As the party wandered the streets of Sharn gazing at the slim amount of wares available for sale, Pif glanced over her latest hit request (a few hundred gold for the head of a noble from House Phiarlan; she wondered if she could get this done before the party leaves Sharn). Eli’s outburst echoed in her mind, weaving through her thoughts like a snake. She contemplated a question that had been on her mind since she was in the Academy: what is a life worth? How does one make their life worthy?
In the Academy, Pif was taught a life meant nothing. Like weapons, gold, jewelry, men, a life was a thing you just took, in exchange for more power. The life was worth the amount of power it granted her--nothing more, nothing less. You could do little to add value to your life, so attachments, personal wealth, and other material belongings were useless; you could merely wait for the time when your life could be taken to enrich that of another. At times, she sought comfort in the simplicity of this. Why worry about the life being taken, if its only value was the power it could provide her? It was almost an honor to be taken thusly; for many people provided more power in death, than they had ever been able to provide in life.
As she grew older, however, she cooled on this idea. Admittedly a portion of this was selfish (try as she might, she was not enthusiastic about the idea that another could at random decide it was her time to die, for no reason other than their convenience), but in seeing the grieving families, the cold, lifeless eyes that always stared at her, almost accusingly, as she took those lives for her own benefit…she felt herself straying from the path. Though of course she’s always said it was the litany of rules that caused her to finally leave the Academy (after all, Rule 2 was always, never show your true feelings), in truth? She grew tired of the killing. She was tired of the lifeless eyes and the eyes red with pain and tears. She wanted to see what else was out there. She wanted to feel for someone the same way these families seemed to feel for her targets; she wanted to be missed just as strongly. She had been taught that such attachments were dangerous, even deadly -- but she wanted to see for herself, nonetheless. Surely there was a reason why people sought out such attachments; they could not be all bad.
So when she received a request to watch a new target, which required her to join a budding guild, she thought, why not? Aside from the massive amount of gold she had received for such a mindless task, she had heard guilds were where some of the strongest attachments were forged; where bonds are formed like a sword over an iron, shaped into something that can last for a lifetime. What an opportunity, she thought.
But now, looking back, Eli’s denouncement of the party for its recklessness…who else in the party could really understand that better than Pif? She had been left to die by them, twice, after their own recklessness got the best of them, and was only saved both times by happenstance. She was mocked for removing herself from situations she knew (and expressed) fairly quickly would end in the party’s demise. Alright, she thought to herself each time, these people are clearly green, or crazy, or both, and do not know when to quit; but maybe you create attachments by standing by them even when they choose the worst possible path for themselves. Some spouses had cried for days over the deaths of Pif’s targets, after all, and many of them had done worse than leap recklessly into battle. So she went along with the decisions of the party, thinking it would help the attachments.
She didn’t try too hard to flee from the wendigos when she saw an opening for it; if she wanted to build attachments she had to follow their lead. She had to help them. This would strengthen the attachments. If anything, however, it seemed to make them worse. One party member, in his stubbornness, activated a dark blood magic that completely took Pif over, that ripped control of her body from her so that it could fulfill its own desires…and as a consequence, she was blamed for stabbing him, as if she had chosen for him to create the conditions necessary to activate the dagger's dark magic, as if she had chosen to be consumed by magic she did not recognize, to do a bidding she had not wanted to do. She was left behind to die. And she was greeted with dismissive sighs and a shrug when she, by pure luck, found a way to save herself from the doom the rest of the party had already fled from. As if a half-hearted “What else could be done?” can cure those wounds, and her needing more was naught but an inconvenient stubbornness. Those wounds were still fresh; those nightmares still vivid; that fear still palpable. It would take more effort than that to strike up a conversation with the person you left to die only a few hours ago, Pif thought to herself as she brooded in silence.
And so she understood Eli all too well; yet another instance where the party claimed to care about all, but where members made reckless decisions that endangered all. Leaving other party members to live with, or succumb to, the burdens of those decisions. Leaving them to deal with those burdens alone. In a different life maybe Pif would have reached out to Eli to commiserate about their shared fates, but Rule 2 silenced her tongue, even now. The closest she could come was to say he had a point; to express that she could not blame him for being as angry as he was. She would be lying if she claimed she did not, still, feel the same way.
As lectures abounded about the virtues of sticking together and working together, she told herself it was a fluke. They were divided before, but are united now. She would be rewarded for her trust. So Pif stayed on the island with the party when they faced off against two black dragons. Normally if Pif saw two dragons she would flee, immediately, as that was the most rational move to make against such towering foes. But the party was still mostly on the island, many still engaging and (obviously) sustaining injuries from the dragons; would she be a traitor if she fled? Likely; so she should stay to help the other party members. Surely they would see her attempting to stand by them this time and they, in turn, would help her. Instead, party members used magic to get themselves or each other off the island and away from the dragons…and left Pif, who had no such magic, behind, with no promises or indications that they planned to come back for her. Pif, stuck hiding behind a tree that would likely be incinerated at any moment, decided if she was going to die, it may as well be with a blade in her hands, and attacked…and luckily for her, it had all been a dream. She was saved by a technicality. She cursed at Amfortas for tricking them, but really, she cursed herself. Once again she had been left alone to fend for herself as the others saved others and not her. Once again she was being blamed for her fate. Once again, no attachments had been made. Nothing had changed.
In frustration she started to flee a fire that grew out of control afterwards, not fully trusting that she would be saved from those flames. It's not as though she did so in silence, either; she yelled she was not about to die by flames and that the rest of the party should follow suit. So at the time when she was accused of desertion she was obstinate; she had done nothing wrong. As the walk back to the guild hall went on and on, her insistence in her own correctness gave way to acceptance that perhaps flight had been the wrong decision. Since the (literal) fires had been calmed before the rest of the party was consumed by them, she supposed this time she could have trusted them. She could be wrong to think otherwise.
But tonight, listening to Eli, listening to Shaper’s words, and seeing the same rage in Eli at Shaper’s words, that she felt herself when the same sentiments were thrown at her…If she were the only one who felt this anger, then she could accept that her problem was in her execution, but Eli’s rage seemed to awaken something inside of her. She was not the only party member who had been wronged. Not the only one who had suffered from the hands of this party. Not the only one to blame. Siscia's words about earning trust now entered her thoughts, and while Pif did not doubt the words were aimed at her, they only solidified her own resolve. As anger bubbled up inside her again she thought, yes. Trust does have to be earned, doesn't it? And this party had still, after all this time traveling together, done almost nothing to earn hers. She was supposed to forgive an invasion of her thoughts after being gifted a sword; she was supposed to forgive someone rifling through her belongings while she was drunk because the person found it comical; she was supposed to forgive being left for dead twice now and maybe more times in the future, because, she supposed, it was easy to assume the pickpocket was somehow in the wrong for everything bad that befell her. What was the benefit to all this, again?
Perhaps the Academy had a point. At the time she thought that maybe there was more to be gained from people than the value they added to another’s societal status, and maybe she could find her worth in more than that, too, if she learned more about the world. But if this is what they meant by attachments being dangerous and deadly, then maybe they were right after all. All this pain and near-death suffered for people who expected so much and gave so little in return…surely no attachment was worth this. Surely this could not be the only way to have value.
As she pulled herself out of her inner rant long enough to feign a joke that she would steal a cloak, she looked down at the parchment again. After the party decided to venture elsewhere, Pif repeated the question to herself: how much was a life worth? If she continued to judge the worth of a life based on the bonds it formed and the efforts made to develop those bonds…well, apparently her own life would not be worth much, so she would prefer to believe there were better metrics out there. Was it worth what the person who owned it felt about their life? Again, no, that did not appear to be the case, as Pif thought pretty highly about herself and her life had almost been forfeited twice; it did not appear that her feelings on the matter factored into the situation at all. She continued down a list of charitable answers, none seeming to fit what she had seen in her time away from the Academy.
Pif shook her head, wondering when and why she had become so philosophical. What a waste of time. As she wandered through the streets looking for some supplies, she thought, maybe the answer could simply be that a life was worth whatever price someone was willing to pay to end it, and the price the assassin was willing to accept to take it. Then, maybe the best way to make a life worth something was merely to be so influential that people were willing to pay fortunes for your demise, and yet be so deadly that your assassin would need even greater compensation for the deed. The Academy, in a sense, had probably been right: the answer was power. Though not just the power you gave others; more, the power you wielded over their thoughts and actions merely by existing. That fealty, fear, or otherwise that so consumed others that they would throw down bags of gold merely for the opportunity to control whether your life ended or continued on a given Sunday. That was where she could obtain her worth; that was how she could create her power.
She contemplated this. Was that something she could achieve? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps if she leaned into her instincts and remained true to them again, and if she played her cards right and came up with a few good plans... She could potentially still have worth.
Perhaps she should have helped that magical kid kill the party when she had the chance.