**Editor’s Note: We will be featuring some character backstories & recaps from our Phoenix Dawn Command actual play series. Be sure to watch the adventure LIVE every Saturday night at 5p PDT/8p EDT on twitch.tv/savingthrowshow!**
by Mac Beauvais
When the wing boarded the ship bound for Pyre, Varya quickly moved to spend as much solitary time in her cabin as possible. She needed time to think, and time away from the looks from Ink which she now recognized as curiosity. As though he knew something she did not. It made her uneasy.
She was also more than just a little tired of Beans’ need to recount the story about how she saved babies from wolves and the side glances from others this story often provoked.
There was one disturbance during their time onboard the vessel, and the others were dispatched to investigate. Having handled it, they made it mercifully back to Pyre.
As is often the case, there was another mission to be sent on almost as soon as they arrived. Varya’s heart dropped to the pit of her stomach when they were told they were bound for the Deep Grimwald…her home.
They arrived by flame at an aerie situated on the outskirts of the Grimwald. A small team had been assembled to help them secure a forgotten aerie that had been discovered by a scout. As if returning to the scene of her mortal death were not traumatic enough, this scout was from her Tree, the Grimmiri.
Talib had been a big brother to her in their tribe. He looked older and more battle worn now, but it was most definitely him. She tried to catch his eyes to see if he recognized her, but if he did, he gave no hint of it. Did she really look so different? Was her mortal life as Atla that far gone from her?
They set out for the Deep Grimwald, a band of ten which included a new Flame Keeper, an Adept, a couple warriors, and three brothers named Bo, Jo, and Mo. (The latter three had strangely enchanted moustaches that twitched with their moods.)
Talib still made no mention of knowing Varya, and it gnawed at her spirit. She wanted so badly to talk with him, to find out if anyone else had survived the attack in which she died. It wasn’t until many miles later that he made to speed a little ahead of the group, subtly motioning for her to follow. When they were a safe distance to not be overheard, he studied her face.
“Lala?” He said.
He did remember! Varya took a step toward him and he recoiled, eye widening.
“I’ve always hated you calling me that,” she said softly.
“What happened to you?”
She recounted the Crucible and the Phoenixes, and he told her that he was the last surviving member of the Grimmiri. The sting of failure to protect her own that day cut her deeply.
Their discussion was interrupted by the others approaching, so they continued on, Talib still flinching if Varya got too near. Even when they had to scout ahead again and she snagged him from a bad fall, she could see some lingering fear in his eyes.
Camp was made and the non-Phoenixes rested. Varya sat to the outside of the camp, just outside of the sphere of firelight. She felt angry with herself, for what she was. With every death it seemed she was being consumed further by the wolf inside her. She feared someday there would be nothing of Atla left.
In the distance she could hear the sounds of the Grimwald; comforting and yet another reminder of what she had lost. Mingled with the familiar sounds was something wrong. There were howls, but not of natural wolves. She shuddered, recalling stories from her childhood that warned of the Eyes of the Forest. But they were just that: stories. Something to keep the children from wandering too far.
The next day they continued deeper into the trees. The normal humidity became oppressive, much more damp than it had ever been before. Another sign that something was not right.
Their group then came to a large river seemingly made of flowing, acidic goo. As though it were the trail of an unimaginably large slug.
Together Eerie and Kelvin felled a tree to get across. Almost all made it to the other side, but the acid began to eat at their makeshift bridge and Bo was lost to them.
The day passed into night and the strange sounds from the previous evening were more present here. Varya could feel eyes all around her. Predators observing prey. The sleeping beast within her woke, instinctually knowing the best course of action was to present the bigger, scarier predator. She let loose a series of howls and snarls, varying them to give the impression that it was more than just her making them. The things in the trees distanced themselves.
It seemed her display was enough to stem some of the attack, but a few of the braver creatures descended, blurs of amorphous motion. A couple dived at Talib and Varya threw herself in front of him taking their drilling beaks of either side of her chest. Together she and Eerie made quick work of the monsters, but not before the warrior, Tash, was slain.
Their number was now eight, and all seemed tired. Even the Phoenixes felt that a dawn had come and gone without the usual renewing burst of energy.
They came to the aerie which had been built underground to avoid the eventual creep of the jungle which engulfed all structures eventually. They barricaded the entrance behind them and made their way down into the flame chamber. In its center was a still green pool, filled with a substance not unlike the liquid of the river they had encountered.
Their Flame Keeper began the ritual. Varya paced at the pool’s edge, it’s acrid smell leaving a bad taste at the back of her throat, curdling her saliva.
Something was wrong. The Flame Keeper had lit the flame, but he continued chanting as he pulled out a dagger and stabbed it deep into his own stomach.
The pool before them sprang to life. Animals of all shapes and sizes emerged at the ends of slimy tendrils, and some tendrils bore only claws and thorns.
Kelvin made a strong blow against it. Varya followed suit, hefting up a great block of broken statue as a shield. She brought the stone and her talon down upon it, shattering the creature.
She held her breath, eyeing the pool. Waiting.
Another gush of slime exploded from the bottom, heading for Talib and Jo. Time slowed. Varya felt as though she were suddenly thrown back many years, to when she was Atla, to when the Dread attacked her Tree and left her dead. To when she had failed. She knew she was going to fail again, but not until she knew Talib would be safe once more. Shoving Talib and Jo aside, she stood facing the wave of burbling green. She closed her eyes as it tore her apart, the shreds of what she was returning to The Crucible.