The Children of Eris
After talking about the Great Disaster for a few more hours, Arieon invited them all to dine with him on the finest food Elvast had to offer.
It was late in the day by the time they finished and Arieon insisted that they stay the night; everyone had no choice but to accept.
Kella could neither relax nor fall asleep inside Arieon’s mansion.
She tossed and turned uncomfortably in bed for an hour before giving up. She got dressed and went down to the lakeside to try and clear her head.
The last month had been the worst time in her entire life.
Connor, Alisa and Tiergan were dead.
She’d missed her brother’s funeral.
She had been summoned against her will to meet with the Divine Caster, and now she had been told that the Great Goddess Themis herself chose her to fight the darkness plaguing the empire, restricting what she could do with her own life.
“What a sick joke,” Kella muttered as she threw a rock into the water. She then picked up another few rocks from the ground beside her and started throwing them too.
“I’ve heard that if you throw a heart shaped rock into the lake at the right time of night, a great golden fish will leap out of the water and swallow it, granting your heart’s desires,” Dante said with a friendly smile as he approached her. “Couldn’t sleep?”
Kella threw a stone into the lake. “Thought that was obvious. You?”
“I haven’t been able to sleep in a long time.” Dante sat down a few feet beside her and took up a large stone of his own. “The first time I ever got to do something like this was a White Rock when I was thirteen. I’d just been accepted into the Order and me and my mates were done on the cliffs and decided to see who could throw a rock the furthest. Whoever won got to order the rest to do anything they wanted for the rest of the day.” Dante chuckled a little. “I was so weak back then I could barely throw it ten metres.”
Dante wound his arm back and threw the stone a hundred metres across the lake; it sank with a satisfying plop into the water.
“And you’re telling me this why?” Kella whispered, not bothering to hide her disdain.
“Well, if I’m being honest, I don’t really know how to talk to other people anymore,” Dante confessed. “Until today, the last time I spoke to someone was a hundred years ago and all I said was goodbye.” Dante picked up a flat stone and gently brushed it with his thumb. “Palin, the last other member of the Order. Now, it’s just me at White Rock. Well, sometimes there are robbers who come to visit that don’t ever leave.” Dante laughed a little but Kella’s expression remained unchanged. “What do you think you’ll do about Arieon’s offer?”
“What can I do?” Kella threw her last rock into the water. “The Divine Caster’s told me that Themis wants me and, like all things lately, I don’t have a choice in the matter.”
“No, I really don’t.” She glowered at him. “I didn’t have a choice when my brother went south and died, I didn’t have a choice when people told me not to let their deaths be in vain as they offered fake platitudes to me, and I didn’t have a choice when I was summoned here. If word ever got out that I’d defied Themis’s will, I’d be lynched or burnt alive, even by my own mother.”
“Why didn’t you go south with your brother?”
“Is that your roundabout way of saying I’d be better off dead?”
“Heavens, no. If that were the case, I’d tell it to you straight, like I did with Arieon when he called me up here,” Dante said. “Do you know what I told him when he called out to me?”
“Damn right.” Dante grinned. “I told him to fuck right off because I was done fighting monsters and demons. I was done with the lot, but.” Dante smiled thinly. “I realised something. I’m the last of my Order, the last one that stands in the thickest darkness to defend everyone in Aangapea. If I don’t do what I can for my fallen comrades and the people we risked our lives to protect, then I’d be betraying them.”
“I’m not ever doing what Arieon wants me to do.”
“Fair enough, but, Kella, what does your brother want you to do?”
Dante nodded. “Surely, he must’ve had a reason for you to stay behind, right? A job, a mission or a role only you could perform and that he trusted you to do?”
The last conversation she’d ever had with her brother surfaced in her mind.
“Kella, I want you to stay behind,” Connor had told her. “It’s not because I don’t think you’re strong enough or because I’m scared something will happen, but” He smiled happily at her. “You’re the one I trust the most to look into the murders at Stonefall and I want you to uncover the truth behind them. Don’t worry if you can’t do it alone because we’ll be back home in a month to help you.”
The last thing Connor asked me to do, Kella thought as a few tears formed in her eyes. He had me stay behind because he trusted me, because he knew I could find out the truth and help stop it.
Dante smiled. “It seems you found your brother’s last wish.”
Kella wiped her tears and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then, do you think you can help us for your brother and not that old git?”
Kella laughed a little, showing Dante a truly happy smile for the first time since they’d met and said, “Yeah.”
“Didn’t think you’d still be up,” Lawrence said with a smile as he entered the sitting room.
Sat on a sofa with a solemn expression on her face, Isabella weakly looked up at him and held up high a half-drunk glass of gin. “Thought it’d be a waste not to sample some of the finest before we left.”
Lawrence laughed a little and sat beside her. “How’s the taste?”
Isabella shrugged. “Not my preference, but does the job.”
She scoffed. “You can’t figure it out?”
“I can. Just thought it’d be best if you said it yourself.”
Isabella took a small sip of what was left in her glass. “When I was a kid, my mum always told me stories about the Divines. She told me about how they were Themis’s greatest weapons, how they defeated evil monsters and protected the empire from harm. She said that it would be a small miracle to see one from a distance, let alone ever talk to one.
“Mum always said that they were strong, kind people who Themis spoke to.” Isabella smiled wryly. “I’d always dreamt of becoming a Divine one day. As I got older, I realised that that wasn’t going to happen and aimed to be a Paladin instead and, here I am.” She turned to Lawrence. “Best friends with a Divine.”
Lawrence smiled back.
“But.” Isabella turned away and closed her eyes. “Kella didn’t feel that way about you or Lord Arieon. She was angry about being summoned by the heroes I admired. Even when I tried to talk to her on the way here, all I did was talk about mundane stuff and praise you guys, saying how honoured she must feel.” Isabella scoffed and shook her head. “I could see the way she looked at me, at all of us, and never once asked what was wrong. I never asked a single question about her.”
“In your defence, I never told you about her circumstances,” Lawrence said.
“And I’m just as guilty for not asking. ‘Oh, she’s just an adventurer?’” Isabella sighed. “I don’t have the right to be upset when I’m responsible for making Kella more miserable than she already was.”
The two sat awkwardly in silence for a few moments before Lawrence spoke up.
“When I was a kid, I thought the same thing you did. My folks said it’d never happen, so I began training in secret when I was four. I worked on my muscles, my stamina and my sword skills, pushing everyone else my age away. In my mind, I didn’t have time to waste on things like playing with friends or helping my parents around the house.
“I ended up leaving home when I was thirteen to become a Paladin.” Lawrence’s expression relaxed and he closed his eyes. “I didn’t even tell my parents I was leaving. It was a waste of time in my eyes. Even at the keep, all I did was study and train. I didn’t try to get along with anyone and, then, it happened. I was chosen.”
Lawrence chuckled bitterly. “I had finally made my dream come true and wanted to tell someone…but I didn’t have anyone to tell. No one congratulated me, not really, not from the bottom of their hearts. It was only once I’d become the Divine Paladin that I realised just how little it really meant to me in the end.
“I wrote back to my parents and people I knew back at the capital and never got a letter back. My parents had died when I was seventeen, a year before I’d become the Divine Paladin. The kids I’d know had grown up and forgotten my name, even their parents had. When I went back to the capital and realised how alone I was, I didn’t want to be the Divine Paladin anymore.”
“…Do you still feel that way now?”
“Sometimes,” he whispered with a sombre expression. “Then again.” His gentle smiled returned. “If I hadn’t ever become the Divine Paladin, I wouldn’t have met you or the others, saved the people I have and seen the things I have. Isabella, you’re far too young to be looking back on the mistakes you’ve made. Save that for when you’re my age and spend your time now trying to find ways of fixing your mistakes.”
He lightly patted her head, then walked towards the door.
“What should I say to her?” She asked.
Lawrence glanced over his shoulder and, with a reassuring smile on his face, said, “Just tell her what you told me and apologise while you still have the time.”
“The Great Goddess herself speaks to you?” Eris whispered with a small laugh, thinking of Arieon’s words that bound Kella’s fate to them. “I wonder if they’d kill themselves if I told them it’d benefit the empire?”
Eris giggled as she watched the next morning of Kella’s life, of her slightly revitalised stance on life, as she did her early morning training.
She apologised to Lawrence, Christoph and Isabella, who apologised back, and they all pledged to work together to stop the Great Disaster.
“The stage was already almost perfect before David arrived, but I had to nudge the narrative just a little bit to make it more interesting,” Eris mused as she stared intently at Kella’s refreshed face. “It’s such a shame that out of all the adventurers who went to Black Port that the last handful just so happened to be precious to you, Kella. Isn’t it even a bigger shame that David was the one who killed them all?”
To Eris’s delight, as Kella walked around Elvast, she ended up running into a disguised David and the two talked happily to one another.
On the way to the city, Kella had written to David and asked to meet up at the city’s famous water fountain.
The two kissed, linked hands and happily began walking around the city.
“Ah, I want to see the look on her face when she realises who David really is,” Eris sweetly moaned, stretching out her hand towards the image floating before her.
Eris smiled a cruel, yet sweet, smile at them.
“I can’t wait.”