Part 8: Preparation

6 to Verdant Sun, Voelis

Today was a lovely day. At least, I think it was. As a party, I believe we have grown closer together and are better for it. Individually, we are broken people to a degree, but together we are formidable. A lot of things happened as we prepared for the next leg of our journey. I’ll do my best to explain everything.

We started the morning by visiting Aesop in the Dragonshrine. Dia left us and said she had business to attend to in the amphitheater. As we approached the shrine, we saw a large crowd gathered. There was music and singing and clapping. The people of Altea know us now and they cleared a path to allow us through. The music and dancing came from a group of four satyrs. One of which we recognized. It was Loreus, the satyr that had a fondness for Briar!

Loreus separated from his fellows and thanked us again for clearing the evil in the Mossy Temple. He gave each of us a unique gift. Torag got some strange red stone. Shadow received an ink pen. Actaeon got a wool cloak that he immediately wore. Clio was given a figurine of a warrior woman. I got a walking stick with dragon carvings all over it. Its design is exquisite! Briar was given some strange green wood material that she told me was called Verdant Wood. Shadow told me it was a queenly gift!

At the Dragonshrine, Briar asked if we could speak to Aesop alone. In an antechamber, I returned the Horn of Selesnya and we told Aesop about our vision. His face both darkened and lighted up when we spoke to him, and he gave us a little bit of history of the Dragonlords and the Horn of Selesnya.

Here’s what I understand about it. The Dragonlords were the protectors of the Emerald Isles over five centuries ago (to which Aesop was a witness; he’s an extremely old elf!). Aesop knew each of them personally and was saddened when they passed into legend. Selesnya was the dragon of Xander (my spelling may be inaccurate here, my love). When Selesnya died, her Dragonlord was striken with grief and passed on shortly after. The leadership of the Dragonlords passed to the Arkelanders, Estor and his brother. After this point, the Dragonlords were less focused on protecting the people of the Emerald Isles. Instead, their focus was war and control of the Isles themselves. Selesnya’s horn became a magical relic that passed through many hands until a stranger gifted it to the Dragonshrine in Altea not long before we came here.

At this, Aesop asked us of a great service. We made an oath with him to deliver the Horn to Queen Aminatou, the goddess of wisdom who is apparently somewhere around Ellandyr. She would be able to use the Horn for the good of the Emerald Isles. King Acastus of Ellandyr is trying to revive the Order of the Dragonlords and would that these Dragonlords bent the knee to him personally.

We resolved to keep the Horn of Selesnya with us until we could complete our tasks set forth by the Oracle. Once they were done, our mission would be to submit the Horn to Aminatou. Aesop called us the Chosen of the Oracle – that which we are – but also called us Destined. Destined to bring to pass the Order of the Dragonlords once again.

And then, the most wonderful thing happened! Briar pulled out the Owl-Squirrel form of Herkus and asked Aesop if he could break the curse on her friend. Aesop happily did so with a spell scroll. A dark cloud around Herkus appeared and shattered, and Herkus became an old, grizzled gnome. We gave Briar some space as she reunited with what I later learned was her teacher and friend. Briar looked so happy and friendly, such a change from her usual demeanor. Especially with a mortal! Herkus was exhausted from the ordeal, so we gave him a key to our block of rooms at the Dragon Tooth Inn to sleep off his weariness.

We left the Dragonshrine, though I hung back for a moment. I showed my new walking staff to Aesop and asked him about it. The idea of me – a changeling and outsider – as a future Dragonlord scared me a bit, so I had been fidgeting with the staff. Aesop was in awe at it. It was not magical in any way, but it was intricately carved with the five dragons of the Dragonlords! I noticed a small tear in Aesop’s eye as he looked upon it, and he thanked me for the chance to remember them.

We approached the Agora market of Altea and split up. I needed to purchase some spell components. I will not let Clio be hurt in that way again. Shadow came with me, and we followed Torag. He knew a coin exchanger that would give us money for the items we recovered from the Mossy Temple. Briar, Clio, and Actaeon went to visit Azorius, Torag’s grandfather.

In the market, Shadow and I followed Torag. While he was exchanging the goods for coins, Shadow and I noticed a strange and dark figure in the market, standing apart from the crowd, staring specifically at me. He beckoned to me and I approached.

There’s something odd about this man. His voice was… so strange. He called me by name, though I was wearing your Mask, Heath. He knew our surname. He knew the Morninglord – a god unknown to the Emerald Isles! He offered to me a stack of seraph skin, the same magical material that the high priest wore at our temple. When I questioned about the cost, he told me that he sought no wealth nor coin. His price was an oath of service.
I couldn’t do it. I wanted those skins. But… Shadow kept whispering in my ear about how unnerving the man seemed to him. So I walked away. He called to me and told me that I would want this material. He’s not wrong.

Torag had finished the exchange when Shadow and I returned and he split up the money. I purchased some divining coins for a fortune-telling spell that Mother taught us after we were married. I also had to find some platinum rings, one for me and one for Clio. But the merchants all told me that only Azorius had them for sale. I left Torag and Shadow and made my way there. I saw Briar, Clio, and Actaeon along the way. Actaeon was wearing his old armor again. Briar and Clio were laughing about it. I guess Azorius was not terribly happy that Actaeon got the armor ruined so quickly. Azorius loaned Briar a magical haversack, so we quickly stuffed the Horn of Selesnya into it, along with some of my costumes.

We separated again and I found Azorius working in his forge. He sold me the rings and I made my way back to the market. But I stopped and found an empty alley. I drew out the divining coins and cast them. I asked the Morninglord in a quick prayer – “What will happen if I make that oath?” The Morninglord answered me with the coins and promised that it would do me well.

It wasn’t hard to find the Stranger again (Stranger is what he called himself). Now that Shadow wasn’t here and I had my answer from the Morninglord, we made the oath. The Stranger promised this would be to my benefit, but did not explain how. I asked him when he would call upon me to hold up my end of the bargain, but he only said he would find me. I glanced at the seraph skins, trying to keep a level head as I beheld them. They were magnificent! They were so rare in Ylisse! I wonder how the Stranger came about them. Before I could ask, I looked up again to him but the Stranger had vanished, either lost in the crowd or through magic.

I found my friends coming out of an alchemist’s shop. Briar and Clio had procured a potion-maker’s service in making some poisons from the plants they had collected at the Mossy Temple. Shadow and Torag purchased some potions. Actaeon had gone off on his own and came back with a new supply of javelins, ropes, and an entire battering ram strapped to his back. It’s gigantic, but he’s evidently strong enough to carry it without difficulty.

Our preparations for the journey done, we returned to the Dragon Tooth Inn to discuss where our journey would now lead us. We had a couple of roads ahead of us now. Our two remaining heroic tasks were to go to the Necropolis at Telamok and recover the weapons of the Dragonlords, or to go to the Obsidian Sierras and relight Azorius’s Mithral Forge. We cast our votes in a draw. Actaeon seemed insistent on not going to the Necropolis. I didn’t want to tell my companions that the reason I wanted to go to the Forge was because maybe Azorius could make me something with my new material.

Actaeon, usually quiet and collected – except in battle – was very animated. He adamantly did not want to go to the Necropolis. Clio stood up to the towering man and ushered him outside to speak to him privately about it. Shadow tried to listen in on their conversation but was frustrated to learn that the conversation was telepathic.

Meanwhile, Briar and Torag and I spoke. Briar had bought me some special lotion. She said it was because I kept changing my face, so she wasn’t sure if it dried my skin or anything. It’s such a wonderful gift because, yes, it does make my skin dry! She’s so thoughtful! She really is in a much better mood now that Herkus was well and quietly snoring in the next room over. I asked her if she and Clio might be willing to teach me Sylvan. She told me to purchase a few select items from the market – pens, some paper for practicing, and more – and she’d be very happy to help me learn it.

Torag laughed at the notion. Up until this point, I honestly thought he was fey. But no, he’s a mortal that is stuck in the form of a minotaur. He and Briar have always had a strange animosity towards each other, but it seemed much more playful now. He suggested (and Briar agreed) that my learning would be well spent in learning the lore of the Emerald Isles, its history, its pantheon, and the like. So, now I have teachers! Briar and Clio will teach me Sylvan, and Torag will help with history lessons!

Actaeon and Clio came back in. Clio looked sullen and told us she would vote for the Forge as well. She did not say why, but that Actaeon needed some time before he would be prepared to go to the Necropolis. Our plans were made. At dawn, we would make our way south towards the Obsidian Sierras. Torag and Actaeon had the directions to it. Our next task was to relight the Mithral Forge.

Shadow was frustrated. He had cast his vote to go to the Necropolis and was unhappy with the consensus. So he had decided to go to the river and catch some fish. That seemed to me like a great way for our group to bond together! Clio and Briar were about to leave for the vineyard, but I asked them and everyone else to come with us down by the river and join us for some fishing. Neither Briar nor Clio ate meat, but I think they have grown closer to our group. They happily accepted the invitation.

And so, the Heroes of Prophecy… went fishing!

Oh, Heath, you would be so proud! Remember when we would go fishing as children? You caught maybe a pair each time, but I never caught anything. Today was the first day I ever caught a fish! It was so funny, too! Briar, who does not eat fish, was trying to give me pointers while Clio was picking sticks and nuts out of Briar’s hair. Briar was telling me where she thought she saw fish in the river and to be patient.

And then, I caught one!

It was pretty small, but it was something! Clio clapped when I pulled it up! Shadow laughed and congratulated me. It’s wonderful!

Shadow had a different way of fishing. He stood on a rock in the center of the river and slashed with his claws. He pulled up three very large fish. Actaeon stuck a pair with a well-placed javelin. The strangest was Torag. He found his own rock in the river and closed his eyes, meditating quietly. For an hour, he did not move a muscle. Then, quick as lightning, he jabbed his hand into the water and pulled out an enormous fish!

Briar made us a bonfire and we sat on the beach of the river, happily speaking with each other and enjoying the sunset. I performed the Sacrament of Sunset, and explained its purpose to my companions. Torag talked about being uncomfortable around Azorius in his minotaur form. Shadow was telling us about the best ways to roast fish and how to properly debone them. Actaeon was quiet for the most part, but chuckled at the appropriate moments in our stories. Clio told us about the jungles in the area and the best paths to take. Briar was just happy Herkus was well again. She raised her staff and made some bird songs for us all. And all the while, my companions told me about the Emerald Isles. I learned some more of its history and the Dragonlords. I learned about a few of the oaths and how my Oath of Friendship with the people circled around the bonfire was seen in the eyes of the gods. I learned about the relationships between fey and mortals and how that relationship was often strained. I learned the names of the Five and what each of them meant to the people. Most of all, I learned that after just a month and some days with these people sitting with me, I was in the company of friends for the first time in my life.

I gave Clio the ring. I guess I was kind of awkward when I gave it to her. She didn’t know what it meant between us, but I assured her it was for a protection spell. When I cast the spell on our rings, I could create a magical ward around her. With this spell, I could protect her. She accepted the ring. She’s still wearing the crown of flowers in her hair. Briar keeps casting spells on it to make the flowers bloom.

We made our way back to the Dragon Tooth Inn at nightfall. Briar and Clio returned to the vineyards to sleep while Shadow, Actaeon, Torag, and I found our rooms for the night. It’s been a long few days. The fights at the Mossy Temple, the town of Woodhike… In another world, I would have been horrified at these events. I mean, I still am. But I feel better now. Especially since we had such a lovely time at the river.

4 to Verdant Sun, Voelis

Wow, what a day. Shadow and I are injured pretty badly. I won’t have any scars. At least, not anything new apart from what I already have. But we’re okay. We’re okay.

We left Altea this morning. Briar said her goodbyes to Herkus and we departed. I kind of wanted to see the last play in the Amphitheater just so I could see that pretty actress again, but Clio assured me again that the actress was only interested in Heath, not me. That’s okay, though. I’m not interested in her. I’m inter That’s fine, I’ll learn about the Gjallarhorn in some other way. Dia promised me that we’d find some other information down the road at some point. She mentioned that the script used in the play may not have been complete anyway. That makes sense. Dia, of all people, would know that.

The path took us off the main road out of Altea and towards the mountains. The terrain here in the Emerald Isles is beautiful, just like that man back home told us it would be. The trees of the jungle around us thinned out as he followed the river into the mountains. The ground was rocky most of the way.

Shadow found paths for us to take. I think I’m the most ill-prepared out of all of us here. Shadow moved through nature as easily as Briar and Clio. Torag, I think, can meditate while walking, so nothing was frustrating him. Actaeon just kicked rocks out of his way. I’m the only person who is much more comfortable in a city with a soft pillow and a warm candlelight at my bedside.

The sky was dark towards the mountains and it darkened as we got closer. At first, we thought nothing of it. But when the sun had set, we barely noticed. The sky was black as night far earlier than it should have been. We thought we saw lightning in a flash of silver. But instead, we saw a great silver dragon. It hovered above us for a moment. A man was astride the dragon, wearing the long blue colors of the Lord of Storms.

He called to us. “Give up on your quest and bend the knee to Amalj’aa!”
Another voice, deeper and darker, “You work against forces beyond your comprehension.”

The dragon flew away in a flash of lightning. The lightning illuminated the earth around us and we caught a glimpse of six centaurs, dressed to kill, approaching us with weapons drawn.

Briar cried out seeing them approach, and she took a reflexive step backwards. Torag and Shadow reacted first. Shadow broke away from our party and fired his bow, injuring one who charged at him with a pike. But as he was struck and his blood splashed onto the rocks around him, a protective barrier from Clio blocked part of the attack. Torag leapt forward and launched himself at a centaur, knocking it back and stopping its charge.
The other centaurs targeted each of us. Actaeon blocked with his shield. But as he did, I could not see around him. A centaur came at me from behind and struck me. I tried to block the attack but couldn’t do it in time. Clio used her mystic powers and blocked arrows coming at her before throwing her psychic blades. Actaeon took a few steps back and launched his lightning javelin, gravely injuring three of the enemy centaurs in the blast.

Briar was crying at this point. She told us amid tears to do what we must. She transformed into a giant snake and attacked the centaur in front of her. It fell, dead by the poison of the fangs. I brought up your holy symbol and summoned the Morninglord’s light, knocking the other centaurs back. Shadow continued to fence with the centaur on him, trading blows between his swords and the centaur’s pike. Torag, with a leap, jumped into the air and landed a heavy kick to the centaur he fought, killing it.

Three centaurs remained. Seeing us overpower them so easily, they fled. Shadow killed the centaur engaged with him before she could run away. Two survived, both heavily injured.

Shadow and I were bleeding badly. We patched each other up with some quick magic before falling to the ground, now exhausted and trying to catch our breath. Briar begged Actaeon to leave the corpses alone instead of severing their hands as he usually did. She laid gold coins on the eyes of the fallen centaurs in a ritual, leaving them for the Ferryman. We needed to move on, so we stopped for a short while here on the side of the path.

One thing is certain to us now. Amalj’aa, Lord of Storms, is doing all he can to stop us now. I think, perhaps, because he knows that we are destined to succeed.