Part 60: Determination

3 to Verdant Sun, Inalis, 54 days remaining

I have long wondered our purpose in this quest. Some things make sense to me. For example, the marks on our bodies are indicative of our divine selection as heroes. The Oracle saw a vision of us fighting the titans. But why? What is the reason?

I think our story is justified as simply “good versus evil”. Is that too extreme? Is that too simplified? Maybe, or maybe not. History is told by the victors and, while I will try to remain unbiased as much as I can, I will sing the praises of The Five and will forever denounce the atrocities of the Twin Titans. There is no good that they have ever done. They’ve never made anything beautiful or praiseworthy that was for another being or people. They are meritless and without a spark of true divinity in them, and will be but a short paragraph in the history of Xerender, long forgotten by even the immortal, true gods of our world. That is their prize and destiny.

Let me recapitulate what happened in the throne room. 

Kroq-Tor was not seated when we arrived. Rather, he was astride a large and fearsome beast, a dinosaur with a muscular tail and large jaws overflowing with sword-like teeth. Beside him were a shaman, a fire salamander, and a small dragon of bronze, crowned in gold. Kroq-tor himself wore a golden gauntlet that crackled with lightning, no doubt a gift from his new god, the Lord of Storms. He spoke to us. “Heroes! Good sacrifices you will make.”

Rendu had a different idea, though. He brought out his harp and begged that the king would allow him to play a final tune to commemorate our war. At this point, I took notice of the other two in the room. Two nymphs, Meletis and Neritos, stood on our sides. They were like Clio’s sister Athis, raised undead by Khar’shan and swirling with dark energy. Clio, my heart, my friend, she stood resolved, though. Meletis and Neritos begged Kroq-tor to not allow the song. Kroq-tor hissed, “The Death Queen’s puppets do not speak for this one! Do as you will, soft one, and prepare to die.”

As I said, Rendu had a different plan. The melody on the lyre was soft but upbeat. He recited no lyrics. It was a beautiful song that filled us with determination. As he played, we heard Clio speak under her breath. “I won’t deal with them. Will you do that for me?” and Actaeon and Torag just nodded, silent and serious. A tear came from her eye as she stood tall and proud, the hero of the dryads. Orbs of spinning energy surrounded her as the song finished, and Shadow vanished. Rendu’s spell worked, and we began the battle for Fire Island. 

Clio immediately threw an arc of energy at the tyrannosaurus under Kroq-tor, stopping its movement, and it could only roar helplessly at us. The King roared, too, and let his lightning gauntlet fire a blast of energy. Kroq-tor’s minions moved to attack, but I pulled out the scroll I found back in a dragon hoard and read the words. As I did, magical locusts erupted from the ground beneath me and filled the air around Kroq-tor, the dragon, and the shaman. After I set up the spell, Shadow stepped in front to protect me, firing a volley of arrows into the shaman, leaving him gravely injured.

Actaeon sped towards Meletis and simply said, “Catch!” as he threw the Axe of Xander to her. Meletis flinched and Actaeon leapt up, retrieving the axe and slamming it down onto the ground around her. Meletis and the small firewalker skinks at her side fell to the ground, dazed, before she quickly teleported herself away to safety. Torag came upon Neritos, but whatever dark power that brought the nymph back to life was also protecting him. So instead, Torag grabbed Neritos and shoved him into my swarming bugs and Neritos screamed from the pain. Rendu followed up with his chakram, Razor of Lament, and injured Neritos further. 

Sel-Makor was a surprise when we found him in the prison cell, and his surprises continued here. He let out a guttural cry, “KROQ-TOR!” and leapt through my insect spell, shrugging off the injuries, and hacking at the tyrannosaurus with his great sword. He kept Kroq-tor and his mount in the swarm and the summoned locusts continued to bite and gnaw at them. As this happened, Briar, still worn out from her ordeal with the dragon egg, waved her sprigs of mistletoe. Sel-Makor’s body changed and he transformed into a gigantic brontosaurus – a new dinosaur for my book of dinosaurs I’ve decided to write – and began to easily weather the attacks from Kroq-tor.

The dragon flew through the swarm and cast a spell onto Actaeon, binding him with fiery shackles, but Clio rescued him with a teleportation spell. Actaeon promptly vomited and rushed back again to attack. He magically transformed himself, too, and became a raging triceratops! There are things transforming all over the place here! As he did this, the skinks began to swarm on Clio, but her glowing orbs of psychic energy blocked them. I threw a blast of fireball past her and took out a few of the skinks. Rendu jumped in to defend Clio, too, with a smite from his chakram. The two of them came back to the group as Triceractaeon (hehehe) rammed and gored the salamander until it exploded in a burst of fire and ash. 

The dragon came upon us as we were grouped together. It spewed a sleeping breath first, making us a little drowsy, and knocking Briar unconscious – which, in turn, caused Sel-Makor to become himself again, indignant and furious at the king. The next breath attack was fire but Rendu’s holy aura kept us protected. We woke up Briar and kept going!

Meanwhile, Neritos had teleported out of Torag’s grasp and aimed some spells at Clio. But Clio was already gone by the time he was there, and he cried out, “Stop running, sister…” Torag, frustrated, grabbed a few of the skinks and threw them into my insect swarm, killing them, just as Shadow drew his sword and slew the rest. But as they did, Neritos teleported again right up against Clio and began attacking. Again, though, Clio’s determination kept her from damage. She deflected his strikes without even looking at him, and instead threw blades of energy at the tyrannosaurus, slaying it and causing Kroq-tor to topple to the ground. He rose up enraged and hacked at Sel-Makor. Our injured Flamescar friend could not weather the blows and fell down, defeated.

Rendu threw up a shield of holy light and closed our wounds. Briar caused the dragon to wither and die, then caused golden leaves from it to fly through the air, healing Rendu in turn. Shadow shot an arrow through Meletis and she, in an instant of lucidity, whispered “thank you” to Shadow, smiled to Clio, and passed. Black energy, Khar’shan’s revenge, stung out at Actaeon, but he weathered the attack and charged – still in triceratops form, I might add – into Neritos. The same happened here. A moment of clarity and a smile to Clio before Neritos perished truly, finally free of Khar’shan’s twisted grip. 

Kroq-tor looked upon us with dread. His ego deflated, his confidence waned. Rendu shouted, “You coward!” as he ran down a hatch in the floor that led beyond. We won! The Firewalkers are defeated! All that was left was to remove Amalj’aa’s influence from Fire Island and restore rule back to Queen Iquala. It pains me to say or write it because I am never eager to kill, but it must be so: Fire Island will be secure and safe for the people here when Kroq-tor is slain.

Clio was hurting. She wanted to stay behind and tend to her family, Meletis and Neritos, and Briar was going to help her. But Rendu and Shadow asked for her help and to stay determined. Clio nodded and stepped down the hatch with us.

Kroq-tor was afraid, standing on an island in the lake of lava. He sneered but couldn’t intimidate us anymore. The lightning gauntlet, his divine gift from Amalj’aa, was raised and he began to charge powerful magic. It would kill him; no doubt, he knew that. But perhaps he thought his god would save him. It was not so. Our attacks weakened him further and further, and soon he was on his knees. Lightning surrounded him. Shadow called out, “Amalj’aa will not save you.” His arrow met the king in the mouth, and Kroq-tor fell dead. The lightning in his gauntlet erupted and injured us, but we weathered its storm.

It’s hot here, so near the lava. It dehydrates us, dries out our skin. And yet, there is moisture here. Clio is crying silently, stoically. The one I’ve fallen for is hurting, and I wonder how to comfort her. The Lady of Dreams continues to vex her without reason. Did Clio wound Khar’shan’s fragile, childish pride once upon a time, or did Clio cross her path and not bow low enough? Khar’shan is petty. But Clio? Clio is strong. She is brave and resolute.

As are the rest of us. I’m even including myself in this. Shadow and Torag still jump in front of me in fights, and I understand that. And I’ll always back them up. I can protect my friends much better now. I’m stronger than I ever thought I would be. We’ve all made it very far. 

I mean, look at us! We’ve all but exhausted our abilities today and we’re still standing here. The Firewalkers are defeated, their king is dead, and Amalj’aa has lost another ally. 

And we’re not done. We will make allies of the Flamescars, and I will have Mother help the Dragonborn send them aid. We have Altea and the people of Ellandyr on our side. Soon, we’ll have more. Our armies will stand against the storm, and the Twin Titans will be defeated. It’s going to happen. We’re going to save the Emerald Isles.

First things first, though. Clio needs a hug and we all need a drink.