Part 30: Better

6 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

I want people to be able to depend on me. I want to be someone they can see as an ally and friend. I want to do what you asked me to. But it was awful today, Heath. Just a bad day. Everyone has bad days, right? But not everyone murders a man in cold blood. I have to tell myself that it was necessary. Rendu said so. Briar did, too. I don’t want to be a monster.

Boreas was a bad man. He was the one who stole Palladia’s Harp, and was playing it in some glade beyond the Ellandyr vineyards with a small crowd of feyfolk around him. We snuck in as best as we could. Clio and Briar tried to talk to him first, but Rendu’s temper got the better of him. He demanded that Boreas return the harp to him. Boreas instead countered with an offer. He would return the harp to Rendu if Rendu brought him the heads of Trellis and Septia, the twins from the Temple of Khar’shan. They had withheld something from these satyrs and they were withholding the temple’s wine in retribution. Boreas meant to blackmail us into killing, or he would smash the harp on the ground.

He wanted us to murder them. So Rendu told me to cast a spell at him. I only wanted to get Boreas to drop the harp so Clio could grab it with her mind powers. I’ve never used a wand properly before. Sel Mara wouldn’t let me. I don’t know how to use No, that’s not true. It’s not that hard. It’s not that hard to hold back, to not take a life. In a flash, I killed Boreas.

There was a fight afterwards, but I didn’t see much of it. I killed him. I killed a thief. He deserved it, didn’t he? Don’t they all? That cannot be right.

My life flashed in my face, and I saw the people who wronged me. Those Dawnbringers who turned a blind eye to my abuse. Sel Mara who cut me to make sure I can never-. Those thieves who took you away from me. I saw Korteva, the bandit woman outside Woodhike that I killed. I saved Briar, right? When I killed Korteva? I don’t know. I just sat and cried.

I heard a banging noise and when I looked next, the fight was mostly over. Two water elementals under Boreas’s command were attacking us, and in my inutility I let Clio and Briar get injured. I should have been there. I was so absorbed into my own fear that I let two people I care about get hurt, and I am so ashamed of myself. Before I could even think, Clio chased one elemental away and Torag sliced the other apart with his xiphos. Rendu healed Clio and Briar. He looked absolutely radiant, too. His aasimar wings were out and he had chased away the satyrs and the dryad that had been partying with Boreas.

Briar snapped me out of my daze by telling me I had shape shifted into poor Korteva. I didn’t even know I had done it. I just sobbed and tried to convince Briar that I don’t hate the fey and I didn’t want to kill him. I don’t think I made much sense. She just hugged me. I think I started crying again when everyone was trying to move Boreas’s body. Rendu took me aside and told me, “I know this was hard on you. It happened, and you need to accept that. It was going to be a fight no matter what, and I am thankful for your help.”

I’ll do better.

The harp is fine and is with Rendu now. We decided to head back to town instead of going to the graveyards. I hope it wasn’t on my account, but I’m glad to be heading back to the light of the city. As we left, I placed a small daisy on the ground where Boreas died. I’ll never forgive myself for that. Thief and liar or not, I don’t think he deserved that. I won’t get much sleep tonight but at least I can sleep knowing it was over in an instant; Boreas did not suffer.

Who am I to judge? Who am I to decide who is worthy of life or death? Did Korteva deserve to die? Maybe not. She was hired to harass Woodhike and keep us from getting to Altea. Maybe she had a family. Maybe she had a wife or a husband or a lover who never got to see her again. Maybe she was planning on murdering Mayor Thobos that night and we thwarted her plans. Did Boreas deserve to die? He despises the goddess of music for reasons I know not, but maybe it is out of jealousy or something like that. Maybe Trellis and Septia really should be killed in order to stop the Temple of Khar’shan and the children sacrifices they’ll be doing on the Day of Burning Sun. Maybe Boreas is just as twisted and evil as they get.

How can I tell what is wrong and what is right? How can I make a righteous judgement that determines who should perish and who should persist? Is that in my power, and if it is, should it be? What feels wrong sometimes ends up being right. But in this chaos that torments me, there is opportunity. I can do better. I can harness my magic. I can control myself around thieves. I can protect my friends.

We came back to the Starfall Estate, and everyone decided that they wanted to try speaking with Dia. Maybe she had more information on the missing bards. Clio seemed keenly interested in speaking with her about something, though I do not know what. I think I probably should have gone with them, but I wanted to be alone. Instead, Briar mentioned she felt like she needed a bath. She had been carrying Boreas’s body on her back (quietly, of course) and was feeling very uncomfortable with it. I immediately jumped at the idea of going to the bathhouse, too. Being alone is dangerous.

Last time I was here in the bathhouse was only yesterday and I had been nervous being seen around my friends. But around Briar alone tonight, it was different. There were no other people here this late at night, though I was still shy because of my scars. Briar is quite perceptive and noticed this. She told me that my scars are like her tattoo. We can hide or block them, but they’re always there and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. She’s right, of course. I bought her a cloak specifically to hide her tattoo, but she has no trouble showing it to any of us now. I’m trying to be more open about things. These scars remind me of a lot of bad things, but I can do better. It’s funny, in conversations with strangers, Briar is so awkward. Around me, or Clio, or the others, it’s very different. She’s terribly kind, more so than I think I deserve.

What did we talk about? A lot of things. I think I’m a monster. She said I’m not, just like Clio once told me. She said that we were not in the wrong to take out the thief. There will always be people that bring pain to others. Now, there is one less person in the world like that. The best we can do is be better than them and prevent that pain in whatever way we can. Apparently that’s something Herkus would often say to Briar.

We spoke about our families. I told Briar about you, Heath, and how wonderful you were and how hard it used to be for me to understand your cute little stutter. She told me about Herkus the Helpful and the goofy and kind things he would say and do. Her father, Telon, and her mother, Irica, were both great people who cared for her and each other very much. After her parents died, Briar was cared for by different people in the Foxtail Tribe, though not with the same amount of tenderness. In fact, Briar said they were often very unkind to her on account of her curse. One of those people was her great-grandmother, Aglia, who used to braid Briar’s hair when she was very young. After Aglia passed away, Briar had stopped taking care of her hair. That is why her hair had gotten so wild and crazy after all these years!

I felt awful. I’ve been so self-absorbed since the fight in the glade that it kind of blinded me to things going on around me. I really am blessed and I must recognize that. I have wonderful friends here who care about me. I shouldn’t have let things get to me like that. I feel like I am in the right when I am miserable for taking someone’s life, but there is a goal we are striving for. We are heroes. Rendu is right. For the greater good, we sometimes have to do things we don’t like. We will continue to do those sorts of things, all for the goal of helping save these people. And maybe she’s right. Maybe Boreas would have done something awful afterwards.

Briar was having trouble with it, so I braided her hair. I’m glad she sees me as a sibling, and I see her as one. While doing this, she got a message in her head from Clio. I guess they were done at the palace and wanted to meet up at a tavern for some drinks with Dia. I had planned on sequestering myself in my room back at Shadow’s house, but Briar convinced me to go out instead. I am both glad I did, and I am regretful that I did. Glad because I got to see my friends having fun. Regretful because…

Rendu tricked me. When we got to whatever tavern this was, he came up to me with a glass of wine and said to follow him. Of course I followed! I thought I was being polite! Instead, he led me to a small stage in the corner of the common room and told me to pull out my flute. He gave me the wine in exchange for playing along with him. All those months of flute practice finally paid off, but I didn’t realize I was part of the entertainment for the night. I never liked playing for people. Other than you, I guess. Oooh, Rendu, you got me up there somehow!

All is well, though. It was fun playing with him. We ought to do it again sometime. Briar sat in a corner and bobbed her head to our tunes. Torag and Ilharg were drinking enormous drinks out of pineapples. Actaeon and Shadow had both snuck off somewhere. Clio and Dia were happily drinking together. I wanted to join them, but Rendu kept me on stage pretty long. I smiled when Briar bought Rendu a drink and said, a little buzzed, that he reminds her of her mother! It was very sweet, and Rendu dedicated our next song to Briar. Briar’s face turned so red! It was a slow and beautiful song, one not too different from the first song I learned to play.

It was getting late so we ushered ourselves back to Shadow’s house before Clio and Torag couldn’t stand anymore. Shadow was at the house with Corinna! It seemed that she and Triple had arrived only moments before we all did, and Corinna was very tired from her trip. She brought a lot of things with her before excusing herself to one of the spare rooms for the night. Triple lazily laid down in the stable and drifted into a snorting dream of sorts.

Oh, Heath, this next part was awful! Some of the group wanted to keep the party going here. Briar thought it would be good for us to listen to Rendu play the harp outside and pushed me and Clio together to dance! It was so embarrassing! I mean, of course I wanted to, but… but she was drunk! So very, terribly drunk! I excused myself and said that maybe we could some other time. I really want to dance with Clio, but I want her to want it, too. Besides, she doesn’t think of me. Why should she? She clearly didn’t want to dance with me anyway.

I went back to my room and opened the window, listening to the dulcet sounds of Palladia’s Harp coming from Rendu’s masterful playing. This is inspiration to me tonight, so I pulled out the cloths and my sewing kit and got to work. Not long after this, Shadow came to speak to me. He asked me if I was okay. I’m not, but I’m going to be. I said I didn’t want to kill anyone, but I know I’ll have to from time to time. Shadow helped me with my sewing project for a bit while telling me that he’ll help me if things get too rough.

I couldn’t help but blurt something out that I probably shouldn’t have. Clio was still on my mind, you see. I asked Shadow to teach me to dance. You know, as the man. The leader. Shadow gave me a funny look. He knows! Oh, Morninglord, help me, he knows! I don’t want to make things weird! Oh, yikes, Heath, I’m awful! He said something I didn’t fully hear and left the room.

What am I doing, Heath? I can’t help it. I couldn’t help it when I met you.

Time to change the subject. Hey, look at that! I finished it! Rendu is sure to like it. I hope. Oh, wow, what if he hates it?

I’m writing the rest of this while still listening to Rendu play. I can hear Shadow, Dia, and Clio talking about something outside my window, but I feel weird eavesdropping. Torag’s gone to bed. Actaeon is back now. From what I overheard, he went to the library for something. Briar is… Actually, I don’t know where she ended up. Shadow’s going to sleep under a tree again tonight, and Dia went into the house. I guess she’ll probably head back to the palace where her abode is. Clio’s alone under a tree since Briar isn’t here. I want to talk to her.

Come on, Leef. What would you even say? “Hey, Clio, I think you’re cute, and I think it’s cool how you kill people with your mind.”

What kind of dumb conversation would that be?! No, that’s stupid.

I can’t just keep making daisies for her. If I want to grow closer to these people, I need to be better. And even if Clio will never see me that way, it doesn’t matter. She’s my friend, and she deserves so much better than whatever I am right now.

I’m going to bed. Here’s to hoping tomorrow is a better day.