Part 21: Order

11 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

A lot is happening today. We’ve rested and recovered. Torag and Actaeon look a lot better today. Actaeon was so pale, but he’s incredibly gruff and is as impulsive as ever. Briar and I spent much of the night going through our spell components to try to think of magic that can help us against the monster in the maze. I am confident of the blessings I’ve prepared. They should be enough to close mortal injuries. I’m hopeful anyway.

When everyone woke, Dia asked us what our plans for the day would be. Shadow quickly suggested we come up with a strategy to get us through the maze alive. We came up with some ideas that might help. Shadow and Torag would go first. Shadow’s an excellent tracker and Torag was oddly not bothered at all with the maze yesterday. Briar and I would be towards the middle. Clio and Actaeon would be in the back to cover us from behind.

We’re preparing to go now. Dia’s going to stay behind again. I hope she’ll be okay here all alone. I can’t help but wonder how Corinna is doing. Maybe I will get a chance to write more later.

10 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes! Things have gone surprisingly well in this terrible maze. I don’t have much time to write. Here’s what happened.

Almost immediately in the maze, we came upon two minotaur skeleton creatures. We actually got the drop on them and put them down without much of a problem. Shadow got a pretty bad injury but I was able to cast a quick spell and help him. Briar did a neat trick during this fight. She somehow summoned a pair of large wolves to fight by our sides. They’re very friendly, too, which is fun. Actaeon seems very taken with them.

The maze continued for another hour, and Torag and Shadow were able to lead us fairly easily. The wolves helped Torag sniff out anything that might hurt us – I mean, specifically, the minotaur monster. The group came upon a large wooden door.

I think we all owed Actaeon an apology. He purchased a small battering ram in Altea two weeks ago. We thought it was silly. We were wrong. He smashed the door open with it, and we were just moments away from celebtrating.

Then the smell hit, and we all almost passed out. I think this is the monster’s room. There are bits of cloth, a few broken armaments, and what looks to be layers and layers of dried blood, probably from centuries of… Well, that’s the awful part. We found a pair of farmers tied up in here. They’re long gone already. Shadow suggested they might be food.

We wanted to get out of here as quickly as possible, but the minotaur monster appeared in the room. He bellowed at us, “Get out of here!” and tried to attack. In this room, though, we were ready for him. Shadow tagged him with a special arrow that, I guess, allows him to track the monster easier. Briar commanded her wolves to fight. One wolf was killed and its spectral form faded away, but the other one… I don’t know if I’m right here. Did it scare the monster away? Maybe it thought it could surprise us in here but, like I said, we were ready for him.

We’re getting ready to leave this nasty room. I’ll write more later. Things are looking up.

10 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

It’s bad again, Heath. We didn’t get lost, but we took some injuries. Shadow was able to magically sense the monster’s location and told us where it was going. This, I am guessing, let us move quicker through the maze. I wonder how much time has passed now?

We found another room near a fork in the maze. Torag thought to have us go through the door first since beyond that is where Shadow sensed the marked monster. We found a strange small room with the remains of warriors across the floor and a pair of old statues that we could not identify. We all stepped inside, except for Briar and her summoned wolf. As we did, the door shut behind us.

But don’t worry, darling. It wasn’t so bad, honestly. The skeletons in the room came alive and attacked. I managed to burn two of them away without much problem. Clio did some… She’s so cool, Heath! You’d like her. She blocked their attacks like it was nothing! I mean, sure, Torag and Actaeon did the same, but…

Stay on track, Leef.

Shadow and I figured they had these skeletons handled pretty well. Shadow sensed the monster outside the door and Briar was facing it alone. He smashed through the door and we saw the minotaur take out the other summoned wolf. Briar bravely stood her ground and cast a spell to light the monster on fire. He charged at her, so I cast a spell of protection on her. Actaeon rushed out and attacked. Maybe the monster thought it could pick off Briar alone, but we gathered again pretty quickly. It disappeared in a flash of purple again.

Actaeon saw that the monster was covered in massive scars, many that were very old. Our weapons and spells were hurting it, and we were not as injured as we had been yesterday. I made the suggestion that we follow it. It’s trying to hunt us. Maybe we can hunt it instead? The others agreed. Shadow felt its presence up in a different path, so we moved to follow.

Here’s where things got bad. Not that they weren’t bad with Briar alone against the monster. This just caused some further injury. We found Xander’s Tomb. Actually, that might not be right. There was a tomb in here. But when Actaeon and Torag went to take the lid off the sarcophagus, it came alive and tried to eat them. A rug on the ground came alive, too, and we all realized something in that instant. Two things, actually. First, we never actually told Torag about the rug in the Temple of the Oracle. It was a weird story. Second, I will burn every rug I see from now on. It tried to smother Shadow, but Shadow felt something was off about it and dodged. He and Briar destroyed the rug just as Actaeon stabbed the sarcophagus to death.

That felt weird to write.

There’s a lever in the back of the room. We’re all too afraid to touch-

Never mind, Actaeon pulled the lever.

It made a horrible screeching sound. Metal on metal. We’re going to wait here a moment and see if anything else happens.

10 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

We’re alive! We did it! We… I have a lot to write, and I’m finally safe enough to do this entry justice. I’ll try to make this more coherent than my last entries. I’m just so excited. So much has happened, Heath!

Let’s start in the room with the lever. We’ve taken to calling it Xander’s False Tomb since there was just a pair of weird monsters in there. The lever didn’t do anything. At least, we don’t think so. More on that later. But we saw a series of mosaics on the walls that showed the battles of Xander Huorath against his enemies, lamentably mostly fey people. He was with his three companions, Aetius, Pericles, and Eustace, they to whom the three tombs in the entrance of this maze belonged. But the mosaics here were different, telling a story unalike to those which we saw outside in the Necropolis. The Dragonlords seemed like they had done such awful things. Actaeon never said otherwise. But here… It was horrible still, but the brutality was not present. I don’t think that justifies their bloody tales, nor does it exonerate them. It’s just different, somehow.

We continued through the maze until at length we came to another room. As it turned out, this room was a trap. Actaeon and Torag went inside. There was a bronze gate beyond it that led somewhere else. Clio offered to use her cool mind powers to work the gate open, but Actaeon and Torag ignored her. When they tried to open it, the doors slammed shut and they were locked in. The room inside began to shrink as a false wall moved to press against them.

Obviously we panicked. No, that’s not quite right. I think that was just me. Clio was incredibly cross with them and called them that word the High Priest liked to call me. And frankly I don’t blame her for being angry. Perhaps this trap could have been avoided entirely, but it doesn’t matter know.

When the trap was sprung, it made a metal on metal sound identical to what we heard when Actaeon pulled that lever. Shadow and I thought it might deactivate the trap, so he dashed back through the maze to pull it again. Clio went to back him up. Briar and I didn’t know what to do. In my panic, I grabbed against the metal door and tried to lift it. To my surprise – and most certainly to Briar’s – I managed to move it slightly!

Briar shapeshifted into an ape and began pulling against the door. I called out to Torag and Actaeon that the doors could be moved. They were stronger than I, so they would certainly have more success than me.

Even now, I don’t know how this happened. The door opened. Actaeon and Torag were sweating, but alive. Did they break the trap, or break the door? The trap wasn’t moving anymore, though. Shadow came back, leaning slightly on Clio. Shadow met with the monster and took a hit, but he was able to dodge it and get back to us.

Did he pull the lever? I honestly don’t know. I’m too afraid to ask him, and he was very shaken by the event. I can’t believe… What if I lost him? He’s like… I remember how you described your father, Heath. The attributes you said he had. I see those attributes in Shadow. I… I can’t lose him. I can’t lose any of them.

I’m getting off track.

No, you know what? No, I’m not. I keep trying to hide my feelings. From them and myself. I keep running away from things. I keep fleeing. I have to stop this. I have to… I have to stop…

I don’t even know what to write here, darling. You were always so much braver than I. I will do better. I’ll figure this out.

Let’s move on, because that’s what we did. With the trap deactivated (somehow), we went to the next chamber. This surely was the true tomb of Xander Huorath, decorated and constructed as it was. The air was still in here, having not been visited in centuries. Two magical torches lit the room from high sconces, casting a warm glow on the sarcophagus, finely carved in the handsome likeness of the First of the Order.

The monster came upon us in here. He was different now, though. His eyes were full of hate and darkness in the tunnels of the maze. Here, they were aching. Even after his death, his voice haunts me.

“Have you come to pay your respects? What do you think of your great conquerer? Xander the murderer. Because of him, I am the last of my tribe. I cannot rest. I cannot sleep. Xander slaughtered my people. He enslaved my family. I am bound, cursed to this place forevermore. Among your kind, Xander is revered. But I? I spit on his bones.”

We fought him. We killed him. Oddly, I regret it.

Briar shifted out of her ape form and quickly cast a spell, burning the monster in his own armor. Pained, he tried to strike at us, but the swings of his axe were wide. Twice he swung at me, but my magic shielded me. Shadow was greatly hurt, but stayed on his feet. Actaeon’s javelins sang through the air, and Torag’s fists all found their target. Clio’s energy blades slashed across him. I cast spells of fire to knock him back.

The worst of it came when the spirit of Xander himself rose from his sarcophagus. His deep voice said, “Enough, Graxis. Stand! Or I will kill you yet again with these heroes beside me.”

Xander raised his ghostly hand, and his axe leapt from the monster’s Graxis’s hand into his. Graxis looked… It was rage mixed with perhaps fear. He bellowed and raised his empty hand into the air. A scar on his forehead opened and a swirl of black and purple energy swirled from it into his hand. He was charging up some great and deadly attack. But a fast arrow from Shadow struck him in the scar on his head. He wordlessly fell, and his body was absorbed into a swirls of purple light. He vanished and was gone.

Did we kill him? Or did he vanish like he had in the maze? I cannot say. But I feel for him. I pity him. What horrible things he must have endured to make him this way. What awful curse was upon him that caused him to forever be bound here?

The ghost of Xander stood before us, looking at each of us in turn before settling on Actaeon. “I have been dead for many years. I am very surprised to see you alive, Captain.” Actaeon only nodded. Xander stepped forward to him and turned the axe, handle first, towards Actaeon. Actaeon took the axe, but did not say anything.

Xander spoke to us. He called us the ‘new blood’, the second order, and that he was sad that a second order did not come to pass sooner. He understood that we had bad feelings towards the Order of the Dragonlords, but that he wished we could learn from their mistakes and be better. That we would be more just.

When Graxis perished, his dented shield fell to the ground in his place. Xander gave the shield to Torag, knowing he could make good use of it. Xander’s ghostly form shifted slightly, and the breastplate armor he wore came off of him. He gave this to us as well, and told us that his axe, the breastplate, and the shield all once had great power but that the power had long since faced. Azorius could do something to fix that, though.

Xander then said Actaeon’s armaments were now in the possession of a man named Gaius. Actaeon’s armor was likely to be found on the Isle of Yonder, someplace in the sea. Actaeon seemed to know what that meant. Xander also gave him a crown from atop his head and said, “You will need this.”

“It is time for me to return to rest. What more can I do for you, Second Order?”

We didn’t know what to do, or what to say. Actaeon asked him how he was standing here before us. Xander explained that the road to the “other side” remains open to him, but he could not rest until the destiny of the Dragonlords was fulfilled. Hearing about this “other side”, Shadow and Torag both asked if Xander knew anything of their families, but Xander sadly did not. But he did have something for us inside his sarcophagus that might be useful.

And with that, Xander Huorath was gone.

Actaeon found a leather-bound tome in the sarcophagus and gave it to me to read. I began to read through it while we rested. Briar summoned a little owl-squirrel to magical heal us. Shadow began to bind his wounds. Clio and Torag stood guard. Actaeon stayed at Xander’s sarcophagus, silently looking over the bones of his commander.

The tome is a journal. And… You won’t believe this, Heath. Damon, the Lich. He’s…. he is like me. He’s… from Ylisse. And he’s like… He’s a changeling like me! In the book, Xander explained that Damon showed his true form to him and someone named Nya. His true form.

Could I be so brave? Could I stop… fleeing? I wonder. I haven’t been true to myself in ages.

What would they think of the ugly idiot Leef?

I found something else in the end of the book. The handwriting is different. It is written by Damon. I read this out loud to my friends, and to our horror we learned that one of the Dragonlords, Jasena Ventrak, betrayed Xander and Actaeon together. The Foxtail Centaur Tribe – Briar’s former tribe – assisted her, and caused the death of Xander and the disappearance of Actaeon.

I cannot believe this. I cannot believe how many awful things have happened to them all. To me, maybe as well.

Shadow lost his wife and daughter, and his entire existence seems a dream. Clio’s family is gone and her trauma has led her through a sad life alone. Torag’s mother is dead and he is cursed into the shape he has. Briar’s tribe betrayed the Dragonlords and she’s long been estranged from them. Actaeon’s friends have all passed on, and his dragon is slain.

But who am I to these people? I’m a wanderer from another country who came here running away from my past. I’m a scared, pathetic monster who shouldn’t even have a place among these great heroes. Yet, here I am, with the Mark of the Pierced Dragon on my hand. How could I possibly be numbered among them?

I’ll be better. I have to be. I won’t hide anymore. I can’t hide anymore. Can I change? Can I do what you asked me to do? Can I be me? And who am I really anyway?

I need to talk to Damon. Maybe he has answers. I never even told my friends my real name. I used the name those awful people gave me. The name you liked. But I will tell them. I should. I have to. I’m not Flee. That’s who I was with you. That’s who I was back when I had no friends. When I was the monster in their nightmares. Flee was an identity. And if I am going to be a hero, I cannot be Flee anymore.

Maybe Damon knows more about this. He’s like me, and that gives me hope. For the first time in my life, I’m excited about my ugliness. I’m excited about how terrible I truly am. What will my friends think? Will they still want to be my friend, even if I am hideous. Maybe she they won’t see it that way.

Maybe she won’t see it that way.

We’re done resting, and we’re going to go back to Dia ouside the maze now. I have so much to tell her.