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Chapter 4: Meditations on the Future

Thyra shouldered her pack as she made her way through the docks, apologizing to people as she pushed past them. In the distance, she could make out the shape of the Lyrandar galleon Stormchaser, which Len had contracted for their journey; her heart couldn’t help but beat faster at the sight. Soon, for the first time in her life, she would be leaving Khorvaire on a mission to thwart the plans of an evil as old as Eberron – and maybe, a part of herself whispered, to prove that she wasn’t damned beyond salvation.

Thyra was a follower of the Silver Flame, as were most people in her homeland of Thrane, but she’d always been more devout than many; growing up in Flamekeep with clerics for parents and an inquisitor for an older sister, it was almost unavoidable. But she was also descended, through many generations, from the rakshasa lords of the Age of Demons, and dark magics she had only barely begun to explore lay within her blood, waiting for her to release them. Once she had wanted nothing more than to have those powers gone, believing them a curse; now she’d come to believe that it might be possible to use them for the greater good. Assuming they didn’t consume her first.

Shaking her head, she continued to make her way through the crowd. She’d given up the utilitarian blouse and skirt she’d worn on her recent journey to Karrnath in favor of an outfit of vaguely military cut; combined with her shorter hair, Thyra fancied it gave her a somewhat martial air, suitable for a servant of the Flame on a great journey. It didn’t seem to be having much of a noticeable effect on the people around her, unfortunately, but it helped give a small boost to her confidence, and for now that would have to do.

Finally, approaching Stormchaser, she saw her companions gathered and smiled. Len stood with her arms crossed, looking impatient; behind the captain stood Yhani, serene as ever in her white robes, and Rinnean with his usual air of feigned nonchalance. Ghazaan, the hobgoblin warrior, towered over everyone, though Thyra knew that his imposing appearance belied a kind and easygoing personality, at least outside of battle; Harsk the shifter stood beside him, stroking his scruffy beard with one hand and regarding the bustling crowd with an expression of great dislike – he was from the vast forests of the Eldeen reaches and was something of a druid by inclination if not by training, and he’d never been shy about his distaste for cities. Finally, Havaktri was almost bouncing on the balls of her feet and kept glancing over to the ship as if she couldn’t wait to board – when she saw Thyra she smiled and waved. Thyra wasn’t sure if she was getting more used to the kalashtar girl or if Havaktri had been practicing, but her expressions seemed more natural than they had even a month ago.

“Hey, kid,” Len called as Thyra approached. “Glad to see you found the place. You ready for this?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Thyra said. She nodded to the captain and her second-in-command. “It’s good to see you too, Captain Len, Soungral Yhani.”

Len raised an eyebrow at that, but Yhani smiled. “You have been practicing your Elvish, child,” she said. “There are not many of your people who would know the proper way to refer to an Aereni priest. I am impressed.”

Thyra shrugged. “Well, I learned a few words,” she said. “The library at Morgrave has more books on your language, but I haven’t exactly had time to go through all of them. I’ve been… a bit distracted lately.”

“Yeah, about that,” Len said, leaning close, “I don’t suppose you have… you know what… on you?”

Thyra gestured to a long, thin package that hung at the side of her pack. “It’s here,” she said. “Taras said it might help in getting us to the other pieces – Flame knows I’d rather not be leaving my blood all over Sarlona if I can avoid it. And we both figured it would be safer with us than left at the university.”

“So we’re going to be trekking across a hostile continent carrying a magical weapon ancient demons have already shown they’d literally kill for,” Rinnean muttered. “What could possibly go wrong?”

“Many things,” Havaktri said. “But, the Inspired aren’t looking for the Key. I don’t even think they could use it. And if we’re lucky, they’ll keep the Lords of Dust out of our territory. If we’re extremely lucky, they’ll be too busy fighting each other to give us much trouble at all!”

“So you’re suggesting that there’s not one but two powerful forces involved, and we’re going to be caught in the middle of them?” Rinnean asked. “I’m not exactly reassured.”

“That’s not really what I meant-“ Havaktri began, but Len raised a hand.

“As fascinating as this all is,” the captain said, “we’re on a bit of a schedule. Let’s continue this on the ship, all right? It’s time we get this journey started.”

///

“Captain,” Len said, nodding to Meren as she stepped on board Stormchaser with the rest of her team close behind.

“Captain,” the half-elf said, returning the nod with a grin. “And I take it these are your people. Are you ready to set sail?” His gaze slid to Yhani, and he smiled and winked at her; Len fought down a sudden surge of irritation, though ‘Hani herself only regarded him with a flat stare.

“Yes, I’d say we are,” Len said, a bit more crossly than she’d intended. “Where should we put our things?”

“We have some passenger cabins belowdecks,” Meren said. “House Lyrandar always promises a comfortable journey.” He gestured to a crewmember, a younger half-elf, who came hurrying over. “Van here will show you the way. Just as a reminder, I would appreciate it if you stay out of my crew’s way while we’re working, though we would, of course, welcome your assistance should Stormchaser fall under attack.”

Len shrugged. “That’s fair,” she said. “None of us are sailors anyway, so we’ll be sure not to be a bother. Any of us.” She turned over her shoulder to regard her team, particularly Rinnean, who was doing his best to look perfectly innocent. She snorted quietly, and her gaze fell to Thyra; the girl looked serious and determined, and combined with her newly short hair, it gave her a disconcerting resemblance to her older sister, Valyria. Shaking her head, Len turned back to Meren.

“Well, if that’s settled,” she said, “I suppose we’d better get settled in our cabins.”

Meren nodded to Van, who bowed. “Of course,” he said. “Right this way, sirs and madams.” He turned towards the ship’s castle and began to walk towards it, the mercenaries following close behind. Yhani slipped up beside Len and lightly squeezed her arm.

“Do not be so tense, dear heart,” she whispered. “Everything will be fine.”

Len doubted things would be so easy. Sometimes, she really did wish she had ‘Hani’s faith, but changelings learned at a young age never to trust apparent good fortune. It could be all too easily swept away.

///

Taras Zanthan watched the Stormchaser leave Sharn’s harbor in the bowl of still water that sat on his desk, and smiled. Thyra and her companions were at last setting out on the next stage of their journey; hiring on the mercenaries long-term for this job had proven a successful investment. They would ensure that the young woman made it where she needed to go, and recovered the next piece of the Key from Sarlona.

The Prophecy had decreed that they would, and so it would be, barring the interference of other powers. Taras’s job was to make sure that didn’t happen.

Dismissing the scrying with a wave of one hand, he rose from his desk and walked over to his window, regarding Morgrave’s campus and the bustling towers of Sharn beyond. To outward appearances, the professor was an avuncular man of late middle age who wore a short, grey beard and a pair of spectacles on his nose, but with largely unremarkable for a human man in his sixties. Appearances could be deceiving, for Taras – Tarazanthan – was an ancient creature who had walked Eberron far longer than sixty years. He was a rakshasa of the ak’chazar caste, tiger-headed and white-furred in his true form, making use of his own natural shapeshifting powers and a number of artifacts to deflect magical inquiry to conceal his true nature. He had been old already when the first humans had crossed the seas from Sarlona millennia ago and made Khorvaire theirs.

Taras thought of that history as he watched the students milling about on the campus grounds below. To most of his kind, humans were vermin, but of little consequence – barely worthy even of contempt. A rakshasa might slay a human if it suited his needs to do so, or even if the mortal had made themselves a nuisance, but most did not care enough to go out of their way to do so – even as a human might crush an insect that bit them, but would be unlikely to dedicate themselves to exterminating all insects everywhere. No, the Lords of Dust had other foes, far greater, to occupy their attention – a fact that the nations of humanity might have been thankful for, had they stopped to consider it at all.

Taras, however – he had to admit, he had always found humanity intriguing, ever since they came upon the goblins of Dhakaan in the twilight of their empire and waged their wars of conquest against them. That life was struggle and conflict was something the rakshasas and their fallen masters had long known; humans understood that as well, though few would willingly admit it. Their histories were so much more dramatic than the countless rolling years of the elves or the dragons; humans lived short lives, but by Khyber, they lived. Taras had spoken with few other rakshasas who truly appreciated that.

And of course, they made ideal tools. That, as much as academic curiosity, was why Taras had chosen to live among them for centuries, in a succession of scholarly guises, to shape their knowledge of the past to better ensure that in the future, they would serve the needs of the Lords of Dust. In particular, at the command of his master Durastoran the Wyrmbreaker, greatest of their kind, he had watched a particular bloodline over the centuries, ensuring that it survived and produced the person their plans required. For this bloodline had been mingled with that of a lesser rakshasa, and the Wyrmbreaker had foretold that from it would descended a sorcerer who would retrieve the Key from where it had lain hidden for millennia, paving the way for the return of their ultimate lord – Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame.

That sorcerer was Thyra Entarro.

Taras liked Thyra, to the extent that he was capable of liking individual humans – eccentric he might be, but even he had his limitations. She didn’t know of the role he’d played across her life, his guiding hand shaping her into the person the Wyrmbreaker required – even when he’d shown himself to her in his true form in the Mournland and let her believe he had confessed the truth, there had been much he’d left hidden, including his identity as her favorite professor. In time she would learn the truth, but that time wasn’t yet.

Now, of course, she was heading into a place where she would be largely beyond his reach. The Inspired were not rivals of the Lords of Dust, precisely – the rakshasas had never been able to ascertain the upstarts’ ultimate goals, but they favored order over open conflict, and their plans displayed little knowledge of the Prophecy. Still, they represented and unknown, troubling factor. A part of Taras wished he could be there in person, to make certain events progressed smoothly – but the Wyrmbreaker had read his future and told him that such action would not be necessary, and that he should maintain his cover a while longer. But the time was coming soon when it would no longer be needed, and the rakshasas would reign once more openly upon Eberron, as they had long desired.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Taras removed his pocket watch from inside his coat and flipped it open, checking the time. As he’d suspected, he had a class to get to. Gathering up his materials, he left his office and carefully shut and locked the door behind him; there were things in his possession it would be unwise to allow a potential student interloper access to.

If some of the students felt that Professor Zanthan seemed particularly pleased with himself that day, none of them recognized the reason.

///

As Stormchaser made its way through the mouth of the Dagger River and out into the sea, Thyra found Havaktri standing at the ship’s rail, staring out over the water towards the east.

“Did you know that some Lyrandar galleons run on power from bound water elementals?” the kalashtar girl said suddenly; she didn’t look at Thyra as she approached, but knew she was there nonetheless. “Not this one, though. I asked the captain earlier, and he said that elemental galleons are usually only warships. Trade and passenger ships, like this one, usually don’t have elementals.” A faint smile crossed her lips as she turned to look at Thyra. “It makes me glad. I always feel sorry for elementals attached to the airships or the lightning rail. I don’t think anyone ever asked them if that’s what they wanted to do for the rest of eternity.”

“Havaktri, I think you’re the first person I’ve ever met who felt sorry for something made of water or lightning,” Thyra said, joining the kalashtar by the rail. Havaktri seemed to take it as a compliment, and smiled; she could take some getting used to, but Thyra had found herself liking the kalashtar girl almost in spite of herself. Havaktri had decided to be her friend almost from their first meeting, but now she was coming to realize she could return that feeling.

“I’ve never been to Adar before,” Havaktri finally said. “I was born here in Breland, you know. Most kalashtar live in big cities, like Sharn, but my parents were part of a group who thought it was too wild, too… loud. So they built their monastery out in the country, very well hidden, and that’s where I was born and raised. I never left until I decided I needed to see the world. Now I’ve seen Khorvaire, but I’ve never been to my people’s ancestral homeland.” She lowered her head and stared down at the water. “I think it’s good for me to make that journey.”

“But you’ve heard stories about Adar, right?” Thyra asked. “Len’s counting on you to be able to talk the kalashtar there into helping us.”

“Oh, of course,” Havaktri said, seeming offended that Thyra would think otherwise. “There are kalashtar of the Vaktri line there, and all kalashtar of the same line are beloved family, even if we’ve never met before! Besides, I do know Adar a little bit.” She tapped her forehead. “Kalashtar don’t dream, but our minds need to do something while we sleep, so we relive the memories of the previous incarnations of our quori spirits. I’ve never been to Adar, but my ancestors have, and so I remember it, vaguely. Like something from a dream.” She seemed to find this inordinately funny, because she gave one of her strange, hissing laughs under her breath.

Thyra shook her head. “I’m a follower of the Flame who’s descended from demons, and you’re part dream and remember places you’ve never been. We have to be two of the strangest passengers this ship has ever had.”

“Of course,” Havaktri said, grinning. “As your people say, we wouldn’t want our lives to be boring, would we?”

Thyra bust into sudden, raucous laughter, startling a pair of Lyrandar sailors who were working nearby. “Oh, Havaktri,” she said, “I don’t think there’s going to be any danger of that.”

///

So, this chapter is mostly about getting everyone ready to cast off for Sarlona, but we do get some important character beats here. Thyra’s new look reflects her character development and increasing determination, but of course, she’s not yet walking her own path as much as she thinks she is. On that note, we also get to see inside Tarazanthan’s head for the first time since learning about his true nature. To better contrast him with his boss the Wyrmbreaker I deliberately chose to make him a somewhat eccentric rakshasa with a genuine interest in humanity (who, per Keith Baker, are usually beneath the Lords of Dust’s attention as a group). Of course, he is still a rakshasa, and they’re a monumentally arrogant bunch – his interest in humanity is much more that of a researcher with a fascinating specimen than genuine empathy from one person for another. Being a demon doesn’t make Tarazanthan puppy-kicking evil in all aspects of his life – but not being puppy-kicking evil doesn’t make you good either, something to keep in mind.

And of course, Havaktri is always fun, and here we get a bit of insight into kalashtar culture and how they work. I was always disappointed that the only two major kalashtar characters from the novel line, Lakashtai in the
Dreaming Dark trilogy and Dandra in the Dragon Below trilogy, turned out to be far from typical representations of their race; Havaktri is closer to the typical kalashtar (if such a thing can be set to exist) and her mix of human and quori tempered by a firm idealism and no small amount of eccentricity is a combination I find fascinating. I intend to do more with her in this fic than the last one – after all, Sarlona is tied to her people’s story more than anyone…

-MasterGhandalf


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