Part 3: Heroes

4 to Burning Sun, Voelis

Heath, it’s been a few days since I last wrote. Not much happened on the road so far, so I didn’t have anything to write. Making the oath of fellowship was a good thing. I don’t know what kind of power oaths have in the Emerald Isles, but I can feel it changing things for us.

Briar and Clio, until this point, usually had kept to themselves as they were the only feykind. But with the oath made between all of us, they joined our conversations much more often. I was constantly asking questions about the Emerald Isles and I was afraid of asking too much, but they were both more than willing to answer what they knew. Shadow, I think, liked the idea of me having someone else to talk to. He and I are great friends, to be sure, but I wonder if he worried about me. Even Actaeon, the usually quiet man, spoke a little about our surroundings. All the while, Dia stayed in the back of the group, writing and laughing when we made jokes.

This morning, we saw something strange ahead of us. Shadow said it was a minotaur, a bull-man hybrid race. They were created by the Lord of Storms as a punishment for mortals worshipping beasts of burden instead of him. Clio said that most minotaurs were slaves, but this one was dressed far too nicely.

We moved aside to let him pass us, but I saw the mark of the pierced dragon on his arm and blurted out that we had marks on us too. The minotaur, whose name is Torag, told us that he was also called by the Oracle to save the Emerald Isles. But he had come to the Oracle much earlier than the rest of us, and the Oracle sent him to Altea to prepare for our collective arrival.
But he had heard of trouble on the road and was coming back. He had recently come from the small forest village of Woodhike, where the mayor and the people of the town were under duress of some bandits nearby. Torag was looking for help and came upon us.

We quickly agreed to go with Torag to fight off the bandits and save Woodhike. After all, that’s what a hero would do! While we traveled, we talked to Torag to learn more about him. It turns out he is the son of the king of Altea, who Shadow told me was actually Vaevictus, the god of battle. That’s amazing!

We came to Woodhike at dusk, about an hour before the sun would fully set. The people in Woodhike are mostly halflings and gnomes, so I shifted into the halfing Brice. Do you remember him? Kind of short, high voice, sometimes rude. But I didn’t want anyone else knowing what I am. We talked to the mayor, Thobos, who said the bandits had been cutting down trees and messing with their farms. The forest sprites who watched over the woods were angry, and Thobos wanted the bandits defeated or chased away before something bad happened. Torag said he could smell something in the woods and could lead us there immediately. With Thobos’s blessing, we went into the woods to find the bandits.

Torag runs too fast. Only Shadow could keep up with him. I’m not particularly strong and couldn’t keep up very well, so Actaeon picked me up and carried me. Clio rode on Briar’s back. After a few miles, we came to a clearing. The trees here were cut down recently. And we saw an enormous one-eyed creature standing in front of us. Shadow called it a cyclops. We were ready to fight, but then something strange happened.

The cyclops smiled and waved. I shifted into Thobos’s Mask to speak to him. The cyclops was Xanthas and he was working with the bandits deeper in the forest. He was unintelligent, unfortunately, and didn’t know why they were there. He just followed the orders of their leader, Korteva. I managed to convince Xanthas that the forest sprites were angry with him and that he should run away. Shadow and Actaeon both agreed, weaving the tale that the sprites would hurt Xanthas.

I felt bad for lying to him. I didn’t know what the sprites would do, but Xanthas was horribly scared. He ran south as quick as he could. At least, if we had to fight bandits, we would not have to fight Xanthas, too.

Clio and Briar had snuck ahead while we were talking with the cyclops. Nine bandits were at a camp not far from where we were. They were talking about chopping down more trees. Actaeon came up with a plan to surprise them and drive them away.

I hate bandits. I-

The plan failed, miserably. I think we were hoping to just disarm them and chase them away. But they fired crossbows and swung swords and knives. They fought to the death. A few attacked Torag, but my magic kept him safe and well. Shadow and Clio saw one of the bandits releasing dangerous lizard creatures to attack us, but they took care of the danger without much trouble. Briar and Actaeon engaged the leader, Korteva.

Korteva tried to run. Briar jumped in the way and Korteva raised her blade to stab Briar. Briar was about to be killed, I was sure of it. I reacted. I cast a spell. But… it was awful, Heath. The magic killed her. I killed her. Her skin turned as gray as mine. Briar was horrified. I could see it in her eyes. Actaeon tried to talk to me, but I shifted into Korteva’s Mask as quick as I could. Shadow and Clio had apprehended one of the bandits, and I was going to get information out of him.

I guess I didn’t learn much. The bandits were hired in Altea by a man named Thaos to cause trouble in Woodhike. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know much of anything, apart that he was paid some coin to do so. I threatened him, perhaps more than I should have, but I set him free. He ran away as fast as he could. Once he was gone, I removed the Mask and collapsed on the ground.
Actaeon, Torag, and Shadow were digging graves for the bodies. Briar and Clio were burning the lizards as a sacrifice. I couldn’t help but notice them looking at me, speaking in hushed voices. When I had worn Korteva’s Mask, I took her clothes to make the disguise more appropriate. Now I looked down at the clothes in disgust. Korteva had bled. There were cuts in the cloth. But her heart stopped when I cast the spell. What have I done?

I tried talking to Briar and Clio, asking if they needed any help with the sacrifice. They told me no. Clio told me I was peculiar before looking back at the fire. She must hate me. They all do. As I left, I overheard an argument spring up between Torag and Briar. Something about a cart and Briar hauling it because she was half-horse. I wanted to interject, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to say anything. I’m no hero. Instead, I found Shadow and asked him to walk with me back to Woodhike. I wanted to talk to him but I couldn’t find the words. He didn’t say anything either.

Back in Woodhike, Dia learned about the battle and wove it into a majestic story of triumph. We had saved Woodhike, she said. The forest spirits will be so pleased! The people sang our praises and bought us drinks and food. They celebrated long into the night. I smiled with them, but…

In the end, I found a room at the inn for the night. I was exhausted. With the door closed and the lantern put out, I cried into my pillow. I haven’t cried like this since you were taken from me. Korteva was a person. Maybe misguided, but she was still a person. Was she evil? Was I? She’s dead. I’ve stolen a dead woman’s clothes. What’s worse, I had missed the Sacrament of Sunset. I think the Morninglord forgave me for this, and I cannot doubt his presence even now, but there’s a darkness in me.

I’m no hero. I’m a monster.

I heard a call at the window and saw Briar down below. I guess she heard me crying. But she smiled and spoke words of comfort to me. My head is very foggy so I don’t remember all of it. But she said she was happy I’m with them, and that I was a hero to these people in Woodhike today. I was a hero to her. She said sometimes we do things we have to do, and sometimes we do things that we don’t want to. She understood. I’m not sure how, but I feel a little better.

Okay, I guess this letter got a little long. Sorry about that. Good night, my love. May the sun watch your path.