Last Stand of the 5th Crusade

Riva: The Trumpet

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The Trumpet declares the assertion of power,
The call of the battle, the clash of the sword!
The archon will charge where most men would cower
For just is his cause and right his reward.
But know that this card marks a decisive hour:
You can never go back after you charge forward.
A misaligned trumpet suggests motives ignoble
Or crumbling of strength rendering bravery immobile.

In Raliscrad I made a drawing for myself. In the past the Marriage, the card that symbolizes my past more than any other: the irrevocable bond between myself and whatever force has twisted me into what I am today. The present shows the Trumpet as we charge against Minagho: the call of the battle, the clash of the sword. The future, the Hidden Truth, as our search into this demonic corruption deepens.

The cards could not be clearer. Everything else is a fog of confusion and uncertainty — so much so that for the past four weeks I have been too overwhelmed to take up the pen. So much has happened, but I just couldn’t bring myself to record it.

When I came here I was not ready for the horror we would be facing. I thought that all I had been through in Promise had steeled me to mere external threats. It was arrogant to think that, I know. But in the beginning it was so easy — even enjoyable. The past forgotten, replaced by the freedom of being a stranger in a new place — how long I had wanted to be free from Promise. The present full of new experiences and adventure. The future? …

What a horrid future. Such unspeakable loss. And these experiences, they are changing us, irrevocably and often not for the better. “You can never go back after you charge forward.” Nelethiel dead. Nerelyn lost, mad with grief, possibly also killed in the charnel that is now Kenabres. Lokura dead, one of the many crusaders who died accompanying us into battle. Indeed most who accompany us die. Then there is Kyrk, who seems increasingly obsessed and acquisitive about magic and spells. Does he consider them a means or an end? This is a dangerous road.

Barca is Barca. For all his rage in battle, he seems to just take the world around him on whatever terms it comes. I envy that sometimes, the resilience of youth. His friend Auctus grows increasingly strange, lecturing on with the help of that fleshily tumorous thing that erupted from his chest. I try to treat him with kindness, for his knowledge is helpful, and he is earnestly committed to the cause. But by fates it is revolting!

Locke too remains steadfast in his ways, anchored by his faith, I suppose. If it weren’t for his immunities — Iomedae’s blessings, he says — Auctus would surely be dead. I still wonder at the rigidity of his code, but perhaps an unquestionable order is necessary for sanity in places like this.

Keeya remains quiet. I am very glad for her company at night. I haven’t been sleeping as much as I should, but I need time to meditate on the changes that I know are affecting me as well. Having Keeya there, just her quiet presence, helps. I can feel something is coming. When I do sleep it is calm for now, but I dread what dreams may come.

When I was paralyzed by the poison of the chuul, underwater, every muscle in my body seized from the pain…. In that moment of utter helplessness I welcomed death. And the spirit of death was inside me, a waiting, ravenous darkness. Then Galea was there. She held me close and whispered prayers. Hearing those prayers brought back to me the words of my mother, the old caravan song-prayers to Desna she used to sing. And in that moment I sang every one of them with all my heart. Galea sung them too. My fear was overtaken by a flood of relief, happiness even. The spirit of death was gone, replaced by warmth and love, like I was surrounded by family again. Then another was there: distant, more of a feeling than a voice. There was anger and confusion in her, but also a reaching out to me that offered protection. She seemed alone, wanting companionship. That is the last thing I remember.

As I recovered I watched in horror as Ivan succumbed to blindness. I spent a week by his side in those awful dank and reeking ruins of Storasta, may it be forever blasted from the earth. I prayed for him too, every bit as strong as I had prayed for myself. At night I faced north and I pleaded that his life be spared. It took everything we had to save him. He is well again, and I’m proud to see him grow stronger — his skills at subterfuge and imitation are truly astounding — but the more risks he takes, the more I worry about him. I know he’s worried about me too.

Now we try to retake Raliscrad with the aid of death’s handmaidens. When I first saw one of the cloaked psychopomps, I felt that temptation of death again, but this time I easily pushed it away. There’s no doubt that the experience in the river has made me stronger, in ways that I had never foreseen. Mama would appreciate the irony there. When the Vanth asked me whom I served, I first told him the crusades — true, in its way, but hardly the whole truth. The Vanth instantly dismissed that. So I said: Desna. I have meditated upon this every night since Storasta, but saying it aloud sent chills down my spine. So much of my life has been torn from me by these outside forces that I ask and ask and ask myself: how can I trust this? Was it a god that stole the hearing of a twelve-year-old girl? Tore her from her family and threw her in an asylum? Tormented her with years and years of nightmares, beating and twisting her into … into what? And for what purpose? So long I stared at the northern sky in fear, wondering when the next round of symbol dreams would come, how they would remake me, if I would even be me anymore. And now the fates conspire to deliver me into the hands of Desna, queen of the night sky, goddess of dreams, who rules from her throne at the North Star? Is that all a cruel coincidence? Are the fates mocking me? Are gods?

Mama, I know your devotion, and over the past weeks I have sometimes felt it in my own heart, but right now this faith is too much for me. I try to pray to Desna for guidance, but the words catch in my throat. I just want to know who I am again, and to be myself. Is that too much to ask?

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JakeHartman

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