brethren saw before they went to sleep, and the first thing they saw when they awoke. Valasaar looked around at the cubicles holding four novices each and thought, not for the first time, how much the place had grown since his return. There must be two or three score initiates here devoting their life to the Platinum Dragon and the protection of others by skill of arms.
The secret door to the catacombs creaked open at his approach, recognising the High Priest of the Monastery. Beyond the threshold was a cavernous abyss with a single precarious walkway leading to Marcus’ study. He knew that the wizard had installed a minor teleportation circle in the far right corner of the ledge to eliminate accidents, but he preferred to do it his way. Taking a step back he launched himself into the yawning darkness and unfurled his leathery wings. Swooping down towards the braziers that marked the doorway to Marcus’ lair he landed slowly and walked into the brightly illuminated room.
After the gloom of the previous chamber it was a while before his eyes became accustomed to the glare from a number of glowing spheres that followed the apprentices at their work – they appeared to be packing some items into chests and unpacking others. This room had been destroyed during the orc invasion and strewn with rubble. The place had since been cleared and transformed into a large library and study. Floor to ceiling shelves covered nearly every wall and each shelf was packed with scrolls, tomes and relics of arcane origin. In the far corner was a glowing nimbus of light, a portal leading to the Well of Worlds, while a heavy iron door covered in an assortment of mystical sigils stood in the middle of the wall to the left – a new set of chambers recently excavated.
Marcus was intently studying a large tome and didn’t notice the Swordpriest until he was looking over his shoulder with a heavy frown on his face. “How is the research going Marcus?”
“Hmm? Oh, not too badly, all things considered. I’m tempted simply to trap her within a circle and have done with it. I’m relatively certain that a focused ward would be sufficient to contain her, but we would need to subdue her first, of course, and the entire structure would be vulnerable to attempts to deface it should her followers learn of its location. The inverse focus wards required are actually remarkably simple and relatively stable, which is to say that they could withstand minor tremors and remain intact, but a wilful foot over the line (and I’m speaking literally here) could still bring the whole thing crashing down.”
Marcus looked up, suddenly aware of the movement around him as the four apprentices, now mages of some skill themselves, continued to pack and unpack. A plethora of items drifted to and fro via ‘mage hand’ cantrips, floating disks or, where delicate magical energies required it, by hand. “We’re in the process of reorganising things now that the excavations are complete. I expect that this will help in the long term, we were getting a bit cluttered in this one chamber, but it does make it a shade tricky finding the appropriate volumes from time to time. I’m negotiating with the Coalition over rights to access the library in the Well. There are some volumes which I swear were present when we first found the place but which seem to have vanished now. I suspect I shall need to contact Nefalus to get some of them back, but apparently a few Nefalese mages have actually accused me of taking some books, which could complicate things.” Here Marcus had the grace to look fleetingly guilty. “Then there is the whole question of ownership in the longer term. As discoverers and liberators, not to mention some of the few who could defend the place going forward, I feel the Dawnriders have a strong claim, and certainly one which I am prepared to make as strongly as necessary. Young Corren also feels that the Well would be an asset going forward, which I must say shows admirable growth of personality, having a view to the longer term like that. I do worry that he might try to take the place by force, which would be plausible, but holding it could be trickier. It could be possible to further re-engineer the defences and our own tattoos to limit access to Dawnriders only, but the range of configurations wouldn’t be beyond the ability of Nefalus to crack over time. I suppose that would give us a good decade during which we might find a more sustainable solution. Perhaps something involving a sequential phasing of the interplanar field might…”
Valasaar coughed. In a human it might have been a polite interruption, from a dragonborn in a resonant cave it made his point more forcefully.
“Anyway,” Marcus continued without breaking flow, “the upshot is that, assuming you don’t want me to inter her down here somewhere and leave the Monastery to defend her location against all comers in perpetuity, we need to get hold of some documents detailing the Dawn Wars. In particular the fall of Io and the birth of Bahamut and Tiamat. Either that or speak to someone who was actually there. Crucially, we need to ensure that the incident which gave rise to Tiamat and Bahamut isn’t repeated at the death of Tiamat, at least not without considerable diminution of power in the resulting deities.”
Valasaar replies reverently. “My lord Bahamut would be an expert on the subject. He has shown himself to me once before, maybe He will grace me with his attention again. I shall rouse the acolytes in praise to Bahamut, we shall reach the heavens with our prayers.” He closes his eyes while clutching the elaborate holy symbol around his neck. “I shall begin preparations. Thank you Marcus.”
“Yes. I don’t suppose you have a more direct route? We might just use the Well to seek him out in his heaven and pay a visit.”
Valasaar looks horrified at the prospect. “Please do not suggest such a thing. To intrude upon a God without explicit consent is highly irreverent.”
“And how would we go about obtaining his explicit consent?”
“It is granted, not obtained. If it is His will He will grant it.” Just at that moment a young man in the livery of the monastery appeared from the teleportation circle.
“My lord Valasaar, there is a young lady here to see you. She teleported into the courtyard without announcement and was nearly attacked by the guard.”
Valasaar smiled. “That must be our new Dawnrider. I will see her now. Find Dargoth and Corren for me please lad? Tell them to meet me in the Temple Hall.” He turns to the Academy Master. “Can I tear you away from these books for a moment Marcus?”
“Hardly, I think I have most of them memorised by now anyway – where I go, they go! But I’ll accompany you to the courtyard if that’s what you are asking.”
Valasaar, Marcus, Corren and Dargoth entered the Temple hall to see Sethlah standing in the centre surveying the huge room. Valasaar steps forward. "Greetings Sethlah. We are glad that you received our message and wish to accept our offer. Joining the Dawnriders is a great responsibility. We are here to protect the people from harm and we must be able to trust each other in battle. You must understand that the four of us have been through a great many perils together. We have fought and bled together and that bond is not easily forged. I fear that you will soon have a great deal of opportunity to catch up. Tiamat is setting herself against the people of this land and beyond, forcing thousands of innocents into an early grave, something you would want to balance I think?.
Sethlah gave a curt bow to the party before her. “I thank you for your invitation and can assure you I shall savour the responsibility.” As she spoke to the men before her, she studied each intently. “Though I am new among you, I feel I shall prove my worth. Though I have moved on, I have struck pacts that are endless.” She gently stroked the feather at her breast again before continuing. “I am not one to break my bond, nor am I one to be broken upon.” With her last words, the shard she clutched within her left hand began to glow faintly for a brief moment. As I said to you last night, I want the elusive exarch. There is a debt to be paid."
With a final word, she turned to face Valasaar directly, comparatively frail compared to the Dragonborn. “I don’t fear, Cleric. That is for my foe.” And with this statement she made a deep bow of respect.
The massive dragonborn returned the gesture before he called the party to move on. “Very well Sethlah. We shall see what you have to offer. But for now, please, come join us. We have pies…” And to his own words, Valasaar quickly made his way out of the hall with the others following. Marcus sighed to himself at the great cleric’s fondness as he paused for Sethlah. The warlock prepared to follow the party inside when Marcus stopped her. He was still looking after Valasaar and softly laughing, “Pies. His favourite. You’ll soon get used to it.”
He turned to face the new member. “I would like to personally pass my greetings to you as a fellow master of the Arcanum Sethlah. Welcome to the Dawnriders.”
She nodded politely. “Thank you and I look forward to the tasks at hand.”
“Indeed,” the wizard replied. “As you may understand, I am an avid student of all things arcane. I hope you don’t mind me enquiring, but I am intrigued.” He paused for a brief moment. “The shard you carry in your hand, and which you placed before us last night?”
A sly smile formed on Sethlah’s lips. “Yes. What of it?”
“Well,” he began, eager to know but almost embarrassed to ask, “I don’t recall having ever seen such an implement before. Would you mind telling me something of it please?”
Her smile broadened. “Oh. Just a few souls I’ve come across on the way.” She turned and followed the rest of the group as they disapeared from the great hall, leaving the mage nodding sagely behind her.
As night fell, peace draped itself like a blanket over the monastery. For most of the inhabitants, anyway – Dargoth’s snores echoed faintly around Corren as he paced quietly towards the room Seth had claimed for herself, and his lips twisted into a slight smile, gone almost before it had appeared.
The last few steps to the open archway revealed the witch, meditating, apparently oblivious to the sound of the sleeping goliath down the hall. That she was nevertheless aware of both the noise and of him, Corren had no doubt. Even he could feel the chill, morbid aura which preceded him into the chamber.
“Sethlah Erinstraad.” The words seemed to fall from his tongue like stones, heavy with their own significance. “Would you like to be a god?”
The shadar-kai paused as if waiting for a response, but the eldritch figure before him could have been carved from one of her soul crystals for all the motion or life she evinced. In the dim glow Corren’s own features took on a ghastly undead pallor.
“Don’t ignore the consequences attached to the Dawnriders’ goal. Should we succeed in slaying a god, divine power and divine portfolios rarely stay unclaimed. The question is not will they be claimed, but by whom?
“Gods cannot be destroyed, priests may tell you. Dominion cannot be passed around like a slice of meat at a banquet. History – my history – tells me otherwise. Ask Nerull, if you doubt me. Ask Khala, if any trace of her remains to ask.
“From the skills I was trained in as a child, to the spells I developed as an adult and the powers that are stirring within me… everything I am cries out that I am a sword, forged to destroy Tiamat and seize the domain of Vengeance for the Queen of Death!"
Languid movement belied by the mad passion of his words, Corren eased his slight form back against the stone of the entrance arch. His black eyes drank in the light.
“Marcus will soon take his rightful place as the greatest sage of this age. Knowledge sufficient to bring low even the gods, harnessed with the power of death itself. I am the ender, Sethlah. The finisher, the raven and the corpse-maker made one.
“We may yet fail and go down to dust ourselves. But I think not.
“So if you could be the god of Strife, Sethlah Erinstraad, what kind of god would you be?”
A sly grin formed across the warlock’s lips at the prospect of becoming a god. But as quick as the smile formed, it was gone again.
In a hushed whisper she responded to the youth’s question. “You ask me what kind of God I would be? Maybe you are wondering what I am now, and therefore what kind of God I would become?”
Not moving from her position, she continued. “What would the Queen allow me to be is more the question.”
She left a long pause for the shadar-kai to reflect on.
“I can be cruel… So very cruel and it pleases me to be so. Why should any who oppose me not suffer as I see fit? If those under my charge are harmed, why shouldn’t their tormentor suffer? As a God, I would be nothing less. Is that what you wonder Corren? You say not to ignore.” She turned to face the youth. “I ignore nothing. A God can be slain and shall be. I relish the prospect of such, especially for one so deserving. But I cannot consider felling a God as yet. I am not yet ready. So do not ask one such as myself of Godliness. It’s dangerous.”
Examining the swordmage for signs of anger or discomfort at her retort, Seth found only… satisfaction? She turned away from him and returned to her meditation. “Never consider failure as an option Corren. Never!”
Silence fell across the room and the witch was left on her own once again.
In a freshly carved chamber beneath the Monastery, Marcus Brandale woke from a deep sleep. He always slept deeply these days, his dreams filled with visions of past, present and future, the knowledge of the world settling into his very soul, but something significant had settled in his mind, an answer to a question.
Something had been said, something decided. He searched his mind for what he now knew was possible – an agent of another deity to draw off some of the divine power from the death of Tiamat had always been a possibility, yet the gods would allow no one entity to secure all of Tiamat’s power. But now they had a fresh vessel to secure the rest. There would be no direct rebirth for the power of Tiamat, no repeat of the Io incident.
Sethlah’s arrival was indeed fortunate, her soul primed for the task ahead. Who lay behind that move, the sage wondered? A very limited number of possible candidates presented themselves for consideration. With a smile, Marcus settled back down to dream.
The strong scent of incense hung heavily in the unstirring air of the Temple Hall. Almost fifty votaries were gathered and seated beneath the high vaulted ceiling. Shadows flickered across the walls, cast by hundreds of candles and braziers and a low rhythmic chant emanated from the initiates and resonated around the expanse. In the centre of the room stood the High Priest; Valasaar Moonscale resplendent in highly polished armour and full war regalia. His deep gravelly voice easily heard over the droning chant, hands raised in supplication and praise of The Platinum Dragon. He was surrounded by the senior devotees, those disciplined enough to be called swordpriest; Reverence, Benn, Wella and Nadarr. The five were joined by two warriors who had proven themselves to be just in the protection of the weak; Hadrin and Balathan. They numbered seven and represented the Seven Great Gold Wyrms, eternal and devoted servants of Bahamut.
The congregation had been chanting for twelve hours without rest or sustenance, each hoping that Bahamut would give them a portent. Tiamat needed to be stopped, the balance restored – forever, and only Bahamut could give them the answer they needed; how to kill his twin sister. Suddenly every candle in the hall flared with a silver light, bathing all in radiance and encouraging the chanting to reach a crescendo. A shaft of pure light lanced gown from the centre of the chamber engulfing Valasaar, while seven golden sparks floated gently from it to hover around his head.
The candles seemed to dim in the presence of the mighty shaft of light and Valasaar rose slightly from the floor as a voice boomed out, echoing around the chamber. “Valasaar of the Moonscale clan, your devotion to the protection of the mortal races of this world is to be commended. With the Dawnriders at your side, you have stood and defended the weak against the darkness brought on by the Mistress of Greed.”
“Upholding the highest ideals of honor and justice. Being constantly vigilant against evil and opposing it on all fronts. Protecting the weak, liberating the oppressed, and defending just order from the chaos that would destroy it. All these things you can do, we know this. But be careful Valasaar, pride always comes before a fall, and the Dark Lady has had millennia to become skilled at her art. Tiamat’s dark plans encompass much of which you hold dear and a lot more beyond that you may as yet be unaware of. You must be strong in the face of that which is to come, as that which you hold most dear may yet still come into question.”
“Take my power, Valasaar, and use it to protect and harbour those from the darkness, but be ready for the day when I shall call on you to repay the gift I have given you, and do not flinch from what is required of you when the moment comes.” The golden motes orbiting Valasaar’s head began to coalesce closer and spin faster, until the glow was fully absorbed into the Dragonborn’s scaled head. At that point the shaft dimmed and the candle light flared back up again.
Valasaar looked down at his hands. He could feel Bahamut’s presence within him still, closer than usual. When Valasaar channeled His divine wrath, it was power that came from afar, drawn from the holy realm of Celestia, the bastion of Bahamut’s power and glory. Yet now he could feel a portion, just a glimmer, the smallest fragment, of that awesome power spilling from within himself. His divine powers were drawn from the power well within, not without. The feeling was strange. Having been connected to his God so closely for so long, there was a slight tinge of loneliness at the loss of that connection to the glorious realms. Yet, the familiarity was still there, just focused inwards, not outwards. Valasaar now carried the spirit of Bahamut with him on his travels, and somehow that eased the sense of loss.
The six holy warriors surrounding Valasaar knelt to him, and he beheld them with shining platinum eyes. He raised his hand and clenched his fist feeling the divine spark had increased his strength. “We have been blessed with the presence of Bahamut through our devotion and worship. This place is now deeply sacred and we have all borne witness to a divine event.” With that he turned and headed down to the catacombs beneath, passing his stunned companions who had awoken at the sound of the God’s voice.
Valasaar woke Marcus from his meditation with a gentle shake. “Marcus, Bahamut has spoken to me. I have our answer…” He let the sentence hang while the sage focused his mind on the present. “A God may kill a God Marcus, it was simple really.”
“Valasaar, I hardly think that Bahamut is going to join us as the sixth Dawnrider. Not even you hold that much weight with Him.”
Valasaar smiled, the platinum fire igniting in his eyes. “He doesn’t need to Marcus. I am Bahamut.”
Marcus studied his friend carefully, reaching out with his magic and feeling the pulse of divinity flowing through Valasaar. “So it seems,” he said finally. “But don’t start thinking that means I’m going to kneel.”
Valasaar barked a laugh and clapped Marcus on the shoulder with a huge gauntleted hand. “Don’t worry my old friend, I wouldn’t expect you to.”
“Good, then let’s be up and about. Certain truths have come to light and we are not yet ready to face Tiamat. Sethlah is important to our cause, but she is currently a Dawnrider in name only – we have work to do before she learns to fight as one of us. Your new initiates are also in need of training. Is Bahamut up for a brief stint as drill instructor? After some pie, of course!”
“Of course! More training is needed. It will keep Dargoth busy also.”
The pair ascended to the Monastery to join the rest of the Dawnriders and set about preparing for the struggle to come.