Not long after we had departed the encampment, disaster struck. My uncle and I were in the back of the caravan, in the midst of a game of Pai Sho, when we heard screeches outside. I knew these sounds from my studies back in the capital; they were woodland drakes.

We burst from the caravan, weapons drawn, and felled as many of the beasts as we could. Before we could react, our escort had been slain, and our horses along with them. Alex, Iroh, and I stuck together, while Eli stayed on the roof, surrounded but fighting valiantly. When it looked as though we were about to be victorious, Eli was all of a sudden swooped up in the claws of one of the drakes, and was carried far into the distance. Shortly afterwards, I was grabbed from behind by an unknown combatant. It was a half-orc, who seemed to be controlling the Drakes. Ordering them around with some sort of whistle.

We exchanged harsh and urgent words, and convinced him to back down. He called off his pets, and we tied him up. Introductions were made difficult by the fact that he didn’t actually have a name. Oddly enough, he was able to sneak up on me because of an invisibility spell that he had cast on himself. Quite a curious character indeed. When we interrogated him about the nature of his attack, he told us that a tall man, a bearded, cloaked, and scarred resistance member, was paying him to take us alive. To him, we were worth 500 gold per head. So Eli had been taken to his client. Lovely.

At the half-orc’s description of his employer, Iroh and Alexander both shuddered. Apparently the name held some bad memories for the both of them. They were certain that this man was Romulus, a rebel general in the northern civil war, many many years ago. Alex had fought toe to toe with him once, an experience that he was lucky to have walked away from. The great battle that my uncle had fought had been against this man as well. Only my father, and his ways of ruthless destruction, ended the strife. But what would he possibly want to capture us for? The rebels thought that we were working for them. Something wasn’t right here.

In any case, our horses had been slaughtered, and we needed to get to Equis. We decided to improvise. With Alex’s Katana at the throat of our new half-orc friend, we harnessed three of his drakes to the caravan, and headed towards the Cavalian border.

We were stopped as expected, by a group of perplexed looking guards. Within moments, they had a plethora of crossbows trained on us. Iroh and I talked them down, and gave our proper introductions. The halfie released the drakes, signaling them to go back to their hive. When all weapons had been put away, the guards told us that our presence was indeed expected by the capital, and we were to be escorted there right away. Lord Dothraki Solstine, the provincial leader, was awaiting our arrival. And then he mentioned something that filled my heart with dread. Lord Ignius Ing’um, my father, was awaiting us as well. My father had come here? Was it to see me? To taunt my uncle? A tiny piece of me clung to the hope that he was here to congratulate me; to clap me on the back and recognize me as a true member of the Ing’um family.

When we got to the capital, we had some time to kill before our audience with Lord Solstine. I worked as hard as I could to clean myself up. I bought new robes, new bandages, and I even bought a gift for my father. A finely crafted Ivory-tiled Pai Sho set. I needed nothing to go wrong.

We entered the great hall, and Lord Solstine greeted us with open arms. I began to make my report, and when I mentioned Romulus, I was cut short by the laughter of a familiar voice. From a nearby doorway, my father emerged. I stiffened. He, too, had tangled with this Romulus character, and seemed to be entertained by the prospect of him being a piece of this war.

To my father, saluted, and introduced my newfound friend, Alexander, as well as our still-bound half-orc prisoner. Iroh and my father exchanged heated glances. When Dothraki learned Alexander’s name, he connected the dots, guessing that this knight was the one who had saved young Leonidas from a terrible fate. He offered his condolences; King Leonidas had passed away in our absence. He had been killed in his sleep. There was no trace of an intruder, save for the strange presence of a court jester’s hat sitting on his night table. Alex nearly collapsed with grief. I had never seen the man lose hope like that until now. Nevertheless, we had business to attend to.

When I gave my full report, I told them everything. About the Jester, about the rebel leaders, about how we got so far south. I gave them the maps, showing the exact locations of the rebel strongholds. I sang like a canary, leaving out only the bits about Nadine – I thought it best if her existence was kept secret. I had no desire to get her involved in this again – and Davon, Alex’s old military buddy who had joined the resistance.

My father was beyond pleased. I gave him his gift, and he accepted it absently, more interested in the new tactical prospects that had opened up for him. He ordered Dothraki to go after Romulus, who would presumably not be a difficult target given his current situation, and told us to meet him at dawn for our ride into rebel territory. We were then dismissed. Alex stormed out of the great hall, but I had one last question for my father. I asked if, upon our return to Rozaria, I would be granted entry into the Arcane Tower. “All in due time, my boy.” Was his response. “All in due time.”

And then, he told me there was unfinished business. That one always takes the opportunity to strike down an enemy while one has it. He paced over to the half-orc, and with a single touch, reduced him to a smoldering pile of ash. I stood tall, and saluted. Iroh did not take kindly to this action at all. There was an exchange of very harsh words and heated glares before we were able to depart.

We caught up with Alex on our way out, but something was different about him. He told us that he wouldn’t be joining us on the morrow; that he would immediately set off for the Northern Islands, where he could pay his respects to his fallen comrade. I was angry; Alex was abandoning us at a time like this? Victory was almost at hand. At the time, I was convinced that my father and I would end the war together. How foolish. I should have listened to my uncle. The whole time, he had offered nothing more than words of wisdom and reason. And I had turned a deaf ear. Instead, I lost my temper. I told Alex to leave, I told him that I didn’t need him anyways. He left, and there’s no way I can blame him for that.

The next morning, my uncle and I got dressed and met my father. At this point, we could barely look at each other. He informed us that I was to be his right hand, and Iroh his left, on this final stretch of war. An army had assembled, a troop of five thousand, armed with Ballistae and Catapults. It was a siege force to be reckoned with.

After several hours ride, we took an unexpected turn. I told my father that we were headed the wrong way – If we were going to the heart of the rebel territory, we would have to keep going straight a while longer. My father laughed. We would not be striking at the heart of the rebel territory. In order to truly break a man, one must destroy that which he holds dearest. We rounded the bend, and through the trees, I saw the monastery.

My uncle grew increasingly concerned, and rightfully so. He was concerned for my safety, he tried reasoning with my father. I was so blind – so goddamn blind. All I said to him when he offered to escort me was that “Father will protect me.”

The siege commenced, and Iroh asked if my father planned to take any prisoners. The beast of a man laughed, and said that if any survived the initial bombardment, they would be killed by hand. We rode up to the summit of the mountain, and with one powerful blast, my father knocked the great monastery doors off their hinges, and our forces poured inside. All around I saw destruction; monks were trying vainly to fight off armed forces, innocent refugees were being slaughtered in the courtyard. I saw a broken and crumpled mandolin nearby where the party of gnome minstrels had made their tent. Across the courtyard, Master Dionysus was fighting guard after guard with no signs of tiring. He looked up momentarily, and met my gaze for a moment. “You…” he breathed, in disbelief. I stepped back. “No!” I whispered. My father raised a hand, and the elderly monk was hit with a ray of powerful magic. I saw his skin drain of all color, and he faded to ashes. My father simply laughed. With victory at hand, he commanded his men to gather the survivors in the middle of the courtyard.

Iroh and I followed him up to the tallest spire of the monastery, the chambers of Master Dionysus, where he had meditated and written. With one motion, my father tossed everything off the headmaster’s desk, and leaned out over the balcony to survey his accomplishment. He congratulated me. None of this would have been possible without my help. I couldn’t meet his gaze.

A few moments later, he told a couple of the guards to fetch two of the survivors, and to my horror, brought up two familiar faces. Gray, the frost sorcerer that I had squared off with on my last visit stood before me, alongside Greyer, the barbarian that had led us to the monastery in the first place. Their hands were bound, and they were sent to kneel before me. From the corner of my eye, I saw Iroh with his eyes downcast. I could see shame and disappointment on his face.

“Now, my son, it is time to prove you are worthy of the Ing’um name. Strike down your enemies, before they may find a way to strike you down. Harness your hatred; your anger is your fire!”

I stared down at the two kneeling before me, their eyes pleading. And I lost control. As I began to cast a spell, I caught my uncle’s eye. For a moment, he seemed able to read my mind. To my father’s surprise, we began to dance. The dragon dance was an old training exercise that uncle Iroh had forced me to learn at a young age. We acted out the moves better than any, and, synchronously, unleashed a white-hot torrent of flame at the monster who had orchestrated all this. We knocked him off balance, and I took the opportunity to cut Gray and Greyer free of their restraints. Guards began to pour in, but Gray wasted no time employing his sorcerous talent, dispatching them in an instant.

I turned my attention back to my father. I was furious. I wanted nothing more than to tear his head off, his heart out, to burn him until nothing but ashes remained. My anger was my fire. I rejoined Iroh in the fray, and together we drove the monster back. Iroh employed a masterful display of martial arts, and before my father knew what had happened, he had been pushed back to the balcony that overlooked the courtyard. My uncle cornered him with a wall of flame, and I advanced straight through it. My shirt had burned off, and as I looked down I could visibly see that my tattoos were growing, painting their intricate designs across my chest. I told my father that he was a plague on the world, and this is where he would meet his end. He laughed at me, and said something puzzling. “Then you shall never know what happened to your mother.” I halted, and this seemed to be what he was waiting for. He began casting a spell.

But Iroh was too fast for him. Before he could finish the first gesture, my uncle had burst forth from the flames, and kicked the man straight off the balcony. Without thinking, I jumped after him. “HOW DID SHE DIE?” I bellowed as we fell. We hit the ground, me atop my father, and again I lost control. With a sudden bout of anger and arcane energy, I caved his skull in with my bare hands.

I stood up, and realized what was happening in the courtyard around me. Alex and Icarus had somehow made their way here, and the friend that had so justly left me was now cutting down legions of Imperial soldiers in a stunning attempt to free the remaining survivors. My bloodlust was sated; I was overjoyed to see my friend again. I shouted his name, and he turned to look at me.

“Matau…” he panted. His face was caked in sweat and blood. And before I could respond, I saw a blade pierce through from behind, and stick itself through his chest. For a moment, Alex eyed the blade in disbelief, before it retreated from the wound, and he collapsed. Anger welled within me again. The soldier behind him didn’t even have time to look up before he was incinerated. I rushed to my friend’s aid, hesitating beside him. I was full to the brim with magical power, but only knew how to use my power for destruction. Iroh appeared next to me, and was already trying to heal our friend. But for some reason, Sarenrae would not answer his prayers. The god had spoken; it was Alex’s time to die.

Underneath the rain of gunfire from Icarus, we escorted everyone we could to safety, dragging Alex’s dying body back. I couldn’t hold back the stream of apologies.

“Alex! I’m sorry, it’s all my fault. You’re going to be okay, stay with us Alex.” His life was fading fast. Amidst the chaos, I heard him meekly whisper a name. Leonidas.

We made our way back to a trapdoor that led to an underground tunnel, and Gray collapsed one of the monastery walls on top of us. For a moment, we were enveloped in darkness, and then I illuminated the passage. Alex lay dying in front of me, bleeding badly. He outstretched a blood-soaked hand, and I grasped it firmly. He stared into my eyes, and spoke falteringly.

"This is… the scariest thing… I have ever faced in my life. …Remember this Matau… you can… choose… your own path… you can… choose… your own… destiny.” He reached into a pocket, pulled out a folded, blood soaked note, and placed it firmly into my hand, closing my fingers around it. For a moment, it looked as though he had something more to say, and then the light vanished from his eyes. My best friend, the only friend I had made, now dead. I stood up as Nadine rushed towards him, tears in her eyes, repeatedly telling him to wake up. Iroh did his best to counsel her, but his words had little effect. He was the closest thing to family that she had left, and she was old enough to grasp the concept of death.

Greyer threw a thick sheepskin cloak over my shoulders, and with heavy hearts, we departed. The monastery wasn’t safe anymore. We weren’t sure if anywhere was safe. We walked for several hours, and when we had formed a modest camp in a small, hidden valley, I took Alex’s spyglass. It had his initials engraved in it, and for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to let him go without a keepsake. It was decided unanimously that he deserved a proper funeral.

-Matau Ing'um

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