Kearney Pathfinder Campaign

Starfist Etiquette 101
Together we stand, A crack in the skull we fall...

“Hey guys, what’s up?” Chesed asked as he pulled a chair up to the tavern table where Ameiko and Da’Karu were sitting. He had been out scouting the areas outside of town with Shalelu, and they had just gotten back. It was almost uncomfortable staying in town. So many people staring… so many wanting to touch or be in the “hero presence”… It made Chesed a little sick.

He didn’t want to be hero worshiped. Back home, he would’ve just been considered an exceptional warrior, an elite fighter… not some god thing to look up to. Sandpoint was such a different atmosphere now with everything that had happened…

Chesed had always known the stares of townsfolk would make him uncomfortable if his scales showed. It was different, strange, weird. But to be revered and sickeningly worshiped… that was an even more uncomfortable feeling.

He knew exactly how Nualia felt now, and he didn’t want it.

Erin seemed to think otherwise though. The first moment they had come back to town the card reader had shoved Chesed at the crowd. Just… no… It was one thing to inspire hope in people, not be… yea…

Shalelu laid a hand over the rager’s own on the table. Chesed smiled at her, but his attention went straight to the loud squeak from across the table. Ameiko beamed at them from where she sat, bouncing in her seat with less than hidden excitement.

“I’m a dad…” Da’Karu stated quietly.

“Oh?” Shalelu looked at the rugged warrior as Ameiko snickered.

“Of four…. goblins…” the spear thrower finished his words with little enthusiasm.

A laugh escaped Chesed. Oh. “Vraxim couldn’t handle them?”

“Sara is taking care of them for Vraxim,” Ameiko added, “She took his offer to tutor at the orphanage. I think it’s a wonderful little opportunity. She really loves those kids…”

“Good,” Shalelu chuckled, “She deserves much better.”

Chesed scanned the room as the conversation continued about the orphanage improvements. They were almost all here. Where was Erin?

“Hey Ameiko,” Chesed looked at the tavern owner, “Where is Erin?”

“He said something about grabbing Tomlin and sending out wedding invitations.”

“What?” the statement confused the rager greatly. Shalelu seemed just as perplexed. “When did he leave?”

“Couple hours ago. Wouldn’t be surprised if Tomlin or Vraxim held him up in Magnimar or something,” Ameiko shrugged.

Oh. Chesed relaxed a little. That made sense…. but with Erin there was always ulterior motives. Always. What did he mean by- As if right on cue, a shout from the card reader sounded outside, “Hey Grumpyscales! Come out here!”

Chesed raised an eyebrow as he looked over at the open door. He didn’t know if he wanted to suddenly. It was Erin after all.

“Come on~~~! Usually he’s out here by now, oh Grumpyscales~!” Erin’s voice drifted over the threshold again.

“Go see what he wants,” Shalelu rolled her eyes, “Or he’ll never shut up.”

“Fine…” Chesed got up. He strode over to the open door. Erin was on the front steps, holding… Chesed’s sword? What the hell was the Harrower doing with it?

“What do you want?” Chesed asked as he stepped outside.

“You might want this,” Erin tossed the sheathed blade to him. Chesed caught it easily with an annoyed glare.

A flash of white caught his peripheral vision. Chesed turned and had a split second to register what was there. A full-covering helm tipped with silver wings on each side. A butterfly splayed across metallic blue metal. A green hued blade at the other end of a sapphire-pommeled sword.

Oh gods… He should have seen it coming, but he didn’t.

A loud crack split the area. Pain flared red through Chesed’s skull as the gemmed pommel connected with the side of his head. The rager staggered back into the door frame; his legs buckled as an armor-clad leg connected with the backs of his knees.

“Oo… That looks like it hurt…” Erin visibly winced.

Chesed hit the wooden front stoop and rolled to his back. A brief glance upward revealed his attacker. A towering full-plated woman loomed over him menacingly, death flaring brightly from her enraged blue gaze through the helmet slits. His older sister, Sera was here. And she wasn’t going to wait for words.

He wasn’t going to wait either. Death itself reached down for him, but Chesed rolled to the side. A metal boot caught him in the ribs and sent the rager tumbling down the stairs. Chesed twisted as he hit the dirt of the street and rolled up into a crouch. He tasted blood in his mouth. Great. The splitting pain from his head probably felt worse than it was. But gods

“Stand and fight me, coward!” the roar came as wide, feathered wings opened. Erin ducked out of the way of the winged fighter as she launched off of the steps straight at Chesed.

“I’m not fighting you!” Chesed shouted back as he belted his sword. He could see a handful of openings in her fighting style, but he knew better. Sera always left opportune spots open just to turn a weapon back at her opponent.

As she closed the distance, Chesed raised his arms defensively. A brilliant light erupted from Sera’s being as she swung her greatsword down at him. Chesed blindly stepped to the side and felt the sweep of the blade clip his arm. A well-placed knee sent him tumbling again though. Damn…

Chesed hit the dirt once more and rolled. He felt the blade sweep wide above his head as Sera turned to pursue. The rager glanced up as he passed a bystander in the street. Tomlin’s confused and surprised expression greeted him. The halfing was reaching for his sword, but Chesed waved off the coming help. Lyssandra was there too.

…How many people had Erin gone to get!?

He needed to run. There was no point in having this fight continue within city limits. Too many people were already gathering in the windows and down the street. Someone else would get hurt in the rampage if it stayed here.

Desna help me…

“Do we help him?” he heard Da’Karu from by the tavern. The warrior already had a spear in hand. At least his friends weren’t going to back down. It was a small comfort and a big problem.

“Nah, he’s got this,” Erin replied.

Goddammit Mvashti.

But Chesed didn’t have time to go after the Harrower himself. He had a very pissed off angel on his tail to deal with first.

Another dive. Chesed twisted around as Sera flew at him again. He caught the blade with a palm and felt it slice deep into his skin as he shoved it to the side. As her full weight slammed into him, Chesed’s arm shot over her shoulder and wrapped around her neck. He caught his footing just long enough to pull his sister out of the air. They tumbled in a clatter of metal and bone.

He felt the fury blaze through his limbs as he locked Sera’s head under his arm. Wings stretched into the sky as he tried to contain the struggling warrior. Sera’s helmet clattered to the street as she fought the hold.

Arrows were notched. Chesed looked up to see frightened guardsmen coming down the street with bows drawn. Okay, here was definitely not the place to be now. A fist connected with Chesed’s chin and made him jerk backward, but his grip remained intact. He hauled Sera up from the ground and hooked an arm around her side as she let out an infuriated screech.

And then they were in the air. Chesed hauled them both into the sky with as much strength as he could muster. Sera fell still for a few moments as the weightlessness of flight hit her. Chesed just prayed the disorientation would last long enough to get them far away from the crowds.

He jerked his head to the side as she tried to connect a headbutt. He veered haphazardly toward a building wall and narrowly missed the corner. No… there was probably no stopping the rage any time soon. It would take time… Time he really didn’t have.

After a long few moments, Chesed dropped his sister in a grassy field southeast of Sandpoint. He landed as Sera regained her footing. She stood slowly as Chesed tracked a wide circle around her.

“You can stop now,” he stated quietly.

“You left us,” Sera growled back.

Chesed met her enraged gaze and shock hit him like a thunder wave. A long scar ran along the right side of Sera’s face, starting from her hairline and leaving a jagged line all the way down past her chin.

“What happened?” he couldn’t help the question, though he knew the answer. The giant attacks. Somewhere in all the chaos of Storval Plateau being taken over the blow had to have landed.

“You left!” Sera screeched. Chesed braced himself as she leapt off the ground. He sidestepped the greatsword as it swung at him.

“That’s not what I was asking, Sera,” Chesed responded. He tripped the other warrior and let her stumble to her knees. Her sword landed out of reach for the moment.

“The plateau… the village was attacked,” Sera responded between angry breaths. Chesed was about to approach when her voice grew louder once more, “And you weren’t there!”

The air was knocked out of Chesed’s lungs as Sera swept around, her wings clipping into his already bruised side. What a day to not have his armor on around town… Chesed may have kept his footing but it put him in direct line of Sera’s fist as it came at him.

Her fist connected with his face, but he wasn’t going to be daunted by the pain it sent streaking through his skull again. He struck back, catching a surprised Sera across the jaw. She fell backward and again Chesed circled around and away from the winged warrior.

“I’m aware I wasn’t there, but it wouldn’t have made a difference, Sera,” Chesed continued walking as he wiped blood from his face, “I would probably be dead now too if I hadn’t left.”

“You were off playing hero and chasing skirts while your family died…” she spat back. Her anger was starting to wear off, but his sister clung to it stubbornly, “You’re just like father…”

Chesed felt his own anger flare suddenly and way too intensely for his liking. He stepped forward as Sera moved to get up again and struck out at her. He punched her squarely across the face, “You will not compare me to him!”

It was a strange feeling, knowing he had actually willingly hit his sister for once. Chesed let Sera stay where she was as he paced in the grass. It felt wrong, but also.. needed. He grabbed Sera’s sword from the ground. He wouldn’t let his fury blindly guide his hand today, but still… He had control…. He had control…

“You left…” he heard the whisper, “And he went insane… Chesed…”

Chesed felt his own anger dissipate as he looked back at his sister. She was struggling to keep herself contained, but it wasn’t rage this time. It was… fear? Hurt? …Grief?

“We heard about the attacks to the north… Father redoubled the training in the village… We were so unprepared… and… he was so scared to lose another child… He evacuated everyone after the first strike hit the village…”

“Lyssandra informed me,” Chesed didn’t want to hear this. This was his older sister, the proud flyer and warrior of their village, not this… heartbroken thing in front of him… Lyssandra had told him about the evacuation, but not about the feelings behind it.

“Then she told you the village was ambushed as we tried to leave?” Sera questioned.

“No… she didn’t mention many details…” Chesed wasn’t sure if he should stay where he was or try to comfort his sister. He probably wouldn’t be welcomed very warmly…

“They wanted us all dead. I was struck down by a blade while Lyssandra gathered the others… and then father was there… He died… right in front of me… to save us.”

“I’m sorry,” Chesed couldn’t find any other words to say. They both knew it was meaningless, but he felt some sort of response was needed.

“Shut up.”

It wasn’t as commanding or forceful as it could have been, but there was the Sera he knew. Chesed looked at the sword in his hand before cautiously approaching the other warrior. Sera flinched away as he swung the sword and stabbed it into the ground in front of her. Did she really think he was going to hit her with it? Guess it wouldn’t have been a terrible shock… fists or swords, the Starfist way was: hit first, ask later.

“The past is done. The future is unknown. Live in the present Sera… and choose your own destiny now,” Chesed stated as he let go of the blade, “Either swing at me again and go back to the plateau, or sheath it and choose a new road. The choice is yours.”

He waited as his sister looked up from the ground. Her hardened gaze eyed the blade and the distance between them. Was she really calculating her chances? Chesed really hoped not. He was tired of fighting for the day.

A short laugh escaped his sister, catching Chesed off guard. She took the sword and leaned back, looking up at him from the ground. “You’ve grown… brother,” she stated quietly.

“Yea?” a hint of a smile broke across his face, “Well, fighting demons and cultists will do wonders I guess.”

“Demons?” Sera’s eyebrow raised at the word, “I don’t believe my little brother could handle more than a goblin when I last saw him…”

“Well… long story… I may have left out a lot when telling Lyssandra about my excursions…”

“I see…”

“Hey! Are you guys done killing each other yet?!” Chesed tensed as he heard Erin’s voice drift over the calm of the field.

He glanced over as the Harrower approached with Lyssandra following. She had tagged along… Probably to arbitrate if they weren’t done fighting yet.

She had come along… with Erin….

“Uh Chesed?” Erin stopped as the rager rounded on him.

“I told you to stay away from my sister!” Chesed growled menacingly.

“You said not to TOUCH her! Wait… that didn’t sound right… Chesed!?” the Harrower retreated as Chesed took off after him.

He wasn’t going to hurt him… much. Besides, he owed something for bringing the earlier beat down.

“Chesed!? Buddy! Seriously!?” Erin howled as they bee-lined back to town, “I’m sorry! I didn’t do anything I swear!”

He wouldn’t hurt him…. much.

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The Calling and The Search
Though I cannot see them, My words will call out to you, Reaching on silver wings...

Days had gone and past. Chesed felt the air shift under his wings as he glided over the steep plateau sides. He had stayed in the Jorgenfist encampment to make sure the giants were moving as promised. Nothing seemed amiss with their departure. Conna’s words had stirred her people into quick action, and Chesed didn’t doubt they were relieved to be away from the taboo grounds. He was as happy to see them go as they were to leave.

Surprisingly, most of the actual villages and settlements had remained untouched. Other than the initial areas of resistance, the giants had barely touched the empty houses- only using buildings large enough to accommodate them as actual dwellings. There wouldn’t be too much rebuilding…

The third day he had seen Magnimar once more. Between Erin’s trips with Vraxim to move the enormous library, the rager had tagged along, if only to see what he could do for some equipment upgrades. After a rather tedious argument with Shalelu, he had finally convinced her to let him travel alone for his intended mission. He could cover more ground and not have to worry about another body to possibly fly. She hadn’t been happy with the decision, but the elf understood his feelings over the situation.

This was something he needed to do alone.

The fourth day landed him back on the plateau as Erin and Vraxim continued their seemingly never ending task of moving books and scrolls. Chesed had quickly departed ways with them with the promise to return if anything came up. Erin could find him… The young warrior trusted the card-reader to scry him or something.

So here he was, traveling across the plateau, making as much progress as he dared to with only a sword at his side. Armor was left behind for enchantments in the mean time. It felt liberating to say the least. Chesed knew the lands he crossed, and knowing he could take off into the air if he came across anything kept his spirits fairly carefree.

His first target was the Storval Stairs. Then, if he didn’t find his family there, he would go further. He couldn’t imagine them going past Ravenmoor, but there was a possibility that they had gone further. It just all depended on circumstances and decisions….

Chesed glided gently over the steeply angled stairs. If his excitement became a bit too much, he was prone to flying for short bursts. The raging fury clung to the edges of his mind as it burned the mounting adrenaline away again. It would slow him for a time once he landed, but the fatigued would be quickly walked off as the thought of family drove him onward.

It was near the base of the Stairs when Chesed encountered his first group of wayfarers. They appeared native to the plateau, many tribal markings and furs making up their attire. Chesed slowed his approach as multiple eyes turned toward him. A muttering erupted among the tribesmen as he neared the group. A couple of the men pointed at him as he pulled up in an almost haphazard swoop.

Just because he had wings, didn’t make him an expert in landing overnight. There had been more than one embarrassing attempts to find a good landing method… and Erin hadn’t helped with laughing at each new attempt. He was still…. maybe awkward at it.

Chesed used the curve of the swoop to circle back toward the ground. He landed close to the group, but gave the startled people enough room to collect themselves. It wasn’t every day someone just came flying in…. right?

An older man, who appeared to be the group leader, approached with outstretched arms. Chesed was surprised by the wide smile on his face, but even more taken aback by his words, “Avniel! Gods be praised! We believed you had fallen to the pleateau’s evil!”

“I…” Chesed hadn’t expected to be mistaken so easily, “I am not Avniel…”

The man looked confused for a moment before his expression turned grim. “Ah… it is as they say then? The Great Winged-One is dead.”

“Yes,” Chesed confirmed the man’s question, “Avniel is gone. But so is the threat to your people.” The words still felt strange on his lips. His father was gone…

“The giants have taken everything,” a woman spoke up from the middle of the group, “Why have the gods forsaken us so?!”

“Hush Igveil…” the older man spoke softly to the woman. His gaze returned to Chesed, “You say the threat is gone? The giants are no more?”

“My party killed their leader, Mokmurian,” Chesed met his gaze with a stern ferocity, “The giants are leaving the area as we speak. It will be safe to return.”

“Desna bless us!” someone called out, “You jest!”

“Why would I lie about such a thing?,” Chesed responded in turn.

“Who are you, Winged-One?” the elder asked.

“I am Chesed Starfist,” the rager replied, “Son of Avniel and Taenth.”

“Son of Avniel…” the elder nodded, “I knew your father in better times. Come… join us. Let us hear of your exploits.”

Chesed would have refused the offer, but the day was coming to a close and word needed to be spread of the plateau’s liberation. He could start with this small gathering, and by tomorrow, runners could be traveling through the lowlands to every misplaced tribe.

“All right,” the rager took the offer. Maybe if he was lucky, these people would know the whereabouts of his family if the elder was familiar with his father. And a night in the company of tribal traditions was a welcomed reprieve…

~

The next day brought the next group; this time, more familiar faces were among them.

Chesed approached the group at a brisk walking pace. He recognized some the figures bent over their horses as they rode out to meet him. A small camp had been established, roughly halfway between the Stairs and Ravenmoor was his guess.

A shout rose above the pounding of hooves across the ground. The small band split and circled around Chesed in an intimidating sweep, leaving him no immediate escape but up.

But he wasn’t about to run…. he recognized the orange red haired man who led the group.

“Hayden, is that you?” Chesed could hardly believe the change in one of his best friend’s visage. The other warrior had trained along side him; he had always been an optimistic youth with bright eyes and a lust for a good fight. Now his demeanor seemed rougher, more hardened by the days in exile. And the scar that cut across his lower jaw added to the ruggedness.

“Chesed?” his name was spoken with more disbelief than anything at first. The red-haired warrior circled his horse around closer as the group tightened their circle around the rager. “Where in Desna’s stars have you been?”

“Traveling,” Chesed replied. He wasn’t sure how much animosity was left over his departure, And you?"

“Kicked from our homelands, bloodied, beaten, and left for dead in the plains….” the sardonic response came as Hayden looked down at Chesed from his horse, “What brings you back to this joyous place of despair? Did Desna not show you the way when you ran away, tail tucked between your legs?”

Chesed leaned toward his old friend with a low growl rumbling under his words, “Desna took me down the path that killed Mokmurian. More than you could say for our people.”

You killed Mokmurian?” Hayden scoffed, “I don’t believe you.”

I didn’t kill him. My friend Da-Karu had the honor of landing the final blow….” Chesed corrected the red-head, “The plateau is free for our people to return to, if they wish.”

A murmuring rose around Chesed as the group pondered on his words. “What proof do you have?” Hayden asked. His hardened expression had cracked. A glimmer of hope was in his old friend’s eyes.

“Go see for yourself,” Chesed gestured toward the direction he had come, “The giants leave even as we speak. Mokmurian’s death broke their will to stay in their forbidden lands.” He met Hayden’s gaze with a meaningful look, “There will be peace, Hayden.”

“Impossible…” someone muttered from behind.

Chesed turned on the young man who had spoken up, “You who don’t believe me, go and check. Prove my words are truth or lies or sit here idling away. The choice is yours.”

The group looked to Hayden for guidance. It was such a strange thing to witness. Chesed didn’t remember his friend being a figure of authority, but it also… nice? Hayden had matured as much as the rager had in his absence from home.

The red-haired warrior nodded to the men to his left, “Take half the patrol and scout the area. And be careful.” Hayden looked at Chesed after that, “Chesed, you will come with us to the camp. I am… interested in this tall-tale you want to spin over our heads.”

Chesed nodded. He waited as the group split. As the scouting party disappeared over the lowland plains, he was gestured toward one of the horses with a smaller rider.

“No need,” Chesed commented. Before Hayden could argue over the offered ride the rager felt the violent surge of fury enclose him. A couple of feathers trailed behind Chesed as he took off into the air, startling the group enough to earn a few shouts, but one voice rang clear above the rest. Hayden’s laughter followed Chesed and it made the rager grin as he flew ahead of the group.

An old, familiar face was welcomed right now. It was another step closer to his goal and it filled the warrior with more hope each passing moment.

~~*

So many faces. Chesed couldn’t stop looking around as he followed Hayden into the heart of the camp, on foot once again. The rager recognized many of the villagers he had grown up with going about their daily lives in the makeshift tents and roads. Wide eyes looked up at his passing, some in shock, others in annoyance. His presence wouldn’t be welcomed by everyone… but Chesed expected some harsh backlash already. He was ready for it.

“So you were gathering people here to take back the plateau?” Chesed wanted to make sure he was hearing this right as Hayden explained why there were so many other, not so familiar faces.

“Yes… we sent word out to anyone who wanted to take back their homes, to meet here and we would march on the plateau to take back what is ours.”

“You wouldn’t have gotten far…” Chesed commented as he eyed a small boy notching and then dropping the arrow in his hand. All around him, were some warriors yes, but an army, no. There were too many younglings to consider and not enough weaponry to go around to those who were able to fight.

“What else were we to do then?” Hayden shot back, “Let them have it all?”

“Not march to a slaughter,” Chesed bit back.

Hayden led on in silence for a time. Chesed was fine with the sudden lull in conversation, but it also irked him. He could hear the whispers behind his back as more and more people noticed his return. Great…

Hayden ignored the onlookers and led Chesed to a quieter area with a large tent pitched on one side of an open area. A stone-ringed fire crackled in the center of the clearing, inviting people to sit at its edge. Children giggled and played along the carved benches scattered in the area as older caretakers supervised.

Chesed came to a stop as he caught sight of a strangely familiar braid of messy golden blonde hair. Tears stung at his eyes but the warrior blinked them away as his younger sister caught one of the roaming children and directed them back to their mother.

“Lyssandra…” the name left his lips in a whisper. As if the word had been loud enough to hear, his sister looked up as Hayden continued his approach.

A silence fell over the clearing as children noticed the newcomer in their midst for the first time.

Chesed!” the first screech erupted from the far side, “Chesed! It’s Chesed!” Multiple voices chimed in unison.

Chesed could only hold out his arms and kneel down as a rush of multiple children came at him. Little bodies hit the rager and he fell backward on his butt in a mass of tumbling arms and legs. A laugh escaped him as he tried to hold all seven of his squirming half-siblings, but it was no use. There were too many of them and they were getting too big to handle all at once. The dog pile pinned him effectively in place as kisses and hugs were showered on him.

Home…. This was home. He had been away too long…

“Chesed you look different!” Olef spoke up in his ear. He felt curious fingers touching the scales on his face and neck, but Chesed didn’t flinch away for once. He let his siblings poke at the changes his power had wrought over his skin.

“He’s a dragon!” Annette and Ura exclaimed in unison. So some things never changed…

“Not exactly,” Chesed chuckled.

“Where have you been!?” Destin asked excitedly.

“I bet he killed lots of giants!” Athan argued.

“No he killed dragons!” Bri scoffed, “See the scales! He took them!”

“That’s not how that works,” Krystal spoke up.

“Yea huh!”

“Nu uh!”

Chesed let the children break into their arguments, the momentary distraction allowed him to get up from the mob.

“Your hair is too long…” the soft comment came from Lyssandra as she observed him upon his approach.

Chesed stopped in front of the blonde, “Then I guess you’ll have to cut it.”

“I guess so…” she responded. The world seemed to stop for a moment. Chesed could see the nightmares that played through his head night after night… the ruined faces of his sisters judging him, sightless and dead. He wanted to make sure this wasn’t a dream he was going to wake up from…

A sharp slap across the face made the rager flinch. Yup… it wasn’t a dream. He turned his gaze back to his sister as her hand dropped to her side.

“Don’t you ever leave without a word again. You got it?” she snapped. Chesed could see the tears forming in her eyes. No, he couldn’t have that.

The warrior reached forward and pulled the older teen into a tight hug. “I promise.”

The moment was short-lived however as their multiple half-siblings pressed in for more hugs and attention.

“Chesed! Chesed tell us where you went!” they giggled as hand tugged at his clothes, “Everything!”

“All right, in a bit,” he responded. Chesed looked at his younger sister again, “Where is Sera?”

“Sera…” Lyssandra’s hesitation sparked a moment of dread in Chesed’s chest. He hadn’t come all this way just to find out that Sera wasn’t… She couldn’t be…

“She left yesterday to recruit more people to take back the plateau,” Lyssandra responded, “Y’know, she’ll be pissed when she knows you showed up and she wasn’t here.”

“She’ll be pissed no matter what,” Chesed breathed a sigh of relief. Just what he needed, Lyssandra’s leading words to make him feel terrible for a few seconds before giving the actual news.

“We’re gonna fight the giants,” Olef spoke up from Chesed’s left side.

“No, you’re not,” Chesed ruffled his half-brother’s hair, “None of you are.”

“Yes I am!” Olef argued, “I’m old enough to join the patrols! Just watch!”

“I say no,” Chesed met the teen’s gaze, “Because the giants have left our homes.”

“What?” Lyssandra gasped.

Chesed nodded slowly, “We defeated Mokmurian and his mother took leadership. She is moving the tribes back to their lands and away from ours. There will be peace.”

“You cannot have peace with giants!” Destin chimed in.

“We can,” Chesed caught the younger teen in a headlock, “If we work together, anything is possible.”

And it was the hundredth time he shared the story, but this time Chesed didn’t gloss over details and give a vague interlude of how he came to the plateau. People didn’t need to know what was going on or how they had been led to Mokmurian’s defeat, they just needed enough story to know it was done. But here amidst family, Chesed refused to leave most of his travels.

And it all started in Sandpoint where he had heard the scream of what he thought had been a child at the time coming from near the fishing docks….

~~~

“Chesed!”

The rager looked up from the book in his hands as he heard the last voice he expected to hear amid the encampment. Multiple eyes turned from the pages as his half-siblings looked up to the entrance of the tent.

“Sup buddy? You here? We uh… got some issues happening back in Sandpoint. Hey beautiful, what’s your name?”

Chesed snapped the book shut with a some annoyance.

Mvashti.

His half-siblings moved as Chesed uncurled from the corner, their storytelling was at an end for the moment. It had been a good couple of days, but he was needed finally. The only thing that bothered Chesed was the fact that Sera hadn’t come back to the camp yet.

He stepped out of the tent and was mildly surprised to meet Shalelu’s bright smile. The elf stood awkwardly amid the gawking looks, but Chesed’s immediate attention shifted to the harrower off to the side hitting on the first girl in his sights… his sister.

“I know some guys would say it, ‘if I could rearrange the alphabet I would put “U” and “I” together,’ but I’m classier than that. Hi, I’m Erin Mvashti."

Goddammit Mvashti.

“Erin,” Shalelu cleared her throat.

“Oh hey Chesed,” Erin waved at him before returning his attention to Lyssandra, “So what do ya think we c-”

Whatever he was going to say, Chesed didn’t want to hear it. So the rager shoved his way between Erin and his sister.

“Oh hey, come on,” Erin chuckled sheepishly, “I don’t-”

“Touch my sister and there will be no words to save you from me,” Chesed bluntly stated, his voice much colder than he anticipated.

“Whoa, whoa… she’s your sister?” Erin didn’t look surprised, “I mean, she’s hot and all, but I would never Chesed. Never cross that boundary. Totally not.” Chesed’s eyes narrowed and the harrower quickly retreated with an offended look, “After all this time and you don’t trust me? I’m hurt Chesed. Truly hurt!”

“Okay, enough,” Shalelu’s hand landed on Chesed’s chest; the gesture kept him from moving forward to intimidate his friend further.

“Who are you?” Annette asked as she tugged gently at Shalelu’s cloak.

“She’s an elf. Duh,” Destin responded.

The younger girls gasped; wild excitement filled their eyes. “The elf! The elf! Chesed’s lady friend! The elf!”

Chesed face palmed as Shalelu’s gaze turned to him. It was asking the question of ‘just what have you told them?’

“Guys… settle down,” Chesed hushed them. He straightened up as his half-siblings fell silent, their faces expecting some sort of introduction.

“This is Shalelu and Erin. I told you about them the other night…” Chesed started.

What did you tell them?” Shalelu demanded as the children giggled and circled the two newcomers.

“Good things!” Chesed retorted with a kiss to her cheek, “Except for Erin…”

“Hey now…” the harrower groaned, “Not fair.”

Chesed was going to respond, but Lyssandra cut in with a scathing look over the spellcaster. “You’re a spellcaster? Ha! I’ve seen babies look more capable than you.”

“Appearances can be very deceiving,” Erin shot back smoothly. His attempts at a smoldering charm fell on indifferent interest though. As Lyssandra stepped away from him, Erin threw a perplexed look over at Chesed, “And this is..?”

“Lyssandra, my younger sister,” Chesed introduced his sister as she focused a scrutinizing eye on Shalelu.

“I like you,” Lyssandra commented. She offered her hand to the elf, “A pleasure to meet you, Shalelu.”

“Likewise,” Shalelu awkwardly shook hands with the younger woman.

“And they all are?!” Erin pointed every which way as children popped in and out around them curiously.

Chesed held a hand up as each half-sibling seemed to line up, oldest to youngest, as he spoke, “This is Olef, Destin, Athan, Krystal, Bri, Annette, and Ura…. and Sera isn’t here.”

“You didn’t mention a huge family,” Erin snorted.

“Not like you asked much,” the rager muttered back.

“What was that?”

“Nothing… so what is going on?” Chesed changed the topic.

Erin’s lighthearted attitude only dampened a little as he launched straight into explanation, “Well there’s a huge hole in Sandpoint. Like huge… and literally a hole… you have to see it to get exactly what I mean.”

“So we’re headed back there?” Chesed nodded, “Let’s go.”

“You’re leaving again?” Krystal shrieked. The children stopped their excited bouncing and looked to Chesed.

The rager knelt in front of his half-sister, “I am leaving again, but I promise all of you, I will see you again.”

“Well, we don’t need to leave right this moment,” Erin cut into the encouraging moment, “We can stay the night or something.”

Chesed was ruffled by the quick glance Erin gave his sister. No… no no no no, the were leaving immediately.

“Let me grab some things and I’ll be ready,” Chesed quickly said as he swept back into the tent.

As he grabbed his sword and a couple small items, the rager heard the tent entrance rustle. He glanced over his shoulder to find Lyssandra holding out a thin silver chain. “Just promise me you’ll come back in one piece,” she pressed something into Chesed’s hand.

The warrior’s fingers closed over their mother’s ring that he had found. Lyssandra had cleaned the small trinket and found a new chain for it to hang from. “I will,” Chesed promised, “And please tell Sera I’m sorry for missing her. She and everyone here is welcome in Sandpoint. I know a couple people who could some helping hands.”

“I’ll keep it in mind and let her know,” Lyssandra replied.

Chesed kissed his sister’s forehead and then left the tent quietly. He walked over to his friends as his half-siblings crowded around to say their goodbyes. Chesed gave a small wave to them. They would be safe in Lyssandra’s care until Sera returned. Then maybe… just maybe they might join him in Sandpoint. Or go back to the plateau. He wasn’t sure yet.

“Hey Chesed,” Erin spoke up.

“Yea?”

“I was being serious about staying the night,” Erin commented.

“We don’t need to waste-”

“I can’t cast it again til tomorrow.”

“I….” Chesed stared at the harrower in disbelief.

….

Goddammit Mvashti.

View
A Father's Pride
The apple never falls far from the tree...

Red. That was all Chesed could remember the moment they set foot in the final chamber. Red had laced the corners of his vision upon seeing Mokmurian and the snake lady. And the blackness that followed…

The flare of conscious thought at the words, “You left your love unattended.”

His attention was only split from Mokmurian for a second until the following, satisfying response came, “I don’t need a man to defend me.”

Focused darkness.

And then it was done.

Chesed felt the stagnant air disperse around him as the giant’s body collapsed backward in front of him, a spear and fletched arrows pin-cushioning his chest for the killing blows. The giant hit the floor with a resounding thud, and Chesed waited. He waited for any sign that Mokmurian was not dead. He had to make sure. The fury clung to his skin, but went unrequited as he waited perched like a hawk over its targeted prey.

A long minute passed. He could hear his collective party gathering together from the chaotic fight. The rager finally broke his gaze away from the giant’s corpse when a hand brushed over his shoulder. Shalelu whispered soothing words in Elven, calming the unrelented fury burning inside. Chesed took a long, slow breath as the rage finally dissipated.

“Are you all right?” the rager asked quietly. Shalelu didn’t appear to be in the best of shape. Maybe he shouldn’t have just run in…

“I’ll be fine,” she responded. An eyebrow was raised at him though, “‘Over here.’ Really? That was a wonderful response in a wall of fog.”

“I…” Chesed didn’t remember giving any locations during the fights. But at the same time… He had blacked out… Awkward…. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

The elf snorted.

“Well,” Erin spoke up from across the room, “Found the key. I think…” The card reader held up something that could have been a key to the doors they found earlier, “Want to see the library?”

“Might as well,” Tomlin replied.

The group gathered their weapons and healing was dispensed where needed as they made their way back to large doors, small chitchat floating between everyone. Chesed kept glancing over his shoulder as the group finally entered the library. It was better to be safe than sorry…

The clanking of something heavy and the squeal of un-oiled metal sounded as they stepped inside. A wobbly metal-like guardian came forward from the left side of the open room. A language Chesed had barely heard came from its mouth. Chesed kept a hand on his sword as Erin responded in the same tongue.

“Uh… well, this is the Librarian,” Erin introduced the guardian after a short conversation, “It wants to know if it can find a topic for us. Anything? Anything at all?”

“Can he find books on heroes?” Tomlin’s face lit up.

Erin nodded a little and translated over to the guardian. Chesed looked back into the hallway they had come. He had interest in where their next adventure would take them, but he was also concerned for the safety of leaving. Would the way back be clear? Could they trust Conna to keep her word for the giants to leave? He was pretty sure they could. Conna seemed to have much, much more honor than her son. And the giants thought this land was taboo. There shouldn’t be any reason for them to linger too long on the plateau…

The itching feeling of wasted time gnawed at him as the group settled momentarily in the library and laid their plans out. Erin would go get Vraxim. Da’Karu and Darkclaw would stay until they were back. Tomlin seemed bored by the prospect of staying in the library after the Librarian returned no books on his hero topic. Chesed volunteered to head back up the stairs to inform Conna of their victory. Shalelu wouldn’t hesitate to come along. He would have her and the halfing if anything went wrong. A good combo…

The moment Erin disappeared from the hallway, Chesed felt the gnawing feeling pull at him again. Why was he so restless? They would get there in due time… He would get the time to find is sisters. Maybe. It depended how quickly they would need to move with the possible threat of a Runelord looming over them, but that was something they needed Vraxim to help them find out.

The giantess was still in the shrine room. She was quietly sitting in front of her ancestors’ shrine. She barely glanced at the trio as they entered.

“It is done then?” she asked quietly.

“Yes,” Tomlin stated firmly, “Mokmurian is dead.”

“Then I will go to the tribes and we will prepare to leave,” Conna hesitated as she thought on her words carefully, “I am not happy to know my son is dead. But he has paid for his atrocities the only way he could… But I thank you heroes… a darkness has been lifted from our people.”

“If there is anything we can do to help…” Shalelu started to offer.

“No,” Conna cut her off gently, “This is my matter now. We will leave you in peace… and I hope we can maintain such in the future.”

Chesed met the giantess’s gaze as she stood. She observed him with a curious expression. They had said nothing to each other except when they first met, and Chesed didn’t care to break the silence. The giantess’s expression said otherwise of her thoughts though. She excused herself from the room to gather the tribes and announce the news. Maybe they would talk later. Chesed shrugged the thought to the back of his mind.

“Want to go see what’s down the hall?” Tomlin asked.

Shalelu passed Chesed an amused look before looking at the small warrior, “We should probably collect the dwarves from the back halls as well.”

“Oh right, those guys…” Tomlin mumbled, “Forgot about them…”

The day seemed to pass in a blur after that. The trio found the dwarves waiting and ready for a fight. They regrouped to some of the inner rooms as giants moved through the halls with quick steps. Their hurried pace gave away their excitement to leave. Chesed didn’t blame them one bit. He wanted to leave this cursed place just as much as they did.

It was while watching the giants tow supplies up the ramps around the bone pit that the rager’s day seemed to slow. The urge to leave still gnawed at the back of his mind, but Chesed remained rooted to the spot where he was sitting along the stone edge of the ramp. He wanted to make sure everything was going to go smoothly for the giants and their party and… well… everything?

He glanced down into the bone pit, the scales of the two young dragons glimmered in the sunlight still. It was kind of saddening to see them dead… The thought didn’t stay long as another glimmer caught his eye. A tiny point of light sparkled below the shimmer of red scales, on the ground right where one of the tails curled through the bones.

Chesed glanced around. There was no one around for the moment, the last of the giants was moving barrels away from the hole’s edge; they would probably be back for another trip soon…

The rager slipped off the rocks and landed in the bone pit with ease. He gingerly stepped over what he could, being careful to avoid disturbing the area. He would feel more comfortable after Vraxim had the time to bless the fallen souls here and give them the prayers to move on if they hadn’t yet.

The little shine was still evident from this angle on the ground though, and it drew the rager closer. Chesed hopped into an open spot, delicately avoiding another skeleton. The shine was coming from a ring half buried in the dirt. He crouched down and scooped up the trinket with interest. A broken chain fell away from it as Chesed brushed dirt away.

His heart skipped a beat. Chesed turned the golden band in his fingers as he chipped hardened clay from the crevices of the band. Slowly, an etched dragon found its way to the surface. The creature coiled around the band, hidden only by the feathery wings encircling the inlaid sapphire on the top.

Chesed recognized this ring… and it made the pain of loss suddenly more real. It was the his mother’s ring. The one that his father had been given back when she had left the village. The one his father had always worn on a chain around his neck. His father…

The rager’s hand curled around the ring and the cool metal pressed into his palm as he stood up, holding the trinket tightly. As much as he wanted to throw it away, to forget about it and the past… Chesed would keep it. He had to….

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there…” he whispered to the quiet around him, “I promise I will find them…”

Chesed.

The rager glanced over his shoulder as he heard a barely audible whisper. Had he heard his own name? Maybe the others were calling for him? He needed to get back…

Chesed.

The warrior looked back and nearly toppled backward in shock. A shimmer of white blue formed before him for a couple seconds, nearly a mirror image of his own form, but taller, more built…. and wider wings…

I am proud of you, son.

As quickly as the ghostly image appeared, it vanished. Tears formed at the corners of Chesed’s eyes. It was words he thought he would never hear… and honestly, the rager wouldn’t have been surprised if his mind was just playing tricks on him… but… relief filled him. An overwhelming calm settled in his soul, making the rager close his eyes. His family was avenged and could rest easy in the afterlife… He would find whoever was left… He could carry on the Starfist clan title without any animosity now… The past was the past now. He would continue moving forward until one day, maybe he would continue the clan…

“You look just like him.”

The words rang through the silence of the bone pit. Chesed turned sharply to find Conna standing by the bottom doorway.

“Anviel was a terror of our tribe… His hatred for us was unquenchable…. but I do not see that in you…” Conna continued, “Am I mistaken, son of Anviel?”

“My father hated giants with all his heart,” Chesed sighed, “I do not care to follow that path. Mokmurian is dead. We will leave it at that.”

“My son for your father…. seems fitting for such a story to pass,” Conna stated, “I am sorry it had to be this way.”

“Don’t be,” Chesed responded. He started moving out of the bone it, pocketing the ring in his belt bag for safe keeping, “My father made his decision. Mokmurian made his. We will leave it at that.”

“This gives me hope that we can live in peace in the future then?” Conna’s words were promising though her tone was less than hopeful. Hatreds wouldn’t dissolve overnight; they both realized this. Chesed still struggled with it even now. But every little encounter since the attack in Sandpoint til now… it had lessened bit by bit.

“I don’t see why not,” Chesed gave backing to her words, “Despite the fighting, I think both sides would rather see it end. I am sure something can be worked out in time.”

“We will see then, son of Avniel…”

“Chesed,” the rager stated. He preferred not to be titled under his father’s name if at all possible.

“Chesed…” the giantess repeated, “Yes… Chesed Starfist. We will meet again one day. Under peaceful terms I hope…”

“Agreed,” Chesed nodded. They both knew dark days were ahead. Their meeting would never happen, the peace on the plateau and beyond would never get a chance if he didn’t focus on the task ahead. The task of possibly taking down an old Runelord…

But Chesed knew they could do it. His group would prepare. They would fight until the end to see Varisia and all its inhabitants safe. They all just needed to work together and they could do it. Right?

View
Calm Before the Storm
Knowing is half the battle.

“You can rest here for a time. I will watch over you.”

Chesed bit down on his tongue at those words. The giantess, the mother of their enemy, was offering a safe haven to his group. Why? The thought didn’t sit well with him. Not with his past, not with everything he had been taught. Letting the giant go in Sandpoint had ruffled more than a couple feathers, but…. but he trusted his allies. His friends.

The decision was up to them.

A nod passed between Tomlin and Da’Karu, though the latter didn’t look convinced of the giantess’s words. Erin shrugged as he plopped down against a wall, “Sure, why not?”

That was it then? Chesed’s gaze turned to Shalelu. The elf cupped his face gently, “I’ll watch over you. Get some rest.”

That was it then. They would trust their lives in the hands of a possible enemy and Shalelu. Chesed knew Shalelu would be capable of alerting them if something happened, but would they be fast enough to act on it if things soured?

“All right,” he murmured, even though the words made his gut twist. Chesed took Shalelu’s hand and kissed her palm before moving to find a place along the wall, closest to the door of course. He would be on point if anything dangerous came through.

Shalelu sat next to him as Chesed curled up on the bedroll. Her fingers trailed through his hair softly. The touch calmed his initial worries. They would be fine…. If not, they would fight through it and win. Anything was possible as long as their group stayed together…

But a feeling pulled at Chesed’s heart as he tried to quiet his mind for sleep. It was the ever present thoughts and worries of his family… What had happened? Where were they? Would he find them? Were they… gone?

They were all questions that the giantess could possibly answer. But the rager couldn’t ask.

Chesed shifted as he heard heavy footsteps pass by. He followed the sound of shifting fabric over stone, and barely glanced up to find the giantess sitting on the other side of Shalelu. Silence fell in the darkened chamber… as silent as it could get with the noise of roaring dragons and fighting in the far distance.

“Why are you helping us?” Shalelu’s quiet question drifted under the noise up above.

“It is as I told you,” the giantess returned in the same hushed tone, “As it grieves me to say it, my son must be stopped.”

“A hard burden for a mother carry,” Shalelu sighed.

“Believe me, if there was any other way, I would beg of you to do it.”

“I believe you,” Shalelu replied, “We will do what we must…”

And they would. Chesed ground his teeth together as the overwhelming urge to cut something in half hit. He would personally see to it that Mokmurian was ended.

An ebbing and waning silence filled the room as the two spoke quietly of other, less interesting things. Chesed’s mind slipped a little further into an uncomfortable doze. It wasn’t restful and he was still on edge for anything. What he didn’t expect was a simple question from his love that brought his mind sharply back into wakefulness.

“You know of what happened to the people on the plateau? The ones in the way of this… expansion?” Shalelu stated.

Chesed tensed under her hand, unable to say anything, dreading and hoping for an answer of clarity. The yes or no.

“Yes… I witnessed some of the fighting,” the giantess replied after a long, painful pause, “Many were driven off the land. Some fought back.”

Shalelu carefully brushed fingers through his hair again. She knew he was awake, and she knew it was an important moment, “And the Starfist clan?”

“The Starfist clan…” the giantess repeated, “Yes… their village retaliated with the most impetuosity. Their leader, Avniel the Winged-Terror, fell in the last battle.”

It was something Chesed expected, something that he knew was most likely the outcome, but the words sliced into his chest like a thousand daggers. Avniel, his father, was dead. The rager struggled to contain the overwhelming urge to strangle the nearest thing he could get his hands on. His hands closed over the edge of the sword lying next to him on the floor. The metal was cold and the pain cut sharply enough through the turmoil to ground his mind. He had to stay calm here… the fight…. the revenge would come soon enough…

“And the rest?” Shalelu pressed the question firmly.

“From my knowledge, most escaped into the lower lands,” the giantess responded, “Avniel’s bloodline lives on in his children.”

“Then there is hope,” Shalelu left the open statement in the air as relief flooded Chesed’s body. The rager let go of the sword blade in his hands and relaxed for the first time in days. His sisters were out there… He just needed to find them. Determination flared in his chest. They would finish here and then he could take some time to search. He would find his siblings. Whether during or after everything was over, Chesed wouldn’t stop until he found them. It was a promise he would keep.

And that was the best night of sleep he had gotten in a long while.

View
Reunited and Ready to Go
The things you let go will someday teach you how to fly. ― Jenim Dibie

They were waiting for Erin and Da'Karu to return. Chesed slashed at a wyvern as it screeched in fury.

Yup. Waiting….

They at least had the caves to explore. With spiders… and wyverns… and goblin things…

Yup. Waiting…

Chesed let out a triumphant shout as his sword cleaved through the last wyvern's neck. The creature fell to the ground twitching. No more horrid screeching, no more snarls and growls.

Someone let a gasp out from behind him. Chesed turned to follow the noise. Did someone find something? Was there another threat incoming? Was there…

Tomlin and Shalelu were staring at him with wide eyes.

"What?" he opened his mouth as a small panic hit him. What did he do? Why were they… staring at him in almost awe? 

"What?" he repeated, feeling more ruffled by the stares than before. He let the raging power in his veins die down for the moment. They obviously weren't in danger.

"You had wings…" Shalelu breathed out.

"What."

And that was when Chesed noticed a feather drift past him. He started a bit and reached out to catch the fluffy white object. As soon as it hit his palm the feather dissipated from view.

"You had wings, Chesed," she responded, "You… didn't notice?"

"Cool…" he heard Tomlin mumble.

Chesed wiped his sword clean of the wyvern blood.

"You don't seem surprised…" Shalelu walked over to him.

"Well…" Chesed sheathed his sword, "It does run in the family… and I plan on keeping it going."

The elf snorted next to him, "Oh really?"

Chesed shrugged but grinned at her, "Yup."

"Can you do that again!?" the halfing appeared in front of Chesed with an excited look up at him.

"Sure?" Chesed wasn't sure if it would happen again. Never hurt to try right?

He headed for the cave entrance and let the raging power surge again. Tomlin followed with a skip in his step despite the heavy armor he wore. 

Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it wasn't. He took a deep breath in as he closed his eyes.

"That's so awesome," Tomlin commented.

Chesed opened his eyes. A couple feathers drifted to the cave floor as he turned in a slow circle. He flexed his shoulder blades and felt the new muscles respond in turn. He curled a wing around touched it delicately. Pure white feathers reflected the sunlight shining down from the open sky.

Wings… Just like his sister's. Just like… his father's…

Chesed was a bit surprised that he hadn't manifested dragon wings. With all the scales and fire powers, it made more sense that he would follow in his mother's footsteps. But it didn't seem to be that way now. He was definitely a mashed-up combo of both. And maybe that was what was so wonderful about it.

"Go!" Tomlin tried to shove him forward.

"All right, all right…" Chesed responded, "Pushy…" He stepped out of the cave with a mutter, "Didn't think someone else would be more excited than me…"

"What was that?" Tomlin tried to make him repeat what he'd said, but Chesed only grinned.

The rager raised his wings to the sky, and in a heartbeat was gone. Air streamed past him, cool and refreshing. The sun lit his scales and wings together in a white and gold dance of glittering brilliance. It felt good…


"Hey guys!" Erin called out as the three other members of the party approached the cliffside.

"Friends!" Tomlin called back. He waved frantically as Shalelu looked on. Darkclaw had successfully led them to their new camping place, though the worg kept a fair distance from the card master as they walked. Da'karu was between them, adding a wall to further split the two.

"We have returned," Da'karu nodded to the two of them.

"It was a pretty good run. Sold most of the loot," Erin filled them in. "I got everything split up back in Magnimar… and…" the caster stopped mid-sentence as he glanced around.

"What'd you do?" Shalelu asked outright.

"What did I do?! What did you do!?" Erin gasped, "Where's Chesed?"

"He's scouting," Tomlin replied.

Erin looked appalled, "You left him alone!?"

"Stop worrying," Shalelu huffed, "He can handle himself."

"You remember what happened last time we let him run in alone right?" Erin growled, "He-"

A gust of dust cut the caster off. Erin coughed as he heard the sound of wings beating the air. Chesed abruptly appeared in the sky over them before pulling up in a quick arc. The movement was a bit clumsy, but the the rager made up for it when he landed in a graceful crouch.

"You got your wings!" Erin exclaimed.

Chesed straightened up with a wide smile, "Sure did."

Da'karu nodded, though his expression was still a mixture of shock. 

"You got your wings!!" Erin repeated himself like it was the only words he could think of for the moment.

"Still doesn't help the smell…" Darkclaw mumbled.

"Really?" Chesed commented.

"It's true, mutt," Darkclaw retorted, "I'm not lying am I?"

"No," Chesed shook his head, "Guess I expected something… else to come from you."

This made the worg chuckle with a low rumbling growl. The group was back together. They were ready to venture further into the caves. Hopefully the top one would lead them into the heart of the hidden library and they could bypass most of the giant army. Cut the head off the snake… They could scatter the giant army and save Varisia again.

"YOU HAVE WINGS!" Erin's voice grew in pitch.

Goddammit Mvashti….

View
Better Company Than Death
Friends make the world a better place.

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.

Revenge.

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."

"Move!"

"…alive?"

"The arm…."

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….

Black.


"It's over here."

Words.

"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.

Goddammit Mvashti...

 "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…

"Hey."

The rager continued pacing. He tried to ignore the man as Erin appeared next to him.

"Hey."

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."

….What?

"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.

View
Giants Attack
The bigger they are...

Half-breed mutt.

If only the dragon knew how hard that nerve had been hit. It didn’t matter anymore though.

Can’t grow your own scales.

He never said he wanted to.

Chesed felt his sword slide free of the dragon scales as the large creature shrieked and convulsed. He watched Tomlin duck to the side as the beast came crashing back down to the ground. It had tried to flee the fight when the giants’ horn sounded; Chesed wasn’t having any of that though. He would have flown after the monster and made sure it was put down for good.

Half-breed.

Nah. Chesed was far from a half breed.

Mutt.

Yea. That was more like it. He couldn’t argue. He was from a pretty screwed up lineage.

The scaled warrior looked over at Tomlin. The halfing nodded back with a grin slowly crossing his face. The small warrior was fine. Chesed was done here then.

The rager looked up as he kicked into the sky again. He didn’t have wings, but magic was always a fun thing to mess around with… Dammit. Mvashti was definitely rubbing off on him again. Chesed circled around over the town glancing over the streets. The giants were fleeing and the general population that was left in Sandpoint looked well enough.

He passed over Erin as he dipped lower over a street.

“All good here!” the card thrower waved.

The rager turned over in the air with a wave back. Chesed closed his eyes as he popped back up over the building. He flipped around and let the breeze flow through his fingers. It was an exhilarating feeling. Flying… He could remember the few days when Sera would take him flying. He had always wanted to fly without aid… and maybe that day would come, but right now…

His gaze fell on a limping giant. The creature wasn’t keeping up with the others, and none of them were helping him move. Sad. Everyone for himself. It was a bad mentality to live by sometimes.

Chesed dove with his shield at the ready. Before the giant knew he was there, Chesed landed in a crouch. He swung the shield around in a wide arc and tripped the lumbering giant. The ground shook as the creature toppled forward with a surprised roar. It was fairly quick to roll to the side, and Chesed shook his head as he followed the creature. The giant looked at him with wide eyes as the rager raised his sword.

…Right. He had forgotten he was about the same size as the giant right now. Awkward…

“You’re not going back,” Chesed stated. He twirled the blade over and sheathed it in one move as the giant sat up. The creature was holding its side. Chesed took note of the fletched arrows sticking from its shoulder. This one had fought Shalelu and Da’Karu…

The giant glared at him but remained silent. Chesed rolled his eyes and grabbed the giant’s ankle. With a forceful yank, the rager started dragging the giant back toward the town, “You really could make this easier…”

“Why not kill me?” the giant asked in a gravelly voice.

It was Chesed’s turn to remain silent. He wanted to kill the creature. He wanted to drive his sword through its heart. He wanted to watch the light die from its eyes as it breathed its last breath.

But he wouldn’t. They needed information and- after what they had gotten at Hook Mountain- the giants seemed pretty eager to give their information freely when captured. Hopefully this one would be the same.

“Nice catch,” Da’Karu comments as Chesed dragged the giant to the edge of town.

“Thanks,” Chesed replied, “Are you all right?”

“Da’Karu will heal,” the wild man responded. He paused for a moment before adding, “Stones hurt.”

Chesed chuckled at that. Yea… they did.

After a grumpy look from the giant and some waiting, the group collected themselves around the area where Chesed was watching the giant. Erin had obtained barrels of mead from some source… and apparently the giant was going to talk with the alcohol available. He couldn’t have cared less. The talking wasn’t his part unless it was translation.

Chesed leaned back against the building wall and took a swig of mead.

“…I’m sorry what happened to your clan.”

Chesed lowered the tankard from his face. He could feel the stone cold expression cross his face as he met the giant’s eyes. The tankard dented in his hand as his grip tightened reflexively.

What did you say…?”

View
Hook Mountain Halls
The fire grows brighter.

A splash of bright blood splatters across the floor. The dark droplets almost glitter in the flickering light as Chesed pulled his sword from the slain giant in front of him. His head snapped to the side as he heard movement from the shadows. He turned his blade to the side as he readied for another attack. His heartbeat filled his ears. He could feel the fire rushing through his veins.

Another.

The pounding footsteps of giants announce the presence of reinforcements. Chesed felt the fire burn in his chest. He needed to keep it contained… if only until no one in his party was in the way. A multitude of giants leered from the shadows. A club swung at Shalelu and narrowly clipped her in the shoulder as the bedraggled giants trudged into the lit area. They didn’t look like warriors, but Chesed didn’t care in that moment.

Don’t touch her.

His hand raised as he focused on one of the giants in the middle of the group. Swords and spears were in hand as his party dodged away from the new assault. He felt the surge of fire from within, and Chesed flicked a hand. A streak of glowing red shot from the tip of his finger. An explosion of fire enveloped the giant group a moment later.

Another.

Chesed pressed forward in the clearing smoke of the blast. A few of the giants were on the ground, lifeless… with flames still clinging to their now dead carcasses. One giant barked out orders to the remaining group.

Him.

The rager threw himself at the leader of this pack. the sooner he was gone, the better.

Chesed sidestepped to the side as an orge hook came reaching from the dim light. He pushed himself forward and ducked under a swinging club. His blade met hide and flesh once more as he skirted around the enormous brute. Chesed raised his sword to block the huge hook rising above his head, ready to strike down in all its vengeance at the hit he had inflicted. A flash of magic popped across the side of the giant’s face. Chesed blinked as another small blast hit the fiend. It staggered and then with a guttural groan fell backward.

The rager glanced over his shoulder as the last of the giant group fell to his party’s blades. His eyes darted over to the other entrance to the room.

More?

Chesed was about to check the other room -the fire burning hotter within. The excitement, the thrill of battle was still dancing through his head. They needed to find more… They… He wanted more fighting…

“Chesed.”

The rager hesitated at his name. What? Confusion dotted his thoughts. He needed to find another fight…

“Chesed.”

A smack to the face. He would have retaliated but a strong hand seized his chin the next second. His head was wrenched to the side and Chesed was forced to look at the person who had struck him.

Shalelu glared back, but with worry in her eyes, “Chesed, enough.”

Her hand dropped away as her eyes widened in surprise. Chesed felt the fire die within. What was that expression?

“Chesed? …Are you all right?” Shalelu’s voice was a whisper now.

Well… except for the hits he had taken… “I’m fine…” he breathed. He shook his head to clear up the fuzz in his thoughts. Chesed glanced around before his attention came back to the elf in front of him. She still looked concerned, and a little peeved.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Don’t do that!” her hand connected with his cheek again, but this time without the force of the first hit. Her fingers trailed along the scales across his cheekbone, “Please… don’t go in like that. It… scared me.”

The pieces came together as the last of his rage slipped away. “Oh…” a sliver of guilt stung him, but it didn’t linger long. “Sorry…” he mumbled as his hand closed over hers. He pressed a kiss to her palm. They both knew it wouldn’t be the last time he would run headlong into a fight. It felt good to know she was concerned for him, but she didn’t need to worry. If things were too dangerous, he would find a way out. He trusted his life in the hands of his friends, as they trusted theirs in his.

A smile graced Shalelu’s lips, but it didn’t dissipate the concern in her eyes. “What is it?” Chesed asked quietly. Was there more to it?

“Your eyes…” she spoke quietly, “When I hit you… they were… dragon eyes…”

“What?” the word was barely audible on his tongue.

“It surprised me is all,” Shalelu hushed any concern he might have had, “I didn’t expect it. I’m sorry.”

“You’re fine,” Chesed replied. A moment passed and suddenly the rager let out a chuckle. Shalelu rolled her eyes as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Are you two done?” Erin spoke up from the side. He flicked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the other entrance, “Cuz y’know, there’s a giant room full of giant weapons and everything is giant and stupid and being made here.”

“They’re giants Erin,” Shalelu commented, “What do you expect?”

“I don’t know. Clubs and hooks and junk like that. Not full weapons and battle armor,” Erin responded.

“Oh?” Chesed was curious now. They would move on and investigate. It was all they could do right now.

View
Calming the Nightmares
I got you bro.

The screech of a bird. The clash of steel. Smoke choking the lungs. The frigid bite of cold weather across the skin. Fires burning all around. Shadows dancing beyond the light of the flames.

Chesed.

The young warrior turned at hearing his name. Something felt familiar about this. He knew the voice calling for him. His younger sister. Where?

Chesed!

In an instant Chesed was running. He followed the cry as fast s he could. Around burning buildings, around roaring fires, around the desolate nothingness that surrounded him.

“Lyssandra!?”

A scream split the air making the warrior frantic. “Lyssa!?” He shouted as he tried to pinpoint her location. A flash of white. Chesed’s head snapped to the side. A white feather drifted in front of him. Chesed caught it, but he didn’t need to be told who it belonged to. He turned slowly as another feather drifted past. His voice caught in his throat as horror sank into his chest.

His little sister was on the ground huddled over a prone body. Blood streaked her face and soaked her hair; Chesed couldn’t even tell if it was hers or not. There was so much blood…

“Lyssa…” he whispered, but the warrior couldn’t move forward. It was like someone had weighed his feet, his arms, his entire being down.

“Chesed…” she spoke through tears. His sister looked up and Chesed felt everything fall away. In Lyssandra’s arms was their older sister. Sera was scratched, burned, gored… but worst of all were the bloody stubs still dotted with feathers on her back. Another feather fluttered by Chesed’s face as he stood in shock.

“Chesed…” Lyssandra choked out, her blue eyes fading in the light, “How could you…”

The crack of wood made Chesed turn immediately. The flash of golden scales and a roar deafened his ears. The feeling of teeth sinking into his shoulder took his breath away. The world spun in confusion as he felt his feet leave the ground, beating wings carrying him into the air.

“Chesed!”

A clear voice cut through the chaotic noise. Chesed’s eyes snapped open as he gasped for air. He snapped up from the bed, but gentle hands caught his face. It was dark… and smelled odd. The inn…

“Shh… you’re fine,” he heard Shalelu’s quiet whisper as he tried to recover his breath, “I’m right here.”

Shalelu pressed her forehead against his as Chesed closed his eyes again. What the hell had he just dreamt? Something didn’t feel right. It could just be the effects of whatever magic he was hit with the previous day… maybe… It had all been a dream. Just a dream…

“Are you all right?” she asked, still in the quiet whisper.

He was going to say fine. He wanted to say yes. But the image of his dead sisters made him hesitate. “I need some air,” he finally managed.

“All right,” she responded, “If you need me, you know I’m here.”

A slight smile crossed Chesed’s face before he got up. He swiped his shirt from the small table and pulled it on. His fingers brushing over covered scales made him pause again as he straightened the fabric over his torso. Something didn’t feel right, but he wasn’t going to say anything. It was probably the magic still hitting him.

The warrior left the room and headed for the front door of the inn. Just some air… He would clear his head and then go back to bed. He passed the small lobby.

“Oh look, Mr. Grumpy Scales is finally up.”

Chesed rolled his eyes. Only one person dared poke that name at him. He looked over and found Erin shuffling his card deck, feet up on the low table in front of the couch. Dammit Mvashti.

“What are you doing up?” Chesed asked him.

“Could ask the same for you,” Erin responded, “Figured I’d get an early start to the day. Y’know, spells and all.”

“The sun’s not even up,” Chesed stated, mostly to himself. Honestly, he didn’t understand half the things Erin did. Maybe it was better that way.

“Something up?” Erin asked as he flipped a card from his pile.

“I’m fine,” Chesed stated before he could stop himself. Erin shook his head. “What?” Chesed said.

Erin raised an eyebrow, “Seriously? I know you well enough Chesed, and this isn’t exactly normal for you to be up before dawn unless we’re kicking you out of bed.”

“Says the guy who’s lazier than me,” Chesed retorted.

“Ow,” Erin pretended to be hurt, “Remind me to never talk to you when you’re grumpy.” An awkward silence fell. Chesed was about to head outside as he had intended, but Erin spoke up again, “But seriously, what’s up?”

Chesed was about to tell him off when he caught the concerned look Erin was giving him.

“I… bad dreams…” Chesed responded. He plopped down on the other cushion next to the Harrower.

“Ah, I hear ya,” Erin nodded, “Chased by women again?”

“No,” Chesed snapped.

His friend let out a chuckle. Ugh. Was that all Mvashti had on his mind? “So if it wasn’t women, let me guess-”

“My sisters were there,” Chesed cut him off. He really didn’t want to hear anymore crazy ideas or he would have nightmares of them too. “Everything was burning… and… I’m worried about them.”

“Ah younger women, same bloodline. Awkward. Well we could look at some cards,” Erin stated. Chesed gave him a skeptical look. It wasn’t that he doubted Erin’s abilities, it was just… was that really a good solution?

“If you think it will help,” Chesed mumbled.

“C’mon man, it’s better than nothing,” the Harrower responded. Erin shoved the deck into Chesed’s hands a moment later, “Shuffle it.”

Chesed did as he was told. They had done a reading before. Nothing had really come from it. Why not? He handed the deck back and Erin deftly laid a spread of cards out on the table. “Pick a line…” Erin stated.

Chesed’s hand hovered over the cards for a moment as he decided. The first one was the only one. The second one. The third one. The fourth one….

“Oh,” Erin exhaled.

“Oh?”

Oh,” Erin repeated. He studied the cards for another moment, “Definitely whatever’s on your mind… you’ll need to find it on your own. Something in your past has affected you til now, and you can’t rely on anyone but yourself to understand and find it. But…”

Chesed raised an eyebrow. It was pretty obvious to both of them what exactly was the bother. Chesed rubbed the scales on his face absentmindedly. Yea…

“But?”

“You need to follow the rules man. What will happen will happen… and if you don’t let it… well, it won’t be a good thing.”

“Hm.” Chesed pondered on the reading. Vague. It could mean a lot of things. He would keep it in mind. What happens will happen…

“Well, I really can’t promise good things even if you do let stuff happen. Y’know?” Erin commented.

“Yea…” Chesed chuckled. Why did that lighten his mood suddenly? Things that will happen, will happen… and they couldn’t change it. “Thanks Erin… you’re damned well crazy, but you’re a good friend.”

“Thank you,” Erin responded with a grin, “You’re grumpy, but a good friend too.” Chesed shook his head.

Dammit Mvashti.

View
Forgiveness and Truths
Truths lie in our words...

“Do you love her? If there’s even a shadow of a doubt in your answer…”

It was a question he expected. And he had an answer, but the words stuck in his mouth as quizzical eyes surveyed him from across the room.

“You seem to mean well,” the other man continued, “Shae told me about the goblin raid. How you went and liberated her out of Thistletop.” He momentarily paused as he set an empty tankard aside.

“We did everything we could. We… even lost one of our group in the process. Thistletop was a lot more than expected,” Chesed responded with a sigh. “She mentioned that part right?”

“Yes,” Jakardos nodded, “But your group managed.”

The grizzled man’s gaze dropped the side as he contemplated the multiple stories he had heard, “Hell, you and your boys brought Kibb back to me after that… situation.” He nodded toward the ajar door of the inn room, “You brought Shae to me. I think you’ve earned an explanation, but heed my story after it’s said and done.”

Chesed nodded in response. He had been curious about Shalelu’s past. She rarely mentioned it and had only brought it up once or twice. Chesed hadn’t said much about his family either. Maybe they just didn’t know what to say. Until now.

Kind of.

“When I was younger and before I joined the Black Arrows, I spent a few years as an adventurer, much like your little group,” Jakardos grinned a little in the candlelight. A spark of adventurous glee still danced in his eyes, “My group eventually ended up in the region around the Mierani Forest. You know where that is? We, uh, helped a small village of elves defeat a group of murderous ettercaps. They were being led by a green dragon.”

“Mm, not what you expected I take it?” Chesed commented.

“No…” the smile died from Jakardos’s face, “We… Well… All said and done, my companions perished in the fight, giving their lives for the elven community of Crying Leaf.”

“I see…” Chesed flinched internally at the idea of losing companions. It was a small fear that lingered in the back of his mind. Gawadir had been the first to fall… but no one had followed since. There were close calls, but no one had died. And he hoped to keep it that way.

“I was nursed back to health by an elven priestess of Desna there, and we fell very much in love. Her name was Seanthia, Shalelu’s mother,” Jakardos continued a little slower now, his mind obviously wrapped up in a flurry of thoughts. “Those were the days…” he sighed, “I would have lived the rest of my life in Crying Leaf had not Seanthia herself perished when the village was attacked three years later. Someone resurrected that damned dragon… With my aid, the town put the beast down again, but I was too broken-hearted to remain…”

Chesed remained silent as he watched the other man. Several emotions flickered across Jakardos’s face as he fought to contain himself. Chesed didn’t know if any words of comfort would help. He was good with people younger than him, not the other way. And he really didn’t want to put his foot in his mouth here.

I gathered my belongings…” Jakardos continued with a hushed tone, “Within minutes of the dragon’s death, I left Crying Leaf behind me, along with the sorrowful task of attending to Seanthia’s funeral. I…”

He didn’t know the pain of loss like losing a lover, but Chesed could reflect the pain in a different way. His own mother, Taenth, had left. He had been seven years old. The settlement his family had been working to set up for five years was flourishing. The town guard was training for any sort of defensive against giants if they attacked again. The small village was slowly being militaristic. And Taenth had left, getting rid of the last source of opposition against his father’s ideals of training everyone to fight. For training children for battle.

Chesed hadn’t heard from his mother since… It was like she had died… but there was always the lingering hope and horror that she was still out there. Out there and not caring that her three children were being trained like dogs of war.

“My heart hardened,” Jakardos broke Chesed from his thoughts, “I… eventually heard of the Black Arrows and applied for membership. I hoped that service to the order would help me bury my damn broken heart. To a certain extent, my plan worked.”

Chesed met the other man’s hardened gaze. It was exactly what Chesed had done. He had left home. He had left his sisters in the hands of his war-like father. Some days the regret would creep in. It would eat away at his conscious. Other days he didn’t think of it. He understood the constant battle of will it took to not look back. To not consider a different timeline.

“The loss of Fort Rannick has wakened similar memories of Seanthia’s death and the torment of it all. I bitterly regret abandoning Crying Leaf, and between wishing I’d died in either the dragon attack or in the ogre attack… Son, I was ready to die to the Grauls. Would’ve put me out of my damned misery… Until I was reunited with my stepdaughter…”

The relief on Jakardos’s face was a welcomed sight, but it was quickly covered with a distant look of confusion and trepidation, “Our reunion’s been… complicated. Son, in the decades since last we met, she hasn’t aged a day, whereas I’ve become a grizzled old man. In her…” Jakardos’s voice grew quieter, “I see the specter of her mother…”

As if snapping himself out of a terrible memory, Jakardos shook his head, “But… Last night, Shalelu came into the church to confront me. She had to find out whether I was the man who loved her mother, or a monster who left her motherless.”

“I’m aware,” Chesed responded. Shalelu had been gone for a good length of time.

“I… I didn’t blame her for having an arrow trained on me before I woke. Stars above, I don’t know what broke me down harder, either her striking resemblance with Seanthia, or how she held the arrow to end me there with the bow technique I taught her. But it broke me.”

Chesed leaned on the chair arm and subconsciously rubbed the back of his thumb along the scales under his right eye. What would it be like to see his sister Sera now? Would she be as angry as Shalelu was? How would she react? How would he react?

“I sobbed like a damned fool, “Jakardos sighed, “When my blubbering woke the boys, they found Shae comforting me. She hadn’t expected my reaction… Nor did my men. Seeing me sob like that greatly unnerved Vale and amused Kaven. Neither had ever seen me bare even a shadow of my past… I just…”

“You understand, she forgave me last night,” Jakardos stated the words like he still couldn’t believe them.

“She has a big heart,” Chesed smiled a little behind the hand covering his face, “I’m impressed she overlooked… me for me.”

Jakardos let out a muted chuckle, “I’m a little surprised myself… but it seems she’s full of surprises for the two of us.”

Chesed traced a scale on his cheek with a smile. Shalelu may have presented a fairly cold exterior when the group had first met her, but after peeling away some of the layers she was just as kind-hearted as his own mother and sisters. Shalelu cared for the people around her, for Sandpoint, for her step-father… it was her unshakable devotion that had drawn Chesed in the first place. She was willing to put her life on the line for others that she didn’t even know, and that made a world of difference in his eyes. She truly cared for others.

“Said she wants to hear stories about Seanthia,” Jakardos breathed to himself mostly, “Stars above, never will I deserve having her for a daughter…”

“Never will I deserve her love,” Chesed commented quietly. He was a monster in every definition of the word. But if she could overlook the draconic side of his lineage… maybe it wasn’t as bad as he believed.

“Son…” Jakardos made him look up once more. His face was serious, “If you love her… don’t ever leave her side… Not for anything. Y’hear me?”

“I will stay by her side until the day I die…” Chesed put every sincerest thought into the words, but a shadow crept from the depths of his thoughts.

Or until she doesn’t want me anymore…

He shook the chilling thought away. He had had this battle before when considering telling Shalelu of his feelings. Of course it would always be a fear he would face, but every day buried the thought a little bit more.

He loved Shalelu. And nothing was going to stand in his way to be with her…

“Good,” Jakardos responded gruffly, “Now tell me. What is with the scales? Shae mentioned something about your mother.”

“I…” Chesed hesitated as he considered his words, “My mother was a half dragon.” He looked over at the other man’s skeptical look, “Gold dragon. If you couldn’t tell by the scales.”

“I can see the damned scales,” Jakardos rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair, “Your family must be strange indeed.”

“It gets better,” Chesed felt the sarcasm dripping from his voice, “My father’s side has angelic blood as well. I obviously have not inherited it as my sister has.”

“Oh?” Jakardos seemed a little more interested in the information.

“She has wings…” Chesed felt a sudden lump in his throat. The burning animosity that he had buried from his childhood surfaced momentarily in his mind. Sera had always bested him when they were growing up. She had always been stronger, always been better at combat, always had the right bloodline bless her…

“Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?” Jakardos commented.

“It’s terrifying,” Chesed deadpanned. He could remember his teen years like it was yesterday. Sera flying in from the angle of the sun. Sera assaulting him from different sides. Sera beating him in spars. Sera flying away with a laugh.

“So what of your family now then?” Jakardos pushed the question through Chesed’s thoughts.

“I don’t know,” Chesed replied. Honestly, he didn’t know. He had left home in such a fury. So many things had pressed him to leave, and finally, he had done it. Without looking back.
Well… sort of not looking back.

“You didn’t leave on good terms either.”

It wasn’t a question. Chesed nodded slightly, “My father was a tyrant… and his questionable actions after my mother left did not sit well with me.”

“Your mother left?”

“Yes,” Chesed knew the other man wanted more of an explanation, but he really didn’t have one, “She… just left one day. Never returned. I was seven at the time. My sister Sera was nine. My younger sister Lyssandra was five. We were never told why.”

“Strange indeed,” Jakardos murmured, “Your father didn’t stop her?”

“No,” the bitterness burned Chesed’s tongue, “His actions after she left were deplorable. I… I have a lot of half-siblings. None from the same woman.”

“I see…” Jakardos went quiet for a few moments, “I apologize for surfacing any ill memories.”

It took a moment for Chesed to realize his fists were tightly clenched on the arms of the chair. He took a deep breath and relaxed his hands. The topic was a touchy one, but it needed to addressed at some point.

“No, you’re fine,” Chesed responded as coolly as possible, “I expected it to come up eventually… I’m just a little caught off guard is all.”

“Understandable,” Jakardos nodded, “Such things are not easy to discuss with just anyone.”
Footsteps approaching the door made them both look up.

“Are you two going to talk all day?” Shalelu threw the question out as she shoved the door open, “Weren’t we going to take back a fort?”

A grin split Chesed’s face at the sight of the elf, “Of course.”

She rolled her eyes and her gaze went to her step-father. Chesed noted her annoyed expression soften just a little.

“We will be ready shortly,” Jakardos stated as he got up from his chair. He crossed the room and paused as he passed Shalelu. Chesed raised an eyebrow as he whispered something to his step-daughter.

A fleeting smile crossed Shalelu’s face and then Jakardos was out the door. She turned to Chesed with hands on her hips, “Just what were you discussing?”

“A lot of things,” Chesed replied as he got up. He went over to his gear and started putting things together for the day ahead.

“And they were?”

“Now if I told you, we would be here for a while,” Chesed grinned back.

He received an annoyed look, but he could she the affection behind it, “Fine. We’ll discuss this after the fort is taken.”

“Agreed,” Chesed felt like it was a good decision. There was no use in boggling down their minds with super deep talk.

“Hey Shalelu,” Chesed commented as the elf gently picked up her favorite bow.

“Yes?” she asked over her shoulder.

“I love you,” Chesed stated.

Shalelu turned and looked at him. Her smile was genuine and gentle. The one he loved.

“You’re a dope.”

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