As things are wont to do after a period of peace, events of all kinds began rearing their beautiful and ugly heads in waves. An unseasonably warm snap in late winter was directly followed by a record cold. Just an hour after Duran came staggering half dead into the valley clutching an urn to his chest, Yulian went into labor. Two days later, a healthy baby girl was introduced to the rest of the family after a few touch-and-go moments had put mother and child into a delicate state for a day. After discussing, the couple had decided to call her Primia, a small play between the second half of Gan's name and the fact that the girl had come a little early.
With the best magic and medicine available, Duran was barely on his feet but he insisted on attending the greeting. Right after the naming, when everyone was taking turns to greet the new life and give their well wishes, Duran bluntly shoved the urn into Yulian's hands. Corvinus looked ready to pummel the boy but Yulian understood the unspoken meaning. Among a growing list of requests that Droya organized was a small tomb to enshrine an ancestor.
Orison helped Duran to the Cantrip Villa within the 'secret village' and was about to start asking the boy questions about their journey and what happened to Medea, among other things, when the edges of Duran's existence started going fuzzy. It was the same reaction Orison had seen before when he pulled out an item the world didn't approve of. There was no time to fetch Morrel and even if the elf had manged to make it to them, the wood elf had explained there was no more 'grace' left within him to share for the time being.
With a great deal of trepidation, Orison did the only thing he could think of besides lathering Duran with the bowl of regeneration fat that most assuredly wouldn't be enough to stop Duran from unraveling. Orison took the boy into his arms and willed Duran onto the small plane in his space. There was a great deal of resistance and the outer edges of the boy's body wavered, even slightly dispersed before Duran had settled, as if drawn there, at the foot of the tree.
For a moment, Duran looked like he'd been dipped in corrosive material before Orison felt a spiritual fluctuation from the tree. All the dispersing pieces of Duran realigned where they were supposed to be but the boy was locked in a coma-like state. It was hard to sense but the tree had made some sort of attempt at spiritual communication with Orison. All that the young mage could grasp from the unfamiliar way of communication was a need, a strong need for something.
Confused, Orison thought at the tree as hard as he could, "I don't know what you want. Can you show me?"
The tree shook almost like a startled person. The young mage realized he must have reacted like a person whose hearing aid had died, yelling to make sure he was heard. To help figure out what the tree wanted, Orison began pulling samples of things from his space towards the small plane. It didn't take long to figure out from the tree's ever weakening 'happy' feeling every time Orison brought a wanted piece forward from the collection of stuff that it was pretty much everything that had been 'near' the wake of Duran's passing through his inner space to the plane. It just so happened to be the bulk of martial equipment and less organic alchemy ingredients 'gifted' to him during 'dark night'.
While the tree held Duran's spiritual self inside a non-functioning body, Orison began combing through all the material that had been 'contaminated' with pieces of the boy. Orison sadly watched as nearly all the equipment and a few other odds and ends slowly disappeared into Duran as if the image of a body was a lie, hiding a black hole inside. Before being crushed, an ugly thought briefly flitted through the young mage's heart that if he had knew just how costly Duran would become, he might not have been so quick to save the boy.
The next day, Orison almost exploded into a rage when he noticed that the tree and nearly half of his plane were gone too. That rage quickly died, however, once the young mage realized that the tree had been the one holding his plane back from growing properly. The tree may have been responsible for forming it to begin with but too much of what made Orison's space wasn't compatible with the tree's survival. Now that it was gone, Orison's plane was taking in much larger amounts of crystal dust, insuring that it's growth would be a great deal faster. As a sort of parting gift, the tree had imprinted it's drawing and processing ability onto the grass that had adapted to his space's essence the best.
Orison thought to himself, "So that was the deal? You save the boy and in return he hosts you because my space was too hostile for your future growth or something?... F*ck it. Easy come, easy go I guess."
The worst part of Orison's act of altruism was yet to come. The precursor was sudden memory loss for everyone that should have known Duran. The only immune to such an effect were his three companions and his mother. A few days later while the young mage was helping the goat herd dig out his ranch and middle son from a sudden avalanche that claimed the young man's life and half the ranch's livestock, Orison felt the sacrament that protected him from the world's retribution dim significantly.
In a panic, the young mage scrambled to find Morrel. "What in the Abyss is going on? One second I was helping a grieving father collect the remains of his son and in the next I'm scared the world is going to erase me."
Morrel closed his eyes and after an excruciatingly long minute, he said, "Something about 'that boy' threatens the world. From what I can understand, your 'guest' should be recovered and awaken in less than a third of a year. When that happens, it will mark the end for both of you whether you keep him with you or not. Just the understanding of you possessing the ability to possibly create another of his kind is enough.
"The sacrament you carry grants you that time. It's sad and sudden but use this time as best you can to finish your affairs here. I will ensure your safe passage 'out' when that time expires. That, of course, extends to Gan and Rithus as well. I may know nothing of this climbing business but I do understand that each of you carry something within that will draw you elsewhere once you strengthen it enough."
Orison despaired. "That's not enough time! So many things need to be done and we can't do even a small fraction before late spring!"
Morrel shook his head sadly and said, "Life is full of such trials, even for people such as the rancher who hadn't even the ability to say goodbye before losing his son. Do you think that the thought had ever crossed his mind that he may outlive his child, would even want to? If it's of any solace, this world's state is a temporary one. What once was below you may yet lie above. 'Climb', as you call it and perhaps we may yet meet again."
With a grimace bordering on disdain, Orison said, "There are so many threats to what I'm trying to build here. Even the taxes I've paid will only cover half the time once I'm gone. That's assuming I have a designated heir."
Morrel said, "You border on insulting those that will remain. I am not powerless and you have given us the tools we need. It's true that without you many things will be more difficult but some things will be easier. Five years is enough to find our own way. Take some time to name an heir and we'll fight for the rest ourselves. There are few fools among us and fewer that are weak... Every moment spent in pity is one less you'll have."
The young mage recoiled, stunned and a little hurt, almost as if he'd been slapped. He wanted to lash out, throw accusations. Anger bubbled to the surface but before it had a chance to erupt, a few rational thoughts took hold first. Had it been even a month ago, the result would have been much different but child and man no longer warred within him.
Orison said, "The shortest distance between two points is rarely the best line to draw, Morrel. Point taken though. Just so YOU'RE aware, I never questioned anyone's ability to survive but I was trying to build something that would last. I wanted to give you all a safe haven and shelter, not a piece of dirt you'd have to fight to hold onto."
Morrel slowly nodded and said, "I may have misjudged what you needed to hear... There will always be a fight, Orison. As long as one holds something of value, others will want it. That's a truth for all people."
The young mage retreated to lick his wounds in private. He wanted to at least have a night to soak in and digest this new misery before he was ready to share it with others. Sadly, sleep was denied him. Since that was the case, he spent the night drawing up a will of inheritance instead. It cost 200 gold but the next day, Orison registered his will with the Centerland Acadamy to insure no one would tamper with it.
After he was done, the young mage tracked down Cladius and had a private word with him. "I'm about to have the most awkward conversation with you, so bear with me. This is a vital potion with a secret ingredient, actually a couple. The important thing is, once you and mom have prepared your hearts for it, I want you to take this and make sure this damn place gets an heir. If Droya doesn't have one, this place won't get one."
Claudius spluttered for a bit but eventually got out, "I'd never say a word to slight your mother but... This is, uh, never mind. You think it'll do the trick then what's the harm?"
Orison thought to himself, "Plenty, but nothing you'll notice or won't recover from in a couple months. I don't have time to wait around and see if you shoot blanks or not." To Claudius, he said, "Take it soon. There's not a lot of winter left and you'll want as much free time as possible for a couple of weeks."
The young mage wanted Morrel to hide the fact of Orison, Gan and Rithus' not so distant departure but didn't keep it from his two companions.
"I don't know what unfinished business you have here but I figured I'd give you as much time as I could," Orison said.
Gan didn't have much to say, aside from looking mildly gloomy. Orison knew Gan had grown close with Corvinus and Yulian but the scout had never forgotten that there would be a day of farewell.
Rithus said, "I have one. I'd like to give these pearls and some gold to my daughter."
Orison nodded. "I'm not too far off from getting beacon teleports down. It's funny that I'm having trouble with full mastery of free-hand casts of it after boasting to that b*tch at Fort Frost. As soon as I have some testing logged for safety's sake, we'll take a trip to where she is. I would have mentioned it sooner but I didn't want to get your hopes up til we could go."
Rithus' eyes became wide as he said, "No, Orison. I don't want to go see her. I just want to do this last thing for her. Please don't think poorly of me or her but I was an embarrassment to her and she was punished many times for my sake. I-I was not the same as you know me now and I tried very hard to hide my... difficulties from everyone. We do not have many fond memories of each other..."
Orison said, "I dare her to be 'embarrassed' of you now."
Rithus waved his hands frantically. "It's not just that. I look and smell different now. She would only see me as a stranger. Besides, since I am going away with you, I'd rather her continue to be as she is. What would be the point in raising her care for me? I have no desire to make her feel loss or needlessly mourn. I only want to provide for her one last time. It would even be better if she believed it to be from you or maybe fa-Morrel."
Orison frowned and said, "I just have one question for you and I want truth. Would not seeing your daughter one last time cause you regret."
For a moment, Orison saw a shadow of the old Rithus, introverted and unsure of himself. "There are already many regrets. Forgiveness has been given and taken but distance was the only thing wanted of me from her. Please, let the memories of the past be buried with our collars and only live in the places within that do not let them die."
Later that evening, while taking a break from beacon to beacon transfer practice, Orison asked, "It's not my business but there's just so much I don't know about what Morrel and Rithus went through that it drives me nuts sometimes. I have no right to ask and you can tell me to go to the Abyss but I want to know whatever I can about their time as slaves under your father, Therridel."
The elf glanced sideways at Orison from his book and said, "Firstly, I've all but came out and called myself a b*****d to distance myself from him. As far as I can see, not only do you not have the right to ask but I don't have the right to tell you. Never the less, since you're bold enough to ask, answering it is the best chastisement I could offer."
Hearing the answering of his request couched so ominously, Orison began wondering if he'd made a mistake but just like Pandora before him, once the box was opened, the only thing left was to wait until the ill wind had passed to put the lid back on.
Therridel said, "I won't bore you with the endless litany of pettiness and cruelty. I'd appreciate putting this unpleasant topic to rest as soon as possible. Morrel is not only Rithus' father, he's also his grandfather. The old fiend attempted to do the same with Rithus and Lithis but Morrel put an end to the fruit of that possibility with herbs that I gave him to sterilize Rithus. None were willing and none ever grew to enjoy what they were made to inflict on one another.
"Drugs and subtle magics were used to accomplish what the collar could not so simply demand of them. And if you think the depravity stops there, you'd be mistaken. It is merely the deeper wound for making a mockery of their affections for each other, hurting them in ways other acts could not.
"The only reason I believe I have not awoke here with a dagger in my heart or drawn across my throat was due to that bundle of herbs and the problems my death would cause you. I was a coward who could not do what needed to be done when I had the chance but I feared facing execution if it was discover that I was the cause of that man's death. Even if I had avoided that fate, the house would have tested my parentage the moment he passed away. I would be fortunate to avoid fates comparable to Morrel and Rithus if proven a cuckold's child.
"Now, it doesn't matter. You killed him in the act of breaking Domain law. My disdain and shaming of him when possible proved to be an unexpected boon. Perhaps you can better understand my excessive enthusiasm towards you, at that time. You killed our tormentor. The slaves weren't the only ones you freed. My mother simply doesn't have the ability to express anything more positive than ambivalence towards you due to circumstance... Are there any other painful and humiliating questions you'd like to ask me this evening?"
A pale faced Orison said, "No, and I'm sorry."
Therridel gave Orison a weak smile, "Don't be. It is the truest sign of a person designed for greatness in the art to have a strong curiosity. As long as you're willing to pay the price or carry the burden seeking answers will ask of you, then do so. Save taboo for shamans and dogma for priests. We're mages."