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.