The smartest thing Lainie’s ever said to me is that we can choose our family. Even though Alaemon’s blood is my veins, even though he calls me daughter, he is not my family. A part of me always knew that he would never be my family.
Because family isn’t just about blood. It’s about loyalty. It’s about the brothers and sisters who would die for you.
My family consists of a woman with kindness bursting from her heart but whose wise enough to know that broken people often can’t accept it freely. It’s a man whose gentle voice and thoughtful words can brighten even the darkest of days. It’s a sister who yells louder than anyone I’ve ever met before because she’s so scared something that happen to harm you. It’s a boy who could look past my horns and tail to the trembling girl underneath and choose to see the good.
When I lost the first two members of my family, my heart broke.
When I lost the second two in the span of a single day, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go on living.
These last few days have been so hard, I’ve worn a new dent in my holy symbol. Even as I write, my hand keeps pausing, smudging the ink because I don’t want to face this reality.
When we arrived at the tower, we were already tired after a long day of fighting demons. We weren’t prepared for the surprises it revealed to us, including revealing to Brink that not only was his father still alive but that he had lived there at one time and it held one of the stones needed to help return Rylo to his regular form.
We were also shocked when we figured out it could transport us to several key locations across the world. That’s how we ended up in the snowy field at the top of the world where the heroes that helped Jade Cove had fought their final battle over 250 years ago. I was so distracted by the fact that I was finally here, standing on the same soil they had when they fought the evil Goddess that was controlling the black dragons in the final battle that decided this world’s fate. I was breathing the same crisp air.
I was so busy explaining what I’d read about the battle that I didn’t realize Lainie had disappeared until she was a good hour ahead of us. I’d never been that far away from her since we became sisters and it felt like a piece of me had left with her.
Luckily, both Shea and Xiara were pretty good at tracking and were able to follow her footsteps even in the pouring snow. We were reunited underground in this vast goblin village, where I found out that not only did my sister leave me but she went and got engaged behind my back! Granted, it was to a fat goblin leader but for Pelor’s sake, she could have at least invited me to meet him before flinging us all into an unexpected ceremony!
I didn’t even pack anything to wear.
Not that it ended up mattering since I never made it to the wedding.
While a festival in Lainie’s honor was held, the majority of us snuck off to retrieve the red stone locked away in a temple surrounded by fire. We knew thanks to Rylo and Brink that we needed this stone to complete both of their tasks.
I managed to break through a lot of the arcana traps thanks to Butter’s help and we were just about to get the stone when Rylo snatched it, turning from a cute little fox into a large brown bear right in front of my eyes! I’d seen people come back from the dead, seen Lainie shoot fire magic from her fingers but I’d never seen an animal change its shape. To be honest, it looked sort of painful, all that stretching and bone breaking.
Snatching the stone without the proper magics in place cost us though. The entire cavern began to collapse and to my horror, as we were fleeing I saw demonic figures emerging from the lava below us. Whatever we released, the price wasn’t worth it. The entire time we were running, I felt off, like something was pulling me back to that lava, to that cavern, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Not until we were outside in the snow, away from the heat and the lava. Not until I realized someone was missing. Not until Shea told me she saw him as we were fleeing: Teo down in the lava, imps and demons surrounding him, looking back at us, resigned to his fate right before he jumped into a portal.
The snow crunched under my knees as I hit the floor. It sunk into my cloth gloves as I tried to throw snow aside of the caved in entrance. It filled my vision white as tears clouded my eyes.
Though Lainie was returned to me, Teo was now gone...maybe forever.
If I had just been fast enough to keep Rylo away from that stone, if I had just noticed him among the flaming lava pit, if I had done ANYTHING differently, maybe he wouldn’t have been lost to me.
But as we all stood out in the snow, trying to figure out where to go next, all my mind could process was that he was gone and it was my fault. Pelor had always guided me, let me heal the wounded, do the impossible. But today I failed.
The smartest thing Lainie’s ever said to me is that we can choose our family.
It turns out that Teo chose wrong two years ago and now, we all must pay that price.