63. Strongest bonds cannot be broken
6th of Gozran – Starday – 195th day in Varisia
Tower of Karzoug, Mhar-Massif
The fight had ended. The stench of blood, burned flesh and excrement filled the throne room. All I could hear were sounds my group was making. Labored breathing. The crackling and buzzing of magical energies. Shuffling steps.
“Is he alive”, asked Harsk, carefully. He was the first to walk up to me and Macharius. Was he alive? A question I tried to find out an answer to as well.
The gruesome wound on his shoulder kept fountaining with blood, soaking my lap and hands with black. I was vainly trying to stop the bleeding, but my shock was making it difficult to think straight. Or, to think at all.
I bent over further, bringing my ear to his face. The faintest breeze of air touched my cheek. I arrested a sob.
“He’s breathing.. we.. have to get him out of here”, I whispered instead. Either no-one heard me or they chose not to, but nothing happened. “Now!” I roared suddenly, my sadness engulfed by something I had been enduring a lot lately. Wrath and anger that burned my insides, brighter each day. “We have to get out of here!”
Harsk didn’t mind me but kneeled next to us, examining my brother. Pure white tentacles of light shot out of his armored fingers, feeling the wounds of my brother, closing them, taking him off the verge of death. “I’m keeping him unconscious”, the god-touched told me without looking. It is probably better that way, I replied in my head and murmured my thanks. I had to cool my nerves as I wasn’t helping anyone with my anxiety. So I just watched my brother, in his battered heavy armor, all covered save for his face. Seven years and no scars – you’re still the prettier one of us.
Saffron was hovering above on her broomstick, looking down with a face that coupled interest with worry. Alice came out of invisibility, but remained away, keeping an eye out for further trouble. Alfred was groaning in some pain and struggled to his feet before taking weary steps towards us.
“Some of that heavenly assistance, aye?” He asked the cleric, who lifted a palm towards the sellsword. It flashed once, brightly like an explosion, and Alfred let out a pleased wheeze.
“He’s stable?” Alice asked us.
“We have to leave”, I told her, with rising urgency. Karzoug could wait. I didn’t want my brother to remain in the runelord’s lair for a second longer.
Harsk was uncertain. “Through the Occlusion Field?”
Alice nodded, but Saffron replied. “Master Harsk, I believe the Sihedron rings will allow us to move through.”
“We better go straight to Magnimar then”, Harsk sighed as he watched me hold my brother.
The gold-covered greatsword in his hand was in one word beautiful. Adorned with jewels and full of runic carvings, it looked priceless and pristine, even though I was certain it was ancient. My brother had always preferred two-handed swords, so I found it reviling Karzoug had armed him with such a greatsword. There was something wrong with the weapon, and it didn’t take me long to realize what it was.
Even though my brother was unconscious, with his right hand he still held a firm grip of its handle, as if he was awake.
Carried by Saffron’s magics, we translocated to the large atrium of Kaijitsu Manor and immediately upon arrival, I pulled the Sihedron ring off my finger. The others did the same, and I started to remove the gauntlet off my brother’s hand to do the same with his ring. The piece of armor wasn’t budging the slightest. And it wasn’t just stuck.
“Shit!” I cursed. “The thrice-damned plate is bound to his flesh!”
Alfred tried the other gauntlet, and then the sword he was still holding. They were stuck too and to my horror we realized the blade was attached to my brothers hand with hair-thin threads of gold, like the mycelium of some twisted mushroom.
“Very curious”, Saffron noted with academic interest.
Harsk was quick to offer a prayer and spread his arms over my brother’s body. “It’s a curse”, he explained as Macharius trembled once violently without waking up. “But it is now removed.”
I pulled the gauntlet closest to me and to my relief it slipped away. Beneath in the gold-covered hand was the familiar star-marked ring, and I removed it forcibly.
“We should tie him up before waking him”, the sellsword suggested and began to pull a length of rope from his backpack. I looked him dumbfounded, but realized he was right, and felt dumb myself. “I’ll secure his arms”, I told him. It felt wrong to tie him up, but I was not under any illusion he was all right yet. But the damned sword was still stuck in his other armored palm.
“Maybe you could try an anti-magic field to disrupt whatever effect the sword has?” Alice proposed to Harsk and Saffron as I vented my frustration with a few choice curse words in Elven.
“A good idea”, Harsk nodded, “but we need to heal him a bit to revive him before we can do that.”
“If I’ll cast a healing spell, and you’ll create the field?” Saffron suggested.
“Alpharius, hold your brother while we do this”, Harsk told me and I nodded slowly in understanding.
Lying on his side, hands and feet bound behind his back, Macharius was helpless but I still wrapped my arm around his neck. I really hadn’t imagined our reunion to be like this. The dwarf and the witch performed their coordinated spell-casting, and as the field popped into existence, the golden greatsword finally dropped from my brother’s hand. Macharius’s eyes flashed open and he startled.
“Easy, brother! It is I, Cael!”
Alice kicked the sword away from him, and his gaze followed it hungrily, madly. He lunged towards it with all his might, calling after it, and tried to rip himself free of his restraints, and I had to use all my strength to hold him still. “Godsdamnit!” I swore and tightened my lock.
“Graaah! Fools! Worms! Let me go!”
“Belon! Wake up!” I bellowed and wrestled around him, holding him still, chest against the floor. His head was sideways, my right knee pinning it painfully by the temple, the left holding his back, and I hunched over to watch him in the eye. But instead of any recognition, there was only madness in his eyes. “Bastard! Snap out of it”, I ordered him.
“I’ll kill.. you.. all”, he snarled and saliva dripped from his mouth. He held my gaze.
“You’d kill your own brother?” I snarled back. I was perplexed he still didn’t recognize me. “We didn’t part in such hostile terms”, I added and pressed my knee down harder. Anger flowed through me, and I let it. Better it than desperation, confusion and lament.
“Chellaaaaann”, he suddenly moaned and tried to squirm free. I gave him no quarter.
“Who the hell is Chellan?” I roared, remembering the rune giant calling my brother with that name. “You are not Chellan, Belon!”
His eyes caught the golden blade ten feet away and new raw hunger lit up in them. “Chellaaaaaan!”
Chellan was the sword, I realized. Like a mushroom it had clung to his hand.. like a parasite.
“We have to do something about that blade”, I urged the others. Saffron was crouching over it, careful not to touch. She let out a long hum.
“I remember reading something about seven legendary swords of sin, forged by the runelords themselves in ancient times of Thassilon”, she began, tilting her head to the side in contemplation. “This might very well be one of them.”
“What else do you know”, Harsk queried the witch.
“This has to be the Sword of Greed. Legend says all the souls and skills of its wielders were bound to it, so strongly in fact that upon the wielder’s death, the sword absorbed them.”
“My brother isn’t dead”, I spat, but I noticed that his face had begun to take an ashen, pale tone, and he was sweating profusely. No more was he challenging us, but muttering and calling for the blade, like a thirsty man begs for water.
“This artifact has a mind of its own”, Saffron continued. “It is.. telepathic. Very powerful. It has already bound itself with your brother’s soul, Master Alpharius, and dominates him utterly.”
Alice walked next to the red-head, and with a deep frown started to study it as well from a safe distance. “I see”, she nodded, sensing the magical auras it radiated. “You were lucky”, she called over to Alfred who was still standing behind me, ready to continue beating Macharius if the situation demanded it. He obviously hadn’t taken the encounter lightly and I could sense his tension.
“Hmmh?” The sellsword woke up.
“With every strike he connected, you might have been turned into a statue by the power of the sword”, Alice clarified and I heard the shudder in the sellsword’s voice.
“You say it’s intelligent?” I asked Saffron with a grimace before giving my attention to the sword on the ground. “Well listen to this, you fucking piece of old scrap metal. I’ll sail to the deepest corner of the Varisian Bay and throw you overboard! Let’s see if you can still control my brother from the fucking darkest depths of the ocean!”
Beneath me, Macharius stopped moaning, coughed (laughed?) and just drooled like an imbecile.
Saffron shook her head sadly. “Master Alpharius, that would not help your brother. Lack of physical contact with the sword is already debilitating him, ultimately it will most likely kill him.”
Fires of pure wrath flamed in my heart and my eyes flared. “Just destroy the blade, witch! Harsk, your goddess! She must help!”
Again, Saffron shook her head and regarded me with nothing but pity. “There is only one way to destroy the blade, and only its maker knows how.”
“No, Chellan is older than him.”
“Bullshit. How can you know? How can you be so certain there’s only one way to destroy the sword?”
Saffron shrugged. “It is written.”
“I don’t believe it”, I muttered, clenching my fists in indignation. Saffron said nothing.
“NINE HELLS! There must be a way to destroy the binding!” My voice had started to take on a tone of desperation. I looked up, fighting back tears, and got an idea. The damned peacock feather. The all-knowing pen. Without releasing pressure on my knee I reached to my magical backpack and retrieved the magical quill.
“Ask it how to break a bond between Chellan the sword of greed and its wielder”, I quickly instructed Harsk, who did as I asked, murmuring words of old Thassilon. Immediately, the quill began to scribble words in my hand against the floor board. An answer in black ink. “What does it say?” I asked.
“With chains of gold holds the sword of greed.. to be broken by nothing, ‘cept a reclaiming deed.”
I growled in rage and threw the quill across the room. “RECLAIMING DEED? What the nine hells is that?” I crouched to my brother and screamed red-faced. “WAKE UP. FIGHT IT!” My tears spattered to his face but he didn’t move, didn’t show any sign of intelligence. I barely kept myself from hitting him in despair.
Was it so that I had found my brother just to see him die? This was the worst. I would have rather uncovered that he had died earlier, or even found him dead myself. Seeing him perish agonizingly, tormented by an instrument of ancient evil, made me want to lash out and scream in mad rage.
Instead I just hissed between my teeth. “Seven years, brother. Thousands of miles. I traveled halfway across Avistan in search of you. I will not give you the fucking right to die or lose your mind when I finally find you. YOU HEAR ME?”
“Should we punch some sense into him”, suggested Alfred from the side, chuckling a bit, and I snapped my head towards him. If a gaze could kill..
“Well, the first try didn’t help either”, he blurted and raised his palms up in a defensive gesture.
Harsk was stroking his beard in contemplation when Alice came up with a solution. “What if we take him to the Cathedral, or the Mage Tower. Especially the wizards could know a way to help him.”
The god-touched seemed to agree. “The Cathedral library might have some answers, but the more experienced minds are at the Tower.”
At that point, I was willing to try anything. Absolutely anything.
“What about the artifact”, Saffron raised the question.
“What about it?” Alice responded with a question of her own.
“We should take care of it, contain it. Make sure it does not fall into the wrong hands. Don’t you agree, Miss Alice? Master Harsk?”
“How would you suggest we do that”, the dwarf inquired the red-headed witch.
Saffron examined the golden sword that still lied on the floor. It looked beautiful, but not any more threatening than any other sword. The fact only made it that more dangerous. She nodded to herself, to validate an idea she had come up with, and summoned an unseen servant to do her bidding. The formless creature took Chellan by the blade and pommel and lifted it off the ground.
“Leave the details to me, my friends. I will be back shortly.” And with those words, she, the servant and Chellan all disappeared in a crackling blink of teleportation.
On the floor, Macharius moaned once and went completely limp, like he had given everything up and waited for death to carry him away. His mouth lolled open, and he was pale as linen, covered in sweat. I stood up, releasing him from my hold, and he didn’t even notice it.
And I could not do a thing but watch him suffer. Since the day I lost my mother and was enslaved, I had not felt as helpless.
After a few minutes, Saffron returned. She was unwilling to share any details of what she had done. Alice and Harsk both seemed a bit doubtful, but me and Alfred couldn’t care one bit. For once, I trusted the witch to have done the right thing. Ultimately, the righteousness of it was irrelevant to me. I cared only that the sword was far away from my brother.
After we had stripped all the armor and equipment off him, Alice translocated us to the entrance of the Mage Tower, and I carried Macharius inside with Alfred’s help. In the lobby, behind a massive administrator’s desk sat a wizened, bald-headed, grey-bearded man – a wizard if any – wearing a simple grey tunic and he welcomed us with mild interest when we entered.
“This is not a hospital-“, he started say but I cut him short.
“He’s not hurt or sick, but he needs your help.”
The wizard narrowed his eyes. “What is it then?” Then, “oh. Bring him closer. Why the binds?”
“He might be dangerous”, Alice replied in my stead. “He is being dominated by something we believe is one of the original Swords of Sin, of ancient Thassilon, called Chellan.”
“Oh my. And his skin..”
My brother was covered in gold. No, his skin was made of the stuff. Elastic and warm like flesh, but hairless, tougher and clearly metallic. And shiny as gold was. Only his face and scalp beneath his long silvery hair was normal. For some reason the wizard was more keen to know how he seemed to be made of gold, and brushed aside our actual issue. He got up from his desk and walked over.
“This is very interesting, very interesting indeed”, the wizard murmured, his fingers feeling Macharius’s arm. “Great Nethys, he is a magnificent creature!”
I looked at him blankly.
“What do you want us to do?” inquired the wizard, genuinely puzzled. He seemed to consider the state of my brother as something positive, or at least, worthy of research. I sighed and considered murder. Before I could lash out with the whip that was my tongue, Alice again intervened. It was probably for the better.
“We need you to look into the soul-binding, and possibly release him from the control of the sword, Chellan.”
“Do you have the sword with you?” The wizard asked Alice, who looked at Saffron. She shook her head.
“No we don’t.”
I got my brother down onto his back and untied him. He groaned and trembled, his eyes closed, as if he was suffering from a fever. I crouched down, unclasped my cloak and wrapped it around him to keep him warm. Somehow I knew time was running short.
“What can you do?” I shot the question at the wizard, trying to remain calm and constructive.
The old man crossed his arms across his chest.
“What have you tried already?”
“Removal of curses, regeneration and various simple healing spells”, Harsk briefed, “but nothing has worked.”
“Making a wish could be an option”, Saffron interjected. I grimaced in disbelief.
“We make a fucking wish?”
Alice shushed me. “Not a wish children make when they go to bed. A real Wish, requiring very powerful magic and extensive resources, addressed to a god or some other source of power.”
“You’d need to be very careful with wishes”, the wizard warned us, “without very careful wording, their outcome tends to be.. something not originally intended.”
“And we might not have the diamond dust required for the ritual”, Saffron added sagely. My hand went to one of the pockets in my bandolier. Within was a small diamond worth a thousand platinum.
“I’ll pay anything”, I whispered, and I meant every word. The diamond had been a safeguard, a resource for returning me from the dead if I happened to fall. I could not imagine a better way to use the diamond than for the restoration of my brother to what he had been before the corruption of Chellan.
The wizard stood still for a moment, and I thought he had fallen asleep his eyes open, but after a moment, a door to our left opened and in came a trio of acolytes, young magicians.
“We’ll examine him with care”, the wizard suddenly said, reanimated, and then regarded me. “You need to come as well. Your blood, experiences, mind or soul could prove insightful, even helpful.”
At least he identified me as his kin without us explicitly stating it to his face, I thought and got up. The acolytes walked over to my brother and lifted his limp form from the floor.
“I’ll come”, I replied. Then to the others: “I don’t know how long this will take. And I need you to watch after my panther.”
Harsk came to me and reached up, putting his hand on my shoulder. “We will be around, don’t worry, young friend.”
I took his hand and shook it vigorously. “Thank you, friend. Thank you all.”
It really did require a personal crisis of the highest magnitude to make me show some honest gratitude.
We were led to a round room with purple walls and tiled, bare floors of white and grey. A single orb at the center of the gently curving ceiling lighted the room. The only furniture were two cushioned chairs, placed side by side, at the center of the chamber. Both had backrests folded back, so instead of sitting one was actually almost lying down. I was asked to sit on one, while the acolytes set my brother on the other.
Four other wizards, of varying age and experience, were already waiting for us. Books and tomes hovered in the air, a few were open and some of the wizards were browsing them, looking for explanations and solutions, I imagined.
The acolytes left, and we made no greetings. Actually, the wizards hardly recognized my existence, or the fact I was there, very much awake unlike my twin. At first, they examined Macharius, took notes, and discussed in low voices. A moment later, two of the wizards came over to me. I disliked it how they made me feel like an animal they were studying.
“We need to examine your memories regarding your brother and the sword”, one of the wizards told me and lifted his palms close to my temples. I inhaled, considered his question.
“Do it. Do whatever it takes.”
I felt someone enter my mind and without really thinking about it I vividly began recalling the battle at the tower.
The examination took hours, and little progress was made. Macharius was sound asleep, drooling, muttering every now and then as if he was seeing nightmares. But at least he was not dying. I had learned not to ask questions after two or three unsuccessful attempts – the wizards flat out refused to tell me anything. “We are not sure”. “We need to consider all options.” “Be still and quiet.” Those were all I got.
I tried to catch some sleep as well, but was unable to. Too many things clouded my mind. What if he doesn’t survive this? What then? What would I do? It was, and always has been, hard for me to think positively. My life was a string of kicks in the face. So I went to the beginning, remembering the times back home, in Greymarsh, years ago. I remembered us as children. I tried to picture the faces of our mother and our grandfather. They were hazy, barely recognizable, but the words they had said, the things they had done curbed the tempest in my mind. The probing wizard was still behind me, his hands over my head, but I didn’t care if he saw what I saw – my warmest memories.
Alpharius. I am back at the Mage Tower. Where are you?
The voice of the god-touched suddenly in my ears made me startle. He was messaging me straight into my head, and I replied with a concentrated thought.
We are still here, being examined. I’ll ask them to fetch you.
“I have a friend looking for me in the lobby”, I said aloud, to the wizards. The one holding his palms near my ears replied. “I know, I read the message in your thoughts. I have already sent for him.”
Convenient, I thought.
“Isn’t it?” Said the wizard.
An acolyte brought Harsk into the chamber. One of the wizards, the one how had taken us in and whose name I did not know but referred to as Baldy, went to greet the cleric.
“Servant of Iomedae, I beg to inquire what is your purpose here, we are in the middle of-”
“You haven’t found a solution?” The dwarf asked as he paced past him and stopped in front my leaning chair. Baldy grunted. “Well, we are still trying to identify the magical properties of the transmutation and how it is linked to the soul-bind-”
Again, the dwarf interjected, holding his hand up. “Good. I rummaged through the libraries of the Cathedral and I might have a solution.” My heart leaped, fumbling for a flicker of hope amidst the freezing fear. Trust the god-touched to find a way.
Harsk regarded me. “Alpharius, do you still have the diamond?”
“I will need it.”
I drew a gladius, and carefully cut the threads that held the pocket in my bandolier closed. Without hesitation, I removed shining diamond and handed it over to the cleric. He turned and stepped over to my brother. The wizards retreated to give him space but eyed him suspiciously.
A bright light, brighter than the one in the ceiling, erupted from Harsk’s closed hand, as if he was holding the sun in his fist. The diamond was the source. The cleric began to murmur a prayer and put his other hand on my brother’s forehead. I heard a crack, like stone breaking, and something else than light began to flow gently between the gaps in his fist. It was dust. Diamond dust, circling in the air before evaporating completely to nothingness. Harsk’s voice grew louder as he prayed, and soon, his prayer reached its end.
“Oh mighty Iomedae, grant me the power to restore this soul and body!”
The sun in his grip flashed once, filling the entire room, momentarily blinding me. I scrambled to my feet, next to Harsk, to witness the results myself.
That day I learned that some bonds were stronger than others. That some could not be broken. My brother’s eyes were open and he muttered one word. A name.
I took his hand in mine. The tears came again, but this time, they ran for joy.
You did well, Cael, I could almost hear my mother’s voice calling from the oblivion.
A chapter of my life had closed. An incomprehensibly large void had been filled, and I felt.. whole. For the first time in a long time, I felt something like elation in its purest form. No longer carried I the heavy burden of fear, uncertainty and despair.
Tear-eyed, I thanked Harsk, who beamed his fatherly smile and stepped away.
“Where am I?” asked my brother, awakening.
“In Magnimar, with the wizards of the Mage Tower”, I replied and pulled myself together.
“Magnimar? It is so good to see you, brother..” Life was quickly returning to him, a healthy colour rose to his cheeks and his vision sharpened.
I nodded, pursing my lips. “Gods, Belon. Seven years.”
“Seven? I has it been so long?”
“What do you remember?”
He considered this.
“I remember something like from a nightmare.. faces, a beautiful greatsword.. mountains.. I remember screaming, and being unable to do anything. Like I was incapacitated.”
“The clearest thing I remember was from Riddleport, walking in a general store, having a look at the wares. From the back I spotted a rusty but ornate greatsword, and it drew my attention.. I remember taking it to my hand, and then there was a flash of gold..” Started to cough and cleared this throat, and I asked the wizards for water, and food. Harsk took the opportunity to leave, and took the wizards with him, after we were promised something to eat and drink.
“What date is it?” He continued.
“6th of Gozran, 4708 AR.”
“Sweet goddess. I recall arriving to Riddleport over a year and a half ago.”
“Don’t worry, you are now here. Safe.”
I still didn’t believe he was there. Neither did he.
“I searched for you brother. After Canorate.”
This surprised me, even if I wouldn’t have expected nothing else.
“What? I turned half of Avistan around looking for your sorry soul!”
“I know”, he said, regretfully. “I sneaked back to Canorate to hear you had gone. You killed the Master. I was so proud.”
“I thought you were missing, even dead.. I learned what I could of your fate, and then made my decision”, I muttered.
“I understand, brother, I really do. I would have done the same thing. But everything you might have heard about my mission and disappearance is a lie.”
My brow rose an inch. “How? Why?”
He sighed. “It is a long story. I’ll tell you about it later. Now where’s that water you asked..”
I think it was around midday, or right after, when Belon – now that we were free, by wordless agreement, we had finally reverted to using our real names – had woken from his nightmare.
I told him about my journey across Avistan in detail, and he shared how he had been on my trail, like the blood-thirsty, revengeful assassins of House Horryn, all the way to Korholm at the shores of Lake Encarthan. But whereas I had turned east, he had thought I’d push west to Nirmanthas, towards our home forests at the borderlands. It was over six years ago.
He had went west and then north, through Nirmanthas. Hearing he had spent time there, I didn’t mention Aurora, deciding to spare that story for a later, better time. From the former vassal state of Molthune, he had continued north, to Lastwall, Ustalav, Hold of Belkzen and finally into Varisia. He mentioned Urglin and Kaer Maga in particular, calling them shitholes perfect to hide in, and he had been sure I would aim for such places. I admitted he was right, and we laughed. It was good to laugh in honest mirth, and not in a cynical, sarcastic way I so often did.
I told him of my time in Varisia and the quest to defeat the awakening runelord, and his complex role in it. The discussion led to the matter of Alice, Alfred, Harsk and Saffron.
“What kind of people are they?”
I scratched the stubble on my chin. “Well, Alfred is a thrill-seeking drunkard who spends his gold on whores and can’t take anything seriously. Alice is a naive little girl who can be led like a sheep. Saffron is another little girl, a witch who’s clumsy and in fights usually useless if not outright dangerous to her allies. Harsk.. Harsk is a stubborn, beer-loving cleric of Iomedae. Enough said.”
Belon nodded slowly, understanding. “I see. But I’m surprised, Cael, why you would trave-“, he wondered but I went on, heedless of the fact he had begun to speak.
“Alfred is also the most accomplished fighter I have ever seen. He would beat any gladiator or warrior of House Horryn’s stock. I’ve seen him slay massive giants alone in personal combat. I dueled with him once, and lost, even though I cheated. He defeated you, brother, in single combat, though he had some help.” A smile crept to Belon’s face. He had never been the one to boast, and he could admire Alfred’s skill without grudges or excuses.
“Alice might look petite and girlish, but she commands magical powers you and I could only dream of. With her powers and her scimitar, she has slain gigantic spiders, rocs and a formidable stone giant sorcerer. She has a good heart, and the world is better because of her.”
“Saffron has a stunning mind and old Kozov would have wanted to meet her and talk with her till the end of time. Her scholarly knowledge is unique. She’d put the combined Pathfinder Society to shame. Without her, we’d still be wandering around Kodar Mountains, looking for you and Xin-Shalast.”
“And Harsk. I call Harsk a true friend. He is touched by Iomedae herself – and I was there to see it happen. His will is adamantium, and like the others, even though he has his weak moments and shady histories, he is a genuinely good person. I have no doubt he could become a frigging Herald of his goddess given time. And he’s mean with the longsword to boot.”
“In short, brother, they are heroes.”
Belon smiled a wide smile. “How about you, Cael? How have the past seven years treated you? Are you a hero?”
“I’ve stabbed and shot to death untold undead creatures, goblins, men, ogres, giants, trolls, demons and dragons, and that’s no boast. Maybe I’ve saved a few lives, but my decisions have led to the death of others – some who didn’t deserve their fates. My world is still dark and I kill with little remorse, brother.”
“I don’t believe that.”
I shrugged. “You were always the hero of the family, Belon, not I.”