As the tale of the Exalted Continues

It has been a strange few days, Diary, since I wrote to you last, but we are finally on our way back to Champoor. It is not in the best of spirits that we return, but I do feel somewhat better for it; it is the comforting feeling of returning home. We return without Dasadi, who, now that we have concluded things in Volivat, now seeks to discover what occurred during his missing weeks. We have wished him well, and he knows how to find us in Champoor, so I have high hopes that we will see him again.

But you must be wondering how everything turned out in Volivat.

When I last wrote, we were just settling down to sleep after the strange and terribly unsettling events at the prison. Piper and I had again opted to share a room, and I was just removing my armor when there was a knock at our door. I re-donned my outer dress and opened it to reveal Dasadi, seemingly feeling restless and asking if Piper wished to join him in scouting out the city now that things may have calmed down somewhat. Piper agreed, and I decided to join Saiten in his room in order to ease everyone’s possible discomfort at my spending the night alone; I realize that my skills in defending myself are not as strong as my companions, so did not wish to distract them with worrying over me while they were gone.
I have to admit that I was somewhat gladdened by Dasadi’s invitation. He and Piper seemed so much at odds before discovering each other’s light, and it is good to see that they may become friends, or perhaps even more than this. It would be nice for Piper to have more people to confide and trust in.
I was unable to sleep with the two of them out in the city, so I repackaged and sorted my stores while Saiten slept. He offered me space next to him in the bed, but I felt that this would not be entirely proper, and besides, I was concerned for our companions.

The night seemed to crawl by, and it was almost morning before another knock came at our door. It was Piper, who I was so overjoyed to see alive and well that I nearly leapt in for an embrace; I forget sometimes that piper seems uncomfortable with showing affection. Dasadi, however, was nowhere to be seen. It seems that in the course of their investigation, they were noticed by what could only be some kind of dragonblood, who hurled hammers at them from a great length, and with little regard for any who might be injured in the process. Dasadi was hit, and it seems he then exploded into purple and gold flames! Piper feared that he may be dead, but I could not believe it. I’m not entirely certain why, but I just couldn’t believe that he would die. I managed after this to sleep a bit while Saiten did his morning routine, feeling somewhat better for having Piper back with us, but quite troubled by Dasadi’s disappearance. We decided that day to continue our inquiries as planned, and to leave a note for Dasadi at the Inn in case he were to look for us there.

We were unable to pursue our next line of questioning that day, however. While walking towards the Plain, the inn in which we last spoke to the man who pointed us towards the warehouse in which we were ambushed, Piper suddenly began to cry. No, really this does not cover it. Piper began to wail with such feeling and emotion that I was sure that her heart must have been breaking. Taking off from us in sprint, I wasn’t sure Saiten would be able to catch up. He, however, was able to catch Piper, and we brought her, shaking and sobbing, to a more private alleyway.
I still am not entirely sure what brought this on. I only know that Piper had been increasingly disturbed by what had been happening, and the possible involvement he may have had in it; from the strange girl calling Piper “Aria” to the prisoners obviously having been sent to attack us specifically, I can see the repression of all of the emotions Piper must have been feeling deeply damping his light. But even that does not seem to explain the depth of feeling she must be having in order for this heart-wrenching display to be taking place.
I, completely at a loss as to how to help her, began to stroke her hair and sing to her, one of the songs Belle herself sang when I was small, and scared, and felt alone, a song of hearth, and coming home, and the sweet embrace of those who love you.

This, it seems, was a mistake.

Piper began to wail even more fervently, and Saiten scooped her up into his arms. What kinds of horrors must Piper have faced that thoughts of home and comfort bring him such pain?
We had intended to bring her back to the inn to wait it out; eventually she must become tired enough by this to sleep. However, we were stopped by several guards, brought, it seems, by the sorrowful noises Piper was making. They seemed quite concerned for her well-being, and offered to take us all back to their guardhouse. I think Piper would have been more comfortable at the inn, but this was probably as much so that they could keep an eye on her and make sure she was safe than anything, so I am grateful to them for it.

It took quite some time for Piper to cry herself out. She seemed more embarrassed by this situation than anything, and the guards allowed us to take her with us once they were convinced we had not caused this terrific amount of grief.
With most of the day gone, and Piper sorely in need of rest, food and drink, we headed back to the inn. When he had eaten and drunk, Piper seemed much more calm and at ease, and thanked us for “putting up with” him during this time.
Piper also said something which greatly disturbed me, though I tried not to show it too much: that he didn’t deserve our help. How is it that someone can be so abused as to feel that they are not worthy of kindness? Who could do such a thing as to make someone feel this way? Piper is kind, a protector who seeks justice. Piper is our friend, and has helped us time and again. What act of degradation has been imposed upon you that you cannot feel you are worthy of decency? I must tear away this feeling of unworthiness, and remind Piper that she is worthy of love, caring and friendship.

We renewed our search for answers the next morning. Walking towards the Plain, however, did not go as smoothly as we may have hoped. As we approached, we heard a loud crash, and Piper’s keen hearing discovered that the Inn we were walking to had collapsed! We raced towards it, hoping for the best but fearing the worst, and discovered that there had been one known person inside when it had fallen, Sermon, the man with which we sought to speak! Saiten sprang into action then, and with some encouragement a few more of the local men, Piper included, sprang from their shock at this incident to help him lift the rubble off of the poor trapped man. They were able to free him, but he was quite badly injured. With some time and assistance from a few others who were able to bring me the things I at that moment sorely missed from my clinic (thank you, Broken Walls!), I was able to bring him back to health.
It was then that Sermon said something terribly strange, though. He told me that we now had “one more test”, and that we were to go back to the place where we started. He would say no more, and seemed as though he had been told this by someone who frightened him greatly, so I did not press him. Saiten searched the rubble for signs that anyone else had been in the building, but did not find any. With this new information, we decided that we would retrace our steps of our first day here backwards in order to discover what this meant.
We took a detour first through the Fish Market in order to speak with Herald of Seafoam, who had seen Playton heading towards the warehouses. Once again we were privy to his wonderful Krillo Fish, but he had no more answers than he had when we first spoke to him. Our next stop, then, was the Steam Kettle, the inn we had first stayed in when we arrived. This, it seems, was in fact our intended destination.
When we neared our destination, we began to see dark black smoke coming from the direction we were headed: the Steam Kettle was on fire! It seems that once again there was only one person inside, this time or one time server Chellia. And once again, Saiten sprang into action. With little time for even a thought to his own safety, Saiten doused himself with water and dove through the doorway into the flames.
Saiten often touts himself as a “hero for fun”, but that was the moment that I truly believed he had become a hero. Saving others when you are strong and can overpower your opponents in one thing, but this did not require strength, only the willingness to do whatever was necessary in order to help someone in need. He put his own life in mortal danger in order to save her. Probably for the first time since I have known him, I felt fearful that he might not make it out alive.
Piper circled the burning building, also looking for a way to aid the trapped Chellia; a much more prudent approach to saving her. I stood helplessly outside, only able to watch and wait. This did not take long, however, as a few breathless moments later the wall of the Steam Kettle burst open, and Saiten, carrying Chellia, leapt from the flames, followed closely by Piper. Thankfully, none of them was hurt badly, and were easily tended to.
Chellia then told us that she had been instructed to have us follow her to the place where we would gain the answers we had been seeking. Once she was up to the task of walking, we all four began to follow her down the streets. My heart went out to her, then, so brave for having endured so much, but still stoic in the face of bringing us further. Little did I know why this calm was.

We were led to a large house on a still street, windows marking a second story, but only one entrance, the front doors, to be seen. Chellia told us that she was to enter with us, so stayed while we deliberated how we would enter. Some of the others were, understandably, leery of just walking through the front door; we had had difficulties with doing so quite recently. However, we finally decided to walk through it anyway, if for nothing else than a show of good faith, and perhaps the difficulty it would prove were we to try and enter else-wise. You must remember, Diary, that we still had very little idea what was waiting for us. Piper was able to discern that there were quite a few people, and perhaps some animals in the building, but we had no real way of knowing if they were friend or foe, or what the layout of the building was really like inside. So we opened the doors.

What greeted us was strange, and, if I am being honest, a bit frightening. The room was full of frightened looking people of many ages, heights, looks and gender. If I had to say now, I would guess about thirty different people. The second floor could be seen all around the room we entered, a balcony running around its outside, and Big, black, four legged birds perching on its railings: Stryx.
Then one of the people, an old woman, I believe, crept forward, and began to speak. She told us that her name was Pecahan Aniani, and that she was the one who was testing us. But then another person stepped forward and began to tell us more. Each person, young and old, stepped forward and told us just one thing. It began to be quite plain that another was using them to give us information about herself. At first we suspected some sort of mind to mind connection between Pecahan and these people, but they did not seem like mindless puppets, even when they spoke, and did not respond to our queries when we interrupted. We soon came to realize that these people were in fact just reciting what they had been told, and that Pecahan did not have a mental control of them, but an emotional one: they feared her, and what might happen if they did not perform as she had asked.

What they told us, as I remember it, was that she was the one who had brought us here. She had spread rumors of the Stryx syndicate, which does not actually exist, and disguised herself, possibly, I think, through means like Piper’s, to look similarly to one of Saiten’s family’s attackers in order to lure him and us here. She had heard of his strength, and of us, and had spoken to a bridge god near to where he gained his light in order to track us.
What she wished of us was to see if we were strong enough, or perhaps just whatever it was she needed, in order to destroy her father, a being known as Ma-ha-suchi. Dasadi later told us that he was an exalted being like a solar, but known as a Lunar, and he believed him to be quite powerful. However, it seems as though we were not strong enough to pass her tests, and she was done with us, at least, for the moment.

This was devastating news for everyone. Not that we weren’t strong enough (though, I think Saiten may have been a bit upset by this news), but that the reasons we had thought we were coming here were not, in fact, true. There was no Syndicate, there were no answers about the girl calling Piper “Aria” (which Pecahan instructed her mouthpieces to do again when we entered), and, possibly most unfortunately, there was no closure for Saiten.

Saiten is strong, physically, and, most of the time, emotionally. He is and has been a rock for the entire time I have known him. But to find out that, not only were you brought somewhere on false pretenses, but the answers about your family’s death you thought you might glean were all smoke and mirrors? I am terribly afraid that this might break him. He is gentle, and kind, and I am terrified that he may become hardened by this in a way that cannot be undone.

When the people were done speaking, my friends reacted… angrily. Saiten went up to one of the birds, and grabbed it by its leg, fruitlessly trying to get it to speak with him, hoping that it had some connection to Pecahan, and that it would provide answers. The others mused over the idea of killing the Stryxes, inviting Dasadi to venture that he could destroy “the whole room, but not half of it”. We had no notion of really how the birds were connected to Pecahan, so I had no intention of allowing the others to harm them. We told the people that they could leave, but they just shuddered and looked away from us fearfully. We asked Chellia if she could leave, and she seemed not to know. She asked us if we planned on killing Pecahan if we found her. I admit that even my anger and frustration got the better of me there, and I did not immediately say that I would not. Pecahan likely caused the suffering and death of many innocents, just to get to us. If it came to it, and she could not be swayed from doing so again, I may have to end her existence. But I would wish with everything I have not to, if I could. I should have said so.
We decided, for the people’s sake, to leave this now wretched place. Piper stopped to inspect the rooms above, perhaps out of a sense of needing to find something of value here, or perhaps in order to relax her angered nerves. Saiten marched angrily outside, and Dasadi and I waited for Piper to return so we could leave together. When Piper had finished, arms loaded with new books, we all began to exit. Chellia went last, and waited for us all to be outside. Then she slammed the door, closing herself in with the villagers.

I cried immediately for Saiten, who yanked one of the doors so forcefully that it tore from its hinges. But she was gone. The Stryx were swirling up a hole in the roof that we had no seen before, and the people inside were huddling together in fear. But Chellia, Pecahan, was gone.
We realized then what had been happening. Chellia, and likely Sermon, had been Pecahan, watching us save her from her tests. It is possible that she was not the terrifying monster that slaughtered the prison guards, but it seems unlikely that this was not the case. It seems that, in order to get our attention and test our skills, she was willing to kill as many innocents as it took, and put as many of them in harms way as she needed. I felt sick. We headed back to the boat, and never looked back.

Even with everything that has happened, Diary, I still plan to stop needless suffering in any way I can, to the full extent of my abilities. I know that what happened here was in part a result of someone seeing us for what we are, and that this can be dangerous both for us and for those around us. However, I cannot, and will not, base whether or not I will help someone on this. If I reveal myself as a Solar in the midst of saving someone’s life, there is the possibility that in the future someone may see this as reason to put myself or others in danger. If I keep the nature of my abilities a secret, but in doing so allow someone to suffer or die, then they have suffered or died. I cannot base my decisions on what might happen in the future in spite of what is happening in the present. When someone is suffering, it will still never be a matter of Should I,

But Can I.

Comments

=D I liked this entry – I enjoyed Aster’s retrospection on her interactions with Chellia, thinking about what she’d said and how that might have come across.

Aster's Diary 12
Edgar_Grim Mouse

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