Part 31: Night

5 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

I had a dream last night. It was stranger than most, but I guess it was familiar, too. I was sitting in the bathhouse at the temple, all alone. I think I was expecting you to be there. You and I were going to have a private bath together, but that never happened. Everything was black and the water was very cold. It reminded me of the seawater filling my lungs when I woke up in the wreckage of the ship, and the world around me was terribly dark. I was so very lonely, but something pulled me through it. While I slept, I heard music. I think it was the music Rendu was playing, but it was mixed with something else. There was another harmony, one that was familiar but I couldn’t really recognize it. Whatever it was, it and Rendu’s music calmed my nerves. I woke up in a cold sweat like I normally do, but… It’s hard to say. My hopelessness is lessened this time? I don’t know. All I know is that I liked the music. It made falling back asleep easier than it usually is.

In the morning, I decided to give Rendu the vest I made for him. Its coloring matches the hat of Palladia pretty well, and he was very happy to have it. He gave me a hug and thanked me for working so hard on it! I ended up using the buttons from your old robes as the buttons for Rendu’s vest, and he said something that made me blush – something about having a part of something important to me with him. He’s very kind! And… then things got weird. He said he was feeling heavy today. I asked why, and he admitted openly that Palladia, his mom, is actually Dia.

That was a bit of a shock. The cute girl with the platinum hair who has been traveling with us for so long is actually the Goddess of Music! Who knew? Actually, as it turns out, Clio knew. She had figured it out a while back but was trying to be discrete. And something Briar had said last night inspired Dia to be truthful with Rendu and, by extension, the rest of us. I’m still going to call her Dia, though. Saying ‘Palladia’ out loud makes me feel too formal, and I’ve never really been a formal girl boy whatever. And she seems to want to keep a low profile right now anyway, so calling her Palladia would ruin that.

Alright, plans. We made lots of plans! The group was trying to decide how to pass the time before the Great Games. Collectively, we were feeling a little errant in Ellandyr. Shadow, I suspect, hates it here. I know Clio and Briar are both a lot more comfortable in the wilds. Torag seems uncomfortable in a city with legalized slavery. Rendu seemed ill at ease yesterday, but after finally meeting his mother, he seems a little better (though a little troubled). Actaeon doesn’t seem to mind being here at all. As for me, I think I’m more happy with just my friends and away from the crowds.

I mention all this because we were a little lost on what to do right now. The Lady of Coins will contact us if she needs our assistance, so there’s little we can do but wait. The children locked in the basement of the Temple of Khar’shan will be fine until the Inalis Day of Burning Sun. The minotaur market might be solved by the Lady of Coins with or without our involvement. All that we had left to deal with was the question of strange people in the graveyards. The rest of our time in Ellandyr would therefore involve sitting in the Starfall Estate, waiting for time to pass. So, looking at the map to the Gjallarhorn, we thought we might try to fulfill that epic quest next. It lies in the Dead Falls, about six days east of here. That will hopefully be enough time for us to travel, acquire the ship, and sail it back to Ellandyr before the Great Games begin.

But Dia warned us about something awful. The Gjallarhorn is haunted still by Estor Arkelander and his crew. They are not mortal anymore, but perhaps calling them immortal would be incorrect. Khar’shan made a deal with Arkelander five hundred years ago: Estor must stay his hand against the fey, and in return Khar’shan would give him and his crew immortality. As expected of the Lady of Dreams, the deal was sour. The bodies of Arkelander and his crew perished in time, but their spirits lived on to haunt the ship. That begs the question: if we go after the Gjallarhorn, what do we do about Arkelander and his crew? A couple of ideas were tossed around before we settled on this: Arkelander once upon a time tried to break his curse but failed. Maybe we can directly ask him? Could he, the butcher of so many fey, be reasoned with?

With no other leads, we decided to do this quest and get the Gjallarhorn. Before we left for the day, I apologized to my companions about my weakness yesterday. I explained how you had died to bandits and I tend to lose myself around those that steal. I’m trying to be strong and be better, and my friends were very understanding, more so than I deserve. In an effort to give us a little boost in moral and motivation, I told the story of the Man on the Beach. At the punchline, no one said anything for a moment before they burst into laughter. That felt good! After that, we decided to head out. We’re going to depart from Ellandyr tonight right after we deal with whatever is happening at the graveyard. Ilharg is going to stay at the Starfall Estate now as its steward. Dia is going to stay behind, too. Her experience with Estor Arkelander has made it difficult for her to talk about him, so we all felt it might be better if she stays behind. I promised to write our tales and deliver them to her as soon as we’re back.

We stopped first at the Temple of Khar’shan to deliver the body of Boreas. I explained to Trellus, the high priest, that Boreas and the other satyrs had withheld the wine due to some disagreement, something that Trellus didn’t seem to care about. We were paid a hefty sum before Trellus gave us an excuse to leave (in truth, he invited us to have a glass of wine with him, the thought of which made even Actaeon uncomfortable). Clio had been using her cool mind powers to read his thoughts and explained he was trying to entice us and was planning on using the body of Boreas – or more specifically, the head – in some sort of indoctrination lesson at a later date. We politely but rapidly excused ourselves and left.

The rest of the day was uneventful, so I won’t write about it. I went fishing with Shadow and only caught an old boot.

At night, we went to the graveyard. We passed through the glades beyond the vineyards. The flower where Boreas fell is still there, and that makes me feel a little better. I shudder to think what the Temple of Khar’shan will do to his body, and I’m glad I cast a spell on it this morning to keep anything untoward from happening to it, apart from whatever mutilation they’ll end up doing.

At the end of the path, we found a large sarcophagus on the top of a small hill. The sight here was something to behold. On the stone slab was a large dinosaur covered in green and pink feathers that I later learned was the Verdant Sun’s Avatar. Around it were four statues of hooded figures standing perfectly still as the rocks they were made of, and at the head of the stone slab was a woman in a long black dress. Her skin was ashen and her hair was stark white. The others said she was a fey but I found that hard to believe.

She didn’t see us coming, and Rendu snuck up behind her. He tried to ask what she was doing here, but the dark fey woman called out, “Oh, children! We have company!” And a pair of cultists from the Temple of Khar’shan, these that call themselves the Children of the Night, drew knives on us.

One was behind Briar, but Shadow and I got to him first. He was barely holding on and tried a spell against Shadow before Actaeon threw a spear and took him out. Torag transformed into his weird bull form and charged at the other, pinning it down. The fey woman tried attacking Rendu, but he shook off the strikes. Briar summoned a blast of lightning and Clio threw some energy blasts. In an instant, I think the fey woman knew she had bitten off more than she could chew.

Then something awful happened. The statues started breaking apart and more Children of the Night were suddenly here, their life energies being given to them by the Verdant Sun’s Avatar in some dark ritual. The fey woman killed one of them and tried to magically move through the body. She cast a spell against Shadow and knocked him down, but not before Rendu shouted at her. Throughout the fight, she had avoided Rendu, knowing she couldn’t beat him. Her spells were aimed at other people, and I think that honestly bothered Rendu quite a lot.

At one point, she took a hit from Clio and said, “That wasn’t very kind, my sister!” Clio was confused, evidently not recognizing her. Rendu retorted, angrily, “Look at me!” before casting a bolt of energy. Clio shouted back, “I don’t even know who you are, but if you’re with Khar’shan, you will die tonight!”

Oh, I should mention this. I think I see what Briar sees in Rendu. To a degree, at least. She has a confusing attraction to him. I am not attracted to Rendu in that way, but I think I get it. He’s handsome and charming, sure. But what astounds me about him is his impressive spellcasting! He can cast the bolt spell like me, but his looks like a swirl of colors that makes a beautiful melodic sound. Mine just looks like a pink bolt of lightning. I’ve a bit of jealousy in his beautiful spell. Channeling that jealousy, I cast my own bolt spell against the fey woman. Now, I don’t know if Rendu saw that as a challenge or not, but he immediately cast his own bolt spell again, this time ending the fey woman’s life.

She cried out, reaching to Clio, “Sister, I’m so sorry,” before she expired. Clio went up to the body to look it over and I saw her tremble. Her voice was soft and almost completely quiet. She said she now recognized her. This was Athis, now called Aspasia, Death’s Vigil, and she was a sister of Clio’s back when their family was whole. Khar’shan did something to her. This dryad was corrupted somehow, maybe even controlled.

The others went about cleaning up after the fight and tending to their wounds. Despite mine, I approached Clio. I’ve wanted more than anything to get closer to her and speak with her, but… not like this, Heath. She said she wants Khar’shan dead, and I get that. I apologized for not ever talking to her about her family. Not because I’m uninterested, but because I’m afraid to bring up painful memories. I offered to sit with her and talk with her whenever she needed it. She thanked me and explained she doesn’t really know how she feels about all this. Understandable entirely.

Briar offered to do a funeral service for Athis, and I donated the coins for the ritual, along with a bouquet of flowers I made for her. We sat in silence as the body of Athis returned to the earth through fire. Clio only watched. I can’t read her. I hope she will be alright. I should say something but I’m not sure what to do. What comfort can I offer, other than someone to talk to?

I can do better.

The Verdant Sun’s Avatar nodded silently to us, perhaps as a thank you, and set off on its own. We rested briefly before heading out ourselves. With Ellandyr behind us for now, we set back out into the Wyldlands again. I think our road might take us by the Sour Vintage, so that’s kind of cool. After a few hours of travel, we were wearied and decided to stop for the night.

I have to admit, it’s nice to be out on the road again. After camping with my friends for over a month, going back to a soft bed in the city seemed weird to me. Sleeping in my bedroll feels almost more natural now. Everyone is drifting off to sleep already as I write this by the campfire. Our wounds will be healed in the morning. At least, the physical wounds will be. The mental ones are another matter entirely. I can’t help but watch Clio tonight. She seems down. I should have offered her my spare blanket, but she’s already asleep now and I would hate to disturb her.

I have an idea, but I think I best talk to Clio about it first.

Tomorrow is a new day. I wonder what is in store for us?