Part 23: Strife

9 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Hey Heath. I missed you a lot today. Today was a bad day in so many ways. Things got… There were ups and downs. I don’t know how to summarize what happened today, but we have a very serious conversation coming up in this group. I was thinking we were becoming close-knit, like a family that you had described to me once upon a time. This was the most far from family we’ve ever been.

I fear for Shadow. I don’t want him to leave us. 

I should pick up where my last entry left off earlier today. Three dragons descended from the sky and landed at our camp in the mountains. It was both magnificent to see and terrifying all at the same time. I mean, think of it: dragons! They were copper in color, sparkling despite the sun not breaking through the clouds up here. Atop them were three centurions that Shadow said were captains from Ellandyr. One of them, Tarkon, presented us with a letter from Acastus, the King of Ellandyr.

“The situation in our great city grows more dire. Amalj’aa’s hurricane is relentless: the Great Games and the Debates are delayed, the ports are closed, and my people remain hiding inside their homes while the Lady of Coins’ thieves strike under the cover of night. Find the Heroes of Prophecy, for their aid may be invaluable, then return to Ellandyr immediately.

King Acastus Arkelander of Ellandyr

Tarkon was fine to let us speak to each other before making a decision, so we gathered ourselves out of earshot to speak. Something didn’t sit right with any of us. The hurricane in Ellandyr started almost two weeks ago. Why is our aid suddenly so helpful now? 

We questioned Tarkon and the other two captains and learned some very disturbing things. King Acastus strictly forbade these captains (who called themselves the King’s “New Dragonlords”) from returning to him without us. And yet, they were also forbidden from assisting us with anything while bringing us to him. That seems odd to me. The purpose of the order is to keep the dragons safe apparently, but if we are so important to the King that he would risk sending his dragons out during a hurricane, why are we not important enough for them to fight by our side? What would happen if we were accosted by an army of monsters? These dragonriders would be content to fly in the sky and watch us perish.

Clio had been reading their thoughts while we spoke and learned they were being very honest and forthright with us in their mission. That mission being that they had to just appease their king or face very dire consequences for failure. Anything they told us wouldn’t be the truth. Shadow, having had previous interactions with the king, knew him to be a ruthless man who sought after his own ego above anything else. 

It dawned on me at that moment that the king may be intending to betray us. Tarkon mentioned that the Courts of Ellandyr were in a standstill on what to do about the hurricane, and it seems that Acastus wants us to break the tie. Since it is clear he does not care about our safety, I think he means to betray our group by blaming the “solution” to the hurricane problem on us. Summoning us as he did, according to Shadow, makes him look good in front of his Court and his people. 

Wordlessly, the seven of us knew this was a bad situation. It likely isn’t going to be a trap, but we’re walking into a problem with the king. Here’s where the problem came up. Shadow, unfortunately, thought it would be wise to question these captains about this. I cast a spell of silence on him to shut him up. I regretted doing it immediately, but not because it was a bad idea. We don’t trust the king. We don’t want his servants, these “New Dragonlords” to know that and relay that information to their lord. Shadow’s questioning was leading to that information, and we had to have this discussion in private. 

I know I hurt his feelings when I did this, so I dropped the spell as soon as his shock had passed. We explained to Tarkon that we would go to Ellandyr, and he told us he was ordered to watch us from the skies while we traveled. That was fine, we decided, as we’d be able to talk amongst ourselves without them listening in on our words. Rendu joined us now, officially a part of our party. We sent Corinna and our dinosaur mount to Altea to finish our tasks there before she meets us in Ellandyr in a few days.

Shadow was furious with me and I hope I explained my reasoning well enough. Shadow was right to be angry, of course. I shouldn’t have been so rash. But I can’t help but think I did the right thing. We can’t give ourselves away like that with our incessant questioning. Obviously Shadow is right that we should question things. I just don’t think we should question it so openly to the servants of the king who we all believe will betray us as soon as he can. In his mind, he knows much more about the military and their chain of command than the rest of us, so he felt he could get more information out of them. 

I’m happy to write that Shadow and I made up pretty fast. I told him how much he means to me and that I was sorry for silencing him like that, and we each explained our process of thoughts. While we traveled, he told me about his daughter, Rare, and how much I remind him of her. She’s only five years old. It must be so hard for him to be away from her. I know what it’s like to lose your family. He asked me if he’s crazy, and I explained that I believe he’s just having a bad day. The titans seem fully invested in making life in the Emerald Isles miserable for people, especially us. Amalj’aa appeared in those clouds and took Mother from me, just as Khar’shan took River and Rare from Shadow. 

It was funny, as he was reminiscing about Rare, he thought about a bow he had given her as a present. She was learning to hunt with him as I understand it. Hunting requires good bow work. I laughed and said I could never hunt because I don’t know how to draw a bow. He told me I can go hunting with him with my fire magic. I can’t tell if he was truly inviting me to go hunting with him or not. Probably not, right? I don’t think I’d be much help hunting. If he remembers it and asks again, I think I’ll go with him. It might be fun!

While we were talking, we all watched overhead the whole day. The three dragons and their riders stayed above us, ever vigilant of our movement more than the sky around them. We all remember what Xander and Damon wrote in the journal of the First Order. The last dragon eggs were taken by the Foxtail centaurs and Xander and Actaeon had failed to recapture them. It ended with Xander’s demise and Actaeon’s disappearance. What became of those eggs? We know from the journal that the titans desperately wanted them.

Where did King Acastus’s dragonlords get their eggs if there are no eggs left? If the eggs fell into the hands of Amalj’aa and Khar’shan, it seems more than plausible that they are funding Acastus’s army. We are very worried, Heath. Is Acastus secretly in league with the titans? Is it a way for him to survive the end of the Oath of Peace? If Shadow is right and all Acastus cares about is his ego, is he siding with the titans because he believes our mission as Heroes of Prophecy is doomed to fail and he wants to be on the winning side?

We cannot trust the king. This is a fact. Something seemed fishy to us when we spoke with Tarkon. Now, it appears as though we’re walking towards our doom.

Okay, I’ve written some very dark things. Let’s focus on something good today, eh Heath? Here’s a good one: when we came to the jungles again after descending the path in the mountains, we found a note that Dia left behind. She left it for Briar, somehow knowing we’d be coming this way not long after she passed through.

Briar, tell me if you’ve heard this one:

I once heard of a centaur tribe that outfitted its warriors in burnished bronze armor. It is said that they were radiant to look upon. But they never wore boots, because it didn’t behoove them.”

Dia’s Note to Briar

It’s good, right? Dia’s pretty funny! I miss having her with our group. Briar, bless her, didn’t understand the joke at first. She ended up stuffing Dia’s note into her pouch so she can figure the joke out and pass it on to Herkus later. Really, she seems happy to know a joke! I wonder if she doesn’t know many more. 

In the jungle, we decided to stop for the night. A light drizzle of rain had steadily grown into a nasty storm by the time we were wearied, and it was wise for us to camp for the night. Shadow went out to set traps for food and to help Briar capture some animals for her new armor. Briar went about gathering seeds and plants. Actaeon, Torag, and Rendu began setting up a tent of sorts to keep the rain off of us, and Clio was using her powers to help them. I set myself to trying to divine if we would be safe here. 

The answer came to me very fast: we were in immediate danger. Shadow found himself surrounded by small raptor dinosaurs and began defending himself with sword and bow. Actaeon found a larger raptor, called a Ripjaw, and tried to pressure it to leave us alone. I summoned a blessing on my friends to watch over them as Clio forced the ripjaw away from Actaeon and Torag began throwing punches. Briar was angered that one small raptor had bitten and scratched her, so she summoned a monstrous bolt of lightning and fried it and its friends. Admittedly, that bit of Briar’s magic scares me. 

Rendu, whom we had not yet seen in action, came to Briar’s aid with a throw of his strange weapon, and Briar was… momentarily distracted. I should write more about this part here, but it’ll put me off topic too much. Suffice it to say: I think Briar likes Rendu.

With a bit of magic on my part, some cool Clio stuff, and Actaeon and Shadow doing their thing, we slew most of the dinosaurs assaulting us. I think they just wanted a quick meal, and we proved far to dangerous. Some fled, but the others-

I could have slapped Torag for what he did to Shadow. At least, I wanted to when this all happened. To be fair, Shadow was being… difficult. In the scuffle, one raptor had gotten stuck in one of Shadow’s snares. It was still alive, and Shadow suddenly decided he wanted it kept alive. Torag either misunderstood this or chose to ignore it. I’m not sure why, but he elected to instead kill the poor beast, regardless of Shadow’s arguing. Shadow and Torag got into a fight that left them both very bloodied. They exchanged some very harsh words and both left our group. Briar and I tried to intercede but it didn’t matter. In a flash, they were both gone.

It was already getting very dark. I know Shadow can see well enough in the dark, but I can’t and I couldn’t leave him alone like that, alone and angry out in the rain. I gathered the dead raptor that Shadow had meant to save and I followed him into the jungle. It was too dark, though, so I couldn’t find my friend. I lit up your lantern and tried to make myself visible to him as much as possible. I wanted him to see me create a cairn for what should have been his new friend, and I said a short prayer to the Morninglord to soften both their hearts to each other. 

I came back and overheard Briar and Clio talking. They’re worried about our group. So am I, now that I’m really thinking about it. What kind of adventurers are we? Remember, Heath, when we used to dream about this sort of life back when we were children? We were going to travel the world together, saving people and fighting off monsters, living day to day in taverns and inns, spending our coins on traveling gear and swords. This isn’t what I thought it would be. Obviously you’re not here, so that was never in my plan. But these people. I want to get to know them better, to be friends with each of them, to have people I can lean on and who can lean on me. What is going on here, though? This isn’t at all what it should be like. 

It’s killing me. Have I just been a fool this whole time, thinking that I’ve found purpose and family here? Am I just using these people as a replacement for you and Mother? Now that I have no family left, am I grasping at straws trying to create union where there is none? Shadow’s doubts in his head are so strong that he can’t think straight. Torag only cares for himself. Actaeon seems more than ready to die and leave us all. I barely know Rendu. Clio will never like-

I’m getting carried away again. I’m a mess, Heath. Like I said, I missed you a lot today. Besides, I can’t think of anything negative to say about Briar or Clio anyway. Briar is so honest – brutally, at times – but is the most pleasant and eager person I think I’ve ever known, apart from you. Clio is- I don’t know what to make of Clio, actually. She’s an incredible person, but I still don’t think she’d ever be interested in a monst person like me. As for the others, Rendu is great to have around, cheerful as he seems to always be. Shadow is struggling and I should help him. Torag needs space and to clear his own head. Actaeon, I think, had a good day today. Being away from the Necropolis made an almost tangible difference in his demeanor.

I joined Clio and Rendu in setting up camp for the night. Shadow had gone, so Briar asked Actaeon if he could help her skin the raptors for their hides. Shadow thankfully returned to us just as Actaeon began butchering the poor creatures and managed to teach Briar the proper technique for preparing the hides. We discussed how to bring Torag back to camp. I thought baking my cake would be helpful as Torag’s sense of smell is impeccable. Remember when we used to steal cakes from the kitchens? Cake helps me when I’m feeling down. I thought it might help Shadow and Torag, too.

To my surprise, I managed to make a pretty good campfire cake! Also to my surprise, both Briar and Clio had never had cake before, and I’m grateful to the Morninglord that it turned out as well as it did. Clio winked at me when she told me it was the best cake she ever had! Granted, she had never had cake before, but it was so kind of her to say it anyway! I’m going to make her another cake as soon as I can.  She’s so Stop it, Leef. That’s never going to happen. Why would she ever want

By the time I finished the cake, Tarkon and the others landed with their dragons and joined us for supper. I spared each of them a small morsel of cake, too, though I would have rather given it to Clio the others. Torag slipped back into camp as quiet as he could, avoiding Shadow and the rest of us. I think he got a piece of cake. I saved him one, and it was gone when I was cleaning up later. Tarkon told us he was eager to get back to Ellandyr and his family. He told us a few of the sights around Ellandyr. The bathhouse caught my ears. I need a bath. A real bath. Nothing in a river with Briar’s weird soaproot again. I want to smell clean! And, you know what? Let’s just say it. I want my companions to smell clean, too.

We settled down to sleep for the night. Shadow and I volunteered the first watch, though Actaeon stayed up, too. He wanted to speak to the dragons, but they were out of earshot so I don’t know what they were talking about. I saw Briar exchanging words with Torag. While I think Torag deserves a reprimand, I hope Briar wasn’t harsh on him. It was all just a misunderstanding and poor decision-making. I don’t want Torag or Shadow to feel like a pariah.

On the subject of Shadow, he and I spoke while we let the others sleep. Shadow explained his change of heart towards the ensnared raptor: catching the animals reminds him of home. His farm, somewhere to the west, was full of animals and he occasionally finds it difficult to kill them, even when he sets up snares to catch them. Torag’s confusion, we decided, may have honestly just been misunderstanding Shadow’s sudden change of heart, though his impulsiveness kept him from being rational about it. I promised Shadow that I’d be there for him if he ever needed to talk or needed anything. And I meant it. Earlier today, I told Shadow I loved him. I meant that, too. Not in a romantic way, Heath. Shadow’s like… what I had always thought a father would be to me. I should tell him that sometime. I know I’m not his son. Or daughter. Or whatever the blazes I am. I’m not that to him. But I hope he doesn’t mind it if I think of him…

No. Never mind. I have too much to think about right now. For starters, how do I confess to him that I betrayed his trust in me? The seraph robes from Azorius will be done soon. Keledone will be here in a day or two to deliver the product of my treachery. And what will I do then? Now I’ve seen how angry he can get when he feels slighted. Will he attack me like he did Torag? I won’t blame him if he wants to and I won’t block the attack with a spell. What’s another scar? I deserve it. I don’t deserve his friendship, love, or trust at all. Here we are, Shadow and I, sitting by the campfire, watching over our camp while everyone rests. He thinks I’m trustworthy. But I’m not. He could never be a father to me because I can never be a son to him. I’m a monster and I always will be. Sel Mara1 was right all along. I’m the villain.

Tell me it’ll be okay, Heath. Tell me it will be alright. Ith di wer dian, fehlim ve naam vur ifpesp sia jikmadator kornari2.

Shun the darkness. There is always another dawn.

8 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

I don’t normally like to write early in the mornings, especially before we begin a journey, unless something important happened. Like yesterday, I wrote a bit before the “New Dragonlords” showed up because I wanted to write about Rendu’s experience with the Horn of Selesnya. In the case of this morning, I mostly want to write about what happened after I woke Clio to watch camp while I went off to bed.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping again, same as always. Nightmares, but nothing new in that regard. I tossed and turned, struggling to sleep, and was kind of eavesdropping on Briar and Clio talking. They were speaking fey, but I’m picking up on a lot of their conversations now. Verb tense is still a challenge, but I can gather context from nouns alone. 

I was right! She does like Rendu! Briar, I mean. I don’t know who what Clio likes. Briar doesn’t know it, though, which makes this so cute that I have to write it down right now before I forget it. She gets butterflies in her stomach around him just as much as I do around– Nope. None of that. Clio suggested that her blushing is a reaction like an allergy, and I almost started laughing. They started talking about Briar’s hair. The etiquette book I got her is going well. She’s since memorized many passages in the book and is currently trying to groom herself and practice good hygiene. She asked how Clio gets her hair so pretty (which it is!). And here’s where things took a weird turn: Actaeon, who had still been awake until this point, spoke to them in fey.

Wait, that can’t be right. Actaeon doesn’t speak fey. Does he? No, he’s never joined in their conversations before. Has he? No, wait, that’s not right. I must have been still very tired. There’s no way Actaeon speaks fey, too. 

The captains are up in the air again. I better put this journal away and help unpack camp. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.

1 Elvish: literally “High Priest”. In this context, it translates more accurately to “High Dawnbringer” or “Dawnmaster”
2 Draconic: “Morninglord, grant me wisdom and calm my troubled heart”