AR 1214-10-21 Fragile Lives, Shattered Dreams

Dean regarded the young man very differently than he ever had before. Here was a battle-hardened warrior, clad in custom-made, form-fitting adamantine plate armor, carrying a silvered spear. The blue shield with the three triangles of Odin emblazoned on it would have tied the image together in anyone else’s mind, solidifying Jarl Hastae as the genuine article, a fully initiated cleric of the Allfather; however, Dean had seen Yari with that shield many, many times before, and it served only as a reminder of the impish little boy who had once courted his daughter.

Elsie and Brog were now as serious as she and Yari had once been, so the latter was no longer a threat. As such, Dean found he could finally admit he had liked the young cleric the whole while, and wished him well. Though memories of past days still rang in the innkeeper’s head, Dean was able to push them aside and address the new man before him as just that: a man.

“How are ya, boyo?” Dean asked. Yari’s expression had been just as jovial and innocent as he remembered, but for a moment, he saw the younger man’s eyes reflect a sadness deep and profound. The look said all that needed saying.

“Ah,” said Dean, then clasped Yari’s shoulder in a simulacrum of paternal affection. “Alright, then. First rounds’ on me.”

The old Yari was back in a flash, though maybe his smile was just a tad too wide. “That’s awfully kind of you, sir. Thank you!”

Dean grunted and turned back to the bar. “If you’re looking for your companions, they’re in the private room. Not sure why that dwarf wanted flour to dust the floor with, but you make sure he keeps his promise to clean it up after you lot’re done!” he added, then seemingly lost himself in cleaning mugs.

Yari glanced around the crowded room, failed to notice either Elsie or Brog, and headed over to the door to the private chamber. As he entered, he noticed only a few sets of foot steps going from the door to the chairs sitting around the table. He walked in and grabbed a seat at the table, just as a full round of drinks was delivered to the entire party by a young serving boy Yari didn’t recognize, who then quickly scurried away and shut the door behind him.

Krunch had a map spread out on the table, and was pointing at various locations on it, offering his thoughts about each. Yari was only nominally paying attention. At one point, the cleric was pretty sure he heard something about a forest, and he offered, “I like forests; let’s go there.” He was summarily ignored, though that in turned was also ignored.

Checking out of the conversation for a little while, Yari took out his writing pad and scribbled a quick note, then moved back into the discussion. Under the cover of distraction brought about by suggesting their new group should have a name, and the ensuing heated tangents from his comment, the young man quietly magicked the paper in his sister’s pocket. It wasn’t until everyone decided to call it a night that Rissa noticed her brother’s message.

It read: “We need to talk,” and was underlined by a sketch of two stick figures on top of a pentagon, clearly meant to represent a building. Just to be sure, Rissa discretely checked the inside of the inn for Yari, and not finding him, went to her upstairs room and slipped out onto the roof. Carefully making her way up the thatched incline, she soon found her errant brother sitting near the top, holding his knees, and looking up at the stars.

“What’s up?” she asked, looking down at him.

“Serious time, sis,” he said. “You need to swear to keep a secret for me.”

Rissa paused for only a moment before nodding in agreement. Good, then quit looming and get down here! came her brother’s voice, unbidden into her mind.

She hadn’t initiated the mental link, but in the wake of all the other weird things going on surrounding her brother, she filed that bit away for later. She carefully laid down next to Yari and looked up at the crisp night sky. She waited.

I don’t want there to be any secrets between us anymore, sis, his words came again. We need to stick together, you and me, now more than ever.

Agreed, she offered after a hesitant pause. Every fiber of her being wanted to pelt him with questions, but she had grown up as much as Yari had, and one of the perks of being an adult was knowing a measure of patience. A measure. Luckily, her brother didn’t keep her waiting.

I already told you I made a deal with the Sky, just like you made a deal with the Earth, Yari’s voice went on, dancing a frantic waltz through her own thoughts. Caelus’s much older than Gaia; he can see – See – much further than she can; but, it’s hard for him when things aren’t directly related to the sky. So, to help Gaia better, he asked me to be his temporary servant.

I gave Caelus permission to see through my eyes, hear through my ears, and to know my thoughts. He’s Gaia’s… um… partner? I guess? It’s hard to describe with the limited words and thoughts we have access to. Anyway, he’s invested in our plight now, because Gaia is, and he asked for my help, and I gave it.

Rissa’s thoughts interrupted his own. So that’s why you can communicate this way, just like me. That’s so cool! I mean, both of us getting chosen by gods, to be their eyes and ears…like we’re their…watchdogs. There was much trepidation conveyed with that last word. The image Sven had shown her, of him dog-like, chained to Odin’s throne, returned to the forefront of Rissa’s memory. And, unintentionally, the picture was now relayed to Yari.

Huh? came Yari’s reaction. A faint, blurred copy of that image returned to Rissa’s mind from Yari’s, like a mental echo, telling her he had seen it too.

Oh, you saw that! her startled thoughts conveyed. Well, it’s a thought Daddy showed me when I first found out I can do this talking without words thing. I don’t think it really happened; it’s just the way he felt when he served Odin. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared that with you? Oh well. No more secrets, right? Anyway, yeah, Daddy can do this thing too. Rissa pointed to her forehead to clarify what ‘this thing’ was. But then, you already figured that out when we were, like, six years old, didn’t you? Anyway, for the longest time the only ones I could talk to were Daddy and Gaia. It’s just been the last few months that I could reach anyone else. What about you? Can you do this with anyone besides me and Caelus?

The young man’s response was slow, reluctant. No more secrets, his words came. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can do it with anyone I want, but I’ve been too afraid to try. Caelus doesn’t talk much – or, like, at all – and I rather like my head being my own, y’know?

Yeah, Rissa answered. Believe me, I know exactly what you mean. It took me a long time to get used to it. Be thankful that Caelus doesn’t talk much. Gaia chatters away all the time! Not that she’s talking to me, mind you, she mutters to herself a lot. It’s nothing important, just…random thoughts. Maybe that’s the difference between man-gods and woman-gods. Rissa chuckled out loud at her joke. She wasn’t quite sure yet if it was possible to chuckle telepathically.

Yari didn’t chuckle, nor show any signs of humor at all. He had started this conversation saying it was ‘serious time’, and his demeanor clearly conveyed that their conversation had strayed too far from the point he had wanted to make. In return for helping him, Caelus gave me a gift even more amazing than this telepathy, a gift I never thought possible. Rissa, Yari’s mental voice virtually breathed, Caelus taught me how to lie! It turns out, I’m really good at it, too.

Because, the thing is: I’m not okay… on the inside. I haven’t ‘been okay’ proper since the earthquake. She said yes, Rissa! She fucking said yes! It was the happiest moment of my life, and now it’s been ripped away.

Rissa didn’t have time to react to her brother’s exceedingly rare use of profanity; his thoughts just kept rushing, manically into her head. But, now, our friends are dead, she’s sold her soul, and Kolfina is moving again. There’s no time for me to grieve; things keep happening, one after the next, and I can’t shut down to process. I have to help fix things!

So, Caelus taught me how to lie. I’m going to be lying a lot, going forward, to our family and probably even to myself. I’m going to be pretending that I’m okay, that there’s always hope, that good things are just around the corner. I’m going to be acting like I used to – like I have been – and no one is going to suspect anything’s different. But, you’re my sister, and I still hate lying to you. I wanted you to know, at least. It’s an act, a performance.

I’m not going to actually be okay for a very, very long time; but you can still count on me. We’ve got a mission to do, and I’m going to help see it through. Maybe, somewhere along the line, I can even help save her! He concluded his torrent on a hopeful note, but Rissa suspected he was already getting back into character.

Now that Rissa could finally get a ‘word’ in, she projected her thoughts to Yari. Okay, then, wow. I’m not sure what to say. For starters, I’m really sorry you’re not okay inside. You know I’m here for you whenever you need me. She reached her hand over to Yari’s, and he grabbed hold. She could feel in their interlocked fingers the beat of his pulse, which seemed to be synchronized with her own.

After a moment of silence Rissa continued. Yari the Liar: that’s going to take some getting used to. As a life-long liar, I welcome you to the club.

As his sister patted his arm, Yari interrupted her thoughts with ones of his own, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Oh come on, you know I lie all the time, Rissa explained. It’s like an art for me – literally, if you think about acting as sort of controlled lying about being someone you’re not. In that vein, I think you being good at lying could actually be a positive thing. It might help in our mission. If Krunch wants to go rogue, if we’re going to follow him down that path, it’s gonna take some fair amount of lying along the way. I was really worried about you, whether you’d be able to do that. It’s good to hear you’re okay with it. And heck, now that lying is on the table, maybe we can throw in a little cheating and stealing too? If Krunch wants money, there are plenty of dishonest ways of getting it. With some illusions and sleight of hand trickery we could pull of some good cons. I mean if you think about it, deception is how we won our toughest Danger Room exams!

Yari’s response conveyed disappointment. You’re not getting it! he insisted. It’s not that I’m suddenly good with lying, it’s that I have to lie to keep people from worrying, and I need to be good enough to lie to myself.

I will never be okay with even skirting the line between right and wrong, Rissa. It’s why I’m talking to you about this! This… this is just something I have to do.

I guess, he continued, maybe it was a mistake to tell you. I’m sorry…_

The cleric started to stand up.

“Sit your butt down; we’re not finished,” Rissa said aloud, her voice harsh. Part of it was intentional, but the effect was amplified by the fact that it disturbed the utter silence of the still night which had surrounded them. As Yari complied, descending to the earth once more, Rissa slipped back to using her mind. I get it, Yari. I get it because I do the same thing.

For better or worse, you and I are a lot alike, Bud. And one of our faults is all too often we think the world revolves around us. Well guess what, Jarl Hastae, you’re not that special. Every single one of us is hurting, and we’re all putting on a happy face and pretending that we are okay when we really aren’t. Your girlfriend – fiancé, whatever – decided not to marry you. I know that’s got to hurt. It’s quite possible Verona sold her soul to some fiend. That’s horrible. I’m not trying to belittle your feelings. But how ‘bout some perspective here?

Sardi lost his brother; and there’s no getting Beckum’s soul back. Franzi lost her sister and her father. Zen lost damn-near half his family. I think Wolf had some old friends die too. Krunch got shunned by his clan and exiled, and in the process lost his fiancé until he can clear his name – if he doesn’t get himself killed trying. I’m pretty sure every one of our friends is not okay inside, but they soldier through, put on a smile, and convince themselves that they are okay however they can. Just like you.

Look, Yari interrupted hottly, if you’re gonna chastise me for being honest with you, then I won’t be anymore. I can lie to you, just as well as anyone else; I just didn’t want to.

I know others are hurting, too! But, this isn’t about them, right now; this is about me, and you, and where the two of us’re gonna go from here. I’m trying to open up, to be honest about what I’m feeling with the one person I have left in my life I can do that with. Seems like you’re saying that was selfish of me! So sorry to have inconvenienced you!

Yari felt a well of steaming emotions rising in Rissa, building pressure and ready to burst out at him. Then as quickly as it came, the anger was gone, like water spilled onto dry dirt on a hot summer’s day, it seemed to dissipate into the ground beneath the girl, leaving behind a sort of serenity.

If you will allow me to continue, she thought with exaggerated politeness, I was trying to make a point: you are not alone. Perhaps I spoke too rashly, but it was not my intent to diminish your feelings. I brought up the other guys’ losses to show that they can empathize with you. Maybe you should let them? You seem so worried about keeping your emotions hidden from the others, concerned that they will worry about you if they know the truth. I say: So what if they do? The happy, innocent times of our childhoods are gone. We all know that; we’re all in this together.

“My hands are tied, Rissa,” he whispered against the uncomfortable stillness between them, “bound behind my back.” His breathy voice cracked with emotion, but he went on, “My knees are bent under the press of Darkness, and I have to stand on my own, or not at all.”

But, his thoughts picked up, when his words failed, I still need my sister.

What are you talking about? Rissa cocked her head, puzzled for a moment before recalling where she had heard those words before. Wait, that’s what Betsy told you isn’t it? Is that what this is all about? Yari, sounds to me like it’s a classic self-fulfilling prophesy. A fortune teller says something ominous and foreboding; it spooks you a little; you read too much into it and start worrying about it; before you know it, you’ve turned yourself into the very thing she warned about. You shouldn’t let the words of some crazy old woman dictate your behavior. I know she seemed convincing, but let’s face it: there is a real fine line between legitimate prophecy and pure madness. Even if she is the genuine article, divination magic just reveals possible outcomes; it doesn’t mean your fate is locked in stone!

Rissa realized it probably sounded like she was lecturing her brother, which was bound to turn him off even more. She sighed; the physical breath was paired with a corresponding relaxing of her mind. A faint thought entered Yari’s head, as if a whisper, introspective in tone. Damn it, I’m doing it again.

Huh? Yari asked.

Rissa explained, It’s something Professor Hapgood said way back in our first year: one of the challenges we face as bards is that we are so good at talking we sometimes forget to listen. It’s true. I guess I need to just shut up and actually hear what you are saying.

I did the same thing with Sardi after Beckum died. I thought it would help if I talked to him about what happened. Sometimes I tried to reason with him, sometimes I tried to cheer him up. But it wasn’t working. I just couldn’t talk him out of his grief. So finally I remembered what Hapgood said and I just shut up and listened to Sardi. Sometimes he told me what he was feeling; most of the time he didn’t say anything. So at those times I just listened to his breathing…put my head on his chest and listened to the sound of his heartbeat. Even simply holding his hand…somehow that seemed to help where words did not.

Rissa grabbed Yari’s hand once again. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what’s happened, and I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you like I should have. I don’t fully understand what you’ve gone through because I’ve never lost anyone close to me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to understand you or that I don’t care. I do. You still need your sister, and I still need my brother.

If you are stressed, under pressure of darkness, don’t feel like you have to stand alone, I’m here to help however I can – however you want me to. Personally, I think you shouldn’t be afraid to open up to our friends either and let them help you too, but it’s your choice. As she continued on, Rissa felt her brother’s mind recede, as though he had begun tuning her out. She smiled at Yari, and rolled her eyes. Look at me going on again, talk-talk-talking instead of listening!

A long breath passed between them, as the twins continued to sit in silence. For the first time in as long as she could remember, the silence between them began to feel awkward to Rissa. After an unbearably long moment, Yari’s thoughts echoed again through her head, a single, neutral word: Thanks.

It wasn’t sad, but it also didn’t ring with the earnest truth the bard was used to feeling behind her brother’s words. The lack of sincerity was almost deafening in its absence. “Hey,” his actual words came, bright and cheerful, “I guess we should get back. It’s pretty late.”

He gave her a smile that almost seemed real, and stood. Offering her a hand, he helped pull her up, and twitched his nose at her. The gesture was familiar, yet utterly alien. With another almost-right smile, Yari shrugged his shoulders and turned to make his way back inside his own window.

It wasn’t the best conclusion to their conversation. There was so much more Rissa wanted to say, but she knew better than to push. This was not something that words could fix; only time. Time, and a lot of patience.

AR 1214-10-21 Fragile Lives, Shattered Dreams

Thraes NatheDM