Outcast



  • Rated T for Teen

    The events in this story take place after The Trial, with deep apologies to Selax in advance for the portrayal of his character.

    Accompanying music can be found here (with notes included).

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    Outcast

    I collapsed against the cliff wall, hands scrambling to find purchase on the damp rocks so I wouldn’t tumble into the frothing ocean below. My vision blurred, my lungs burned, and I nearly blacked out, but a firm hand held me steady until my coughing fit had passed.

    I was horribly out of shape. Then again, that’s to be expected when you spend six months in prison.

    As my dizziness receded and my breathing became more regular, I was able to look at the blue woman clutching my shoulder and smile in gratitude.

    “Niobe said nobody knew about this path before I showed her,” Katerei said, her hand shifting to the middle of my back. She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “But that doesn’t mean we should stay here.”

    “Mm-hmm,” I replied absentmindedly. Her hand felt nice and with her head this close, I could smell her cinnamon fragrance. I slipped an arm around her waist and hugged her.

    “So…we should keep moving,” she admonished me, but returned the hug.

    I bit off my reply as a voice shouted from above, “I don’t see anything!” We both froze. This stretch of the coastline had a narrow overhang, and I had stopped at a fold in the rock so we would be out of sight for a casual observer, but I didn’t know if we could remain hidden under intense scrutiny.

    “Keep looking! He can’t have gotten far!” A second man shouted from back the way we came.

    I pulled Katerei closer into the cliff face while we waited for our pursuers to move on. She furrowed her brows. Hopefully, they hadn’t heard us talking. This close to the ocean, I could barely even hear the alarm bells.

    We waited in silence, unable to tell if the guards were still present or if they had moved on. I shivered in the cold. My hands and legs were wet from the sea spray and autumn was now upon us. Even the afternoon sun shining overhead wasn’t much help.

    Katerei shifted, sharing some of her body warmth, and I rested my head on her shoulder appreciatively. I’d known Katerei for over seven years, but only in the past week had I begun to consider her more than a friend. When I lay dying in the infirmary at Pnyx, she stayed by my side. During my recovery, she was there to try and cheer me up, despite all the ridicule and isolation it brought her. When I learned I was to be condemned for murder, I tried to push her away, to prevent her from getting hurt, but that only ended up making things worse. And now, she was helping me escape the city guard, risking her life on my behalf.

    Long moments passed. “We can’t stay here forever,” I whispered into her ear. The sun had dipped a handspan in the sky and my muscles were stiffening.

    “Then we’ll have to chance it,” she agreed. With a last futile look at the overhang above us, she disentangled herself and carefully led the way along the narrow ledge. I followed slowly, trying not to slip and fall onto the rocks below. That certainly would make a lot of noise. If not kill me.

    We continued northwards along the shoreline. The pace was excruciating and I kept glancing upwards, wondering if I’d find someone staring back at me the next time. Twice more we had to stop and hide as voices drew near, and the sun dipped ever lower while we waited. Night would bring better cover, but I didn’t want to be fumbling around blind while clinging to ocean cliffs.

    When we reached the river, I collapsed in relief. My fingers were wrinkled and my palms scratched and sore from clinging to rocks all day. Then I took in what lay before us and my mood dampened.

    The land flattened out at the mouth of the river, turning to grassy fields that stretched all the way back to the towering pyramid we had left and beyond. The far bank was lined with trees marking the boundary of the northern forest, but several hundred yards of river water were in the way. With scant cover on our side, it would be almost impossible to travel upstream to a narrower crossing.

    “We’re going to have to swim,” I groaned.


    I sagged against the thick trunk of an oak tree, utterly exhausted. My shirt was soaked, whether from sweat or river water, I wasn’t sure anymore. My arms were sore, my calves were pushed well beyond their limit, but we had only gone half as far upriver as I’d wanted. With the sun setting, we’d been forced to shelter in a thick grove several hundred paces from the bank and hope the search teams wouldn’t find us. The worst part was knowing I was the one slowing us down, but all I could do about it was grind my teeth and press on.

    Katerei sat nearby, having already finished her rations. She had her legs bunched up to her chest and was staring quietly ahead. We hadn’t spoken much for the past few hours, and I felt I needed to break the silence, but I couldn’t figure out what to say. We both knew that if I managed to elude capture I wouldn’t be able to remain in Cythera anymore.

    I glanced over and found her blue eyes were now fixed on me. She was curled up and quietly watching. A familiar pose.

    “Hey, do you remember when we first met?” I asked her. She nodded, but I continued anyway.

    “We had been ambushed by wolflizards on our way to the mountain pass. Rogan and Talos were bit pretty bad.” Slayer had been worried they wouldn’t make it. We were equipped to fight ghosts and curses at Abydos, not poisonous wildlife. “They were both burning up and we had no way to treat them. Even Slayer was starting to run a fever.” That had been one of the more terrifying moments of my life. Watching my friends slowly die while I was completely helpless to do anything about it. I had sworn to make that day the last time I stood by useless.

    “And then you came along.” A timid girl with blue skin, a purple shirt, and a satchel full of medicinal herbs. She had witnessed the entire encounter from the trees, saw us fell three of the beasts, only to fumble around helplessly as the poison crippled our party. “You saved them,” I said smiling.

    Katerei stayed with us for the entire journey, once Slayer had invited her along. Yet she would always sit at the edge of the camp, knees to her chest, watching quietly. We didn’t exchange very many words (not for lack of trying!), but I would frequently look up and find her staring at me until she saw I’d noticed. Then her eyes would widen, and she’d quickly glance away. She even accompanied us all the way back to Cademia, where she vanished outside the city while we weren’t looking.

    “I remember,” she said. Then in a voice so soft I almost didn’t hear, she continued, “But that wasn’t the first time.”

    “It wasn’t?” I asked.

    “The market.” Katerei frowned. “You don’t remember? I followed…”

    “Market?” I tried to remember but I couldn’t figure out what she meant. I think she realized that too, for she stood up and stretched.

    “I’m going to look around,” she said. “Make sure nobody is near.”

    At least the deepening twilight hid my embarrassment.


    I must have dozed off, for the next thing I knew, night had fallen completely. A smattering of moonbeams managed to break through the forest canopy, casting my surroundings in a dim pale glow. A quick look around revealed that Katerei hadn’t returned, at least not that I could see. My back and neck were stiff, so I staggered to my feet to stretch.

    A sudden gust of wind sent all of the nearby leaves rattling before plunging the night into an unnatural silence. I turned to see moonlight from the rising moon illuminate a cloaked figure standing alone in the small clearing nearby. Gray eyes stared at me, shining in the light until the storm clouds overhead shifted, shrouding the land in darkness.

    Selax.

    I attempted to quietly extract myself from the thicket, trying not to wince each time a twig snapped underfoot or a sharp branch tore my skin. There wasn’t much point in hiding anymore. Not from Selax.

    “Hello?” I asked as I cautiously stepped into the clearing. I didn’t see anyone else hiding amongst the trees, but there were too many shadows my vision couldn’t penetrate.

    He waited until I stood in front of him before replying. “Where is it?” he demanded.

    I blinked. “Where is…what?” I tried to recall the last time I’d seen Selax. It was months ago, before all of this had started. I was leaving the Alraeican Tavern when he showed up to threaten me. He had been sour because Desert Fox had entrusted me with something…

    “The zetacomb. Where is it?” Selax asked again.

    Right. That. “I don’t know. I gave it away,” I told him. More specifically, I had given it back to Desert Fox just before my arrest.

    To be honest, I had been glad to get rid of it. The zetacomb was a small blue orb that bestowed its holder with strong shadow magic. Its primary purpose was to assist with possession, though the magic itself was flexible enough for other uses. Yet, like all dealings with shadow magic, using it came with a price. I had already seen the madness shadow magic inflicted on one of my friends, and I had no desire to succumb to that tragic fate.

    “It was entrusted to you,” Selax said. His voice betrayed no emotion but his eyes were cold and hard. Like staring down a frost.

    “Yeah, well, I was preoccupied.”

    “Then you must find it.”

    “Find it? I don’t even know where to begin!” I snapped at him. I had been free for less than a day and already someone was trying to bind me to affairs I wanted no part of. “Find it yourself!”

    He tilted his head and just stared at me for a moment. On anybody else, I would have interpreted that expression as confusion, but I wasn’t sure the air elemental was even capable of being confused. Given the number of times he had tried to persuade me to give it to him, I was half expecting him to nod and leave. Instead, he said, “I will break the seal.”

    Before I could react, Selax reached out and grabbed both of my wrists, holding them up for inspection. Pinning them together in one hand, he waved the other in the air and muttered something I didn’t catch. The metal bracers that remained from my captivity grew very cold and then cracked, splintering into several fragments that thudded onto the grass. I broke my arms free from his grip and rubbed at my wrists.

    “Now, you must find the zetacomb.” When I began to protest, he raised a hand to cut me off. “It is still here on Cythera.”

    “Why haven’t you retrieved it then?”

    He hesitated before replying. “Wizard said this task is for you.”

    Wizard? A million questions rushed into my head, but I didn’t get the chance to ask. Selax’s head jerked abruptly, then he fixated those gray eyes on me and simply said, “They come.” A sudden gust of wind rose up and I raised an arm to shield my face from the dirt that sprayed into the air. When I was able to see again, long after the leaves had stilled, he was gone.

    The light in the clearing increased as the moon broke through the clouds. I stood for a moment admiring the white orb in the sky and its smaller red twin. As fortune would have it, the full moon looked to be a few days away, so we would be able to travel under the cover of night. Still, I figured I probably shouldn’t keep standing in the open like an idiot, so I began to make my way back to the grove.

    A loud crack filled the air and I found myself covering my eyes from a sudden infusion of light. Blinking rapidly as I struggled to adjust, I could make out a large glow to the south, shining bright as day. Before I could take two steps, a second crack filled the air, and the sky to the northwest lit up. I braced myself against the closest tree and wiped away the tears welling up in my eyes. My vision still stung, but I could vaguely make out my surroundings between long blinks.

    A dozen heartbeats later, Katerei came bounding out of the forest, her pack swinging wildly at her waist. “We need to run!” she cried out as she grabbed my hand and started dragging me towards the river.

    “Where are we going?” I asked, stumbling over a fallen log. We seemed to be running past the first glow at an angle, though it looked to be far enough away to give us a few minutes.

    “They can track us in this light. We need to reach the river!” She held my hand in an iron grip as we wound around trees and thick clumps of plants.

    “The river?” I misjudged the height of a tree root and nearly fell.

    “Stones don’t hold footprints.”

    We stumbled over a dirt lip and found ourselves splashing into the freezing cold water of the river. This far inland, trees lined both banks and the river was only a few dozen feet wide. It was also deep enough for water to instantly fill my boots.

    Katerei maintained her grip as we waded towards the center. The water level rose halfway up my thighs before suddenly it parted and we stood on wet rock. I looked up to see the river bending around us, yielding to Katerei’s upraised free hand. Without breaking stride, she turned upriver and we hurried along in our small pocket of air.

    A third crack from behind, far closer than the others. I glanced over my left shoulder and grimly realized that last spell had gone up near the grass clearing. They were closing in. To accentuate the point, a fourth crack filled the air and the sky lit up a hundred paces in front of us. Only then did we stop running. We were surrounded.

    “What now?” I asked. I was too exhausted to fight and growing increasingly worried that Katerei would get hurt. We still hadn’t seen anyone. The fourth burst had been very close, but on the other side of a bend.

    “Over there,” she pointed ahead. A dozen paces further upstream lay the tail of a stretch of rapids. The river looked more shallow, but the water flowed faster, twisting and churning among the rocks. Katerei led me behind a large flat boulder. Water streamed over the top and crashed into the stream below, forming a thick, bubbling foam. She diverted the water around the boulder and then told me to lie at the base of the rock.

    I didn’t have any better ideas, so I complied, scooting as close to the boulder as I could. It wasn’t comfortable at all; the stones in the bed were round, but they pressed into my back unevenly, and they were as cold as the water. Katerei stepped over to straddle me and then gently lay down. A few seconds later the light dimmed as water resumed flowing over the boulder, cloaking us in a small bubble under the foam.

    “I didn’t know you could do that,” I told her.

    “I’ll need to focus,” she said, resting her head on my shoulder. “I think I can hold it for a few hours.” I snuck an arm around her waist in gratitude and she smiled before closing her eyes.

    With nothing left for me to do but wait, I tried to get some more sleep, but it proved difficult. I kept staring up at the water passing overhead, wondering if they would find us, worrying about what might happen, and hoping we had enough air to breathe. Rocks dug into my back, which didn’t help my cramped legs, and a headache crept on as all this water reminded me I was thirsty. Most distracting of all, I could feel Katerei’s chest rise and fall against mine. I didn’t speak out of fear I would disrupt her spell.

    Long moments I lay there awake, aware of her movements and her firm breasts pressing into me. Hours seemed to pass, though I had no way to track time. Eventually, her breathing slowed and that calming rhythm was enough to send me back to sleep.



  • _I opened my eyes to a pale landscape pocked with craters of all sizes, stretching out in every direction as far as the eye could see. The sky, if there was a sky, was lit up by countless stars, far more than I had ever seen before. A blue-white nebula arced out from the horizon; the only distinguishing landmark visible aside from a small white ball of light in the sky behind me. I shivered in the cold as I surveyed my surroundings. I did not know where I was, but I instinctively knew where I had to go.

    I set off at a lope towards the nebula. The landscape sped past me as I bounded several feet with each step. I felt soft rock crunch beneath my boots, but there was hardly any sound. In no time at all, I reached the edge of the world, only to find another valley just like the one behind spread out before me. I continued onward, following the subtle tug that led me where I needed to go. A slight turn to the right, more hills, more valleys. I lost track of time. As if there was any way to track time under this unchanging sky.

    The white terrain stretched on, until at last I saw a line of shadow ahead. I crested the final ridge and found myself staring into a deep crater, dozens of miles wide. The hilltop lay directly on the terminator, separating the bright wasteland behind me from the perfectly smoothed pit in front. Roughly half a mile from the rim, a black crystal fortress rose out of the ground. No light came from within, but I knew what I sought was there.

    I took a step forward, then another, my footprints marring the untouched sand. My chest constricted and a tingling spread up my spine as I sensed a dark and powerful presence ahead. Onward, I felt the tug stronger than ever, and I was running before I realized it. I approached the massive gate, far taller than any human. The fortress was sealed, yet I knew I had the key. All I had to do-_

    I woke up sputtering as cold water drenched my clothes and shut off my air supply. A heavy weight on my chest held me pinned underneath the flow and I struggled to push it off of me. A woman’s voice cursed and then the weight was gone. I scrambled to my feet, wiping water out of my eyes.

    I found myself knee deep in a river, and then memories of the night before came crashing back. Katerei! I found her next to me, bent over coughing while she scrabbled for purchase on the river rocks. I grabbed her arm and pulled her along; the two of us staggering to shore. Her skin was cold, alarmingly so, and I wrapped her in a tight embrace. “Oh Kat. You didn’t have to overdo it,” I whispered.

    She shivered, unable to reply. I led us a dozen paces from the bank, behind a large tree, our boots squishing the entire way. Katerei wearily made some kind of gesture and suddenly most of the water drained from our clothes. Her hair was still dripping water, so I paused to try and wring it out. She attempted to push me away, but there was no strength behind it. Instead, she collapsed at the base of the tree and brought her legs to her chest, still shuddering violently. Her eyelids flickered, struggling to stay open.

    I sat down next to her and resumed twisting the water out of her hair, but it wasn’t enough. If only I could… I suddenly recalled something Selax had mentioned last night before he had seized me.

    I closed my eyes, concentrating. For a long moment, I felt nothing. I strained further, searching, until finally I felt the faint hum of an energy I had not sensed for a long time. I reached out, trying to draw that energy inside me. Slowly, I gathered it inside me, around me, until my skin felt like it was buzzing with the power. It was a small amount compared to what I once could channel, but it would have to be enough.

    I focused the energy into a single point on my right hand, then placed my palm on Katerei’s chest and let the heat flow into her. She let out a long sigh and her shaking subsided, though her eyes remained shut. I shifted my hand to her forehead and found her skin had returned to a more normal temperature. Her breathing became more regular and even as she slipped into a deep sleep.

    I released my hold on my magic and leaned back. This wasn’t the best place to stop, but I was reluctant to disturb Katerei. Not in her state. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t sleep. Scenes from the previous day swirled around in my head. Eventually I just gave up and settled for watching the forest while the sun arced overhead.


    It wasn’t until late afternoon that Katerei woke up. Rain was pouring down all around us, but the great tree provided enough shelter to keep us dry.

    “Sleep well?” I asked her, reaching out to check her temperature. She still felt normal, so I slid my hand down to cup her cheek. She smiled and brought her hand up to clasp mine.

    “You had me worried for a while there,” I said, returning her smile. Katerei kept looking at me for a moment, then her eyes widened and she jerked away.

    “I-I-I’m so sorry!” she said, her face turning a deep purple. “I almost killed us both!”

    “Nonsense! Without you, I would have been caught.”

    “S-Still. I should have been more careful!” Katerei cupped both hands around her mouth and turned to watch the rain.

    “Hey, listen to me.” I reached out to touch her shoulder, but she scooted away. With a sigh, I dropped my hand and leaned back. The pitter-patter of raindrops filled the silence between us.

    “This is all my fault,” I said. No reply. I watched water drip from the branches into a small puddle not far from my feet. “I tried to do what I thought was right and it all spiraled out of control. I didn’t want those men tangled up in something they couldn’t fight.” A dozen men, breastplates gleaming in the light of a burning cottage. Men trained to defend against all manner of brigand or wild creature, but wholly unprepared to face a monster that thrived on wholesale devastation.

    “So I lied. I hoped to divert them long enough for Fox to ensure Icel wouldn’t be a threat anymore.” I also had lied to avoid a fight with the guards. When they had stumbled across the two of us, Desert Fox had been…unstable.

    “Why did you never tell anyone?” Katerei asked, still staring into the forest.

    “I was going to. It’s just…” I let out a long sigh. “Pnyx was a mess with everything going on. A lot of innocent people had been hurt and were looking for someone to blame. When I was brought back to the city and the charges against me announced, I became an outlet for their frustration. For their grief.” I turned to face Katerei. “How could I just say ‘sorry everybody, I was just kidding’ after all that? It might’ve pushed everyone over the edge; made the riots start up again.

    “Lindus knew, of course, which is why I got a reduced sentence. So, I took it as a penance. For lying and not remaining true to the type of person I want to be. And then, when things started getting out of hand again, it seemed too late to change my story. I didn’t think anybody would believe me.”

    “You didn’t even try.” A drop of water trickled down her cheek, and I didn’t think it was from the rain.

    “You’re right, I didn’t.”

    “Why didn’t you tell me?” Her voice wavered. She faced me so I could clearly see the tears streaming down her face. “All those months… I thought you left! Everybody-“ She fumbled for words and failed to find them.

    “I didn’t want to be seen like that!” I looked away. “For what it’s worth… I’m sorry.”

    I lay my head back against the dry bark and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of raindrops falling on leaves. When I opened them again, Katerei had turned to face away. Her hair still looked damp, draped heavily behind her in a tangled mess. I could see her back move in rhythm with her breathing.

    I rummaged through her pack until I found something I could use as a brush. Moving behind her, I tentatively reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. She tensed briefly, but otherwise remained still. I moved my hand up to grab a fistful of hair and began working out the knots.

    “What made you change your mind?” she asked so softly I almost didn’t hear. I caught a glimpse over her shoulder of her hands clasped tightly in front of her lips.

    “I felt I was leaving too many things unfinished,” I replied. “Decided it was too early to give up.” I still didn’t feel great about my decision. I hoped the escort I had kicked down the stairs was okay. I sat there, slowly attacking each tangle, perhaps more roughly than she would have, but her hair was thinner and finer than I was used to. When I was finished, I cleaned and replaced the brush. Then I put my hands on her shoulders, thumbs above her shoulder-blades, and leaned forward until I was hovering near her ear. “Are you feeling better now?”

    She tilted her head so her hair slid downwards and covered her face, but said nothing. I waited for a few minutes, feeling the warmth of her skin, but only after I let go and stood up did she move.

    “Here,” she said, pulling some familiar red berries from her pack. They looked freshly picked. “These are for you.”

    She sat staring at me even after I accepted the berries, so I plucked one off the stem and slowly raised it to my mouth. “Something wrong?” I asked as she continued to watch me even after I ate it.

    “From the first day we met,” Katerei said. “You bought them from me. At the market in Cademia.”

    “Oh.” I vaguely recalled something like that. As I fumbled around for something to say, I realized the rain had softened into a light drizzle. “If you’re up for it, we should try moving while there’s still light out.”

    I never claimed to be good at this.


    We made it to the edge of the foothills by nightfall. I would have preferred to continue following the river to avoid leaving footprints, but even with the persistent gray mist, it was too open to risk it. Instead, we veered to the north and slogged on through slick mud and soggy underbrush. Though I don’t think she had fully recovered, Katerei insisted on diverting the rain to let our clothes and supplies dry.

    There wasn’t any time to hunt and no chance we could have a fire, so we ate the last of the bread from Pnyx. After the morning’s soaking, I was worried it would begin to mold, and the taste was already ruined so there was no sense holding onto it. Katerei stopped us from time to time whenever she spotted some fruits or nuts she thought would be edible and we would add some to her pack. The main road would almost certainly be watched, so we needed to take an alternate route through the mountains and provisions would be scarce there.

    Three years ago, we had discovered a previously unknown mountain pass when Slayer led us in pursuit of a sorcery tower. The place had been built in secret under the last Tyrant, and knowledge of it and the adjoining routes were lost when Alaric took over. The tower was out of our way, and I had no wish to go back to that nightmarish place in any event, but we could use the pass to cross hopefully undetected into the eastern half of the island. If we were blessed with good weather, we could even cross in just a few days.

    With the clouds covering the sky, sunset was marked simply by the gray world turning black. A fog was rolling in and the temperature dropped lower than it had been the past week. Enough that I was starting to wish I had a cloak.

    “At least it’s unlikely they’ll be able to find us in this,” I said. I wished we could’ve gone farther. We were probably only several hours from Pnyx under good conditions, but I was having trouble seeing in the gloom and I didn’t think my legs could move much further. Not to mention, Katerei had patiently explained it would be highly unlikely we could find a better shelter us for the night. The oak tree she had found was large enough we could both easily fit under it, and two sides were enclosed by a small outcrop with thick underbrush covering a third. Still, I couldn’t help but feel we had squandered the day.

    “Have you always lived like this?” I asked her as I settled down underneath the low-hanging branches. The ground here was still dry, but it seemed prudent to not light any fires. I was also reluctant to risk any light for fear it would serve as a beacon through the fog, but that meant we were going to be lying blind all night. With the rain starting up again, we wouldn’t be able to hear them approaching either. I hoped the chilly rain would be enough to encourage the mages to stay inside.

    Katerei finished arranging the things in her pack before settling down next to me, a couple paces apart. She was shielding me from the entrance, which I was a little unhappy about, but I had to admit her senses were better than mine.

    “My people are nomads. This is just the natural way of life,” she replied. “Of course, we live in more permanent shelters when it gets cold.”

    “I think I prefer a hot bath and a warm bed, to be honest.”

    “You can’t look up at the stars from a warm bed.”

    “So you’d rather be out in the cold, under the stars, with who-knows-what bugs crawling all over you while you sleep?”

    She punched my shoulder. I usually had to camp when we went out adventuring, but the city was my home. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live out here every day. I pictured Katerei wandering alone through the forest, foraging for food, building a shelter. “Sounds like a very lonely existence,” I said quietly.

    “It is.” She paused. “But when I’m in Cademia, when I’m surrounded by all those people, I feel even more alone.” I sought out her hand in the dark. “At least the bugs don’t judge you for being different.”

    “Not everyone feels that way,” I told her.

    “I know.” She tightened her grip on my hand.

    We lay there staring up at the branches above us in silence. Down here, even the sound of the rain was muted.

    “What are you going to do after this?” I asked. “Are you going back to living in the forest?”

    “No,” she said. I heard her breathe in and out deeply. “This life isn’t enough for me anymore.”

    I wanted to ask what she meant. I hoped I knew what she meant, but at the same time I didn’t want to find out I was wrong. Besides, if she wanted to open up about her feelings, she could have just done so. Or so I told myself.

    “I hope you find the life you are looking for,” I told her.

    “I hope so too.”

    Her hand was warm in mine, a lasting warmth that I felt long after I surrendered to the night.



  • If dreams are supposed to be a window into our subconscious, then my mind was a chaotic mess.

    I dreamed about Katerei. She was huddled under a tree by herself, living alone in the wilds. I was sitting next to her, running my fingers through her long hair, breathing in the smell of cinnamon and other spices, feeling her shiver as I ran my hands over her shoulders and down her arms. We stood in a house, her house, as her hands were immersed in soapy water and my hands were wrapped around her waist, holding her snug against me. I dreamt of her smile as she held my unshaven cheeks in her hands and looked down into my eyes. Yet, even as she lowered her head and I tasted her lips, something didn’t feel right. It felt like we were being watched by a shadow, always just out of sight.

    As I thought about shadows, I recalled my last encounter with Selax. He stood silently in the middle of the clearing, pale moonlight illuminating his form. His gray eyes observed me from under his black hood. Four streams of fire shot into the sky from the trees around me, lighting up the night. I could see hooded figures closing in from the forest on all sides. Only then did Selax move, raising his hand to point at me.

    Fire was everywhere. The palace was burning and I stood alone, holding a dripping knife. Why hadn’t I seen it coming? Why couldn’t I tell I was being used? The blood-red moon had no answers, nor did the still-warm corpse at my feet. “I’m sorry,” I pleaded with the dead as tears streamed down my face. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!”

    I followed numbly along behind the mercenary who had found me. He named himself Delthoras, but also said he went by many names in his work. I begged him to let me become his apprentice, so that one day I would be strong enough to return and set things right.

    I wondered where he was now. Why hadn’t he come back for me? Had he found Saria? I caught a glimpse of the two of them kneeling in the snow, tall peaks surrounding them. Desert Fox was burying something, packing it deep into the ice. He saw me watching and his expression softened, saddened. I watched him mouth a word I didn’t hear, but he was pointing behind me. I turned to follow his gaze, and found myself staring at a black crystal fortress. A thousand tiny points of light shone overhead, but the world was instead illuminated by a bright blue nebula arcing off the horizon. I turned back, only to find Selax standing before me. He stretched out his palm and commanded, “Wake.”

    I sat up, nearly hitting my head on a tree branch. A wave of dizziness numbed my senses and I gripped my knees to keep from falling over until it passed. “What is wrong with me?” I asked to nobody in particular.

    Beside me, Katerei began to stir. There was enough light now to clearly make out her form curled up facing me, half a foot from mine. A light gray fog swirled along the ground, but it already felt warmer than last night. I could hear the faint sounds of birds chirping in the distance, as normal forest life had resumed after the rain.

    I stretched, releasing the tension in my muscles. Katerei had fully risen now and set about brushing the dirt out of her hair. I reached for her pack and pulled out some nuts and berries. “I want to try and cover some distance today,” I said, rubbing my eyes. My thighs and calves were still a little sore, but I felt better than I had the past few days.

    “Where are we headed?” she asked.

    “Up the mountains. I think I remember the way.”

    “And then where?” She paused her brushing, suddenly holding very still. Her eyes stared down at her lap.

    I swallowed. Back on the cliffs at Pnyx she had brought up her house in Catamarca. It sounded like she had been inviting me, but she never explicitly said so. I feared her response now. “I was hoping I could stay at your place for a few days, if that’s all right.”

    Her eyes widened and the knuckles around the hairbrush handle turned white. “Um, it’s not much of a place…” She curled a lock of hair around the fingers on her other hand and lowered her voice. “But if you want to, then you can.”

    I breathed in relief. “My room at the tavern has probably been sold by now, so I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Besides, I wanted to see what her place looked like. I wanted to learn more about how she lived.

    She finished brushing and joined in eating a quick breakfast. Before long, we made our way out from underneath the golden oak. The sky was still shrouded in mist, but I could pinpoint the sun just over the mountains. I shouldered her pack and we set off.

    The fog burned off rapidly once the sun rose overhead. Mud-ringed puddles and thick clumps of brown leaves slowly gave way to rocky boulders, packed clay, and pine needles. The underbrush thinned out, becoming less leafy and smaller as we climbed and wound around hills and ravines. By midday, the trees themselves began to thin out, and we started spending as much time climbing up rocks as we did navigating the rough landscape.

    Even though I was staring at her back most of the time, I could tell her steps were lighter and more energetic than before. She still favored her right leg at times, but she didn’t have to stop and catch her breath nearly as often as I did. On occasion, when we had to detour around an impassable outcropping, I could even catch glimpses of a smile.

    “You’ve been here before?” Katerei asked when I stopped for the fifth time.

    “I was here once, a few years ago,” I said, breathing heavily. Sweat dripped down my forehead. “Though I came from the other direction. But I’m pretty sure this is the way.”

    She gave me a look that most women seem to have: part reprimand, part amusement, part exasperation.

    I shrugged. “I know for sure there is a small pass around here.”

    “Uh-huh.” She watched me take a sip from her waterskin. I wanted to keep pressing on, but I was still feeling a little lightheaded. “Wait here for a few moments,” she said, and then she scampered ahead at twice the pace we had been holding.

    I leaned against a nearby pine tree and closed my eyes. The air here was cooler, both because we had started gaining altitude and because the large peak we were ascending kept this part of the forest shielded from the morning sun.

    My breath had just about returned to normal when Katerei reappeared. “This way,” she said as she grabbed my hand. She led me across the mountain slope northward for several hundred paces, moving carefully to not slip on the steep rocks or loose gravel. Then, around a particularly large white boulder, I stumbled onto a small expanse of packed dirt and crushed pebbles. It looked to be a trail, winding a narrow path up and over the saddle between the two peaks on either side of us.

    “Well?” she asked, hands on her hips.

    “I suppose this way will be easier,” I said, looking upward. “Besides, I was right about the pass.”


    It was a long slog, but we crested the saddle by mid-afternoon. The trail continued onward, hugging the north face of the large mountain we were climbing earlier. Further ahead, gray rock mixed with icy glaciers as the road continued deeper into the snow-capped mountains. The warmth from this morning was gone, chilled by the few thousand feet of elevation we had gained, with more to come.

    I sat down on a flat rock and took a moment to look back. A sea of green stretched out behind us, with a sparkling expanse of light in the distance. If I squinted, I almost thought I could make out a small gray pyramid in the distance, but it was more likely my eyes were playing tricks on me. I wistfully recalled all the adventures I’d had on the western shore of this island, all of the places I had seen. Abydos. Land’s End. Pnyx. The cliffs by the ocean where I had sat with Katerei, where we had hid, where we had kissed. The dazzling light reflecting off the ocean was blinding, but I wanted to burn it into my memory. This would be my last time seeing that shore.

    When I finally turned away, I found Katerei waiting, watching me. I think she sensed my mood, for she walked over and gave me a hug.

    “I wonder where they all are now,” I said, leaning on her shoulder. “Slayer, Talos, Rogan, Moonshadow, the Ronin…” Well, maybe I didn’t care too hard about where Flynn was.

    “I’m sure they’re doing fine.” She ran her fingers through my hair. “We all have to grow up sometime.”

    I grunted in acknowledgement. While I was locked away, I’d had time to reflect on my lifestyle. Many of my friends from adventuring had moved on, and I was beginning to understand why. I enjoyed the company and the challenge of the unknown, but at the end of the day, once the quest was over and everybody returned home, it was a lonely existence. These moments with Katerei were far more fulfilling than another night spent by the fireplace in an empty tavern. I didn’t want them to end, but I had no idea what would happen once we reached her house.

    “Do you think it’s possible for someone who has spent their whole life wandering… Could they settle down and be at peace?” I asked her.

    Her fingers slowed and she pursed her lips, considering. “Settling down doesn’t mean you have to stay in one place.” A small smile crept onto her face. “Though, I may not be the best person to ask.”

    “Oh, right. Nomads.”

    “It’s not just that. Even we had places we called home, but… I don’t remember my home that well these days.”

    “Do you ever think about going back?”

    “I can’t. And I don’t know what I’d find there even if I could.” She stared straight ahead, down the mountain path.

    “I see.” I gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder and stood up. “Well, we should get moving. I don’t want to spend more nights in the cold than I have to.”

    She nodded silently and we set off, leaving the distant shore behind.


    I sat by the fire, brushing the snow off of my shirt. The moon outside was only partially covered in clouds, but the deep mountains were covered in snow left behind from years past. A large clump had fallen on me while I was working my way through the narrow opening to the cave, and much to Katerei’s amusement, I had made a particularly embarrassing yelp as the cold, wet snow slid down my back. When I asked her if she could use some of her magic to dry my clothes, she replied with a small smile that she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I had to dry it the old-fashioned way: holding it as close to the fire as I dared without burning the shirt.

    It was nice to have a fire again, even though it wasn’t quite large enough to banish the chill in the air. Past the opening, the cave widened to a dozen paces wide, just big enough for two people to move around. Or to avoid each other, like now.

    Katerei sat cross-legged opposite me, gaze flickering between me and the fire. She hadn’t said a word since I brought up her magic; she’d just stare at me with those deep blue eyes until she’d blink and look away.

    “You don’t have to sit over there,” I said after I caught her looking at me for the third time.

    She averted her gaze and curled some of her long strands of hair around her finger. “I think there’s a draft. The smoke’s blowing that way.”

    I looked at the curling smoke. “No it’s not.”

    “Yes it is.” She gave me another little smile. “You should come over to this side.”

    I gave her a knowing look and then slowly and deliberately walked across the room and sat down next to her. She said nothing, but I think she inched closer.

    “I always see you sitting quietly. What’s on your mind?” I asked to break the silence.

    “I’m… worried,” she said with a quick glance down at my chest. “That I didn’t heal you properly. Especially since I almost drowned us. I don’t… I had no idea what I was doing.”

    “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, patting her arm. “Besides, it didn’t seem to be that bad. Was it?”

    “It was. Protesilaus thought you wouldn’t make it through the night. That’s why he let me–” She cut herself off.

    “Let you what?” Heal me?

    “Nothing. It doesn’t matter.”

    I gave her a pointed stare. She shrank back, but I kept my gaze fixed on her until she relented.

    “Um–” She buried her face in her hands. “He let me stay the night in your room. And, well, there wasn’t really anywhere else to sleep, so…”

    “I don’t follow.” I furrowed my brow, trying to puzzle out what had her so upset.

    Katerei curled in on herself, hiding behind her hair. “I, um, slept next to you. Kind of... on you.”

    I sat there for a moment, letting her confession sink in. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Hesitantly, I reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Kat, what do you think about me?”

    She lowered her hands. “How honest do you want me to be?”

    I could feel my chest tightening. Was this an answer I wanted to hear? In my mind, I pictured us sitting in a small room at her house. Apart. Too afraid to bridge the silence between us. I took a deep breath.

    “Ever since Pnyx, I’ve been trying to be as open and honest with you as I can. I’m sorry for hiding things from you before, and I promise not to do that again.” I tried to peer under her hair and catch a glimpse of her expression, but she shied away. “But in exchange, I want you to be honest with me.

    “No more hiding from the truth. For either of us.”

    She was silent for awhile. “Well, I… think you’re brave, and smart. Loyal to your friends. I think you’re handsome,” she said, her voice going very quiet on the last few words. Her hair moved just enough I could see a tiny smile on her face. “And I also think you’re kind of an idiot sometimes, and you make me really mad sometimes. Like no one else can.”

    “I do what?”

    Katerei gave me a baleful look. “Pnyx. You just mentioned it yourself.”

    I thought back for a moment. I suppose I did make her slam the door to my room when I told her I was going to be put on trial. I remembered the tears streaming down her face in the clearing when I had told her I wouldn’t run away. “I...suppose I do.”

    “Hmph. At least you admit it.”

    My mind finished processing the rest of her words, and I raised an eyebrow. “So, you think I’m handsome?”

    She smacked me in the arm. “Those are the two things you took from that?”

    My smile faded, replaced with a look of concern. “Is that why you’ve been trying to avoid me the past couple of days? You were afraid of what I’d do when I found out you...slept with me?”

    “Among other things.”

    “Like?”

    “I told you. It doesn’t matter.” She fiddled with some stray thread on her skirt. “None of it will matter when this is all over.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “Because this can’t – it won’t work. It doesn’t matter what I feel now. It won’t last.”

    “Why not?” I pressed her. The wood on the fire popped, sending a shower of sparks into the air.

    “Because you’ll leave!” she burst out. Tears streamed down her face and pooled in her lap. “I don’t know when, or why, but – you did before, and you will again – and I don’t know what you feel now, if you love me or not, or you just think you do because I’m the only one around, but – we both know it’s not going to work out.”

    “I-“ I hesitated while my mind raced frantically, trying to figure out what to say. Did I love her? I had certainly been drawn to her lately, and some of my thoughts clearly went beyond a normal friendship. But, what does it mean to love someone? How do you know? And did it matter?

    She was right in a way. I couldn’t remain on Cythera much longer. What would happen then? Would she really give up everything just to be with me?

    “I-I need to get some fresh air,” I said, staggering to my feet. I wished I had a better response, something that wouldn’t leave her alone in tears, but the walls of the cave were closing in, and the heat from the fire was burning too hot. I donned my shirt and squirmed my way through the entrance, scraping my hands and knees in my haste.

    I paused just outside, breathing the crisp air, trying to calm my racing heart. The heat was rapidly seeping from my body, but the open mountain scenery was a welcome change from the stifling interior. The nearly-full moon was visible over the peaks to the east, casting the land in a pale blue light. A few cirrus clouds still stretched across the sky, blocking most of the stars from view. I looked out over the glen separating us from the tall peaks to the north. The smooth snowy expanse was broken only by the occasional dark rock formation jutting out of the earth.

    The sight was beautiful, but it held no warmth.

    I started walking across the slope, not really paying attention to where I was going, just listening to the crunch of the snow beneath my boots. What did I want to have happen? I hadn’t really considered finding someone on Cythera again, not since the last time. A night like this one, her long, silver hair shimmering in the moonlight as she faced away and told me she was getting married. To someone else. And now it was happening again. Someone close to me was pushing me away, and all I could do was stand there in a daze and watch it happen.

    I shivered as a sudden gust of wind sent loose snow billowing into the air. Odd how the wind only touched the snowdrifts behind me. I stopped and slowly turned around to see a figure in a black cloak standing calmly behind me. Selax.

    “I can’t say I’m surprised to see you,” I said. “Though it does seem awful convenient nobody else is around.” I recalled our last encounter and his warning before the sky had flared up. “Or are they bearing down on us, even here?”

    “We are alone,” he said. His tone was emotionless and his stance confident. I doubted the sudden appearance of a herd of rampaging titans would be enough to faze him. He glanced around, his movement marked by the slight shifting of his hood. “Have you changed your mind?”

    “About what?”

    “The zetacomb. Time is short.”

    “Why?” I narrowed my eyes. “Why is this so important?”

    “The artifact is too powerful to fall into the wrong hands. You know this.” I could be mistaken, but I thought I saw those gray eyes narrow on those last words.

    “It is also the key to defeating Icel,” he finished.

    I took an involuntary step backwards. Two facts were implicit in his statement: Icel was still alive, which meant during the half year I was imprisoned, Desert Fox had failed to stop him. I hoped he was okay.

    “Do you see now?”

    I hadn’t noticed I had turned away until he spoke. The white moon shone brightly out of the corner of my eye. In the stillness of the night, I could feel it. A tiny sensation tugged at me, urging me onward. Beckoning me towards the north.

    “I still don’t see why you can’t just take the damn thing and defeat him yourself. If he’s such a threat, why not take matters into your own hands?”

    “Balthon.” I take it back. He could feel emotion.

    I bit off the retort I had been preparing. Balthon was one of the Children of the Air, like Selax, except he had condemned his entire race to death so that he might survive. He had also briefly possessed the zetacomb, and nearly killed myself and some of my friends. I suppose Selax had reason to be wary of holding that kind of power.

    “Is Icel here? On Cythera?” I asked.

    “No.”

    “Then I don’t see why he should be of any concern.” There were plenty of other, more tempting targets out there than a small island offered. Few who left ever returned.

    “He remembers you.”

    “I’m leaving.” I studied Selax’s face for any hint of a reaction, but there was none. Likely he had already arrived at that conclusion.

    “He remembers you were here. He remembers his defeat here.” Selax’s voice became colder than ice. “He will return if you do nothing, and it will be because of you.”

    I clasped my hands and pressed them against my forehead. Selax was many things, but he had never openly lied to my face, at least not that I recalled. And…I could picture Icel wanting to return here out of revenge. I didn’t want to do it. I had already spent so many years chasing down sources of power and battling nasty foes, and I had nothing left to show for it. I felt ready to move on, to try something different. Worse yet, Desert Fox was a far better fighter than me, and if he hadn’t managed to stop Icel in the six months I was locked away, what difference would I make? Still, part of me felt I couldn’t just leave this alone. Could I live with the knowledge that I had led a monster here to slaughter so many innocent people and did nothing to stop it?

    “I…will have to think about it.” I said. My insides felt like they were turning to lead. So much for being free.

    The hooded elemental nodded slightly in acknowledgment. “Tell no one,” he said.

    A gust of wind accompanied his final words, and then he was gone.



  • I told Katerei.

    Twice, actually. The first time I don’t think she was listening. I had stumbled back looking like a mess and it all spilled out in a jumble. She might have given up on the future, but I still held my promise to her.

    When I had calmed down enough to start making sense, I started over from the beginning. I told her about Icel Dracorblod, how he had been a powerful battlemage and a general under a lich lord, until his thirst for power led him to betray his master and assume control of his army. I told her how Desert Fox and several other elite warriors had been hired to lead a troop against the advancing horde of the lich’s undead so a large city could be evacuated, only for the undead force to be completely annihilated in a surprise rout. I told the story of how Desert Fox personally led the group that infiltrated and assassinated Icel’s mage commanders, crippling his ability to summon reinforcements. To Icel, the first defeat had been humiliating, but the second was personal. When he found out, he declared a blood vendetta against my friend.

    One of the dying magi had managed to place a curse on Fox, infusing part of his soul inside my friend’s body. If DF called too deeply upon his shadow magic, the spirit within him would take advantage of the resulting madness and try to wrest control. Even worse, Icel had bonded his commanders to him and was able to sense and track the spirit in Desert Fox down if he was close enough. It was during one of those chases that I had called out to Fox, unaware of the danger it would bring. I cried out for help, trapped within an angry dragon, and through the bond Desert Fox found me. And through him, Icel found Cythera.

    “Bond? What bond?” Katerei asked, frowning.

    “I thought I mentioned it before?” We sat on top of a grassy hill that day, ringed by trees, our backs to the remnants of a burnt cottage. The day you fled in tears. The day you gave up hope for me.

    Katerei shook her head. “You mentioned the wraiths, Saria, and the madness. But there was nothing about a bond.”

    “Oh, well, I can sense his location. Sort of. And him, mine.”

    Katerei raised an eyebrow.

    “Well, it’s actually more his direction. I know where he is relative to me. It’s kind of like…” I chewed my lip as I searched for words. How do you explain magic? The fire flickered nearby, the last of the logs burning low, deepening the shadows in the cave.

    “It’s like seeing a light in the dark,” I said. “The closer I am, the brighter it is. Except I’m not really seeing it, I just sort of feel it tugging at me. Beckoning me closer.”

    “Why do you have such a thing?”

    “It was actually so I wouldn’t get lost.”

    Katerei raised her other eyebrow.

    I sighed. I didn’t like dwelling much on my younger years. I was more rash, more irresponsible back then, and thinking about it just reminded me of all the embarrassing mistakes I made.

    “When I um…joined up with Desert Fox, I insisted on becoming his apprentice. I was…in a really dark place back then. I was suffering and felt helpless to do anything about it. I wanted to rush off and get even with the man I blamed for ruining my life. I was impatient and lashed out at the people who I felt were holding me back. So, when DF agreed to teach me how to fight, how to use magic, he mandated one condition: I had to swear an oath that I would not return to my homeland until he deemed I was ready.

    “The bond started out as a way to ensure I kept my word. He would know if I strayed too close to the portal, or if I ran off and got into trouble. And if I broke my word, he would cut off all ties and stop my teaching. I think that, more than anything, is what kept me from leaving. After the…incident in my old life, Fox was the only person I had. And there was so much for me to learn. His moniker was well-earned.”

    “Hm?” Katerei had shifted to lie on her side, head propped up by her elbow.

    “The Desert Fox. It’s what the other mercenaries in the guild called him, since he – well, that’s another story.” I took a quick sip from the waterskin. “You know, my name is different too,” I teased her.

    “Anyway, while I was in training, it was used to enforce my promise. When I had learned enough that I could start accompanying him on missions, it was useful to ensure I didn’t get lost. Especially since I had a hard time keeping up, at first.

    “Later on, it wasn’t really needed anymore, but we both were used to it by then.” I recalled a certain brawl in the restaurant at Pnyx not that long ago and smiled. “Actually, I think I’ve used it to pull him out of trouble far more than he ever needed it to find me.” Once I had matured enough to be considered an adult, I found out the mentor I had idealized was actually quite a handful, most of the time.

    “But then…” My smile faded. “I inadvertently brought Icel here.”

    “You blame yourself?” Katerei asked. Her voice was low enough that I looked up and found her studying me intently. Her posture had stiffened, which meant I had to be very careful with my answer.

    “I think it is my fault, if indirectly,” I said, watching for her reaction. “I also think…there aren’t many people around who can stop him. Even I would probably have a rough time.”

    “I see,” she said. Then, she rolled to face away from me and curled up as if she was going to sleep.

    I checked on the fire, which had almost burnt itself completely out. I drew down the heat and scattered the ashes, extinguishing the flame. The heat lingered in the air, trapped by the stone. I searched around in the darkness for a relatively flat expanse of rock and lay down. I was staring at the ceiling, trying to lull myself to sleep, when I heard her question.

    “Where is Desert Fox now?”

    I closed my eyes, concentrating. The bond was there, tugging at me, urging me towards the north. “It’s telling me to go to Land King Hall.”

    I thought for a moment and then added, “He’s probably not on Cythera anymore.”


    It was a fairly sunny day with just a few scattered clouds in the sky, which meant it was also pretty cold up in the mountains. More than once, I wished I still had my cloak, or at least winter clothing. Katerei didn’t seem to be affected. If she was cold, she kept her complaints to herself.

    We barely spoke after last night’s conversation. I led as we trekked down the frozen path between the towering peaks that covered most of the pass in shadow. Katerei followed some dozen paces back, silently carrying her pack. Left alone to my thoughts, I tried to think up ideas on how to bring down Icel. Even if I had the zetacomb, in my current state I would just be a liability in battle. It didn’t help that I had no idea how to effectively use the damn thing, regardless of what Wizard had said. I searched my memories, but my mind spun in circles, finding no answers, and I grew more and more convinced that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. If I couldn’t find another way out, I would be embarking on a suicide mission. The one thing I had going for me was that Desert Fox would certainly help. But what had happened to him?

    Now and then I would catch myself on the verge of wandering off the path. The bond tugged at me insistently now, urging me north, heedless of the impassible terrain blocking the most direct route. Inwardly, I was glad for the few extra days. It meant I could spend just that much longer on Cythera. I could spend that much more time with Katerei. If only I could figure out what to say or sort out what I felt.

    Katerei’s shout brought me back to the present. Somehow I had wandered twenty paces out into the snow, leaving the trail behind. She was standing back by the rocks, watching in confusion.

    I looked around in a daze. I didn’t remember leaving at all, but I stood there in the middle of the snowfield, my tracks the only things marring the smooth surface. The bond tugged at me stronger now, beckoning north, north. I stood, staring ahead, trying to determine why it had led me here. If I remembered my geography correctly, Land King Hall should be more to the northeast.

    Katerei called my name again, sounding concerned. I considered turning back, but the thrumming inside me drove me forward. There was something about this place that almost looked…familiar. I crossed over to a dark boulder at the base of the field. This shape, the way the south side rose out of the snow, the smooth ridge behind it: I had seen this place once before. In a dream.

    I knelt on the cold, wet ground and started digging. My fingertips grew numb as I dug through the snow, but I kept clawing away, moving frozen chunks of water to the side. The bond hummed louder and louder, a rising crescendo driving me to dig faster. I scraped my fingers on a patch of ice, barely registering the pain. I scrabbled furiously at the ice, but I couldn’t penetrate it. I slammed my fist down in frustration.

    “What is it?” Katerei asked. She stood over my shoulder, her shadow covering the hole as she peered down.

    I didn’t answer, but I did regain some of my senses. I closed my eyes, concentrating, and drew in heat from my surroundings. There wasn’t much, so I borrowed some of my body heat to increase the potency. Then I placed my palm on the ice and melted right through it. I reached down and my hand closed around a small object. I drew it out carefully.

    A small orb lay nestled in my hand. A mixture of glass and blue crystal, the surface appeared smooth but closer inspection revealed tiny runes and inscriptions etched into the surface. Incantations for possession, domination, control. Nightmarish rituals.

    “Is that it?” Katerei asked.

    I nodded. The zetacomb. As we sat staring at it, the blue light winked out and I felt a sudden emptiness. I slipped it into a pocket and buttoned the flap closed. The less I had to deal with it the better.

    Sensation came rushing back. I was kneeling in the snow and my hands were cold. I stood up hastily and brushed snow off my clothes. I vaguely felt Katerei take my hand and then my pants were no longer clinging wetly to my knees.

    “How did you know it was here?” she asked. I could feel the warmth of her hands returning feeling to my fingers.

    “I felt it,” I said. It was hard to explain, I just–

    I froze. There was a stillness inside me that hadn’t been there before. Not since Pnyx. It took a moment to puzzle it out, but I no longer felt the bond tugging at me. I couldn’t feel anything at all. The sudden emptiness gnawed at me, like having a crowded room go completely silent in an instant.

    “I-It’s gone!” I said breathlessly. I couldn’t feel Desert Fox anymore! I couldn’t sense his direction. I reached out to my magic and felt it still there, buzzing faintly in the cold. This was different than Pnyx. I should have been able to detect Desert Fox as long as I had magic and he was alive.

    “What is?” She sounded worried.

    “The bond. I can’t feel it anymore.” I was still trying to make sense of what had happened. “He must’ve transferred it to the zetacomb. So I would find it.” I didn’t want to consider the alternative.

    “So you don’t know where he is?”

    I shook my head.

    “How are you supposed to find Icel?”

    How was I supposed to find Fox? I needed him and Saria to even stand a chance.

    “I have no idea,” I said, as despair sank in.


    The large moon rose just as the sun dipped below the top of the mountains. Despite our exhaustion, we pressed on until we had descended into the shadow-covered foothills. There hadn’t been time to gather enough food for an extended stay before our climb, and Katerei hadn’t found any signs of wild animals near the pass.

    Once we were among the trees, Katerei tried to convince me to eat some tree bark, but I wasn’t feeling quite that desperate. I stuck to the last of the nuts and berries she had gathered, hoping we could find more tomorrow. The full moon was bright enough to pick our way amongst the trees.

    Along the way, I went over everything I knew about the zetacomb with her, which admittedly wasn’t much. Desert Fox had taught me enough about shadow magic that I was able to read most of the runes and inscriptions, but I wasn’t actually capable of casting any of them. I suspected it could also serve as a focusing crystal, amplifying magic that targeted the mind and body. DF had contacted me once telepathically through the zetacomb, using a specially prepared amulet to serve as the receiving link. Balthon had used it to increase his speed and strength to inhuman levels. Neither were available to reveal the necessary incantations.

    We ran a few tests of our own, whenever we stopped for rest or drink. If I channeled energy at the zetacomb, I could feel a faint response, something resonating just beyond my reach. More energy would increase the intensity, but I would always stop when the surface would begin to glow with red spindly lines. Katerei tried a few times with her magic, but she wasn’t able to tell if there was any reaction. The orb never glowed for her.

    It was aggravating being unable to figure out how exactly this thing was supposed to help me. I couldn’t use the strongest enchantments embedded into the crystal, and the side-effects of using it as a magic amplifier were far too risky to be worthwhile. A whole day spent, and I was no closer to a solution than before.

    “Figures,” I muttered as I leaned against a tree, tossing the zetacomb between my hands. The moonlight shone through the crystal, projecting blue beams onto the ground that twisted and moved as it spun through the air. “Everyone seems to think I know more than I do. Here Av, we need you to reverse a curse that turns flesh to stone. Here Av, we need you to heal a patient suffering from severe trauma. Here Av, we need you to fight an evil megalomaniac who will try to bend you to his will at the first opportunity. What next? Should I try to stop time? Exorcise a demon? Travel to another dimension?” I sighed and rested my head on the trunk. I was probably getting tree sap all over my hair, but I didn’t care anymore.

    “Is that so bad?” Katerei asked. She drew closer, but stopped an arm’s length away. “Having people that depend on you? Who look up to you?”

    “It is when people get hurt because they assume things they shouldn’t.” I still remember the first girl to die in my arms. Blood stained her torn dress where the knife had gone in, and her brown hair was a sticky mess. I was no healer, and after the pressure of her friends watching me fumble around uselessly, after hearing their cries of anguish when I failed, I had no desire to be. Then, as now, I felt someone was pinning unrealistic expectations upon me.

    “If I can’t do this, a lot of people are going to die,” I said, clenching my hand around the zetacomb. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I fought him twice and that wasn’t enough! Now I have to do it again, but with higher stakes, and I’ll be all alone.”

    Katerei gently placed her hands on mine. “You don’t have to fight him alone.”

    “You mean hide somewhere and let somebody else deal with it?” A cowardly move, but I hadn’t completely discarded it. “I suppose…Alaric could handle him.” Actually, that might not be a bad idea. The Land King would probably put up more resistance than I could, especially if the fight took place in his domain. I rubbed my fingers across my chin, wondering why Selax was so adamant that I be the one. There had to be something I was missing.

    “We can talk about this tomorrow,” Katerei said, taking my hand in hers. “I want to show you something.”

    I pocketed the zetacomb and followed as she led me deeper into the forest. The ground here was easier to travel, with most of the hills behind us or to the north. The moon overhead helped light the way, allowing us to step over tree roots and avoid thick puddles of mud. Katerei didn’t seem to need it to navigate, leading at a far more rapid pace than we had set in the western forest. Before long, I could make out the sound of running water.

    “This is where you used to live, isn’t it?” I asked her.

    “Yeah, around these parts.”

    “Where are we going?”

    “Ssh. You’ll see.”

    We emerged from the trees onto a high bank overlooking a wide river. With no wind, the water’s surface was nearly smooth. I could see the full moon and stars reflecting off of the surface, as if the river itself was sparkling with a thousand tiny lights.

    “Was this what you wanted to show me?” I asked.

    “Maybe,” she said, a smirk creeping onto her face.

    And then she pushed me into the river.



  • I fell face-first into cold water. The shock of it was enough that it took a minute before I was able to surface, coughing and spitting. The river here was deceptively deep, for my feet couldn’t quite touch the bottom.

    Just when I had finally recovered enough to start looking around for a way up, I had to duck as Katerei dove in beside me. Her head broke out of the river, long hair plastered to her face, water running down her skin. I noticed she had chosen to remove her dress before going swimming. More pale blue skin than I had seen before was visible above a dark silk bra.

    “I see some of us get to keep their clothes dry,” I remarked wryly.

    “Maybe yours needed to be washed,” she said smiling. Then she splashed me with more cold river water.

    “Hey! Stop that!” I tried to stir up a large wave, but it’s harder to move with wet cloth dragging you down.

    “You know,” she said. Her grin grew wider as she swam closer. “If you don’t want to be dripping wet all day, you might want to hang those up to dry.”

    She floated directly in front of me now. I watched as she reached out and slowly traced my chest up to my collar bone. Then, with both hands, she began undoing the lacing on my shirt. I treaded water while she worked, reveling in the opportunity to observe the exposed flesh on her chest. When she was done, I removed my shirt and tossed it up on the bank. My boots followed shortly after.

    “Maybe I’ll keep my pants on,” I said. Instead of replying, she smiled and locked her elbow around mine, drawing me deeper into the river.

    “I used to come here to look up at the sky,” Katerei said. It was easy to see why, with the moon and stars shining down, reflecting off of the ripples in the water.

    “It’s beautiful,” I said as I grabbed her other arm and drew her into an embrace. She slipped her arms around my back and pressed herself against me.

    “You can’t do this in the city.” She tilted her head down to press her forehead against mine.

    “Well, you can …” That earned me a small splash.

    We drifted together in the middle of the river. Our faces inched closer and closer, until finally our lips met. Hers tasted like berries. When we parted, she rested her head on my shoulder, wet hair covering her face. Her nails were tracing circles on my back.

    “I…” She started. I could see her back rise and fall with a deep breath, then two, three. “I have something I need to tell you.”

    “Hm?” I rested my head on top of hers. The moon’s reflection came into view as we spun around lazily.

    “I…for a long time now…I’ve…” She swallowed and her nails dug into my skin. I moved a hand to the back of her neck to comfort her. She took another deep breath. “I’m in love with you.”

    “I know,” I said, kissing her hair. I felt a surge of elation at her words, a lightening of the tension between us. Shadowed trees framed the river of lights, the air buzzed with sounds of life, and we were at the center of it all. I ran one hand through her hair, holding her waist close to me with the other, watching her while she hid her face on my shoulder. I tried to burn this moment in my memory, wanting it to last forever.

    I gently tugged on her hair, pulling her head back so I could see her face. She was avoiding my gaze, so I turned her head to face mine. I looked deep into those blue eyes, shining in the moonlight, and confessed what I knew to be true.

    “I love you too.”

    Her eyes watered and her body went slack. She reached one hand up to cup my face, feeling the stubble on my cheek, tracing my jawline, feeling my cheekbone. A smile broke out on her face, and then the hand on my back pushed me forward. Our lips met again, our bodies pressed together. Right then, nothing else mattered. Not the hair plastered to her cheek, the nails digging into my skin, nor the cold water around us.

    I don’t know how long we drifted like that under the stars. It was both too long – my hands and feet were heavily wrinkled and cold – and too short. At last, we parted to catch our breath and just stared at one another.

    Around then is when we noticed the fire.

    Perhaps a hundred yards downriver, a fire was burning on the far bank. Between the moon and the flame, I could make out a few shadowy figures. Men.

    “Bandits?” Katerei asked.

    “Or worse, guards.”

    “Let’s head back.”

    We swam back upriver until the fire was out of sight, then crossed back to the west bank and climbed out of the river. I was thoroughly soaked and shivering, at least until Katerei placed a hand on my back and removed all of the water.

    “So you can dry clothes when you want to,” I remarked.

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said smiling, before she threw both arms around my neck and leaned down to kiss me again.

    We crept back up the bank to grab our clothes and her pack. Along the way, we had to pause and hide in brushes twice as we spotted a moving torch patrolling the far shore.

    “Why would they be here?” I whispered. “They couldn’t have found us already.”

    “There used to be a bandit hideout around here. This place has always been a problem for merchants and travelers.” Come to think of it, I did recall hearing rumors and stories about a bandit camp in the forest north of Cademia, but I thought that place had been cleared out years ago.

    By the time we retrieved our gear and supplies, the moon was arcing down towards the mountains. A smattering of clouds had rolled in, covering up half of the stars. More importantly, the lights had dimmed enough that we crossed the river without incident. Still, before we left, I spent a moment staring back at the spot I had been pushed in, replaying everything that had happened before time could fog the memories. It was only when we spotted a third patrol approaching from the north that I turned away and took Katerei’s hand as she led us out of the forest.


    With so many unexpected people around our return to civilized lands, we didn’t want to risk stopping to rest. Already weary after a long day, the two of us trudged along open fields and farmlands. With Cythera’s smaller red moon as our guide, we crossed the main highway between the north and the south well before dawn. Some time later, we came across the primary road to Catamarca and followed it until the sky in the east began to brighten. As we passed one of the farms, Katerei vanished, only to return a few moments later with a couple bunches of grapes. I was famished enough to be grateful and didn’t ask any questions.

    After the sun rose, we had to choose between staying on the path and risking unwanted encounters, or cutting far to the north to curve around the farms and ranches in the area. Fatigue won out and we stuck to the road so we could reach our destination faster.

    It was late morning when the road finally curved to the south, the buildings of Catamarca visible in the distance. Katerei led us off the road, continuing southeast towards the ocean. We crossed fields of weeds and grass before finally we came upon a small wooden house near the cliffs along the shoreline. From the state of the garden, it looked like nobody had lived there in years. Come to think of it, considering what Katerei said about living outdoors, that was probably true.

    A disused stone well sat in the yard, rocks covered with moss and frayed rope dangling free. She fished out a silver key on a leather thong and unlocked the front door (though Katerei insisted it was actually the back). The door squeaked when it opened, and I stepped into what appeared to be a kitchen. A few clay pots sat on a sparse shelf, gathering dust. In contrast, the workbench on the other side of the room was covered with all kinds of alchemical tools and supplies. Still hungry from earlier, I peeked into the pantry, but found only a small dried mushroom that probably needed to be tossed.

    Straining to keep my eyes open, I followed Katerei into the bedroom. This room had a pair of windows that looked out upon the sea, both of which had been thrown open, causing the bleached curtains to blow in the breeze. From the smell, the hay mattress had spoiled, and I caught Katerei carrying armfuls of it to toss outside. I scooped up an armful of hay myself and started after her, ignoring the dry strands scratching at my hands and the dust that stung my eyes and irritated my nose.

    Carrying the hay allowed me to glimpse the last room. A stone ring in the corner appeared to have been a fountain, but all of the water had long since evaporated, leaving behind only stains and sediment. A few woven mats on the floor and a cabinet overflowing with herbs and poultices were the only other adornments in the sitting room. As I dumped the straw in the front yard outside, I began to understand why Katerei had been hiding her face ever since we had arrived. This place hardly felt like a home. Yet, it was her home, and so I said nothing.

    When all of the straw was cleaned out and most of the dirt brushed away, we were both too weary to bother with any further cleaning. Katerei locked both doors while I lay down on the wooden bedstead. A moment later, she joined me, resting her head on my chest, an arm around my middle, and her side against mine.

    The next thing I knew, it was late afternoon.


    The rooms facing the ocean had darkened when the sun shifted to the other side of the house. Katerei had run off to the market, hoping to pick up some food before the stands closed at dusk. With the city a full half-hour walk away, I busied myself with sweeping up the dust and cleaning the house. The splintered wood on some of the shelving would have to wait until I had more energy, and with no bucket on the well I couldn’t gather enough water to wash any linens, but I was at least able to prevent us from spending the night sneezing. Unlike Katerei, I didn’t enjoy sleeping on hard surfaces, so I borrowed one of the larger mats to use as a mattress until she could find some new straw.

    Thirsty, I took a pair of the larger clay pots down to the ocean. With a bit of magic and some of her tools, I started a fire in the kitchen hearth and was able to boil off most of the salt. Three figurines above the mantelpiece watched me as I worked: intricately worked wooden carvings of a wolf, a fox, and a crow. I wondered if she had brought these from her homeland; foxes weren’t well-known around here.

    Once I had condensed enough water to last the night, I turned down the fire and opened the kitchen windows to let the house cool off. Sunset wasn’t far off, and I hoped to see Katerei returning any minute now, carrying some meat and real food. Out of things to do, I took the pitcher of cooling water into the sitting room, and found a cloaked figure waiting for me.

    Selax stood in the center of the room, hands clasped as he waited patiently. I hadn’t heard him knock, but a glimpse confirmed the door had been recently opened and not completely shut.

    “I assume you have it?” he said. His black cloak seemed out of place here.

    “Nice to see you too,” I said, putting the pitcher on the ground near the herbal cabinet.

    “Then you must depart at once.”

    I took my time straightening back up. Maybe every second I could waste would annoy him. It also allowed me to calm down and avoid any unproductive outbursts. “Why?” I asked.

    “Icel grows in strength. You must defeat him before he becomes too powerful.”

    “Why?” I asked again. He looked at me in reply, perhaps puzzled, perhaps disappointed I did not understand. I couldn’t read any emotion in those gray eyes. “Why do I need to do anything? If he comes here, Alaric can just squash him.”

    “Alaric needs to save his strength to handle other affairs.”

    “Like what?” So much for unproductive outbursts. “You’re always trying to push people in the direction you want them to go, without any regard for what they want!”

    He looked at me for a moment. “This is about Katerei.”

    “I – Yes. Maybe.”

    “She will distract you.”

    “Look!” I fumbled at the button on my pocket and pulled out the zetacomb. I held it out to him. “Here, take it. It’s yours. You deal with Icel, or find somebody else that can!”

    A long silence descended upon us as he stared at the blue orb in my hand. Twice, he started to reach out, only to catch himself and pull back. Finally, he looked up and said, “I cannot.”

    “What makes you think I can? I can’t use this thing! I don’t even know where to begin!”

    “That is not true.”

    “How can you expect me to stand a chance all by myself? I can’t win! Not like this!”

    “You will not be alone.”

    I paused, wiping the spittle off my mouth. Was he talking about Katerei? Didn’t he just say that she would be a distraction? I didn’t care what he thought, and if it came to it, I suspected she would agree to come along. But having her go up against Icel would put her in incredible danger, and I didn’t want to see her get hurt. Maybe the two of us could escape someplace.

    “You cannot remain here,” he said.

    “I need more time. I’m not ready.” That much was true. I would need to get back in shape, relearn the sword. I also wanted to spend more time with Katerei.

    “I will be unable to hide you for much longer.”

    I jerked back in surprise. He was…hiding me? Was that why the mages in the forest hadn’t found us?

    “I need two days,” I said. My shoulders slumped and I hung my head. My stomach grumbled noisily.

    “Very well.” I hadn’t expected him to agree. When I looked up to question him further, all I saw was the door swinging closed. He would probably have ignored my questions anyway. I picked up the pitcher of cold water and carried it into the bedroom.

    Two more days and then I would leave this island behind. Forever.



  • Katerei returned a short time later, and to my delight she had a basket of fruit and several links of sausage. She also brought back grim tidings.

    While we cooked the sausage, I told her about Selax’s visit, and she told me about a bounty that had been posted at the guardhouse. A hundred oboloi to anyone with information of my whereabouts. The good news was the bounty indicated they hadn’t made the connection yet between Katerei and my escape. The bad news was some of the locals and off-duty guardsmen had started visiting the farms nearly, asking around for any sign of me. Much as I hated to admit it, Selax was probably right that I couldn’t stay here very long.

    When the meat was ready, we sat on the two remaining mats in the sitting room. I poured her a cup of water from the pitcher, to which she said she could’ve just fixed the fountain. We ate mostly in silence, though on my part, I was too busy wolfing down sausage to talk.

    Only after I had started on the third juicy link did I work up the courage to tell her.

    “I’m leaving in two days.”

    “I see.” She was sitting cross-legged next to me, nibbling her link at a much slower pace.

    “I was wondering…do you want to come with me?”

    She looked up and gave me a tiny smile. “Yes.”

    I sighed in relief. I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore. I didn’t have to leave Katerei anymore. We could still be together. The business with Icel could wait.

    We finished our dinner, cleaned up the dishes, and then went back to bed, too exhausted to do much else. I lay on my side, Katerei’s head under my chin, as we held each other and drifted off to sleep.


    Blindingly bright sunlight streaming through the windows woke me up. I looked around in confusion at the unfamiliar room, sparsely decorated aside from the faded curtains and the wooden bedpost. I could detect the lingering traces of Katerei’s scent. I scooted over to the side of the bed and sat up, stretching. My shoulders were stiff from sleeping on my side, and my calves hurt from walking too much the previous day.

    The sound of bubbling water led me to the sitting room. Fresh water was bursting up through a hole in the ground, pooling in a clear puddle ringed by river stones.

    “In here!” Katerei’s voice called out from the kitchen. I found her bending over the counter, slicing carrots into a bowl. “I fixed the fountain. Do you like it?”

    I moved up behind her and slipped my arms around her waist. She paused in her cutting to nestle back against me. “It’s beautiful,” I told her.

    We ate salad in the sitting room, but this time the small fountain added a much-needed cheer to the place. Watching the water spray up and splash back down was oddly relaxing. Katerei finished her meal first and told me to stay put while she got up.

    She walked over to the wooden cabinet and rummaged around for something hidden in the back. Holding it hidden in her hands, she knelt in front of me. “This is for you,” she said, presenting the trinket.

    I picked it up by the chain and held it to the light. It was a silver pendant, thin wire twisted into the shape of a leaf. Three small drops of water shimmered in-between the wires. I rotated the pendant, but the drops remained suspended in the air.

    “I didn’t know you could do this,” I said in wonder.

    “I’ve had a lot of spare time.”

    “It’s very pretty.” I slipped the chain over my head and let the cold wires rest against my chest. “Thank you,” I said, kissing her cheek.

    She smiled and carried the empty bowls back to the kitchen.

    “Do you have any paper?” I called out after her. “I searched around but didn’t see any yesterday.”

    Her head peeked around the doorframe. “What for?”

    “I wanted to draw some star charts.” I had been thinking more about Icel. Now that I had some time, I could focus more on figuring out where I might go. I was still wavering on what to do, but it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared.

    “Star charts?” she asked, sitting down next to me.

    “Yes, they’re like maps of the sky.” I pointed upward even though the sun was obscuring all sight of the stars. “I’ll have to show you tonight, but if you look really closely at the stars, you can make out shapes and patterns. Some people can use those shapes to tell direction, allowing them to travel at night, especially while out at sea.

    “But I use them a bit differently. You see, every world has a unique sky. The shapes and patterns are different.” I watched her face, trying to see if she understood. “That’s how I navigate through the void.”

    “I…don’t have any paper,” she said, her voice unusually quiet. She was fiddling with some strands of hair again.

    “No worries, I can draw outside.”

    I led her through the front door. The sun shone brightly overhead, forcing me to blink a few times until my eyes could adjust. A small trail ran from the door to a path that ran alongside the coastline. I knew one direction would lead down to the shore below the cliffs, presumably the other led back to the road. I looked around for a stick and knelt near an uncovered patch of dirt.

    I pressed the point into the ground, then reached over and did it again a dozen more times. Then I stood and drew a line connecting the points.

    “See here? A scylla in the west and a titan in the east. Two constellations that signify Cythera,” I said. Katerei studied the ground for a moment and then looked up at the partly cloudy sky. I pointed out over the ocean. “This time of year, you’ll see the titan over there once the stars come out.”

    I moved to another patch of dirt and marked off nine points. A four-sided star, the points twisted as it whirled through the sky. “This one signifies my home-world. It’s always visible in the sky, no matter the season.” I moved another few paces and marked off seven, then six points. A spiral and a ship. “The Maelstrom and Adun’s Folly. The Maelstrom isn’t really a terrible place, but every night it chases after the ship, and poor Adun, who sailed too close out of greed, can never escape its grasp.”

    I stood back and smiled at Katerei. “These two are visible over one of my favorite places: the Plains of Erendell. Huge, vast grasslands, broken only by strange runestones and obelisks from an ancient people, long forgotten.” It had been a long time since I had seen those green fields. I used to go there when I needed time alone, for not a soul was to be found within a hundred miles of the portal.

    Katerei held out her hand and I gave her the stick. She knelt and drew three shapes in the dirt.

    “Orebo,” she said, pointing at the first. “A man who adored the moon so much, he longed to keep some of its beauty for himself. So, he turned into a bird and flew into the sky. He broke off a moonbeam, but it shattered into a thousand pieces and scattered across the sky, each shard becoming a star. Now, he rests curled around the only star he managed to keep.”

    She moved to the second constellation. It was a cross with a narrow neck. “A kinaru, watching over the north sky.” She pointed at the third. Another cross, but much narrower than the last. “The sword of the tel-saidu.” She looked at me. “What we call the air spirits.”

    “You made a constellation for Selax?” I asked incredulously, earning a punch on my shoulder. “I’d like to see them some time.”

    “I can show you,” Katerei said. She rested her hand lightly on my arm. “In exchange, maybe you can teach me how to read.”

    Her request caught me by surprise, and it took all of my self-control to not say something stupid. Instead, I squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I can do that.”

    “My people don’t really have a written language. At least, not what you would consider one, so it never really mattered before. But then…” She tightened her grip on my arm. “When you were… At Pnyx, I tried searching for some way to save you, but all of the books were – I couldn’t understand them. I was surrounded by all that knowledge, and I – I couldn’t use any of it. All I could do was sit there and watch you die.”

    “Ssh,” I said, brushing the tears off her cheeks. “It’s okay now. I’ll teach you how to read and anything else you want.” I pulled her into a tight embrace. The stick fell to the dirt, forgotten. I held her close until she calmed down. Then I reached up and pulled her mouth down to meet mine.

    A moment later she separated, and with a coy look on her face said, “Actually, there is…one other thing I want you to show me.”

    I took hold of her hand and followed her back into the house.



  • I woke up in the middle of the night.

    I could still feel Katerei’s warmth pressed against me, and for a moment I considered remaining in bed. But, something felt off and I knew if I didn’t investigate, it would bug me enough that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I carefully extracted myself from my sleeping lover and pulled on my scattered clothes. I unlocked and opened the front door slowly, to avoid making any noise from the rusty hinges. The door closed behind me as I stepped out of the house.

    Both moons were visible overhead, the smaller red one slightly closer. The large gibbous moon was mostly hidden behind clouds, along with many of the other stars, and as a result I couldn’t see very far. A chilly breeze sent ocean waves crashing against the cliffs below me. Judging from the sky and the wind, a storm would roll in just before dawn.

    I had taken no more than a dozen steps when suddenly something grabbed me and the ground spun away. I cried out in surprise as the world rushed by, and then my feet landed on grass again.

    “What the hell was that for?” I demanded as I turned to face Selax.

    “Look,” he said, pointing over my shoulder. I ground my teeth and turned back to face the direction he was pointing. I couldn’t make out much: the vague outline of the cliffs, the waves of the sea, and lights in the distance signifying Catamarca. Then, the gibbous moon broke free of the clouds for a moment, and I saw six humanoid shapes advancing towards a lone house. Katerei!

    I started to race down the hill, knowing I wouldn’t make it in time, when strong arms grabbed me and pulled me back.

    “What are you doing?” I screamed at Selax. “Let me go!”

    “Do not be concerned. They will not harm her.”

    “What? How can you be sure?”

    “I told them to look for you. If you are not there, they will leave.” His voice was flat, impassive.

    “You… what? ” I reeled back in shock. “You…have been leading them to me?” The lights in the forest. The patrols at the river. Now, the inquisitors at Catamarca. All of them were brought by Selax?

    “I did not let them find you.”

    “Why? Why go through –“ I swept my arms toward the house, “all of this?”

    He grabbed my hand and pressed a cold object into it. The zetacomb. I hadn’t realized I had lost it. I hurriedly pocketed it away.

    “I still don’t understand why it has to be me.”

    “Wizard believes you are the key,” he said. Then after a pause, he added, “Though I wish it were not so.”

    “And Katerei?” I said, grinding my teeth.

    “She must remain here.” Those gray eyes bored into my soul. “To ensure you complete your task.”

    I lost it. I let my anger swell up, mixed in my frustration and desperation, and hurled it all at Selax. The temperature of the air dropped several degrees and the boulder next to him exploded in a fiery inferno. I drew on my anger and readied another blast, but he grabbed my arms and twisted them into the air before I could set it off.

    “You will draw them to us!” The slightest hint of urgency was detectable in his voice, mixed with a drop of disappointment.

    “That’s the idea!” I snarled. Fire arced in the sky above us and I tried to twist my hands around to aim at him. Something hit me in the stomach and I lost my concentration, the energy around me fizzling away. I fell to my knees, coughing. My vision blurred with tears, but I wiped them away. I could just barely make out the shadowy figures outside the house. They had stopped closing in and were now moving towards us.

    I glimpsed a fist-sized rock knocked free from the earlier explosion. In one sudden move, I picked up the rock and slammed it as hard as I could against Selax. It hit him in the chest, but he didn’t budge – like punching a brick wall. He reached out and grabbed my throat, holding me up in the air.

    “You are being irrational,” he said.

    I gurgled out a reply, feet dangling helplessly off the ground. He shifted his grip so I could breathe and launched us up into the air. “There is no time,” Selax said as we flew out along the coast, heading north. Away.

    I felt the cold metal of Katerei’s pendant against my chest. Would I never be able to see her again? Would she think I had broken my promise? I panicked and grabbed his shoulders, twisting. He lost his balance and we descended in a wild spin. Large black waves and sharp rocks rushed towards us, but he regained control at the last moment and leveled out, barely skimming above the ocean.

    “Stop, or I will end this here!” he threatened.

    “What about Icel?”

    “If you do not comply, then I will be unable to guarantee the safety of Katerei.”

    I froze. She would wake up confused and alone. When she discovered I was missing, she would be hurt. She’d probably blame herself. Would I make things worse? Could I do nothing to help?

    “You don’t understand anything about us,” I told him, but my will to fight was rapidly draining away. I was defeated.

    “I do not need to understand. I need you to complete your task.” His voice softened, “if you wish, I may carry a message for you, when the time is right.” A minor concession, but I could at least leave without saying a word.

    I watched the shoreline pass by us in silence. At times, the moon would retreat back behind the clouds, and all I could make out was a dim blur. Other times, I could see the rocks and cliffs, beaches of sand, and shadowed trees that made up the edge of the island. We flew past the walled city of Odemia. North of the city, Selax turned and we headed overland. I had figured out our destination well before the tall mountain entrance came into sight: Land King Hall.

    Selax set me down just outside the entrance to the hall. Only the small red moon was visible now, the other having disappeared behind the mountains above. I looked around for any sign of the guards usually posted here, but Selax just walked inside without hesitating. I couldn’t outrun him, so I followed.

    The void swirled beneath us as we crossed the narrow bridge. Blue and magenta clouds of energy, stirring endlessly, sometimes revealing faint glimpses of stars, other worlds. I could enter here, but it would be more controlled, more stable in the main room. I followed Selax through the door, past the fountains, and into the hall proper. There was still no sight of any of the occupants.

    “We will not be bothered until dawn,” Selax said, as if sensing my discomfort. I wanted to snap back at him, but couldn’t think of anything good to say.

    He led me through rooms and corridors until at last I stood in a room with ten braziers, all of them lit. Behind the final door there was a short platform and then nothing but the void beyond. Selax waited behind in the center of the room, watching.

    “I’m still not sure I can do this,” I said.

    “Wizard has faith in you. So must I.” He reached into his cloak and something clanked on the floor. My sword, sheathed in its scabbard, confiscated on that burning hill so long ago. I reached out and picked it up, running my hands over the runes on the hilt, feeling its familiar weight.

    “Tell Katerei–“ I took a deep breath. I had so much I wanted to say, but only so few words I could pass through Selax. If she could read, I might’ve written her a note. “Tell her that I love her. And – are you familiar with the Plains of Erendell?”

    Selax shook his head. I looked around for some paper, but saw only the braziers instead. Of course. Concentrating, I drew a tiny bit of power from the nearest flame and the Maelstrom blossomed into the air between us. I closed my eyes, remembering, and more stars appeared, as many as I could recall.

    “I know this place, but by another name,” he said.

    “Then tell her that I will meet her there when this is over. Six months from today.”

    “I will tell her.” Selax clasped his hands in front of him. “Once you succeed.”

    I suppose that was something? “Thank you,” I muttered bitterly. I had to succeed now, if I wanted her to ever know what had happened to me. I turned my back on him, approaching the final door. This was it. My last few steps on Cythera.

    I remembered these purple tiles from long ago, when I first arrived here, looking for some place to build up my name. Back when being a famous mercenary meant everything to me.

    I remembered walking through this room alongside Slayer, Talos, Ferazel, and many other friends when they sought to find the Cytheran’s homeworld.

    I remembered meeting the Ronin here, alongside Moonshadow. Later, I would stand on these tiles while she departed hand-in-hand with Flynn.

    I remembered the first time Desert Fox had arrived here, wanting to check up on me. It had taken all of my effort and some quick-thinking to prevent him from starting a duel with Alaric for the fun of it.

    This room was where we stood – myself, the Ronin, Shanadar, Wizard, and even Selax – as we bade Slayer farewell.

    Now it was my turn. There was no fanfare. There was no celebration. I was just slipping away quietly into the night. Like a candle flame burning out.

    I stood at the edge of the abyss, looking into the swirling vortex below. I would miss this place. The people here. Katerei. Maybe one day I could chance coming back, but my future now lay elsewhere.

    I closed my eyes, feeling for my destination. I’m sorry.

    And then I stepped off, into the void.



  • I made an epub. You can put it in iBooks or on other iThings. I'll read it later.

    https://dl.dropboxus...23/Outcast.epub



  • Selax: ruining hopes and dreams since 2004 :) .

    Actually, his depiction was fairly good. I think it seemed a little off in phrasing and tone, but that might just be because I'm not much used to other people writing him very much. I also suspect he's acting somewhat in haste as he prepares to confront alt-Selax (prior to DM).

    I'm curious: were there hints of romance between Avatara and Moonshadow in the old TSs or is that a plot point related to DM?



  • Author-Avatara has read some of my comments already, but I'm reposting them here for posterity.

    Quote

    I never claimed to be good at this.

    GAH AVATARA and you were doing so well too!

    Quote

    Besides, if she wanted to open up about her feelings, she could have just done so. Or so I told myself.

    THEN YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW KAT THAT WELL, DO YOU AV. D:<

    Quote

    I doubted the sudden appearance of a herd of rampaging titans would be enough to faze him.

    oh god the titan herd made it into the story

    Quote

    I sighed. I didn’t like dwelling much on my younger years. I was more rash, more irresponsible back then, and thinking about it just reminded me of all the embarrassing mistakes I made.

    I want to read more about young immature Av!

    Quote

    “You know, my name is different too,” I teased her.

    GEE I WONDER WHAT IT COULD BE.

    Quote

    And then she pushed me into the river.

    Posted Image

    Quote

    Selax stood in the center of the room, hands clasped as he waited patiently.

    Kat: "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE SELAX"

    Quote

    “I didn’t know you could do this,” I said in wonder.

    “I’ve had a lot of spare time.”

    I see what you did there.

    Quote

    Her request caught me by surprise, and it took all of my self-control to not say something stupid.

    Good, Av’s learning!

    Quote

    “There is no time,” Selax said as we flew out along the coast, heading north. Away.

    NOOOOOOOOOO!

    Favourite scenes:

    Spoiler

    Avatara using his limited magic to warm Katerei (and then brushing her hair later), Kat refusing to dry Av's clothes and being a scamp, moonlight swimming, sharing constellations.

    Least favourite scene: THE END. Dear character-Selax: I will fight you.

    Posted Image

    I'm torn because I really enjoyed the story, but the ending makes me SO MAD, but I kind of brought that on myself. I don't want to wait another year for the next part. :(

    @selax_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 01:24 PM, said in Outcast:

    I'm curious: were there hints of romance between Avatara and Moonshadow in the old TSs or is that a plot point related to DM?

    Yes.

    This post has been edited by iKaterei : 25 December 2014 - 04:01 PM



  • I feel a little cheated that Avatara and Katerei didn't get to screw things up for themselves. If seems wrong for Selax to do it for them.

    But, a good read.



  • I've done it, I've read Outcast! What an amazing and captivating story! These three days of reading & listening & taking notes have been so much fun, and at the moment I don't know how to begin writing my comments. So right now I'll just comment on other people's comments, & work on my own later :x

    @selax_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 01:24 PM, said in Outcast:

    I'm curious: were there hints of romance between Avatara and Moonshadow in the old TSs or is that a plot point related to DM?

    I can't remember ever noticing any. They didn't even quest together that much ?_?

    @ikaterei_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 04:00 PM, said in Outcast:

    I want to read more about young immature Av!

    Me too!

    @ikaterei_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 04:00 PM, said in Outcast:

    GEE I WONDER WHAT IT COULD BE.

    According to my notes, "Paithan Qu'aëlísious Irfanïs'al" Quite a mouthful, huh? ^ ___^

    @ikaterei_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 04:00 PM, said in Outcast:

    Dear character-Selax: I will fight you.

    I love your disgruntled photograph! : __D



  • @selax_bot, on 25 December 2014 - 01:24 PM, said in Outcast:

    I'm curious: were there hints of romance between Avatara and Moonshadow in the old TSs or is that a plot point related to DM?

    The DM plot point actually came from the old stories/taverns.

    @pallas-athene_bot, on 26 December 2014 - 08:51 AM, said in Outcast:

    I feel a little cheated that Avatara and Katerei didn't get to screw things up for themselves. If seems wrong for Selax to do it for them.
    read.

    Maybe. This story had a pretty different before DM changed some of the parameters (like Kat not knowing what happened, or even Kat/Av having a romantic relationship at all).

    I think that if they were going to mess it up, it would be either before they actually got together (like Kat almost did) or a while afterwards (in which case, there would be a lot more time to cover). I don't know how to write the latter story very well and make it interesting, unless people like reading slice-of-life stories.

    Besides, Selax and Av have always had a mutual (planned) animosity towards one another. Seems just like him to mess things up.



  • Okay, I'm going to try to comment on the story now! I really enjoyed reading Outcast. ^ ___^ As always, it's hard for me to describe why. I'll try, but Tyry I hope you don't doubt that this chronicle is really good! ^ ___^

    The chronicle, along with the soundtrack, were engrossing. The world of Outcast came alive and was real. My attempt to explain this concept just sounds dull (- ___-), but it's like magic, being inside a story that's alive like that. I don't just mean "this is good, for a chronicle." It's better than most books I read, movies I watch, etc.! Reading Outcast took me several sittings, but I was always eager to be enthralled by it, & I wasn't disappointed. That's part of why it took me so long, I wanted to be able to read at least a full scene at a time with minimal distractions.

    I listened to the sound-track almost the whole time I read the story & pondered about each section. If you're curious how long I spent on each section, I will post my current play-counts (a bit inaccurate because a couple of times I kept listening to a track while attending chores near my computer).
    Track 1, Chase: 16 times
    Track 2, Lights: 14 times
    Track 3, Nebula: 7 times
    Track 4, Raindrops: 10 times
    Track 5, Mist: 7 times
    Track 6, Dreams: 5 times
    Track 7, Morning Light: 8 times
    Track 8, Futile: 20 times
    Track 9, Mountain Pass: 10 times
    Track 10, Descent: 7 times
    Track 11, River Date: 10 times
    Track 12, Confession: 5 times
    Track 13, Final Stretch: 5 times
    Track 14, Warning: 9 times
    Track 15, Carrots: 20 times
    Track 16, Love: 6 times
    Track 17, Flight: 8 times
    Track 18, Last Steps: 2 times
    Track 19, Departure: 11 times

    I wanted to tell you what my favourite track or tracks were, but my favourite changed every time the song changed! They all seemed to fit pretty well. I remember really enjoying the "plink plink plink" rain song, and the violin swimming song, and the spooky finding-the-Zetacomb song. I might try listening to the whole soundtrack straight through to try to decide which ones I like best.

    I like how half the time in this story, Katerei is leading Avatara, and half the time Avatara is leading Katerei. It feels like neither of them know what they're doing more than the other. They always know where they are, but they're lost : __( It's sad.

    And yet, it's not really a depressing chronicle, like Tyry implied while writing it. It's a lot more hopeful than I expected! I thought that Avatara and Katerei really didn't have a chance of living happily-ever-after; but now... I think they might, after OoR? It's sad that their romance is delayed a year +, but it's still there. It's quite possible that everything will turn out okay!

    Avatara and Katerei are so cute together, I feel a little guilty about my Avriana stance, but I still like the idea of Avriana and hope to write a sequel to my fanfic ^ ___^

    My favourite quote of this story:

    Quote

    “Everyone seems to think I know more than I do. Here Av, we need you to reverse a curse that turns flesh to stone. Here Av, we need you to heal a patient suffering from severe trauma. Here Av, we need you to fight an evil megalomaniac who will try to bend you to his will at the first opportunity. What next? Should I try to stop time? Exorcise a demon? Travel to another dimension?”

    Heehee, hilarious : __D

    I love all the references to old stories and how you actually work with the old confusing loose-ends instead of just ignoring them. I wasn't expecting that, and I am impressed and elated! ^_ __^

    I didn't re-read all the old stories before reading Outcast, like I did before reading The Trial. I wonder how much you've taken directly from old stories, how much you've made up, and how much you've re-written/improved on from old stories? For example:
    -Slayer, Rogan, & Talos being poisoned by wolflizards & healed by Katerei
    -Avatara buying berries from Katerei
    -Katerei stalking Avatara in the market
    -Avatara being DF's apprentice
    -DF & Avatara being bonded together
    -DF defeating Icel's army
    -Icel coming to Cythera because Avatara contacted DF
    -The zetacomb's use, possessing people, etc.
    -Avatara failing to heal a girl, her dying in his arms
    -The bandit group in the woods north of Cademia
    -DF wanting to duel Alaric
    -Moonshadow & Flynn void-traveling together
    -Slayer leaving through the void (I'm pretty sure that's original, but it sounds like a beautiful scene & someone should totally make it into a short chronicle!)
    -Wizards conviction that Avatara needs to be the one to defeat Icel

    I really wonder about Avatara's youth! It sounds like he was either manipulated into killing someone, or framed for murder. I wonder what happened, & why...

    I also wonder why Wizard/Selax are determined that Avatara needs to wield the zetacomb & defeat Icel, and what they mean by saying he won't be alone? Who will be with him? I wonder if, by the current time in OoR, Icel has been defeated?

    I like the dream-sequences, I like how the scene changes at every thought, like a real dream. I still wonder about the black crystal fortress! Will that appear in Part 3? Also, is Delthoras another name for DF? I don't remember the name Delthoras being used before, but Delthor was a villain in Tyrant's Ring..

    I hope DF is okay. What if he transferred his bond to the zetacomb because he was dying? : __(

    Watching Avatara and Katerei grow closer was sad, knowing that this wouldn't be a happy ending. When they hug, confess love, etc., I feel regretful because I think they are adding to the pain they'll feel over the next year +. I also have an impression that their closeness comes from being trapped. In a hypothetical world, if they were free, and free of obligations, would they be this close? Or would they still be silent and reserved with each other?

    I like the Sail references: Makiri, the necklace, Orebo & the star, Tel-saidu.

    I'm amused that Avatara doesn't like sleeping on hard surfaces. When has he ever had a soft bed? ^ ___^

    I wonder what Selax hiding Avatara amounted to? I wonder if he deferred suspicions from Katerei?

    Isn't Erendell where Frozen takes place? Did Avatara go there long after Frozen? Hmm.

    When did Avatara lose the zetacomb? : __o

    Summary: Outcast rocked. It was enveloping, romantic, made sense out of many things that didn't make much sense before (mostly from old stories), and the story is quite hopeful ^ ___^ Thank you for writing! I look forward to Part 3!

    Edit: Also, Kat, I don't want to drag you away from Sail, but is there any chance we'll get to hear about what happened to Katerei between Outcast & Dark Mirror? Maybe that will be in the Sail sequel?

    Another thing I forgot to say in my original comment: the crying scenes. I was trying to avoid a headache & so forced myself not to cry, but I came close during the swimming scene, and the drawing constellations scene @_@ The sappy scenes - I guess I'm a typical girl?

    This post has been edited by BreadWorldMercy453 : 27 December 2014 - 09:30 PM



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 27 December 2014 - 07:17 PM, said in Outcast:

    I'm amused that Avatara doesn't like sleeping on hard surfaces. When has he ever had a soft bed? ^_^

    The previous six months in prison. The prison beds in Pnyx are very comfortable.



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 27 December 2014 - 07:17 PM, said in Outcast:

    I remember really enjoying the "plink plink plink" rain song, and the violin swimming song, and the spooky finding-the-Zetacomb song.

    The plink-plink one stood out most to me.

    Quote

    I like how half the time in this story, Katerei is leading Avatara, and half the time Avatara is leading Katerei. It feels like neither of them know what they're doing more than the other. They always know where they are, but they're lost.

    That might apply both literally and metaphorically.

    Quote

    I wonder how much you've taken directly from old stories, how much you've made up, and how much you've re-written/improved on from old stories? For example:

    -Slayer, Rogan, & Talos being poisoned by wolflizards & healed by Katerei
    -Avatara buying berries from Katerei
    -Katerei stalking Avatara in the market

    The first one is part of an overall history that Av and I have been reworking. I'm not entirely sure when we started - must have been before he wrote the The Trial though? The second two were incidents I came up with when writing Hym.

    Quote

    I also have an impression that their closeness comes from being trapped. In a hypothetical world, if they were free, and free of obligations, would they be this close? Or would they still be silent and reserved with each other?

    That's a question for the ages, isn't it?

    Quote

    I like the Sail references: Makiri, the necklace, Orebo & the star, Tel-saidu.

    Me too. :)

    Quote

    Isn't Erendell where Frozen takes place?

    That's what I thought of! But apparently the one in Frozen is spelled Arendelle.

    Quote

    Also, Kat, I don't want to drag you away from Sail, but is there any chance we'll get to hear about what happened to Katerei between Outcast & Dark Mirror? Maybe that will be in the Sail sequel?

    There's actually not much to cover. I don't think I originally knew there'd be a year in between Bell Tolls and and DM, and the Sail sequel is probably going to end around the same place as Outcast, so I don't have anything planned for what happens afterward.

    Cliff's Notes version: Katerei turns into a depressed trainwreck, hangs out in the Tavern a lot, and joins the heroes in DM for lack of anything better to do.

    (edit) I forgot to post this before, but if I rewrote this story from Kat's point of view like I did with Hym (…which I don't plan to do), this would be her theme song. Lyrics here.

    This post has been edited by iKaterei : 28 December 2014 - 03:36 AM



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 27 December 2014 - 07:17 PM, said in Outcast:

    I wanted to tell you what my favourite track or tracks were, but my favourite changed every time the song changed! They all seemed to fit pretty well. I remember really enjoying the "plink plink plink" rain song, and the violin swimming song, and the spooky finding-the-Zetacomb song. I might try listening to the whole soundtrack straight through to try to decide which ones I like best.

    Spooky? It's from a meditation album. O_o

    Quote

    I didn't re-read all the old stories before reading Outcast, like I did before reading The Trial. I wonder how much you've taken directly from old stories, how much you've made up, and how much you've re-written/improved on from old stories? For example:
    1-Slayer, Rogan, & Talos being poisoned by wolflizards & healed by Katerei
    2-Avatara buying berries from Katerei
    3-Katerei stalking Avatara in the market
    4-Avatara being DF's apprentice
    5-DF & Avatara being bonded together
    6-DF defeating Icel's army
    7-Icel coming to Cythera because Avatara contacted DF
    8-The zetacomb's use, possessing people, etc.
    9-Avatara failing to heal a girl, her dying in his arms
    10-The bandit group in the woods north of Cademia
    11-DF wanting to duel Alaric
    12-Moonshadow & Flynn void-traveling together
    13-Slayer leaving through the void (I'm pretty sure that's original, but it sounds like a beautiful scene & someone should totally make it into a short chronicle!)
    14-Wizards conviction that Avatara needs to be the one to defeat Icel

    Kat answered 1-3 already. I sort of envision #1 as a modified version of the Undine Stronghold.
    4 was new to The Trial. Previously they were much closer in age, but I had trouble figuring out why they would be bonded and so came up with it. Plus, I needed a new backstory anyway.
    5 was actually from old TSes. You see it in Echoes, but I think it predates that (Tale of the Treasure? Not that I'm counting that story as canon).
    6 was mentioned in Echoes.
    7 happened in Echoes.
    8 talked about in Shadow Games.
    9 new (but an idea I've had around for a while, years ago I considered her his original love interest, now I'm less certain - relationship sort of undefined).
    10 is from the game, no? They cross the river a bit north of the bandit camp in the game. (At least, if I remember correctly, that was a ruffian camp.)
    11 new.
    12 it sounded like M/F left when they got married, but I'm not intimately familiar with all of cache's old chrons. I figured if the Ronin were still on Cythera, they wouldn't have been completely silent the last several years.
    13 witnesses taken from his retirement thread. (I left a few names out for brevity, so sorry if you're offended at not being included!)
    14 from Shadow Games. Same with the assumption that Av knows how to work the zetacomb. (Now, if Wizard or DF comes back and remembers exactly how that was supposed to happen, I am open to suggestions!)

    Quote

    I really wonder about Avatara's youth! It sounds like he was either manipulated into killing someone, or framed for murder. I wonder what happened, & why...

    Neither, but it's not clear what happened yet. Maybe more details next time.

    Quote

    I also wonder why Wizard/Selax are determined that Avatara needs to wield the zetacomb & defeat Icel, and what they mean by saying he won't be alone? Who will be with him? I wonder if, by the current time in OoR, Icel has been defeated?

    You should ask them! It was a major point in Shadow Games where Selax wanted the power of the zetacomb but Wizard held back and said it was meant for Av (or at least, DF intended it for Av).

    Quote

    I like the dream-sequences, I like how the scene changes at every thought, like a real dream. I still wonder about the black crystal fortress! Will that appear in Part 3?

    They're fun and easy to write, but I was told I over-used them in the Trial, so I only included a couple this time around.

    Quote

    Also, is Delthoras another name for DF? I don't remember the name Delthoras being used before, but Delthor was a villain in Tyrant's Ring..

    Delthoras is DF's account name elsewhere. "Desert Fox" doesn't feel like an actual name, more like a codename, so I opted for naming him after what he names most of his characters.

    Quote

    Watching Avatara and Katerei grow closer was sad, knowing that this wouldn't be a happy ending. When they hug, confess love, etc., I feel regretful because I think they are adding to the pain they'll feel over the next year +.

    Spoiler

    Observant readers have noted that DM/OoR take place approximately eleven months after The Trial/Outcast.

    Quote

    In a hypothetical world, if they were free, and free of obligations, would they be this close? Or would they still be silent and reserved with each other?

    You mean, like in alt-Cythera? ;)

    Quote

    I like the Sail references: Makiri, the necklace, Orebo & the star, Tel-saidu.

    There might've been more if I had time to read further. :(

    Quote

    I'm amused that Avatara doesn't like sleeping on hard surfaces. When has he ever had a soft bed? ^_^

    The inn?

    Quote

    When did Avatara lose the zetacomb? :o

    Do you mean in general or in the last chapter?

    Quote

    Edit: Also, Kat, I don't want to drag you away from Sail, but is there any chance we'll get to hear about what happened to Katerei between Outcast & Dark Mirror? Maybe that will be in the Sail sequel?

    +1 (Also, Sail is about the wrong Kat.)

    More importantly, you should ask her to write what happens to Kat after OoR!



  • Random story trivia (that I don't think I've included elsewhere but might have):
    - The original idea (circa 2007 or so) was to have three stories, each spanning seven days. Each one would focus on a different character: Avatara, Katerei, Selax, in that order. The first ended up as The Trial, Kat was supposed to write the second and totally forgot, and I never actually talked to Selax (or at least, negotiations didn't get very far if we did) regarding the third. In the end, the second/third stories got mushed together to make Outcast (though the plot has changed significantly to accommodate the setting in DM - originally my leaving was just a way to retire from TSes).

    - Selax and I wanted Selax/Av to not really get along at all as a way to have something more interesting than your standard party of 12 heroes that all got along perfectly. This was arranged back around the Shadow Games era but not much happened with it because I dropped out after Witch Hunt, and Selax wasn't in Bell Tolls. We recycled the idea a bit with alt-Cythera, but Outcast was the first chance to actually write some of it with the original characters.

    It's not that they hate each other, because they don't, but their conflicting viewpoints and values clash frequently.

    - The cave scene in chapter 3 was the hardest to write (I actually had to seek help). The dream scene (same chapter) was the easiest/quickest to write.

    - For the soundtrack this time around, I actually used the music I was listening to on loop when I wrote the scene. Some of these songs I ended up playing over 80 times just for this story - especially the short ones like the raindrops song.

    - I almost put the river date violin song in one of the DM/OoR soundtracks, but it just didn't fit. I tried again with The Trial and it still didn't feel right. This time around, I think it worked. I've had that song for almost ten years.

    - When I started The Trial, I had no idea how the DF/Icel subplot would end, since no ending was ever invented. I thought this would just be two stories about how Av leaves Cythera and that would be left open.

    Spoiler

    In the process of researching DF's background for this story, I was talking with him about his old characters and I worked out an ending that he felt was fitting. I promise that if I write a third installment, it'd wrap up the whole DF/Icel/Saria thing, once and for all. Though note if I did write that story, it would be a very different story than these other two. Probably much darker, just from the nature of the material.

    - This story would not have been possible without the overworld map of Cythera, Katerei, and Pallas Athene's moon simulator (with BMW's data).

    - Figuring out all the special rules for punctuation in quotes is more complicated than filing taxes.



  • @ikaterei_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 03:12 AM, said in Outcast:

    That's what I thought of! But apparently the one in Frozen is spelled Arendelle.

    Oh. Well, minor spelling discrepancy - I still look forward to Frozen references in the next story! ^_ __^

    @ikaterei_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 03:12 AM, said in Outcast:

    There's actually not much to cover. I don't think I originally knew there'd be a year in between Bell Tolls and and DM, and the Sail sequel is probably going to end around the same place as Outcast, so I don't have anything planned for what happens afterward.

    Cliff's Notes version: Katerei turns into a depressed trainwreck, hangs out in the Tavern a lot, and joins the heroes in DM for lack of anything better to do.

    Poor Katerei! ;_;

    @ikaterei_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 03:12 AM, said in Outcast:

    I forgot to post this before, but if I rewrote this story from Kat's point of view like I did with Hym (…which I don't plan to do), this would be her theme song. Lyrics here.

    Nice, that fits so well! See, you should write the Kat-version for the soundtrack if nothing else ^_ __^

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    Spooky? It's from a meditation album. O_o

    Maybe I was thinking of the wrong one? It was track 10, I think. But really I liked most of the songs so much that I can't figure out my favourites @_@

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    10 is from the game, no? They cross the river a bit north of the bandit camp in the game. (At least, if I remember correctly, that was a ruffian camp.)

    Oh yeah, the abandoned farmhouse where Eudoxus took Ariadne! I guess I've just discouraged you from making game references, oops :x I was over here wondering if you were somehow referencing Shadow Warriors or Dark Legacy @_@

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    12 it sounded like M/F left when they got married, but I'm not intimately familiar with all of cache's old chrons. I figured if the Ronin were still on Cythera, they wouldn't have been completely silent the last several years.

    I think they went like a month-long honeymoon, but I don't know if anyone ever said if they left Cythera.

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    You should ask them! It was a major point in Shadow Games where Selax wanted the power of the zetacomb but Wizard held back and said it was meant for Av (or at least, DF intended it for Av).

    It seems like other people consider your character to be significantly stronger than you do!

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    They're fun and easy to write, but I was told I over-used them in the Trial, so I only included a couple this time around.

    I liked the Trial dream-sequences too, but it took me a while to realize he was dreaming about the same events over and over @_@ So, were his dreams in The Trial just regular dreams, or were they influenced by his bond with DF?

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    Delthoras is DF's account name elsewhere. "Desert Fox" doesn't feel like an actual name, more like a codename, so I opted for naming him after what he names most of his characters.

    Ah, I see! ^_ __^

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    Spoiler

    Observant readers have noted that DM/OoR take place approximately eleven months after The Trial/Outcast.

    Okay, maybe less than a year. But, I still don't know how quickly Avatara & Katerei will be reunited in/after OoR, or if that will even happen! & since Avatara planned to meet Katerei 6 months after Outcast, & Selax said he'd deliver the message after Avatara succeeded, something must have gone wrong.

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    You mean, like in alt-Cythera? ;)/>

    Yeah! Except without Katerei killing Avatara's wife.

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    Do you mean in general or in the last chapter?

    In the last chapter.

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 04:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    More importantly, you should ask her to write what happens to Kat after OoR!

    Oh yes! We'll need post-OoR stories for sure : __D I wonder if it will be "happily ever after"?

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 05:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    Random story trivia (that I don't think I've included elsewhere but might have):
    - The original idea (circa 2007 or so) was to have three stories, each spanning seven days. Each one would focus on a different character: Avatara, Katerei, Selax, in that order. The first ended up as The Trial, Kat was supposed to write the second and totally forgot, and I never actually talked to Selax (or at least, negotiations didn't get very far if we did) regarding the third. In the end, the second/third stories got mushed together to make Outcast (though the plot has changed significantly to accommodate the setting in DM - originally my leaving was just a way to retire from TSes).

    I never knew that, but I'm glad Avatara's not just leaving so you can quit TSes!

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 05:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    - The cave scene in chapter 3 was the hardest to write (I actually had to seek help).

    That must've been the one that you were complaining took hours to write, & you were going to give up on Averei. I'm glad the other scenes weren't nearly as difficult!

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 05:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    - When I started The Trial, I had no idea how the DF/Icel subplot would end, since no ending was ever invented. I thought this would just be two stories about how Av leaves Cythera and that would be left open.

    Spoiler

    In the process of researching DF's background for this story, I was talking with him about his old characters and I worked out an ending that he felt was fitting. I promise that if I write a third installment, it'd wrap up the whole DF/Icel/Saria thing, once and for all. Though note if I did write that story, it would be a very different story than these other two. Probably much darker, just from the nature of the material.

    I can't wait for that story! I'm excited to find out what happens with this Icel plot : __D

    @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 05:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    - Figuring out all the special rules for punctuation in quotes is more complicated than filing taxes.

    Yikes! I've never learned those rules, myself.



  • @avatara_bot, on 28 December 2014 - 05:41 AM, said in Outcast:

    The original idea (circa 2007 or so) was to have three stories, each spanning seven days. Each one would focus on a different character: Avatara, Katerei, Selax, in that order. The first ended up as The Trial, Kat was supposed to write the second and totally forgot...

    To be fair I did write a second story focusing on Katerei. It just went backwards in time and covered events before The Trial and none after it.

    @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 30 December 2014 - 06:26 PM, said in Outcast:

    Nice, that fits so well! See, you should write the Kat-version for the soundtrack if nothing else ^_^

    I don't think I have any other songs set aside for it. I only have a handful for my novel and one for DM. But you can assume Tiernan's theme song I linked you to awhile ago is also Avatara's theme song for the theoretical Outcast retelling.


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