The flash of a spear point. Pain. Chesed tasted the blood in his mouth as he swung at the giantess in front of him. Nothing in that moment mattered. Not the harm he was in. Not the shouts of his comrades. Only blistering rage.
He swung his sword down in an arc and it clanged loudly as it met the giantess's spear. That was the problem though… Chesed was only focused on her. A large fist slammed across his shoulder, knocking the rager off balance.
And it was long enough.
Chesed saw the spear rise, but he couldn't correct his footing in time. Searing pain erupted through his chest like a thousand knives exploding from a fiery blast of sunlight. He could feel the spear slide between ribs as the breath left his lungs. Red blinded Chesed's vision as he teetered a step forward. Then numbness.
Was this what it was like to die?
The rager felt the heat of his power dimming. So quickly. The numbness. His arms dropped like heavy weights to his side. He didn't feel the spear as the giantess withdrew her weapon. She bellowed something as Chesed remained where he was. Something about his clan. The last Starfist… He was the last… Starfist….
Like a bolt of lightning, a prick just over his left shoulder blade suddenly spread. His skin burned where whatever had hit him touched, but it was enough to ebb the consuming numbness. As his vision darkened around the edges, Chesed felt a sluggish leg move.
He was the last of his clan and he would die fighting to the end.
The rager could barely see the giantess as his arm came into view. He was swinging at her. She opened her mouth in a sneering, confused scream. But Chesed heard nothing. The world around him… if it was still there, outside his blackening vision, was silent. He was the only one here and the only thing that mattered was that he kept moving. Kept fighting.
The prickling feel from his shoulder spread icy tendrils through his torso and down his legs. Chesed wanted to take a breath, but his chest didn't respond. He sidestepped a flailing limb from one of the fatter servants and saw the spear aimed at him again. Chesed wanted to raise his shield- it would have been a clean block- but his arm never responded.
The metal sliced through his torso again; Chesed could feel it, but there was no pain. Only more of the ice filled his gut. Just what was he right now?
And then the world went dark. Chesed screamed into the endless abyss around him. Was he still standing in the fight? Was he floating? He couldn't feel anything around him. No ground. No air. No… nothing.
As quickly as the voidless space around him formed, it seemed to shift once more around him. He heard muffled voices in the dark. They were panicked, quiet and quick.
"Get that… over here."
The darkness swam around Chesed. He couldn't move. He couldn't talk. But for some reason, he knew… he was dead. The thought rang through his mind as it too grew slower. He was dissipating, disappearing…. like sand in the wind….
"It's over here."
"I'm coming. Keep a look out."
The dark was broken by light. Words cut through the sounds of silence.
"Do you think it's empty?"
Chesed struggled to bring his sluggish mind to the front. He tried to process the situation around him. He felt his body shift, like someone was going to move him from where he was lying and then hesitated.
"Oh come on. Hurry up."
"Lady's first. Shalelu go."
The sound of rocks scattering down a cliff side.
"Stop looking Mvashti!"
Chesed felt his chest rise slowly, but steadily. His hand found cloth. And he seized it. Hard.
"There's a time and a place guys! And now's not the time!" he heard Erin reprimand whoever had yelled at him just as the rager wanted to throw whatever he had grabbed- not that he could have with how weak he felt. It was the thought that counted right?
"Chesed heard you," a soft voice spoke up close to Chesed's ear. Chesed felt small hands pry his fingers open from the death grip on the cloth, "Chesed we're here. We're safe. We'll get you into the cave we found and then we'll rest. You'll be fine."
Chesed wasn't sure if a noise left his throat or not as he wanted to reply. Actual words didn't come out though.
"Well shit guys. Make him hate me while he's down," Erin retorted.
"How is Darkclaw getting up?" a gruff voice cut over the bickering. It was closer than Erin's. Da'karu must have been nearby as well.
"Got ya covered. Come here big guy," Erin chuckled.
"What're you- Wait! No! Arrgh!" the snarl of a large canine ripped through the air.
"I can show you the world~ Shining shimmering splendid~ Tell me Darkclaw, when did you last let your heart decide~?"
…Was Erin singing?
The lyrics grew distant. They were moving away. Chesed heard the howled response though, "I'LL RIP YOUR THROAT OUT IF YOU DON'T PUT ME DOWN!"
"Those two…" Tomlin sighed, "Chesed's next. Help me get him up…"
The words faded around him again. Chesed fought to keep them there. To know everyone was still with him. But the blackness came again.
"You were down in a hole for weeks. Too bad you didn't have thumbs, like y'know, to escape…"
"WHO TOLD HIM?" the bark echoed through the large cave, "He's doing what his grandmother does! Make him stop!"
"What? I can't bake cookies. Or knit," Erin responded.
Chesed opened his eyes to the dimly lit cavern. A fire burned toward the back of the large cave; shadows danced around the coined walls. The rager reached out for the first thing he saw nearby. His hand closed over Shalelu's gloved fingers.
The elf looked down at him from where she sat. He didn't understand the soft smile that spread across her lips, "Chesed? You're awake finally…"
"Yea?" he croaked out. The taste of iron lingered in his mouth, "How long..?"
"Most of the day… the sun didn't set more than an hour ago," she responded quietly.
"Hey! Is he awake?" Erin called over. Chesed turned his head enough to see Erin scurry up from his spot on the far wall, "All right! Time to get up sleepy scales!"
"No more of your shenanigans Erin," Shalelu gave the card master a scolding look, "We've had enough for one day."
"Come on. Just wanna see my favorite dragon~"
"Goddamn it Mvashti…" Chesed grumbled under his breath. He sat up slowly, feeling every muscle in his body protest… but he was in one piece. Chesed looked at his free hand in the flickering fire light, then turned it over. It felt oddly un-pained….
"We got that on correctly right?" Erin asked as he plopped down next to Chesed. The rager had to give the other man a weird look, "What?"
"Your arm. It totally came off," Erin filled in the information easily, "You don't remember that part do you?"
"No…" Chesed grimaced. Oh boy... How bad had it been?
"And I'm pretty sure I was holding your liver at one point. Gross man," Erin continued, "Da'karu had your arm and we were trying to piece you back together before my spell wore off. Pretty intense moment…"
"Enough Mvashti," Shalelu chided the man from Chesed's other side.
The rager looked at her from the side. He still hadn't let go of her hand since he woke up, and she hadn't let go either. Chesed squeezed her hand and then lifted to his lips. He pressed a gentle kiss to the back of her hand. Shalelu returned the gesture with another smile. The worry he could see in her eyes was fading. Had he scared her that much…? He was an ass…
"I'm glad we all made it out of there," Shalelu spoke quietly as she gently caressed Chesed's cheek, "We're all here and safe… Let's be thankful for that."
Chesed closed his eyes and pressed his face into her touch. He took a deep breath and let the moment sink in. They had gotten to Jorgenfist so quickly… He had thought he could keep his rage and worry in check if they encountered a giant group…. but he hadn't. Chesed could have jeopardized the entire party with blindly running into the fight.
The rager opened his eyes as Shalelu's hand dropped away. But they were safe. They had made it out of that attack. He trusted everyone here with his life, and they had taken care of him. What words of gratitude could he even say?
"I think food's done," Tomlin commented. Multiple heads turned toward the halfling as he idly stirred a small pot over the fire. He slurped at the spoon in his hand, "Mm… yup, I'd say done."
"Awesome," Erin grinned. He was the first to get up.
Chesed grabbed a waterskin from his nearby pack as Shalelu joined the gathering group around the fire. He tipped his head back and drank sweet, sweet clean water. He coughed as the metallic taste in his mouth started to lessen. His throat felt like it had gone days with a single drop of water. Ugh. The taste of blood probably wouldn't go away for some time either…
"Here," the rager looked up as Da'karu handed him a wooden bowl, "You need to eat."
"Thanks," Chesed took the offered food. He met Da'karu's stern gaze. He could read the expression on his face. Da'karu's eyes were fierce… Never do that again... Chesed nodded a little. He didn't plan on it…
Da'karu returned the nod and then took his place over by Darkclaw again. The worg flicked his tail in amusement at something, but the moment Erin passed by him, Chesed saw a snarl forming. Well… what had Erin done this time?
The rager shook his head and remained quiet as the party ate their small meal. Idle conversation about Sandpoint floated among them… about tomorrow… what they might find… how boring Vraxim's book was… right back to Sandpoint…
Chesed only half listened. Something… just something didn't feel right… Despite his sore body and slow mind… He wanted to go out there. He wanted to do something. He wanted to keep going, keep pushing until they were inside the ancient library… if it was even there to begin with.
He never remembered finding anything in his youth that hinted at a buried library around his village. Sure, there had been some ruins to explore, some holes they delved into… but he must have missed the right one.
The rager let out a silent sigh. A bolt of panic went through him as he thought back to those days of looking through the ruins across the plateau. Him and Sera atop of a large, tumbled down wall. Lyssandra struggling to climb the last bit of rock- determined yet all smiles… just…
They were gone… They couldn't be… It wasn't true….
"Chesed?" he heard his name as he quickly got up from the ground, leaving the last of his food behind. The rager paced one way… toward the cave exit… No… he couldn't go that way. It would be too easy to run. To lose his mental battle and throw himself at the giants again in a reckless, futile battle…
He turned back toward the other end of the cave. The rager walked deeper into the large cavern. He couldn't go terribly far. The back of the place was still in easy eyesight of the party. He just… He just needed to distance himself from the group for a few moments. They didn't need to see…. whatever this was…
Chesed paced back and forth. His chest felt tight, like someone was strangling his lungs from the inside somehow. He had left them. He hadn't been there to help. The horror and pain of possibly never seeing his family again chipped away at his thoughts. What if he had stayed? What if he had never left the village? Maybe it would have been better if he had never rebelled against his father and left. Maybe…
The rager continued pacing. He tried to ignore the man as Erin appeared next to him.
Pacing… Go away…
"Hey, look at me," Erin started following the rager's pacing, "Chesed."
Chesed stopped abruptly and snapped his gaze to the card master, "What?"
"It's not your fault, Chesed."
"It's not your fault."
Had he said that out loud? Chesed started to turn away, but Erin grabbed his shoulder. The rager almost hit his hand away, but he froze up. "It's not your fault."
Why? What wasn't his fault?! His leaving?! His family dying!? His failure to gain approval from his father?! The rift that had grown between them!? His mother leaving!?
"It's not your fault."
Chesed felt the gasp leave his lips. He squeezed his eyes shut as sudden tears blinded his vision. It wasn't his fault. Most of it. His mother leaving… the brutal trainings with his father… The accident leading to Sera's wings… His leaving the village…
There was no way he could have ever predicted the giants attacking. He couldn't blame himself for not being there. If he had stayed home, if he hadn't ended up in Sandpoint in his wandering…
He would most likely be dead now. He would have never met his greatest friends. Tomlin, Da'karu, Erin, Ameiko… And he would have never found such love… Shalelu…
Arms wrapped around Chesed. The rager didn't fight the tight embrace he was pulled into.
"It's not your fault," Erin stated again.
Chesed heard footsteps. He felt another set of arms wrap around his waist. The rager glanced over long enough to catch Shalelu's concerned expression.
"It's not- ow!" Erin was about to repeat himself when he suddenly winced.
Chesed sniffled as Tomlin appeared and punched the card master in the thigh. The halfling dug in his side bag and fished out a small piece of rock candy. He offered the treat with a smile.
The rager couldn't help the hiccuped chuckle that left his throat. He took the offered candy without hesitation. This… This was friendship. He looked at everyone around him. Even Da'karu had come over- though he was keeping an awkward distance as he tried to figure out just what was going on in the hugging group. This was love.
Chesed wiped at his eyes and popped the candy in his mouth. "Thanks guys…" he mumbled around the rock candy.
"Everything is okay?" Da'karu asked.
"Yea…" Chesed breathed out. He looked at Erin and then Shalelu, "What would I do without you guys?"
"Probably be dead," Erin blatantly interjected.
Another smack. This time from Shalelu. "Hey!" Erin retorted, "It's a legitimate answer!"
"Moment over," Shalelu rolled her eyes. She turned Chesed's face toward her, "Chesed, if there is any hint, any information we can find about your family… we will do our best to find them if they're out there."
"All right," Chesed responded. And he believed it. None of this party had backed down from a challenge yet. They would finish their campaign against Jorgenfist and then look for any traces of the Starfist clan left. Maybe they would find someone…
Hope was a beautiful thing. Chesed felt like all the burdens he had carried since leaving home were lifted. He looked forward to tomorrow with hope… and vengeance. Retribution for his clan would be swift, and they weren't going to wait for the giants to make the first move.