The peace that formerly reigned in Terra Nova has eroded, now little more than a memory. War ravages the continent. Disputes divide kingdoms; ideals divide families. The quest for power consumes absolutely and indiscriminately. None are immune to its allure.
Who will rise and who will fall? Only time—and ambition—will tell.
New gifted family of Lorendale added to the Families of Importance, the DeCarlos!
Congratulations to our winner of the holiday submission contest, Rigby, who came up with a brilliant holiday idea that incorporates a beautiful tale that flows with the lore and will be celebrated in Lorendale each Hiems from here on out! The Feast of the Twelve Marshals celebrates the return of Lorendale troops from war just in the nick of time to save the people from blood sacrifice and starvation. It is celebrated with secret note exchanges and a feast in which the firstborn of a family gets to dance with whomever they wish! We are looking forward to this new holiday!
Etta wanted her brother to stop. She certainly hadn’t been hoping he’d end up eating dirt.
She grabbed him by his shoulders and hauled him back onto his knees, the vines still tangled about that high. She might not have been much of a trained fighter, but between harvesting all the herbs she needed and catching the occasional big strong person who thought they were tough until they saw even a single bead of blood and went into a total swoon, she had a fair amount of physical force when she needed to.
“Who are you going to be working with?” she asked. It would stall him and it would keep her from panicking in ignorance. “Have you got a strategy worked out yet? Do we know exactly who is missing, and do we know if they’re...”
She stopped herself, then.
Do we know if they’re alive? Do we know what’s keeping them that way?
Those were all great questions. Arlo didn't have any of those answers. He wasn't sure if he was ever going to know some of those answers. The questions he had been asking himself were simpler, such as "Which way is Coheed?" "How fast can I get to Coheed?" "Where is a horse?" but maybe other questions were good too.
"I don't know, I'll find someone. I'm sure someone will want to go." Arlo blurted out as he let his sister haul him. He was still pouting about the not being able to run off thing. Then he paused and he shook any thoughts of failure out of his thick head. "Kezia has to be alive. I gotta go save her." he said finally. And no, he was thinking of any other options. Enough people had died and he wasn't losing one more person. If his decisions had led to death, maybe one of his decisions could leave to someone being saved.
"Etta. I have lost at least eight children over the past few days. I have to do something" Arlo said finally. Vengeance wasn't something he ever thought he'd want. If someone had told him he would be trying to go on a rampage in Coheed over his children a year ago, he would've laughed and called it a bad joke. "I'm going to get my friend and then we're going to make sure that this never happens again." The details of how that would work out, well he could come up with those on the fly right?
Etta knew better than to say what she was thinking...it was true and awful and not going to help—everyone loses children twice a year to the cave. And she knew those losses weighed heavily on Arlo, as well; and she knew that even Arlo didn’t have so many children that eight might be swallowed by the cave at once. But still, some horrible, bitter part of her wondered why they didn’t seem to fight against those losses, why they accepted the “choices” of their twelve year old children, as if that made them acceptable martyrs to the medallion. Was it the powerful magic of the dyrs that made it a price they all seemed to be willing to pay? Etta knew she loved Sage—no, it went beyond love. She and Sage were two sides of the same coin. Whatever happened in that cave, it manifested Sage, some melding of herself and the natural world that gave her a connection and power that surpassed all else she knew. And she was still too much of a coward and a hypocrite, too dependent on that power and connection to stand up and scream that it sucked the breath from thousands of their own children and didn’t even leave a body to be mourned. As if those lives never existed or mattered or felt anything.
Maybe Coheed made it hurt more because Coheed left them to witness what senseless loss really was. It was bodies and it was blood and it wasn’t just that unnamed children disappeared.
She wasn’t brave or cruel enough to say it, so she kissed the top of Arlo’s head, instead, her heart cracking at his sorrow and still full of fury at his single-minded stupidity.
“Coheed made plans. Coheed came in great enough numbers to succeed at least partway in their endeavours. Arlo...don’t be dumber than Coheed.”
In Arlo's mind, there was a huge difference in losing children to the cave and to war. In the cave, he couldn't do anything to protect them. He couldn't go in there with them and fight off all the monsters. But out here in the war zone? He could've been there. He could've trained them better. There were so many factors that he could've controlled and maybe someone would have been saved. It wasn't just his children. It was his lovers, his friends, people he knew. And out of all the caravans, the Dijila had taken the least losses, because they weren't there. Ironically he was pretty sure that they were prepared to have taken the most losses. These children had their dyrs, they had training, they shouldn't have been lost and Arlo wasn't supposed to have been worrying about them.
He stared at his sister, the defeat slowly cracking him wide open. "And ask more people to risk their lives again? I can't just do that." He sucked in a breath before continuing. "Everyone has done something, even you have done something..." He looked over in the horizon, his best guess as to which direction Coheed was. "I've... I've done nothing besides be too late. I need to go do something..."
“Who made you lord of all Dresmond?” asked Etta, though the poke was gently given. “We are a free people, Arlo. No one takes orders from you if they disagree or think it’s a bad idea.” Case in point, his generally even-tempered little sister had just literally rooted him to the spot over a difference of opinion on how to proceed.
“Don’t go supposing you’re the only one willing to take any risk at all, or that you must take all the risk as some kind of punishment,” she said. “Nobody is keeping score in this, Arlo. Who does what, who does more or less compared to anybody else, what does it matter, when in every moment we only do the best we can?”
She lifted his face in her hands, forcing him to look back at her, to meet her eye.
“And your best is better than doing something pigheaded and single-handed. We need you alive. I do, they do.”
It was true that no one had to listen to Arlo. The problem was, people liked to listen to Arlo. To some degree, he knew why they liked to listen to him, why there were people who would follow him. He didn't fully understand why charisma was enough to for all of it and honestly pouring over maps and deciding on the path was actually a lot more work than he expected. He picked the routes and stayed up by candlelight without question though. It was an honor for so much trust to be on his broad shoulders, but it was heavy.
"You know I'm too inspiring for the good of Dresmond sometimes," Arlo said bitterly. If he asked, people would go with him. People who would go with him for bloodlust and because they for some reason thought Arlo knew best. "I'm not asking anyone else to risk themselves." he said stubbornly. If someone happened to follow him, there was little he could do, but he didn't want anyone to feel some kind of obligation.
He stared at his sister's eyes, only a little bit of growling big cat left in him. "Whatever I do, stay here and take care of people. Fiesta too. I need the two of you to watch over everyone while I'm gone." at least he said while he's gone, not when he's gone. "If the other drivers won't go for a rescue, I'm going anyways."
“You’re certainly inspiring me to give your butt a proper swatting,” said Etta, turning her gaze up to the sky in exasperation. “You won’t have to ask—believe it or not, you’re not the only one who wants to turn Coheed inside out and take back what’s ours. I’ve thought of going, myself, but I am fully willing to admit the stupidity of that idea and that I’m of more use to the caravans if I stay behind.”
She wanted to snort and wish him good luck with telling Fiesta to do anything that wasn’t tagging along with him. There was so much of Arlo in the girl that her paternity could be in little doubt—and it wasn’t just the mess of blonde hair and winning ways. It was the bone-deep stubbornness.
Etta sat down on the ground beside him, but she didn’t make Sage loosen the vines from around Arlo’s ankles. Not yet.
“Have you and the other drivers had a chance to talk—to really discuss things, even? It’s only been a few hours since you arrived. You’re a fool if you don’t seek counsel with anybody else. Don’t ask anybody to go with you if you don’t want to think you’ve obligated anyone, but don’t miss your chance to at least take their advice or hear their ideas. You’re the driver of the Dijila. You know better than to act alone on impulse. Dresmond’s strength will always be in how we work together.”
Most of that made sense to the big dumb blonde. Etta was a very reasonable person to stay and take care of people, it's what she always did. It's what Kushti always did. But the Dijila on the other hand, they were meant to go be on the front lines. They were trained to go punch Coheed in the gut, or the face. He could punch something faster than he could fix something, because apparently hugs and kisses didn't fix everything.
"You're not mom!" Arlo pouted, with a small tantrum of trying to pull free for a moment, even though he knew it was going to be useless. Sometimes he really was just a big baby, though those moments passed as quickly as they came.
"It's kinda hard to have a driver meeting when one of the drivers isn't here yet..." Arlo pointed out. Oh right, that was his fault too. "I kinda did ask her to fight off a force... I really should go check on them." And that was a new panic. He still didn't know what happened to not just Adhla, but the rest of his character. Just like the Rashai driver had trusted him with her people and to make all the decisions, he had trusted her her with the slower, weaker, and younger members of his caravan. They were supposed to be escorted in a large safe number, one he couldn't personally protect. And those were the people who ended up with a fight on their hands.
Etta could ignore the petulant accusations of attempted maternal placeholding--though she was sorely tempted to snap back that she would tell their mother just what a twit he was being, but that kind of pettiness was hardly what they needed right now.
"Can you not just be patient?" she asked him. "You want to fly around and fix everything immediately, but that's never going to happen, Arlo. We're past that point, already. People need the drivers to be calm, to be steady, to be cautious, right now. They're mourning and they're afraid."
This was patient! He already took a nap, that counts as patient. He was waiting and he had been waiting. Running. Waiting. Mourning. That had been the cycle of the past year, since that first attack.
"Maybe I don't deserve to drive then," there he said it. Arlo said the thing that had been in the back of his mind all year and was now pushed to the front of it. This type of devastation hadn't happened to Serena. Arlo would always stand by the responsibility of leading all those lives and he might've been the worst driver in the history of Dijila. No one else had let so many Dresmondi die during their leadership.
"Do you suppose your ethical debate could perhaps be postponed until all the crisis practicalities have been dealt with?" asked Etta flatly. She didn't mean to be cold, but if ever there was a time for setting aside ego and doubts, this must be it. She let out a heavy sigh and took hold of Arlo's hand tightly in both of hers. "I know...I know what it's like to be eaten up with questions and wondering, but there comes a point where you have to put it away for a little while and focus on what needs to be done right now. And I don't mean you running straight into that nest of vipers. You're not going to fix anything by throwing yourself down like a sacrifice."
The look she gave him was steady and serious, a glimmer of tears rising in her eyes, but not quite falling.
"I can't lose you to this, Arlo. I can't. I won't."
"Do you think Serena felt like this before she left?" Arlo mused. It was something he had always wondered, but Serena had never said anything and he had never asked her. Sure love was part of it, but what else made her choose to follow her heart? He might never know, none of them might.
That was the problem. Arlo didn't know anything. He didn't know the entirety of his influence. He didn't know how many people had fallen because of his stupid decisions. "I'll talk to Danoir... Jaskier too..." Arlo was relenting on that point. It wasn't much but it was more leeway than he planned on giving. The whole not knowing what direction to go charging off to helped, not that he was admitting to not knowing that.
"If I'm not back by winter conclave, I trust you to take care of them for me." Arlo said. If he was still gone at winter conclave, that would likely mean a much larger problem, but that wasn't what he needed to talk about now. He thought he'd be back, with Kezia. They should be more than already back by then right? Hopefully.
"You're not Serena," Etta pointed out. She couldn't speak to their sister's motives, either. She'd always been closest with Arlo, but she understood Serena's love, and could at least guess at what a powerful force it must be, to love and know that love was returned. Etta felt all the dangerous gravitational pull of it. That kind of love could make people do things they'd never dreamed of, before, good or bad.
But at least Arlo was starting to calm down...or at least give the appearance of calming down.
"...winter conclave? Do you think it will take as long as that?" she asked softly. "...do you think we'll even have a winter conclave, after...after all of this?"
She supposed it was up to Danior, really, if they did. And Etta knew her opinions were not broadly popular ones, so it really shouldn't surprise her if the conclaves went ahead as usual. On and on, with no end in sight, a line of infinite children walking into the dark maw of that cave.
But how different from Serena would he be? Arlo had been fairly close to their big sister, especially in the years leading up to her departure, but the woman had never really opened up to all the nuances as to why she was leaving. She was in love and apparently that was worth the entire world to her. Maybe it wasn't the same love for his friend, but Arlo just couldn't live with himself knowing that people had died, bled, and been captured because he was too late.
He paused to think about conclave. The thought of it not happening hadn't actually crossed his mind yet. "That will be up to Danoir. We kinda do need The One and the Medallion to do it." Arlo said with a shrug. "I mean, maybe we'll stay together a little longer so it'll feel like another long conclave. I hope the cave is all in one piece... Polaris is there, she led a group to defend it." Why was he even thinking of this? When he came back he didn't know if he'd even be driver anymore. Honestly that wasn't going to disappoint him if someone else was a better leader. Surely, someone else was going to be a better leader.
Etta couldn't quite bring herself to mourn the potential loss of the Cave, even if it was the core of what bound Dresmond together, what gave them their magic that was so much a part of their way of life, their defenses, their sustenance, their comfort. She supposed it was egalitarian, in a way, that magic was not restricted to a precious few who might lord it over the rest...but then they did lord it over the Nameless, didn't they? At least, some people seemed to. She couldn't see what Dresmond would be, what life would be, without the Medallion and its mystery, and its horrible appetite for children who gambled with their lives when they went into that ceremony.
She leaned her head on her brother's shoulder.
"Promise me you won't run away just yet, and I'll get Sage to take off the vines," she said, the sound of her voice suddenly seeming very tired, even to her own ears.