Part 13: Withhold

1 to Verdant Sun, Voelis

This ordeal has been a lot to bear today. I’m writing this as we take a breather in the forge. I’m in a foul mood and-

It doesn’t matter. No matter what, I’m still going to be the hero that the Emerald Isles needs. I’m in the right.

Sorry, this has started out as a disaster. My mind is racing, my heart is beating fast, and… It’s already been just a long day, Heath. Let me start over.

We rested in the cavern of the forge while Shadow went to bring Dia and Triple in. Dia would be much happier if she were closer and didn’t have to watch the dinosaur all by herself. Dia seemed pleased, despite being in the dark. Triple began eating the gygan and we all had to turn away. She and Triple could not fit in the elevator that Clio found, so they opted to stay upstairs while we were going to descend.

Oh, here’s an interesting (and, likely, horrifying) thing. Dia recognized the large dead dragon-like creature in this room. She called it a Behir, a creature that was used to take down a dragon. Something else much more powerful than us killed this Behir here. Briar inspected the corpse and suggested it had died years ago. There was nothing we could learn from it, other than it was probably the cause of death for the dwarves centuries ago and whatever killed it was no longer here.

We didn’t trust the elevator, and rightly so. There were four metallic dragon heads in the elevator, two on the ceiling and two at hip level. A layer of ash was on the ground. We figured that since we were in a forge, perhaps this was some sort of test or trap. I got the sense that the trap was related to fire based on the ash on the floor. Clio tested the lever by pulling it with her psychic powers. The elevator slammed shut and descended. We heard the noises of the gears moving it, along with a bunch of other awful sounds. The elevator must have been terribly old. After a few minutes, it came back up automatically. The ash had moved on the ground and everything seemed the same as before.

We bid Dia goodbye as we descended. I didn’t trust it so I began stuffing my clothes into the dragon heads to clog them. Something seemed off about them but I couldn’t place what it was. Clio and Actaeon helped get the ones on the ceiling I couldn’t reach. I’m glad we did because a moment later the room began filling with black oil.

I knew it! I knew this was a trap! But what could we do? We didn’t really have any other choice to get down to the forge. Shadow climbed up to the ceiling to try to stop the oil from spilling in further. Between his sword strikes and my ruined clothes, the oil coming in slowed to a trickle. The two dragon heads on the side of the elevator began to glow with heat. Fire was coming soon, we were certain. Actaeon slammed one shut but Torag struggled to close the other. Briar had shifted into a fox squirrel to try to make more room for us all. Clio and I stood at the back, ready for whatever came next.

Fire came next. What else, right? We were burned, but perhaps not as badly as we could have been. I’m sorry to say I lost most of my travel clothes and my prayer rug. I had been wearing the vestments of the league of storms to try to sneak up on them and blend in next time we met. Those were all destroyed. My shirt and pants are ruined pretty bad, too. Fortunately my your vestments were in my pack and they were fine, so at least I’m not running around without anything on.

At the end of the fiery elevator ride, we got off and immediately had to catch our breath. It was so hot in there! Actaeon, in a fit of anger, went back into the elevator and began smashing the last dragon head shut. Should we need the elevator again, he wasn’t willing to be burned like that. I began a short prayer of healing for everyone. I asked Torag if he wanted some extra magic as he was still badly hurt from the fight with the gygan and the league of storms. He declined and drank a few potions instead.

We ventured forward and found two paths. To the right, I detected a faint hint of magic amid a trashed armory. The blades, spears, shields, and armor were corroded and useless. But my senses picked up a magic scroll for Briar and a magical dagger, called a xiphos, for Torag. To the left was a passage that was lit by a large pool of molten lava.

The room with the lava was a strange one. The walls were tall here, adorned with dwarven construction but worn with age. The pool was in the center of the room. Beyond it was a strange bronze sphere with a spout aimed at the lava. Two large constrictor snakes stood by the sphere, hissing and eyeing us warily but not moving.

The lava pool stirred and a beautiful creature of fire rose from it. She was human in shape only, and later I learned she was a type of fire elemental creature. She was stunningly beautiful. Her hair itself was fire! She asked us what we were doing there. I admit I was mesmerized just a little bit. I introduced myself and asked her who she was.

She was the Forgekeeper. Her true name was forgotten centuries ago ever since she had been imprisoned in the pool. Azorius and the ancient dwarves had bound her to the pool to be the source of fire for their forge and she was truly unhappy about it. She told us she wants to be freed. She wants to go home. The bronze orb at the back of the room is a kind of security device, blasting her with magic if she tries to leave.

I couldn’t help it. She was locked away here? For centuries? What’s worse, she said that she has been alone for such a long time, with absolutely no one to talk to. The others did not trust her, but I did.

Number five. Bring hope. Where I go, I will plant the seeds of hope for a bright future.

She said she’d leave. She said she just wanted to go home. I asked if the snakes were there to keep her there. She confirmed that was the case, along with a large creature beyond her room in the forge’s furnace. I did what I had to do. What I had to do to bring her hope. I destroyed one of the snakes. Shadow and Torag pounced on me to hold me back. And Clio…

Clio called me- She called me that. What they all called me. What they called me. Every. Damn. Day.

It stung. I thought that- I just- It’s-

I didn’t even see what happened to the other snake. Actaeon probably killed it. But all I heard was Shadow shouting at me. Shouting that we couldn’t trust the Forgemaster. She wasn’t telling us something. But what? What could she possibly have to hide? Why would she lie? What information was she withholding from us? She’s a slave here. She’s a prisoner. She can’t do anything. She’s supposed to be some danger or menace? She hasn’t moved more than twenty feet in centuries! Shadow kept saying that-

He’s wrong. They all are.

Briar shoved past Shadow and Torag, trying to calm me down. She kissed me on the forehead and said some words that I didn’t hear. I left the room and went back to the tunnel by the elevator. I could still hear their conversation. They weren’t being quiet. They were just arguing with the Forgekeeper. You know what’s the crazy part, love? I was right! You know what she was hiding from us? The fact that she used to be a prankster before Azorius and his dwarves imprisoned her against her will. For five centuries. She burned some fields for a laugh. What crime is worth imprisonment for centuries? Damn you, Shadow! You should have trusted me. You couldn’t see past your own suspicions to recognize someone in need?

We’re supposed to be heroes. She just wants to go home. Just because someone doesn’t want to tell you their secrets doesn’t mean they aren’t trustworthy. Am I just as bad as this Forgekeeper? Am I not trustworthy because I don’t want everyone to know how horrible I look? Or because I’m not ready to talk about what that damned high priest did to me? Does Shadow think so little of me?

I didn’t even hear Briar approach me from behind. She asked me if I was alright? No, of course I’m not alright, Briar. Why did Clio call me that? Or worse, why did it have to remind me of- Never mind. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. What was I thinking anyway? How could someone like- No, that will never happen again. And I really am an idiot for even entertaining the thought. I knew it all along. It’s the same as in the temple. They all think I’m just some stupid girl monster from some faraway place that doesn’t know anything about anything.

I gave the ring to Briar. Maybe she can find a better use for it. There’s no way someone like Clio could ever like someone something like me.

Briar tried to talk to me but I was just rambling and, honestly, trying to argue. I was very worked up over all of this. How can we demand intimate details from someone when we can’t even talk about these things amongst each other? This poor Forgekeeper, this elemental spirit who can’t even remember her own name, is trapped. We have the power to save her. And we won’t? Just because, after five centures of imprisonment, she wants to keep some of her own thoughts to herself?

So then, what about the Oracle’s Chosen Heroes? What’s that tattoo on your back, Briar? Why won’t you show us your face, Actaeon? Why won’t you even try to speak to your father, Torag? What’s your daughter’s name, Shadow? And Clio- I showed Briar the scar across my neck. What about these? What about the weird draconic tattoo on my neck? I’m even guilty of it! I hide these scars and the others from these people that I want to be my friends. I’m no better than them, and we’re no better than this Forgemaster withholding information from us. What gives us the right to-

Briar tried to hug me. I batted her hands away but she was insistent. She said she wasn’t good at talking to people, but she could pick up on what people need sometimes. Of course, she’s right. Her hug felt so good. I haven’t felt something this genuine since before you died, Heath. Mother’s hugs seemed too pitiful. One time Clio hugged me. That felt- Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t-

No, that felt nice, too. I’m just mad right now. I’m distraught and it’s making me not remember things correctly. But Briar’s hug felt warm and wonderful. It calmed me down. Briar said a lot to me. She said that Clio probably only said that because she was frustrated. After all, I did an action that the rest of the group was not ready for. I still think I was in the right, but that’s not the point. And the secrets we demand from people, people like the Forgemaster, are meant to keep the world safe. The secrets we keep from each other are personal. They don’t affect the entire world. As heroes, we’re supposed to help keep people safe. Shadow’s argument was just that: trying to keep people safe.

I don’t remember doing it, but I pulled out that obsidian dagger Actaeon had given me. Seeing it in my hand, I shoved it into Briar’s. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want that other dagger, the one I “accidentally” left with Solstrate back in Altea. Briar looked at me quizzically. I don’t think I was ready to explain the dagger. Briar went on to suggest that maybe our team should open ourselves up better to each other. We could all benefit from more understanding.

Briar suggested a short game of information, wherein we tell each other something about ourselves that we had thus far kept a secret. She went first by telling me three things about her. First, she was only five when her parents passed away. Second, the tattoo on her back is a mark of a curse but is also an inheritance she received. And third, she ran away from the Foxtail tribe when she was eleven years old as by then she was old enough to feed herself.

I went next. I told her that my diamond bracelet is actually a wedding band that you gave me. I told her that I’m terrified of the dark. And I told her that the scars on my neck are from when I tried to… to kill myself… after you died, Heath. That was one of my darkest moments, more so than anything else. I’m not going to do that again. But I think it’s best that I don’t have a dagger any longer. She agreed and pocketed it.

We returned to the group. By now, Clio and Shadow had spoken with the Forgemaster more. They learned what I already wrote, that she had burned some fields five hundred years ago as a prank. The Forgemaster, who took the name Cindra for herself at Shadow’s insistence, said she could be freed from her prison if her contract was destroyed. The contract, a runic stone, was in the furnace chambers. In return for us freeing her, Cindra offered Shadow an Oath of Service to keep the forge lit for one year. That should be more than enough time for us to get the equipment we need to stop the titans and save the Emerald Isles. Shadow asked me if I was alright with the plan but I cannot speak to him right now. Not after all that.

They think I’m a monster. An idiot monster.