Clio and I both called out to the Lady of Coins – “Please, my Lady, stand with us! We can make this right!” and – “We didn’t trust you, but we never intended your demise. Let us take an oath with you to protect you!”, but she mocked us as she hissed back “Swear an oath that I will be queen!”. That is something we cannot allow.
Looking back at this now, I fear I was naive. In the cavern passage below the sea, I had said to my companions that maybe the Lady of Coins lagged behind or had taken a grievous injury. I suggested that maybe she was unsure of the path and would catch up soon. Or that she might have sensed the hydra before us and elected to stay back – her plan, remember, was to be queen, and putting herself in danger like that could have been disastrous for her plans. Clio told me to stop apologizing for her and admonished me to remember the dark dealings she had made. She abandoned us. She betrayed us.
Will I always be this way? Before you came to the temple, a pair of twins had tragically become orphaned and joined us. The stories about them were dark – they were part of a thieves’ guild of some kind and pickpocketed people. But I, foolish little optimistic Flee, thought to make friends with them and offered them some sweets I had pilfered from the kitchens. I never told you what they did to me, Heath, but suffice it to say it was very unkind. You and Mother jeered me endlessly when I was a child because I was always so eager to see the good in everyone. So eager to give anyone I meet the benefit of the doubt. That will never change, though. I can’t help my optimism. People can change and learn and grow. I am not the same person today that I was years ago, just like those twins. They’re both Dawnbringers now, and last time I saw either of them, the sister was expecting a child with her husband.
Theft is something strange, and I regularly see the hypocrisy in me when I think back to my childhood. I was very deceitful, and I stole all the time. It was easy to do when I wore a mask and became whoever I wanted to be. I simply shifted into the form of one of the well-liked children and asked the kitchen staff for cakes or tarts, and they would happily give them to me. But when they weren’t looking, I’d steal a few extras. If they caught me, it wasn’t me with whom they were cross. It was the person I shifted into, my victim. On other occasions, I stole magical components from some of the Dawnbringer flats when they weren’t at home and were foolish enough to leave their doors unlocked.
Despite doing those things, something changed in me when we got married. All the foolish little things I did became a thing of the past because I wanted to spend all my time with you. I would still take am extra bar of soap from the bath house occasionally, but you were earning an income and we were comfortable. I learned to bake my own cakes.
And then those thieves took you from me. Those savages shot us and I survived. What drives a person to such things? Were they trying to help their own families? Were they hungry and needed food? Were they simply opportunistic and thought us easy prey? Whatever the reason, they never had the chance to repent and change. And I stopped my deceptions immediately. As I recovered from my injuries, I sometimes would make my way to the House of Healing at the temple if Mother was on call that day. If she wasn’t, I often thought about simply taking the potions we stored in the cabinets there. But likening myself, someone who stole because I simply wanted something, to them, people who tried and failed to rob us, made me sick to my stomach.
The fifth tenet of my faith is to shun the darkness, and I struggle with that now as I did back when you passed. I could change. I could give up stealing things for giddy reasons and live more authentically and honestly. And so can thieves. So can those that rob, or steal, or do all manner of unpleasantness. Anyone can be redeemed. Anyone can grow. So why not the Lady of Coins?
Shadow later told me that the Lady of Coins was lucky she was able to get away. He had two arrows nocked into Rare’s Thorn and was taking aim at her when she quickly vanished into the shadows. Instead, he put the arrows into one of the queensguards, then quickly climbed up one of the marble columns so he could better take aim at the others flying above us. I did my best to disable the fliers, too, my casting a spell of lightning from the gauntlet we recovered from Kroq-tor.
The Queen – Sotera disguised as Thesilea – removed her mask and tried to turn Actaeon and those around him into stone. Lamentably, the triceratops Actaeon had brought to battle was rapidly petrified, but interestingly, Actaeon turned himself into a triceratops via his magic helmet and started trying to gore the queen. Briar kept a fiery spell on the queen to slow her down, but the queen smiled through the pain as we continued to strike at her and defeat her guard. Even General Bradia, flying high on her own stimfay, was taking many injuries and wounds. Nothing seemed to be able to stop the queen.
The Lady of Coins foolishly tried to assault us again, but Rendu was ready for her this time. He fired a blast of white-hot magic, throwing her backwards. He called out, “We extended a hand to you, an offering of peace,” but the Lady of Coins spat at him and ran out of sight. But Rendu didn’t chase her. Our battle was here, and he knew it. With a quick prayer, he healed my friends so they could continue battling.
To my surprise, a high priestess of Khar’shan came at me when I wasn’t looking. She, a siren, flew to the top of a pillar and tried blinding me, but I shook it off. I called out for help, and Torag answered immediately by dashing up the pillar, grappling the priestess, and throwing himself with her to the ground. My friend, Leo, vanished in a puff of smoke as two of the queensguards came upon me. One landed in front of me and started swinging a sword. But something about that priestess targeting me had irked me so I stomped on the ground and waved by wand, sending a web of fiery magic after her. She turned to dust in Torag’s arms, and Torag quickly came to my aid, throwing off my attackers.
And then Torag did a thing. I don’t know what went through his head. Perhaps he wanted to get up higher to the other queensguards in the air on their stimfay companions. Or perhaps he just thought it was neat. Whatever the reason, he leapt onto the back of a stimfay and tried to force it to do his bidding. It did not. Or maybe he was trying to steal it? I don’t know. Anyway, it flew him up high into the sky and tried to shake him off. Torag instead did a nose-dive and caught another amazoness, bringing her to the ground in pain.
I performed some magic to heal mine and Torag’s injuries as Briar came over to us, dodging attacks from the last of the queensguards that Shadow was about to shoot down. Actaeon, as a triceratops, had done a lot of damage to the queen and the temple around us before he lost the form and instead picked up his axe. General Bradia and two guards remained on the queen’s side, but she smiled and laughed through the pain and blood drenching her clothing and armor. And then, her smile turned to stone. Briar forced a blast of wind at the queen, killing her, and causing her form to somehow turn to stone.
For only a moment, we thought we were in the clear. Bradia was gravely injured, and even if we lost the fight, she would die of her wounds anyway. The queensguards were both injured and likely to die of their own wounds, too. Even so, our half-a-second of peace was interrupted by the queen, Sotera, breaking out of her stone form and taking the shape of a monstrosity, enormous in size and venomously laughing at us. We were stealing her throne, and she wanted revenge.