Part 27: Culture

7 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

It’s been a long day, my love. Much more has happened. Obviously, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be writing more, especially as drunk as I am. It helps, you know, to write to you. You’ve been gone for almost a year now. I don’t think I’ll ever get over you. You were the best in every way, but I’m so very happy to write that I feel like I fit in here. The Emerald Isles was everything you and I thought it could be. I mean, apart from the evil titans trying to destroy everything. That was unexpected. But all the other stories about the people, the culture, and everything else was true. We came here chasing our dreams, though it’s not much of a dream without you in it.

It was past midday when we decided to go to the temple district to meet up with Shadow again. Rendu and Actaeon said they had some things to take care of in the bazaar, so they would see us later tonight, either at the feast or back in the Starfall Estate. On the way to the temple, I gave Clio some advice for going in. The Temple of the Five was very unlike my temple back in Ylisse, but there are some cultural norms to follow: wipe your feet, talk in a quiet voice, and accept snacks if offered. I guess most of the group had never really been to a temple before. At least, not like this. Briar and Clio said they didn’t really go to these kind of places. Torag grew up in a monastery but that’s a little different, I guess.

While we were walking and talking, someone had mentioned Shadow and his growing uneasiness. He’s been getting worse ever since we got to Ellandyr. Of course he’s real and we all decided we want to help him. While brainstorming what to do, Briar came up with a grand idea! Shadow is doubting that his family exists. What if we found evidence of their existence? Plants, as I wrote before, have no reason to lie. She’s going to talk to some of the plants in Shadow’s courtyard. Surely some of them were either planted by River and Rare, or would at least have known them to be around. Convincing Shadow that plants don’t tell lies might be difficult, but if we can, we will have more evidence for his family’s existence! We already have the banner from his Hunt, so this should make it much more sure.

At the temple, we met Shadow again. He mentioned suspicious people in the burial grounds outside of the city and the group thought it would be worth investigating later in the week sometime. I went in the temple with Clio while the others stayed outside. Clio seemed very tense in the temple and admitted that she had never really prayed before. I, on the other hand, was maybe a little too excited to be here again. Temples are where I feel the most at home, even in those built to other gods. But even that’s an odd thought! Three of these five gods are people I know personally, all of whom I care about (even Vaevictus, and he’s kind of strange!) I showed Clio around the temple as best as I could, pointing out where I had been when I first came here two months ago. The acolytes and the Sel Mara’i1 were helpful to Clio and I. One, a man named Athos, explained the statues in the central area and that he and the other priests were happy to provide restoration services to us if needed.

I led Athos away from Clio to give her some space. She wanted to pray to Kiora and I wanted to give her privacy, so I began to talk to Athos, telling him about who I used to be (you, actually!) and I gave some coins as a donation for their good works. When I turned back to Clio, she was kneeling and praying. I wanted to help her and I feel bad that I didn’t. Maybe she wanted me to come with her to help her? I think giving her privacy was helpful, but I should have stayed with her. She seemed so timid to be here. She was very focused with her eyes closed. I wanted want to help her. How can someone look so very beautifully serene and fiercely intense at the same time? Clio’s a wonder.

She finished her prayer and was looking intently at the statue of Kiora, the focus of her orison. I was about to approach her and ask how it went when a bronze dragonborn named Mataru came to talk with her. Clio waved me over to join her. Mataru said that a minotaur named Orena had come to the temple seeking to join the clergy, but was turned away because the priests were already gone for the day. Orena has since gone missing, and Mataru and the others are worried about him. We offered to look into his disappearance.

I asked Clio how the prayer went. She told me that she saw a vision of constellations and wondered what it meant, then asked me if that’s how gods talk. In my experience, yes, that is the case. I’ve felt the presence and warmth of the Morninglord on countless occasions, and often his wisdom comes to me in dreams or feelings. Symbolism is the customary language of the gods. Only once have I ever spoken with Him, though I didn’t tell Clio the details of that occasion. That was when I decided to start taking my religion seriously.

We found the others outside the temple chatting about the flowers and gardens around it. Briar had spoken with a priest about growing more flowers on the grounds. Shadow was trying to remember the time he and I met here at the temple. Torag was releasing large rats into the temple of Amalj’aa. All in all, a good time.

Where to next? We opted for the Academy Arcanum! Clio wanted a constellation book. Shadow and Torag wanted information about the city’s public works so they could find the underground tunnels and maybe a way to get to the Minotaur Market without being seen. Briar wanted a diamond for a resurrection spell. And I wanted some more books on learning the fey language. It was a great chance to learn more about the culture of the Emerald Isles!

Did we all get what we wanted? I don’t know. Maybe? I can admit I got a little bit distracted. The Academy is enormous! The campus is almost as big as our temple in Ylisse. I got completely lost in the library, and I don’t mean that I couldn’t find my way out. I was in a sea of books and was immediately home. I wonder how long I was wandering around there? The culture here is fascinating. They value knowledge so much higher than the Ylisseans. If our group did not have pressing matters to attend to – that is, defeating the titans and saving all the people – then I would probably try to get a job here at the Academy. Clio found me after some time. She, Shadow, and Torag found what they wanted. I learned that blank books for writing could be found in the Academy’s nearby component shop, so I went there.

Apparently I missed Briar! She had been there before me! When I met her later, she said she was concerned about that component shop. I found the tiefling shopkeeper to be extremely charming and polite, but Briar’s experience was quite the opposite. I wonder what she said? But I know better than to ask! It wasn’t until we left the Academy that I remembered I forgot to buy some more language-learning materials here! Oh well. I have enough to get me through this week. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to come back, though I probably won’t ask Shadow to come with me. He seemed very keen on leaving.

While we walked, we talked about curses. Briar asked Torag how long he had been a minotaur. Torag said he has been this way since he was nine years old. Only nine! That’s so young! That’s the age I met you! To think poor Torag was cursed into minotaur form at that age. But Torag said something interesting and, quite honestly, inspiring. He’s not interested in breaking his curse just yet. He says he feels like there’s work for him to do as a minotaur. I wonder if other minotaurs feel the same. Ours is a group of curses, each one of us in our own way.

I’m going to break those curses.

It was getting late so we decided to go to the feast. Dia met us there, ecstatic to see us. I’m so happy we got to see her again! She told us we were expected as the slayers of the Burning Sun’s Avatar. Queen Aminatou was there and gave a quick speech about our acts as heroes, then we watched the sacrifice. The priests burned the body of Delica, dedicated to Kiora. It was humbling to see Delica burn. Just hours ago, she was fighting strong in the arena on Mount Azorius.

The feast began and the nobility that attended the sacrifice all began eating and socializing. I think Torag was the only one of us who wanted to be there. Shadow and I stole some food and made our way back to the Starfall Estate. Briar came with us, eager to get away from the party. Torag and Clio stayed behind. Clio did because she wanted to talk to someone (Mikhaila maybe? I didn’t ask). Torag stayed because he was hungry now.

Shadow bought wine today. Like, a lot of wine. He, Briar, and I started setting up for a little party of our own. Briar seemed a lot happier with that. We cleaned up some plates and cups and set out the food Shadow and I had stolen from the feast. Rendu and Actaeon joined us right as Clio and Torag returned, Torag toting an enormous (and lamentably empty) pineapple drink. Shadow led us in a toast – a congratulations on a successful day as heroes – and we had a private party. Rendu and Actaeon went to sleep pretty fast after that.

I found Briar sitting alone in the corner of the room looking overwhelmed. It’s no surprise that being in the city, especially one as large as Ellandyr, was staggering to her. Like she said, everything here is artificial. She and Clio are used to things being more natural, and I guess I am, too. We’ve been in the wilds for so long that I kind of miss sleeping on soft grass. Actually, I’m not sure I’m quite willing to admit that yet! But anyway, I thought now was a good enough time to give her what I bought today from Dygo. I gave her the special cloak and explained that if she wanted to cut her hair to be more comfortable, but also wasn’t comfortable showing everyone her cursed tattoo, the cloak might be a good way to cover herself when she feels self-conscious. She can use it when she doesn’t want anyone to take notice. But it also looks really cool.

Briar asked me to take on her form and show her what her hair would look like if she cut it. No problem, anything for you, Briar! But when she saw me, she had tears in her eyes. She said jishobu2, then excused herself. She said goodnight to everyone, took another glass of wine, and disappeared out to the courtyard. I hope she’s okay. I thought to check on her again before going to sleep myself, but Clio is out there with her right now. Clio can take care of her, and I don’t want to intrude.

After Briar went to bed, the rest of us stayed up only a little longer. I borrowed Clio’s crossbow when Torag wasn’t listening. I’m going to use it for training tomorrow. Shadow wanted to talk to Clio in private and they disappeared into a spare room. Torag and I talked about his athletic prowess and I started to quiz him on exercises. I’m going to make him do all those exercises tomorrow. As his mystic coach, I’m going to whip him into shape!

Actually, “whipping” might be a bad term to use here. Minotaurs are slaves in Ellandyr. I don’t want him to feel bad! Maybe I’ll just yell encouraging phrases at him or something. Like “you’ve got this!” and “you are so strong!”

I may need to work on my encouraging phrases. I’m a cleric, not a poet.

I asked him how can he be so brave despite the difficulties we’ve faced so far. How can he run into danger knowing he can die at any time? Knowing that he actually died once already? He doesn’t fear death. That’s what he said. But I don’t believe him. How can I? Death shouldn’t be something to take so lightly, right?

Don’t die, Torag. Don’t… Just don’t.

This is about the time when I started thinking maybe I’m drinking too much tonight.

Torag laughed at me when I said that. I was being too serious, he said. I think he meant to lighten the mood. I’m feeling a little melancholy right now after all that has happened today, and I apologized for the sudden solemnity. I threw the discus at him as a warning of the mystic coach training I have prepared for him tomorrow. I meant it to be light-hearted, and I think he took it that way.

After a few minutes of Torag and I talking and drinking, Shadow came out to get me. He and Clio wanted me to shift into a mask of River so Clio could try to send a message to her. That was hard for me. It isn’t difficult to change my features to become anyone, nor was it difficult to follow Shadow’s careful instructions. What was difficult was seeing him quiver as I got closer and closer to the image of his wife. All the while, he had to tell Clio about River’s personality, likes, and dislikes. I know this hurt him.

Unfortunately Clio didn’t have the abilities left today to send the message. She, Briar, and I are all a little tapped out. But Clio knows River now and can try to contact her, and I can provide a face for it. Shadow excused himself to his room. I’m so sorry, Shadow. I’m so, so sorry. Clio went to check on Briar and to go to sleep herself, so we parted ways for the night.

And now, I’m back in my room, a little drunk from Shadow’s wine. I’ve done so much today, a lot of which I feel good about, but a lot of which has made my heart ache. I love the idea of working with Torag in the Great Games, but I hate myself for not jumping at the opportunity to help Shadow. I loved being a hero again, but I am sad for Delica. I loved getting closer to my friends this evening, but I hate that Shadow is hurting so much. It seems so much worse now that we’re in Ellandyr.

What can I do for him? What do I say to him? How can I make it go away?

At the very least, he and I can go fishing tomorrow. Maybe I can talk to him then. I should get some sleep. I’ve been up for two days straight now and I’m not really used to this. There’re a lot of things that need to be done tomorrow. Missing bards, missing minotaurs, mysterious people, and so much more. Ellandyr has an excess of culture. I can see why Briar was so overwhelmed by it. I feel the same way. I can’t think straight. Not as tired as I am, and with my head in the clouds.

She smiled at me!

7 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Axun coi’ui okh shio, Shadow’jh3! You know this! You should know this! I won’t let you forget it! I’ll prove it to you. You’re going to see. I’m going to show you. You will never doubt it again. River and Rare are out there. I’m sure of it! We will find them. I’ll make it happen. I will find a way. You and your family will be together again.

I have an idea. I need to talk to Shadow.

1 Elvish: High Priests (plural)

2 Sylvan: Mother

3 Draconic: Phrase – “Of course it’s all real, Shadow!” (familiar)