Absit Invidia

Derryck's Letters: Ellie #2

Dear Ellie,

You don’t know how much getting a letter from you meant to me and I’m so glad that you’re okay. I know it’s been a long time and once again, I apologize for not writing you sooner. I don’t know how safe it is for us to be writing each other, since I don’t know if this violates the terms of my exile, but if you’d be so kind to keep these letters secret from the family, it would be for the best. I don’t want to lose this connection to you.

Also, since you wanted me to let you know about what’s happened to me over the years, I’ll try to tell you as much as possible in this letter. However, I know that I might need to send multiple letters to be able to get the whole story to you. We’ll just see.

I guess we’ll start at the very beginning. When I was eighteen, I’ll admit that I almost completely forgot about the title our family carried because I was wrapped up in my own world. Finally feeling free of father’s watchful gaze and the weight of the Wayland name, I found myself as an up-and-coming arena fighter. During those days, I’d spend most of my time in taverns, participating in competitions, and wooing women. It was a life I thought I wanted back then, but I knew that it hurt the family.

One day, I was with my mentor, celebrating his victory in the arena that day, when I overhead a group of four men discussing a plot to overthrow our house. Without a second thought, I drew my sword and I knew that I needed to do everything in my power to stop them. In the end, those four men lay dead at my feet and I was arrested by the local guard. People have asked me if I regret my decision to kill them, but my answer has always been the same. No. I knew I was protecting my family.

I spent a few days in jail before I was brought before father and the ruler of the city. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look that was on father’s face at that moment. For the first time in my life, he looked distraught. That look didn’t go away when I explained to them what I’d heard and why I’d killed those men. It seemed to hurt him even more. Eventually, he told me that I was going to be stripped of the remaining titles I had and it was decided that I was going to be exiled to the Sira Waste on Vocans. If I refused the exile, I was going to be executed.

I accepted the exile and soon found myself on a boat headed towards the Sira Waste. The sailors didn’t talk to me, but I overheard them saying that I was an idiot for accepting the exile and that I was going to die in that desert. From what I heard them saying about the desert, I knew that death was a real possibility for me, but I also knew that there was a chance that I could survive it. That chance was what helped me to stay alive.

After months out at sea, my first steps on land were shaky. I was given two full waterskins, a pack with a few days’ worth of food, a tinderbox, and bedroll, and a sword. I watched the ship sail away for a while before I knew it was time for me to go. I tried to get my bearings as best as I could, but I just picked a direction and started walking. Days passed with nothing more than sand all around me. I quickly ran out of water and had to resort to drinking the small pockets of scummy water I could sometimes find in rocky outcropping. Food was another issue, but I’ll admit that it was probably a number of weird insects that kept me alive. However, despite my best efforts, I could feel myself growing weaker. I knew I couldn’t lose hope.

I don’t know how many days it had been when I finally caught the glimpse of a city on the horizon. Hells, I didn’t even know if it was real, but I knew that I needed to get to it if I wanted to live.

Luckily for me, it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me and it was an actual city. With each step, I felt my body failing. Each step felt like a mile and my legs felt like they were full of lead. I don’t know how many times I fell down. My head was pounding, my breathing was ragged, and the last time I fell I couldn’t get back up no matter how hard I tried. The only thing I could manage to do was look up to see a group of people coming out of the city. I tried to shout for them, but I don’t ever remember if I was able to make a sound as the last of my strength left my body and I went unconscious.

The next thing I knew, I was in a small cot, drenched in sweat, staring at a pale ceiling. My vision was blurry, but after a few moments it cleared and I tried to sit up. Quickly, there was a hand on my shoulder and a woman’s voice telling me to go slowly. She helped me to sit and every inch of my body seemed to ache. Somehow, the ache was comforting, because I knew it meant that I was still alive. The woman, her voice soft with a heavy accent, told me of how her people had found him outside the city, of how they’d been caring for me, and how I was lucky to be alive. She let me be after that, bringing me some food and water, and allowing me to recover.

The whole experience was disorienting. I had no clue exactly where I was or who I was with and I just came back from the brink of death. I had so many questions, but I knew that I’d get answers to them in time. I spent a couple of weeks with them after that, making sure that I was alright and regained my strength, but I knew it couldn’t stay with them forever. I knew it was time for me to go. I thanked them for their care and offered my help to them, but they said that there was no need for it.

Life in Scorch was tough at first. Since it’s the closest city to the Genovesan Assassins Guild, all the ones who didn’t make the cut ended up in the streets there. That, paired with the number of mercenaries that lived within the city, made for a tense atmosphere at times. It was a den of filth and sin, but with the training I had from home, I knew I could make a living there. I just had to learn the ropes first.

There were a few lessons I learned very quickly while in Scorch. One, don’t pick a fight you know you can’t win. Two, dying there is easier than dying in the desert. Three, never fight in the old tiefling lady’s establishment because she is now your grandma and you don’t want to upset her. Finally, keep clear of the high ranking assassins and all they will do is look at you like you’re the scum of the earth. If you don’t do that, look at number two.

Overall, once I knew how the city operated, I’d have to admit that I was actually pretty happy there for a while. I no longer had the name of Wayland hanging over my head, no one knew who I was, and I could do whatever I wanted without the fear of it coming back to hurt my family. I soon joined a mercenary group and had what I thought at that time was the time of my life. We’d go to taverns and get wasted, we experimented with various drugs, and I was taking a different woman to bed with me every night. It was the life I thought I wanted back home for so many years until one day, I woke up.

I stopped and finally looked at what my life had become. The group I was with didn’t know anything about me other than my name, that I was good with a sword, and that I liked to party. The alcohol and the drugs kept me blind to the fact that my ‘friends’ were no more than people I knew nothing about. The prostitutes I’d bought didn’t think I was any different than any other man who walked into their brothel. I wasn’t special. I wasn’t unique. I was just another face in the crowd in that city. That thought crushed me. It took me two years to realize it.

It was then when I decided to make a change. I was still going to be a mercenary, because I honestly didn’t mind the job and it paid well, but I was going to try to connect with people. I was going to be friendly with the people around me, to try to get to know something, anything, about them. I stopped doing drugs, I rarely drank to get wasted, and I felt a lot better about myself. However, making friends in Scorch proved to be difficult.

It wasn’t that it was hard to make friends, there seemed to be a lot of people there who wanted someone to call a friend too. The problem was that they didn’t seem to last long. Every friend I thought I made either tried to kill me or met their own untimely end. After a while, I decided that it was pointless and stuck with just being friendly with the people around me. It was too painful to get to close to people that wouldn’t be around much longer.

My tactic seemed to make things easier with the people around me, people were calmer and less likely to fight me, and I was even able to have a few nice conversations with one of the top assassins within the Assassins Guild. However, it didn’t help the loneliness I felt. I spent a lot of my free time thinking about home, about how the family was doing, and it pained me to be so far away without knowing whether any of you were alright. I made a point to write to mother every so often in hopes that my letter would get through to home and not be lost in the desert sands. I felt the need to let someone know that I was okay, that I was still alive, but I never expected to get a response back from her. I never really asked for her to write back to me either.

After about another year, I finally met someone that was able to ease the loneliness I felt. I don’t ever think I’ll forget the day I met her. I was in a tavern with my group, having dinner and a few drinks, when another group of mercenaries walked into the establishment. One of the guys I was with nudged me and stated that it looked like they had a new member so I looked over to the group. The sight of her took my breath away. The first thing that struck me about her was the air of confidence she had about her. The guys in my group started to give me crap about looking at her. I didn’t care what they said until she caught me staring. I looked down, just to glance back up in time to see the smile on her lips before she started to speak with her group.

I didn’t approach her until later on in the evening, not wanting to disturb her. Her group kind of glared at me as I walked towards them, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to introduce myself to her.

Her name was Mae.

We spent a little bit of that night talking over a few drinks. She wasn’t new to Scorch, but she was new to the group she was with. We had a pleasant conversation and at the end of the night, she told me that she had a lot of fun and she wanted to meet up with me again soon.

I wasn’t trying to get my hopes up, but I know that with each meeting, and eventually each date we went on, I was hopeful that I finally had someone to care about.

Dear Derryck,

Don’t worry about anyone finding out about our writings I am keeping them secret from the family because I also don’t want to loose this connection. I did ask father if I could have a way to contact you out of curiosity and he said no. He told me that contacting you would cause more issues than it was worth and I thought bullocks you are my brother. I can speak to who I want.

I understand your need to be out from under the Wayland name. Constantly I am berated for not acting as the proper lady I am meant to be. I remember you were in the fighting arena and I wanted to go see you fight at least once but mother forbade it, saying it was a man’s place and women of high stature should never be seen there.

I had no idea that you were trying to protect us. I had heard rumors of you killing people but it was more out of being crazy then trying to save us. I wonder why you had received such a harsh punishment. There must have been witness’s that could plead your case. There should have been a proper trial something. Also, shame on those sailors they were basically trying to kill you with the meager supplies that they gave you.

The Sira Wastes sound awful I am glad that you made it through. Did you ever thank that lady who saved you for being so nice? I have never heard of Scorch but it sound like a dark place, especially near an assassins guild. I have heard of the Genovesan assassins before though well rumors that some have been spotted in Ederos.

Did you like the old lady tiefling? Did she act like your grandmother? That sounds horrible about the assassins. No one should look down on others. But I am glad you attempted to make friends even if they did not last.

Also speaking of mother, I did snoop into if she had received any of your letters she had received some of them but not all. When I came across them I asked her why she never wrote back she said originally it was because father forbade it then it became too hard she said. I think she was lying.

You have to tell me more about Mae! Are you still together? Will I ever get to meet her? What is she like?

Please write back soon.

Your Sister,

Derryck's Letters: Ellie #1
A New Beginning

Dear Ellie,

It’s been a long time. There’s a lot that I’ll have to tell you someday. I don’t know how much you know about what happened to me, but that’s something for another day. I don’t even know if you’ll be able to read this letter, but there’s a few things I need to say to you so I hope that it’ll get through to you.

I’m alive. I’ve survived my exile this long and I’m hopeful that I can continue to do so. It was difficult, and I’ll admit that there were a lot of times that I was sure I wasn’t going to survive it. Vocans is a tough place to stay alive in but I managed to do so. I’m not sure if it’s lucky or not that I’m not there anymore.

I joined up with a group of adventurers here in the past year and have been traveling with them and I’m closer to home than I’ve ever been before in my exile. I’m near Shaymoore, at the moment, and I find myself constantly looking in the direction of home. However, I know that I might not be able to return and that breaks my heart.

I miss home. I miss you, Ellie. I hope that, one day, I’ll be able to see you again. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. I’m so sorry that I haven’t sent word to you until now.

I’ve sent a few letters to mother and never got a response, so I was never sure if they arrived or not. It’s hard for mail to get out of Vocans so it wouldn’t surprise me if none of them reached home, but now, being so close, I knew I had to at least try. I needed to let you know how I was doing because I hope you haven’t been worrying about me like I’ve been worrying about you. A lot can happen in almost six years of being away and I truly hope that you’re doing alright.

I love you, little sister, and I hope I can hear from you soon.

Your Brother,

Dear Derryck,

It has been a very long time. I did not know much about your exile until about a year ago. Until then all I knew is that you had left, and no one would tell me why. I used to always hope that one day you would walk through the door and I would be able to give my big brother a hug. But you never showed as the years past that hope seemed to fade until I received your letter.

I want you to tell me everything what’s it like traveling? What was Vocans like? Do you like the adventures you are with? Have you done anything cool?

You were close to home if you were at Shaymoore. Please be careful Derryck, that town has been known to have a lot of fighting, which I know you enjoy but be careful. As for the letters you sent to mother, I have no idea if they arrived but I plan to find out. And yes, a lot did happen over six years but I am still your loving little sister who misses you dearly.

Please write back soon.

Your Sister,

Klara's Journal: Entry #19

The trip to Noragate was a long one. It took about three months to get there, but it gave us some time to just relax and be together for a while. Cade and Zen warmed up to Kalona again, saying that they liked him better when he just being himself instead of acting like a pompous asshole. He spoke with Zen in Goblin and joked around with Cade. Zandri never warmed up to him, but she never really warmed up to any of us. I knew he was being more like the old Kalona I knew before all of this started because I was around and we no longer had to worry about his father. I’ll admit that I felt a lot better too.

There were some rough patches for me during the trip, times where the past began to cripple me once more, but Kalona was always there to guide me through it, to be light in the darkness I was facing. Over time, they became less and less frequent, and I felt the old wounds finally begin to heal. I no longer grieved over my mother and my little brother, accepting their deaths and knowing that they were in a better place. My anger towards the Fletchers dissipated and I no longer felt the need to be so fearful of Kalona’s mother. I held no hate towards my older brother, understanding that he may hate me for the rest of his days, but I wasn’t going to allow myself to do the same. By the time we reached Noragate, I only had a few concerns.

One was my father. I didn’t like leaving him so soon after he had gotten out of the asylum. Our relationship with parts of the city was still rocky, he technically was still a wanted criminal, and I didn’t know if Hibernius would be able to protect him from the allegations this time. I hoped that he would. I also hoped that they were having a good time with each other, catching up and such. I also knew that I didn’t really leave on great terms with my father and I hoped that he’d been able to understand why I did what I did and that he’d be ready to talk without anger towards my decisions when I got home.

Another was Kalona. He didn’t say much about seeing his grandfather for the first time, but I started to notice that he seemed to lose himself in his own thoughts more often. He also had asked me if he could have the ring I’d picked up from the coffin a few days after we left Frostford. I knew he didn’t like his father, but I wasn’t sure how he felt about his grandfather. I assumed, especially by the look that Asmodeus gave him, that he wasn’t too keen on him either. He was getting better with the passing days, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking about.

The third was Jack. When I asked him to help me with the Fletchers, he said that he’d be able to do so, but he wasn’t able to harm or kill Slither. However, during the fight with them, he admitted to me that he had done both of those things. I didn’t know what the consequences were for him, or if there was going to be any, since he didn’t go into any detail. I couldn’t help that I felt responsible. He wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for me asking him for his aid.

Last was my family. I’m not meaning my immediate family by that either. There were some nights that I’d take out the coffin and look at the vials of blood, taking one out and studying it for a long while. I’d wonder who they were in life, how they were related to me, if their soul had already been claimed by Asmodeus, and if I was still able to assure a better afterlife for them. I’d also think about the fear Atlas must have caused them, if he wounded them as much as he wounded me, and how my family accidently let this happen. My mother knew what we were and what we meant to Asmodeus, but did my family decide that he wasn’t a threat anymore? Did we forget or just turn the other cheek? Did the years since Syreth make us complacent? Did we assume that it would never happen again? I didn’t know, but what I did know was that I wasn’t going to allow it to happen a third time. I wasn’t going to allow Asmodeus to hunt my family towards near extinction once more. I needed to protect what little blood there was left. I needed to protect my brother’s child and his future children while I still could. I feared that I was too late to save him.

When we got to Noragate, we stopped by the Serpent’s Den, to Zandri’s dismay, to say hi to Kisora. We went in and sat down at the bar, and found out from the bartender that he might not be back yet, since he was traveling, but the barkeep went to look for him. After a few minutes, Kisora walked out from the back and smiled at us. We spent a little bit of time catching up with him and I introduced him to Kalona. Kisora then told us that he had gone to one of his former student’s wedding and that he had recently came back from Croak. We told him that we had seen Jack recently, and he told us that Jack was at the wedding with him, and that there were a lot of interesting people there too. Zen pressed him for more information, but he told us that it was a small wedding and the local newspaper had written an article about it if we really wanted to know more. Towards the end of our conversation, he wished us the best of luck getting to Croak, and told us to stop by more often when we had the chance.

After leaving the Serpent’s Den, I took Kalona’s hand and told everyone that I was going to see my brother before we went to the docks. Kalona gave me a curious look as I lead him to my brother’s shop, with everyone else following behind us. To my surprise, my brother was sitting behind the counter and our gazes met almost instantly. I smiled at him as I walked closer with Kalona, my brother’s eyes glancing between the two of us before finally focusing on me. “Klara,” he stated, sounding unimpressed. “I promise I won’t take up too much of your time, brother,” I said with a confident smile as I tried not to revel in the annoyed look he was giving me. “I just wanted to let you know that Atlas is dead.”

Nikolas blinked a few times before asking me to elaborate and I told him what happened back in Frostford, of what Kalona and I had accomplished. “Atlas is dead and you and your family are safe now,” I said, trying to solidify the statement in my brother’s mind. He still looked confused. “We were never unsafe, sister,” he replied. In that moment, I knew he had been played for a fool. I decided that it was best to drop the topic there.

I looked towards Kalona, who proceeded to tell him that he was now his new boss, and I watched as Nikolas tensed at his words. For all the things my brother was and had done, I was surprised to see how easily he was shaken. It didn’t take much for him to lose his composure. He worked as a businessman in a cutthroat guild and yet everything we said seemed to bothered him. It didn’t help when I told him that Kalona and I were dating.

We said our quick goodbyes and stepped out of my brother’s store when Cade and Zen immediately asked why I still kept in touch with him. They thought he was an ass. I explained to them that even though he was an ass, he was still my brother.

I didn’t have much family left. It was only him and I who carried the blood of Syreth in our veins now. Our family had been hunted to near extinction and if we want the bloodline to survive, it rests on our shoulders. If I want to protect the family, I need to be on decent terms with him. My brother’s children and his children’s children would be the ones to rebuild our family in a purer sense that what my children would be. Their blood wouldn’t be mixed with the blood of Asmodeus. That was enough of a reason for me to want to stay in contact with him.

We soon found ourselves at the docks and I managed to flag down someone who knew where Captain Jerron was and we were given directions where his ship was docked. As we approached, it looked like his crew were loading the final supplies onto their ship and we had arrived in the nick of time. I called out for Jerron, slightly butchering his name, and I apologized for doing so as he looked over the railing at us. I asked him if he would be willing to take us to Croak, and he said that he would, as long as we had a navigator. It was then when Zandri stepped up and said that she would navigate.

The Sea of Storms lived up to its name during our month long trip. As soon as we left Noragate, we were met with a tempest. I’ll say this as kindly as I can. I’m pretty sure Jerron is insane. He’s brilliant and an expert captain, but completely mental for even considering to sail through the storms he brought us through. However, our group seemed to be holding up well with the constantly raging sea.

In the final week of our trip, the Sea of Storms had one final test for us. The storm grew more violent with every passing minute and soon the sea was rising and falling in great swells. The crew raced around the slippery deck, following the orders that Jerron barked at them while Kalona and I tried to hang on the best that we could. The ocean roared before us, towering above the ship, as Jerron shouted to brace for impact. Kalona put one arm around my waist as we both hung on for dear life. The massive wave crashed into the side of the ship, spilling over onto the deck, and I was sure that our ship was going down. Kalona held me tightly, even after the water passed, and I soon opened my eyes to see that Zen and Zandri had been swept overboard.

Zen, who had transformed into a dolphin, seemed to be having the time of her life as we tried to get a rope to throw down to Zandri. The rope wasn’t necessary. As we were about to rescue her, she landed back on the deck gracefully and walked calmly towards us as if nothing happened. The angelic wings on her back glowed with a warm light and I couldn’t help but look at her in awe. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I knew she was like that paladin I met, an aasimar, but I didn’t know they could do that. I didn’t know the extent of the gifts having angelic blood gave a person.

After a few hours, the storm passed and Zen eventually returned to the ship. By the next day, we could see land and Jerron asked if we had an offering to appease the kraken. Confused, I looked between him and Zandri and asked what type of offering it needed. He smiled and told me that gems or money would work. I pulled out a gem for each of us, eyeing Kalona to see if he’d take one out of his bag, but when he didn’t, I handed one to him with a little glare. He smirked and thanked me for covering for him. We all threw our gems overboard while Jerron’s crew dumped a crateful of gems into the water. With that done, we were able to dock in the town of Karlsfell.

Jerron asked us how long we’d be, and we told him that we’d be gone a month at most, and he said that he was willing to stay until we got back. He then asked if any of us knew Deep Speech, and luckily Zandri did so we wouldn’t have to hire a translator. Jerron also warned us that parts of Croak were pretty strange, and it would be best if we left our animals with him and his crew. I’ll admit that I didn’t want to leave Beacon, but when he told me what could happen out there, I decided it was for the best.

With that, we walked into Karlsfell proper and soon Zandri left us and told us that she’d meet back up with us later. We walked around town for a while before we decided to go to the tavern and get some drinks and rooms for the night. The tavernkeeper, a man by the name of Richard Hawkins, was warm and welcoming. He gladly told us about the town and the going-ons around the parts. He also told us about an old woman who lived alone in the woods and would come into town every so often. I guess everyone in the town loved her because she was so sweet. I tensed up at the description of this woman, which the other members of my group didn’t seem to understand.

Growing up in a town that sits between the woods and the ocean, you were told stories when you were little about not wandering off into the forest alone because a little, old woman would get you and you’d never be seen again. Now, these stories were made to scare you, so you wouldn’t wander the woods alone, but they did hold truth to them. This was a prime example of that. This old woman, this Valerie Fireborne, was a hag.

I tried to convince myself that I was jumping to conclusions, but when Zen asked if she could go meet this woman, and Mr. Hawkins gave her the directions to get to her home, I couldn’t help but consider those stories from my youth. Zen, who seemed as happy as she could be, told us that she wanted to go immediately, and we did, after I payed Mr. Hawkins for some rooms for the night. We were really going to visit a hag.

It took a while to get to her place, but we eventually made it. The old woman seemed friendly enough, but by the odd way her home was decorated, my suspicions were confirmed. To say I was tense was an understatement. If I had hackles like Beacon, I knew they would’ve been raised. My left hand gripped the hilt of my sword as Kalona squeezed my right. I could feel his gaze on me, trying to reassure me that there wasn’t anything to worry about, but I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t going to my guard down around a hag.

She spoke with Zen and Cade for a while. Zen grew increasingly frustrated with her as Valerie was being curt with her but eventually, the woman unnerved her. The woman used her full first name instead of calling her Zen, as Zen had introduced herself. She then finally opened up a little, telling us about herself, and one thing she said caught my attention. Mark had lived with her, trained with her in magic, but eventually moved to go start his own business. I didn’t know what to think about that.

Zen then asked, since the hag woman said that she was a powerful magic user, if she could read her fortune for her. She said that she could, in exchange for something. Zen inquired about what that might be and the hag replied by asking for a lock of her hair, or better yet, a favor. I nudged Kalona and whispered a question to him, asking if she was a night hag, and he responded that he didn’t know what type of hag she was. I then asked him why he was so calm in this situation and he responded with, “Hags don’t like messing with nearly immortals.”

Zen and the hag then began to bicker for a while, Zen was freaked out by her wanting her hair, and the hag asked Cade if he wanted anything. He didn’t and her attention turned to Kalona for a brief moment and then to me. A smirk formed on her lips as she said the words, “Is there anything you’d like from me, Klara?” My eyes narrowed and I growled back, “No, I’m wonderful, but thank you for asking.”

Kalona then stepped forward and said that he’d do the hag a favor so Zen could have her fortune read and I felt the rage swell inside my chest. I glared at him with such an intensity that when he turned back to look at me, he automatically looked away. I hoped he knew what he was doing because if he was going to fuck himself over that easily, he wouldn’t hear the end of it from me. Zen told him that it wasn’t a big deal, but he insisted, and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to slap Kalona more than I did in that moment.

I was seething the entire time Zen had her fortune read. I wasn’t even paying attention to her or the hag because I was too busy staring furiously at Kalona. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. Not a single glance. Nothing. It was like I wasn’t even in the fucking room anymore. That gods-forsaken fortune better have been worth it.

However, when we left the hag’s house, Zen said that she was disappointed in the result. The hag asked to discuss the favor with Kalona in private, so I was listening in to their conversation as best as I could outside of her door while Zen complained about what she found out. There was something about taking something to someone she knew. I couldn’t make any more of their conversation out and I returned to Zen and Cade, stating that I hoped it was worth it for what Kalona just did for her.

Eventually, Kalona caught up with us and we all made our way back to the tavern. I quietly asked him to explain to me the favor the hag wanted and he told me that he needed to go meet someone for her in his uncle’s realm in the Abyss. I asked him if he knew if this was safe, and he said it was, for him. I didn’t look at Kalona for the rest of the walk back and I tried to calm my anger while Zen went on and on about how her forest was in danger. Her forest was the least of my concerns, but I kept my mouth shut. My boyfriend just took a risk for her, and I doubt it was even worth his effort.

I went directly to our room once we got back to the tavern and Kalona closely followed me on my heels. He shut the door behind us and I could feel his attention was fixed on me. I sighed and looked down at the floor, my back to him, and I eventually gazed over my shoulder to see him. “We need to talk about this,” I said. I could hear the defeat in my voice. He didn’t move from where he stood, but he agreed. “I don’t like what you did back there. You didn’t have to make that deal with her. It was risky, it was dangerous, and I don’t want to see you hurt because of it. Or from any other risk you take. You’ve been acting strangely after Atlas’ death and I’m worried about you.” I heard him let out a small sigh as he walked up to me and put his arms around me, resting his head against mine.

“I’m sorry that I’ve been worrying you,” he said and I swore I could hear some relief in his voice. “There’s some things that upset me that I’m trying to figure out but once I have them sorted away, you’ll be the first to know.” I shut my eyes, leaning back into him a little bit, wishing that he’d stop being so secretive. “And you don’t have to worry about me so much. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

“I’m not nearly immortal like you are,” I stated. “I’m only human and I worry about these sorts of things even though they don’t apply to you.” He chuckled lightly as he put his hands over mine.

“You worry too much.”

“Someone has to,” I replied, feeling my anger slip away with each passing heartbeat. “These past few months have been amazing and it’s all thanks to you. I can’t lose you now, not after being away from you for so long, and that’s why I worry about you. I love you with all of my heart, Kalona, and I can’t stand the thought of something happening to you.” There was a few moments of silence in between us and I knew he was considering my words. “You’re not the person you believe yourself to be. You deserve happiness just as much as you say I do.”

“Thank you,” he whispered into my ear, holding me a little tighter. “My happiness is your happiness, and for you, I promise that I’ll be more careful.” With that, whatever was left of my anger slipped away and I turned in his arms to face him. He asked if we were okay and I told him that we were. I asked him if we could agree to never go to bed angry with each other because even though we didn’t fight much, times like this would come up every so often. He smiled, saying that he’d like that and that he’d hold me to it as well, jokingly stating that I was a lot more stubborn than he was. I rolled my eyes and gave him a playful shove as he laughed. I couldn’t help but smile.

He always knew just what to say to make me feel better.

The next morning, Kalona and I made our way down to the main part of the tavern to see Cade, Zen, and Zandri already there, eating breakfast. We joined them, with some comments that Kalona was probably in the dog house last night, but other than that, it was a nice meal. Once we were finished, Zandri told us that we needed to go to two temples on the way to the next town and asked us if we wanted to go to one over the other first. Our choices were the Temple of the Raven Queen and the Temple of Sarenrae. None of us had a preference so I told Zandri about the blood vials I had and if either one of these temples would be able to help me with them. Her response was automatic and we made our way to the Temple of the Raven Queen.

A tall, black-stone temple stood before us and as we approached the front doors, they opened for us. The handles of the coffin dug into my hands as we walked into the building. Some light filtered through the stone walls as another set of doors from the across the chamber opened and a figured veiled in black cloth stepped out. I looked to Kalona, and then to the rest of the group, before we all stepped forward towards them. Soon, the figure raised their hand and we stopped. Their voice softly rang out, echoing off of the walls, as they asked what our business here was.

I took one step forward, adjusting the small coffin in my hands, and said that my family had been hunted to near extinction by the son of Asmodeus, and that these vials of blood had been collected to be a sacrifice to Asmodeus, but we stopped that from happening. I told the figure that I wanted to make sure that their souls would pass on, and that they would be safe from Asmodeus’ grasp.

The figure turned and asked me to follow them and I did as I was told but when Cade and Zen went to follow as well, the figure stopped and said that I was the only one allowed further into the temple. I looked back at Kalona, who gave me a small nod, before I stepped through the doors on the far side of the chamber and began to follow the figure down a set of stairs. I heard the doors shut behind me and I soon found myself in a narrow room that held an altar at the opposite side, another set of doors were behind the altar. The figure told me to put the vials at the foot of the altar and that they would take care of them from there.

Suddenly, the air in the room felt heavy and cold. It seemed like it took ages to reach the altar. I stared at the raven skull sitting upon it, considering what it all meant to me. I placed the coffin before the altar, my hands aching at the sudden relief, as my mind wandered. Did fate bring me here? Was this part of some god’s plan all along? Was this my destiny, to watch my family die and to bring an end to the conflict? Was I going to ensure that these people who I didn’t even know weren’t going to become Asmodeus’ playthings? Did the gods actually have a hand in my life?

I didn’t know. But what I did know, as I knelt down in front of the altar and rested my hand on the top of the coffin, was that I was going to dedicate my life to them so their deaths wouldn’t be in vain. I was going to stand against Asmodeus for as long as I could. I was going to be the protector the family needed. I wouldn’t allow us to forget like last time.

I felt the tears stinging my eyes as I whispered goodbye to them, to my mom, to Reiner, and that I hoped to see them some day. I stood up, a lump in my throat as I fought my tears back, and gazed at the raven skull one last time. I wondered if she heard me.

As I exited the chamber and was about to climb the stairs, the figure handed me a token to give to Zandri and I thanked them. I felt a shiver run up my spine as the doors opened for me when I reached the top of the staircase. I guess I didn’t notice how freezing it was in here. I made my way back to the group, giving the token to Zandri, and asked if anyone else felt really cold. No one did and it was just me. I tried not to think too much of it.

The Temple of Sarenrae, while absolutely beautiful with sunflowers everywhere and the whole building doused in sunlight, was honestly a little weird. There were a lot of clerics about, dressed in bright blues and golds, but there were also a lot of dark-armored bodyguard-like people there. Honestly, they kind of dressed like Cedric did. We went up to one of the clerics, who was super nice, and they started telling us about their goddess and what she stood for. It was all great and all until they told us that she believes anyone can be redeemed, but if they’re too far gone, you smite them. That cleric was honestly way too into smiting for my tastes.

After that conversation was over, Cade, Zen, and I went up to a couple of the bodyguard-looking guys. They didn’t really seem like they were happy to be there and honestly, that felt more normal than how the cleric acted around us. With a few questions, since they really didn’t want to talk to us, we found out that they were blood hunters and that they were the ones who mostly did the smiting for Sarenrae. I liked them a lot and they seemed to warm up to us a bit. Eventually, we let them be and made our way to the next town.

Like Karlsfell, Winterhaven didn’t have much to do so we found ourselves a tavern and relaxed for the rest of the time we were there while Zandri did the things she needed to do. The next morning, we went to Nightvale.

Once we arrived in the town, Zandri turned to us and said that she was going to be leaving us alone for the day as she was going to city hall. She granted us the ability to speak whatever language they spoke here and had a few rules for us. We weren’t allowed to go into any weird portals and we couldn’t go to the dog park, or think about the dog park, or even look at the dog park. That got me wondering what was so bad about the dog park. Also, what is a dog park?

After she left us, we found and sign and decided to go to the waterfront area. There was no water there, just a boardwalk and I said that it would be really pretty here if there was water. About that time, a crimson portal appeared in front of us out of thin air and we all looked at each other. I could tell that Cade and Zen kind of wanted to go through it, but since Zandri told us no, we went back into town and went to the radio station. It was strange, there was this man’s voice speaking over this stones that sat on top of poles throughout the city, stating the news of the town, and eventually a song about waiting for a bus in the rain started to play. I didn’t know what a bus was, or what radio was, and I was starting to get highly confused. I glanced over to Zen and she seemed to be irritated at it all.

We eventually found the radio station and talked to the intern named Shawn. He told us a bit about the town, and then said that if we wanted to, we could talk to Cecil, the radio host, after he was off air. We hung around and eventually spoke with Cecil. He was an interesting fellow, very nice, and he had some interesting tattoos, but what struck me as odd was how normal everything seemed to him. Like when he told us that there’s a floating cat in the men’s restroom that had kittens and he wanted us to meet his kitten named Mixtape. This made Zen even more irritated, but we followed him to the restroom and he wasn’t lying. There was a ghostly cat in there with its ghostly kittens. He also told us that the mayor of the town is a five-headed dragon, that there’s a glowing cloud that hangs over the city, and one old lady in town has angels who change her lightbulbs for her. I knew I was smiling and nodding a lot, trying to seem polite, but I was probably just as weirded out as Zen was. Eventually, we said our goodbyes to Cecil and made our way to city hall.

We had to wait around for a while, but we eventually found Zandri, who was surprised to see us all there and to find out that we didn’t step through any weird portals, and we asked her if she was ready to leave. She said that she was but if we wanted to stay the night, we could. We didn’t want to so we started to make our way to the library.

At the base of the path to the library, we were stopped by an androsphinx and a gynosphinx who said that we needed to solve their riddle before we could pass. They also stated that if we answered incorrectly, we would meet our end. Because of this, we decided to go individually and Cade went first, getting the answer correct and was able to pass through their gate with no worries. I went next and my riddle puzzled me for a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure if I was correct or not, but when I answered the moon, I was allowed to pass as well. Zen went next, followed by Kalona and Zandri, and eventually we were all able to continue on our path.

On the way up we were soon met with a dense, low-lying, purple fog blocking our bath. Cade was able to tell that we shouldn’t move through it and Zen was able to control the winds so we could quickly run up the path and away from it. With that obstacle done, we found ourselves in a room with runes inscribed on the floor in a circle before us. However, while Kalona and Cade were trying to decipher them, the room ignited and we were momentarily bathed in flame. Luckily, it was a single event and we were able to exit the room before the glyphs were able to recharge.

After that we found ourselves in a small courtyard with the dark tower looming overhead and a pair of skeletal dragons forming the gate ahead of us. Zandri thanked us for escorting her this far and said that if we wanted to, we could go now. She also said that if we wanted to go into the tower, we’d have to bare our soul for judgement. If we passed, we’d be allowed into the library. If we failed, we’d be killed.

I was interested in doing so, because I really wanted to see the library that was within the tower, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pass the judgement. I looked into Kalona’s eyes for a long while before I looked at each one of my companions and asked if they thought I would be able to make it in. Zandri wasn’t sure, Cade and Zen thought that I’d be able to, and Kalona said I would for sure. I gazed at him for a long while, him giving me a slight nod, before I turned away from him and approached the dragons.

The two heads sprang to life as I approached, their skulls watching me with empty sockets, and lowered before me as I stood in front of them. Fear ate at my heart as their gaze didn’t shift from me. I didn’t know what to do, I remember calling back to Zandri and all she told me was that I needed to bare my soul to them. I didn’t know what that meant. I knew if I didn’t do anything, I was going to die.

I gave them my name and started to tell them about myself. I kept it simple at first, but the words kept flowing from me, in my nervousness, and I felt like I needed to tell them everything. I kept my voice low, so only they could hear, but I didn’t hold anything back. I told them my fears, my joys, my sorrows, and my triumphs. I told them what I was proud of and what I missed. I told them my regrets, my faults, the times where I was wrong. I went into specifics, like that I regret losing my virginity to Cade since I now know how amazing and loving Kalona is. I told them my hopes and dreams for the future. I told them of the silent promise I made to myself in the Raven Queen’s Temple. When I felt that I ran out of things to say, I fell silent, feeling lighter than I had before.

The skulls stayed low for a few moments before they began to rise and the gate opened before me. I stepped in to watch it close as Zandri stepped forward, placing her hand on the nose of one of them. Soon, the doors opened for her too and after checking to see if anyone else would be joining us, we ascended the stairs into the tower.

Zandri lectured to me that the tower was used by the Raven Queen while she was still a mortal and had been used by Nerull and Vecna as well. She stated that there were dark parts of this library, horrible things that both Vecna and Nerull researched and studied, but that other parts weren’t that way. She explained that she hoped to find information to confirm her visions and give some clarity to them, but she needed some time to decipher what she’s seen with the information here in the library. I told her that if she ever needed my assistance, all she had to do was ask and she thanked me for it. Before we went our separate ways, she stopped me, looking me in the eye.

She told me that she could tell that there was still good in me, that I hadn’t been corrupted yet like my companions, and to watch the company I kept. She warned me that if I spent enough time around them, if I grew lax in my morals, I too would be at risk of being corrupted. I admitted to her that I was leaving the group and that Kalona and I would be heading back to Frostford for a while. She told me once more that Kalona is dangerous and I told her that I could see that he was, but that his love for me had quelled some of it. She hoped that I was right.

Just before she left, she told me that she’d be in touch with me again once she had more information. We said some quick goodbyes and I explored the library for a while, searching for nothing in particular but stopping when a book piqued my interests. I will admit I found out some interesting things while there in the library, but I need some time to do some more research and figure out just exactly what I found.

After some time, I made my way back to the front gate and reunited with my companions and told them what it was like on the long walk back to Karlsfell. The Sea of Storms still lived up to its name on the way back to Noragate but that didn’t come as a surprise. Once in Noragate, we received a letter from Jack, saying that he had a surprise for us back in Caster, so we decided to make our way there.

At night, Kalona and I would discuss what how I was going to tell Cade and Zen that I was leaving as we counted out the share of the money I was going to take from the group. We had talked for a long while about how much was right, how much was excessive, and what was fair for all that they had put me through. There were some items that I wanted to have as well, so over the days, I rewrote an inventory list of what was contained in the bag for them, minus the items that I was taking for myself. Kalona thought it would be best if I let them know that I was leaving somehow, but said that it was up to me to decide how I wanted to do it. I settled for writing them a letter. I knew that if I told them in person, all they would do was beg me to stay.

When we arrived in Caster, I already had my letter ready and my things were in Kalona’s Bag of Holding. Meeting up with Jack, he lead us out towards his house and brought us to a keep, stating that he had to pull a few strings but that it was ours. Cade and Zen were much more excited than I was when we entered the building and started to look around. I pulled Jack off to the side, thanking him for the keep, but admitted that I’d be leaving the group. He seemed to understand and wished me the best of luck in the future while I told him that I’d keep in touch with him, explaining that there was a lot I needed to do back home. He gave me a hug and I thanked him once more for his help during the fight with Atlas, admitting that things might have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for him. He gave me a small smile before we returned to the rest of them.

After making a meal for us, Kalona and I spent the evening checking to make sure that I had everything I needed to leave. I wouldn’t say that I was feeling remorse for leaving the group, but I did feel bad about the timing of it. Kalona assured me it was for the best. His words made me feel a little more comfortable with my decision.

Early the next morning, I placed the Bag of Holding and my letter on the dining room table and walked out of the keep. Kalona was standing there in the courtyard in the pale morning light, the reins of Joel’s bridle in one hand and Beacon nudging at his other while the silver dragon wyrmling crawled out of the hood of my cloak and onto my shoulder. He smiled at me as I approached him. “Are you ready to go?” he questioned, and I gave him a nod. I took his free hand and grabbed Beacon’s fur with my other. He asked me to close my eyes.

I felt ourselves shift once and then was a brief pause before we shifted again. When he told me I could open my eyes, we were standing on the edge of the forest on the south side of Frostford.

I was home.

Klara's Journal: Entry #18
Atlas Fletcher

I smiled up at Kalona, the anxiety in my chest easing up a bit. We were in this together. We always had been. I glanced over to my mother as I stepped away from him, going to the door to let everyone else into the house before I started to make a meal for us all. It was getting late, and unless we wanted to attack that night, the fight would have to wait until morning. As the meal was cooking, I had a chance to go around and talk to everyone.

I first talked to Jack, making sure that everything was alright while he was here overnight, and that my mother didn’t give him troubles. He said that it was alright and that she was very sweet to him. With that, I thanked him for coming all this way and thanked him for being my friend. He seemed to notice that I was a bit distracted, but he didn’t say anything about it.

I thanked Cedric, Zandre, and Falana for being there too, even though I know that none of them really were there for me. I thanked Mabel for coming and for being there for my father for all of those years, saying that she probably made those years a lot better for him. She gave me a curious look at my comment but didn’t say anything. My father had hinted at their relationship while we were in Laketown, but at the time, I thought I was jumping to conclusions because I thought there was no way that my father was over the deaths in my family before I was. However, I was wrong in that assumption. The look in her eyes confirmed my suspicions.

I went up to Cade and Zen and thanked them for helping me with this. My mind was wandering when I was talking to them, thinking of all the terrible things that may happen when the morning comes tomorrow and I soon left them, took Kalona by the hand, and lead him to my bedroom. I shut the door behind us and leaned against it for a moment, combing my hair out of my face with my hand as I stared at the floor for a moment, my nerves eating at me, before my eyes finally met his. I could see it in his gaze that his mind was turning just as much as mine was.

I stepped towards him and put my arms around his neck as he put his around my waist, pulling me closer to him. I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing that he wasn’t going to like what I was about to say to him. I needed to know. If everything went wrong, I needed to know that he’d complete what I had decided on if I was unable to do so. I pulled away from him slightly, just enough to be able to look into his eyes, and I gave him a weak smile. “If I don’t make it,-” I breathed. “You’re not dying tomorrow, Klara,” he stressed, desperation entering his eyes. “Kalona, if it does happen-.” “It won’t.” “But if it does, I need you to go get my brother and his family and get them to safety. My brother’s child will be the last one your father needs if I’m gone. If you can find my father, get him to safety too. After they’re safe, go after your father with all the might you have. Promise me you’ll do this,” I pleaded, noticing that he was withdrawing into himself a bit. “Kalona.”

“I will,” he said after a few moments. I put my hand on the side of his face, thankful that he agreed to do so. I’d hate to see what would happen to him if I was gone. Maybe that evil side of him would be more apparent then. “I love you with all my heart,” I told him before I kissed him. Eventually, we stepped away from each other a bit, gazing into each other’s eyes as I noticed how cold his seemed to be. His face, as always, showed not even the slightest hint of emotion, but I knew he was lost in his own mind. I took his hand and I notice something change in his gaze. The life returned to his eyes.

We left the room together and I went back to the kitchen to finish the meal for all of us. It was nice to hear the sound of people talking and laughter in the house again, after it had been silent for so long. We all stayed at the dining room table after enjoying our meal for a while, Kalona had his hand on my knee, and I listened to the conversations happening at the table. It was nice. It was stark contrast from the weeks of silence that reigned between my father, my brother, and I. Maybe this was the end of that chapter of my life and the start of a new one. I hoped so. I closed my eyes and leaned on Kalona, who took his hand off of my knee and draped his arm around my shoulders. I knew that this next chapter, whatever it may be, would have him in it.

Kalona sat on the edge of my bed, taking off his shoes as I ran a brush through my hair. The house was pretty quiet since people getting ready to sleep, and Zen and Jack had offered to take the first watch for the night. As I put my hair back into a braid, Kalona pulled back the covers and got into bed, studying me with a slight smirk on his lips as I did so. I glanced at him over my shoulder, almost done with my braid, and asking him what the look on his face was for. He smiled and stated that he hoped that my mother wouldn’t try to scare him off one more time for old time’s sake. I smiled, tying a leather band around the end of the braid, before I laid down next to him, saying that I didn’t think she’d do that. I then asked him to stay quiet for a moment while I concentrated on something. He said that he would and he put his hand in mine.

I closed my eyes for a moment and concentrated. After a minute or so, I felt that a fiend was in front of me, and that there was one on the edge of the six miles I could sense out to and it was coming from the direction of the Fletcher Estate. Satisfied, I opened my eyes and looked at him. “There’s a fiend in this room,” I whispered to him with a small smirk. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said sarcastically. I laughed lightly before telling him that I thought his father was home, or at least almost six miles away and in the direction of his house. There was a puzzled look on his face for a few moments before he nodded, saying that his house was probably a little less than six miles away from mine. “Did you just calculate the distance between our houses?” I asked, not really believing that he just did that. He shrugged. “I was curious,” he replied.

I laughed once more and I cuddled up closer to him, telling him that I loved him. He told me the same and after a little bit more talking between the two of us, we both fell asleep.

Early that morning, we heard a knock at the door and heard Cade tell us from the other side that it was our turn to keep watch. Groggily, we both got up and I took a minute to concentrate to see where Atlas was while Kalona was still in the room. I couldn’t sense anything other than Kalona. At least Atlas wasn’t closer. I looked to Kalona and told them, “Your father’s not at the house,” which caused him to give me a weird look before he understood what was going on.

We spent a while talking, me checking every so often to see if I could sense his father, and after some time, we started to make breakfast for the group. We tried to stay as quiet as possible so we didn’t wake anyone up, but as the sunlight was starting to glow warmly through the windows and the smell of cooking meat filled the house, people started to stir. With breakfast done, we started to solidify our plans for the day, specifically where the battle would take place as well as battle strategies for all of us. I told them all that I was going after Atlas and that Orla was not to be killed. That later statement caused my companions to ask me why we couldn’t just kill her, and I told her that Kalona wanted his mother to still be alive at the end of this fight.

As for the location, we didn’t have many options. The only places I could think of were my house, their house, and a clearing back deeper in the forest. I asked Kalona if there was a clearing closer to his house, near the beach, and he said that he knew of one. It was our best bet. As for the plan, we were all going to try to make our way there as quickly and quietly as possible. Once there, Kalona and I were going to stay out in the open while everyone else hid. I knew I had to be the bait.

With everything finalized, I said one last goodbye to my mother and hugged her. I didn’t know if this was the last chance I had to see her, but I really hoped it wasn’t. She said she’d try to stay around after Atlas was gone, but she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to. I then wrote a note to my father, saying that we were going to face Atlas soon and that I didn’t know what was going to happen, I told him that I loved him, and that I’d let him know if we were successful soon.

After the note left my hands, I went to the rest of them and told them that I was ready to leave if they were. It took us a few minutes to get to the clearing that Kalona knew about and once there, I knew we made the right choice. We were still in the woods a little bit, but there was a light amount of tree cover and the beach was behind us a little ways. I had a feeling that it would serve us well.

Everyone got into position and I stood towards the end of the clearing with Kalona and Beacon, taking Kalona by the hand as we waited. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t even a little nervous in that moment. I was anxious, but I knew I would’ve been terrified if it wasn’t for him standing by my side. I kept telling myself that we were in this together. This is what we had to do to be happy. This is what we had to do to be able to move on with our lives. I had drawn a target on my back so many times before and I’m only now realizing how dangerous that was when I finally stopped running. I hoped we were ready. I hoped we prepared enough. Kalona squeezed my hand a bit. I didn’t want to die.

After all this time of being ready to die at the hands of Atlas Fletcher, I finally didn’t want it to happen. There was a future for me and it was just around the corner. I was so close, I had almost made it, but Atlas was still blocking my path.

He had taken everything away from me. He stole the lives of my mother, my little brother, and the rest of my mother’s family. He took my father away from me, forcing him to leave Frostford to “keep his children safe.” He stole Nikolas, convincing him that it was truly my father’s fault my mother and Reiner were dead. He took my life away from me. He forced me to be on the run for four years, to live in a state of constant fear, and unable to heal for the wounds he had given me. He killed the boy I fell in love with and replaced him with a broken soul. My life over the past few years was the way it was because of him. With that thought, I felt a bit of anger flare in my chest.

Across the way, stepping out of the underbrush and into the clearing was Atlas and Orla. Judging by their attire, I knew they were ready for a fight and even though I couldn’t see Slither, I knew he was around. I locked eyes with Atlas, who flashed me the same cruel grin that I saw the day we returned to our house after my mother was murdered. Kalona’s thumb rubbed my hand reassuringly as I clenched my jaw. This was it. This was the end. No matter what happened, this was the end of it.

As Kalona’s parents drew closer, I dropped his hand and readied my bow as Kalona drew his sword. “It’s good to see you, Atlas,” I stated as I noticed Orla was scanning the battlefield. “It’s been too long.” Atlas smirked, readying his spear, as he replied, “It has been. It’s a shame that you’re not going to leave here alive.” With a haughty chuckle, I responded with, “You’re not going to either.” Orla was already darting off towards where Cade was when I let my arrow fly. It sunk deeply into his shoulder and I smirked, readying my next shot but he was able to dodge it.

The next thing I knew, Atlas rushed towards me and my vision went white for a moment before it returned. Other than Atlas and I, everyone seemed spectral and I realized that he had sent me to another plane of existence. I tried to touch Kalona’s shoulder, but my hand passed through his form, and he looked at the spot where I once stood with horror in his eyes. I looked back at Altas, his grin becoming even more sinister as I took two more shots at him. My lightning arrow shot a little wide, but the next one struck true. It didn’t slow him down though.

He soon was in front of me and I felt the spear head stab into my side. It was agonizing and I felt a bit of the chill of death enter my body. I managed to dodge his next attack and stowed my bow in my quiver and drew my longsword. I locked eyes with him once more. I knew the look in them and fear entered my heart. He wanted this to hurt and he was going to take his time. We both knew I was going to die here.

We traded blows again and I felt myself growing weaker. For how powerful I knew he was, I figured that he was holding back. He was toying with me, making it seem like I had a chance of surviving this, while he continued to wear me down. I was giving it my all but it wasn’t enough. I knew I wasn’t going to last much longer. I glanced over to see Kalona clutching a necklace and the next thing I knew, he was standing next to me. With him there, I knew that Atlas wouldn’t survive this.

With Kalona there, Atlas stopping playing his games and started to give it his all. The necrotic energy that coursed through that spear was soon amplified by unholy energy and every strike almost brought me to my knees. There was no way I’d live to see the end of this fight. Kalona fought bravely, striking true with his sword. He was doing the best that he could. His eyes shined with his rage. After blocking both of Kalona’s strikes with his spear, Atlas turned and I felt the metal of the spear force its way through my armor. Whatever was left of my energy drained away and I saw my life flash before my eyes. My father. My brother. My mother. Beacon. Standing before Venomfang. Killing the white dragon. Kalona. Seeing him the first time. Seeing him once again in Aspienne. The tears. My letter. The first time we made love. That grassy hilltop. Laketown. Bringing him home to mother. Home. He’s my home.

My love, take your time, I thought as my vision dimmed. I felt myself falling limp as Kalona shouted something. I’ll see you on the other side. Just as it went black, I felt wave of warmth wash over me as Atlas removed the spear. A little bit of strength returned to my limbs and I caught myself from falling down. Feeling numb and confused, I glanced up in the nick of time. With a heavy swing of his sword, Atlas crumbled under his son’s strike. His stoic expression couldn’t hide the emotion in his eyes at that moment. The hate that burned within them. It was then when I realized why everyone told me that he was dangerous.

The fury in Kalona’s eyes diminished when he saw me there, still standing. His breaths were heavy and I gave him a little nod, still not completely sure of my own strength in that instance. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as Orla walked up to us, her eyes fixed on us. How was she able to see us? I felt my muscles tense as I wounded the unconscious body of Atlas Fletcher and readied the tip of my sword over his heart. Orla’s gaze chilled me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the one to kill her husband. I looked Kalona in the eye and asked, “Do you want to do this?” I knew that he hated his father more than I did, he was the only person in the world that wanted to see him dead more than I did, and I wanted to give him the chance to do it himself. “It doesn’t matter as long as he’s dead.” I nodded, still uncomfortable under Orla’s watchful presence, and asked him to put his hands on mine before we drove the point of the blade into his heart.

I knew it was a better death than he would’ve given me.

I blinked and the next thing I knew we were back on our plane and I drew my sword from his body and sheathed it. I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy the feeling of that moment. I had no joy in killing Atlas. There was no reason to be glad that he died by my blade. His death meant that mine would be delayed for some time, but his death wouldn’t fix everything in my life. His death, however, was not entirely pointless. His death meant that I’d finally be able to live without fear of him, that I’d be able to move on from the past few years, and that Kalona and I wouldn’t have live separate lives anymore. My gaze fell on Kalona after a few moments and stepped around his father’s body to pull him into a hug. I felt numb, extremely weak, and like I was going to fall over at any second, but he held me close and tight. We both knew what this moment meant for us and that did bring me joy.

After a while, we let go of each other and he started to talk to his mother while I looked down at Atlas. The son of Asmodeus, my worst enemy, the creator of my nightmares, my torturer lying dead at my feet. It was then when a thought came into my mind and I knew that his death marked a new chapter of my life. An end to an era and the beginning of a new one. I had won.

I overheard that Mabel had been killed by Slither during the battle and that Slither tried to escape, but was killed. Jack came over to me, gave me a light punch on the shoulder, and told me that it was over now. I nodded and gave him a little smile as Zen came over and started searching Atlas’ corpse. I had no urge to sort through Atlas’ belongings, not in front of his wife and his son. I guess I still had a little respect for the man. I understood what he was trying to do. He was following his father’s orders, he was simply obeying, and I respected that. There was a time where I did the same. However, of all the turmoil he caused in my life, I did have him to thank for one thing. He did give me the love of my life.

I broke away from my thoughts when Cedric came over to me and told me that he was leaving. I thanked him one more time and then he was off on his own path. With Orla’s permission, I took a talisman and the spear from Zen since Zen had already collected everything from his corpse.

It took me a little while to say something to Orla, but I eventually did and she told me that she still didn’t like me, but I was better in her eyes than before. I told her that I figured that. I asked her if she was okay, since I was surprised that she seemed so calm when her husband had be killed right in front of her, and she said that she was. After a question from Zen, she began to tell us that her marriage to Atlas was arranged for power. Their marriage brought more benefit to Atlas than herself, because she was able to expand his business and to give him a powerful heir. I noticed Kalona grimace slightly at that statement and I nudged him, giving him a small nod as his gaze met mine. We talked to her for some time more before she looked at me and asked if I wanted to see the “cave” Atlas had. I said that I did, and she led all of us there.

I had never been to their house, but it was honestly very beautiful, except for the windows that remained broken out front from the day Cade and Zen visited. She led the rest of us inside while Jack, Falana, and Zandre stayed outside with the dire wolves and Mabel’s body. Once we stepped inside, she told us to mind the rug and we all made sure not to step on it as she led us to a formal sitting room. Orla went over to one of the bookcases, pulled something from it, and it moved to reveal a staircase going downwards. We went down it while Orla stayed behind and we found ourselves in a room with a few doors, the one before us looked like it had been smeared with blood. My companions went up to it and tried to open it, but were unsuccessful as Kalona went up and pushed it open easily.

The room beyond the door had shelves of herbs and other alchemical supplies, two prison cells, a torture table with blood-stained torture devices around it and, past that, there was a small coffin sitting on a table. I hung back with Kalona, my mind racing through the possibilities of what this room meant to my family as Cade and Zen rummaged around things. I was still trying to process that Atlas was gone and I couldn’t fathom how little of his potential cruelty I witnessed. I guess I spent too long focusing on the torture devices because Kalona took my hand and started walking forward with me. Cade was at the coffin, but soon stepped away from it, saying that it creeped him out. I went up with Kalona by my side to see what he was talking about and noticed that the coffin was filled with vials of what looked to be blood. I sighed as a wave of emotion washed over me and everything clarified for a moment. This was my family.

On top of the vials sat a silver ring with the symbol of Asmodeus on it. I glanced at each one of my companions before I decided that I was probably the only person in the room other than Kalona who wasn’t terrified to touch the ring. When I picked it up, a tall, handsome, dark-skinned humanoid with long, black hair towered over us. He wore fine clothing and had a ruby staff with him and it was obvious to see that he was a devil. It was also easy to see the wounds that marred his body. Asmodeus, I hissed in my thoughts as I looked up at him, but out loud I said, “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck,” a few too many times. The King of the Nine Hells, the God of Tyranny stood before me and I was terrified. He congratulated us on stopping him this time, but told us that we wouldn’t be so lucky the next time. I retorted with, “I’ve already stood in your way once, Asmodeus, and I’ll do it again.” He chuckled at my comment, stating that I wouldn’t be able to do so forever, his eyes boring into me, and I realized then that I’d made a mistake. He studied Cade, then Zen, glared at me for a moment, and then looked to Kalona. They locked gazes for a while and I thought I could see a look of disappointment entered the devil’s eyes. His gaze then returned to me, “I’m going to leave you alone now. I have a new soul to play with.”

As the form of Asmodeus disappeared, I dropped the ring back into the coffin in horror and looked to Kalona, terrified that he meant that it was my soul, and he had to reassure me that it wasn’t mine. After a little bit, and a little bit of looking around and taking some herbs from the shelves, I put the ring in the Bag of Holding and closed the coffin, picking it up. I didn’t know if I was too late for them but I wasn’t going to let Asmodeus have them if I still had the chance to save them. They didn’t deserve to rot in the Hells for the rest of eternity.

When we got up the stairs, Orla was waiting for us with a letter in hand. She handed it to me, saying that she was going through Atlas’ things and that she thought it would be in my interest. I thanked her and asked her to keep anything she found that she thought I’d be interested in. I put the letter away for the moment, not wanting any more emotional turmoil, and asked Kalona if he’d go on a walk with me as we exited the house. He said that he’d love to as the rest of the group headed back to the Grayson Estate.

I healed myself a bit before we made our way down to the beach since I forgot how wounded I was with all of the commotion after the battle. The waves crashed against the grey sand and smooth stones on the beach as the ocean breeze combed through the patches of seagrass around us. A few gulls hopped around, their beaks snapping at tiny crabs that scurried from rock to rock. I still felt a bit strange after it all, but my mind eased as he took my hand. We were alone there. It was the first time the two of us had been to the beach together. We walked in silence for a long while, enjoying each other’s company and the tranquility of it all. I eventually had to break the silence between us. “So it’s over, isn’t it?” I questioned as we started to walk north, towards the harbor where a boat lazily began to set sail.

“In a way,” he responded. “I’m pretty sure my grandfather will try again sometime.” I nodded, stating that it was a given since this was his second attempt at it.

“It’ll be nice to get back to some normalcy,” I said, rolling a small stone over with the toe of my boot as we walked. “For a while there, I thought I’d never get used to living here in Frostford again. Not after traveling constantly and fighting dragons.” I looked out towards the horizon, at the vast sea of water before us. Everything in life is uncertain, but I was certain that as long as I was with him, I’d be okay. However, after everything that happened, I knew I needed some consistency in my life. “There’s a lot of healing that I need to do before I can even consider putting myself in danger like that again. But I don’t know, maybe getting away from this place would be good for me too.”

“Do you think you’ll ever be an adventurer again?” he questioned as he glanced at me.

“There’s a lot this world is going to face here soon. Between the Horsemen and that person who wants to watch the gods and the world burn, I have a feeling that I’ll have to someday, but until then, I hope to rest and relax. I need to move past the last five years.”

“You’ve been through a lot,” he said as he helped me up the bank as we reached the end of the beach and held my hand as we walked toward the main street.

“Gods, Kalona. You have too. You’ve been to the Abyss and back,” I stated as we paused. Before us, small groups of people walked up and down the street as children darted after each other. It was a common sight for Frostford and I noticed the little glimmer that entered his eyes. “It’s almost like we never left.”

“I’m not sure whether that’s comforting or disappointing,” he kidded as I smiled at him, saying that I honestly didn’t know which one it was with a light laugh. We made our way onto the street and we instantly caught some people’s attention. There were a lot of stares but we did our best to ignore them. Things were going to be different now, and hopefully they would turn out for the better in the long run.

We took a while, reminiscing about our past escapades in the town, and how stupid we were at times about trying to be sneaky about our relationship. Before I realized it, we were standing in front of my family’s old shop and he had his arm around my waist as he stood by my side. I looked at it for a long time, considering what I was going to do with it and thinking about all the time I spent there. That shop was a huge part of my life, but my life had taken me in a different direction than I originally thought I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep it. It would be a shame to allow it to sit and rot when another business could move into it. However, that decision would have to wait for another day because by then, I was exhausted and I was looking forward to finally getting some rest.

We walked back to my house and I went to my room to set down my things, feeling a bit relieved to be back home safe. After I sorted my things, my hand clutched the pendant of my necklace and I called out for my mom. I stayed there for a few minutes, not exactly sure why I was hoping for a different response than the one I got. There was silence. My heart broke. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I’ll admit that in that moment, I was glad that she was able to move on after so many years, but it was like losing her all over again. I was devastated. I hoped that she knew that I was alright and that I survived the fight. I’d miss her terribly. I already knew that.

Kalona stepped into the room to set his stuff down as well and noticed me crying. He put his arms around me and held me for a long while as I told him that my mom moved on. He comforted me, telling that it was alright and that she’s in a better place now. She’s with her baby son. She’s happier there. She’s no longer held back by what his father did to her. I nodded and buried my face into his shoulder, sobbing as he rubbed my back, giving the time I needed for my tears to stop falling.

I was getting used to her being around again, and a part of me thought that she’d want to live again, but I knew that was foolish. Her desire for revenge held her here, bound her soul to the house, and now that the person she wanted her revenge on was gone, there was no reason for her to stay. It was selfish to want her here just for my sake. She had died almost five years ago and I was never able to let her go. It was time to finally do so.

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, I wiped my tears from my eyes and sniffled a little as I pulled out of Kalona’s arms. His eyes held his concern as I gave him a weak smile. “Sorry, I don’t know why I reacted that way,” I said, my voice cracking a little bit. “You lost your mother again,” he stated. “You opened old wounds that never really healed.” I nodded and he asked me if I was alright and I told him that I was. I actually felt a lot better about it.

As Kalona left the room to check on the others, I pulled out the scroll that my father gave me and tore off another piece of it. There wasn’t much left of it at this point but I hoped I wouldn’t have to use it as frequently from here on out. I told him that Atlas was dead, that I was safe in Frostford, and that I loved him and I hoped to see him soon. Once more, I concentrated on him and the scroll left my hands.

We made supper for everyone and as Kalona and I were in my room, getting ready for bed, I decided to open the letter Orla gave me. It was addressed to Atlas and it said he thought they had broken the patient in question and if Atlas didn’t respond in two weeks, they were going to kill him. Dread filled my chest and I read that it was from a man called Dr. Hollingsworth. Terror stifled my lungs. The patient had to be my father. I screamed in agony as I curled my knees to my chest, hot tears rolling down my cheeks. Kalona, startled, asked me what happened. My body trembled and I fought to get the words out. I told him that my father was captured and in an asylum and they were going to kill him. I handed him the letter and I put my face in my hands. This couldn’t be happening. I couldn’t lose him too. Not now. Not after today.

Kalona stated that he thought the asylum was near Hallasholm and that if I’d give him two days, he’d go save my father. Panicking, I asked to come along with him and he refused to let me come, saying that he can do it alone. Eventually, I agreed, just wanting someone to go save him, and he said that he’d leave the first thing in the morning.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My mind was racing. What had happened to my father? Was he even going to be anything like the man I met back in Laketown? Why did Atlas do this? Why did Atlas feel the need to torture my family so much? I broke into tears multiple times and would cry myself to sleep before my thoughts woke me up again. I wouldn’t say that Kalona slept easily beside me, but sleep came to him much easier than it came to me. My whole body was tense and anxiety ate at me. What did that doctor mean by breaking him?

The next morning, Kalona woke up and prepared himself to leave. Once he was ready to go, he gave me a kiss and I promised him that I’d give him two days. When he walked out the front door, I knew the clock was ticking.

To distract myself a little bit, I made a hearty breakfast for everyone and when Jack walked into the kitchen, saying that he needed to leave to go back to Caster, I pointed the spoon I had in my hand at him and told him that he wasn’t leaving without breakfast. He did stay for breakfast and told us that he was going back to Caster to smooth over things for us there, since we did technically cause the death of a salesman. He said it didn’t really help the situation that we had our meeting before theirs and that’s the only time the Caster Council has seen us together. I told him to tell them about what I told him about my family, and that if they needed more evidence, I had plenty of it. He said he’d get in contact with me if he needed it.

Sticking to his word, Jack left after breakfast and while I was cleaning up the kitchen from the meal, Zen and Cade tried to reincarnate his mother. They asked if I wanted to participate in the ritual, and I told them that I didn’t have anything I could contribute. I didn’t know her well enough. This is going to sound horrible, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with the thought of it. I don’t know. I felt that, maybe like my mother, she didn’t want to come back and that there would be consequences to bringing her back that way, other than a potential gender and race change. I feared that Mabel wouldn’t be happy with the results.

However, they were successful and Mabel came back as a triton woman, whatever a triton was. She wasn’t like a merfolk, because she had legs and she could be out of the water, but she was still kind of like that. With Mabel back, and the body of human Mabel on the floor, Cade went to bury it outside in the backyard and I snapped at him, telling him that he was not going to bury it on this property. I didn’t want the body of the woman my father had been sleeping with after my mother had been murdered buried near the body of my mother. Mabel told Cade to take the body out into the woods and leave it there for some animal to eat. I gave her a weird look and Cade did as he was told.

With that settled, I told them all that I was going into town to talk to Baron Waicox. I’ll admit that it did feel really surreal to be able to walk freely through Frostford without having to hide. It was nice, but I had a hard time shaking the feeling that I should be hiding instead of being out in the open. When I finally made it to the Waicox Estate, there were a few formalities I had to pass with the guards and such, but eventually I was lead to a sitting room and was told that the Baron would be with me soon.

As I waited for my meeting with Hibernius, I glanced towards the doorway to the sitting area and noticed Calla walking by. She paused at the sight of me, glared, and then continued to walk. I could tell that her personality hadn’t changed a bit, but something had changed. She was pregnant.

I don’t know. It’s kind of weird to say but the sight of her made me feel a lot better about everything. Hibernius and Calla had never had children while I was growing up, and for a while, I think I was convinced that they would never have children. Seeing Calla there, pregnant, felt almost like a sign that life and this city was moving on from the past, like brighter days were ahead of us. It was comforting to me.

After a few minutes, Baron Waicox entered the room and I stood up to greet him, shaking his hand and he gave me a little half-hug. Once we had both sat down, he told me that he hoped I was doing well and that it was good to see me again. I told him that I was and that I needed to thank him for everything that he’d done for my family over the years, especially while I was gone. I did admit to him that I was angry at him for a long time, but I realized that my anger towards him was misplaced and he said that he understood and he forgave me for it. I then looked around to see if we were alone before smiling at him, realizing that I was being foolish. He gave me a curious look and I told him that I wasn’t used to not having to be so secretive all the time. I then told him that Atlas Fletcher was dead, that the danger that he posed to the city was gone, and he responded with a light smile and said that he hoped things would return to a sense of normalcy now. I agreed with him and my gaze met his and I knew that I needed to tell him what happened. Hibernius had always been so close to my family. He was like an uncle to me. I knew my words were going to hurt him a bit.

I told him that my mother passed on and was no longer with us. He nodded, giving me his condolences, as he said that he’d miss her too. I told him about seeing my father in Laketown, that I heard from him once after that, but that I was suspicious of the letter he sent. I told him that my concerns had been realized when Orla gave me a letter yesterday that she thought would interest me. I handed the letter to him, not wanting to have to read it again, and his brow furrowed as he read it. “That asylum is near Hallasholm,” he stated, his eyes full of concern as he studied me for a long while.

“I know,” I replied. “I sent Kalona off to go save him,” and at that moment, I realized how bad of an idea that was. Shit. I sent the son of the man my father hates the most to be his rescuer. I think Waicox was able to see it too. “I’ve made a mistake, Hibernius. I shouldn’t have let Kalona go alone. He told me to give him two days and I wasn’t thinking straight at the time. He left this morning, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Klara, why would you send Kalona?” Waicox questioned. “And you do know that Hallasholm is months away, right?” I explained to him that I was dating Kalona and because I was so distraught about the letter, I let him go alone, even though I asked to go with him, since he said he could rescue my father. I also told him that I didn’t know how Kalona was going to manage traveling that distance in a few hours, but he seemed confident that he’d be able to do so so I let him try. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in time before my father was killed. He asked me to keep him informed about that situation and I promised him that I would.

I then told him that there was one more thing I needed to talk to him about, stating that I was afraid that Atlas wasn’t the only evil that would be threatening the city. I told him about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, mentioning that the plague in Colonmel was probably tied to them, and said that I didn’t know much about them, but as soon as I learned more, I’d let him know so he could make preparations within the city. I told him that there may be other threats, and I’d let him know about any of them I find. He thanked me for doing so, saying that it would be a great service to the city.

As we finished our meeting, he smiled at me and welcomed me home, saying that it was great to see me again. I told him that it was wonderful to talk to him too, and that I’d be making a trip to Croak soon, but afterwards, I’d be returning to Frostford.

With the meeting over, I left the Waicox Estate and started walking back towards my house. As I was passing the harbor, I figured I should stop by and let Levi know that I was going to be around more. He seemed surprised, but happy to see me as I told him that Atlas was dead. He said that he already heard that he was, and he was glad I was still alive. I told him that I was too, and that I’d be around the town more, after a trip to Croak. He told me to be careful out on the Sea of Storms, and to get a good captain to navigate those waters, and I told him that I already had it covered. I explained to him that I’ve already been out on that sea once before and it was terrible.

I then told him about my father, stating that Kalona was trying to rescue him at the moment. He looked at me like I was an idiot and I explained to him that I realized that it was a horrible idea, but Kalona promised that he could do it and I believed him. That didn’t stop the look he was giving me. I admitted that I was dating Kalona Fletcher and he just shook his head a little bit. He told me that he hoped the best for me and my father and he hoped that this rescue attempt worked.

I said a quick goodbye to Levi, knowing that he needed to get back to work, and I headed home. Once there, I started to clean up the house, specifically moving the crib out of my parents room and into Nikolas’ room and tidying up my father’s study. I did take the letter my father wrote to Nikolas out of his desk, but never read it. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to give it to him or not but I thought I’d take it just in case since we were going to Noragate. Other than cleaning, I didn’t do anything for the rest of the day and eventually went to sleep, wondering how Kalona was doing with my father.

A loud thud filled the house, followed by the sound of doors slamming as I got up and raced to see what the commotion was. It was early morning. The sun had just risen and the front doors were open, Kalona was laying on the floor, trying to calm someone down. I rounded the corner to see my father standing outside the house with his bow drawn and readied on Kalona. I put up my hands, stepping closer to him. “Dad, it’s alright. You’re home. You’re safe,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest. I started to fear the worst but I was glad to see him.

“Klara Giselle Grayson, what’s going on here?” he questioned, his eyes never leaving Kalona. “I sent Kalona to rescue you. Please lower the bow,” I begged him. His eyes glanced over to me for a second before they returned to Kalona. From deeper with the house, Cade said, “Klara and Kalona are dating.” I turned to shout at Cade when my dad loosed his arrow, but Kalona was able to roll out of the way. He nocked another arrow and I moved closer to my father, standing in the threshold.

“Dad, please, just tell me what happened. Are you alright? No one’s heard from you in months,” I pleaded and he didn’t let down his draw, but he did look at me more. “I went to Pelt after I saw you in Laketown and I was ambushed and taken to the asylum,” he explained quickly. His gaze jumped from me to Kalona and I knew he was trying to piece everything together. I feared what he was going to do next. It’d been a long time since I’d seen my father so angry. After a few tense moments, he sighed and said, “I need some time alone.”

“We need to talk,” I retorted, but I knew it came out more like a whine. He let his draw down, quivered his arrow, and looked at me. “Not now, Klara,” he growled, still staring down Kalona. I took a few steps closer to him and offered him a hug and eventually, with another sigh, he hugged me. “I’m glad you’re back,” I whispered to him before he stepped away from me, moving past me and into the house. His heavy footfalls made their way to his bedroom and I heard the door slam shut. Both Cade and Zen looked at me peculiarly as I helped Kalona to his feet before closing the front doors.

My father seemed alright, but I wasn’t really able to tell. He was furious in that moment and I knew it was because of Kalona. I wasn’t able to tell if he was truly okay after spending months in the asylum. That concerned me.

I took Kalona’s hand and lead him to the kitchen, thanking him for bringing my father back and asking him if he was alright. He said that he was and that there were a few snags along the way, but the trip was pretty easy. He said he had a necklace that allowed him to plane shift twice per day, so he had to shift to another plane, and then again to get to the asylum. Since he’d never been there, it was a wild guess to see if he actually got there and luckily, he was close to it when he shifted back to our plane. He had some trouble charming the guards to let him in, but he was able to eventually. Finding my father was a bit of a challenge, but he did it. He did admit that he had to charm my father so he could be with him while he waited for the new day to come and his necklace to recharge. Once it did, they went to another plane, Kalona had to charm my father again, and then shifted one more time. When they appeared outside the house, my father had realized that Kalona had charmed him multiple times and kicked him into the front doors and I knew the rest. I thanked him for doing so, saying that I was glad that both of them were alright, and pulled him into a tender kiss.

Zandre, pissed off that we were still delaying our trip, asked when we would actually be leaving this town and I told her that I needed a few more hours at least to make sure my father was okay. The latest we’d be leaving was the next day. She scoffed at my comment and stormed away. I was honestly pretty pissed off with her at that point, but a promise was a promise, so I left to go talk to Baron Waicox one more time.

I was able to skip most of the formalities this time and was lead to a study. Hibernius was sitting at a desk, working on some paperwork and I told him that my father was back safely that I’d be leaving to escort someone to Croak. He told me to be careful on my trip and I asked him if he’d be willing to go check on my father while I was gone. I told him that I’m sure my father would enjoy the company and to see an old friend again. He promised that he would, and I said goodbye to him, promising to come back to the town as soon as I could.

I went back to my house and knocked on the door to my father’s bedroom. After a few seconds, he opened it and I asked if I could talk to him for a little bit and say goodbye before we left. He opened the door wider and allowed me to step inside before he closed the door behind me. I studied him for a few moments. He didn’t look as angry as he was earlier, but I could tell that he was still upset. I told him that I had to leave soon to take Zandre to Croak but that I’d told Hibernius that he was here and he was going to stop by the house sometime soon. I told him that I was sorry for sending Kalona to rescue him, but I panicked when found out where he was and Kalona offered to go by himself so I let him. I told him that we needed to have a long talk about everything that happened since I saw him last but that would have to wait until I got back. I think he noticed that I was working myself up with each word that I said and he hugged me. I went quiet instantly and I put my arms around him too.

We held each other in silence for a few, long moments before he finally let me go, telling me to be safe on my trip and that we’d talk when I got back. I told him that I’d be back as soon as I could and I left his room to tell Zandre that I was ready to go.

I hated leaving him like that. I knew I was going to be gone for months and I hoped that he wouldn’t be still be angry with me once I returned. I didn’t like leaving this unsettled. I hoped that he wouldn’t hate me when I returned. I know he disapproved of the choice I made to be with Kalona, but I hope that in time, he’d understand and maybe forgive me for doing so. And even though he seemed to have moved on from the murders that occurred in our family, I still couldn’t help but fear the fact that he was alone in the house. It had to be hard for him, right?

In that moment, I realized just how much the past five years had broken me.

Klara's Journal: Entry #17
Tides of War

Gathering my thoughts, I sat up to see that I was back in the camp with Cade and Zen. Tallis was nowhere to be seen, but all of the animals and Zandre were here. Greatly confused, I looked around at them before Zen threw her shoe out into the forest and tried to throw her other one at Zandre. Luckily, I was able to stop her before she was able to do so. However, that didn’t mean that she still didn’t manage to piss Zandre off. After looking for the missing shoe with Zen and finding it, I asked Zandre how long it had been and she said that it’d only been an hour. With that, Cade and Zen went back to sleep and I stared at Zandre for a while, my mind racing trying to put together what happened, before I went back to sleep as well.

The next morning, we continued towards the house we were told about and found ourselves standing in front of a door, just like the one we saw in our dreams but not connected to the house this time. Cade and Zen didn’t really want anything to do with it, so I approached it and heard a knocking on the door and a scroll lying before it. I picked it up and there was a necklace keeping it shut. It had a symbol of a windmill on it. I took it to Zandre and she’d seen the symbol before. I opened it and read, “Please you have to come help us. We are in Barovia.” Confused, I looked to the rest of my party and Cade was already opening the door.

A purple vortex of energy rested behind it and Cade kicked at it before we could stop him and was pulled in. A few moments later, Cade and an elven man stepped through the vortex. The stranger looked like he’d been to the hells and back. Zen instantly didn’t like him and tried to hit him, but she was unable to do so. Noting how Zen was acting, I decided to rub it in a little and asked him if he needed anything. He said he didn’t, but I went up to him and touched his arm and healed him the best I could. He looked a bit better and I asked him what his name was. He told us that we could call him Cross. With that, I offered him my hand and told him that it was nice to meet him. He took it and shook my hand suspiciously.

He looked like he wanted to leave, but we kept pestering him with questions. He said that the place the vortex lead to was the Shadowfell and that his party had been trapped down there while they were looking for the missing children that were being sacrificed. Cade had the audacity to tell him that we’d found the kids, but they were all dead. He told us that he really needed to get back to his Order, and we found out that it was near Rorken. Zandre, who had been glaring at him for a while, stated that he was a bloodhunter and that bloodhunters fight darkness in the world, wherever they may be, even going to places like the Hells and the Abyss.

It was a long shot, but knowing what he was, I asked him if he’d be willing to help me fight an evil entity that’s terrorizing a town. He considered it for a moment, and I thought his answer was going to be no, but he told me that I had him for a week.

With that, I asked Zandre the same question, stating that I’d hold true to the earlier promise about escorting her to Croak even if she said no, and she agreed to help as well. With that, we made our way back to Seacliff to buy some things and for me to send off some letters. There was only a few people who I know I could turn to, and one who just needed to know what was going on in his city. The letter to Jack was an easy one to write as I basically told him that we were meeting in Laketown to gather our forces before we made our way to Frostford, but if he knew he couldn’t make it to Laketown in time, he was more than welcome to stay at my house until we arrived. I did make sure to warn him about my mother.

The next letter was a bit more difficult, due to the fact that I knew that Baron Waicox wouldn’t have much of a say in any of this, but he needed to know what was going on in his city and that we were preparing to end the threat that Atlas Fletcher posed. The letter to my father was difficult for the fact that I wasn’t sure it was him I was writing to. I hoped it was as I asked him to come to Laketown, but I was honestly quite suspicious of him. I wanted to believe that I was writing to him, but I couldn’t know for sure, so I kept most of my plans quiet.

The letter to Kalona was by far the hardest to write. I was trying to be hopeful, but I knew that I was running out of time. I told him my ideas for the plans, because I did not want to take them all on at the same time, and at the end of it, I apologized for acting so reckless with him. I hoped that he didn’t think we were moving too fast because I wanted to move faster. I was tired of the standstill my life had become, the waiting game I forced myself to live. I was ready to move on from this terrible situation and live out the rest of my life with him. I wanted to be his wife. I wanted to be married to him. I hoped that he felt the same way.

With the letters sent, we started to make our way towards Laketown. I got a letter back from Kalona and was honestly a little frustrated with it, because all it asked is where I wanted him to go to meet us. I wrote back to him, saying that he should meet us in Laketown as I tried to ignore the fact that he didn’t mention anything about the rest of my letter.

We talked with Cross a little bit along the way and it seemed like he had a serious case of amnesia. He didn’t really know much about his past, nor the tattoo with the draconic-like script on his back. Honestly, he was kind of weird, but we were weird too, so it was okay.

As we reached Laketown, a dense fog surrounded the street and I tensed as I knocked an arrow, watching for any changes within it. My mind started racing to the worst possible scenario as the panic started to set in. I wasn’t ready to face them here. Zen went over to the fog and was stuck down and I went over and healed her, pulling her away from it a little bit, before going back to the group, still focusing. Three daggers flew towards us from the fog, but they missed, as my heart skipped a beat. It was him. It had to be. With all of my courage, I shouted, “Atlas!” as I readied my bow. It was then when the fight began.

Honestly, I felt like a sitting duck as I watched daggers fly out of the fog, waiting for Slither to show his face. At least it didn’t seem like Atlas was there. It seemed like it was only Slither. Angry, I shot a couple of arrows into the fog, not even knowing if they hit or not. My heart pounded against my chest as my mind raced. Fear gripped me as well as anger, as I considered my options. I didn’t know where Kalona was, or my father, and Jack was three days away. The people I wanted to be fighting by my side the most were nowhere to be seen. At least there was five of us and only one of him.

After some time, Zen managed to dispel the fog and Cade, Cross, and her went after Slither. I held my ground, knowing that if I kept myself out in the open, he might appear. After a few good hits by them and no sign of him, I raced around the corner where they were to see that Slither had escaped. Anger gripping me, I shouted, “Slither, you’re Altas’ bitch!” as the silver dragon wyrmling landed on my shoulder. I will admit that I was terrified in that moment and even though I was trying to remain composed, I was shaken.

I jumped on Beacon and we raced across the street and I rushed into Mabel’s bakery, wild-eyed and disheveled. I don’t even remember what I said at first, but I stayed quiet after that until the customer she was helping was gone. I asked her if she’s seen my father and she said that she hadn’t. The last time she saw him was when we were here. I told her what happened just moments before and said that I needed to see if the others I sent for had arrived before leaving the bakery.

I tried to focus, but I really couldn’t. I was terrified that I was going to be attacked, I was horrified that Atlas wasn’t too far behind, and I was mortified that Slither was here. Did he know I was coming? Did I accidently tell him in those letters? Was my initial fears about my father after getting that letter in Seacliff correct? I didn’t know, and I felt myself breaking once more.

I went to the Lakeside Inn to see the young Mr. Emerson instantly groan as I entered the establishment. I went up to him and asked if there had been anyone new in the town and he said that there was two. I asked where they were and he said that they went to go get a drink at the Siren. I gave him five gold, thanking him and telling him I’m still sorry about his bar. Hoping that one of them was Kalona, I quickly made my way to the Siren.

Now, I never been there, but from what Cade and Zen had told me, it was a brothel, so I instantly clutched my coin purse a little tighter, not wanting my money to be stolen like that one time in Chipenden. With a sigh to try to calm my nerves, which didn’t helped, I walked in and scanned the room. Luckily, they were pretty easy to spot and I walked up to the table the two of them were sitting at.

Without a word or a look towards Falana, even though my jealousy still flared in my chest, I sat down next to Kalona, knowing that I still probably looked terrified. The only reason I knew that is that I noticed my hands were shaking. “Klara?” he asked and I looked at him. His face as stoic as usual, but his eyes told a different story. I could see the fear in them. “Slither,” I whispered. “Here?” he breathed and I nodded. “Just now. He attacked us but we lost him.” He considered my words for a moment and I caught him glance down at his hands for brief second. “If he was here that means my father’s not far behind,” he stated as I nodded once more. He looked over at Falana as I just sat there for a moment, staring at the table in front of me. I knew I was safe by his side, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t considering the possibilities and the outcomes. It could have been so much worse.

About that time, Cade came and sat down at the table next to Falana and she proceeded to greet him. I glared at her before I leaned on Kalona, closing my eyes. He put his arms around me and I finally felt some of the tension leave my body as my eyes started to burn with tears. I was about to cry when Cade told us to get a room. Glaring at him from across the table, seeing that Falana and him were feeling each other up, I retorted that they were the ones that needed to get a room and Kalona held me tighter, whispering to me to ignore them. I did so and lost myself in my thoughts once more.

I was glad that he was here. Out of everything that had happened and the time that had passed since we were last together in Aspienne, it felt right to be in his arms once more. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to have to be away from him that long ever again, or away from him for that long without knowing the next time we’d be together again. With everything that happened over the past couple months, I knew it would’ve been much easier to handle with him by my side. Even though he wasn’t able to be, and he had things to do on his own, I was glad he was finally here now.

Once I had calmed down a little bit, Kalona asked what I wanted to do. I told him that we needed to gather everyone somewhere private and discuss our plan further. We decided that the best place to do this would be Mabel’s house, and we gathered everyone we could in that small house for this talk. In total, there was eight of us, two dire wolves, three dragon wyrmlings, and a leopard squeezing into the front room of that house. I briefly ran down the situation for Mabel and everyone who might have forgotten what had been discussed earlier and said that we needed to make a stand against Atlas. Kalona asked where I’d like this fight to be, and I told him and them all that we need to go to Frostford, because Jack will be there to help us. In honestly, I wanted to end it where the conflict started for my family. Everything had to come to a close there. With everyone in agreement, people started to leave to go gather their things and I went up to Cross. It’d been five, almost six days, and I told him that it’d be three days to get to Frostford. I asked him if there was any way he could stay for a few more days, and with a sigh, he said that he would, but he’d be leaving after that.

As people readied themselves, I pulled Kalona off to the side and asked him if he had any ideas about how to go about this and he said that he didn’t at the moment, because it looked like we’d have to face them all at once. I told him that I really didn’t want to do that, and he replied that there probably wasn’t a way we could avoid it. I looked down for a moment, knowing that I needed to tell him my plan in case things got bad. I told him that I was going to run if I was close to death, that if I fled I’d have a chance at getting somewhere safe for a while, and he pulled me into a hug. He told me that if things got that bad, he’d get me out of there and somewhere safe. I just needed to stay close to him. I knew he didn’t like me talking like this, I could feel it, but it was something that needed to be said.

After some time, I backed away from him a bit and took his hands, looking up into his eyes with a small smile on my lips and said, “I hope you know I wasn’t kidding in that last part of my letter. I really do mean it.” He returned my smile and said, “I know,” before saying that we needed to talk about it some more. I kissed him on the cheek and walked out the door with him as we started on our way to Frostford.

The trip there was thankfully uneventful and Kalona and I did get to spend some time together, discussing our future plans. I told him that after this is all over with, I promised to escort Zandre to Croak, but after that, I wanted to come home for a while and start getting things straightened out. The house and the old shop was mine and I’d like to get them both cleaned up a little. What I did with them past that would be determined by if my father was still alive. He said that he’d like to spend some time with his mother, and then he’d like to spend some time with me. Just the two of us. I told him I’d like that.

He asked me if I heard anything from my father again and I told him about the letter I’d received and that I did send one to him, telling him to go to Laketown, but he wasn’t there when we arrived. I told him about the concerns I had, and he told me to dismiss them. He did insist that I needed to write to him again so he wouldn’t be waiting for us in Laketown. I told him that I would once we got to Frostford.

One night, while I was laying in his arms as he gently ran his fingers through my hair, he asked me if I wanted him to join my party. I listened for a moment, trying to hear if anyone was outside our tent, and when I couldn’t, I told him that I wasn’t going to be staying with them. There was a hint of confusion in his eyes and I told him that I didn’t want to be with them anymore, not after what happened in Aspienne. I didn’t trust them, not after they tortured that old man to death, and after his father was no longer a threat to us, I was going to leave Absit Invidia. It was time for me to stop dwelling in the past. It was time for me to move on and start living my life.

The night before we got to Frostford, Kalona and I were on watch while the rest of the group was asleep. We sat together by the fire as I asked him if he was alright. He said that he was, but that he had a lot on his mind at the moment. I told him that I did too. I looked up at the trees, thinking back to when we were younger and we could only find solitude with each other in the forest, if only for an hour at most. It was strange to see just how far we’d come. I felt Kalona’s gaze on me as he asked, “What are you thinking about?” I smiled, finally shifting my attention back to him, and told him, “I was thinking back to when we had to hide in the forest to be alone together.” He smirked, saying that our parents and the rest of the town would’ve known about us if we went anywhere else. His mom was always at the beach, his father was either around town or at the shop, my parents went everywhere around Frostford, and the people at the taverns would’ve ratted us out if they saw us together there. I told him that it was always a miracle we actually got to spend time together. He laughed at that.

My eyes focused on him for a long while and when he met my gaze, I knew he understood what I was thinking. I knew it was a dangerous idea, but I at least wanted to be with him one more time. I didn’t know what was going to happen the next day and we hadn’t had a chance to be alone together before then.

I didn’t want to assume, but I think he felt it too. The weight of it all. The gravity of what we were attempting to do. However, I think he was handling better than I was. He was ready for the fight, he was ready to lay it all down on the line, because I think he was confident that, no matter what, he’d live to see the end of it. I, on the other hand, knew that this fight was most likely going to be the death of me, but I hoped that I’d be able to bring Atlas down with me. If not, I hoped that my death would be a catalyst for Atlas’.

It’s the reason I was moving so quickly with Kalona. Each passing minute brought me closer to my last and I wanted to make the most of this life while I was still breathing. I wanted to live a lifetime with him, but I knew that I was only guaranteed a handful of hours. My hourglass was running out of sand while his was seemingly endless.

“Kalona,” I whispered, my voice low and pleading. He scooted closer to me, raising his hand so his fingertips could gently rest on the cheek as his eyes studied my face. There was a small smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth as his fingertips gently traced my jaw. He smiled as I felt my heart begin to beat a little quicker. “We won’t have much time,” he breathed as his eyes gazed into mine, his other hand on my thigh. “I don’t care,” I stated as I got up on my knees, watching him as he repositioned himself before both of his hands were on my hips. I sat down in his lap and my mouth met his in a tender kiss.

The next morning, we arrived in Frostford and soon found ourselves standing in front of the Grayson Estate. I told everyone that they should spend some time preparing their things and that I needed to do something in the house for some time. As they did so, I went over to Kalona and told him that it was time to do something that I should’ve done years ago. He smiled as I took his hand and lead him into the house, closing the doors behind us. As I turned and walked closer to the central fireplace, I called out for my mother and I heard the door lock. There she was, in her spectral form, with one hand on the door handle, glaring at Kalona.

With a nervous smile, I told her that I wanted her introduce her to my boyfriend, causing her glare to intensify on him. I could feel him tense up at that so I put my hand on his forearm and gave him a small smile for reassurance before looking back at my mother. I asked her if we could all get along for a while and get to know each other in a different light, because he’s not the person she thought him to be. At that, she stated that he’s nothing like his father since he was still standing there. I told her that she was right. He is nothing like his father. He’s much better than that. This caused Kalona to smile at me and my mom to move closer to the two of us.

Taking a deep breath, I took his hand, and explained to her that he’s always been there for me, even when I didn’t appreciate him being around, and that I was sorry that I hadn’t told her about him before. With a smirk, she stated that she knew about him years ago, but she wondered when I would actually tell her about him. I had to explain to her that I didn’t want to tell her about him because I feared that she would be angry at me. Then, she said something that surprised me.

She said that she wasn’t angry with either one of us. She was angry at Atlas and disappointed that I felt that I couldn’t tell her about him until now. The tension I was feeling left at that moment and I knew that I was going to be easier to talk with her now. I told her that I was sorry that I hadn’t told her until now because I was afraid of the consequences, especially with how our family felt about his in general. I was certain that she was going to be angry with me if I had told her and with that, she smiled, running one of her hands over my head before cupping my cheek. “I could never be angry with you,” she breathed. I smiled, closing my eyes as I put my hand over hers, apologizing once more.

She then proceeded to tell that that I deserved happiness in my life, after everything that’s happened. I thanked her for that and said that he had said the same thing when we met each other again in Aspienne. Kalona put his hand on my shoulder and said that it’s true, and that I deserve all the happiness in the world. I blushed slightly at his comment and told him that he deserves it too. As I told them that I loved them, they both put their arms around me and we held each other in the hug for a few moments. My heart was so full in that moment and I was glad that I finally did this.

About that time, Jack moved past us, saying hello to me briefly as the door unlocked for him and he stepped out, before my mom locked the door once more behind him. As we regrouped, I explained to her that there was a few things we needed to discuss, stating that there was a reason that we were here in Frostford today. She said that, based off of my friend that stayed in the house yesterday, it’s time to end the conflict. I nodded and said that it was because Slither had ambushed us when we arrived in Laketown a few days ago, but he had escaped. I saw the fear enter her eyes as she began to check me for wounds, asking if everyone was okay. I said we were, that Zen was knocked out in the fight but is now fine. However, I told her that I didn’t know about father, explaining to her that I had received a letter from him while in Seacliff, but I haven’t heard from him since. I asked him to meet up with us in Laketown, but he wasn’t there when we arrived.

Worry entered her eyes as I felt my eyes beginning to burn as I fought back my tears. I looked down, stating that I’ve been trying not to think about the worst possible situation at the moment, but I can’t. I’m terrified that he’s already gone. She put her arms around me and pulled me into another hug as I felt my heart sink. “I have a plan to keep you alive and safe,” Kalona stated, a hint of sadness there in his voice. “Would you care to enlighten me about the details of your plan? It might make me feel a little better,” I pleaded softly, fighting back the tears that wanted to fall.

He told me that he was going to keep me safe from his mother during the fight, and if everything turns to shit, he was going to get me out of there at all costs. I stepped back from my mother and looked at him, nodding. I promised that during the fight, I was going after Atlas, even if we were going to have to fight all three of them at once. He took my hand and squeezed it, his eyes full of determination. He promised that he’d follow me no matter what, until the end. I begged him to stay close to me and stated that if he had the chance to get the killing blow against his father, he needed to take it if he wanted it. At that point, I didn’t care who struck Atlas done as long as it happened and Kalona deserved to do it after what his father put him through. That comment caused him to smirk, saying that it would be justice. I promised that I’d have his back if he’d wished to do.

I looked at my mother and told her that I was sorry that father couldn’t be here today, and she told me that he’s here in spirit. I felt a tear roll down my cheek at her words and I admitted that I hoped I’d be able to see him one more time. Her voice had a touch of sorrow in it as she said that we just had to hope that he was safe wherever he was. I wiped my eyes, knowing that she was right and that there was no use in crying about it now.

Because I wasn’t sure if I did so last time I was with her or not, I asked her if I told her that I thought that Nikolas’ wife was pregnant. At that, a huge smile lit up her face for a moment as she said that I didn’t tell her that he was having a baby. Her voice trailed off as she said the words and I was sure that she remembered the situation our family was in. Her eyes then met mine, her gaze was dead-serious, as she told me that this had to end before the child is born so it doesn’t have to go through the same hell that I did. I agreed with her and added that if things didn’t go well in the fight, my goal was to go get Nikolas and his family and get them to safety until we can defeat the threat once and for all. She nodded, but stated that I needed to stay safe as well, and I explained to her that it was the reason I brought so many along with me today.

A thought then crossed my mind and I went up to Kalona, whispering to him a question. I asked if we should tell her that we were maybe getting married soon. He nodded with a light smile, whispering that it would be a good idea to tell her while I still could. I gave him a smile and touched the side of his face before turning to face my mother, taking my place by his side. “We have something we’d like to tell you,” I stated as I felt the smile on my lips growing a bit wider. Her eyes were expectant as she waited for us to say something. I took Kalona’s hand and said that we were getting married soon. We didn’t have any plans, we didn’t know when or where, but we hope to someday. A smile lit her face once more and she congratulated us. I told her that we wanted to let her know, but I couldn’t help the sadness that filled my heart as I looked at her.

“I- I love you, Mom, and I hope I’ve made you proud,” I said, my voice breaking as tears welled up in my eyes once more. “I won’t let this threat continue on and I’ll make sure that your death was not in vain.” Her smile was full of love as she thanked me, saying that she was proud of me before asking me once more to stay safe. I promised that I’d try my best, but I didn’t know what to expect. Atlas, Orla, and Slither are powerful, and this fight is going to be dangerous. She agreed, and added that it would be good to go spend some time with my friends and comrades while I still could as she unlocked the door.

I went up and hugged her one more time, thanking her for everything. I asked her if she would be able to stay around for a little while after Atlas was defeated and she said that she’d try. I told her that I loved her and that I hoped to be able to see her again someday if she wasn’t able to stay before looking over at Kalona, hoping that he’d say something.

He came over and took my hand, saying, “Thank you, Mrs. Grayson, for this.” I smiled, blushing hard, and I kissed his cheek. As I pulled away from him slightly, his hands cupped my face and he pulled me into a soft kiss. I stiffened in surprise, shocked that he’d do something like this in front of my mother, but I soon relaxed into it. As his lips parted from mine, I grinned as I gazed into his silver-blue eyes. His eyes had a fire in them, full of determination, as he said on a light breath, “I promise I’ll keep her safe.”

Klara's Journal: Entry #16
Close Calls

We rested for the night in the cave and the next morning, the merfolk warriors told us that there was about six more merrows left. Once we were ready, they lead us to a creepy cave and we asked them to follow us in so they could fight with us. The battle with the merrows was fairly short, a lot of the merfolk didn’t survive the fight, but at least we were able to get rid of their threat for them. However, I soon began to realize why the Merchant’s Guild seemed so upset with me asking for a reward because while there wasn’t much money on the other ships we’d visited, within this cave, there was a lot. I’ve only ever dreamed of seeing that much money in one place and it was glorious.

Honestly, I felt like I was laughing to myself the whole way to the surface, which took hours to reach, and I knew I had a dumb grin on my lips most of the time. Thoughts circulated around in my head, knowing that I had unknowingly pulled off a huge deal in my blind rage and when we returned to the city, we were going to get more. In that moment, I felt powerful. Not because I was stronger than what I was before, but because my old ways were finally returning to me. I still had that spark that I thought was gone forever.

Eventually, we were able to find the boat again and Zen, as a dolphin, refused to come aboard. I, way too eager to get back on dry land, quickly climbed up the ladder and laid down on the deck, looking up at Captain Jerron as he came over to me. I was just happy to be back on a ship. I was so sick and tired of swimming at that point. He asked us if we were successful and when I explained to him that we were and that Zen was the dolphin that was giving his crew troubles. Once everyone, minus Zen, made it back on the ship, we made our way to shore.

Back in Noragate, we went to the Serpent’s Den to see Kisora, since I wasn’t going to tell my brother that we were back because of how he treated me last time, and we eventually found him. We told him of our success, Zen was acting a little weird the whole time, and he left us to get a meeting with the Guild set up. After a bit of time, we all followed him to the Guild’s hall and were coldly greeted by the rest of the Merchant’s Guild. Aren Wilso, visibility not too happy that we had turned, asked us about the mission, and I, a bit full of myself and haughty at the time, told the guild about our success. Wilso kept his word and gave us our reward: two small pouches, a staff, a dagger, and a bow. Zen was antagonizing him a bit after I thanked him for his business with a huge grin on my face before swaggering out of the room. Everyone looked so pissed at us, even my brother, and I was reveling in it. I couldn’t help but think to myself, Klara Grayson, you’re finally back.

However, my revelry didn’t last long because I soon found myself outside the guild hall and wanting to say goodbye to my brother. I know he didn’t care, he probably didn’t like me, and he probably told the Fletchers that I was in the city, but I needed to at least tell him goodbye. I felt like we needed to leave on slightly better terms than the last time.

It took a while, but eventually the guild members started to leave and I saw my brother talking to Wilso as he left the guild hall. Not wanting to interrupt, I followed them for a time, waiting for an opportunity to jump into to the conversation. After a little while, my brother noticed I was following and acknowledged me. He still didn’t seem too happy with me.

We had a brief conversation, which consisted mostly of me telling him good luck with his business, to take care of his wife, and that I wished him the best of luck in the future, before I hugged him and we went our separate ways. Cade and Zen also hugged my brother goodbye, to his dismay. Then we said our goodbyes to Kisora, and when I was hugging him, I noticed that his shadow looked a bit odd. As the others hugged him, I got a better look at it. It looked almost bird-like. I asked him about it and he told me to think nothing of it. After we finally parted ways, it looked like his shadow disappeared into a flock of birds. It was strange. But I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my travels.

We went and got our horses before making the two week trek back to Aspienne. Since we were going back to Caster and we didn’t know when we’d be back down in this part of the continent, Zen asked if we could go back to Aspienne because she had some unfinished business there that she hadn’t been able to take care of while we were there with the tournament.

Once there, we went to the Black Market once more. Zen had transformed into a falcon and landed on my shoulder, since we didn’t think she was welcome there anymore after what happened last time. Before that, she told us she was looking for an old man named Thawon. She explained to us that he was the reason her husband and son were killed. While searching through the merchant stalls, the man I had bought the painting from asked me if I’d like to buy another one. Really not wanting to buy another, I asked him if he’d been able to sell any more of his originals and he said that he had. I congratulated him on that and told him that I had some business to attend to, but I’d be back as soon as I could. He said that was alright and to come back soon. I left feeling a little guilty but I really didn’t want to buy another painting at the moment.

After that hang up, we searched the market some more with no sight of the guy she was looking for and I was eventually flagged down by a ‘potions’ merchant. The reason I say it that way is because I knew they had some drugs on the table. Zen was motioning for me to buy her one of the heart-shaped cookies that was on that table and I was super tempted to do so, since I knew what they were. Kalona hadn’t told me much about them, but he had told me enough. They were love cookies and they did what you’d think they’d do, but he did tell me that it’s not good if you get addicted to them and to stay away from them. Because of that, I was tempted to buy her one, but I knew it wouldn’t be right so I walked away.

By this time, Zen was getting pretty flustered, but we did have one more place we could look so we went up to the gambling area. It was pretty packed, but eventually, Zen was able to point out an old man to us. He sat at a poker table with a few others and it looked like they had just finished a game. I went up to them and asked if I could join them. The conversation was stern as they tried to get to know me a little bit. Honestly, I’m not used to anyone really knowing my name anymore. I still have the gut reaction to kill anyone who does and it seems like everyone knows my name in this town. I had to fight to remain composed and to tell myself that it was okay. Over a few games, I myself winning a few of them, Thawon asked Cade, who was standing near me, where Zen was. I told him that she was in the city dealing with other business.

About at that time, Zen flew off of my shoulder and handed in front of him squawking and making god-awful noises. He asks me to control my bird and eventually, after a lot of cursing and threatening towards her, she eventually allowed me to pick her up and carry her away.

As we left the table, Thawon did as well. He went to talk to some guards and we followed him out of the market to a safe house. Zen managed to distract the guards, still as a falcon, which allowed Cade and I to sneak into the house. Once inside, we opened a window for Zen and made our way to the room we could hear footsteps coming from. We opened the door slightly to see him pacing around the room, drinking. Zen slipped inside and started screeching at him. He started cursing at the bird, saying that she was probably “one of the beasts that druid controlled.” Cade and I snuck in, me holding the door shut behind us as Zen reappeared as her normal self.

There was a little bit of a scuffle, Cade was able to calm the man down before Zen began to question him about what happened to her husband and son. I didn’t follow the story well. I was too focused on the look in Cade and Zen’s eyes at the moment. There was some talk about a man named Renin, who I think might have been Zen’s husband? I wasn’t quite sure. All I was able to gather was that there was an event named the Shaymoore Rebellion and Thawon turned this Renin in, which was a major betrayal. After that, he was promised safety and was on the run for a while before coming to Aspienne to live out the rest of his days under the protection of the Leader of the Black Market. Her name’s Chessa, and she’s also Lord Allen’s girlfriend.

Zen, I guess satisfied with the information she was given, asked us to hold him down. I wanted no part in it. I asked her if this was really necessary and she said it was. Cade held Thawon as Zen approached him with a knife. I couldn’t watch.

You know how some people believe that the more violence you see, the more you become desensitized to it? I’ve seen a lot of combat, I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of to other people who may or may not have deserved it, but what my companions did shook me deeper than anything I’ve ever seen. His screams were agonizing until eventually, after what seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes, they stopped.

I glanced up and now I wish I didn’t. There was blood pouring out of his mouth, his tongue was on the floor, and he had been castrated. Zen seemed furious and Cade’s eyes were cold. This was wrong. This was so wrong. I shook my head, my fingers shaking as I felt for the door handle, and left the room. I felt like I was going to be sick. There was a ringing in my ears as I looked down the staircase to see a few guards standing there. Slowly, I walked towards them and they moved out of my way, allowing me to pass without question. My skin must have been sheet white in that moment.

I needed a drink. I needed to get my mind off what I had just witnessed. I needed to write to Kalona. I didn’t feel safe with them anymore. I needed somewhere I could go sort things out, to cool down. Somewhere public. Somewhere safe. I don’t even remember my walk to that tavern.

All I know is that I asked the barkeep for the strongest thing they had when I got there and it was a whiskey. I ordered a couple shots and downed them, knowing that it would take the edge off even though it didn’t taste the best. Then, I started to write a letter to Kalona.

I told him that we were back in Aspienne after spending some time in Noragate. My brother was still there and I told him about what my brother had told me about his business deal with Kalona’s parents. I was still shaking pretty badly and my handwriting was horribly sloppy, but I pushed through it. I told him that, while I did want him to know about my brother, it wasn’t the reason I was writing the letter. I then told him about the event I just witnessed and how shaken I was from it. I told him that I don’t know what to feel right now but that I was a bit scared. I ended up closing the letter with saying that I missed him and that I’d keep in touch with him more often, especially after what I had just saw.

I sent the letter off with the messenger that Kalona told me about before I went back to the bar and ordered an ale. The bartender didn’t even try to talk to me past being courteous with my drink orders. I’m pretty sure he could tell that I wanted to be alone. My mind was racing and I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t help but dwell on what I’d witnessed. Zen tortured that poor old man to death. Yes, he had wronged her and her family in the past, but that was almost 25 years ago. It may have been a blink of an eye for her, but it’s a third of a human’s lifetime if we’re lucky. He was old; he was going to die soon anyways. No one should have to die the way he did.

I felt a hand rest on my shoulder as I turned to see Cade standing there. I shrugged his grip off and he sat down next to me. I shifted my stool a little farther away from his and took a long drink of my ale. He asked me if I was alright and I told him I wasn’t. He asked me why that was and I told him that what they did wasn’t right. He didn’t seem to like my answer.

About that time, Zen walked into the tavern, still covered in blood. She sat down next to Cade and ordered a drink. I watched them both carefully, eyeing them as Zen actually drank her ale. They started, once more, asking me what was wrong with me and I had to explain again that what they did wasn’t right. He was an old man that was going to die soon anyways and what they did was completely uncalled for. Zen said that I’d do the same thing if it was Atlas.

I explained to her that I would never do what she had done to that man to Atlas. Yes, I wanted Atlas Fletcher dead, but I wasn’t going to torture him, castrate him, cut out his tongue, and allow him to bleed to death. That’s unnecessary. That solves nothing. That only shows how cruel I can be to another person. The situation I’m in with Atlas is kill or be killed. It’s either him or me and even though he’s killed off most of my family, I’d never do something so worthless.

At that, I had enough of the two of them. It was getting pretty late so I got a key to a room at the tavern, got Beacon from outside, and made my way upstairs. Beacon made himself comfortable on the bed as I locked the door, sighing as I thought about what I gotten myself into. I thought I knew them, I really did, but it seems like those months of traveling with them didn’t give me enough time to see what they really were. I should’ve known. Some of the signs were there. When we were in Phandalin, Zen didn’t want anything to do with the townspeople but was more than ready to do things for the people of questionable reputation. That necromancer, the members of the Cult of the Dragon, she was the one to first trust them when they were obviously evil. Cade was a bit of a different story. His signs were more subtle but he was always willing to do anything. He didn’t seem to care about consequences. He, like Zen, didn’t want to help those children. All this time, he’s only been out for himself. It was right there in front of me but I didn’t allow myself to see it. But things are different now. He’s shown me the type of person he really is. He’s not worthy of my trust. He cheated on me.

With that thought, the tears began to sting my eyes. Cade used to tell me that he’d do anything for me, that he’d always be there for me, and that he’d love me no matter what. I used to think the world of him, that he was the best one of us, but now I realize I’m a fool for thinking that way.

I know he wasn’t happy when I was spending so much time with Kalona, he thought I was cheating on him, but Kalona silently made it clear that even though I was pressuring him, he wasn’t going to do anything with me that could be considered cheating while I was still dating Cade. Cade didn’t seem to understand that. The worst thing Kalona and I did was that he kissed me on the cheek the night Cade cheated on me. That’s it. There was nothing worse than that even though Cade didn’t see it that way. He was angry, he was jealous, and I know he was worried about losing me but he could have done it in a better way.

He hit me, too. Only once, in the nose after I told him that I hadn’t told him the full truth about Kalona and I in the past in Frostford, but I didn’t realize that something changed there until now. That hit was the first blow I had to my trust in him. The second was him cheating on me.

In that moment, I felt stupid for feeling so bad about breaking up with him. He wasn’t worth my time, he wasn’t worth my affection, and all of his bullshit talk about wanting to be close again were just hollow words. If he really cared, he wouldn’t have hit me. If he really cared, he wouldn’t have cheated on me. I could feel the fury stirring within me, a rage I hadn’t felt in a very long time, but I kept it at bay the best I could. I still needed both of them for my own protection. I couldn’t burn bridges just yet because if I did, it would surely mean the death of me.

Beacon was sprawling out on the bed so I had to shove him over a bit for me to be able to get into it. Once I got comfortable, he shifted so his head was next to mine, looking at me. His eyes were bright and it looked like he almost had a little smile on his face. Eventually, he fell asleep, snoring a little into my ear as my mind continued to race.

My mind drifted to thoughts of my father, especially him telling me to stay away from Kalona because he was dangerous. I guess he was right, but Kalona had never done anything to prove to me that he was so. One of the days I was with him, he told me that he was evil and that if I dated him, he was probably going to be a bad influence on me. He asked me if that was alright and I told him that I didn’t care. He had done nothing to me and a part of me always knew that he wasn’t the safest person to date when we were back in Frostford and that was supposedly before he turned ‘evil.’ He had always been polite to me, a true gentleman, and there was nothing he had done to me to show me otherwise. Even when he was angry with me during our fight when I broke up with him, he did nothing more than say a few harsh words.

I guess I’ve never actually seen this ‘evil’ side, but I guess that’s also kind of a good thing. It means that he doesn’t feel like he needs it when he’s around me. He can just be himself, the Kalona I used to know, the person he used to be before the world fucked him over. Happy, caring, intelligent, well-mannered, polite, and protective. Every girl’s perfect boyfriend. But what people don’t know about him is that he’s a little goofball when he’s around me. Of course, he’s not that way in public, but neither am I, and that’s what I love about him. You get him behind closed doors and the structured facade he wears falls off to reveal a loving, caring, teasing jokester. It’s the moments when he’s like that that make me fall in love with him over and over again.

Gods, I miss him. It had already been about a month since we were together last and the ache was terrible. I hoped he was doing alright. I hoped he was happy. My fingers played with the bracelet he gave me as I considered what the next step was going to be. We still needed to take care of his father and then we could be together like we wanted to be. It’d been awhile since I last thought about it, maybe a year or so at most, but for much different reasons this time. It would be really nice to marry him.

When I was younger and we were getting more serious, I always thought I would. I remember having a journal where I’d write “Klara Fletcher” in it on repeat until the name Fletcher didn’t feel as terrible as it should of, or at least as terrible as the rest of my family made it out to be. In those days, I was certain I’d be his wife, that we’d be the ones who’d bring an end to the conflict between our two families. That our love for each other would be stronger than our families’ hate. It was an idealistic fantasy that I thought had shattered forever, but now it’s been brought to life once more.

However, after our breakup, I did consider marrying him, but this time it wasn’t for love. It was for revenge. I had everything all planned out. The next time I saw him, I was going to make him fall in love with me all over again, but I was going to exploit that love. I was going to use him for my own gain. To get close to his family, make a deal with his father that I’d give over my blood once I was married to his son, and when the day of our wedding would come, that happy day was going to be painted red. It would be an ambush and none of the Fletchers were going to survive it. I had considered it for four years and I got to a point that I was certain it would work. I didn’t factor in one thing, however, and it proved to be the one thing that made four years of planning go to waste.

I wasn’t planning on falling back in love with him.

I feel it’s for the best now. That old idea of marrying him and being the ones to end the conflict between our families has been given new life in a different way. There will be bloodshed. It won’t be the peaceful passage like I originally thought it would be and we’ll meet some resistance from our parents that we’ll have to deal with. At the end of it all, we’ll technically still be the ones to end the conflict and we’ll start a new chapter for our families together. I’m not sure how the gods will favor a descendant of a paladin of Obad-Hai marrying the grandson of Asmodeus, but we’ll never know until it happens.

The next morning, we started to make our way back to Caster and about two weeks into our trip, we took a week to try to hatch the dragon eggs we had. I was able to figure out what each of them needed to hatch and we were able to get them incubated. At the end of the week, they all started to hatch. Now, I’ll admit I was pretty excited to be able to see it happen. I’ve only ever read about it in books before and watching the tiny silver dragon wyrmling slip out of its ice-covered egg was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The dragon seemed to take right to me and hopped up on my shoulder with a little bit of coaxing. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was in that moment and how cool it was to earn this little guy’s trust. I knew it might not last forever, but it would be wonderful while I still had it.

After that slight delay, we finally made it to Caster, now with four dragon wyrmlings. The little silver dragon had tucked himself away in my hood and was napping when we went to Wilford Warfstache’s Magical Emporium to deliver the crown to Mark. Once inside, there was a few people shopping, Mark was attending to his customers, and once he was free, we went up to him and gave him the crown. He was appreciative to have it back and told us we were the second ones to ever bring it back to him. When we asked him about that, he said that the only other person to bring it back to him was Jack. At the mention of Jack, we asked Mark if he was in the city and he said that he was and that he should be back at the castle.

To say I was a little nervous was an understatement as we made our way towards the Juniper District. Thoughts of what I had done to the old Inquisitor raced through my mind and consumed me. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be good. When we met the guards standing outside of the district, we told them that we had the royal signet for the king and we were escorted to the castle. Inside, we were lead to the council meeting room, the trial room we had been escorted to before for the attempted murder of the princess. The council was already there and so was a new person. She was a half-elf, who wore heavy armor, and had short, curly, pinkish-red hair. She was pacing the room as we entered.

Jack came up to us once I said that we had the signet for them and I quickly whispered to him that I didn’t know which ring was the real one of the two I had. He was able to pick it out and reassured me that everything was going to be alright. I pressed him about how he knew that and he responded that I was going on trial for the death of the old Inquisitor but I was going to be fine. Almost begging him not to go, he walked back to where he was standing before.

The king stepped forward and said that the trial for the death of the former Inquisitor would begin and he introduced us to the new Lady Inquisitor, the half-elf woman who had been pacing the room. I was asked to share my story about what happened and I did so to the best of my ability, trying to sound as confident as possible but I knew I was breaking. I knew that I did something wrong, but I tried to stress to them that it was only out of self defense. I thought that they had killed my friends and were going to kill me, so I fought back. I told them that we had run-ins with him before and that he had tortured me on one other occasion as well. After a while, when I felt like I was just going to start repeating myself, I left the story at that. It was everything that happened. I didn’t leave anything out. Now, all I could do was hope that they’d believe me.

Most of the council said that I was to be freed from any charges, some thought I should be punished, but overall the council consensus was that I was to be released. However, I soon found out that it didn’t matter what the council thought and that my fate lied within the hands of the Lady Inquisitor.

She walked up to me, eyeing me so intensely that I had the urge to step away, and said that I was free to go. The relief I felt was instant as she cracked a smile and I felt myself laughing as I fell to my knees, thanking her. She told me that without me killing the old Inquisitor, she’d never would have gotten this position. She also hated him, so she was glad that he was no longer a thorn in her side. Overjoyed, I ran up to Jack and gave him a huge hug as I noticed that Cade went up to talk to his father. I told Jack that there was so much I needed to talk with him about, but I needed to do so in private, and he then told me that he couldn’t until the next meeting was over with. He said we could stay for it because it wasn’t a pressing matter, but a couple from Frostford was here to get approval to open a new business.

My body went ice cold. I couldn’t stay here but I couldn’t leave, not with them outside those doors. Gods, they probably already knew I was here. I was trapped and I didn’t know what would happen if they saw me, so I looked for a place to hide. I found a spot in the nick of time and ducked into it, pulling the dragon out of my hood and holding him close to my chest. The meeting was ready to begin.

It’s been four years since I’ve seen Atlas Fletcher and he hasn’t changed a bit. Charming, handsome, and eloquent. I wasn’t sure if the other people in the room knew how much danger they were in. The son of Asmodeus and a devil in disguise, he’d charm his way into their hearts if they weren’t careful. Orla stood by his side and a weird, dragonborn-like creature stood behind them, watching. I could only assume that it was Slither. I stole quick glances and panicked as Atlas began to recite his offer. Memories of what happened to my family flashed before my eyes and I fought the anxiety in my chest. This can’t be happening. This can’t be how it ends. I can’t die here. Would anyone tell Kalona? My father?

In the end, the only one who disapproved of their offer was Jack and their business was allowed to come to Caster. They walked out of the room without any hesitation. Once they were gone, I came out of hiding and went over to Jack and said something along the lines of, “You know how I wanted to talk to you? It’s about them.”

At that, after seeing that Cade was going to go spend some time with his dad, Zen and I went to Jack’s house. Surprisingly, Jack didn’t live in the Juniper District. Instead, he lived in that little cabin where I’d found Beacon sleeping in the barn after I lost him. Oh, Jack. You could’ve just told us before that you lived there. Anyway, once we were inside, Zen and I started catching Jack up on our adventures, like the fact that we won the competition and went to Noragate. We told him that we had met Kisora and that he had mentioned to us that he and Reylar were the nicest assassins to come out of the Assassin’s Guild. Since neither one of us knew Reylar, we asked Jack about him and he said that he’s a good friend of his and that they were roommates during their time at the guild. Reylar now lives in Arridia doing a similar job to what he does and that his parents are the lords of Meric.

After a bit more small talk, I told Jack that I really needed to warn him about the Fletchers, even more so now that their business is coming to Caster. He told me that he didn’t like them since he suspected that they were up to no good because they had Slither with them. I explained to him that they hired Slither to kill my mother and little brother because my mother’s side of the family are descendants of a paladin of Obad-Hai and Atlas wants our blood to raise his father, Asmodeus. I told him about the situation with my brother and explained to him that right now, I’m the only one standing in the way of Atlas and his final goal. I asked him if he could help me defeat them and he said he could as long as if it wasn’t Slither he’d be after. He explained to me that he can’t harm other guild members. I respected that. I asked him if he could help me with Orla and Atlas, specifically to kill Atlas and incapacitate Orla, and he said he could help with that. I promised to keep in touch with him about my plans because there was no way any of us to handle them alone.

I then asked him if he had any tips for dealing with Slither, because there was no way he wasn’t going to be on my trail after what happened in Noragate and happened that day. Jack explained to me that I needed to avoid him as best as possible and remain constantly vigilant. I needed to avoid being out in the open, avoid being alone, and if I happen to see him, I need to get away as quickly as possible.

To lighten the mood, we asked him about his travels and he told us that he had to go to Vocans and had to babysit the princess while he was there since she wanted to come with him. He told us that he met some interesting people on the boat ride over, who just happened to be Tad and Ash. Overall, he said his trip was pretty good, but he was glad to be back. We then asked him about Kisora, because we curious about his shadow. Jack explained to us that the shadow is a normal thing, Kisora has a raven, and that he kind of worships the Raven Queen. Jack then told us that he didn’t know much about the Raven Queen, but his friend, Reylar, did. He told us that he was able to gather that the Raven Queen was the goddess of death, specifically the moment of death, and rules over cold and fate from his time with Reylar. She also has a temple on Croak and a small temple in Meric. Past that, he didn’t know anything else about her.

Eventually, the conversation turned to the dragons we had and we showed Jack the purple dragon who none of us had any luck with getting to like us. To our surprise, she seemed to like Jack. About that time, Cade came to the house and told him that he felt like he was being followed. I started fearing the worst but kept it to myself. Slither wouldn’t do anything so close to Jack, right?

We decided that the purple dragon should be with Jack, and after a little bit more time hanging out with him, we decided to make our way to Frostford.

The trip there was surprisingly uneventful. Cade had sent a drawing to Kalona of his parents and Slither at the council’s meeting room and received a letter back. Cade then proceeded to rub it in my face that he got a letter back from Kalona when I hadn’t gotten one yet. Soon after that, I received one. It didn’t say much but it was basically telling me to be careful after such a close run-in with his parents. He then told me that Faerroth was dead and that he had cleared out Wave Echo Cave for me. It was the first bit of good news I’d heard in awhile and I was thankful for it. Things were finally starting to progress.

When we arrived on the outskirts of Frostford, I told Cade and Zen that I wasn’t going into the city and instead was going to go through the woods to get to my house. Before I left, they asked where the Fletcher Estate was located and I told them, but I stressed that they should avoid it at all costs. However, I can tell you now that they didn’t listen to me because when I finally made it to my house with Beacon and Joel, I was soon greeted by a heavily beaten Cade as I dismounted my horse. He told me that Zen and him went to their house and threw rocks at it, breaking some of their windows, and then Orla showed up. Orla beat Cade up pretty badly and by that point in the story I demanded to know if she followed him as I started to get back on my horse. He assured me that she didn’t and eventually Zen caught up with us too, saying that Orla was pretty scary.

Irritated with the two of them, I went inside of the house and called out for my mom. Soon, she appeared and I gave her a hug, glad to see her again. However, it was short-lived because once I told her that I wanted to speak to her alone because there was something I wanted to tell her, Zen and Cade had a different idea. Zen said something along the lines of, “Your daughter slept with Kalona,” and Cade added, “And I slept with her too!” What was supposed to be a happy reunion turned into my mother being extremely angry with me.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew she was going to be angry with me any way that I phrased it, but I wasn’t planning on being as direct as they were. I was going to tell her that I was dating Kalona and that things were getting pretty serious between us. I was also going to tell her that I had been dating Cade for a while, but he cheated on me and soon after I broke up with him, I got back together with Kalona. However, that didn’t happen and instead, my mother looked like she wanted to kill me.

With it all out on the table now, I guess it was time to tell my mom about what I’d been up to, but at least now I was able to talk to her in private. I did tell her that it was true that I was dating Kalona, that things were pretty serious between us, but I was being careful and using contraceptives. I also told her that I was able to see Father again and that when I saw him last, he was doing well, but I hadn’t heard from him since. She told me that Hibernius hasn’t heard from him in a while either and they were getting pretty concerned about him. Panic welled up within me at her words but I managed to push them back down. I then told her that Nikolas was in Noragate and that he’s now business partners with the Fletchers, which she told me that she knew from Hibernius and was extremely disappointed in my brother. I did tell her that he’s married now and I think his wife is pregnant. I then told her about the close call with the Fletchers in Caster, and she stressed that I needed to be careful and I promised her that I would. This conflict needed to be resolved soon. She agreed with that.

I asked her if she knew of anyone else left from her side of the family because a part of me wanted to hear that I really wasn’t the only one who stood in Atlas’ way. With a sad smile, she explained to me that there were others, but they’re gone now. It truly is that Father, Nikolas, and I are the only ones left. The weight of her words crushed me. It was something I already assumed, but hearing it finalized by her was devastating. I had to change the subject.

I couldn’t help but feel terrible that she had to find out about my relationships by Zen and Cade abruptly telling her and I apologized of it. I know she isn’t a fan of Kalona, which she stated again that she doesn’t like him, but if I wanted to be with him then she couldn’t do anything to stop me. She just asked me to be careful with him and figure out what I was getting myself into. I then told her that all those times she had come to my room, or called me for something, at seemingly the perfect time to disrupt whatever I was doing, it was Kalona that was there. That didn’t make her any happier, but she admitted that she knew I had a boy over during those times. She just didn’t know who. I told her that her timing was uncanny and Kalona and I never had the chance to really do anything when she was around. I think that comment made her a little happier.

I didn’t want to, but I had to ask because she just found out that both of her children had gone against her wishes. Her son had turned his back on his family and fell in line with the Fletchers and her only daughter was dating the son of the man who was the reason she was dead. I asked her if she was upset with me because I had to know for my own sake. She told me that she was a little disappointed in me because of Kalona, but she wasn’t angry with me. Her words comforted me a lot. I was worried that she hated me because of him, because he was a Fletcher, and to know that she didn’t was a huge relief. I hadn’t messed up as badly as my brother had. Not knowing the next time I’d be able to speak with her, I ended up staying up and talking with her a while longer before I finally went to sleep.

The next morning, I left a note to Baron Waicox before we left. It was a simple, but it needed to be said for all he had done over the years for our family. I still was wrestling with the fact that he wasn’t able to help us before, but like my feelings about Kalona, I begun to realize that there was nothing he could’ve done to change the outcome. He was innocent in all of this, a bystander who had to watch my family fall apart with no way to stop it. He’d done all he could do for us. I hate that it took me four years to realize that. The message I left for him was nowhere near what he deserved, but it was a start to something I should have said a long time ago. The note read: “Thank you. -Klara.”

With that, we gathered our things, we were back on the road again but this time, we were headed to Seacliff.

When we arrived in Seacliff, we took some time to stop and buy some things. I picked up some more arrows, some better armor, and a quiver that I’ve had my eye on for some time. While I was out shopping, I received a letter from my father, saying that he had been away for some time trying to gather more information about the Fletchers. I wrote him back, saying that I was in Seacliff now and that I was thankful to hear from him. However, it was time to do what my father wanted to me to do months ago and I went to the church to looking for the Aasimar woman he told me about. When I arrived, she wasn’t there but the halfling woman there told me that I could find her at the Jackal’s Fur Inn.

I went there and asked the barkeep where I could find Zandre and he pointed her out to me. I thanked him and made my way over to her. She had a blindfold over her eyes and was drinking at the time, but I asked if I could sit with her and she said I could. I told her that I was Erwin’s daughter in a hushed tone and she asked me to prove it. Not really sure how, I told her that I wasn’t sure how I’d prove it to her but that I had just received a letter from him. She looked skeptical, but she lightened up a little after that, saying that either I was the best liar she’s ever encountered or that I was telling the truth. I told her that my father said that she would have information on how to defeat the Fletchers and she handed me a sketchbook.

Flipping through it, there were drawings of horrible things and terrible creatures. I was honestly confused at what I was looking at and I asked her for an explanation. She told me that she has visions and she draws them there. She knows that there’s a terrible evil on the horizon that needs to be stopped and she needs us to help her get to a tower on Croak. Still not following what where she was going with this, I asked her how this applied to me and she told me that I was the last one of my family standing in Atlas’ way. If he has his way, a great evil would be unleashed on the world and I shouldn’t allow that to happen. She then told me that Atlas is a fiend, Kalona is a half-fiend, and Orla isn’t a fiend, but some type of aquatic being. I asked if she had any tips for me to defeat Atlas and she told me to avoid them until I was ready to fight and to separate them when I did fight them, especially him from his lizard-creature pet and to avoid his weapon. I guess it has the ability to drag you into a different plane for a one on one duel with him. She had no other information about them.

I asked her what she knew about Obad-Hai and she said that he was the archenemy of Asmodeus. I then asked her about the Raven Queen and Graz’zt, since I barely knew anything about either one of them. She again told me what I already knew but then also told me that the Raven Queen is friends with the goddess, Sarenrae, who is the goddess of healing, the sun, and forgiveness, and that Graz’zt is a demon lord who is dangerous, especially towards women. When asked why that was, she didn’t really respond.

About that time, a woman rushed into the bar and came up to Zandre, stating that there was something wrong with Jesse, an orphan. The woman was a caretaker and said that the girl had been acting strangles and she had a creepy doll. Once I heard that there was a creepy doll, I didn’t really want to deal with it, and the rest of the party didn’t really want to help the child. This caused Zandre to glare at us. We eventually accepted to go see the child.

Shaken by the fact that she hadn’t heard from my father, I hastily wrote him a letter. I don’t even remember what it said, but I couldn’t shake the panic from my chest even after I sent it off. She said that she hadn’t heard from him in months. I hadn’t heard from him in months either and then out of the blue, I actually got a letter from him. I was scared. Was it even really him? Was it Slither? I didn’t know and that terrified me.

With that done, we went to see the child. I’ll admit that I was distracted with my own thoughts and I wasn’t really paying attention to the situation. The girl had been playing in the woods and been given a creepy doll by someone. Other than that, I wasn’t focusing on the task at hand. Cade eventually picked up the doll and said that we need to go to a house north of the city. With Zen and I a little freaked out, we eventually gathered our things and did so with Zandre.

During the first night camping, a fog rolled in while we set up camp and Zandre took the first watch. We were sleeping when we were suddenly awoken by a sound. Looking around, there was no sign of the animals or Zandre but we were still in the fog. After a little bit, a voice called out and we responded and saw an elven girl with golden eyes and white hair step out of the forest. Her name was Tallis and she had no clue how she got here. She said that she was in the Underdark the last she knew of.

We took a gravel road towards a village as the dense fog continued to follow us. Once we reached the village, we found that there was no one there, other than two children that appeared, stating that there was a monster in their house and that their parents were inside, as well as their younger sibling. Their names were Rose and Thorn and that they claimed that we were in Barovia.

Their house, while in disrepair, was absolutely beautiful and all was pretty quiet within. It was room after room of empty room until we made our ways to the upper floors of the home. The children, Rose and Thorn, didn’t want us to leave at one point, fearing the monster that lived in the basement. We eventually found out that both of the children were actually dead and Zen had become possessed by one of them. After some time and being unable to fix Zen, we managed to find a crawlspace that lead us to the basement.

Once there, we found ourselves locked into a chamber with a stone, sacrificial altar in the middle. As we entered the room, shapes loomed overhead, chanting, “one must die,” over and over again. I pulled out a deer heart that I had in the Bag of Holding and placed it on the altar, stabbing it. That didn’t appease them. Zen and Cade tried something, but it didn’t work. I, thinking that I was brilliant for thinking up this solution, wrote a “1” on a sheet of paper, placing it on the altar as a ripped it up. With a smirk, I looked at the forms and stated that one had died. They dropped silent for a moment, before they started chanting louder.

We were running out of time and we realized that one of us needed to die. I looked at Tallis and asked her if she could revive one of us if that’s what we did and she said that she could. Looking at Zen and Cade, I insisted that they kill me. Without my blood, Atlas wouldn’t win. Or at least that’s what I hoped.

I wasn’t expecting them to refuse.

They told me I was stupid. That I’d just be letting Altas win. That out of all of us, I was the one who needed to survive. Cade ended up screaming, “You’re not dying a martyr, Klara!” before he cut his own throat.

I looked at him, horrified, as he fell to the ground. I felt nothing but fear as I looked between Zen and Tallis, urging Tallis to revive him. She said that she needed to wait until the spirits were gone. After what felt like ages, they were finally gone and she revived Cade. I don’t think he was expecting us to be so angry with him after that, even though our rage didn’t last long.

However, there was still the ghost that was in Zen. Cade tried scaring it out of her, as I walked over to the deer heart. It was very rotten, but I squeezed it a little and streaked the decay down my face as I stared at Zen. Horrified, the ghost left her body and I instantly started to reach for the Decanter of Endless Water. I’m glad it worked, but holy hell, it smelled so bad and I needed to get it off of my face. With it gone, we made our way out of the house and had the chance to talk to Tallis for a little while.

As we left her, she said something that I didn’t understand. She said that she had met us before, back in the blizzard. I wanted to ask how but she was gone.

The next thing I knew, I was looking up at the forest above me and the silver dragon wyrmling was still asleep on my chest and Beacon was curled up around me.

Klara's Journal: Entry #15
Breaking Points

After speaking with Kalona, I returned home to see what the plans were for the day. There was a few things I needed to go buy, some of which I wanted to go buy alone, but I needed to see if there was anything important we had to do. We still needed to find the crown for Mark, so Cade and I decided that we were going to do that later on, so I had the morning to myself. I ordered a bracelet to be made for Kalona and then decided to do something I never wanted to do ever again. I decided to go to a brothel.

Now, it wasn’t for the normal reasons. You see, my parents’ were the “wait until marriage” type and well, I hadn’t been doing that. I was a little concerned about you know, getting pregnant, but I didn’t know where to get contraceptives so I thought asking someone at the brothel would be the best option. The lady who I asked about them was super nice, even though I was very awkward about it, and told me that I needed to go to the apothecary to get some. I did as she told me, had an awkward conversation about how much I needed with the person running the apothecary and then went on my merry, yet shameful, way.

The last thing I wanted to do before I met Cade near the Black Market was to apologize to Lord Allen. I got a nice bottle of wine from one of the taverns and went to his house. He didn’t open the door fully when he answered it, but accepted my apology and the bottle of wine. He seemed distracted while talking to him, especially when I asked him about if there was any children that had went missing from the city. His lack of knowledge about the inner workings of the city concerned me, but as I finished up my conversation with him, I realized why he was being so strange with me. Kalona had told him to go enjoy a night with his girlfriend and relax a little. I felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

Remembering that Kalona told me that he’d go to the Black Market with me a few days before, I stopped by his house, knocking on his window this time to see if he wanted to go with me. He seemed surprised that I was using his window, but I just figured it was what we’re doing now since he’s constantly using my window to get into my house rather than the door. He told me he needed to collect his things and he’d meet me outside in a few moments. After he was ready, we headed to the Black Market.

Cade was already waiting for me there, seeming a little surprised that Kalona was here too, but didn’t say anything about it. I explained to Kalona that we were looking for a missing crown, describing it to him, and asked if he knew which merchant might have it. Kalona said that there was this special items merchant that might have it, so we decided we’d start our search there. The market itself was an interesting place and there was a lot of activity moving through the area. Most of the items being sold seemed to be legitimate, but a lot of the goods were illegal. The special items merchant was no different. The merchant already knew Cade because he showed Cade some daggers the day before, but Cade didn’t have the money to buy them at the time. I asked him if he had any crowns and he pulled out three matching the description I gave him. Two were very similar and pretty well made, and the other one looked fairly cheaply made, but the merchant explained that it had a magical aura about it. I told him about our situation and he told me that the crown I wanted was the cheaper looking one. He admitted that he’s encountered it a few times before and that if we bought something else, it was free. However, out of curiosity, it was 15,000 gold if we didn’t buy anything else.

He showed me a bow that I might like, but the price was too steep for me, so we bought the daggers Cade wanted and got the crown as well, saving 11,000 gold. I ended up buying an original painting from the man who was selling his forgeries in hopes to inspire him to keep creating his own work. It was a very pretty painting, but I honestly paid too much for it. With nothing else to do, we decided to go check out the gambling area and Cade and I were greeted with a few congratulations here and there for winning the tournament. Some people told us that we won them money. This was all fine and dandy but someone did catch our attention.

Sitting at one of the tables was none other than cart man. It’s been awhile since we encountered him in the woods outside Frostford. He stole money from Zen, left us with a cart full of useless, magical items, and when Cade shouted at him from across the room, it was easy to see that he hadn’t forgotten about us. He was off like a shot, sprinting out of the gambling area, and Cade told me that we should chase him down. I told Cade we shouldn’t and we should just let him live in fear of us. He’s never going to bother us again anyway so why kill him? Cade eventually agreed, but Kalona had some questions about the magical items this guy had on the chart. Knowing that it was going to be easier to show off what they did than explain them, we went to the training center.

Kalona didn’t seem too enthusiastic when I started showing the longsword we picked up off the cart to him, mostly because I told him earlier that I was going to hit him with it. After getting the sword out of the bag of holding, I showed him that the edge would draw blood by cutting my finger on it a little bit. After that, I attacked, hitting his arm with the sword as it did no damage, turning into rubber. Kalona went from unimpressed to interested soon after and I handed him the sword. Like most other people we tell about this sword, he thought it was extremely weird, but could come in handy in some situations. After a little while of talking between the three of us, I asked him if he would come to our house later because there was things that we needed to discuss as a group. He said he’d come and I asked him to make sure he wasn’t followed.

Back at the house, I started discussing the missing children with Cade and Zen. Neither one of them really wanted to go help them, because they weren’t sure what we’d be getting into. Neither one of them really cared anyway. I explained to them that I didn’t want to go, especially if we were going to the Nine Hells, but we needed to go save these children. We had waited for such a long time and I finally felt that we were ready to face it. Cade asked if we were really ready, and I brought up to them that we had killed two dragons already. By that time, the window to my bedroom opened and soon Kalona was standing with us in the living room. I thanked him for coming, but insisted to Zen and Cade that we needed to do this. Zen made a promise to Carp’s mother to find him and she’d be breaking that promise if we didn’t do anything. Eventually, they agreed to go with me, and I decided that we’d go tomorrow.

Now, I didn’t really want Kalona there for that conversation, but I did want him to be a part of this one. I told Cade and Zen that we need to start considering what we are going to do about Atlas Fletcher. By that time, Cade and Zen didn’t seem to be too eager to discuss anymore, and Kalona seemed a bit confused why he was here for this. I made it brief, saying that we needed to start this conversation because if our two teams were going to work together, we needed to start the discussion now. However, there wasn’t much discussion, which honestly irritated me a little.

With that done, Kalona and I left the house because I wanted to talk through some things with him in private. We walked a little ways out of the city and onto a grassy hilltop and I told him that we needed to let each other know what we knew about the situation between our families. He wanted me to start, so I told him that I knew that my mother and little brother were killed as a sacrifice to Atlas’ father, Asmodeus, and the reason that he wants my family’s blood is because we are descendants of a paladin of Obad-Hai. He said that he didn’t know much more but looking at him, I finally felt like I was able to ask something I’d been waiting for the right moment to say. “I do have a question for you,” I remember saying, causing his eyes to look at me curiously. “If you’re grandfather is Asmodeus, what does that make you?”

“Me,” he replied with a shrug. I don’t know why, but I instantly regretted asking him about it.

“It doesn’t change how I feel about you, Kalona,” I told him, hoping that I didn’t make him angry with my question. I asked him if he had any plans on how to defeat Atlas, saying that my plans are old and stupid and wouldn’t work anymore. He told me that he’d need some time to think, but he’d think of something. Jokingly, I told him that my father told me that I needed to kill his mother before his father to weaken him, but that plan was out the window. He grew a bit stern at the mention of killing his mother, saying his mother was to be left out of this conflict, but he did tell me that she doesn’t like me. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

I only had one final question for him and it was a weird one. When I went out with him the second night we were in Aspienne, I noticed that he had faint scars on his hands. While I was with him, I noticed he’d rub them from time to time, but I was never able to figure out where they had come from. I thought that this would be as good of a time as any to ask, so I did. He explained to me that he got them when he tried to stand up against his father after I broke up with him. He got in a fight with an assassin, who was a lizard creature by the name of Slither. That fight with Slither was almost deadly for him. After that, he went to train with his uncle, the demon lord Graz’zt, in the Abyss. He spent nearly four years training with him in hopes of being strong enough one day to face his father.

I gazed at him for a while, wanting to ask more questions about his time away during those four years, but I knew that now wasn’t the time. It was getting late and we needed to get back eventually. He told me that he had a gift for me and pulled out a thin, silver bracelet with white and red stones on it. He put it on my wrist and told me that it is a bracelet of revitalization, so if I would fall in battle, it would at least get me back on my feet. I studied it for a few moments, knowing that what he was really telling me was to stay alive. I smiled at him, thanking him for it, and told him that I had a present for him too. I handed a leather bracelet to him with the words, “It’s always been yours,” burned into the leather inside of it. He smiled when he read the phrase, I felt a bit bad that it wasn’t magical, but he thanked me for it. I told him that he could come over for the night if he wanted to, and he said that he might take me up on that offer, before we parted ways and went home.

Cade had followed Kalona and I, but wasn’t able to hear our conversation, due to us speaking in the language we had made up in our teens, and seemed to have a few questions for me. I answered them as best as I could, not wanting to say too much in the streets in case someone was listening. When we made it home, we talked for a little while with Zen before we all retired to our beds. The house was silent when my window slowly slid open and Kalona quietly scrambled through it. I smiled at the sight of him, pleased to see him once more, as he carefully closed the window and took off his sword and shoes after greeting me. I couldn’t help but stare.

This man drove me insane, forced me to crave him and his closeness, and ruined every plan I thought I had all without saying a single word. He changed the way I saw the world in a blink of an eye, restored life to me in a heartbeat, and reduced my fears to nothing on a breath. If I could, I’d sit there and study every curve and angle of his body and commit to memory like some holy scripture. I’d revel in his presence, bask in the glory of his gaze, and worship the warmth of his love. Mortal yet divine, a man who could have anything he ever desired with just a few charming words, and yet he focused his affections on me. A simple girl from Frostford who’s in way over her head in this world and happens to have a holy bloodline. For the longest time, I never understood what he saw in me but now I’m beginning to realize what he meant all those years ago.

My eyes are focused on him, my heart aching for his touch, as my head considered the possibilities of what we and this relationship could be. Dark, manipulative thoughts started to creep back into my mind, ideas that I hadn’t thought of in a long time, and I considered them. Some of them could work, while others would just be interesting to see unfold over time. These schemes were what he saw in me all those years ago.

I didn’t even notice that he stared me with a little smirk on his lips until he came closer to me. “What were you thinking about?” he asked, his voice deep as I gazed up at him. A chill ran down my spine as I considered his question with a mischievous grin on my face. There wasn’t much on my mind in that moment.

“How to make you as insane as you make me,” I replied in a whisper, my voice low and seductive as I drew him in closer to me, ready for what was going to happen next.

The morning light warmed the room as I stirred to find myself still in his arms. I shifted to be able to face him. His expression was peaceful and satisfied and his chest rose and fell with his smooth, steady breaths. I don’t think my heart will never not flutter when I wake up to see that he’s right here beside me. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this feeling. I can’t even describe it but it’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever felt. I cuddled up closer to him, not wanting this to end. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him so soon but I knew I had to. Today, we were leaving to try to find the missing children, and I didn’t even want to consider that I was leaving him behind.

This time, I was able to convince him to stay a bit longer than yesterday morning. We didn’t talk much. We just held each other and cherished the silent moments we shared, not knowing when the next time we’d be together would come. His body was warm under my touch, his fingers slowly traced the curvatures of mine, and I attempted to memorize the sound of his heartbeat. In the stillness of it all, my mind was racing as I tried to guess the next time we’d be together. I couldn’t, and that upset me a little.

He eventually had to leave and return to his team and I took the time to get my own things packed and ready. Beacon watched me as I did so, his tail beating against the bed when I even glanced at him in the slightest sense. After everything was packed, I made a tea out of the contraceptive I was given, as instructed, and dear gods it tasted horrible. I was able to choke it down without vomiting as Cade and Zen gathered their things. After a while, and a quick run to stock up on some more potions, we were ready to leave. I went over to Kalona’s house and knocked on his window. I let him know that we were leaving soon and I’d send him a letter once we got back. Before I left, I kissed him goodbye.

Back with my group, we made sure we were all ready and once we said we were, Cade drew the portal. I didn’t admit it to them, but I was nervous. I didn’t know what we were going to find once we stepped through the portal. When we did so, my nerves were right. This didn’t look like the layer of Hell we were supposed to be on and as we started to walk towards the building in the distance, there were the bodies of dead children everywhere. Zen, Cade, and I looked for Carp, not letting the sight affect us as we made our way into the building. We found Carp’s body inside and the sense of failure started to creep up in my mind. I took out the last cloak we picked up from the Redbrand’s hideout and wrapped him up in it. Once we were finished, chains whipped out of the darkness and attacked us. The fight was longer than we expected, because I didn’t want to get close to the chain devil so I could actually attack it instead of constantly being grappled by it, but it eventually fell.

Slightly irritated, I went over to the desk across the room and collected the money off of it before returning to Cade and Zen when a slow clap started out of the darkness. Stepping out of the shadow before us was the black-haired, golden-eyed, magical boy. However, he now looked to be a teenager. He explained to us that he was surprised to see us, but because of our untimeliness, phase one of his plan was complete and phase two was starting to begin. Confused, we asked him what his plan was and he replied that he wants to watch the gods, and the world, burn. My only thought for him was, get in line. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that. Even though I really wanted to say that, I held my tongue and instead focused on him to try to figure out what he was. He wasn’t fiend, celestial, or undead as he explained to us that if we wanted to leave, we needed to do it soon before the portal piece lost it’s power and we were trapped here forever. The last thing he said to us was, “tick, tock. Tick, tock.” The words sent a chill up my spine as Cade drew a portal one last time and we stepped through, finding ourselves back in Aspienne just a couple hours after we left.

Cade wrote letters to the people he wrote just hours before, saying that we made it back safely, as I went to Kalona’s window, hoping for him to see him. I’ll admit, I was upset with the outcome and I felt extremely responsible for what had happened, but I didn’t let it show to the rest of my team. I just wanted a bit of a distraction, someone to talk to, and I knew I’d feel a little bit better about the situation. However, after a few moments of waiting at his window, no one came. I went to the front door and it was the same result. The door was unlocked and I stepped in to see that every trace of them was gone and the house was vacant. My upset turned to irritation in a heartbeat as I grappled with the fact that he was already gone. Fine, I see how it is, I thought to myself, hurting as I tried to convince myself that I knew that this was going to happen. It didn’t mean that it didn’t pain me any less.

I made my way back to Cade and Zen, telling them that we needed to do something with Carp’s body, so we made our way to the Temple of Kord to see if anyone there could help us. I held him in my arms as we stepped inside as the thought of his smiling face flashed back before my eyes. He was so excited to finally met adventurers, because he wanted to be one someday, and we were the horrible example of what they were. The tears stung my eyes, regret and despair pressing down on me, and I just couldn’t move past the fact that we failed him and all of the other children. It didn’t hit me until just then. Cade and one of the priests were trying to talk to me but I didn’t even register what they were saying. Cade took Carp out of my arms and told the priest about our situation and asked if we could have a burial arranged for him. He said they could get something arranged, but I didn’t hear anything else. I was too focused on staying on my feet, trying not to cry, and driving the failure out of my mind. Cade had to escort me out of the temple once our business was done there.

Eventually, my emotions diminished in intensity and Cade and Zen asked me to write a letter to Carp’s mother. I told them I’d need a little bit of time, but I was willing to do so. I kept the letter short because I was still fighting back tears as I wrote it, but I explained to her that we found her son, but we wished it would have been under better circumstances. We made arrangements for his burial in Aspienne and we were deeply sorry for her loss. I told her that he was a very brave boy, a bright light in the darkness of this world, and he’ll be truly missed. I apologized to her once more, knowing that my apology wouldn’t help anything at all, but I didn’t know what else to say. It wouldn’t help bring her son back to her. I reread the letter a few times, trying to think of anything else to say, but when I couldn’t think of anything else, I signed it with Klara, Zenthya, and Cade, knowing that she’d be holding us responsible for her son’s death just like I held Atlas responsible for my mother’s and brother’s. Bitterness ate at my heart, but I didn’t let it show as I sealed the letter and sent it off with a messenger.

What I felt didn’t diminish with time like I thought they would. It continued to stew instead. We left Aspienne to go find our prize from the tournament in the Dragon’s Vale Woods, but after two weeks of travel, we found ourselves in Noragate. During this time, Cade was acting like a kleptomaniac and kept stealing stuff from Zen and I, but would always return it. His behavior was odd, and we didn’t really know what to think about it. I asked a local about a place to stay in the city and he asked if I wanted a touristy tavern or one the locals hang out at, and when I said I prefered the local one, he pointed us in the direction of The Tavern of Dragons. It was a pretty nice place and there was a lot of locals there and we ended up getting rooms for the week, but could get a refund if we didn’t stay as long. The barkeeper, who ran the place, was extremely nice.

However, the next morning I woke up to see that Cade had stolen a large painting off the wall of the tavern downstairs and I went to Zen’s room to tell her about it. We both agreed that it was time to get down to the bottom of this and have an intervention for Cade. We talked to him for a while, he claimed that there was nothing wrong with him and he eventually agreed to come with us to go see a cleric. After asking the barkeep where to go, we found ourselves in the Temple of Selune, near the port, and asked for a cleric to see Cade. A few minutes passed before a silver dragonborn arrived, her name was Ireimeila, and after a bit of talking with her and her examining Cade, she was able to tell us that the daggers he bought were probably cursed. Zen took the daggers from Cade after that and the dragonborn said that we needed to go to the magic shop in town to know the identity of the curse. We did so and found ourselves in front of Griemshaw Trading Co.

Now, Kalona did tell me that the last he knew, my brother was in town, but my first thought was when I saw that name was that it was a bit too similar to my family’s shop name, Grayson Trader Grove, but I didn’t dare ask anything of it because when we stepped in, he wasn’t there. There was a blonde, secretary-like lady and a bodyguard. We asked if they could identify the daggers and the blonde lady went into the back for a while to do so, and after a while, she returned to tell us that they were cursed. The previous owner was a greedy bastard and was banned from most cities and the daggers are okay to use as long as you don’t have them attuned to you for longer than three weeks. We thanked her and we ended up visiting another shop. This one was more general weapons, but I did ask the gentleman running it, a man by the name of Zasur, if he had seen my brother after showing him a picture of him, and he said he had but didn’t give me much information about him and was a jerk to me instead. You know all of those emotions I was feeling earlier? Well, guess who was now pissed off.

We went to other shops and, after a little bit of coin to get tongues loosened, I was able to find out of that my dear brother was the Fletchers’ business partner and that he changed his last name to Griemshaw. So original, brother. You only changed a few letters. We also found out that ships were being sunk out at sea and it was scaring the sailors and the Merchant’s Guild wanted some adventurers to go out and fix the problem. Eventually, I made my way back to Griemshaw Trading Co. and asked the blonde lady, her name is Vancha, if I could speak to my brother. Her response: “Maybe he doesn’t want to talk to you.” By that point, I was furious with every fucking merchant in that city and I wanted to rip out her throat. I was going to talk to my brother one way or another, no matter who or what stood in my way.

We found Ireimeila again, giving her an ‘update’ on her patient, before I asked her about my brother. She was about as helpful as every other person we talked to in that city, minus the barkeep, but explained to me that if I really wanted to talk to my brother, I needed to talk to Aren Wilso first, since he was the leader of the Merchant’s Guild. However, it would be nearly impossible to speak with him. At that point, my mantra became “fuck this city.”

Not going to stop my pursuit, I asked Cade and Zen to come with me to the Merchant’s Guild inn, aptly named the Inn of Traders. I hung outside with Zen, who wanted to sneak in with Cade but was unable to, as he tried to find a way for me to talk with my brother. Vaga, I mean, Vancha arrived at the tavern and was the reason that Cade was able to slip in, but the wait was killing me. I was furious with the situation. I wanted to move on with my life and leave this fucking city and everyone in it as soon as possible but not without speaking to my brother for one time in four years. All I wanted to do was make sure he was alright and then I could be at peace with the fact that he’s allied with my enemy and to let father know that his son’s still alive.

Eventually, Cade came out of the tavern and told me that he set up a meeting with my brother at the Serpent’s Den at noon. He told us that he said he was a representative of a trader from Vocans and she wanted to establish a trade route, but he himself was not from Vocans. Satisfied by the arrangement, we went back to the Tavern of Dragons for the night.

At noon the next day, we arrived at the Serpent’s Den and found out that it was a brothel. An extremely handsome tiefling man seemed to run the place and I told him, in my best Vocans’ accent, that we were here for the meeting with Nikolas Griemshaw. That’s when I realized that the tiefling named Kisora was actually from Vocans as he spoke. After he told us what room he was in, I thanked him and told him, “Be pleased,” remembering that my father told me to say that if I was ever dealing with someone from Vocans. He seemed pretty impressed, repeating the phrase to me before we went into the room he told us my brother was in.

Upon entering the room, two men were already there within it. One I didn’t recognize and the other had changed a bit since I last saw him. “Hello, Klara,” my brother said, his tone not enthusiastic to see me. He was taller now and more muscular, he’d grown a beard and was wearing glasses, but other than that he looked much like he did when he left all those years ago. “Hello, Nikolas,” I replied, a bit irritated that the other man was here. There were a few, tense moments between us and I noticed that my companions were getting uncomfortable with the silence. I was just trying to think what to say. My brother and I didn’t leave on the best terms, and I could still see some of that resentment in his eyes as he looked at me. I told him that it was good to see him, to know that he’s alright, and I hoped that his business was doing well. He said that things were fine and that him and his wife, Vancha, were doing well. So the rude, blonde lady is my sister-in-law. Wonderful.

I told him that I heard that he was business partners with the Fletchers now and I asked how that came to be. He explained to me that he ran from them for a while, but they eventually caught up with him and he made a deal with them. All he had to do was given them some blood, become their business partner, and then he was safe. Anger flared in my chest, knowing that he had sealed his fate and mine as well. I didn’t say anything, however, because I wasn’t going to let him see that the hate that was growing within me as I heard more about his situation. I told him that father would be pleased to know that he was alright, which caused my brother to come slightly unglued. He told me that he no longer had any love for our father because he was the reason that our mother was dead since he wasn’t there to protect her. I retorted, telling him that there was no way we could’ve known that she was going to be murdered if we left. He then told me that it was our father’s fault that there was such a divide between the Fletchers and us, and I asked him if he remembered that we were the ones who did most of the damage. We were the ones actively trying to turn the town against them, we were the ones who started the fire, because our father wanted no part in it at first. I could see I was getting to him, I was making his angry, and I enjoyed it.

I told him that, even though he doesn’t like father, that father would be proud of him because he’s doing what he wished for the both of us to do after he left. Start a business, move on with our lives, and not look back. My brother considered my words for a few, brief moments. Nikolas then explained to me that Waicox offered the house and the business to him, two months after our father left Frostford, but he declined. He wanted nothing to do with our property anymore. I told him that he should return soon, that mother would like to see him because her spirit is still tied to the house for the time being, but he refused. He said he didn’t care anymore. Up until that point, nothing he said really hurt me, but that did. For someone who hated so much due to our mother’s death, he should be ecstatic about the fact that he’d have a chance to talk to her one more time. He wasn’t and that stung. Any bit of affection I used to have for my brother shattered in that instant and I realized that he wasn’t even worthy of my time anymore. However, he’s my brother and I still love him.

With our personal matters out on the table, he did mention the fact that the Merchant’s Guild would like us to find whatever was sinking their ships. He explained that the merfolk and the guild had a treaty, but now they’re attacking and they want someone to go get to the bottom of it. I told him that we’d consider the offer, but there’s business we must do first before we even consider the offer. That didn’t seem like an answer either one of the two men wanted to hear.

Before our meeting was over, I went over to my brother, who was suspiciously eyeing me, and gave him a hug. It was probably the most awkward hug ever but again, he was still my brother even though he seemed to hate me. I whispered into his ear that I was glad he was alright and I hoped that in time, things between us wouldn’t be so strained and we could move past this. He stiffened slightly at my words before whispering, “You know the Fletchers will find you.” I couldn’t help but smile as the thought of Kalona and I flashed into my mind. “They already have,” I replied, smirking at my brother as I pulled out of the hug as confusion entered his eyes. With that, Cade, Zen, and I left the room and once we were gone, they said that my brother was a jerk.

I tore off a small piece of the scroll my father gave to me and wrote a short note on it, saying that Nikolas is safe, he’s in Noragate, and this town is horrible. I thought of my father after I finished the message and the slip disappeared from my hands. With that done, a few shots of alcohol from Kisora’s bar, and some small talk with him, we left the city.

Now, in my anger towards the Merchant’s Guild and the city of Noragate, we forgot our horses so we had to go back, losing a day of travel, but we eventually found the cave that Mr. Ward described to us. Upon entering the cave, there was a dragon’s skeleton wrapped around a pile of treasure. On top of the pile of treasure were four dragon eggs. Each was warm to the touch, so they still seemed to be alive and we each chose one egg for ourselves. I took the blue egg while Cade took the green and Zen kept the red. We decided to take the lilac egg with us, not knowing what do with it at the moment but we didn’t want to leave it. Satisfied with our winnings and our collection of the remaining dragon parts, we noticed as the glyphs that outline the entrance to the cave powered down, which freaked Cade and Zen out. I was alright with it, knowing that we walked in here without being harmed so we should be able to walk out. Mr. Ward also said that he made sure that no one would touch our winnings so I figured that’s what the glyphs were for.

With that done, we made our way back to Noragate, discussing whether or not we should accept the deal with the Merchant’s Guild. I finally noticed that the bracelet Kalona gave me was missing and I asked Cade if he had it and he said he didn’t. That didn’t stop me from thinking that he took it though. Cade and Zen wanted to take the deal because they thought we could get a lot of money out of it, but I didn’t want to accept it due to how pissed off I was with all of them. However, I told them that since they wanted to accept it, I’d go with them because they went with me to save the children even though they didn’t want to.

Once back in the city, I went to my brother’s shop and found him working there. I told him that the business we had to do was done and we were accepting the guild’s offer. For once, my brother actually looked a little satisfied as he told me that we’d need to come to the guild hall at six for a meeting before he gave me directions how to get there. I thanked him and left and we decided to go see Kisora. When we got there, however, he couldn’t stay long because he was called in for a guild meeting, but would see us there at six. With nothing else to do, we hung out there until it was time to go.

Following my brother’s directions, we made our way to the Merchant’s Guild Hall, but quickly found out that my brother kindly forgot to tell us how to get in. After a while of trying and realizing that we’d probably have to break our way in, Kisora came and let us in. I liked Kisora a lot before that moment, but now I was in love with him. Compared to all of the other guild members, he was genuinely a good man. He lead us to where the meeting was taking place and on the walls of this hall was the crests of the people who were members. The only reason I knew that was there was a slightly modified version of the Grayson family crest on the wall behind my brother.

Sitting across from us was the man I saw with my brother when I spoke with him and he introduced himself as Aren Wilso. He thanked us for taking their offer and explained to us that we were to go five miles off of the coast to the reef where the ships have been sinking and investigate what’s happening there. We were each handed a ring of waterbreathing to use during our quest. I pressed him for more information, my companions staying silent. We barely knew what he wanted us to do and I wanted that to be out on the table for everyone in the room to hear. He explained to me that he wanted us to attempt to broker a deal with the merfolk or kill if needed. Mostly, he wants to know what’s attacking the ships because it seems like something is luring them closer to the reef since they find them either wrecked on it or dragged down below the water’s surface.

Cade and Zen still didn’t talk, so I took it as an opportunity to continue on. I questioned Aren about a reward for our work, and he didn’t mention anything about one, so I pressed him on it, saying that we do require compensation for our time. He avoided an answer, which irritated me, and I asked him about the deal they had with the merfolk. He said that before this happened, their relationship with the merfolk was good, but it is about the time for them to broker a new treaty with them. He told me that if the treaty is broken, he wants to know why, and if it’s something we think they can fix, we’d broker a deal with them. If it can’t be fixed, kill them all.

“So you’re asking us to commit genocide,” I stated firmly, my rage swelling up within my chest. I glared at him from across the room, waiting for his response. He told me that if it came down it it, then yes, he was. In that moment, I hated everyone in that guild hall and I was questioning why I was ever here talking to them, especially if these merfolk were innocent in this. He finally mentioned that our reward could be potentially more than just money, depending on how well we did, especially if we kept the treaty alive. Studying me, he asked if we had a deal and I looked to Cade and Zen. They were the ones who wanted to do this, but they looked troubled as I gazed at them. Returning my attention to Wilso, I told him that we had a deal.

He wrote us a charter for a ship but we were to go to the docks and pick the ship and the crew we wanted. I took the document and put it in my bag before I walked down the table, passing by a few of the guild members, and standing by Wilso, looking down at him. I offered him my hand, and he took it and firmly shook my hand. I told him we’d return as soon as possible.

I felt the weight of the guild members gazes and I walked back towards my friends but I didn’t care. I was upset with the situation we just put ourselves in and all of those people in that room, minus Kisora, had been rude to us. They were full of themselves and they could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. I knew their type, I knew what you had to do to survive in a business setting like that, and I wasn’t going to let them push me around. I wasn’t their bitch to control. Furious but close to tears, we made our way to Kisora’s brothel to discuss what just happened.

He wasn’t back yet but we made ourselves comfortable and I sat with my head on the bar in front of me. I felt like shit, and the bartender working there automatically poured me a shot. I took it, not even thinking about it, and set my head back on the bar as Cade rubbed my back. I asked them if they still wanted to do this, and they said that they did. I also asked if they thought I was too forceful with the guild. They didn’t answer.

Soon, Kisora arrived and took over the bartender’s job, pouring both Cade and I another shot. He told us that they were expecting that to go a little differently. I told him that I felt horrible and I wasn’t going to let them force our hand, my voice a bit muffled with my head still on the bar. He did admit that some of the members didn’t like me. I told him that the guild can go fuck themselves, but not him because he’s nice. Cade and Zen talked with him for a while, asking what he knew about the situation as I finally raised my head. The tears stung my eyes as I fought them back. He explained that what he knew about the situation was already discussed with us, and they asked him if he agreed with what Wilso wanted. He admitted that he didn’t want to see the merfolk killed either. With tears in my eyes, I asked him what we should do so it wouldn’t come to that. His answer was to not let it get to that point.

At his words, I started crying and explaining to them that I was done with this city and everyone in it. Nothing was working out the way I thought it would, we couldn’t save those children, Kalona left too soon, I can’t find the bracelet he gave me, my brother’s a dick, the guild is made of a bunch of jerks, and now we have to possibly go murder a bunch of merfolk for no apparent reason. “Klara, you need to relax,” Kisora told me, his accent thick in his voice.

“What do you think I’m trying to do? Alcohol hasn’t been helping so far,” I explained to him. He told me that he had just the thing for me, that it knocked out people from Vocans in just one shot, so it would help me relax. The shot he poured was thick and extremely yellow but I didn’t care. I took it in one swallow. It burned horribly and tasted disgusting but once it faded, a numbness started in my mouth and worked its way throughout my entire body. Oh, it felt so nice until I tried to speak. Zen asked Kisora what he gave me, and was giving to Cade while she spoke and he explained that it was sandkeg venom. She was appalled that he gave us vemon and he had to explain to her the properties of the liquor. I really didn’t care because for the first time in two and a half weeks, I wasn’t so tense.

I caught bits and pieces of Zen’s conversation with him and jumped in from time to time. He was describing Vocans to us and telling us about the Assassin’s Guild there. He mentioned that the two nicest assassins to come out of that guild was Jack and another man named Reylar Ventoris. He spoke for a while, explaining to us that not all of the assassins are as nice as them, and at his mention of Slither, I told him that he killed my mother. He told me that he was sorry to hear that and continued to tell us about Vocans. It was nice to just listen to him speak.

After a while, I asked him if he had any recommendations about who to charter and he told us it depended on where we wanted to go. If we were going to Vocans, he recommended Captain Jorly, but if we were doing anything with the Sea of Storms, like we were, he said we needed Captain Jerron. He explained to us that the Sea of Storms is dangerous and most captains who sail it refuse to go to Croak, but Jerron is crazy enough to do so. After a little while more of talking, it was getting late and we decided to call it quits for the night.

However, I didn’t leave because after Cade and Zen left, I asked Kisora if he’d been willing to help me relax a little more. He considered my offer for a while, before shrugging and telling me why not, and we went into one of the back rooms. Even with the venom still in my system, I wasn’t okay. I was hurting and I needed a distraction from it all and he was extremely attractive. I didn’t know what I was doing though but I also didn’t care. He lead me to the bed and had me sit down on the edge of it as I touched his face, causing him a gentle smile to form on his lips. He moved closer to me, as if to kiss me, but his lips never met mine and he began to wrap a blanket around my shoulders. He pulled away, taking my hands in his as he looked me in the eye. “You need to rest,” he insisted and the tears started welling up once more.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to,” I replied as I felt the tears begin to fall. He wrapped the blanket tighter around me as he helped me lay down on the bed before laying down beside me. He wiped my tears from my eyes and asked me to tell him what happened.

I explained to him what happened with the missing children, how we weren’t able to save them, and how we failed to keep our promise to one of the boy’s mothers. I then told him about Kalona leaving and, even though I knew we would both have to leave sometime, it hurt to see him gone so soon when I needed his comfort the most. Then, I told him about the troubles we had here in Noragate all because I just wanted to talk to my brother for the first time in four years and make sure he was alright. There was also the whole thing with the guild that happened that night that I wasn’t comfortable with and I’m so tired of this town, the guild, and my brother. I admitted that to him that I was jealous of my brother because he has everything I wanted when I was younger. A prosperous business, a spouse, a life we both always dreamed of living. When I heard that he was actually here in the city, all I wanted when I saw him was to make sure he was alright. I didn’t expect to receive such a cold welcome.

Kisora held me close while I told him this, gently rubbing my back as I choked on my words and my tears. He didn’t say anything and just allowed me to talk. Eventually, I ran out of things to say and when that happened, my tears eventually slowed. Once they stopped, he told me that he had to go take care of some things, but he’d be back soon. I pulled the blanket around myself tighter, gazing up at the ceiling. I knew Cade and Zen were probably thinking that I was doing something else with him, but at the moment, I wouldn’t even consider it like I did before. A part of me was embarrassed for breaking down in front of him like this. He saw me driven by anger and fury, full of fire, as I talked to the guild and spoke with people around the town, but he also witnessed how fragile I was, how delicate the facade I put up for the city was. He saw me when I was trying to prove that I was at my best, even though I was truly at my worst.

I was focused on calming my ragged breaths when he came back into the room with a cup in his hands. He handed it to me, it was warm to the touch, as he told me that it was warm milk and honey and it should help me feel a little better. I thanked him for it, looking at the cup in my hands for a while before finally taking a sip. I apologized to him for the way I was acting and he told me that it wasn’t a problem. He told me that, “Everyone has their breaking point, Klara. It’s not something you need to apologize for.” I nodded, thanking him once more, before he left the room again.

I took some time to finished the drink he gave me, making sure that the honey was well mixed into the milk, as I considered his words. Why was did his kindness seem so familiar to me? He was a stranger, but it felt like I was around an old friend when I was with him. It was something unexpected for this city and I felt like I could trust him. I didn’t know why I felt so strongly about him.

After a few minutes, I finished the drink, setting it on a small table at the side of the bed, and laid back down, figuring that I should try to get some rest. I wasn’t tired, but eventually sleep did come to me.

The next morning, I woke to find that the cup from the night before was gone and Kisora had left a couple pastries and a few pieces of fruit on the nightstand next to me and there was a couple more blankets on my bed. His kindness almost brought me to tears again. I ate one of each with some of the water I had before I started to gather my things. There was a knock at the door and I opened it to see him standing there. He asked me if everything was alright and I told him it was, but I should probably be going soon. I thanked him for his hospitality and for everything he did for me last night and that if there was ever anything I could do to repay him, all he needed to do was let me know. He said he’d remember that and he wished me luck on our journey ahead. I gave him a quick hug goodbye, thanking him one final time, before I left to make my way back to the Tavern of Dragons to find Cade and Zen.

Once back with them, we made our way to the docks in hopes to find the captain that Kisora recommended to us. It was a bustling place with a lot of people coming in and out of ships and we eventually found one of Captain Jerron’s crew members. He called to his captain and we were introduced to him. Captain Jerron was a young man, his hair closely shaved, and he wasn’t the happiest when I showed him the charter from the Merchant’s Guild. I told him that Kisora recommended us to him, and his demeanor changed, admitting to us that he didn’t exactly like the Merchant’s Guild. I told him that we don’t really like them either but agreed to do this task for them. With a nod, he said that they needed to bring supplies on board, but they’d be ready to take us out to sea within an hour.

We soon figured out which ones in our group had experience out at sea and which of us didn’t. Zen was perfectly fine with the rough, choppy waters, even as a storm started to pick up, but Cade was struggling with it. I was alright but a little nervous. I’d been out at sea a couple times on the Sea of Sorrows with Levi’s crews. This sea was much rougher than the one back home. Jerron, noticing our levels of experience asked Zen and I about which seas we’d been on while Cade was tying himself to one of the masts. Zen said that she traveled the Sea of Storms to get from Readmont to Araluen, so she was fairly familiar with the choppiness of it. I told him that I’d traveled on the Sea of Sorrows a few times and he told me that this sea was a whole different beast. I could already tell. Zen did ask why the Sea of Sorrows was named that way and Jerron explained it was because it results in the death of a lot of sailors. There was a lot of death associated with that area in general.

Cade, finally brave enough to make his way up to where we were with Jerron, got to hear the story Jerron told us about Croak, saying that most people don’t go there because of the dangerous waters but there is a temple to the Raven Queen located on the island. Kisora also mentioned something about the Raven Queen to us as well. Jerron also told us the story about Barovia and Strahd since none of us knew it. He then went on telling us more about the sea, telling us that most people are chickens for fearing it so much. He also mentioned to us what he knew about the situation and the dangers we’d face soon after we asked him about the merfolk.

He had heard that the sea elves brokered deals between merfolk and humanoids and it was spawning season for the merfolk, so he didn’t understand why they would be attacking. We told him about the sinking ships and he said that it sounded more like merrow to him than the merfolk. None of us had heard of merrow before, so he told us that they were merfolk once, but they swam too deep into the ocean and made their way into the Abyss, where they were corrupted. Once they returned, they were evil compared to the more gentle merfolk and have been know to sink ships like we described to him. He told us that if we were dealing with merrows, we needed to be careful.

Around this time, Cade came up to me and put the bracelet Kalona gave to me back on my wrist. I shot him a dirty look and he said that he had found it and didn’t steal it from me. I wasn’t really convinced. Jerron called out for his crew to set the anchor and lead us to the bow of the ship, asking us if we could see the reef ahead of us. “No,” the three of us said sarcastically, not even attempting to look at where he was pointing. However, we were all able to see the reef and the half-sunken ship ahead of us. He told us that here was where we were getting off and that he’d wait for two days until they had to go back to port to get more supplies. They’d come back out after that and wait for us if needed.

I asked if they had a dinghy for us to use, and they said they didn’t so we better watch where we jumped. Zen cast a waterbreathing spell on the dire wolves and her leopard and dove in gracefully, followed by her cat. I stood there at the edge of the ship for a while, looking down at the water below while Cade jumped off as he attempted to get Dogmeat to do the same. Beacon followed in after Dogmeat and I looked back that the captain, nodded, and told him that we’d see them again soon.

Every fiber of my being told me to stay on that ship, because I knew the waters below meant death for us. However, there was no turning back now. With a sigh, I did the unthinkable and hopped off the edge of the ship, trying to keep my arms down and feet together as I hit the water. Everything went quiet for a few moments as I began to swim towards the surface, trying not to acknowledge the murky depths below me. Once I emerged, Cade and Zen started swimming towards the sunken ship. I hung on to Beacon since it had been a while for the both of us since we had a proper swim and I didn’t want him to get left behind.

Cade and I lost sight of Zen for a while as the dogs and her leopard got to a place where they could stand and Cade and I thought it would be a good time to attempt to try waterbreathing. Today was just filled to the brim with things I thought were unthinkable because Cade and I were literally trying to drown ourselves. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, even when Cade pulled me under and tried to get me to take a breath. He managed to do it way before I did and was trying to convince me it was okay. At one point, he had my head cupped in between his hands as I was panicking, telling him that I just couldn’t do it. He told me that it feels extremely weird but it’s the only way we were going to survive out here. He pulled me under once more, punched me in the gut, which made me inhale some water as I panicked. The water replaced the air in my lungs and I could breathe, but it felt extremely wrong. He smiled at me as I took a few long breaths, attempting to calm down. I had to keep telling myself that I was okay.

Eventually, Zen joined us again and asked what we were doing after telling us that the part of the ship she explored was empty. We told her that we were trying to drown ourselves so we could get used to the waterbreathing thing and we were now attempting to get our animals into the water. She began to speak with them, and her leopard was the first one to take to the water. Dogmeat and Beacon were more of a challenge. They soon realized that they could breathe underwater however and we made our way down to find another ship.

Zen was speaking to the fishes and they told her where to go and eventually we found ourselves inside a ship with a skeleton crew, much older than the last ship. Cade went up to what looked to be the captain, who was sitting near a pile of loot before he was attacked. It was awkward fighting underwater, but we managed well enough and eventually the skeleton crew was defeated. We collected what loot we could before we exited the ship and went deeper.

Everything was dark and cold. I couldn’t make out much of what was ahead of me and kept following the light from Cade’s drift globe as we continued to descend. After a while, we couldn’t see the reef anymore. It was here where we needed to decide whether we kept swimming down or went back up. The obvious choice was to go back but there was a temptation to keep going deeper. Jerron said that things would eventually swim so deep that they would cross over into the Abyss and Kalona did say that he spent four years there with his uncle. It was a crazy thought, I know that now, but at the time it felt like the Abyss was so close and so were the potential answers to my questions. However, as my friends began to backtrack, I did too, not wanting to lose myself in the darkness.

This time, we kept a lookout for another ship and eventually we saw one. There was pile of treasure sitting in it’s hull, however, we all noticed that we weren’t alone. It looked like the flash of scales from a fish, but a big fish at that. It was then when Cade was pulled backwards out of the ship, me being dragged along with him because I had tied myself to him as we both discovered what we thought were merrow. They attacked, but they were no match for us. Cade took a lot of damage and went unconscious for a while, but the battle was over soon after that. Zen joined us as I got Cade conscious again and told us that she killed three of them. I don’t think the merrows thought we were going to be that tough of a fight.

We spent some time gathering what we could, when something else caught our eye. It was a male merfolk, who seemed to have been watching as we killed the merrow. He offered to take us to their home in the reef so we could rest after the fight because there was more merrows that we’d have to deal with. We agreed and a few other merfolk joined us as we followed them there. Eventually, we found ourselves in a cave and to our delight, there was actually land and air within it. Cade and I crawled onto the sand, hacking the water out of our lungs and I remember myself collapsing onto the beach. In that moment, I was thankful just to be on dry land again. I knew that my body would be aching in the morning from all the swimming for for the moment, I was going to enjoy just laying there. It had been such a strange adventure already and I had a feeling it was going to get weirder from here.

Klara's Journal: Entry #14
Kalona Fletcher

Our final fight against the Reaper Gang was as rapid-paced as I expected it to be. In the beginning, we were standing on the bottom floor of a two-story structure with a large pit standing in between us and Kalona’s team. Zen, Cade, and I waved at them before the fight started and Kalona, Falana, and Kaloz waved back. Once the fight began, we raced up the staircases to the second floor, I blocking one of the staircases on the other side with a mess of thorns and spikes, as we readied ourselves to attack. Soon, they funneled through the open staircase on their side and the fight truly began.

Falana seemed to be focusing her attention on me as she attacked, which was alright because I was doing the same. Cade and Zen were trying to do some damage control as the wolves dominated the battlefield. I lost sight of Kalona for a while until I saw him being dragged behind Dogmeat around the arena where he stopped just a few feet ahead of me. Falana raced up the stairs to the twin towers that stood over the second floor, I followed her, standing across the bridge that connected to the towers from her. She fired a few arrows, which I dodged easily, before I returned fire, Beacon rushing up towards her. My aim was true before she ran away, Beacon on her heels, as I started to support my team mates from above.

To my right, there were multiple Kalonas fighting with Zen, her cat, and Dogmeat, and a black dragon wyrmling had entered the fray from somewhere. Across the way, Beacon knocked Falana out and Kaloz was casting spells from under the bridge. To my left, Cade and Faerroth were engaged in a fight. This is where the fight started to look a little dire. The black dragon made it’s way up to me, biting me. I fought it for a little while, landing a couple good blows before it disappeared and Kalona staggered his way up the stairs. He smiled at me for a moment, before trying to hit me with his longsword. His attacks went wide and I retaliated, which caused him to fall. With two of their party down, there was only two left.

Across the way, Beacon shoved Kaloz into the pit as Cade struggled with the dragonborn. After a few moments, Kaloz reappeared on the second floor as Cade rolled, dragging Faerroth with him, and he threw the dragonborn over his head and into the pit. The dragonborn was able to catch himself, but Cade stepped on his fingers and Zen, in her owlbear form, pecked Faerroth’s hand, causing him to fall. After that, our focus turned to Kaloz for a while. It wasn’t long until Kaloz was looking really rough and turned into an owlbear himself and by that time, the bridge I was standing on was hit with a spell and fell. With a shriek, I landed safely on the ground near the pit as I noticed Cade go unconscious. After getting Cade back up, it was time to end the fight. It wasn’t long until it was over, Kaloz being the last one of their team to fall.

The crowd began to cheer and I hugged Cade, stunned that we actually won as the clerics started to enter the arena. I rushed up to where Kalona fell and knelt beside him, placing my hand on his chest. I healed him the best I could and when he opened his eyes, I smiled at him before whispering that he was going to walk out of this arena with me. He smiled at my comment, thanking me, as I helped him up. With his arm over my shoulders, I walked with him out of the arena and to the cleric’s area.

The clerics were talking about how amazing our fight was as they healed us, telling us that there was going to be a lot of celebrations happening soon but that we should take it easy, at least for tonight. We spent some time talking with them and the Reaper Gang, making plans to go out and get some drinks afterwards when Mr. Ward walked in, congratulating us on our victory. He explained to us where we could find our prize, a dragon’s hoard, located in the Dragon’s Vale Woods. I had a few questions for him but I didn’t want to ask because there was something extremely unsettling about him. All I wanted was to be done with the conversation as quickly as possible.

With that over, we decided to go drinking. Well, Cade and I went drinking with Kalona, Kaloz, and Falana. Zen didn’t want to go and went home instead and Faerroth’s hand was really messed up and needed further healing. There, things were very tense between Falana and I, which made everyone at the table uncomfortable. I don’t even remember what she initially said to me, something about me being slow on the battlefield probably, and I retorted with something along the lines of, “Well, I was going to compliment you on how well you shot, but none of them actually hit me so they really weren’t that great.” That pissed her off, which caused a little bit of bickering between us, and eventually Kaloz left. Cade and Kalona were whispering for a while before both Cade and Falana left, leaving Kalona and I at the table. Kalona smiled at me, asking me if I thought them leaving us alone was intentional. I said it could be and we talked for a while as we finished our drinks.

He thought that Cade, Zen, and I worked very well together. Cohesive, he called it. He mentioned that his group, while strong, didn’t get along as well as my team did. I asked him about the situation with Faerroth and he said that they found out that his patron was Asmodeus, which concerned me. I told him to be careful and to get rid of him as soon as possible. He admitted that they were going to try but the time needed to be right. Eventually, we finished our drinks and he walked me back home. It was a nice night and a lot of people were out and about enjoying the festivities. I couldn’t help but glance at him as we walked, hoping that someday he’d give me a sign to how he felt about my letter more than the message he wrote to me. I think he noticed my staring at times but he didn’t pay attention to it. Once we reached my house, he told me good night and when I thought he was going to leave, he kissed my cheek and walked away.

Dumbstruck, I put my hand on the place he kissed me and watched him as he strided away, not looking back. There was so many things I wanted to do in that moment but I was locked in place, my mind halted. After he stepped into his house, I finally went inside as well, smiling before I saw that Zen was still up, reading one of her books. She asked me where Cade was and I told her that I didn’t know. Cade and Falana left about the same time and I hung out with Kalona for a while before we decided that it was time to get some rest. She asked if I questioned them about where they were going and I said no, because they left separately and that Cade would show up eventually. She agreed and with that, I went to bed.

In the early hours of the morning, Cade came home, knocking something off of the table in the living room and stepping on Dogmeat’s tail, causing him to yelp. I asked him if we was alright and he said he was. After a little bit of talking, we all went to bed. A few hours later when it was properly morning, Cade came up to me and told me that he had sex with Falana last night. I remember looking at him, a little hurt, but understanding as I told him that I wanted to break up with him. It wasn’t for what he did, but for the fact that I was still in love with Kalona and wanted to be with him. He seemed hurt by my words, it hurt me too, but I knew it was going to be for the best.

After a little while alone, giving me some time to think, I made my way to Kalona’s house and knocked on the door. Falana answered it, smirking when she saw me, and I asked if I could speak with Kalona. She told me he was in is room and told me which one was his. I thanked her and went to his room and knocked on the door. It opened in a few moments and he smiled as he saw me. I returned his smile and asked him if I could talk to him. He let me in and closed the door behind me, locking it. I was forcing myself to not get carried away, because I was finally so close to what I’ve wanted over the past few days. He didn’t make it any easier for me to keep my desires at bay as I told him that Cade and I broke up. He was teasing me, and I could tell it. He’d move closer, as if to kiss me, but then moved away just as I was about to give in. It went on for a while before eventually I did give in.

When his lips met mine, I no longer hurt. Everything that I felt washed away and I was left with the satisfaction of finally being with him again. By gods, it felt like an eternity since I’ve been with him but the feeling of this right now was worth every second of waiting. His hands cradled my face as he deepened the kiss, his fingers toying with my hair as I moved into him, wanting the closeness. I felt him smile between kisses and I opened my eyes a little to look into his face. I could tell he missed this just as much, if not more, than I did. I shut my eyes again and pulled away slightly, which caused him to stiffen as I buried my face in the crook of his neck. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me close as I exhaled, feeling better than I had in years. “I’ve missed you, Kalona,” I whispered as he gently rubbed my back. “I didn’t realize just how much I did until now.”

We had lunch together in one of the taverns. It was really nice. There was finally no tension between us and I could tell that he was happy. I was too. It was hard for me to imagine the amount of time that I had been away from him in that moment, because everything seemed so perfect. I don’t know how I lived without him, but that brings up a question in my mind. Was I actually living without him by my side or was I just surviving? For how much my demeanor had changed in the course of a few hours, I knew the answer. It was going to be difficult to leave him again and lose this feeling.

After lunch, we grabbed a bottle of wine and some finger foods and set out for the outskirts of the city. I wanted to be away from the town for a while and just be alone with him. He thought it was a wonderful idea. We found a hillside a little ways outside of the city and made ourselves comfortable in the grass. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to lay out with him and get some sun. We talked about a little bit of everything. I honestly don’t even remember what we actually talked about because I got a little too drunk for my liking, but so was he. There was a few moments where I laid there in his arms, his fingers slowly combing through my hair, and neither of us said a word. In those moments, the wind rustled through the grass around us, the sun warmed our skin, and I lost sight of everything I thought I wanted in the world. In those moments, I knew all I wanted and all I needed was him.

However, it was short-lived because when Kalona and I were talking, Cade found us and explained to us that Zen had been arrested and we needed to go get her out of jail but first asked us why we were talking about the weather. Kalona and I responded simultaneously with, “We really like talking about the weather,” which freaked Cade out. We then proceeded to tell him that we talked about other things too, Kalona listing off rivers, mountains, and animals, while I listed forests and grasslands, before we both ended up saying, “the ocean” at the same time. That didn’t seem to help Cade’s suspicions. He didn’t need to understand the language Kalona and I made up all those years ago.

Anyway, knowing that this was going to be a long story, I poured myself another glass of wine and listened, bracing for the worst. Cade and Zen had went to the Black Market to try to find the ring stolen from the king and things didn’t go as planned. Zen accidently killed two people and was arrested, but Cade managed to get the rings. He showed them to me. There was four of them that could possibly be the ring. One of them was poorly made and I threw it over my shoulder. Another was a little bit better and two of them were nearly identical. I told him that we’d have to have someone look at the two of them to be able to tell which is the real one.

Figuring that we should go get Zen out of jail, Kalona, Cade, and I made our way to Lord Allen’s house. Kalona explained to us that Lord Allen is the leader of the town and that he’s dating the leader of the Black Market. The wine headache was finally getting to me as I knocked on his door. He was a scholarly-looking young man, not much older than me, and by scholarly-looking, I mean the dorky type of scholarly. I tried to talk to him, but my headache was getting to be too much so Kalona took the reins and laid on the charm. Zen’s bail was set at 10,000 gold, which was too steep for us to pay at the moment, so Kalona talked him down for us to pay 500 gold. With the debt paid, we were able to get the key to go free Zen.

Zen, however, didn’t want to leave the cell but we got her out eventually and I asked if she could do anything for the headache I was having. I’m not sure what she cast on me, but the headache was gone and so was any hint of that wine I had. I didn’t really want to be completely sober but oh well.

As we headed back to our houses, we could see smoke in the sky from the direction of them. Zen told us that she invited the druids to Kalona’s place to have a party, which he told us that Faerroth would not be happy about. We rounded the corner to see an explosion of flame from the house as the druids made their way out onto the street while clerics and others rushed in to put out the fire and heal the injured. Turns out, something like this usually happens during this tournament. Cade and Zen went to our house while I stayed with Kalona, healing those who were injured as he helped his team move to another house for the time being. After that was done, he told me there were a few things he needed to do, but he’d come to my place later. I knew what he was referring to by the smirk on his lips and I couldn’t help but blush a little.

I returned home, talked a little bit with Zen and Cade as we ate some dinner and then went to my room to wait for Kalona to come over.

The candlelight danced across the pages of the book in my hands as I absent-mindedly stared at the words before me. I made no attempt to read them. I was too busy with the thoughts rolling around in my head. The day I had with him was wonderful and for the first time in many years, I felt content. However, the day was drawing to a close as the sunlight slowly faded from the room and I worried that the day would end without me seeing him again. I let out a sigh, gently shutting the book and tossing it next to me as I laid back on the bed. I felt like I was waiting for an eternity.

Outside my bedroom door, I could hear Zen and Cade talking in the living room. I didn’t really pay attention to what they were saying but I heard the mention of my name a few times in their conversation. Other than that, things were quiet. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t upset me a little.

I hadn’t realized that I had drifted off to sleep until I heard a soft knock at my window. I got up a bit too quickly and rushed to it to see him standing in the alley outside with a warm smile on his lips. I returned his smile and as quietly as I could, I opened the window. “Took you long enough,” I remember whispering with a slight smirk.

“There were some things I had to do,” he retorted softly as his silver-blue eyes met mine. He asked me to step back, I did so, and quickly he made his way into the room. I couldn’t help but watch him as he brushed off the front of his white shirt, standing before me. I thought I had already fallen for him but no one ever told me that it was going to be a continuous plummet. I went up to him, cupping his face in my hands as I tenderly kissed him. After a few moments, he pulled away, his eyes glimmering with the confidence I was so used to seeing within them and there was a soft smile on his lips. “If you’d give me a few moments, I need to take a few things off,” he said, leaning a bit closer to me, his mouth almost touching mine once more. I blushed hard as I bit my lip, glancing down briefly as he stepped away from me. Carefully, he removed the sword from his back and took some time to get out of his shoes.

In the other room, Cade and Zen were still talking to each other, but it was a bit easier to hear them now. They were talking about Kalona. They mentioned that they liked him and were throwing around the idea about asking him to join our group. Kalona was listening intently to their conversation as I went over to the bed to pick up my book. Soon, the sound of footsteps came towards my room and there was a knock at my door. Glancing over at Kalona, he was already darting under my bed. “Give me a second,” I said quickly, making sure that Kalona was hidden. I opened and slammed my book shut, placing it on the dresser near me with the rest of my things, before going to the door.

Cade stood before me; there were a couple bruises I hadn’t noticed on his neck and rope burns on his wrists. He looked pretty exhausted too and even though he didn’t mention anything, I had a feeling it was because of Falana. He told me that they wanted my opinion on something as he glanced around my room, his eyes fixing on the book, before returning his attention to me. He asked me what I was reading so I told him and asked him what he needed. They wanted to know if I thought Kalona would join our group and I explained to them that I hadn’t talked to him about it but that it was probably a possibility. He asked me to ask Kalona about it sometime. He stayed at my door, looking at me. All I could think about was Kalona hiding under my bed and the desire in my heart at the moment. I asked him if he needed anything else, which he said there wasn’t and wished me good night. I shut the door and waited for his footsteps to return to the living room.

With a sigh, I went over to the bed and laid across it as I looked under it. To my surprise, I couldn’t see him there. “Just like Frostford,” I breathed as he made himself visible and slid out from under my bed. He mentioned something about Cade not being as frightening as my mother and I saw him stiffen slightly at his comment. He watched me carefully but I gave no reaction. I hadn’t been able to openly talk to him about my mother ever since her death without anger and hate towards him or his family and he seemed to realize his mistake. However, things are different now. I told him that I never understood how she always seemed to know when he was there, which caused him to relax a little. He asked me if I was alright, still sitting on the floor before me.

It’s been four years since I’ve been alone with him like this and while things had changed around us and we had changed as well, time hadn’t diminished the way I felt about him. Today had been a confirmation of that. The distance between us had been closed, the barriers we put up for ourselves in the past few days had fallen, and this time there was no one here to pull us apart. In this city, it didn’t matter that I was a Grayson and he was a Fletcher. It didn’t matter that our families forbade us from being together. In this city, it felt like we were finally free from our past. In a way, you could simply say I was alright, but I was so much more than that.

A mischievous smile grew on my lips as I told him that I wasn’t alright, before saying something along the lines of, “You’re still on the floor when you should be on top of me. It’s been four years, Kalona. The anticipation is killing me.” He chuckled softly, a small smirk on his lips as he stood up. I sat up as he moved closer to me, looking down at me as his fingers brushed slowly against my jaw. “Well, maybe we should fix that,” he exhaled, his fingers stopping under my chin, “but I think you need to wait a little longer.” I scoffed, gazing up at him as I noticed the sparkling in his eyes. He was still teasing me. I should’ve expected it since he’s done it to me so many times before.

“You’re a jerk.”

“I know.”

I rolled my eyes as I stood up, grabbing the sides of his face as I pulled him into a deep kiss. His breath was hot in my mouth as his arms wrapped around me, his body pressing firmly against mine. I felt myself smiling in between the kisses, my fingers working at the buttons of his shirt. He pulled away from me slightly, my hands rubbing his chest as I kissed his jaw, and let his shirt fall from his shoulders. The intensity of it all was intoxicating as his hands eagerly pulled at the laces of my bodice. My head spun as he pulled away from me for a moment, allowing enough time for me to slip the garment off over my head before his lips were on mine once more.

I was already breathless when his hands found their way under the skirt of my dress. His mouth was at the base of my neck, sucking on my skin, as I tried to stifle the moan that wanted to escape my lungs. Each touch was electric, each kiss was maddening, and I was already addicted to him. He just seemed to know exactly what to do to drive me wild.

Before I realized it, I was grinning as he laid me down in the bed, completely entranced by him, but he paused. His breath was a little heavy already as he stood next to the bed and there was a smile on his lips, but he wasn’t paying attention to me. I said his name, sounding a bit more pleading that I actually intended. I was confused by the sudden change in his behavior but he returned his attention to me. I asked him if anything was wrong. “I never thought I’d be with you like this again,” he admitted. “I needed a moment to take it all in.” I understood what he meant because I felt it too. It was almost like a dream and at the moment, I couldn’t fathom that it was actually happening.

He soon laid down beside me, gazing into my eyes, as he whispered, “I love you, Klara.” I touched his jaw and replied, “I love you too,” before his lips met mine in a tender kiss as he moved onto me.

Held lovingly in his arms, I listened to his heartbeat as my head rested on his chest. I was dazed but in pure ecstasy, trying to find the words to say to tell him how thankful I was that he was in my life once more. He kissed me on the top of my head before I looked up at him. He moved a strand of my hair out of my face, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. The look in his eyes was similar to how I felt. “Kalona,” I said, my voice low. He asked me if everything was alright. “This has been the greatest day of my life. I’m so lucky I was able to share it with you.”

He considered my words for a moment, his arms wrapping around me a little tighter. “I feel the same way and there will be more of these days to come. We just have to be patient.” I kissed him on the cheek, knowing that there was one last thing I needed to say to him. He seemed to know that there was something else on my mind.

“I forgive you,” I said warmly, “for everything. I just wanted you to know that.” He exhaled and pulled me closer to him, holding me tightly as I wrapped my arms around his neck.

The next morning, he left too soon for my liking. I tried to get him to stay longer, but he swore that he needed to get back to his group and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. I watched as he dressed and gathered his things, keeping his shoes off in hopes to be quieter. Before he decided that it was time for him to leave, I kissed him goodbye in one last attempt to get him to stay. It partially worked, for even when he was crawling out the window, his lips were still on mine. However, this caused him to not judge the height of the drop properly and he fell flat on his back, letting out a groan. I bit my lip as I looked down at him, clutching a blanket to my bare chest as the windows to Cade’s and Zen’s rooms slid open. Kalona laid there, asking them to not judge him for what happened. Cade replied with, “I’m not judging you,” while Zen replied with, “Well, I am judging you.” He sighed as he got up, brushing himself off, said his goodbyes and went on his way. I stayed there at the window for a while, waiting until I lost sight of him to finally shut my window.

I emerged from my bedroom to find Cade and Zen were already making breakfast. They asked me if I asked Kalona would join our group, since he was here last night and I told them that I really wasn’t thinking about it at the time. When they questioned me about it, I told them that I kind of had something else on my mind. Not satisfied with my answer, they handed me a plate of food and told me to go see what Kalona’s opinion was. Begrudgingly, I did as they asked.

Standing at the door to his place with a plate full of food was a little awkward, but was more awkward was that Falana had once again answered the door. I knew she knew what happened last night by the way she looked at me. I asked her if I could see Kalona and she said that he was in his room again. Just like last time. Anyway, he seemed a bit surprised to see me again so soon, but I told him that Zen and Cade insisted that I bring him breakfast and ask their question to him. He told me that he’d like to join us eventually, but there was a few things that needed to happen before then. He explained to me that he’d want Falana and Kaloz to stay with him, but he needs Faerroth and Atlas dead before he can join us. I agreed, because I wanted the same things too. I think my answer might have puzzled him a little.

The final thing I left him with before I walked out the door was that him and I needed to start talking about his father and making plans for what to do to defeat him. For the first time in my life, I finally felt like I had a chance against Atlas Fletcher and I wasn’t going to let this conflict continue to brew. For Kalona and I to be together and to be happy, the conflict in Frostford needed to be resolved.

There’s much work to be done.

Klara's Journal: Entry #13
The Eye of the Storm

We watched Kalona’s team fight and after they won and the competition was over for the day, Zen, Cade, and I went to buy a few things we needed. We went to a general store since I needed some paper and ink, and Zen asked if they had any maps. The shopkeeper told us that they had some maps, but they were quite expensive and Zen then asked for a magical map. When she did so, the man’s whole demeanor changed. He told us to go to a warehouse somewhere in the city, use a certain phrase and say a code word and we’d find what we needed there. Taken off guard, I asked the man if I could buy some paper and ink and his demeanor switched back to what it was before and he happily rushed off to get my things for me. We ended up buying a map and I went and bought a couple more dresses while we were out shopping.

Since I didn’t have much else to do, I went to a temple to ask about the symbol on my mother’s necklace and found myself in a temple to multiple gods, but mainly the god, Kord. I spoke with a cleric there and he told me that these gods were gods of athletics and sport and that he didn’t know what symbol the necklace represented, but I could probably go talk to a druid about it. I left the temple slowly, not wanting to be forced to fight or something, and didn’t realize that Cade had been following me the whole time until I started to search for Kalona. Cade protested, but Kalona was supposed to come with me to the library so I ignored him.

It took me a little while to find him but he was at the training center, watching Falana’s form as she shot. I didn’t say anything for a moment because I was watching her too, mostly trying to see if she was a better archer than I was. I don’t know why I got so jealous in that moment. It was something that just flooded over me but from what I could tell, we were about the same in skill. It comforted me a little.

I asked Kalona if he wanted to go to the library with me if he wasn’t in the middle of something important. He said that he wasn’t and we made our way to the library.

Once there, I asked one of the library staff if they had any books on Obad-Hai, Syrref, Asmodeus, Minauros, or the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they told me where I could find the books, but they didn’t have anything about any Horsemen. Satisfied, I went with Kalona to the adventurer section where they told me that I could find a book about Syrref. It took Kalona and I a long time to find the book. I’ll admit. I was distracted. I couldn’t stop looking at him. I was enraptured by his graceful movements as he reached for books, charmed by the way his eyes would glance over the pages. I was enthralled with him but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Instead, I stole glances while he wasn’t paying attention, trying to gather the courage to say something to break the silence between the two of us.

However, the silence remained as eventually we found the book in question. I made my way to a table, opening the book as I sat down, and began to read. Not much was known about Syrref before he became an adventurer. He and his group stopped a cult from raising Asmodeus and then stopped the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. After that, he disappeared and nothing else is known about him. I sighed as I closed the book, Kalona shooting me a glance as he looked up from the book he was reading. I gave him a slight smile but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed about what I’d just read. What he went through is what I’m going through. I guess history does repeat itself.

I put the book back and went to another section, looking for a book about Obad-Hai. I didn’t take nearly as long and I was able to find out that Obad-Hai was the god of nature. According to legend, he’s born in the spring and dies in the winter to be reborn the next spring. He’s sometimes worshipped by rangers, but he’s usually worshipped by druids. He’s had a few paladins, but he’s not very well know. The Raven Queen, another god, and him stand against Asmodeus.

It was getting late, but I knew I had time to look for one more book and I was able to find out a bit about Asmodeus. He’s an evil god and if he’s brought back, it would mean disaster. He’s been defeated twice in the past by the Raven Queen’s and Obad-Hai’s paladins. With that found out, I met up with Kalona again so we could leave the library before it closed for the day. On the way back home, I thanked him once again for talking with me the other day and he mentioned something about Cade. I knew then and there I had to say something. I told him that I assumed he knows about Cade and I and that we needed to talk about things. I admitted to him that I didn’t want to talk tonight, because there were things I needed to think about, but that we’d talk tomorrow. The rest of our walk was silent after that.

As we reached the house I was staying at, I went to the door and looked back at him. His face was stoic, emotionless. He seemed unphased but I did notice that there was sadness in his eyes. After so long of not being able to read him, to see any emotion was comforting and I knew I needed to decide soon. I walked into the house to see that Zen was alone in the house and asked me if I knew where Cade was. I told her that I didn’t, but I did need to ask her something and that I wanted her advice. She seemed suspicious at first, especially after I told her that I had a terrible idea. I then asked her what she would tell someone who had an idea that would help them reach their goal but would hurt the ones around them in the process. She said that it depends on the goal and who’d be hurt. With a sigh, I told her that I have an idea that might mean that I could save my family but there would the chance I’d hurt her and Cade in the process.

Instantly, she told me that it was a bad idea and I shouldn’t even be thinking things like that before she went to bed. I couldn’t shake the idea off however. My terrible idea. My idea would potentially sacrifice everything I had in this moment for the chance to have Kalona Fletcher on my side, to have him stand with me against his father, and to have him in my life once more. My first friend. My first love. The person I used to think I’d spend the rest of my life with. I was willing to risk it all for him. If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t have even considered it.

That’s the thing about Kalona. Unlike Cade, unlike any of the other people I’ve met as an adventurer, none of them truly know what I’m going to have to face when I stand against Atlas. Hells, I don’t even know what I’m going to face when the time comes. They say they’ll help me when it happens, but they don’t know what they’re risking and in all honesty, I don’t want them there. This is not their problem. This is not their fight.

Kalona, however, is bound to this situation just as much as I am, if not more. His fate lies with this too. Why turn him away when we could stand together? Why throw away this chance to have him in my life again, to have him at least as a friend? Why not throw caution to the wind and admit my feelings for him? Why stay silent? Why admire from afar when I could be in his arms?

Why not risk everything for Kalona Fletcher?

In that moment, I knew what I had to do. I went to my room and took out some paper, a quill, and some ink and begun to do something I should have done years ago. I didn’t feel any sorrow when I wrote the words, “My Dearest Kalona,” on the page, nor did I regret explaining to him that I wasn’t sure if I truly wanted to see him again after I left Frostford all that time ago. I wrote with passion, bleeding my heart and soul out onto the paper, trying to make up for lost time. I wrote with haste, knowing that I needed to get my feelings down before they went away. By the time the letter was completed, I felt numb but satisfied. I couldn’t help but smile.

The next morning, I woke up to find that Cade hadn’t come home and Zen was making breakfast. She handed me a plate that spelled out, “Still not a good idea,” with the pieces of bacon. I ate the “not” because I felt like it still might be a good idea. I mean, I did explain to her that it was a terrible idea but the benefit might outweigh the risk. After breakfast, we went out to find Cade. Zen went around the contestant housing while I stayed near the house, Beacon trying to eat the few pieces of bacon I had saved for Cade. Eventually, Zen did find him. Turns out, he slept on the roof the entire time and while we tried to convince him to get off the roof, Kalona walked by and told Cade to come down. This made Cade even angrier, but he did come down off the roof.

We got ready for the next round of competition and made our way to the arena. We began the third day of the competition by facing the Forsaken, a group that consisted of three half-elves and a halfling, and they were easily the hardest fight we had so far. The arena was now a waterfall area and it was kind of difficult to move around in, but that wasn’t what was stressful about the fight. They were extremely good and they worked together beautifully to the point that it was frustrating to watch them. I dropped their sorcerer once, just to have their druid bring her back. The druid and the fighter hung around the paladin, who blocked my arrows with her shield that should have hit. It took a while, but we eventually defeated them and Zen, Cade, and I knew that we had to go talk to them.

They were super nice and happy to talk with us. They said that we were the hardest team they fought too and they were glad that it was such a hard fight. Their druid said that he had almost exhausted all of his spells for the day, the sorcerer was new to their team and not as powerful but she still put up one hell of a fight. I told their paladin that she was a dick with that shield and she was pretty awesome even though she annoyed the hell out of me when we were fighting. Overall, we had a nice conversation with them. They were really cool and I hope we get to hang out with them some more.

With the Reaper Gang winning their match, we knew we’d be facing Kalona’s team in the final round of competition and because of that, we went to buy more healing potions before I went back to the library with Cade. The book on Minauros was the last book I needed to read and I found out that Minauros is the third level of the Nine Hells and is home to Mammon, an archduke or archduchess. Bearded devils, chained devils, spined devils, and imps inhabited that level and from what I could tell, the lower you went in the levels of Hell, the worse it got. With that information, Cade and I went to the stables because I wanted to check on Joel. He was well-taken care of and seemed happy and healthy. Cade, however, was quiet and when he did speak to me, his words were sharp. My heart sank, I knew I was hurting him, but I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away.

To kill some time, Cade and I went to the training center since we hadn’t really ever been there. I decided to try to climb one of the ropes they had there and well, let’s just say I’m not very strong. After struggling to climb with rope over the course of twenty minutes or so, I finally reached a height I was satisfied with before coming back down. Cade seemed to be amused with my struggle, so I guess something good came out of it all.

Afterwards, we went to the tavern to get a couple drinks. Cade was tense the whole time, making rude comments every so often. I stayed silent and let him vent, which I think only made him angrier. He then asked me what we were doing here, what was going on between us, why I was talking with Kalona so much. I told him Kalona had information I needed, and I was gathering information about the level of Hell and other things we’d be facing in the future. He admitted that he didn’t care about the kids at all and he didn’t want to go to Minauros. I told him that I didn’t want to go either, but I felt like we had to. After a little while, he left, leaving me to pay for the drinks.

I knew I was making him angry, but I was trying to get my point across without saying a word. I was distancing myself from him for his own safety. I was trying to make this a bit easier for him, but I was just making it harder.

Knowing that I promised him a conversation the night before, I went to see if I could find Kalona anywhere. It took a little while, but I found him at the training center, practicing for tomorrow. He had two swords out, one floating beside him and attacking the dummy as he attacked with the other sword. I’ll admit. I was pretty impressed with his skill. From what I could tell, he didn’t seem to notice I was there, so I drew my bow and nocked an arrow, skirting around so I wasn’t directly behind him and I had a clear shot at the dummy.

Exhaling, I released the arrow and it flew true, sinking into the dummy where he had been attacking it. With that, he stopped, put away his sword and pulled my arrow out before turning to face me. I was already walking up to him when he turned to hand the arrow to me. I thanked him and complimented him on his skill, especially with the floating sword thing he was doing. Looking a bit nervous, he grabbed the sword out of the air and put it away, saying that I wasn’t supposed to see that yet. I gave him a slight smile and told him that I owed him a conversation.

My heart was racing. I was trying to muster up the courage to say some of the things I wrote him in the letter but I couldn’t bring myself to. Standing before him, my heart was begging me to close the distance between us but my muscles wouldn’t budge. In all my days, I never thought I’d feel so strongly about someone. I remember asking him if I could trust him, which he said he hoped I could. I remember saying, “It hurts to stand here before you,” wanting to bring myself to say,_ ‘because I want to be closer’_ but the words wouldn’t come. He said something along the lines of, “I can leave if you’d like,” but I told him that I wanted to be here, which made him stay.

Tears stung my eyes and I felt them begin to roll down my cheeks. Everything ached while I stood there, wanting to say so much but unsure how to continue. I asked him why he still cares about me so much, after everything I did to him. He responded with he’s always cared about me, and no matter what, he always will. I remember looking down, knowing that I didn’t have much time before I broke completely. I felt myself shattering already and if was going to say something, I needed to say it soon. I asked him if he still loved me, and he said that he did.

Whatever confidence I had when I went to talk to him was gone and I smiled at him through my tears. I took out the letter I had written him and handed it to him, asking him to read it soon and come talk to me when he was ready. He nodded and put the letter in his pocket as I told him goodbye and turned away from him. I don’t know how he’d take it, but I had a feeling I was going to be hearing from him before I went to bed. Tears still streaming down my face, I started to make my way back to the house where I was stopped by Cade. He asked me if everything was alright and I told him it was as I continued walking. I went into my room, locked the door, and sat down on the edge of the bed.

My mind raced with the things I should have said to Kalona. I should have been more confident but looking at him, his face stoic and difficult to read was frustrating to me. I thought I had been clear with him. I thought that I’ve hinted enough at what I felt that I shouldn’t have even needed to give him the letter. But my attempts were met with indifference and it was agonizing. I couldn’t help but think this’s how he felt when I pushed him away after my mother died. No wonder I thought he was so desperate. He tried his hardest to be with me and yet I avoided him. Every attempt at being closer was blocked, every attempt at showing compassion was ignored. He tried to be with me but I distanced myself from him. He grew more reckless and I continued to push him away. Now I’m the one getting more reckless and he seems farther away than ever.

I was nervous, scared, and concerned as I stayed up for a while, hoping to hear a knock at the house’s door as I waited for him. The house was silent. Cade and Zen were asleep but I was wide awake, waiting for the aftermath of what I had done to finally strike. They say there’s quiet in the eye of a storm as sunlight breaks its way through the clouds. It’s only for a few moments before the tempest starts again, but that’s what this felt like. Everything had been leading up to this. Every second, every heartbeat, every breath, every joy, every sorrow, and every pain I’ve experienced in the past few years had been guiding me to this, even though I hadn’t realized it. The storm had been raging for a while.

I was worried about what was to come, but lying here, looking up at the ceiling of my room, the world, for once in what seemed like ages, was calm. In the silence of that room, everything was still. For once, I felt at peace. This was the eye of the storm. What I had done was the only way I knew I could assure what was to come. With that thought, I allowed myself to close my eyes and drift off into sleep.

That night, I dreamed of him, of home, and of the city I left behind. In my dreams, there was no hate or regret. There was no tension. There was no conflict. I looked into his eyes, completely in love with him, as he took my hand and lead me down the streets we used to walk when we were younger. The streets no longer stressed me. I was no longer afraid of who I was going to find. He smiled, pulling me close to him as he stood by the fountain in the center of the town square. I could feel the gazes on us as people passed by. Neither of us cared. He kissed me tenderly before pulling away, gazing into my eyes for a moment. I shut my eyes as I felt him let go of me, sliding his hands down my arms as he walked away. I watched him, his pace steady and relaxed as he continued putting distance between us.

He never looked back.

Once he was out of my sight, I looked around to see that the city had changed. People paid no attention to me, some of the shops were no longer in business or had changed owners, but overall, it was still the same. I searched for him, scanning crowds of people hoping to catch a glance of him. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to find him again.

So, I waited. I watched the people move past, their lives continuing on, and I hoped he would return to me. No matter how long I waited, no matter how much time had past, he never came back. Feeling a bit lost and helpless, I decided to leave the city. As a reached the outskirts of the city, everything changed before my eyes with each passing step and I hadn’t realized how dark and dull the world had been. After a while, I found him standing in a lush, green meadow as a light, ocean breeze rippled through the grass. His eyes were focused on something in the distance, not paying attention to me until I said his name. He then looked at me and smiled as I went up beside him and took his hand. He gave it a little squeeze as I rested my head on his shoulder and gazed into the distance as well. Beyond us was something I couldn’t fathom. The sea was turbid and roaring when I had approached, but while I stood next to him, it had calmed into gentle waves.

For most of my life, I had feared the unknown, but for the first time, I truly felt that everything was going to be alright.

The next morning, I woke and stared at the ceiling, listening for a moment to the footsteps of my companions walking around the house. My heart sank and I bit my lip, wondering if the letter I had wrote had been in vain. Didn’t he say that he was still in love with me? Didn’t he still want to be with me? Why hadn’t I heard from him? Honestly, I was expecting him to come here last night with what I had wrote to him. I bore my heart for him and lying there without a word from him broke it.

I almost didn’t want to get out of bed, but it was the last day of the competition so I begrudgingly got out of bed and grabbed some breakfast. Cade and Zen watched me carefully as I went about my morning routine, but I didn’t say much to them. After a while, Cade went outside before the rest of us as we were getting ready to leave for the arena and he told me that someone had defaced our house. I went outside and looked with him, the heartbreak I was feeling vanished in an instant.

On the wall of the house, in script illegible to Cade, was a message from Kalona. It was simple, but in that moment, it was all I needed. He said that he would love to be in my life and that he’d help me face the dangers that might come my way. He’d even help me stand against his father.

I couldn’t help but smile as I read it and Cade started to ask me what it said. I told him that I now have Kalona as an ally, which angered him, as Kalona and his team passed by the house. Kalona, noticing that I had read the message, waved his hand and it disappeared before they continued down the street. Cade, angry with me since I had been hiding things from him, demanded that I tell him everything, since there seemed to be more to the story than what I originally told him and Zen when I met them. So, I told him. I told him that when I met them, I was trying to convince myself that I hated Kalona for what his father had done to my family. However, I wasn’t successful at doing so. While we were dating, Kalona was extremely nice to me, but our parents didn’t want us to be together, so we kept it secret from them. After my mother and my little brother were murdered, I broke up with him. He had never done anything to hurt me, he really wasn’t a bad guy, and it was me who had messed things up in our relationship. I had been talking to him here to try to get information but I also felt that I needed to apologize to him.

With that, Cade’s fist struck my nose, causing pain to shoot across my face as I clutched my nose. Blood dripped into my hand as he came up to me and kissed me on the forehead before telling me that I was an idiot for keeping secrets. Then, he walked away as we made our way to the arena.

Before the competition started for the day, Cade went up to Kalona and Falana and started talking to him, telling him that he had spoke with me and his hate towards Kalona had been a misunderstanding. He told Kalona that I had been keeping things from him but since I finally told him the truth, he wanted to apologize and say that everything was cool between them. Kalona agreed, but said that he was still going to kick his ass in the tournament and Falana proceeded to give Cade a quick slap on the butt as he walked away.

I, still a bit stunned from everything that just happened, couldn’t help but stare at Kalona. I wondered what he was thinking at the moment, if he was as relieved as I was to get my feelings off of my chest. I had a competition to worry about, but something was bothering me while I looked at him. My mind wouldn’t stop going back to the fact that in his message, he mentioned nothing about getting back together again. I had mentioned it in my letter to him, I had told him how I felt, I thought I was as clear as I could possibly be about what I wanted and yet he still made no mention of it. It frustrated me and my thoughts started to race once more with what I could do to get him back.

In a few brief moments, I knew what I had to do. As they say, action speaks louder than words.

Klara's Journal: Entry #12
Past and Present

To backtrack a little more, we did get some time to talk to Tad and Ash on the way to Aspienne. While it seemed like we as a group made things a bit more awkward between us and them, we were able to learn some useful things along the way. I had asked Tad where he had sent us to kill the white dragon back in Colonmel and he said that we were sent to the Stormwhite in the south. We don’t have a world map with us, but he said that we could find it on one. I then asked about how we’d get back to this world if we used the portal piece to get to Menaras. As I asked about it, Cade pulled the piece out of his pocket and I noticed that it was sparking a bit. Tad assured me that we should be able to get back with it, but that arcane things can be a bit temperamental.

While camping during the nights, I took some time to try to read my book and I soon grew frustrated. I asked Tad and Ash if they could read anything in it, and they could read what I could. This caused Cade to give them a strange look while he continued to read the book he’d picked up. After a little while, Cade pulled me off to the side and told me that he was reading a book about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and that he was suspicious that we were sitting around a campfire with two of them. He quickly read it to me and asked me what I thought of it. I told him that some parts of the story sounded familiar, like the plague and finding the cure for it in a blizzard, and that their horses and weapons matched the descriptions of a couple of them. I told him that they knew Infernal and he asked me why that’s important and why I knew the language as well. I explained to him that fiends can speak Infernal, and with my father saying Atlas was a fiend, it was an obvious choice to learn more about them. With that thought and Cade asking if I could sense for fiends, I focused for a bit and was able to tell that there were four fiends in our camp.

Cade and I tried to get information out of Tad and Ash, but they constantly seemed to either be telling the truth or were able to work their way around our questions. We did get to learn a little more about them and we also learned a little more about Zen. She’s from Feybridge. I don’t know where that is, but it’s a little more to go off of than just being from the forest.

The next two days of traveling were awkward and quiet. I spent most of the time in thought and because of that, Cade threw pebbles at me to break me away from my thoughts and to tell me to stop moping around. Eventually, Tad and Ash dropped us off just outside of Aspienne and we said our goodbyes to them.

The town itself was bustling as we went into the city, following the crowd as people congregated around an announcer, who was talking about a tournament that was happening in a few days for adventurers. He said that it would bring fame to the party who won and that there was a wonderful prize as well. Also, the contestants got free housing, free food, free stables for their animals, and were invited to a party hosted by a noble. I thought it sounded like fun, Cade did as well, but Zen had some concerns. Mostly about dying within the competition. I ended up asking the announcer her questions, getting an odd look from him as he explained that the losers just lose and aren’t killed and that they can’t guarantee that we won’t die accidently, but they have clerics on hand to heal us. I signed us up under the name Absit Invidia and received a key to our house.

The contestant housing was around the arena we’d be competing in and it took a while to find what house was ours since the key wasn’t marked. Once we found it and got our things put away, we found a letter inviting us to Lady Eshreal’s estate at seven that evening for a party. The only things we had to do were not to bring weapons and to dress nicely.

We went shopping, putting Joel in the stables before we left, and picked up some nicer clothes for us all. Cade and Zen wanted to do a couple other things before returning to the house, so I went back alone and took a bath. The bathtub was large with a variety of fragrant soaps and hot water. My description doesn’t serve it justice because it was absolutely amazing. It’s been ages since I’ve had a hot bath.

I took my time, making sure my hair was thoroughly cleaned and brushed because I’m not sure how long it’s been since I’ve had the chance to get it completely free of tangles. I stepped out of the bathroom only wearing a towel, I was surprised to find Cade standing near the door. I wasn’t sure if he needed something from me, or if he was just waiting to take a bath as well. I gave him a small smile as I passed him, heading back to my bedroom to dry my hair and dress. Beacon followed behind me, stopping to lick up the water that dripped off of my hair and onto the floor. On my bed was a small box of chocolates from Cade and my dress had been nicely laid out. I tried one of the chocolates, it was from Vocans, and it was sweet but it had a little bit of spice to it. I closed the box and put it away so Beacon wouldn’t mess with it.

After a couple of hours of getting ready, it was finally time to go to the party. When we arrived, we were soon greeted by Lady Eshreal herself. She was a beautiful woman, but there was something sinister about her that I couldn’t put my finger on. At the dinner, we were the last ones to arrive and I sat down next to a green dragonborn woman and a tiefling, with Zen on the other side of me since she wanted to sit between Cade and I. The dragonborn and the tiefling were quite nice to talk to and they told me a little about themselves and a bit about the competition. It was mostly just small talk, but they did ask me if I’ve traveled the world, and with me saying that no, they encouraged me to do so. Honestly, I was just excited to even see a dragonborn and a tiefling because I’ve only heard about them and read about them and to meet a couple of them was pretty amazing.

The meal we had seemed to last forever. I’m not sure how many courses there were but after one set of plates were cleared, another was set down in front of us. There was so much food and it was all so good. I don’t really want to ever see that much great food in one place ever again. After the dinner was over, we were invited to stay and mingle with our fellow contestants and Zen started saying something in some language I didn’t understand over the top of the crowd. When someone finally responded to her, she darted off to go find them. Soon after that I lost track of Cade. I asked if anyone had seen them and people were suggesting that they might have left. I decided that it would be best to just wait and see if they were still here, so I went to one of the walls of the room and stood there, gazing out over the crowd.

After a few minutes, Cade emerged from the crowd and told me that Zen found Kalona. I asked him to point him out to me and well, there he was, talking with her. A shiver ran down my spine as a wave of warmth washed over my body. He looked more like a man now than the boy I knew in Frostford. But even then, it was him. It was almost like nothing had changed. My heart raced in my chest and encouraged me to go to him, but I was stuck in place. I didn’t want to show the emotions that flooded my system. I didn’t want to confess that I still felt so strongly about him with Cade’s pleading eyes staring at me. So I stood there, the memories of us flashing before my eyes as I realized one terrible truth after all these years.

I’m still in love with Kalona Fletcher.

Soon, Kalona and Zen went their separate ways and I lost sight of him. Longing to see him once more, I went into the crowd again with Cade, trying to find him. Gods, I didn’t expect this reaction, this desire to just see his face one more time. I don’t ever think I’ll understand why I was so desperate in that moment.

With a while of searching and no luck of finding him again, Cade and I walked home. My mind was going in circles during that walk, and it didn’t help that Cade was right next to me. I’m in love with Kalona, but I’m in a relationship with Cade. Do I love Cade? I think so, but then again, do I really know what love actually is or what it feels like? I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure. When I was younger, I was certain that I loved Kalona. My time with him was a wildfire. Our love for each other was passionate and desperate. We knew the stakes. We knew the dangers. We knew what would happen if our families found out but we didn’t care about the consequences. We had each other and that’s all that ever mattered.

With Cade, it’s been completely different. We’ve always been close, but I thought of him as a friend at first, and then a brother, and then finally more than that over the time I’ve known him. It’s the little sideways glances, the way he smiles at me, his laugh, and how he always seems to know how to cheer me up. It’s a little ember, smoldering with the potential to grow into something more, into something that could last. He’s trying to stoke the flames. He’s invested in this, in us. But am I?

In that moment, I realized that at the end of the day, I’m not the person everyone believes me to be. I’m someone who’s willing to risk it all if it means that my family is safe. I’m someone who’s willing to die for my family if it means that they can continue to survive. From the day I left Frostford, I was sure I was going to die. I wasn’t afraid of it, but I didn’t want to die before I saw my father and my brother one last time. I guess it was that drive to know what happened, to figure out how to fix the mess that was made in Frostford, and to eventually see my family prosper again that keep me going and made me feel that I needed to do whatever it takes to get me closer to that goal.

I was willing to sacrifice my own happiness for them. I was willing to shatter myself into a million pieces as long as it meant that they were satisfied.

Now, things are a bit different. Ever since I met Cade, I’ve lost a bit of that edge. He’s shown me a world that I couldn’t see before. It’s happier here. It’s warmer. There’s so much to see. It makes my problems seem so small compared to everything else. I’ve lost sight of why I left Frostford all those years ago and for a while, I didn’t care. I only cared about him. Because of that, I was trying to be the best person I could be.

However, the two worlds I’ve experienced are now colliding and I’m not sure what to do. My old desires, plans, and schemes are come back into mind but now I’ve put Cade in the crossfire. This isn’t just about the Graysons and the Fletchers, this isn’t just Kalona and I. Cade’s in danger because of how I feel and I’m not sure how I’m going to pull the focus off of him. Anything I do now is going to hurt him, and that’s something I desperately don’t want to do. I know I’m already hurting him.

I’m a terrible person. I’m here, walking with a wonderful man that I should be grateful to have in my life and yet I’m thinking about Kalona and my own personal gain. I’m lost in a relationship that happened in the past when I should be focusing on the one I’m in at the moment. I’m considering my options, how to make the best of this situation when I know all I’m going to do is hurt those around me. Why am I willing to sacrifice their happiness for the sake of my family? I felt the tears stinging my eyes and I knew that I didn’t deserve to have someone like Cade in my life.

“Klara, are we a thing? Are we serious about this?” Cade asked, pulling me away from my thoughts. The look in his eyes caused my heart to ache more than it already was. I told him yes, and he seemed to relax a little, but I didn’t feel any relief. It only made me feel worse.

A little ways ahead of us was a young man, not too much younger than I, but looking very lost. We went up to him and he asked us if we knew the way back to the contestant housing. We let him tag along with us as we made our way back. His name was Alistair, he was from Readmont, and he said that he was with the Reaper Gang. We talked with him for a little while longer, Cade having a peculiar look on his face as he glanced at me at the mention that Zen wouldn’t be back yet, before we finally made it to the contestant housing. Alistair told us goodbye as he walked towards one of the houses, but his goodbye chilled me to my very core. He said my name. I never told him my name. My gut reaction was to kill him, but with no weapons, there wasn’t much I could do so I went up to him instead. With my hand clutching his collar at the nape of his neck, I asked him how he knew my name. He said that he had overheard it at the dinner. From what I could tell, he was telling the truth so I released my grip but that didn’t make me any less suspicious of him. I watched him carefully as he entered one of the houses before turning back to Cade.

I couldn’t help but think of the worst possible situation at that moment. He didn’t look like that magical boy who had been kidnapping children, I didn’t think he was a Horseman, but I wasn’t sure if he was a spy for Atlas or not. Maybe he was a part of the Reaper Gang, or just a servant they had brought along with them. Either way, the fact that he knew my name put me on edge.

After asking if I was okay, Cade toyed around with the idea of us having the house to ourselves for a while before Zen got back. With everything that was rolling around in my mind at the time, the suggestion caught me off guard. Cade was tripping over himself a little bit, probably worried that he had offended me but you know what, I was sick and tired of worrying. If I could have some time with Cade and not have to think about what was happening around me, then by gods, I was going to take it.

Now, I’m not sure how much detail I want to go into. He told me once that he’d done this before, but this was my first. I was pretty nervous to begin. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect. I had only ever thought about this and the majority of the time, at least in the past, I was thinking about Kalona. We went to one of the bedrooms farthest from Zen’s and after he closed the door, he took me by the hands and asked me again if I wanted to do this. I said yes, but that I was nervous. With a smile, he promised me that we would take all the time we needed for me to feel comfortable, and that if I ever changed my mind and didn’t want to continue, all I had to do was say so.

There was something about the way that he looked at me that spurred me forward, forgetting my nerves in an instant. I took a hold of the collar of his shirt, pulling him into an eager kiss, as he wrapped arms around me. My hands caressed his jaw as he pushed me up against the wall. The feeling of his body pressing against mine sent me into frenzy. Whatever I’d been feeling just minutes before were nonexistent and I was certain of what I wanted. He pulled away slightly and his green eyes gazed into mine for a moment. There was something in them, some spark, that I had never really seen in them before. Already a bit breathless, I gave him a small smile just before his lips lightly grazed against my jaw. I tilted my head back, biting my lip, as I moved into him, allowing his hands to room to work as begun to unlace the back of my dress. My body tensed for a moment as I started to feel the dress loosening while my hands worked rapidly at the knot of his tie and the buttons of his vest and his shirt.

He had a warm smile on his lips as my hands rested on his bare chest, his shirt hanging loosely on his shoulders. His hands were on my hips as I felt the sleeves of my dress slowly slide down my arms, causing my skin to prickle. He asked me if I was alright and after assuring him I was, he let go of me and allowed his shirt to fall to the floor. I could feel my heart pounding against my ribs as I clutched the front of my dress to my chest. I was exhilarated, longing for his closeness and his touch, but as he moved away to remove his boots, nervousness once again ate at me. My dress was loose and if I let go of it, it was going to fall to the floor. I don’t know why that bothered me so much. We’d seen each other barely clothed before during our travels, but this felt different. I felt more exposed. I felt vulnerable. It was more than just being naked in front of him.

I walked past him, stepping out of my shoes, as he sat on the edge of the bed. I heard his boots thud against the floor as he tossed them closer to the door and the bed shift as he stood up but I didn’t look at him. I stared at the wall, trying to focus. He had always been there for me from day one. We barely knew each other then, but he still trusted me. He brought out a different side of me. There was no reason for me to be feel so vulnerable.

“Klara,” his voice was filled with his concern. I let go. The dress slipped down my sides and hit the floor. I turned and looked at him as he walked over to me. His hands gently held my jaw as I closed my eyes and he rested his forehead against mine. The fear was gone, my worries slipped away, and in that moment, I knew that this man meant more to me than I could ever understand. I gazed at him, his eyes were closed, his brow furrowed, and the corners of his mouth were taught. I pulled away from him slightly, which caused him to look me in the eye as I smiled.

“I love you, Cade,” I said warmly as the tension left his face. He smiled as well, replying with a soft, “I love you too.” In that moment, nothing else in the world mattered.

Now, I’m not going into anymore detail than that. I don’t feel comfortable with it, especially since I imagine that if I did write out the rest, someone who I don’t want to read this part would find my journal with an extremely personal moment within it. That would be embarrassing and I most likely wouldn’t know how to explain myself. So if I did give this journal for you to read, sorry for the slightly personal moment and you’re welcome that I spared you from more detail. Some things are better left unsaid.

As I woke the next morning, it took me a moment to get my bearings. I shifted to look at him, and when I looked into his face, my heart panged with guilt. For a moment, I was expecting to see Kalona and the thoughts from yesterday came rushing back into my mind. Cade’s chest rose and fell gently as I studied him, noticing how peaceful he seemed as I tried to process what I was feeling. Why did he choose to love me? Why did he feel that I was worth his time? It hurts to know that he loves me. It hurts to know that he trusts me with his heart when I’m willing to sacrifice so much for something that I may never be able to obtain. I’m so afraid I’m going to hurt him that I’m hurting myself and I’m okay with that. I’m used to the pain, I’m trying to protect him, but I’m not sure how long that will last. I can only protect him so much. It’s going to be harder to protect him from myself but I’m going to try my best.

Gods, Cade, I hope I’m enough for you.

Later that morning, we made our way to the arena for the beginning of the competition.
We were chosen to go first after the announcement of the beginning of the competition and the previous year’s winners had been introduced. The group that had won last year was a group of bards called N’SYNC. As we made our way down into the arena, it progressively got darker to the point that I couldn’t see anymore. Now, I could lie and say that it was an epic battle that will go down in history for ages to come but in all honesty, I couldn’t see a damn thing except for the flashes of light from spells across the arena. I hung out by the wall and eventually, we could see again and we had won our first match.

We hung around afterwards to watch the other groups compete and it was an impressive sight. It was easy to see that everyone competing in the competition was very skilled. I watched Kalona’s team compete and they ended up winning. All I could think of was how much I wanted to talk to him. By the end of the first day, it was announced that tomorrow we’d be facing Swiftstriker. I asked Cade to come with me to talk to Kalona, but to stay in the background until something happened and I needed him. This is the part where Cade and I stalked Kalona Fletcher around the city for a few hours. I didn’t think he would ever leave his group but our patience paid off.

Eventually, Kalona was alone and I went up to him. He wasn’t paying attention to me as I approached him. He was wearing nice clothing under a breastplate and he had two swords on him. My heart was pounding and I hesitated for a moment before I gently placed my hand on his shoulder and said his name. He turned to face me, seeming a little surprised as he greeted me. Cade wasn’t near me, but I could feel his gaze on me as my nerves started to get the better of me. Quickly, I told Kalona that I wanted to talk him, maybe get some dinner or over a few drinks, as I felt my eyes begin to sting. I was breaking under the pressure, but I couldn’t let either one of them see. He agreed and invited me to meet him at the Sanctuary Inn at 6 later that evening and gave me directions on how to get there. With that, we went our separate ways and Cade and I returned to the house so I could get ready. He seemed upset, even though he assured me he was alright and that he was coming with me tonight. I tried to ignore him as I dressed for the evening in the blue dress I got in Chipenden and put my hair up into a bun, even though he came into my room a couple times looking for stockings to stuff into the dress he was wearing. I had questions for Kalona that only he could answer, but there was something I needed to apologize about as well, and I needed to know if what the banshee said months ago was right. I felt like I was making a mistake, especially after my father told me to avoid him because he was dangerous. However, my father didn’t know about our past relationship. He didn’t know that his daughter was in love with a Fletcher.

A little before I needed to leave, Cade told me that he was leaving while I put my quiver, bow, and sword on. I followed Kalona’s directions and saw him waiting for me there and when I approached him, he asked if I wanted to go somewhere else because he saw Cade go in before I arrived. He wasn’t sure if I wanted us to be alone or not. I told him that it would be best if we went somewhere else and we went to the Knight’s Flagon Inn. After ordering a couple drinks, I thanked him for coming with me and I told him that there was something that I needed to apologize for. I told him that I was sorry for how I left him in Frostford because I wasn’t thinking straight at the time. I was upset about what happened and I was looking for anyone to blame and I decided to blame him. He didn’t deserve it, it was out of his control and yet I still blamed him for it. There was no reason for me to treat him so poorly.

He accepted my apology and admitted that he was wrong too. There were things he did that he shouldn’t have done and he was sorry that he did so. One of the things that stuck with me was that he said I deserved a happy ending. At that moment, I was hurting and I think he could see. He told me he was here to help. Trying to push away my feelings, I asked him what happened back in Frostford before he left and he told me that he got his ass beat and he had found out what his father had done. He looked at me, his eyes almost pleading, and told me that I couldn’t let his father find me and I shouldn’t trust his team, especially the dragonborn that was with him. Kalona explained to me that the dragonborn, named Faerroth, was pretty shifty and he suspected that he was a spy for his father. He also told me that the last he heard, my brother was in Noragate.

We talked for a couple hours more, sharing stories of our adventures and catching up in general. Kalona looked at his hands a lot, rubbing faint scars on them, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I wanted to say something more, but he seemed like he wanted to tell me something. I asked if everything was alright and he said he was okay, his eyes avoiding my gaze, and he asked me to stay safe for his sake. I told him that I’d try my best but I couldn’t make any promises. As we spoke, my heart grew heavier as I remember the times where life was easier, I was with him, and I was happy. We had both come so far since then, and being here with him, I realized just how broken I was. I was hurting, I was in a lot of pain, and I was fighting back tears even with a smile on my face because I was here with him. I wanted him to be closer, to feel his touch, and to feel his lips on mine just one more time. I wanted him, I was still madly in love with him, but I didn’t know if he felt the same way. I wanted to imagine that he did but I didn’t know for sure. I fought to remain composed, to be the Klara he remembered me to be, but he had one more question for me.

“Are you happy?”

At that, I felt the facade I was trying to put on fade away and I decided that I needed to completely honest with him. I told him I wasn’t. I told him that there was a few things that I was happy about but that I was worried about what was going to happen in the coming weeks and that I was scared. I wasn’t sure that me or my friends were going to live through the things we were going to face and I admitted that I wish things would go back to the way they were before we left Frostford. At that, he did something I didn’t expect him to do. He gently put his hand on mine and I felt all the tension melt away. He told me that everything was going to be okay, that I was going to survive, and that I’d show the world that it couldn’t fuck with Klara Grayson. I stared at his hand as he said so, feeling relieved by the sudden lack of tension as I begun to realize that he just might still be in love with me.

With that thought, I took his hand and held it in mine, closing my eyes as I told him that he has more confidence in mine than I have in myself and thanking him for helping me feel better. He told me that he’s confident in me because he knows how strong I am, how I’ve stood strong and survived whatever the world has thrown at me. I looked into his eyes. He was my first friend, my first love. He was, for a long time and maybe still is, the only person who truly understood me. He was always there for me. He always had my back. I was just now beginning to understand how much I missed him and how lucky I was to have him in my life. I asked him if we could get to together and talk again, maybe make a trip to the library he told me about that’s within the city. He smiled and told me that he’d love to go with me.

He walked me back to the houses and as we stood in front of mine, he thanked me and told me goodnight. I wanted to kiss him terribly, my body ached with the thought of it, but I stayed still and wished him goodnight too. I watched him walk back to his house as Beacon came up beside me and nudged my hand, wanting to be petted. I felt like I was back in Frostford for a moment as I watched him walk away. Everything felt like it was right in the world. Everything felt okay. A little bit of hope was shining through the darkness. In that moment, I fell helplessly in love with Kalona Fletcher all over again.

I’m a terrible person, I know. I’ve been over it before, but that night I was the most relaxed I’ve been in a long while. I wasn’t worrying about the future, I wasn’t concerned about what would happen after we left Aspienne, and I wasn’t thinking about how much I was hurting. By talking with him, he eased my pain and helped me feel whole. It was something I realized that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I had spent so much time trying to be someone I’m not, someone better than the person I am, that I didn’t know what it was like to be the person I used to be and I had shattered myself into thousands of pieces.

I hate myself. It’s something that’s taken me awhile, years even, to admit. It’s the reason I’ve tried to be a good person in the past before I met Cade and Zen because I was trying to prove to myself that I’m better than the person I think I am. Self-doubt plagued me in the years on my own, I started blaming myself for things that were out of my control, and I was bitter about the situation I was in. I wanted to hate others to give reason to my pain, so I decided to hate the Fletcher’s and the Waicox’s. Those people, Atlas, Orla, Kalona, Hiberius, and Kala, were something I could focus on, something I could focus my bitterness and anger towards. At the time, I thought I wanted revenge against them, against the people who I thought had wronged my family, but it was just a way for me to try to reason with the situation I was in. It was a way to make me feel better about myself.

If you want to know why I say that I’m not good for Cade, this is why. I don’t think I need to explain it anymore.

I’ve had enough with writing my emotions for a while. There’s some things I need to sort out myself before I write them down. Anyway, the next morning, we returned to the arena for the second day of competition. This time things went a bit differently than the last. One, I could see, and two, the arena was now a forest with a river running in the middle of it and two towers on opposite ends. Seeing this, I raced for one of the towers as my party made their way across the river. I climbed up to the top to see who we were facing and it was one Goliath Sorcerer, who dropped Zen with a single spell. It was a fairly tough fight without Zen, but Cade and I managed to defeat him. I was just excited that I was finally able to use the bowstring I bought in Caster.

With our second round of competition done, we are free for the rest of the day. I think I’m going to try to meet up with Kalona and see if he wants to go to the library after his team competes.


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