Part 9: Campfire

4 to Verdant Sun, Voelis

I got the chance to write to you a little more tonight. We thought we would camp outside, but Actaeon insisted we found some sort of shelter further ahead. Shadow, able to see well in the dark, spotted a cave ahead of us. I lit our little lantern and followed him and Actaeon into it. Nothing nasty living in here, so that’s a good thing!

Briar made us a campfire and we settled down for the night. Shadow was still injured but he wanted to keep watch at the cave entrance. For a while, none of us spoke. I wrote my last letter to you and had finished it by the time I saw Actaeon had been having words with everyone. He said something I didn’t quite hear to Briar and her face lightened a little. He just gave a nod to Clio. Actaeon said something crass to Torag, but the minotaur just snorted and laughed. He asked Shadow about his obsession with fish and Shadow just said it brought back memories of his brothers.

To me, Actaeon said he wished he could console me. He could see it plainly on my face. Violence isn’t in my nature, Heath. I’ve done so many violent things since I’ve been here. But I have to endure it, he said. Just like what Briar told me at the Mossy Temple. People are alive and the world is better because of what we’re doing. Actaeon told me to endure the pain.

Obviously, he’s right. I just wish I didn’t have to.

I began stitching my robes back together while Clio started trying to help Briar brush her hair again. I could make a very expansive list of the things Clio was pulling out! Thing such as various seeds, twigs, entire sticks, and an abandoned bird nest! While Clio was combing it, I saw it again on her neck. A strange marking. It must be a tattoo of some kind, but not like our Marks. It was something else, but Briar keeps covering it with a shy look on her face. She and Clio speak to each other in Sylvan occasionally, but I always seem to sense some reluctance when it comes to that tattoo.

While we were seated, Dia suggested I continue my studies of Sylvan. I think I know the pronouns now. Sylvan is difficult, though. The inflection of your voice changes the tense of the sentence entirely! A lot of the words have double or even triple meanings, too, which makes things all the more difficult. But that’s not too far off from Draconic. Despite the difficulty of the language, I am completely committed to learning and mastering it. If I’m going to be living in the Emerald Isles for a while – after all, who knows how long it will be until our labors are done here? – then I’m going to learn to communicate with my new friends!

Okay, so here’s the weird part of the evening. Briar and Torag had been telling me history of the Emerald Isles all day while we traveled. Clio joined in, surprisingly eager to help. Shadow, Actaeon, and Dia did too. They were telling me about all these strange customs, especially if you meet more fey people. Things like eye contact – or no eye contact at all – and how low you’re supposed to bow. But… I kept hearing Actaeon muffle laughter while we were talking. I honestly wonder if they were making some of that up as a sort of jest. I guess I’ll probably just do whatever Dia tells me.

Briar used the Horn of Selesnya to conjure some food for us to eat while we talked. It was so strange, she tipped over the Horn and poured it on the ground. The drop of wine evaporated into a mist and it we had a spread of meats, vegetables, and cheeses laid out on the ground before us. I used a quick spell to flavor it a bit, and we ate happily. We all chose to not have any of the wine, though. No one wanted a revelatory dream again. At least, not so soon.

At this point in the night with our bellies full, I think our weariness was beginning to catch up to us. Actaeon is such a strange person. He removes his armor to sleep, but never his helmet. I’ve traveled with the man for weeks now and still don’t know what his face looks like. I wonder if he just doesn’t want me to see it, but I don’t know how to promise to him that I won’t wear an Actaeon Mask. Or anyone else around me. Not after I brought attention to Clio’s injured ear like I had.

But anyway, wow, Actaeon is muscular! It’s as if his entire torso is just a huge muscle. It was hard not to look, though that’s not quite what I find attractive (eyes only for you, Heath, you skinny thing!). With the campfire here, I think all of us noticed this for the first time. A verse is written on his as a tattoo.

“Only when your hearts have beat to the same pulse of clashing weapons as your enemy’s, only when his blood anoints you, and only when you glimpse the blackness waiting for us all in his eyes – only then have you known battle.”

Actaeon Diomedes’s Tattoo

Briar asked about it and Actaeon only said that it was an echo of a long-silenced voice. A tribute. We thought about that for a moment. Clio touched the Mark below her ear and asked why mortals felt the need to add art to themselves. Actaeon chuckled and said mortals are flawed, so we find ways to improve ourselves. If only that were the case, Heath. The only tattoo I have is that ugly one on my neck. I never got my real tattoos. Maybe when we return to Altea.

At this point, I saw Briar scratch at the tattoo on her neck. I asked her about it. Briar received the tattoo when she was just five years old, and received it unwillingly. The tattoo was a mark of a curse on her bloodline, one that compels a mother to pass onto a child. Briar finally showed us the full tattoo. I can’t describe it other than horrifying and beautiful to look upon. It’s like a spider beset with flowers.

A look of determination is on Briar’s face and I finally understood. This is why she never combs her hair. She hides it. Not just from us, but from herself. Her long and flowing hair keeps the curse hidden from all of us. But that look of determination… she intents on ending that curse. I know it. And I’m going to help her.

Briar and Clio exchanged some words in Sylvan and I think I caught the word ‘I’ in there. When I’m having my lessons, they speak slowly (well, slow enough to not change the entire sentence, which is a thing). But when they speak to each other, it’s awfully fast. I didn’t mean to interrupt as I think their conversation was a little personal. I just blurted out, “Hey, I understood that word!” and the whole party laughed at me!

I think I broke the ice a little bit and the mood lightened again. I really didn’t mean to, but it turned our conversation back to happier things.
Actaeon began writing a list of supplies and preparations we would need for the Necropolis. We argued that traveling to the Necropolis would be a ways off – perhaps weeks away, depending on how our plans went in the mountains here – but he was insistent on being prepared. He came up with an enormous list of things to purchase, including axes, poisons, shovels, antitoxins, and more.

He asked me to make holy water in large quantities. I’m happy to do that, but I have to perform a ritual with some powdered silver and that stuff is expensive. Briar and Clio had a poison brewing in Altea that we could pick up when we returned. I had some magic to cure poisons and diseases.
Actaeon asked us about our weapon supply. He wanted to make sure everyone had plenty of armaments. Shadow didn’t say anything, but indicated to the bow on his back and the pair of swords in his hands. Briar held up her staff. Clio summoned her psychic blades and said she was fine. Torag just grunted and beat his fist against his shield. He said, “I am the weapon.”

I said that, too! “I am the weapon!” I cast a spell above my head and make smoke and sparkles above us. Everyone laughed again, which was wonderful to hear. At this point, I suddenly remembered that I lent my dagger to Solstrate back in the Mossy Temple. I never got it back from him, but I really don’t want that thing anymore anyway. I’m happier now. So, seeing how we were having some fun now, I pulled out the butter knife from my mess kit and started waving it around. “Here’s my weapon, Actaeon! Have at you!”

Each to our own degrees, I think we’re all very broken people. Shadow doesn’t speak much of his family, but we all know he has one. Torag seems at odds with his father and family in Altea and doesn’t like to talk to them. Clio’s resentment towards mortals is as plain as the flowers in her hair. Briar is very reserved and hides an elaborate marking with her hair. Actaeon has yet to show any of us his face, save Dia. And I… after what the high priest did to me.

But we’re trying. We’re better people than we were when we first met. Shadow has an heirloom of his family and it is precious to him. He seems better for it. Torag is awkward talking about his family, but he’s willing to talk to us about it. Clio seems much happier since the incident at the Mossy Temple. She smiles so much more. Briar told us about the curse on her and seems relieved to have shared this. Actaeon talks a lot more than before. And I’m moving on. Not from you, Heath. I may never get over that. But I’ve found people I care about. Maybe even

Scars will heal. Even these will, in time.

I think we’re ready to sleep now. We kept talking long into the night about preparations, protecting ourselves, and strategizing for situations. Shadow is keeping watch for us, so the rest of us are going to sleep. It’s been a good day, despite the fighting with the centaurs and that dragon. I think Briar’s feeling much better now, and I’m glad for it. I’ll talk to her more in the morning.