Part 16: Vapor

Day of Verdant Sun, Voelis

I have just a short chance to write tonight. Everyone is sleeping now, some a little more restless than others. I am happy to say that we all are doing well for the time being. Actaeon did something bad to everyone else, but they’ll sleep it off. Well, I hope so.

So here’s what happened after we slew the troglodyte king.

The forge stunk terribly still, being full of dead troglodytes. I asked Azorius if he thought it would be okay for us to put the bodies down the pit. That’s when we learned that he knew nothing of this pit. That pit was apparently his room in the forge, but now it is a seemingly bottomless hole to nowhere. Torag and Azorius talked about it perhaps being a tunnel used by the Primal Tide, an elder being supposedly created by the titans to combat the dragonlords of old. He suggested we seal up the tunnels leading to this pit, and asked us if, when we return to Altea to restock our supplies, we could ask his crew to join him in the forge.

At this point in the darkness, I finally was able to see how pallid Torag and Actaeon looked. I brought them back to the rest of the group and Briar and I performed some medical miracles on each of them. Everyone was looking much stronger now as we helped remove our fallen foes. We were especially worried about Torag and Actaeon. The two of them had been very badly injured, but they both shrugged it off when we healed them. It’s so strange how they act like a new scar is nothing to worry about. Funny thing, scars.

During this time, Azorius recognized the wand and circlet Actaeon had found. I acquired a brand new wand that shoots miniature blasts, and Clio got a circlet that would make her smarter. Or something like that. I don’t know exactly what it does, I guess. The circlet stunk pretty bad, having been worn by the slimy king, so she was using her psionic powers to float around the room, trying to shake it off.

Azorius began a long explanation of why the forge was important to us, the heroes of prophecy. Our task was to use it to craft the tools we will need to fight the titans. The gold we need as part of the cost isn’t to pay him. He pointed out how dragons – even those from my part of the world – were driven to hoard gold. The reason for that is because gold has magical properties innately. Magical items don’t cost a lot of money because they’re rich and fancy instruments, but because they’re built of magical materials. Azorius also explained that he can craft magical items for us with special materials (like my seraph skins), and that he could do it for a fraction of the regular cost of gold because it would bond to the soul of its bearer.

That left us with perhaps more questions than answers, but we landed on this eventually: we had magical materials and Azorius was going to use the forge to make things for us. Clio was going to have something made of the flowers she found in the caves yesterday. I would be having some new robes made. And Briar would have a shield made from the verdant wood that she was given by Lorius. Briar eventually decided to relent on her purchase, though. The cost is more than we can afford right now, but we’ll be back in a few days and she will place her order then. Actaeon, Torag, and Shadow each have some weapons they want to get made, and Azorius will be getting information to each of them individually.

We had to rest and get ready to leave for Altea, but Azorius suggested we take a day to rest first. He talked about some game we could play tomorrow afternoon. I think that’s a lovely idea! But as it turns out, Heath, that wasn’t going to happen. Absolutely no rest was had for us tonight! Not after what Actaeon did to everyone. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

So, Torag and Actaeon chose to stay in the forge and continue cleaning. Actaeon wanted to talk weapons, and Torag was helping his father and Dia. I’m not sure what they talked about.

Meanwhile, the rest of us went back to the outside world. We had Cindra come with us as she needed some time away from the caves. I think she needed some fresh air and diversion. I set up a game of Fire Stick and we had a quick competition. You know what? The Fire Elemental girl won. Can you imagine that? My fire spells are kind of pathetic in comparison, but I really missed playing this game. Last time we played was… two years ago? Right after we got married, I think.

While Clio was washing the circlet over and over, Briar and Shadow had a conversation. I couldn’t hear much of what they were saying. They were talking about family, though. From what I overheard, Shadow’s family is gone somehow and he sometimes doubts they were even real. Briar spoke a little about her family when she was a child, and that Shadow reminds her of her father.

We were getting ready to rest for the night. Shadow asked me if I would tell everyone a story from Ylisse. He wanted a scary story for some reason. He returned to the forge to get Actaeon and Torag. I was trying to think of one of the stories I heard when Shadow returned. Torag had shapeshifted into a large bull and Actaeon was astride him. When Torag became himself again, I was ready to tell my story.

But Actaeon did something else instead. He had previously asked Briar to find a certain kind of weed for him. He threw it into the fire and strange vapors filled our nostrils. Briar and I instinctively backed away, but the others got a lungfull of the vapor and began to be very lightheaded. And Actaeon took off his helmet.

He’s… I guess handsome is the right word. He’s not my type, but I get I get why he’d be attractive. His hair is longer than I imagined and his eyes are a vibrant blue, very visible even at night. He told us a story about how he was one of the first dragonlords over five hundred years ago. The dragonlords committed many atrocities in their time, all in defense of the Emerald Isles. As a dragonlord, he would be reviled if people ever saw him or knew who we truly was. That’s why he hid his face from us. Not to hide from us, but to protect us from people who would use us to get to him.

Shadow, Clio, and Torag started asking questions. And only then did Briar and I realize how out of their heads they all were. Their speech slurred, they wavered in their seats, they couldn’t seem to focus. Someone asked about his dragon. He said it gave its life for him and is perhaps the only reason he’s alive. We also learned that the reason he was with the Oracle for so long was because she bewitched him and has been a romantic slave of hers for centuries. He doesn’t want to go to the Necropolis because his friends from over five hundred years ago are buried there, and he feels intense guilt for not being interred with them.

Finally, Actaeon gave me a charge to never shapeshift into him. Doing so would put me at a horrible risk. There are some who, even after five hundred years, would still come for him. And if I looked like him, I would be unlikely to survive. I promised him I would never wear his Mask. And I promised to everyone else the same thing. On my honor, I will never beguile anyone with the faces of my friends.

The vapors from the strange weeds were becoming stronger. Briar and I kept backing away, and the others got worse. I guess the scary story will have to wait. Actaeon passed out on the ground, overcome by the scents. Shadow broke into a mad sprint and Torag followed him. Clio, with her new and amazing ability to float, just sort of drifted away and out of sight.

Briar and I checked on Actaeon to make sure he was comfortable. We put his helmet back on him and set out to find the others. Shadow was easy to find. In his stupor, he found himself on a rock and was trying to sneak around. It was far to easy to spot him. I dragged him back to camp and laid him down on his bed. Briar came by not long after, carrying a dazed Clio. Clio and Shadow cried in their respective oblivions about the lack of salmon in our camp, clinging to a stick that Clio thought was a fish.

We never found Torag. He’s still out there. Somewhere. He’s pretty strong. I’m sure he’ll be okay.

Briar’s gone to sleep now, and Triple is snoring quietly nearby. He gorged on some troglodytes before we brought him out of the caves. Clio, Actaeon, and Shadow are finally asleep now. As I wrap up writing all this, I feel I’m starting to get a little sleepy myself. I need to prepare some spells for tomorrow and-

15 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Damn that Khar’shan! Damn her!

I hate the feeling of confusion when I wake up, and Khar’shan just… I hate seeing Clio so distressed. Or Torag inert like that. Or Briar shaking as she was.

The Lady of Dreams appeared to us again, telling us that ignorance would put our worried minds at ease before showing us a horrible image of a man that… I won’t even describe it, Heath. She’s an awful being. She tried to cast some magic on us again. Shadow, Actaeon and I resisted it, but the others were not so fortunate.

Briar woke with horrible shakes. Clio was having a fit of fear and paranoia that my magic could only help so much. Torag was unconscious out in the fields and Shadow had to drag him back to our camp. Dia came to help us by casting the spells to make Torag and Clio better. I’m such a fool, why didn’t I prepare that spell last night! I had bookmarked it in the scriptures, too. Why didn’t I think of that?

We had a long conversation about Khar’shan. She kept trying to intimidate us. To fool us, or to stop us, whatever she wanted to do. Amalj’aa was doing the same. It is my guess that they’re afraid that the Oracle’s prophecy is going to come true and we’re going to defeat them. They’re pulling out all they can to stop us. But they won’t be successful. I’m afraid I couldn’t convince the others, though. They were all very afraid of what Khar’shan might try to do to them next time.

Dia suggested we find a Sun’s Avatar and sacrifice it to Kiora, the goddess of the dawn. It’s not a bad plan, but it is going to put our plans of getting to the Necropolis on hold. So much for relaxing by the river. I was excited to play whatever that strange sport was that Azorius mentioned yesterday.

While we started packing up camp, I had to finally speak to Clio. Back in the forge, I betrayed the party. She and Shadow were… the ones I feared the most to offend. I can’t believe I’m such an… what Clio called me. I apologized to her. I did something untrustworthy, something that should not happen between people who take an oath of friendship with each other. I begged her forgiveness, and she accepted my apology. I’m so glad we can still be friends, even though I know I don’t deserve it.

I asked her to not call me that anymore, even if I deserved the title. She asked why, so I explained that’s what everyone called me back in Ylisse. She said she’d avoid using it around me now that she knew it would hurt me so much. She had just found it very hard to trust anyone because Khar’shan had done so much damage to her all her life. I tried to lift her spirits and help her see that there’s always another dawn, but I don’t know if it helped.

I promise, Clio, I’ll do whatever I can to help you feel safe. I’ll never betray you again.

15 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

We’ve been traveling for a few hours now. Right as we left for Altea with Dia and Vaevictus, Azorius approached us and told us about how the Oracle’s prophecy was a widely published thing. Because of that, we’d be recognized wherever we go and as such, many people would be willing to offer us aid. In particular, a group of the young men we rescued in the Mossy Temple were training to be centurions and one of them wanted to be Actaeon’s squire. Actaeon said something about “wrestling”, which I wholly misunderstood to mean something intimate and now everyone is confused about what’s going to happen.

Awkward as it was to say that out loud, my joking about intimacy opened up a lot of conversation between each of us. Here’s a few things I learned about my friends.

First, I can call them friends. Like, for real. After you died, I never thought I’d have a friend again. I feel like I can open up to these people.

Second, I am the youngest of the group. Briar is, we think, only a few years older than me. Actaeon looks like he’s in this thirties, even though he was born centuries ago. Shadow is similar in age. Torag is younger than them, but older than Briar. Clio said she’s around two hundred years old. She must think I’m just a baby! And I’ll be twenty in four days.

Third, none of them have ever had birthday parties! Not only is this horribly sad, but it almost perfectly mirrors my own childhood. Briar and Clio said feykind don’t really celebrate these things. Actaeon doesn’t care. Same with Shadow. Torag said the monks of his monastery eschew material things, so they never had parties. As for me, no one celebrates the birthday of a monster, especially an orphaned monster.

So it is decided! In four days, we’re going to have a celebration. I’m going to make a cake and make gifts for everyone! I already have some ideas for each of them. Dia said she’s going to play some music. We’re going to invite our friends (which I think is just Herkus, Dia, Azorius, and Cindra at this point), and we’re going to have some fun. I hope it’s the relaxation that we all need to become better friends and bond with each other.

Speaking of which, number four: for the first time in my life, I was told specifically that I am not a monster. Clio said that to me today. I told everyone about how the changelings are in Ylisse. Hated, relived, awful beings. My ancestry is bloody. But she, who just yesterday called me the most horrible thing that brings back awful memories of the orphanage, said to me the most wonderful thing I needed to hear. “Flee, you’re not a monster.”

I don’t think she knows how much it means to me that she said that. Her of all people. No one has ever said that to me but you.

Shadow asked why I don’t shapeshift anymore and I confessed its because I don’t need to. Around these friends of mine, I don’t want to trick anybody. I feel most comfortable around them as I am. I also told them that the only reason I’m Flee (in name and feminine appearance) is because I thought that’s what you preferred in a partner. Unless it is for the benefit of my friends collectively, I’ll stay in my true from around them hereafter.

I don’t know if I’m ready to show them my true form. My true true form. Or even my birth name. I hate that part of me. But maybe they’ll be more understanding. More compassionate. More… like you, Heath. Ugly as I am like that, you always held my hand anyway. Even when the others said you’d catch something from me, you still stayed by my side.

Oh, how I miss having someone at my side.

But things are looking up! I feel good about the future. The others don’t, I don’t think. They’re all (rightly) concerned about the titans trying to suppress us. I, however, am feeling more confident than ever. I’m glad we got to talk today as we did. I think it’s going to make us stronger and better.

I should get that ring back from Briar.