Part 19: Birthday

12 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

I have the best friends in the whole world, Heath. Never have I felt so blessed by anyone since I last had you with me. They’re all such wonderful people. We’re all… I don’t know how to put it. We have our individual pasts, certainly. Not all of it is pleasant. I daresay very little is actually pleasant. And yet, we’re becoming something more than just a group of people traveling together. We’re becoming something else. I’m afraid to write out exactly what I mean by that. Am I going to bewitch us by saying it? Bring about bad luck? I don’t know. But I think you know what I mean.

The birthday party happened, and it was marvelous. As it turns out, none of us really know what a birthday party is. I only had the one last year while you and I were traveling north. We didn’t do much for it because we spent the day huddled under blankets waiting for the rain to stop. Only later did Mother tell me there was supposed to be an exchange of gifts. As it turns out, I misunderstood that entirely and I’ll explain in a moment. No one else had really had a birthday either. Briar said her tribe didn’t celebrate such things. Neither did Clio or Torag. Actaeon mumbled something about it but went about attending to Triple with Corinna. And Shadow said his people had a ceremony when someone came of age, but beyond that they didn’t have much for birthday traditions.

Dia, very much aware that none of us knew what we were doing, guided us through the party with some music and a tasty wine called “Star Liquid” that gave me visions of stars all around me. Oh, how they sparkled! Shadow passed around the Fairy Fireball and soon we were all spitting bubbles and having a merry time. All except Actaeon, though. He chose to be the sober one tonight. Corinna did not drink either, but I cannot remember why. Honestly, I think I drank a bit much.

While we ate and drank, I gave out the gifts I bought for everyone. I gave Torag the set of bone dice. I was thinking he could teach us some new dice game from his monastery or something. He said he’d think about it, but he was smiling when he handled them and clapped me on the back as a thank you.

I gave Actaeon the sleeping cap. The man in the Agora said it was magical and would help you sleep, but I detect absolutely no magic from it. But anyway, I told Actaeon that I understood his tiredness and that he sometimes wanted to sleep. I also told him that we’d be devastated if that happened. So until then, the sleeping cap might be nice and cozy. Actaeon didn’t say anything. He took the cap and gave me an enormous hug! And a bruise. He… might have hugged too hard. I think he forgot he’s wearing such thick armor. But anyway, I didn’t know Actaeon was capable of this kind of affection.

Shadow got the light emission box thing. It creates a funny little red light. The lady at the market said “Cats love it!” and I don’t think she meant tabaxi. But Shadow did in fact love it! He affixed it to his bow immediately, smiling the whole time.

I gave Briar the book of etiquette. She teared up and kept thanking me, even though I told her it was more of a joke gift. The real gift was the preserved four-leaf clover on the inside. I figured that the druid should probably have something as rare and lucky as this. She immediately poured through the book, marking pages as she went.

Clio was given the stress relief doll. I think she thinks I’m weird for giving it to her. I tried to tell her it was for relieving stress by stabbing the doll when you wanted to cause someone pain. And the other needle for causing pleasure not pain. I included some clothes so she could dress the doll up as her victims. It’s such a strange gift, but I saw her smile a little when she stabbed the doll. It’s supposed to be for venting frustration, but I guess it’s kind of weird. Oh, Clio, I hope you like it!

Dia received the music box and said she recognized the tune. I wonder what the tune is? I surprised Corinna the most with her gift, but mostly because she didn’t know we were having a party and wasn’t expecting anything. She received some wool socks and a handkerchief. But what she said was most surprising of all. She said I got the gift exchange wrong, as I mentioned earlier. On your birthday, everyone else is supposed to give you a gift!

So I was naturally surprised when I turned around and Shadow and Briar had something for me. Shadow asked me to close my eyes. He withdrew my hood and wrapped a beautiful feather necklace around my neck. It’s so gorgeous! It’s like a dress for my neck with black and grey feathers. Shadow explained that this was a coming of age gift from his people. He’s so thoughtful!

Briar, too! She had a wooden moth and some twine for me. As she explained, moths change and grow stronger, and are sometimes more beautiful than butterflies. They love the light and warmth. Just like me, she said. In the center of the moth was a little river stone from where our group had our first party together in Altea. I immediately wrapped the moth around my wedding band and hugged her.

Clio said she had something for me, too, but that it was a personal gift and wanted to give it to me later. That’s perfect, because the I wanted to give the rest of her gift to her in private, too. I had butterflies in my stomach when she told me that! Or… actually, I guess I had moths in my stomach. After Briar’s gift, that seems the more appropriate term.

Shadow asked me to tell the scary story I had prepared the other night. I told them the tale of the man in the lighthouse. They all smiled at the end. You know, when the ghost eats the man? Or however you’re supposed to interpret that. It’s a neat story to scare children. And… and Briar. Briar didn’t care for the story much. Afterwards, we discussed traveling to the necropolis. Dia says we’ll get there tomorrow. As we talked about it, Shadow mentioned it was strange that Actaeon had never been there before, being that he is a dragonlord. I guess Corinna did not know that about him and that made for an awkward (and thankfully brief) conversation.

The others didn’t have gifts for me, and I’m honestly kind of glad for it. I didn’t know I would be getting gifts at all, and I feel weird receiving such things. And honestly, what could I expect from Corinna? We barely know each other, and I’m just happy she’s a part of our group and that Actaeon didn’t make her exercise all day again. Torag is such a calm and stoic person that no gift he could get me would be as good as the smile I got from him today. The same from Dia, too. That smile on her face as she listened to the music box made my so happy! And the same for Actaeon, though I don’t think I wanted a hug so strong that I might have heard by bones pop. I’m just glad he liked the sleeping cap.

These people mean the world to me.

We started getting ready for bed when Shadow pulled me aside to speak in private. He gave me a sealed envelope and told me… oh, it’s horrible. He said that if he should perish before we found River and Rare, he wanted me to deliver this letter to them. But no, Heath, I’m not ready for that. He’s going to live. And he’s going to find his family. We are all going to be fine. I won’t let it happen again. I promised him I’d look after the letter. But I’ll look after him, too. He’s… he’s my… I’m still hesitant to write it. F

Clio came to give me her gift. She was acting so cute and awkward, I can’t help… I’m… Clio is amazing! She’s the most breathtaking girl I’ve ever met! She’s so…

Focus, Leef.

She told me a story of when she was a child. The other dryads would sing to her, and singing was the way dryads gave gifts to each other. This song in particular was a lullaby for Clio, and Clio said it reminds her of me and the hope I bring to our group. The hope I bring to her.

If I had one wish
that wish would be
for you to dream
of simpler things
no harm to you
or those you love
and fall asleep
with a heart full of love

Clio’s lullaby

I can’t believe she shared something so close and personal and intimate with me! I teared up a little when she sang the lullaby for me. She has a beautiful singing voice. Clio, you’re incredible, and… and…

I should have gone first. I had the rest of my gift to give her and it felt so dumb after that song she sang for me. I gave her the extra clothes for her stress relief doll. The extra clothes were to dress the doll up as us, the Oracle’s Chosen. I apologized again for betraying her at the Mithral Forge. If she’s frustrated with me again, I told her she can dress the doll up like me and stab it like crazy. Clio just giggled and said she didn’t want to inflict pain. I reminded her about the not pain pin, too, but I think I made it awkward so we just… I wanted to hug her, embrace her, and thank her for… for just being here with me.

Maybe I’ll work up the courage tomorrow or something. She’s very…

I immediately went up to Briar just as she was getting ready to sleep. I needed to get that ring back. What if that awful Khar’shan did something to her? Briar gave the ring back. Then… Oh, Heath, it was the funniest thing! I think Briar was trying to tell me that she cared about me and everyone else and how she felt like she wanted and needed to protect us. Oh, but it came out of her mouth super weird, though. She compared me to a cute woodland animal. She accidentally said Shadow and Torag were animals. Shadow overheard this and took a little offense. I started laughing and tried to find a page in her etiquette book to help her see how silly her words were. Her funny little rant woke up the whole camp. Except Torag, who inexplicably slept through the whole affair.

Dia decided to play a funny trick on Briar right before bed. She picked up that Briar had been kind of scared by my story, so she used a little magic to conjure a shadowy specter in the treeline. It worked, too. Freaked Briar out entirely! I saw Clio smiling while Briar was panicking. She dressed up the doll with the Briar wig and stabbed it with a not pain pin.

I had a good birthday party. Should I say anything? Maybe not. Maybe she doesn’t feel the same… I think about Should have hugged

I had a good birthday party.

11 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

It’s been a strange birthday today. My real birthday, I mean. Yesterday was just the party because I didn’t want to celebrate my actual birthday in the ruins of a necropolis. I’m glad we celebrated yesterday because the events of today would have soured the situation a little bit.

The road cut into the Obsidian Sierras today and we left the jungle behind us. We ascended higher and higher, getting a fantastic view of the Emerald Isles. Or, I was hoping we would get a better view. It was cloudy today. A light snow began falling as we went up the road and I lent a blanket to Briar. I think that she’s not accustomed to this kind of altitude. That’s the nice thing about these cleric robes. They’re warm and cozy at this height.

The air is much cooler up here. With that coolness came a strange sensation of dread. We heard no insects, no birds, no animals. The only sound was our own labored breathing as we climbed and our boots crunching into the gravel and rocks. Even the wind was strangely silent.

In the late morning, Dia stopped us. Her light and humorous demeanor was gone entirely, and her face was somber and longing. She said we had finally reached the path of the dead. It was the road that would take us directly to the necropolis. Dia had come this way years ago to pay respects to the dead. That seems odd to me though. How old exactly is Dia? Every time we ask, Dia just laughs and says to not worry about it. She deflected the question again but without her usual mirth.

A few hours later, we came to a strange sight. This high up, we found no vegetation or animals of any kind. But in a small clearing, there was a singular small tree growing. It had no leaves or vines on it and was colored a dark shade of gray and purple. Clio recognized it as an Ebonwood, a rare tree that marks locations tainted by death or necrotic power. We thought to harvest the wood as it might be valuable to Azorius, but we’ll do that on the way back when we’re done at the necropolis.

The silence of our travels was broken as we neared a ridge along the narrow road. The beautiful sound of singing filled our ears, but we recognized it as the alluring cacophony of harpies on a nearby cliff. I quickly cast a spell to subdue the charming effect, and we prepared ourselves to fight.

A larger harpy with sparkling wings sang a strange rattling song that make us quake. Or, we thought it was making us quake. Actually, it was the ground beneath us! The sparkly harpy summoned skeletons to rise from the ground and attack us. But Torag reacted quickly and tackled a few of them, keeping them away from us. Meanwhile Shadow, Actaeon, Corinna, and Clio drew their weapons and began our offensive. Briar summoned a thunderstorm and began throwing lightning to throw off the skeletons that were now swarming Torag. Another skeleton in the form of a large undead minotaur charged at Torag as well, swinging a large axe at our friend.

My calming spell must have angered the harpies. They swooped in towards me. I cast a shield spell around myself to defend me from the sparkly harpy’s claws, and Clio’s abilities helped me stand my ground. That’s so cool she can do that! She’s so graceful and… and… beau

I summoned a radiant weapon in the shape of my moth bracelet and feather necklace, smashing down on the harpy. My magic wand blasted it apart. I heard Clio say, “Oh wow!” as I did it. I admit I didn’t think I had that kind of power in me. I just had this awful vision of the creature going for Clio and… I had to protect her. The other two harpies rushed me, but Clio and Shadow jumped forward to defend me.

Actaeon had to keep Triple from listening to the harpy songs. After securing the dinosaur, he hurled his javelins through the air, impaling the minotaur skeleton. Briar’s lightning struck it through the javelins, stunning it just long enough for Torag to slam it in the chest and crumble it to pieces. Torag next spun around and smashed into the last remaining harpy.

A few of us had taken some hits, and I’m down a little bit of magical power. But Torag looked really hurt. The skeletons and the minotaur skeleton had wearied him greatly and he stumbled on his feet. Dia said there was a cave near the top of the mountain that travelers used as a rest area before going to the necropolis and that we’d be safe there. Briar helped Torag walk and as he moved, we could see droplets of blood fall to the ground behind him.

The cave wasn’t far away and we thankfully arrived without further incident. Across the way, we could see the path leading down to the necropolis. From here, we could finally really see it. Ice and snow obscured most of our view of it. We made out the buildings and towers and pillars that made up the burial grounds of the dragonlords. Three bridges stretched across a chasm to the necropolis, but two were damaged and are probably unsafe to use.

We immediately went to work reviving Torag. He has bandages around his wounds now and is drinking plenty of water. I think he’ll be fine. We’re currently resting before we decide to go down. As I write this, I overheard a conversation between Shadow and Briar. Briar apologized to Shadow for offending him by calling him an animal last night, and Shadow forgave her. She then gave him a journal, telling him a story about how she has to find a way to focus when her curse makes her itch. I guess the suggestion is that if Shadow can focus on something, maybe the pain of losing his family can be more bearable. That pain won’t go away, just like Briar’s curse, but she’s trained herself to be tolerant of it. The journal, she suggested, might help with that. Shadow thanked her for her concern and graciously accepted the journal.

Actaeon just said he’s going to go down to the necropolis and get a closer look. Torag wanted to go with him, but Dia and I refused to let him up just yet. Briar offered to go instead. We told them to be safe. I hope Actaeon doesn’t do anything foolish.

11 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Actaeon must have done something foolish. We heard him calling out. Not to us, mind you. To… something else. We gave Corinna charge over Triple and Thumble and made our way down to the necropolis.

It’s horrifying to look at, Heath. The air reeks with deadly energy. It’s both malignant and strangely calming. From death comes life, and a new sunrise. But you know that already. We could see things more clearly as we followed the tracks of Actaeon and Briar. The necropolis isn’t as big as I thought it would be, but it looms ahead of us.

At the base of the bridge, we saw Actaeon and Briar facing a skeletal creature with strange glowing blue eyes. This must be the lich, Damon, that the Oracle told us about. Damon did not speak or make any indication that he understood us. He just watched and listened. Actaeon had been calling out to Damon as he and Briar approached, but Damon remained eerily quiet.

At Briar’s request, I gave her the dragonlord coin that Proteus gave me back at the temple of the Oracle. Briar cautiously approached Damon and gave him the coin. In an instant, she recoiled slightly. In her hand is a strange gem, and the dragonlord coin was in Damon’s bony fingers. With a wave, he stepped aside and allowed us passage across the bridge.

We crossed over and entered the necropolis. I’ve never seen Briar so pale. She muttered the word “Scorpion” a few times, but I don’t know what she means. I’m afraid to bother her right now.

I’ll write more later. Hopefully I’ll write something cheerful. But in the Necropolis at Telamok, I’m not sure that will be happening.