Part 32: Curse

4 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Today was an interesting day. It’s hard to say if it was good or bad, and such classifications would do a disservice to what happened. To say this was a good day would be to ignore the bad that happened, and there was plenty of that. To say today was a bad day would be awful because of all the good things that happened. Today was just a day, just like the others. A lot of good and a lot of bad, generally.

Much of our conversation today was on the topic of curses. Except for Rendu, we’re all cursed. Torag’s current form, Shadow’s family, Briar’s tattoo, Actaeon’s long life, Clio’s pod, and my… Actually, Heath, am I cursed? I feel like it. The scars still hurt from what that man did to me. And I won’t ever Maybe. I cannot tell. Maybe it would be best for me to not mention it to anyone. It would be unfair for me to number myself with the rest of them on this sort of thing. They struggle with real problems. I’m just a lonely monster girl boy whatever I am who wants to be a hero. Never mind, Heath. I’ll drop it.

Keledone visited us early this morning just as we began to break camp. His satchel was full of goodies! Torag got his uncle’s shield, which has a pretty cool image of a dragon on it. Actaeon took the Axe of Xander that the Dragonlord had given to him. Azorius magicked it all back to working order for him. And Briar got a number of things. I asked Keledone to make an order to Azorius for me for a few things (namely some winged boots and an alchemy jug – you know, like the one you stole from the kitchen when we were kids?). The machine woman (man? I don’t know) gave some information to Rendu and Torag on creating special weapons for them before taking flight again and disappearing over the trees.

Briar and Torag each made themselves scarce for a while to focus on their new magic items while the rest of us continued to clean up camp. I got a chance to talk to Clio. I racked my brain all night trying to think of something comforting to say to her. It dawned on me this morning that there really isn’t anything I can say to make it better, despite all my soul wanting to help her through this. It’s not something that gets better with kind words, no matter how sincere they are. All I can do is promise to be there for her if she needs me.

With that in mind, I approached her with an idea. I made some small flowers and asked her to help me turn them into tea. While she was working with whatever herbs and spices are in the kit she keeps on her, I spoke to her about the loneliness that we often feel. As a remembrance of her sister Athis, I offered to make clothes for her doll to resemble the dryad when she was whole. Clio agreed, quite happily. I don’t know if it will help, honestly, but I’m very happy to do it for her. She’s my friend, and I would do anything for her. Further, I offered to make clothes for the doll so she can dress it up as Khar’shan if she felt the need to be violent. Clio just laughed and said that would be fine. She handed me back the cup of tea and…

…And then I realized I screwed up. I was so busy talking with her, trying not to be too flirty and trying to be a good friend that I realized I hadn’t paid attention to anything she was doing when making the tea! How long do you steep the petals? What’s the proper temperature? What was that powder she put in? Why does it taste so good? Oh, no, I can see it now! She’s going to say to me tomorrow morning, “Hey, Leef! Can you make me a cup of tea for breakfast?” and I will have no idea what to do. I’m so dumb! I was a little distracted. I think you’d understand, my love. When she’s smiling, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

But I learned something good: Clio said she really likes tea, much more so than alcohol. And I’m brave enough to admit, Heath, that I gave up eating meat to try to impress her. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever tried to do to impress someone. I mean, apart from becoming a girl because I thought you liked girls. And yet, it gives me an idea. Maybe I should give up drinking. You know, like you wanted me to do. Clio said she was going to. Or, at least, give up drinking so much like she did the other night. Drinking is so automatic for me now that I don’t even think about it. Maybe I should start thinking about it. Maybe I can ask her

Let’s just move on.

Briar’s new magical shield was all ready! She named it Wyld Aegis, and it’s beautiful! It’s shaped like a leaf, which is great. Briar seemed very pleased. She also got an owl-squirrel stuffy from Dygo, and looked adorable strapped to her pack as we traveled. Torag seems pretty keen on his new shield. Before she left, Keledone mentioned that she would be returning in just a few days, hopefully with the items I’ve ordered and the bow that Shadow ordered a while back.

We started on our way, trying to decide how to deal with the Gjallarhorn and Estor Arkelander once we got there. Based on family history we learned from Dia, Rendu is all for the slaying of Arkelander if we are able. I impressed on him that I’d like to speak with the man first before we do anything like that. King Vaevictus told me that the way home was tied to the treasures of the Dragonlords, and these were last in the possession of Estor Arkelander. But do I want to go home? I mean, really, where is home? Ylisse? The place where they hated me because of the color and ability of my skin? The place where that man butchered me? The place where they wouldn’t even let me have the ashes of my husband and spit on me when they kicked me out the door? I don’t have a home, but that doesn’t matter. Estor has the treasures and I’m supposed to get them. Or… something like that. I don’t really know. And, come to think of it, I don’t think Vaevictus really knew either. Legends are often vague. Regardless, we need to have words with Estor first. Rendu agreed, but made me promise to be prepared for when it inevitably turns into a fight. Don’t worry, Rendu! I’ve a number of tricks up my sleeve!

Around midday, we came upon a crossroads and heard a terrible sound. Shouts for help amid the snarling of ripjaw raptors filled the air, and Torag smelled blood. Rendu and Actaeon stayed back with Corinna and Triple while the rest of us snuck forward to see what was happening. There, in the center of the road, was a lone centaur, injured and wearied, with six dinosaurs around him. We leapt into action like heroes are supposed to do! I conjured a ball of fire and threw it at one. Clio and Shadow pinned down another with their weaponry (physical and mystical as they are). Torag jumped forward bravely into the fray. Briar summoned a pair of wolves that she named Fluffy and Piddles, and sent them at the dinosaurs. Rendu and Actaeon eventually caught up to us just as we saved the centaur.

But as they did (I cannot wait to tell this story to Dia!), two more larger dinosaurs came out of the jungle. One charged into Actaeon and he and Triple fought it bravely until Shadow and Torag helped put it down. The other charged at Clio. I cast a protection spell on her to keep her safe until she could get it away from her. And wow does she amaze me! Clio released some exceptionally powerful spell to throw the beast off of her. It swiped her with its claws as she backed away, but Rendu threw a bolt at it to finish it off.

After patching up Clio, we spoke with the centaur. He is called Pholon and is from the Scorpion Tribe. This really seemed to bother Briar. I guess she knew some Scorpion Tribe centaurs but lost contact with them when she was a child. But that’s not what bothered Briar. What bothered her was Pholon’s insistence that one of us needed to become his “best friend” or, rather, make a bonded pact with him as soon as possible. Otherwise, he would transform and become a scorpion. Such is the curse of the Scorpion Tribe. The centaurs need to bond with someone or they become a monster when they come of age! Pholon seemed friendly enough, though, and Rendu was very happy to bond with him. We warmly welcomed Pholon into the group.

Where did this curse come from? Khar’shan or Amalj’aa perhaps? Those two seem to be the source of most of the curses here, so I guess that would make sense. Pholon thinks otherwise, though. He suggested a Lotus Witch on Scorpion Island is actually the source of the tribe’s curse. Whatever the case, he’s now on my list of curses to break. Oh, did I mention that? My list includes Shadow, Torag, Briar, Clio, myself (if I am indeed cursed), Pholon, and… Wait, is that it? It feels like I’m forgetting someone.

Here’s something that happened today that qualifies as good. I almost forgot to write about it! Briar gave me a dagger. I had given her mine in the Mithral Forge after I made some poor decisions and told her about cutting myself months ago. She had Azorius enchant the dagger so that it could not harm me. I’m in an admittedly better place mentally right now than I was back then, but it’s just… It’s just so kind what she did for me. It’s such an honor and blessing to know that someone cares so much for me to do this. I don’t know if the enchantment was cheap or not. My friend loves me, and she got me something to help me feel less defenseless while at the same time protecting myself from my own messed up head. Mother always said to be kind because it leaves such a wonderful legacy. Briar’s doing that, and I love her for it.

At camp, I gave Clio the clothes for her doll that I had been making during our breaks today. Shadow and Briar went off to set up some snares. Pholon started sharing his cherry wine. Remember when I said I might try giving up alcohol? What if I did that after we got back to Ellandyr? While winding down for the night, I got a funny idea. I threw up a bolt spell to try to impress Rendu. His bolt spells are always so lovely and powerful! I wanted to show him what I could do! So he threw up one of his own, then we got into a spell clash. He tried to use Palladia’s harp to go invisible, so I covered him in faerie fire to make him glow. He and I traded off with our spells for a few minutes, much to the amusement of our friends. Clio was chanting in the background, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” In the end, we bowed to each other, wordlessly agreeing to stop the game and pick it up again some other time.

Well, I’m on second watch tonight, Heath. I better get some sleep before my time. Like I said, lots of good and lots of bad. It’s just too hard to gauge what kind of day it was.

Good, I think.

4 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

I’ve a bit more to write after all. While on watch, Briar and I got a chance to speak. She confessed her apprehension with the Scorpion Tribe and told me a little bit more about herself. This is hard to write, so I’m going to just try to get through it. Maybe I’ll have the courage to put in details later.

Her family is cursed. The curse causes a mother and a father to find each other and be in love. But the love is fake, modeled, imitated. They have a child. Then the curse passes to the child. Briar’s parents forced it upon her, involuntarily on their part, by tattooing her with the mark she now wears on her back. After that, they died. Briar is cursed to find this counterfeit love, have a child, and pass it on as well. She was a pariah in the Foxtail Tribe because of it, and when she left as a still young child, she wandered alone. That is, until she met two Scorpion Tribe centaurs, Tavish and his nephew Jadus. They were kind to her and led her to Herkus before disappearing. For Briar, it hurt terribly to learn of the Scorpion Tribe’s curse. What happened to Tavish and Jadus? Were they still alive, or had they turned into scorpions? Were they able to bond with someone, or were they doomed? Unfortunately, Pholon did not know. The Scorpion Tribe lived on the aptly named Scorpion Island, but Pholon had not been there in years.

Tavish and Jadus were her friends, Briar’s first inkling of amity and fellowship since her parents passed. To think something as horrible as the Scorpion Tribe curse could afflict them is hurting Briar terribly. And Briar, bless her, doesn’t see her own kindness. The curse she has makes it so she can never truly love someone the way she would want. Familiar love, like what she and I have, is perfectly fine. But she can never have children for fear of passing that curse to them as well.

Briar acts kindly to us, but she considers it selfishness because she craves affection with a thirst she cannot quench. Of course I disagreed. Briar is one of the kindest, most attentive, respectful, dutiful, and profoundly compassionate people I’ve ever met. I personally feel the world would be a much nicer place if we could all be as selfish as Briar claims to be. To have even a fraction of her good-heartedness would be a boon worthy of kings and rulers. How can I make her see it?

I asked Briar to teach me to make tea.

Let me rephrase that. I foolishly asked Briar to teach me to make tea, which didn’t make sense because Briar saw me and Clio making tea this morning. She knows. Oh, Morninglord, she knows, too! I’m trying so hard not to be awkward around her. Does it show that much? I can feel my face flush around her, and wearing white robes only makes that more noticeable, I am certain. I’m pretty sure Shadow figured it out. And now Briar, too? I need to stop and just focus on the tasks at hand. Right? Frivolity can and should wait until we save the world. Right?

It’s just so hard to do that when I see her smile.

3 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Clio destroyed the doll. You know, the stabby doll I gave her for my birthday? It seems that while she and Shadow were on watch, they got to talking about Khar’shan and… they took turns stabbing the doll. Apparently all night.

Okay, so I’ve seen Clio look flushed, upset, sad, happy, joyous, drunk, and a lot of things in between. I’ve never seen her embarrassed before, and it’s quite possibly her best look. Rather sheepishly, she asked me to mend the doll back together for her, to which I very happily agreed. I couldn’t help but laugh as I did it, though. Did it help? Was it as cathartic as I intended? I don’t know.

Here’s a new thing: Shadow caught a… what’s it called? Some animal… Looks like a rabbit with a horn, I suppose. He named it Giannis and decided to keep it instead of turning it into food and a pelt.

The sun is bright today, shining merrily through the jungle leaves. Pholon thinks we’re less than a day to the Sour Vintage. We should get there by nightfall. I’ll write more later.