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.
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….
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.
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."
“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.
“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.