Part 39: Ceremony

7 to Burning Sun, Inalis

I’m fine! I promise! It’s just a nosebleed. And literally every part of me is screaming in pain. But I’m okay!

Where to begin? I wrote earlier today that the city was alive with travelers and visitors for the Great Games, right? Well, it is. It’s almost hard to push through the crowds now, especially as we got closer and closer to the northern end of Ellandyr. The opening ceremony is up at the colosseum, but we couldn’t get in this early in the afternoon. The setup had not been completed yet, but that actually worked out in our favor. Just past the north gate, the dinosaur races were happening and we were very interested in watching.

At a stall by the race track was a tall half-elf man with a painted face. He was in charge of the races and collecting bets, and was thrilled to see the Heroes of Prophecy coming towards him. We pay him our wagers for betting on the races, and he has all the information for what happens.

As it turns out, I won’t be racing. Actaeon wanted to let me ride Triple A in the race, but I was too afraid to do it. Why’s that? Because of the type of race Triple could be in! There are two races. One is the nice race, or at least that’s the word I was thinking of. It’s just a race. The other, for which Triple would be entered, is the unchained race. Or, as I call it, the bite your competitors race. Actaeon volunteered to do that one instead of me.

To our surprise, Clio announced she was entering the race. I guess sometime during our respite, she had gone out and won a dinosaur in a drunken bet. That’s funny because she had told us all that she was giving up spirited drinks, and here she was with a dinosaur due to a silly bet! What makes matters even better is that her dinosaur, Little Foot, is absolutely adorable. She’s big and green with bright feathers, and is very friendly. So, today I learned that getting Clio drunk leads to unexpected things. How very interesting…

We placed some bets on the races. Actaeon wagered his old armor, worth nearly 800 gold, on Clio to win. Torag put in a hefty sum as well. Briar had previously given me some money to bet on Clio, too, somehow knowing about Clio’s dinosaur. I placed a bet on her as well, and bet a little bit of cash on Actaeon winning in the unchained race.

I sat with Shadow, Actaeon, and Torag in the stands before we realized Rendu was not with us. Maybe he went off with Pholon again, or maybe he ran into Briar at the marketplace? I tried a messaging spell to Briar but she didn’t answer, and I thought perhaps I had casted the spell incorrectly. We bought some snacks – popcorn mostly – and waited for the race to begin.

It was so much fun, but so loud! Everyone started hooting and chanting as soon as the race started. Clio and Little Foot sprang ahead pretty fast. Their competitors couldn’t keep up and most of them collapsed or got distracted. Dinosaurs must be hard to control. One, a large armored thing named Grungstomper, coiled up at the starting line and tried eating a butterfly. Clio ended up winning the race by a mile!

The party was pleased. I got a good bag of money for Briar when I would next see her. Torag and Actaeon made a ton and were very happy. The unchained race was happening next. We expected Actaeon to go down to Triple A for the race, but Shadow surprised us by going, too. It seems he met a jockey who couldn’t race today and Shadow had volunteered to do it in his stead. Shadow would be riding a sharp-toothed creature named Jungle Princess.

This race was even louder than the last, but mostly because two dinosaurs in the beginning got into a nasty fight, snapping and roaring at each other while their jockeys were shouting profanities at them. Actaeon and Triple A spent most of their time trying to knock other competitors out with bites and tail whips, but that left Shadow and Jungle Princess to eventually win the event.

Because Actaeon lost, I ended up losing my bet. But it’s okay because I had some spending money anyway! Clio and Shadow won a lot of cash for being the victors of their races. It was absolutely hilarious!

When the crowds died down after the race was over, Briar found us. She and Clio told us their secret. Little Foot was Briar all along! They wanted to prank us mortals and thought this was the best way to do it. They both won a ton of cash in the process. That’s what they were whispering about yesterday! I thought it was about me. Oh, Leef, you simpleton!

Oh, and in other news, Shadow purchased Jungle Princess. So he has three animals now. That’s… fine.

We left the race track. Rendu and Pholon met up with us, and we all headed up to Mount Azorius for the colosseum and the opening ceremonies. The stadium was packed and we wondered if we could even find seats. But to our surprise, Dia (dressed as Palladia, mind you) had already secured a balcony for us as guests of honor to the queen. The crowd erupted into cheers when we appeared on the balcony, chanting “Heroes! Heroes! Heroes!”

On the central balcony, a man announced the arrival of Queen Aminatou and Kind Acastus Arkelander, also announcing him as the commander of the Dragonlords. Briar seized this moment to write up in the sky, “Praises to the Saviors of Ellandyr, the Five Immortals”, though it was quickly stricken from the skies by Acastus’s dragons.

Behind Aminatou and Acastus came Gaius, the commander of the League of Storms, Mikhaila the Amazoness, and the Oracle herself. Versi would be the judge of the Great Games. I swear I could see her eyeing Actaeon from here.

Acastus announced the beginning of the games as a custom for the Oath of Peace and his dragons as the future of the Emerald Isles. Aminatou spoke next, informing us that the Emerald Isles will only find true peace if we band together against the forces that threaten it. The Great Games are a symbol of the unity between Ellandyr, Altea, Novarra, and the other cities of the Isles. “Through fellowship, we need not war.”

Finally, Gaius spoke. He announced that the Great Games would begin with a tradition that the League of Storms had started long ago: the ritual sacrifice of a minotaur champion. He claimed it sanctified the Games, but we all knew better. In the center of the colosseum came a single minotaur to stand against five heavily armored soldiers of the League of Storms.

I quickly cast a spell to announce that this fight was dishonorable and would bring no unity to the Emerald Isles. We offered our own champion in the name of the queen to fight the minotaur alone. Actaeon stood up and wielded the mighty Axe of Xander above his head. The minotaur and the entire crowd around us chanted our names and begged the Oracle to allow it. Perhaps she saw that her love, Actaeon, would be fighting in front of the adoring crowd, or she was moved by my words. Either way, she smiled and nodded. Actaeon marched down to the fighting area and the match began.

Clio, Briar, and I were able to cast some spells on Actaeon to protect him before he went in. Clio sped him up, Briar made him more clear of mind, and I gave him a protection spell. I’m glad I did because that minotaur was terribly strong!

Actaeon drew blood first, darting forward with the great axe and slashing the minotaur across the arm. The minotaur tried to dance around Actaeon, but our friend was too fast. A few blows from the minotaur’s axes struck Actaeon, but Actaeon weathered the hits because of my spell.

Unfortunately, the spell is a strange one. While Actaeon is better protected, the two of us are bonded while it is in effect. An axe struck Actaeon in the shoulder and I felt the brunt of the pain. It knocked the wind out of me and brought me quickly to my knees. Rendu picked me back up. Shadow held my hand while he and Briar traded off casting healing spells to soothe me. Clio rubbed my back and sent happy thoughts into my head to help me feel better – mostly thoughts of the fun time we had on our picnic, or images of sunflowers.

The minotaur charged at Actaeon, but he rolled and slashed with his axe as he did. The minotaur was greatly injured and bleeding, and Actaeon – partially due to my protection spell but also due to him being a stellar champion of battle – weathered each of the hits. Finally, the minotaur was exhausted. His attacks weren’t working. Actaeon was bleeding but looked as strong as ever. With one final hit, Actaeon brought the minotaur down to his knees. He raised up the axe to deliver the killing blow.

Then Actaeon stopped. He turned to Gaius in the balcony and spit, throwing down his axe. “This is disgusting. This is barbaric. No minotaurs will die today.” Gaius and Acastus were shocked and the crowd fell eerily silent. All looked towards the king and queen, waiting for a response. But before they could, Dia cast a spell on Clio, and Clio spoke for us. She said the minotaur ‘sacrifices’ were an offense to the gods and were a crime against all, fey and mortals alike. The minotaurs were forced into slavery, even though Acastus tried to make it legal by changing the word to service. As a former slave herself, Clio knew their torment and life. She, on behalf of all of us, begged the queen to end this cruelty.

The crowd was on our side! The spectacle of the Heroes of Prophecy, fighting against tradition, against cruelty, challenged a minotaur champion and defeated him in single combat. And yet, we spared his life on behalf of all minotaurs in Ellandyr and the whole of the Emerald Isles. They chanted for us, pleading to spare the minotaur’s life and release the others. And Aminatou commanded it immediately. She announced to the crowd that it speaks well that the Heroes would make allies of the minotaurs and join forces with them to protect the people, regardless of how strange or unorthodox it seemed. To that end, the practice of minotaur slavery, servitude, or anything alike, would be abolished immediately.

We cheered with the crowd at the announcement. Actaeon shook hands with the minotaur and pointed to us. I don’t know if I’ll ever know what the two of them said, but they seemed in fine spirits after the bought. Actaeon gave the minotaur a potion and helped him to his feet.

My friends picked me up as well. My nose had been bleeding under the stress of the spell and my head was throbbing. I think the spell saved Actaeon! I gave a weak little wink in Clio’s direction and told her what I told her on our picnic: I told you I’m not afraid anymore.

The ceremonies concluded and Shadow carried me home. I’ve really struggled to write this all down before I pass out on my bed. I’m so utterly exhausted from that spell, but I’ve got to get used to it. I need to protect Torag. The Heroes of Prophecy need to win.

But I’ve shown my friends that we can do it. I can do it. I’m really not afraid. Not of Khar’shan, not of Amalj’aa, not of Gaius or the League of Storms, or anything else that the depths can conjure against me. For Clio, Briar, Rendu, Actaeon, Torag, and Shadow, I’ll be brave.

Really, though, I need to ask Briar for something for my head. Everything hurts right now! Yikes!