Part 4: Sacrifice

4 to Burning Sun, Voelis

I had a nightmare. Sure, my dreams have been dark lately. But this was different. I heard a voice. She kept saying things about mocking me as one of the Oracle’s Chosen. I saw an old man, wrinkled and withered. The voice spoke about life dripping out of him while a large knife took his life. What would happen to his soul, she asked.

I woke with a start and found myself in the dark. I hate the dark so much. My mind was so muddled that I could not speak. At least, that’s what I thought at first. I wanted to cast a spell of light but I couldn’t speak the incantation. Did that ever happen to you, I wonder? I was very afraid so I lit Mother’s candle. It detected no further magic around me, but I wish I had left it burning all night. Why did I not do this?

I heard a cry from Shadow out in the dining hall of the tavern. Something was amiss, but I stayed in my room, afraid to leave. Shadow knocked at my door and barged in. I didn’t want him to see my stomach, so I quickly pulled a blanket over me. Looking back on it now, it’s so funny the gibberish I shouted at him as a rebuke for entering. He looked so puzzled! He made hand motions to get me to follow him out to the dining hall.

In the dining hall, I learned what was happening. We all shared the same dream! Clio was terrified. Briar could not speak coherently, like me. Torag was stuck in the nightmare and was trashing wildly on the floor. Actaeon had been frozen in place in his room, paralyzed but awake. Shadow was unaffected, somehow. He’s more resilient than the rest of us, I suppose. Dia had woken from the commotion and began casting restoring spells, freeing Actaeon and Torag from the effects. Briar and I could speak soon, too, after her magic.

Even when she is startled awake from a shouting tabaxi, Dia hair is so pretty! I should just Mask just her hair.

We were all afraid after the event was done. So much so that Actaeon spent the next few minutes putting on his armor and getting ready for a fight. But there wasn’t anything we could do, Dia explained. Khar’shan, the Lady of Dreams, was a titan and she was trying to put fear in our hearts. There was nothing we could really do to protect ourselves except get to Altea and fulfill our tasks.

The others stayed down in the dining hall (except Clio, I watched her climb a tree outside). I went back to my room. I figured, if Khar’shan could try to hurt me in my dreams, I might as well deal with that when the time comes. I’m still tired.

3 to Burning Sun, Voelis

Darling, not much happened today, thankfully. My head is still swimming from fighting those wretched bandits last night. And the shared nightmare from a titan.

My friends found me outside while I finished the Sacrament of Sunrise. I always feel so much better when I can perform the sacraments. Things will be better today. I want my friends to feel safe, even though we’re pretty shaken from the dream.

I have a list of things I want to do for each of them! I’ve never really had friends, apart from you. I wonder if buying them things is too much like trying to buy friendship. Remember that little girl at the temple when we were young? I gave her a copper once, trying to make friends. She then began to chase me and rob me whenever we met thereafter. But these people here are different, I think. I hope.

Mayor Thobos found us just as we were about to leave town. He thanked us again for our service and gifted me a pair of fishing rods and supplies. I presented them to Shadow. I’m so excited, he said he’d be glad to teach me how to fish! I really want to catch him a salmon. But I was not able to catch anything today when we rested at the river. I’ll try again tomorrow. I cannot believe I blushed that much when Shadow told me he’d teach me. Not that I like him that way, Heath. He’s my first real friend here, and I think he’s a true friend.

I made Clio a crown of flowers. It took me all day to do it. I was trying to work up the courage to talk to her. I still didn’t think she liked me much, but I had to try. Unlike my companions, there isn’t much that money could buy for someone like her that would be useful or helpful to her. Thus, the crown. I even put on a Clio Mask to see if it would fit properly. When I gave it to her, I apologized for wearing her Mask back in the Oracle’s temple, bringing to attention her injured ear. I even offered to fix it when I grow stronger. She accepted the crown, though I’m still not sure she liked it. Clio said she had accepted her injury now, and it was a part of her. Again, I’m awkward. I just kind of backed away and smiled. I’m such a fool, I told her that her hair was pretty and immediately stepped away. I should just keep my mouth shut.

Goodness, I’m so awkward around these people.

Shadow wants to try fishing again. I’ll write more later, hopefully.

2 to Burning Sun, Voelis

Well, I lied. I didn’t write more later like I said I would. Everyone spent the days chatting as we traveled again, but we really did not talk about anything too important. It was just travel, I guess. We met some merchants on the road driving a few oxen to Altea. The poor animals were so underfed! The merchants told us that the God King had asked for oxen as part of a very large sacrifice to Amalj’aa, trying to appease the titan god and stop the drought that is plaguing the countryside. Dia warned us privately that appeasing Amalj’aa is not a good plan. What sort of example does it set when an immortal god tries to appease a titan?

And no, I have not yet caught any fish. Shadow caught four.

We are in Altea now and I’m stuck in one of the guest chambers of the Palace of the God King. It’s so strange. I met a god today. It was… unexpected. Vaevictus is very handsome and tall, but he was bent over with wine when we first met him. It’s strange, he was seemingly having an argument with a statue. Outside, Dia had taken with her a small bucket of water. Here, she splashed it on Vaevictus and began to rebuke him for his drunkenness, telling him that wallowing in wine does not solve problems. While she did this, I conjured more water into the bucket, just in case Dia would need it.

Vaevictus was the God of Battle, but all he did was complain about the situation, which I admit is very dire indeed. The Lord of Storms would burn Altea to the ground if a sacrifice was not made to him. But the cost of the sacrifice was too great for Vaevictus to handle. Amalj’aa wanted his daughter, Anora, dead. She would be chained up to a rock at the edge of town in the river while a basilisk would eat her. If the sacrifice was made, the surrounding armies of centaurs (that he had apparently not seen in our travels) would leave the city alone.

Vaevictus could not give up his daughter. Apart from Torag – who had just met his father for the first time right at this moment – Vaevictus would lose his only connection to the woman he loved, Torag and Anora’s mother. The God King’s counteroffer for the sacrifice of Anora was to sacrifice fifty oxen to Amalj’aa instead. But he wasn’t sure Amalj’aa would accept it.

Anora must survive, he told us. She’s destined to be the real leader of Altea once the God King’s power eventually fades in time. The city of Altea depends on her survival. The God King – a literal immortal god – begged us to negotiate with Amalj’aa’s representative, the leader of the League of Storms, on his behalf.

I spoke privately with my companions. How on earth could we negotiate a deal of sacrifice between gods? Sure, being called heroes was a lovely thing, but this is not something we can do. We have no leverage here. I had begun to have a panic attack when Briar splashed the bucket of water on me. She chastised me for this. We’re supposed to be heroes. I’m stronger than this. She’s seen me in a fight and knows my true form. This panicked girl was not my true form. A lot of was said, but I was wet, angry, and terrified. I need to thank her for this later because it had given me an idea. I had to think this through for a moment.

Shadow said to us that he’d be willing to do the negotiations. He was a hero of prophesy, so perhaps he could offer himself as the sacrifice instead of Anora. We were (understandably) shocked to hear him say this. Then he said something that broke my heart. He knows what it is like to lose a daughter. He would be the sacrifice. That’s what heroes do.

I’ve much to learn from my companions. About bravery, heroism, and the like. I want to be brave like him. Like you before-

Briar then asked if we could get Anora’s opinion on the matter. Vaevictus brought out Anora. She is a beautiful girl, and yet had a very resolute look upon her face. Wisdom beyond her years. She told us simply that her sacrifice will save the city, so it needed to be done. Torag stepped forward and said what we were all thinking. He said that Anora’s sacrifice will not matter. Amalj’aa will use this as a demonstration that the God King can be controlled by threat alone. Anora could die now, and the rest of the city will burn when Amalj’aa makes his next demand. The God King was weak.

Clio had an idea. She asked if we could negotiate with the League of Storms about having our group, the heroes of prophesy and the Oracle’s chosen, defend her. Surely Amalj’aa would concede to this if we offered ourselves up as sacrifices with Anora, but had the chance to fight against the basilisks.

Then I had an idea. I told everyone that I could pretend to be Anora. With an Anora Mask, the real Anora would never be in danger! If we could defend Anora and survive, the city of Altea would be saved! If we perished, the real Anora would still be here to lead the city someday!

Vaevictus loved the plan immediately, and pleaded once again that we would negotiate this with the League of Storms. Their leader, Thaos, was in a guest chamber on the other end of the palace. Thaos. We knew that name. That’s the man who hired Korteva and her grunts to make a mess of the forest near Woodhike. Actaeon, who had been mostly silent this entire time (apart from the occasional jest at the God King), perked up when he heard the name. He gripped his spear tightly, but did not say anything.

Anora agreed to our plan and led me into her room. I’ve never been in the palace of a king, and the bedroom of a princess is amazing! There were so many beautiful tapestries and clothes. The clothes, Heath! It took my breath away! Anora was very quiet when she led me in here, but asked me if I was sure of what I was doing. I told her the situation was a win for her both ways. And, to reflect what Shadow had said, this is what heroes do. I had to be a hero.

She could hear the quiver in my voice and held my hand for a moment before finding me a simple dress. Well, she said it was simple. I think it is elegant. It is white and form-fitting, embroidered with amazing designs and symbolism of Vaevictus. I got dressed behind a screen to make sure she didn’t see my stomach. It’s been almost ten months since I- I can’t seem to make them go away. I can’t-

I look amazing in this dress. I really do. You’d like it. I think the others did, too. Actaeon whistled at me. I wonder if I can buy this from Anora. Assuming I survive, of course.

We went to Thaos’s guestroom and met the man who had caused so much turmoil in Woodhike. He’s what Shadow later explained to me is a sun elf, similar to the elves of Ylisse, but… sunny? I don’t really know. All I know is that I hated him the moment I saw him.

Bandits. I hate bandits.

But anyway, I won’t go into details. The League of Storms agreed to our negotiation. Amalj’aa would be most pleased to have the Oracle’s Chosen as part of the sacrifice. To make it fair and to make it a spectacle, we’d be allowed to bring our weapons and try to defend ourselves. But, because this is a sacrifice, we’d have our ankles chained to a stake on the sacrificial rock.

We reported this to Vaevictus, who brightened immediately. The sacrifice was to happen in two days. Our ruse would have to be absolute, so Anora was locked in her chambers and I was to wear an Anora Mask the entire time. It’s so funny, I kept confusing my companions because they kept mistaking me for the real Anora. This plan should work!

I feel awful for panicking earlier. I guess I’m still trying to be a hero, but this is harder than I thought it would be. Do you remember the stories Mother used to tell us? About the heroes who fought dragons, saved princesses, and defeated monsters. I need to get over myself. Briar spoke with me later and apologized for splashing me with water. But I thanked her because I think I needed the shock.

Well, I don’t have that much time to be a hero, I guess. I may be dead in two days. But Altea will persist. That’s the goal. If that is all I am able to do, then I think I can come to peace with that. Perhaps I’ll see you sooner than I thought, my love. I miss you so much. I wish you were here with me now. You were always so much stronger than me.

1 to Burning Sun, Voelis

Well, they all think I’m weird now. I don’t know what my companions think of me, but at least I can say I’m trying, right?

Vaevictus won’t let us out of the palace now. It makes sense why I can’t go. I look like the sacrificial offering. But that damned Thaos is spreading the story that the heroes of prophesy are going to be sacrificed to Amalj’aa tomorrow night, so the whole city is in a bit of an uproar. Uproar may not be the right word. There’s a perpetual dread over the city today.

But because of this, we cannot go out to the market to buy the supplies we need. I sent one of the God King’s attendants to go in my place. I bought a new shield for me. And I bought gifts for my friends.

For Actaeon, I bought him a pair of new javelins. He seemed to like them, giving me a laugh when I presented them to him. A nice laugh, though. He immediately added them to his quiver, but went right back to sharpening his spear.

For Torag, I had purchased a small waist pouch with a set of darts. Remember Eckoth back at the temple? That old man was a figher like Torag, but he kept a set of darts with him in case he had to fight from a distance. I thought Torag would like something like that. He accepted them, but didn’t say much.

I gave Briar a nice hairbrush set. She had asked me over a week ago if I could Mask her and show her how her hair looked. Well, I figured that some nice brushes would help her with that. Her hair is so long and pretty anyway. She smiled and thanked me. I last saw her tonight trying to brush her hair. It’s a bit of a tangle, though. If we don’t get sacrificed and die, maybe I can help her.

I had already given Clio the flower crown a few days ago. So today I just picked some new flowers from the palace grounds and gave them to her. I still can’t read her. I’m dying to know what she thinks of me. But I saw her wearing the crown, so there’s that.

And I had already given Shadow the fishing tackle. We couldn’t go fishing while stuck in the palace, so I ordered a fish pot from the palace’s kitchens for him today.

Dia gift was the most awkward I’ve been in a while. I got her a new quill and some new paper for her stories and poems. I told her I felt awful for the way we initially treated her. We thought of her as a burden, someone who tagged along that we’d have to save. But her magic had rescued us after our collective nightmares, and I felt bad ever since. She’s a part of our group, too, after all. She beamed at me and told me she’d use her new quill for writing our stories.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Actaeon spent a long time discussing something with Vaevictus, but they did so privately and I don’t know what it was about. Torag did the same, having a conversation with his father. I overheard only a part of that conversation because I was looking for the kitchen at the time. Something about Torag becoming the god of battle. That would be amazing!

Briar left the city today, despite Vaevictus’s warnings. She said she needed to talk to the chieftain of the centaur clans outside the city. His name was Braenor and it was very important that Briar speak to him. She returned an hour later, flustered and bothered. She kept touching the strange mark at her neck, but wouldn’t say anything. She seemed so sad. That’s when I gave her the hairbrushes. I think it lifted her spirits.

Tomorrow I’m going to either be a sacrifice, or I’m going to help my friends defy a god. Ten months ago, we were happy, Heath. What happened to us?

Day of Burning Sun, Voelis

Writing fast, don’t know how much time I have.

Thaos and his cronies chained our ankles to the stake on the sacrificial stone in the river. After they left, Torag broke the chains pretty easily and freed himself and me. Actaeon, Clio, and Shadow did the same. Briar turned into a fearsome little lizard somehow and just kind of jumped right out of the chains. It is fantastic how she can do that! A trio of harpies watched overhead. They were making Clio nervous and afraid for some reason. A few hours passed and the sun was setting as three basilisks came rising out of the water to attack.

I probably should have been shielding my eyes to avoid their gaze. Basilisks can turn you to stone if you look at them. I didn’t know that, but I managed to shrug off their magic anyway. I struck one with a powerful spell so Torag and Clio could hit it easier. Shadow kept the second at bay. Briar and Actaeon fought the third. Briar conjured some vines to keep it restrained while Actaeon and Briar’s spirit animal Grimalz the Thorncat – that’s a new thing! – killed it. As the basilisk died, Briar summoned a flame and the monster was immediately consumed in fire. I heard her shout, “You can have this one, Amalj’aa!” Torag and Clio each took a few hits before dodging back and regrouping. I said a prayer to the Morninglord and he blessed my companions with strength. Clio slashed with her psychic blades, ending the basilisk’s life. The third gravely injured Torag. His body began to tense up as the petrification process began, but he fought through it and slammed into the last basilisk, killing it.

I cast a spell of resistance on Torag to end the petrification process just as the harpies overhead screamed and descended. Clio was terrified! One began to sing and Clio was unable to do anything. She just trembled and stared. The singer was calling to her, and she began to move towards it. Actaeon held her back while the rest of us attacked. They were all targeting Clio, not caring much about the rest of us.

I blasted one harpy away with a bolt of fire. Briar conjured blades of ice and flung them at the beasts. Shadow kept his distance and was firing arrows. Torag stayed back, still reeling from the basilisk attack. One slashed at Clio and I saw a splash of blood. Clio fell to the ground, gravely injured. The other harpy was trying to move at her, too. Actaeon impaled it to keep it from moving, and it perished.

I shouted at the other as it stood over Clio’s dying form, ready to slash at her again with its horrible claws. I raised your holy symbol and a blinding light descended on the harpy, incinerating it and leaving it burned beyond recognition. Running to Clio, I cast a spell and tried to close her wounds.
When she was awake again, she began to cry. I wrapped her in my arms and cried with her. I can’t lose her. I can’t lose anyone. Not again. Stay with me.

Shadow picked us both up in a hug, both bringing warmth to an awful situation but to keep us at the ready. Actaeon, Torag, and Shadow moved quickly to bring together the bodies of the basilisks, immolating them as sacrifices to a god I know not. The rest of the night passed. No more basilisks or harpies came at us. At sunrise, I kept myself from performing the Sacrament, promising to the Morninglord that I’d do it once we were able to. The others did not speak. We just watched and waited.

Storm clouds are gathering overhead.