Estin, The Celestial City

A Mistake
The Party After Whiston's Death

As Ditty turned away, Eryximachus listlessly pushed his door. It took his cue, swinging shut with ease. The sorcerer closed his eyes, feeling his ribcage shakily expand as he tried to relax. Anxiety has gripped him for some hours now, much to his shame.

He replayed the words he had just spoken, letting his ruminations get the better of him. To his core, he believed what he had said – killing Whiston was a mistake. At the same time, it had to happen – didn’t it?

The borrowed bed creaked as Eryximachus sat down, his face sinking into his hands. If he could only slow his thoughts for a moment. If he could just catch his breath. If he could just have a moment of calm lucidity.

Only now was Eryximachus remembering it was not only the general stupidity of people that drove him to mountains. Not only were their words insufferable, but with people came complications. Always some drama… A scaled arm rose as the man grimaced, his headache only getting worse. He could see it. The crowds of clamoring people who would want to hear of his involvement with the slaying of the wicked dragon. How his cave, once a private bastion, would become an echo chamber for their harassment.

He took a breath, attempting to focus.

I understand this anxiety. Of course I would feel this way. It’s a logical consequence of all the recent activity. It is a great departure from my norm. Dealing with multiple people over an extended amount of time after years of mostly solitude – of course.

The sorcerer took another breath, feeling calmer.

I value my norm. Of course I do. I am human in the end. I will have a proclivity to attachment. I understand this… With a clam hand, Eryximachus straitened his bed, before lying himself down. He continued to control his breathing. I prefer solitude. I am attached to my home. But, in my fear I have lost sight of the truths of this world.

Before Eryximachus could follow his line of thought any longer, a knock at the door roused him. Meloditty stood by her word to send up food. The man lightened slightly, remembering Fellocha for a moment. It was pleasant to have the occasional interaction. One-on-one was easy to handle.

Usually. On the other side of the door Sin held a tray. You can imagine shifting from anxiety, to fond reminding, to being confronted with someone you don’t care for offering good food would be a lot to handle. Well, Eryximachus was especially ungraceful in handling emotion, especially a blur of them. He could only look to the younger man with exhausted, but cold eyes and utter a short acknowledgement. With a grateful, but curt nod, the man took his tray and retreated back into his room, away from the festivities.

Settling down at a desk, the man rolled back his sleeved and prepared to eat. Though the vapors wafting off the bounty reached his nostrils, Eryximachus was too preoccupied to returning to the logical sorting of his issues to notice the smell. For him, the food held little taste.

So, preference. A man can have his preferences, fine. But everything he truly needs comes from within. Temperance, discipline, courage, being just, understanding his place in the nature of this world and universe. Virtue is within my control. Nothing external will truly make me happy. The external is unreliable. I prefer my solitude. But that condition of living is an external factor. Everything I need to live the good life is with me even if I am deprived of my preferences. I cannot make myself dependent on my desires. My desires serve me, not the other way around.

As he ate, the sorcerer became more and more distant from the meal. Methodically, he reemphasized his personal mantras to himself. He tucked his anxiety away by reiterating to himself that the things he cared about didn’t matter. His attachments, his preferences, were just that – preferences. Nothing necessary.

His stoicism had faulted. Which is fine. He reasoned how he was human, and so had inherited faults. He could forgive himself. Inner strength and virtue was an action that had to be repeated ceaselessly. He accepted that. Aspired to it.

And so, later, when he stood at the top of the stairs overlooking the halted party, he could only sigh. It seemed his philosophical rigor would begin being put to the test.

Reflecting on Paradigms

Sin folded his monk robes with reverence as he placed them into his pack. The new clothes, an unobtrusive servant’s garb in muted colors, suited him for the present. There would be time for the rich colored, soft robes later – perhaps soon, if the dryad was to be believed.

SIn’s mood had lifted from the dark thunderclouds of his shame and doubt as he meditated on what had happened. He had been foolish and arrogant with his quest to find the Peacebringer until now. Orixymachus had baited him too well and he had stumbled in his zeal. Blind faith wouldn’t lead him in the right direction. He had abridged his training at the Ying Monastery and, if he wanted to continue, he would have to begin there. He would be ready the next time.

After the feast of celebration had ended on the sour note of revenge, Sin retreated to his room. As he lay on the floor (a mattress was truly too much luxury), he reached for the Tiamat prayer book he had taken from Whiston’s cleric subordinate. Perhaps it contained some insight into this new enemy that would prove useful.

And, Sin had to admit, some part of the dragon ethic stirred his soul.

The Perfect Place

Sin smiled pleasantly as he sat cross-legged in the tiny cell. In between brief conversations with the other prisoners, and the elder kobold coming to pick out more victims, he had had plenty of time for what may have been the best, most relaxing meditation he had ever experienced.

Not only that, but after a brief time with the brave but ultimately boastless Douglas Sin found himself in the perfect place to wait for more candidates to arrive – the dungeons of Whiston the dragon tyrant himself! Providence!

After much consideration, it seemed none of the prisoners or the kobolds had the essential flame of heroism within them. Kindling perhaps – which may yet be lit by a spark of action, his learning told him – but no fire. Given the opportunity he would try to draw forth just a little warmth and a little light from these sad, huddled people.

Who knows? Maybe it would catch!

More meditation. So peaceful!

Why, it was almost as good as his first lesson at the monastery when they placed him, just a year into the order, at the foot of a mountain. The task had been to climb to the peak of the mountain, barefoot, and understand his suffering and potential sacrifice would be only the beginning of wisdom concerning the journey and trials of a hero.

As he sat at the peak, much as he did now, with the icy winds playing across his bare shoulders he began to understand the burden of destiny.

Ah ha!

A fierce looking man called into the cave offering a truce or mercy – Sin hadn’t heard him start speaking. The kobolds would have none of it, however. Bravery and loyalty, albeit selfish, found even from the most humble of creatures. Beautiful.

A halfling snuck into the cage and tried to gain Sin’s attention. The least Sin could do was ignore him so as not to draw the Kobold’s ire. When the halfling began picking the lock a battle began! Heroes had arrived at last!

These kobolds would not be the real test of these newcomers, however, and Sin would gladly aid and observe them until they came face to face with the trial of ice and teeth. He could hardly wait.

Before the Final Battle

This mission, this day feels so important. Today, we’ve already fought guards, orcs, smelly undead creatures, and white beings spawned from a large orb, and I can’t help but feel that what’s beyond that door is even worse.

I feel suddenly reflective. I think about myself and how I’ve grown as a healer and an archer and a person. I feel physically and emotionally stronger. I can hold my own better in a fight, and I have a stronger stomach for death – not that it’s not significant, but I feel less pain and loss. The sting of losing Callicles and Kai and Gaebrith is less acute.

I look around at my companions and feel a sense of kinship and belonging. Ryuu, Erzaad, Rex, Larien, Nora – I have healed all of them, and I feel protective of them and amazed by them. I feel honored to fight alongside them.

I think about how far we’ve come, from our first missions in the sewers fighting a “pooze”, and the tavern where we first learned of the Black Eyes. I remember hearing about the encounter with the oracle, and I remember that fateful day when we rescued Targen and lost Callicles and Kai. We convinced Lyle to join the fight, and obtained his arm of force from Quehara. We saved King Hector from assassins, and fought alongside him trying to protect him. We traveled weeks on end to mountains outside of Kenta and fought blade spiders. We split up the group, and Larien and I helped save our home town from orcs, and I took a life for the first time. I remember hearing about Seif’s betrayal, and not wanting to believe it. We fought Arboth himself, and rescued Erzaad’s parents and Rex’s friend. And now we’re here. Wow. We’ve come a long way.

The threat to Hestaria is strong. Erik and Asmoden are still out there with their plan to resurrect a dead god and sacrifice thousands of people, perhaps the entire city. This fight is important. This mission is today.

Seeing Her Again
The Fight with Arboth

“Lapis! Lapis, man, I’m in a hurry here, where’s my pile?”

Blue eyes passively flicked to the side before the blacksmith put out a mild suggestion, “Perhaps Callicles finally threw it all out as promised.”

Rex poked his head from the other side of a wall, looking dismayed. With his own special brand of a mewling whine he pouted, “You’re letting her throw me out? How could you do this to me? I love you! What did she do to my – ”

“Rex, Gods… I moved it into the room’s closet. Did it ever occur to you that having a random pile of things in a corner is domestically unattractive?”

The mewl continued as Rex dramatically threw his hands into the air, expressing the sort of angst that true theatrical tragedies attempted to articulate, “I’m sorry all I do is make the housed look bad!” Lapis grinned to himself, warmly enjoying the jaunty melodrama of his more upbeat of friends. He soon heard Rex patter off to get his gear. Today, Rex and Callicles would start their training together in what would become a favored ritual. Callicles, eager and prompt as always, had already headed to the recently designated area. Rex himself was excited to. Finally, a workout buddy!

Lapis however, was feeling a bit wary of the arrangement. Callicles had convinced Rex to start working with her today with a mixture of genuine interest and intimidation. There was no question in Rex’s mind Callicles was ready for physical sparring and work. How could anyone that scary not be ready to fight? But Rex was a much easier interpersonal opponent. Lapis himself was unconvinced. Only time would tell now though as Callicles was too focused on her goals to seriously entertain caution.

“Alright, I’m going to see her. If she kills me, tell Mom what happened and to leave some cookies for me at my grave!”

“Rex, wait a moment.”
Lapis rose from his seat, walking over with confidence. If Cal could convince Rex of something, Lapis was sure he could too.

“Rex, listen I still don’t think she’s ready.”

“Well man, I made her do some basic sets and it didn’t pop her scar.”

“I know. Still. She’s only just now recovered. I still remember Cade’s surprise she made it this far.”

“Oh ye of little faith, listen, she’s really in the zone, okay? With her body back in step with her, and with me there to watch her, she’ll be okay. I won’t leave her, buddy!”

Lapis only nodded before resting a steady hand on Rex’s shoulder. With all seriousness, Lapis made one request. “Just please… don’t hurt her.”

Too much.

Seif killing student and taking a woman hostage? The Cleric? No.
A chunk of the city being doomed to die? No.
Lyle looking sicker? Please No.

Why… why was it all happening this way?

Desperate to do the right thing – an actual good decision – Rex of course followed the others to the complex Lyle pointed them to. Lapis’ home was too empty and it was time to bring the forger back! Everything in Rex just hurt to get his friend back and put an end to this dead-God business.

As they traveled, Rex did ruminate on what there was to hope for. Saved Elves. Living loved ones. A new party member. A rag tag team of people willing to help them out of the rubble.

Remembering that moment of coming back into the sun, Rex couldn’t help but feel a surge of warmth at seeing people who mostly didn’t know working on their side. Maybe tides could turn. A mage, a half-orc, a demon, a healer, everyday adventures. Their rescuing group was symbolic of the sort of cross-group collaboration Rex always believed in.

With that small bit of positivity amongst all the bad news, Rex was able to drink from the well-spring of optimism within himself and be ready for another storm. This time, Arboth wouldn’t go without explaining himself and handing everyone over.

And the raiding went. Sickly ghouls, mindless but mean mannequins, it was all well and good until the lower levels. Once below, Rex smelled the blood and saw the darkness and instantly felt weakened. But his loyalty to his friend called him to serve and his cowardice was swallowed away.

But, as it turns out, loyalty can be a paralyzing force as well.

“I don’t know, I don’t think about death much. Too busy living. Besides, I’m sure I’ll live on in the hearts of my loved ones all over the world!”

Callicles put a palm over her face, finding the fact Rex completely believed in what he was saying to be absolutely cloying in nature. It was so childish. So sugary. How in all the worlds could he ever actually take himself seriously?

“I suppose.”
“You and Lapis would remember me. You’d miss me too.”
“We’d move on.”
“I’d hope so. But you can’t argue your lives would be different.”
“It would be a change. Oh how will I ever cope with never hearing you whine again?”

Callicles paused, wiping sweat from her temple with a rag. As the wind picked up, she closed her eyes, taking in the sweet scents of grass and sky.

“I guess we’re just different people.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t seem to think about anything but death.”
“For now maybe. But once you get a little more engaged, I’m sure that’ll change.”

Callicles had found where Rex had put his emphasis peculiar. She looked over to see him grinning and could only roll her eyes.
“Why don’t you put your nose into other people’s business?”
“Oh I’m sorry I just want you to actually be loyal to how you feel.”
Callicles paused. “I am being loyal.”

She then turned and took up a stance signaling to Rex their break was over. To redirect him, she did say one thing before launching at him. “If I do die, since you’re so concerned with loyalty to the self, all I want is to be dead on my terms.”

Rex gripped his breastplate, struggling to catch his breath. When she hit, he felt drained. On an inhale he looked up. The sight of her was just as horrible as the first one. In death, Callicles was folds more terrifying. Even now Rex’s knees felt weak. But he couldn’t help acknowledge how desperately he wanted her to stay. By now tears were running from Rex’s eyes. He had missed her so much. All he wanted was to spar with her again. But not like this.

“Please, Cal, not like this.”

The wraith swung and hit again. There was no time for grief. And what little Rex tried to say, Callicles wouldn’t respond or stop. As they fought this one last time, Rex could only wonder if she was really there. If Callicles had a chance to come back, wouldn’t she have gone to Lapis? If she were herself, wouldn’t there be something else more urgent for her to do?

A few swings had hit Callicles by now and still she was coming. Another swing and caused her to cry out and Rex cringed as he recognized her voice. No, maybe she was there. Maybe he was hurting her. Maybe they had a chance to bring her back!

But as Callicles continued to hurt Rex and the others without hold, Rex knew she would only damage the people left in this world who Rex needed to fight for. He swung again, but then, pained, he heard Lapis cry out his long standing request,

“Don’t hurt her!”

And like that, time seemed to stop as Rex looked into Callicles passive, ghostly face. Rex’s heart swelled, heaving with exhaustion. Rex had so much love for Callicles and Lapis. He never felt he got it out enough. And now, in him, his want to serve the desires of his friends tore him apart as they competed against each other. His loyalty froze him.

If I do die…all I want is to be dead on my terms.

Another tear fell as Rex realized he couldn’t leave Callicles this way. She wouldn’t want this. Being taken, manipulated, used as a puppet to sincerely hurt her loved ones. To force Lapis to see her this way. This was not on Callicles’ terms. This was Arboth.

Rex cried, looking to Callicles, whatever of her might have been there. He continued his swing with the sword which now carried her name in this world, pushing through his friend’s pain. Rex whimpered weakly, “We love you Cal. We still love you. I’m sorry.”

And he guided his sword through her as his tears blurred his vision. He kept his eyes shut, not daring to accidentally look Lapis in the eyes. From there, it was all a blur. For the first time, Rex failed to hold back. His sword moved to break everything Arboth was made of and to stop him.

And now that the villain was down, it was time to get answers. And Rex was determined to have everything this man and his band disrupted set right again.

Erelil's Diary

Dear Diary,
I’ve still been reeling over Gaebrith’s death and the battle with the orcs in Quehara. There’s been a knot in my stomach ever since, and it won’t go away. I feel guilty over killing the orcs. And so sad about Gaebrith, my teacher, my mentor, my friend, one of the only elves who fully accepted me and cared about me. I wonder if I could have done something, whether if I went to him instead of the village or the gardens, if I could have saved him.
I felt comforted to see Rex again, safe. I am glad that he and Erzaad and Ryuu were unharmed, and came back to Hestaria safely. They were joined by Cade (who I am also relieved is safe!), a half-orc named Garthoc, and a mage named Nora, who joined us on our mission. Nora made some statements where it seems like she feels her magic is superior to mine and Erzaad’s, but she was very useful in the mission. She teleported herself and me to different parts of the room during the fight, and even made me invisible! I think I like having Nora on the team.
I was shocked when I heard that Seif incapacitated Sensai Wu and kidnapped the oracle. I cannot believe that he is capable of that, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around that one.
Lyle was surprisingly calm about our disobedience this time around. He didn’t even freeze the room. He looked sad and almost defeated, and I worry about the black vein-like pattern spreading on his skin. It seems like the Vile magic that affected his arm is getting worse. Lyle told us that our foes succeeded in creating the magic circle, and the loss of thousands of lives may be inevitable now. However, instead of punishment or banishment from the guild for our disobedience, we were given a mission.
Our mission was at an old city watch building, to find and capture or kill Arboth, and rescue Lapis and Erzaad’s parents, who he was holding captive. We faced undead prisoners and training dummies that came alive before finding a trap door to the basement, where Erzaad’s parents, Lapis and another man were chained to the walls. Arboth himself was there, and he had with him the undead remains of Kai and Callicles. I was horrified to see a wraith form of Callicles, and Kai looking like a Morg. How could I have allowed my companions to become undead creatures, wandering in torment? How could we have been so stupid to forget to sanctify the ground? It must have been so hard for Rex to see Cal like that, especially with Lapis across the room. When I was fighting Cal and Kai, I was only comforted knowing that destroying their undead forms would set them free. I felt relieved when they were defeated, and I pray that their souls are finally at peace.
It also seems like Arboth isn’t entirely human. When he was struck, it revealed metal and mechanical parts underneath his skin, and he was giving off an unusual energy. I’m not sure if he is undead, or somehow a machine. After what seemed like an eternity of missed shots and failed attacks, Erzaad and Rex finally struck him down as he was trying to climb up the stairs from the basement.
Every day seems like there are more and more threats that we don’t have the manpower to overcome, and it’s overwhelming to think of all that we’ve lost and everything that’s still to come. But it’s the small victories that help me keep moving forward. Today, we saved Rex’s friend and Erzaad’s parents, we set the souls of Callicles and Kai free, and we took down Arboth. I am even more committed to this cause, and I feel strong.

A Dark Light

Seif strolled confidently through the streets of Hestaria. He did not even attempt to restrain the oracle beside him – she would not test his control.

His perfect, total control.

How long had he slaved away as a deacon in that forsaken temple? Prayed day after day for an answer that never came? Listened to the woes and sins of people laid low by chance and not the divine will they feared? Hid his activities for loss of face, reputation, power?

Too long. Much too long.

He had been waiting his entire life for this pact. This one would fill that hole in his soul that festered like a wound ever since his brother taunted him with no prospects and no inheritance. Children are like that – cruel when they want to be – but little do they know the events they set in motion.

Beldara had promised him his companions and unbelievable power besides.

No more would be scorned for the fortunes of their birth. No more would be lost in the theatrics of faith. No more would die for the causes of others.

That is, no more would die once this birth by fire was complete. Many would be consumed and purged in those flames.

Not that he reveled in the bloodshed. Neither did he weep for it. This was how the world turned.

This time, he could shape it.

And for the first time in a long time, Seif smiled.

Flying into Fun
In which Erzaad is heavily influenced by Pinkie Pie

Warning: The following is an exact transcript of Erzaad’s thoughts before the assault on the stronghold. Reader’s discretion is advised.

This… will be the best day of my life. Not only do I get to test out my new flying ability, which I imagine will be the most fun I’ve had since that time I jumped off the roof of the inn and broke both my legs (the jumping part, I mean. Not the leg-breaking part), but I get to storm a stronghold and beat up a bad guy, all whilst saving my parents from mortal peril. This quest is going to be epic!

Wait, quest? This is no quest, my parents are in danger! They could die! How can I be so lackadaisical while my parents, who put up with my nonsense for two decades, are being threatened?

Well, they’ve already been kidnapped and held hostage. They can’t un-capture themselves, right? Is there a spell for that? Hmm… Anyway, I can’t change the fact that they are potentially doomed, so I might as well have fun with it!

Fun?! This is no time for fun! I need to take this seriously.

Having fun IS serious. Seriously fun! And if I get to save some lives in the process, even better!

I… but, why… how… ugh!

Yes! Another internal conflict resolved. Me 1, me 0. I ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Now, where did I put that map? Don’t want to be late for my castle crashing…

Before the Storm
Rex before the Fortress

As sweat drips onto the ground, a ferocious yell booms before swords clash. In a ring, two friends train.

“Pelor beloved – you’re actually trying to hurt me!”
“You’ll only be hurt if you keep holding back!”

Another clash. Another. Another. Another.

“Callicles, stop. This is just supposed to be a spar. Please, please stop.”

Another. Another. Another. A scream. Rex stumbled back, his weapon dropped. Blood began pouring from a deep slash on his forearm. Callicles coldly stared to the man, an angry frown forming as Rex looked to her with betrayed eyes.

“Why won’t you fight?”
“This isn’t a fight, it’s a spar.”

“Everything you ever do is a spar!” Callicles roared in anger, lifting her sword. “Worthless! Why do you even bother to train at all? All that brawn. All that strength – wasted on a bleeding heart like you. It’s disgusting.” Rex frowned, feeling genuinely hurt because he knew Callicles really meant what she said. It was not meant to be a pep talk.

“Why do you say things like that? Don’t you care about me at all? Do you treat Lapis like this?”

“Lapis doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. You are a damned disgrace. Lazy and selfish.” Callicles put down The Furnace and watched Rex bleed. “You say you love this world and its people. You say we need to take care of each other. But you’re all talk. All idiot, naïve, social justice warrior talk. You drink up good times, you bond with people. But will you fight for them?”

“I’ve fought…”
“No, you’ve intimidated. You’ve talked things out. You’ve organized. You’ve punched a couple of bandits. Fuck you for saying you’ve fought. You’re a liar.”

By now, Rex had a rag and pressure applied to his arm. Wounded both physically and emotionally, Callicles’ rage continued to sear him. “Things have never gotten desperate for you. You don’t know what it is to want to fight for a cause. You just drift, push back minor thugs, and feel like a real champion of the people, affirmed that violence is not necessary. It’s the type of ignorance that’s not even cute. It’s pathetic.”

Callicles walked up to him, staring up coldly. In a flat and uncaring tone, she stared at him, “The truth of it is you love feeling like a good person more than you love anything else. That is why you won’t fight. Not even in a sparing ring. You are so afraid of how you will feel about yourself if you hurt me that you won’t even train properly. You are worthless as a fighter. To your core.”

With that, she gave a strong punch, thrusting upwards into Rex’s abdomen. As the man gasped, she continued, “I hope one day someone you love is taken. Then maybe you’ll find some resolve. Or you’ll finally admit that you should get the fuck out of my line of work and stop disgracing us all.”

Rex fell to his knees in pain, looking back up to Callicles, his eyes watering. With shaky breath he spoke “I know… you only say these things because you are hurting over how much you feel you have lost. I know you are desperate to protect the people you love. I know when you look at me, you are afraid that if people like me were in your village when it was attacked, we’d be too paralyzed to help.

Rex slowly stood up, looking down to Callicles with soft and loving eyes. “When you look at me, you are afraid that horrible things can happen to innocent people and no one would do anything about it. You are horrified by the idea that people would stand by. You think you have me figured out? Well I have you figured out too. No matter how cold you look, all that anger… it’s all fear. And the only way you’ll ever feel safe again is if you have tangible evidence that something is being done. Bodies. Only other people’s death is going to convince you progress is being made.”

“But look at what you’ve done to me Cal…” Rex finally cried, tears falling as he showed his friend the gash on his arm. “This is really bad. You hurt me. And then you yell at me. You call me worthless… Cal, I really care what you think about me because you’re my friend. And you…” he sniffled a bit, wiping his eyes, “and you called me worthless and attacked me… because you’re scared and angry. Look at what this makes you do. Look at what this path is doing to your life. You can’t even be good to people who are good to you.”

Callicles looked away, feeling shamed. In the moment, she had felt justified. Like it would correct Rex to hit him. But now… it did sound like a madness. Disproportionate and undisciplined. But Rex only continued to softly look to her, his face warming as he cupped her shoulders with his hands.

In soft tones, he reconnected with his friend “What’s happening to you? I just want my workout buddy back…You don’t have to look away from me. I’m not mad. Cal, you’re my friend. I’m always gonna love you. I know you aren’t a bad person. You’re just hurting. I can forgive this, because my anger is not worth our relationship. And maybe, if I could love and accept and understand you enough for long enough you can come to know that you can trust me. You don’t have to feel afraid and angry and alone… maybe it could soften you enough that you won’t want to hurt me.”

She continued to look away. Rex squeezed affectionately, “And then this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. That’s how I fight violence Callicles.”

Rex sat in the corner of an empty room of the laboratories, unable to sleep. He wept, his mind spinning. There was no right choice here. Leaving Lapis, leaving Erelil, either way something could go wrong. But an entire fortress… he felt like every scrap of power he, Erzaad, and Ryuu could muster would be needed. If he went to Quehara – how much was he really going to matter? Everything in him screamed to be by Erelil’s side. Especially after her words.

As he drew up his knees, he sobbed into them remembering Callicles. The core of what she said was true. Only now did he see it. He had never fought. “Not like this…” he shuddered. Practically, he needed to be at the fortress. But Erelil was delicate – Larien too. An Orc could just… wrap a hand around one of them and crush every bone in their torso.

But Lapis… Lapis was more than just a friend.

He’s such a good man. Funny but gentle and proud of his craft. Even after being looked down on for so long. And a healer in his own right, able to basically soothe and win the heart of someone as hard as Callicles. And now he’s lost her and his ability to work… I cannot let his story end this way, not in some anonymous stronghold. He deserves so much more.

Tears fell as Rex sat ruminating, utterly lost. At least he had made a decision. Tomorrow, he could talk to Erelil one more time before they go off. As long as she is safe. Hopefully, Quehara can be helped. The Orc forces can only move so fast.

For comfort, Rex pulled out a small and well worn leather book. He opened it up, rereading the teachings of Pelor he had praised since his childhood. Today, more than ever, his attention was caught by certain lines.

Bring wrath on darkness and evil…challenge the forces of corruption aggressively, but remember relentless attention to the destruction of negative forces can blind the heart to the true essentials of life…

Rex took a breath, calming down as he palmed his personal bible. He never believed fighting was inherently wrong. I just…I just don’t want to hurt anyone. There’s enough pain around already…but I didn’t ask for this. Arboth did. And even if I don’t know what his motives are…he’s a man. Misguided or not, I need to respect his autonomy. I need to allow him to have confidence in his chosen path. And if that path puts him against mine, I too need to act. I will not leave my friend.

Gaining resolve, Rex took up Callicles and began to clean the steel of her. He smiled lightly, vowing to himself to let Lapis see his handywork in action. And even if I do not have the courage to fight, I know you do Cal. And my confidence is stronger when you are with me. I know…I know you would storm in there and save him. I know you loved him enough that you wouldn’t be afraid of how you would feel. You wouldn’t hesitate. You knew what was important to you and you campaigned for those things. I hope I can find the balance my friend. Between you and me. Since I can’t talk to you anymore.

Rex cleaned and before long grew tired enough to wander back to the room that held his sleeping roll. Nuzzling the sheathed blade, he held on, wanting so dearly to just hold on to something. As he relaxed, he felt his confidence grow. This was worth fighting for.

The time has come to make things right.

Gambling with Lives

Seif knelt on the threadbare rug in the small stone room, the image of penitential prayer. Inside, his thoughts convulsed with move after move, action after action, cause and effect looking for some way to victory.

This situation came too soon, he wasn’t ready. Gaebrith had been silent much too long, and now Arboth and the orcs barged into his thoughts, their threat and pillaging merely a distraction from the greater threat.

I’ve done the best I can he reassured himself, perhaps too earnestly to be believable. His clasped hands shook in front of him. Concentration, or fear? Quehara is not without power. They can hold against the orcs long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Erelil and Larien are both careful, as well, and they should be safe as defenders on their own ground.

I couldn’t help but dissuade Ryuu from returning to Hestaria. His heart lies not on his sleeve, but his eyes. I can see them smoldering sometimes. He is too skilled, to full of fury, to be allowed to leave. If Erzaad and Rex are to survive – and they must! – it will be with the help of Ryuu’s fire. The plight of the elves I can predict, but Arboth’s trap is full of the unknown. Forces? Powers? He is foolish, but not without cunning…

But there is something wrong with Rex. He is too concerned with Quehara. Have I overplayed my hand? If he thinks it his divine duty to protect Erelil then I fear he may find himself divided at a crucial moment such as this. My appeals for Lapis’ sake fell too lightly… Without a handle on Rex I fear I cannot rely on him. I will have to rectify the situation when the time comes. If the time comes.

They will all live he thought with desperation clawing at his mind. The images of his companions flew about him – scorched by fire, ravaged by disease, wrent by steel.


The shuddering stopped. His hands, white knuckled, unclenched.

When he opened his eyes again they were as chill as the wastelands to the north and twice as hard. If Lyle would not or could not help, perhaps Erik could. In any case, Gaebrith might soon owe Seif his people’s lives.

And then perhaps I may trade those for the lives of my companions.


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