Weeks had passed since the battle for Illium, and I still had no word from my friends. All I could do was wonder, and hope. And always long to be with them. Adventuring. I hadn’t reached the point where being kept in one place embittered me, there was still too much to be done in and around the city. Too much to make right, to improve upon, to learn. This will be my world, I thought distractedly. But does it have to be only this? I considered the dual life my father led in secret. If Viceak could be king and an Arch Magi, why can’t I handle two jobs?
“Taelim?” Feeps interrupted my daydreaming. “Are you certain?” The warforged asked me again as he dogged my footsteps down the hall.
I pretended the matter didn’t daunt me. “Nope. There’s no set date, so no pressure. Besides, it makes the city feel at ease. I think.”
I watched from the corner of my eye as my guardian visibly trembled with frustration. “Taelim, this is no small matter. Remember Valium?”
I grinned. “The stone man in the cellar? I do, but Killian isn’t Valium. We get along.”
Feeps grabbed my wrist and forced me to a stop. “Please. I just want you to be...happy. Do not make the same mistake as…”
“My mother?” I missed her already, but she was back in the Green Court. Free from all this.
Feeps looked away, abashed.
I peeled his fingers off me and held my best friend’s hand. “I’ve had weeks to decide. Killian can’t do this alone, he’d resent it. As much as I have the right to leave this place behind, I won’t. Not while people look up to me for help--for whatever unholy reason. Anyway, Killian despises politics.”
“As do you!”
I laughed abruptly, nodding my head. “Yeap.” I patted his hand. “But someone has to do it, and there’s only so much I can burden you with. For now, Killian keeps busy cleaning up Wroth activity while I tell everyone it’ll be alright before wallowing in drink.”
The comment seemed to dampen the warforged’s spirit further. “Taelim…”
“It was a joke!”
“I do not believe you.”
I sighed and motioned for him to follow. “As long as you’re here, I can bear this.” I paused, wondering if he would come to resent this too. “Hopefully the group will come back. Maybe we can clean up the remaining Wroth, you know, make a trip out of it. I’m tired of Killian pulling rank and having all the fun. He’s not as charming as he thinks.”
I turned down a corner and we stopped, preparing to part ways. “I have to meet with him at the docks, his crew had reports of Wroth on neighboring seas. I want to know what they’ve found out.” I explained eagerly, craving a break in the morning routine.
Feeps regarded me for a moment, his eyes trying to perceive what he could only guess at. “Have you two…?”
“Byeee!” I beamed and bolted down the corridor.
I admit it. I was jealous. While Killian was a receptive learner, he was far better at leading soldiers around the countryside, killing off straggling enemies, than actually being king. Which was what Illium needed at the moment, the assurance and protection he could offer with his years of seasoned training. So I let him have that, but it generally left me dealing with matters in the city. I would get my turn at fun, one way or another.
I examined Illium’s new flagship from the docks, taking in the unusual amount of bustle aboard the vessel. Soldiers, equipment, supplies. I didn’t outwardly jump to conclusions as I worked my way up the ramp, locating my target. Killian was happily commanding his crew with practiced ease, and when he made eye contact, he barked one last order before approaching.
“Taelim!” He waved, coming to stand at my side.
I held back a smile with effort, grateful he was one of the few people who actually called me by my name these days. Even if it took repeated requests. To everyone in the kingdom, I was still “Princess.” As if they willingly whisked away my background, foregoing it in lieu of my recent services to the kingdom. I gave up trying to correct it.
“Docks are busy today. Where’s the ship heading?” I said, noting the sailors double-checking lines across the deck.
“Somewhat busy, I suppose.” Killian responded halfheartedly, scratching the back of his head.
Ah, the old “nothing’s happening here.” I turned to face him, eyes narrowed. “We talked about this. Trust. I’m not about to live my parents’ lie.” I paused and let it sink it before asking again. “What’s going on, Killian?”
The Azure Prince shifted under my gaze, focusing on the ship’s railing as he spoke. “Reports of Wroth activity at sea is true. Their forces have amassed on a warship. I thought it best we deal with it before they retaliate.”
I inclined my head, moving to lean against the railing. “Let me guess. We involves you leading them?”
Killian swallowed at my subtle accusation. He bowed his head in acknowledgement.
We lingered there in silence, but I couldn’t let my own hungry desire to take his place admonish one key fact. “No one knows these waters better.” I conceded.
He raised his gaze. “So, I can go?”
“I don’t have the right to stop you,” I said dryly. “Only guilt you.”
He laughed. “I promise, I’ll take care of it and be back before the week is through.”
I hesitated, trying to mirror his mirth. “Just don’t be reckless. I know, I know...I have zero right to say that, but even I know you can match me for foolishness on the field.”
He leaned in close, humor still spread across his features. “You’re right. Zero right to talk about heedless behavior, she who takes on a dragon.”
I rolled my eyes, moving away to create space before more crew stared. Maybe they’ll actually believe we will work out. My relationship with Killian was complex to say the least. One that might grow in time, but was currently thrown together out of necessity. Did I find him attractive? Absolutely. I always had, but there’s wasn’t love between us and we knew it. For now, we teetered just above friendship and awkward flirtation. At least we were allies in a world neither of us wanted.
“When do you leave?” I asked, starting down the ramp.
I sighed. Damn, I’m stuck with court. Again. “You tell the council, I’ve got to--”
“Princess! Princesss!” A voice hollered from a soldier sprinting toward the ship.
Gods! I’m going teleport to a peaceful place. “Yes?” I asked, gritting my teeth.
The soldier tried to catch his breath. “Your--um--friends--have arrived!”
I felt my heart leap. They’re here? Did they bring Elroar? I hurried past him, ready to sprint toward the castle.
“A moment, Princess!” The soldier called out.
I threw up my hands. “What is it?”
The soldier hesitated. “Lady Tylda...isn’t pleased. They, um...appeared inside the castle. With a...hut of sorts.”
I cocked my eyebrow for a moment, my brain unable to process whether he was serious or confused. Without another word, I turned and ran all the way home.
It was a hut. And it stood on gangly chicken legs, having barreled through the walls of the west wing with uncanny force. I could feel the silent fury from the attendants, but all I concerned myself with were the friends that loitered nearby, dirty, tired and grinning.
“Taelim!” They called as I approached, filling me with a sort of comfort I hadn’t realized was missing.
“What in the actual hells?” I exclaimed, in no way angry. “Whose house is that?”
“Baba Yaga’s! Remember?” Klotonk piped up waving the familiar gnarled staff of the witch.
“Okay, but why is it here?”
“To break into the Impenetrable Prison, duh.” Cosmo added matter-of-factly.
“Hah! You should have seen the faces of the Magaat guards!” A dwarf with silver hands guffawed. “It barreled right inside their walls. We broke the druid out, and it brought us here!”
I could only assume this was the Dagon they hired, and the huge cleric of Kord, Yaup was chuckling beside him.
“You broke into Magaat’s prison!?” An attendant squeaked, on the verge of fainting.
I covered my mouth with my hands, desperately trying to hold back my amusement. “That’s going to bite me in the ass,” I told my friends casually. Then I shrugged as the attendants groaned collectively. “I’ll deal with it.”
A hush fell over us as the reason for the jailbreak cleared his throat. I lifted my gaze and recognized the face of Elroar Warson. My real father. The attendants cleared the room, mumbling about apologies letters, and even my friends congregated near a corner of the room.
I wavered as Elroar approached me quietly. A tall, thickly built druid as rugged as the wilds he served. He wasn’t a man who embraced civilization, but the simplicity of nature. As I should have been--might have been if my birth was any different. Instead, I straddled two worlds uncomfortably.
“Elroar,” I started. “I, um…I’m happy to see--”
The druid said nothing and he stepped up and embraced me, squeezing me tightly as if refusing to let go. “Now you know.” He whispered. “My daughter...”
Words fell away as I lingered in his embrace. Familiar. Welcome.
Eventually, I pulled away, wondering what happens next. Nothing. I didn’t think anything could change this path I had chosen, it would just keep moving forward. I regarded his warm expression. But maybe I can try.
I turned to my friends who were watching the exchange. I furrowed my brows and recounted their numbers, finally noting what I missed earlier. What I had taken for granted.
The party shifted uncomfortably, refusing to meet my gaze.
“GUYS!” I yelled unconsciously, fearing what came next.
“Well,” Klotonk began quietly. “This version of Maziel...died.”
My gut twisted, but my mind clung to the peculiarity of Klotonk’s words. This version? I opened my mouth to question, but the half-orc spoke up, ringing his hands almost yearning.
“We released the god, Primus, unto this plane! Now, we must engage it in glorious battle!”
“Cosmo did it!” Dagon pointed at the kender.
“Hey!” Cosmo cried, kicking at the ground. “Okay. I did. Sorry?”
I just stood there, mouth open looking between my friends and trying to grasp the extent of the situation. “WHAT?”
Klotonk held up his palms. “Let me explain. Actually--you’ll want a summary. We passed through Viceak’s tower--since it had the teleportation circle--but we stopped to explore the ziggurat back in one of the rooms. You know, research.” He fumbled at my glare, and immediately quickened his retelling. “Cosmo kinda unlocked it. Turns out, it was holding Primus--some ancient god of the Cabiri. It made…clones of us, and controlled us for a little while…We miiiight have done things. Point is--we should probably deal with him. Oh, and the clones. Which we are...right now…No idea where our real bodies are by the way.”
I heard the soft metal clang of Feeps slapping his hand to his forehead, even Elroar groaned beside the hut. I pulled up a chair and dropped down, unable to support my own weight as I took it all in.
At that moment, another attendant came running into the room. “Princess! Your friends have arrived, and--” She stopped short as she gaped at the group. “But they’re...trailing me…”
From behind her, I watched as Maziel, Klotonk, Cosmo and Dagon entered the room, a small goblin trailing their heels. Snee? I hadn’t seen him since our circus days. The goblin was almost always with Klotonk, the two tinkering away on projects like friends. But they weren’t, the goblin was out for himself. Still, from what I learned, Snee had been the one responsible for finishing Illium’s airships. After he copied Klotonk’s blueprints that is. I wonder if Klo knows...
The two groups looked at each other and cheered loudly, and I just slouched in my chair, wondering what in the nine hells my friends had dragged me into.