Part 64: Protect

14 to Wakening Sun, Inalis, 49 days remaining

Today was a bad day, I should think. Looking back, I don’t know how we could have better dealt with the situation, though. I think each of us lost something back there on the mountainside, and it has left us a lot more hurt than we might think.

The oread is gone. As soon as Father fired that arrow at Rendu’s behest, the oread panicked. Not because we meant her harm, but because she dropped Palladia’s Lyre. It snapped in two when it struck the ground, and a loud chord was heard echoing in the ravine below us. Her face paled as she looked on Rendu and whispered to him, “What have you done?” before turning and fleeing.

The charming spell she had over the soldiers and minotaurs faded instantly, and they looked around confused. The charm also wore off from the fire elemental behind them, one that I could not see from my vantage point here in the back. The elemental screamed in its primordial language and erupted into violent fire, its rage for being controlled by the oread turning into a festering flame of destruction. In an instant, the confused soldiers were left burned and blinded by the light from its body. Even from back here, I could feel the heat, uncomfortable and unholy.

Torag and Clio reacted first. Clio teleported Rendu out of the flames as the elemental went berserk. Torag rushed in, shield raised to block the fire, as he shouted to the soldiers, “Come! Defend yourselves!”, but his voice was lost in the cries of pain as the elemental erupted again, pressing against the confused soldiers.

We initially believed we would be fighting against these soldiers, mind-controlled as they were. Our task instantly became “protect them”. We tried, Heath. Kiora bless us, we tried. We ultimately failed, though.

Clio tried, but the unstable elemental’s mind was too far into a rage, and Clio couldn’t pierce it. Rendu tried, but his magic couldn’t slow it down. Briar tried to even turn it into something less destructive, but the elemental shrugged off the magic. Torag tried, but the fire was too hot so close to the monster. Kano, Actaeon, and Shadow tried to fight from a distance, but even as their weapons connected, it only further angered it. I tried to call out to the blinded soldiers to follow my voice to safety, but I was too late.

The unstable elemental finally exploded forcefully, and a resounding boom deafened us. Leo dove to protect me. When the heat was gone and replaced with the usual cool drafts of the mountain altitudes, I looked about and saw nothing but destruction. The soldiers had perished, the people we thought to protect. My friends survived, but were badly burned. Briar quickly began some healing ritual for those most injured as we looked about the bodies. Three minotaurs and a single soldier from the League of Storms survived. The soldier began to flee, and I followed him.

I caught up with him thanks to Leo just down the mountain a little ways. He was scared and alone, panicked from the explosion. Dismounting from Leo, I held my hands up and begged him to listen to me. His fellow soldiers died back there, and we needed to perform their funeral rites. I asked him to stay and help on the promise that no harm would come to him from us. He agreed, but I could see fear and distrust in his eyes.

He helped us gather the bodies of the fallen, and Briar paid out of her own pocket the gold coins for their eyes. She dedicated the fallen to Kiora (for the Alteans and the minotaurs) and Eos (a titan, for the League of Storms). Perhaps the soldier was humbled by this act of respect, and our intent was kindly and sincere. The scene was somber and quiet while Briar performed the funeral, speaking the words of the rite to the gods.

To the soldier, I said that I know our sides are opposed in an upcoming war. But as people of the Emerald Isles, even enemies can come together in mourning and wish for a better day. He agreed, and was thankful. I pulled out my map and showed him the way to Ellandyr, and offered him food or armaments if he needed them. He declined and made his way down the mountain, alone and cold.

If I get a chance to see that man again, I would like to apologize for not protecting his fellow soldiers better. Previously, Heath, I wrote that it was easy to fight the League of Storms. Battle has hardened me somewhat, just like Actaeon promised, and I’ve seen killing the League of Storms as a matter of survival during wartime. Today, it feels different. I couldn’t harm that man, even if my friends or my captain or my father ordered me to. Yet I know they would not have asked that of me. Ultimately, I desire peace. I hope that man survives the war and we can maybe even be friends someday. Is that too much of a dream? Is it wrong to dream that?

With the gathered pieces of Palladia’s Lyre, we ventured down from the mountain and back to the Mithral Forge. The minotaurs parted ways with us, eager to return to their families up north in Minos. Shadow went ahead of us, looking for the trail of the oread but he could not find her. Wherever she went, she won’t bother us again. It was night when we returned to the Forge and explained the situation to Azorius. He was saddened to hear of the loss, and promised to get to work on repairing the lyre the next day.

Father suggested we have a few drinks and try to move on, and I’m happy to write that we did… somewhat anyway. Ale and other spirited drinks were passed around. Torag, Kano, and I decided to play a little bit of music, and Briar and Clio got to dancing – though Briar was a little too tipsy, and I fear she may have squashed Clio’s toes. Rendu passed on the music tonight, lost in thought.

When it was time to sleep, Azorius and the dwarves in the forge offered to let us sleep there, giving us comfortable beds and quiet. I’m writing this here, now, while listening to my friends resting. From the space next to me, I overheard a short conversation between Azorius and Rendu. It was similar to one Rendu and Briar had on the road back from the mountains. Briar said she would have taken the action against the oread, too. All of us would have. But Rendu took the blame for it, and he explained this to Azorius, too.

Situations like this are hard, Heath. We’re good people. We try to be. The second tenet of faith is to strive to foster hope and light, and my mission, above all else, is to do exactly that. But bad things happen. Fate, it seems, has other stories to write sometimes, and we cannot blame ourselves for it when the story goes in a different direction than we would prefer. The weight that Rendu carries on himself for the loss of those people is too much to bear, and I believe Azorius explained this very well. It was not Rendu’s fault that the oread chose to charm an elemental, nor was it Rendu’s fault that she brought it so close to her. It was not Rendu’s fault that those people perished on the mountainside today. Perhaps it wasn’t even the oread’s fault. Mayhap she had the fire elemental with her merely for protection, and was panicked when she lost control of it.

What was the other outcome? To Rendu, the only way forward was to punish her for blasphemy against the Five Immortals and reclaim Palladia’s Lyre. If he didn’t order Father to take the shot, our other option was to cave to the oread’s demands. She wanted a new instrument, magical like the harp we acquired when I slew Boreas. Rendu refused to hand it over, but there was the option to make her a replica. And what then? Would she continue to control those people and leave them powerless and under her command forever? They were away from their families, friends, and jobs. Was it hellish in their minds to feel that they had no power over their own bodies or whims?

The situation had no winning scenario, and that is the truth of it.

I’m vexed, Heath. I wish things were different. I wish we could have protected them. But you know what Mother used to say? Wishes are for fishes, and we’ve yet to go to sea.

13 to Wakening Sun, Inalis, 48 days remaining

It’s a new day, and a beautiful day for hope renewed. I trailed off to sleep before I heard the end of Rendu’s conversation with Azorius last night. There is something new we must do! The crown of the dragonlords that we have must be used to bond our dragons to us while they’re still in an egg. Rendu will perform the ceremonies, and bond Actaeon to Malkarion and Briar to Zirconis.

Kano has left us now. We spoke briefly this morning about our plans. Briar mentioned that it may be wise for us to learn the Royal Game, a game of twenty squares in which wars and fate could be decided based on heavy wagers. Perhaps we can avoid war with Amalj’aa entirely? That’s something to seriously consider. Fighting against him and his army still seems like a fool’s errand at this point, but there may be options for us.

Oh, but Khar’shan must still be destroyed. There is no way around that. For Clio and Father, I will not move on that matter.

While discussing the Royal Game, it came out to Kano that we knew of the Twin Titans’ lies to the Emerald Isles and the Fey. To his dismay, he learned that the religion of his childhood was false: the Twin Titans did not create the fey, nor did they have their best interests at heart when it came to the Oath of Peace. Kano, reeling from this revelation, thought it would be prudent to publish this information to the fey on the main island. But we have to be careful with this, lest the information be seen as a smear campaign against Amalj’aa instead of the actual truth. Kano knows the chief of the Noya centaur tribe, the tribe we helped at the Forge here a while back. He believes the Noya can be pivotal to convincing the rest of the centaurs of the truth about the titans, perhaps enough for them to be swayed to join our side against them.

We gave some supplies to Kano to help him, and plan to meet him in a week’s time on the Golden Heart once we’re finished with Talys and the Island of the Fates. We will stay in contact with each other as often as we can. I’m glad we have him on our side. Not just as an ally to fight against the Sun’s Avatar, but against the tyranny and deception of the Twin Titans, too.

And that brings us to now! We’re on the Gjallarhorn again, about to set sail. The dwarves in the Forge helped me restock the medical room, and Briar and Clio are getting ready to make some potions again. Actaeon’s at the helm, Rendu and Shadow at his side. Torag checked all the weapons and talked with the sailors. We’re ready to head out again.

Onward to the Island of the Amazons. Talys, here we come! (oh boy, I hope things are pleasant there…)