- March 5, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 40)
“The gods are not kind to people like us, the gods are not kind to anyone.”
Malum Chun, 448 A.C.A.
“I’m going to Cloudtower.”
They had barely gotten into the tent before Jack broke the silence.
I’m shocked he let us sleep on it, Andy thought as she avoided almost everyone’s gaze. She didn’t miss Astrid’s eyes.
Despite the smirk she wore to contrast the rest of them, Astrid’s smirk did not match her eyes.
Lucy responded to Jack immediately and soundly. “Then you can find another ship because it won’t be mine leaving that port.” Since the night before, the bags under her eyes had gotten darker, and the bandage around her arm was poorly wrapped, showing off a bit of the charcoal skin underneath.
Jack laid his hands flat on the table, his mouth agape as he stared across at the sea captain. His breathing was the only thing they heard in the tent, and the way it trembled.
“Are you… are you really going to keep me from him… now? After what we all saw?”
Lucy opened her mouth and Jack snapped. “I know you saw it too! I know you all saw it! He’s there!”
He slammed his fist down into the wooden table, but only he seemed to flinch. “He’s there…”
They could hear the crinkle of Lucy’s leather as she slowly outstretched her hand, and calmly pressed it onto the table.
Her eyes gazed down at the map of the world as they knew it, and her fingers stopped right at the edge, right at the first touch of water.
“Let me make something very clear to you with this piece of advice, Jack,” she said before lifting her eyes from the map, “the world doesn’t revolve around you, we don’t revolve around you, I don’t fucking revolve around you.
“I want a goddamn break, I don’t want to be on the ocean for at least a week, maybe longer, and fuck you for trying to make me feel guilty for it,” and she leaned over the table to spit out her last words to him, “you pathetic lovesick puppy.
“He betrayed you, get over it.”
And this is the part where he starts whining and crying, Andy thought, but all she saw was his trembling jaw.
He turned to Quintus. “You told me that when we had the chance to find him, to save him — from that witch — you’d be at my side. Were you lying?”
“Don’t put that on him,” Andy immediately jumped on Jack, and Lucy too.
“Don’t prey on him because you’re not going to get your way.”
Quintus’s voice boomed through the tent. He raised his hand as if it were some sign that he was next to speak, but it crumbled. His hand wiped the side of his face as he struggled to think. “I said that,” he admitted.
“Then we go,” Jack assumed, and again he was denied.
Jack was frozen in shock.
I can’t blame him, if anyone was going to keep their word, even to their own detriment, it would have been Quintus.
“You… you promised.”
Quintus made chopping gestures with his hand as if that would drill in his point. “At. The right. Time.”
“This is the time!”
“It’s a stupid time,” Malum told him.
“Uh, yeah, we just got back with a pile of gold and spices,” Andy piled on, “this is when people are going to come for us again. We have a reason for them to seek us out, and the place you want to go to,” she pointed to it on the map, “our old stomping grounds, Raydorn? They want our heads the most.”
“It’s not just Kion we can find, Andy,” Jack said through his teeth.
“I can’t get us off the most wanted list, Jack! I’m not a miracle worker!”
“I mean Harry, you dick.”
Andy let out this scoff as Quintus told Jack, “Don’t do that, don’t try to guilt us into going with you on a suicide mission.”
“If we weren’t supposed to go, why did we get the vision, Quint?” Jack pleaded with his arms outspread, his eyes glistening as he shook his fists with something similar to rage on the surface, but so very different underneath. “Why would we see something we’re supposed to ignore?”
“Because the gods are not kind to people like us,” Malum said from his stationary place in the shadows, “the gods are not kind to anyone.”
“You would know,” Astrid muttered out the side of her mouth.
Andy narrowed her eyes at her. She’s been awfully quiet, but she’s actually listening now too. Andy stared at her until Jack tried to reason with her again.
“You know House Skyhold is one of the most powerful houses in Raydorn, and they all have spies-”
“I’m not an idiot, you don’t need to tell me about where I used to shit and piss.”
Jack didn’t even respond to her interrupting him, he just pleaded with her, “If anyone is going to know anything about Harry and not try to kill us, it would be House Skyhold, you know that.”
“I know a lot of things,” she assured him, “that is not one of them.”
“But it’s likely.”
Malum held up one finger. “Death is also likely.”
Jack ignored Malum, and just pleaded, “Andy.”
What does he expect from me? Does he think I have some desire to go to Raydorn? I didn’t go with him to his last pity party, and I have no desire to go to this one. And I sure as hell don’t give a shit about the Aurora Knight. No one who swings a sword at my face is going to get my sympathy.
Or does he think that because I was his little playmate — his forced companion by our parents — that I’ll follow him anywhere?
“Don’t you dare think you can twist my feelings to get me to follow your dumbass on a dumbass quest. I don’t follow visions, and I don’t bank on dreams, not even weird ones with friends.”
Jack pulled back, and looked around the room, finding it full of people, and yet he was still alone.
Sucks to suck I guess.
Jack blinked and his eyes were glazed with the same void as usual. There was nothing behind his eyes and nothing in his chest. “Fine, I’ll go alone, I’ll fight for Kion as I always have, alone.”
“And how are you gonna get there, stupid?” Lucy taunted him.
Jack slammed his hand on the table and with it, he let loose the Wind, blowing up all the flaps of the tent, the nails in the ground barely keeping it up.
As his winds threatened to blow everything away, he declared to the pirate captain, “I’ll swim to fucking Artis and steal a boat if I have to, I’ll find my own way.”
They were all trying to find a stable way to ground themselves as he let the Wind ravage the tent in his wake. They weren’t free of his ire until they were free of his presence, and the tent was silent.
Without fail, Quintus went after him, calling “Jack!”
Lucy wiped the sweat from her face as she scowled at Quintus’s back. “That fool.”
There wasn’t much else to talk about from there after they corrected their clothing and their hair. Why stay in the tent if there wasn’t much to talk about at all?
But as they made to leave, Andy didn’t have anything to say, but she had something to see.
Andy thought she was about to be the last one out behind Astrid, so she did something she had never done before without thinking.
She grabbed Astrid’s arm to see where she’s been.
In an instant, white light consumed Andy’s eyes and faded away just as quickly. Her nostrils were filled with the scent of flowers and the striking salt of the sea.
She was on the hill again, the same as the night before, and looked over a twisting way that led to Cloudtower, the home of House Skyhold.
It’s been a while since I’ve been, but this is not the pathway there, and the castle is not surrounded by trees. A whole town is missing.
The night before, everything was flashing too fast for Andy to get a read on it, but in Astrid’s mindscape, in her history, she could watch everything in real-time.
Maybe this is how Astrid watched, while the rest of us got those flashing images. I’d ask why she was silent on it, but it’s not like she’s any less secretive than the rest of us. We assholes are perfect for each other.
As she looked over at Cloudtower, she found herself surrounded by feathers, and her first thought was to grab one. She inspected it, turning it all around. This one… isn’t the same as the ones I keep finding around Malum, but it’s still weird that feathers have been a thing twice now.
As she was inspecting the feather, with its deep browns and white tips, she thought of a hawk or an eagle.
Then she facepalmed.
Griffins, of course, it’s griffins, House Skyhold is where they’re bred.
She let the feather go, believing it was a mystery solved even as feathers fell all around her, with no griffin in sight.
Wasn’t there something before this? Andy remembered, The image of Cloudtower was not the first thing she remembered, so why was it the first thing she saw here?
She kneeled, and pressed her hand to the ground, but didn’t feel anything.
“Oh, so now you don’t talk to me,” Andy groaned, wondering why that annoying presence in her head was suddenly silent when she needed it.
As if on cue, it gave her a massive headache. She groaned and shook her head. The pain dissipated as she stood up, and came back as she looked down. It kept making itself known where she wasn’t looking, so Instinctively, she looked up again.
When she opened her eyes, she realized her mistake.
“Of course, why would the light be something I find in the ground.”
There was this patronizing cackle in Andy’s mind, yet, it wasn’t her thought.
It didn’t immediately occur to her that she was looking straight at the sun. There was just this inability to look away as if nothing was right. The sight of the sun was unfamiliar so she stared, but her brain kept reminding her that she had seen the sun every day.
Why don’t my eyes burn?
She immediately started slapping her face with both hands.
“Snap out of it Andy, this isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t-”
A chilly wind blew through her, and the rays of the sun no longer shined through her eyelids. She slowly creaked her eyes open and realized that despite being closer to the sun, it was nowhere to be found amongst clouds and mountain peaks.
But feathers were, and they were far bigger this time around.
One slowly descended towards her casting her in a shadow that threatened to leave her in the dark.
She avoided touching it with an aggressive sidestep, but couldn’t take her eyes off it. How could she? It was a feather larger than her. Anyone would stare at it until something more magnificent or terrifying came along.
Something more magnificent and terrifying did come along though. The same thing that growled, was the thing that burned the sky.
When everything happens in a flash, you have little time to feel fear. When you watch it slowly happen in real time, the fear creeps in like a snake waiting in the grass. It moves fast but you never see it coming. By the time you see it, it’s already too late.
Andy watched as what could only be a god in the form of a massive griffin, cursed the sky. In his wake, an unyielding flame burned and burned the sky away until only blackness appeared. Not darkness, but blackness, there was no space, nothing to touch or float through.
The colors of the world began to appear inside Andy as her mind struggled to comprehend what she saw. With the veil of safety given to her by the vision, her mind was treating what she saw as if it was the real world.
The world of the mind was never meant to be treated like the real world; consequently, the world of the mind was losing all of its colors.
This isn’t real, how can I know that and not accept that? she asked herself as if people weren’t always full of contradictions.
Her head began to sear as her logos battled with pathos, and her ethos played both sides. The world began to deteriorate, flashing in and out of the mountainscape of the god, to the false valley before Cloudtower.
The image in her head kept flashing back and forth. White feathers kept flashing all around her, switching between being there and being nowhere, being black and being white.
And through it all, stood the Aurora Knight.
He stood as a constant presence inching towards her. As the world charged in her mind, so did he. Among the black feathers and the decaying world, he and his sword were safe constants, but in the world that seemed real, too real, his armor wilted and withered. He appeared to wear plants rather than steel.
And as it flitted away, light burst from the cracks and growing holes. It wasn’t being released, it was fighting and clawing its way out of him. All that was human was his lone eye, the dark sphere in front of the light, and the lone tear.
He reached for her and grasped her throat.
“Hah,” she gasped and reached to save herself but found no hand there. She began to shake as she was in the tent again but there was nothing to ground herself to.
Her heart beat so fast she couldn’t count it if she was calm, and every other beat of her heart hurt. She kept trying to breathe, but couldn’t as if something was choking her. Then something gripped her hand.
Andy was pulled down, now in a panic until she felt something pulling her arm away.
Her eyes remained unable to focus, until there was a face so clearly of the real world, a face that never appeared in her dreams or visions.
“You’re choking yourself, Andy!” Astrid said as she tried to pull Andy’s arms away from her.
Andy was strong, she made most men and women appear dainty, but she had nothing on Astrid. Astrid’s fingers wormed their way between Andy’s, and ripped them from her throat.
Andy could breathe again, but her hands still fought Astrid to choke herself again.
Andy swayed from side to side as Astrid held her hands down, slowly regaining control of herself as Astrid waited with her. To Astrid, it was barely a few moments, but to Andy, it was a slow, unending eternity.
The Light wonders why I’ve been so fed up with it.
Astrid’s grip loosened as the fight died in Andy.
Andelyn Stella barely registered her surroundings as she tried to find her breath and her being. Her eyes slowly looked down and around, assuring herself that she was in the war tent, on the Icy Pearl Isles, and it was grass that she felt against her knuckles and her knees.
She told herself this over and over again until she finally turned and rested her back against the table’s side.
“I played a dangerous game, Astrid,” Andy said, as she slowly looked up, and found herself able to focus on her real face, “and I got fucked in a way that wasn’t much fun.”
Astrid let out a soft chuckle as she reached over to lay a hand on Andy’s shoulder, and felt more sweat than should be possible. Andy reached up and laid her hand on top of Astrid’s, holding it there to ground herself.
Astrid finally asked, “What did you see?”
But before Andy could answer, a voice from the shadows behind Astrid asked, “Yes, Andelyn, what did you see?”
Andy looked past Astrid as the ax woman’s head whipped around. For the first time in a long time, the assassin had snuck up on them and stood as little more than a shadow and a mask.
Andy considered several different profanities but could not summon the energy, or the reason. Her muscles ached, and her heartbeat was only beginning to hurt less and less. The last thing she needed was anger and the exhaustion that followed.
“What I saw…” Andy said, “was enough to know we should go to Cloudtower with Jack.”
In unison, Malum and Astrid groaned, “Oh, fuck me.”