I guess I lucked out, as far as debilitating magics go. Apolline was blinded. Tariel couldn’t move. My hand was fused to my sword. A bit awkward: but it was always a part of me. I remember wanting to guard them, but you couldn’t not hear Tovyn as he grabbed that lanky bastard Jack Knife and screamed, “You’re coming to hell with me”. The tower fell on them. Tovyn, Aunt Julia, and Jack Knife. I try to hold onto my rationality sometimes: defend my friends, they’re vulnerable. But I can’t describe what feeling I felt as I rushed forward. I guess it was actual hatred. After everything today, that just makes the most sense to me.
Cleaning up was hellish. Bodies were piled high. Rubble was everywhere. I don’t remember how many I cut down. I was keeping count at one point. I wanted to write a song about our victory: not that I’m a bard by any stretch of the word. I was hoping I might become a legend too, like ol’ Gabriel, but Tariel said it best. This was pyrrhic. I sat in silence for a while, in quiet contemplation. Boro had died just as we had gotten to know him, after we’d spent all day with him. I feel like I’d only just started to get to know Tovyn, to relate to him. We talked of the sacrifices he’d made; that we’d make, for our people and those we love. And the selfish bastard got to give everything he had. Twice. They’d better not forget him. I won’t. I have five stripes to my woad now.
I don’t know how I’m going to look Mom in the eyes and tell her I found Julia and she slipped right through my fingers. I know she forgave herself, in the end. Tariel can barely move, but, I’m sure his insides are churning, and his heart aching. Seeing her was so bittersweet. I still remember the light coming in through the windows, her hair a brilliant white, wizened eyes and an experienced face, as she said “Oh, is that you there, Eze’kiel?” and “I think it was a metaphor”. She seemed so crazy at first. And the more she was with us, the more guilt I saw in her. And I know that any of us: Tovyn, Apolline, Tariel, would have given anything to alleviate that from her. The Hands brought her in, convinced her this world was a sandbox meant to fold. But if I have any say, I’ll hunt those Hands to the last and chop them off at the knuckles. Julia wanted redemption, so my actions will carry her spirit to it.
An interesting fellow caught my eye though as I left Apolline to Lucius’s loving care, and to watch Tariel. A squat man, copper hair, thin beard, red and green attire with an interesting medallion (I could’ve sworn it were Hightower, but there was a dragon over it?) approached, asking for a Knight of Sungaard. I paused and dismissed him quickly. But he told me he heard “we were gonna kick the Emperor’s ass”. I wanted him in our ranks, quickly. The guys crass, seems low-born, from Oren, but he’s got a hell of a sense of humor and being around him almost made me forget about the troubles of today. But, of course, every drop of sugar has its salt these days. The storm was travelling, South, towards Sungaard. The monsters the Sorcerer spoke of within.
I gave the bad news to the group, after introducing Harold. Tariel and I were, obviously, more worried than the rest, and felt the urgency of the matter, but neither him nor Apolline were fit to travel. I’d take what Northerners I could alone, but honestly, I know it’ll only kill us all, and as much as I like Harold, his timing is strange: directly after a bandit attack, an Orener approaches promising his sword (fists?) against Oren. He seems simple and honest, and I appreciate those qualities, but he’s dodgy and clearly has his fair share of secrets. I’d rather not travel entirely alone with him yet. That said, it was 3am, we needed sleep, and we weren’t going to cover ground in the night either… this battle was unfortunate in every sense of the word. Tariel and I retired: I wrote a Ballad to remember those sacrifices made before I slept.
When I woke up, (after tying my sword hand to my sheath so I don’t stab myself in the fucking night) I noticed Tariel start shaking in the night. I feared (oh gods I feared) he might spring to life, attack me as those did in the Church. I wouldn’t know what to do: I can’t kill my family, least of all like this. But I threw something at him, and he stirred. My hand then was free, pulling towards him, against my protests and resistances. It clasped his shoulder, and we exchanged a brief glance, before it tensed around his neck and he was being strangled. I didn’t need to fear him. He had to fear me.
The only instinct I had was cut my arm off. I lifted my sword and sized up my arm, but my left hand trembled, weakly, my off-hand. I tried to envision it, cutting off my hand, sawing through the forearms, bone and sinew splintering and spewing. It made me sick, to do that to myself. I tried to force it down, but my weak body wouldn’t let me. I did the next best thing: arm can’t function broken. I lifted my knee and smashed it. Probably a worse idea. I can’t feel a severed arm. I was screaming though, every bit of air that came in went right back out with a roar, my arm bent backwards, my elbow jutting through my arm out the other side. I couldn’t even pull away now. Consciousness failed me.
Harold woke me, and I woke Tariel, frantically looking for wounds, terrified I’d killed him. I was shaking him and looking for bruises on his neck before I realized my arm functioned, or that he was awake. I’d never been more relieved in my life. I’ve killed scores of the wicked. I’ve hunted bandit and beast and returned them to what’s above (or below). Tariel is my younger cousin. I know he’s protective of me but gods I couldn’t bear to hurt one of my best friends, let alone my blood. The thought lingered in my mind like a javelin in a beast. Harold gave us some wisdom, why we would dream this (but it was the fucking sorcereress of course) and recommended we drink. I drank much more than I could handle. Before Breakfast. I remember the bartender talking but my ears felt like two glasses were pressed around them, and my mind was foggy with a slew of emotions. If I get my hand back, I’m never drinking again.
Tariel was gone, at some point. It hadn’t occurred to me at all Apolline would probably be suffering some horrid dream too. Apparently, she nearly suffocated in her sleep. She could’ve died. It’s been a few weeks, but we’ve endured hells together, and lost too many friends and family. Losing anyone, let alone Apolline, would’ve weighed too heavily on my heart. Apparently, they sent for Tariel to help her, but his Heartfire is probably waning from a lack of respite. We’re all useless.
Harold talked of his time in prison with Tariel. Apparently, the man was accused of treason for being a brazen moron and charging a dragon, after its glory. Half the hundred-man troop dies, he walks out alive, so they say “fuck him”. I’d be pissed too. He spoke of the love his people have, blinding them to the Emperor’s faults, and the love he has for them. Harold might make a freedom fighter yet. A strange man, strange story, but I’ve met stranger characters. I’ll warm up to him more, but for now, he’s at least pleasant company, and a good laugh. I remember coming to and going to check for letters. Atriana replied.
But it wasn’t her. I know it wasn’t. I remember my letter. It was me. It was my personality on paper, I’m a bit wordy, a bit of a braggart, but my compassion and love shone through. The callousness of her tone, her lack of punctuation: it seemed like any semblance of intellect left her. And she said Augor’s troops were attacking Sungaard in the nights? The storm had come down? My mother and Norsem fled to Glendale, South of Sungaard. It was a lot to drink in. I can’t imagine big Jon Norsem fleeing South: man’s totally out of shape. But if he made it, we’ll hear him howling for miles before we get there. He’s interesting, not to mention, he’s always been one of my biggest supporters. But I digress. Atriana sounded like my father, Anduin, when we’d fled Augor. I could practically see the blood dripping from her lips as she cursed our family, cursed me, marked us cravens, and promised blood. Sungaard was fallen. I don’t know how many Northerners lost. But some people had to have made it to Glendale. Anyone who hadn’t, I’ll pull from those beast’s hands with my teeth if I’ve got to.
We saw Nihyel on the way to Apolline’s tent: we needed to get going to Oren, at least right now. He was outside, no doubt testing something. I grabbed him and told him “Pack up, you’re coming with us”. He was flabbergasted and seemed to protest, chiming “What’s in it for me?” So, I gave him the one thing he couldn’t pass up. “Headmaster of the University of Augor”. He took it, hands down. Even made me call him Headmaster. This was an easy title to hand away. We hadn’t even thought of building a University yet, but now was as good a time as ever.
I could tell we were interrupting something private. But even more so, serious. Lucius relayed that the storm was also going for Falcon’s Peak. I warned him of the dangers in the storm, but he seemed unwavering. Maybe I’ve just been meeting good people, but I admire that in him. I hope he becomes King, Duke, whatever it is that puts his people in his just hands. I promised relief, if we could gather my people and rally them. I intend to keep it if possible. We discussed the plan: Harold, Apolline, Tariel and I. Go to Oren. Save my family. Rally our men. Figure it out from there.
Nihyel had us recover his lab from the wreckage, pulling heaps out. I don’t mean to sound nonchalant about it, but I discussed selling my soul to Tressa. I’m not sure it’s an option. But with all the circumstances… I’m growing desperate. Tovyn sold his soul to the Devils for power, he gave everything for his people. I’d be doing mine a disservice if I wasn’t willing to do the same… but I find my courage faltering at the idea. If I truly must, I will figure it out. Pump approached us after. Sometimes I stare at him and watch him move, and block out the words. It’s been brief, but the thought “It should’ve been you” has crossed my mind more times than I can count. Boro wanted redemption, peace, his family. Pump is selfish, self-serving, and a psychopath. I’d gut him then and there if I wasn’t convinced he was so dangerous. He was rude as ever, and he’s attached himself to us until Nihyel can cure him of his demon in him. After that, I hope he makes like an Orener (except Harold) and dies.
Last thing I wanted to do before I left was let the Northerners know we were moving out, so I spoke to Winh. She was injured, but us Northerners are tough. They did me proud, and, they were proud of themselves. We had a brief exchange about the storm… the monsters within. Winh didn’t believe they were there, and in truth, that’s the biggest worry on my mind. If my people don’t take this threat seriously, and see what’s in the shadows, then we’re walking into a death trap. She pointed something out to me though, about the paper. I hadn’t realized it when I was reading it, but the words were acting funny, in a familiar, strange, and off-putting way. It disturbed me. Sent shivers down my spine to read the letter again. I studied it harder, and I thought I saw a message, but I was wrong. Tariel though: he’s smarter than I, keener. He read through the letter and he uttered it, and I felt it in my mind. Like a dart, thrown into my head. “It calls to us.”
I’m coming, Atriana.