The Great Festival

>*Wandering around town, your mind strays back to recent events and the views of the townsfolk you spoke to. You absently watch a few school fish throw what looks like barnacles through seaweed hoops, celebrating with echoing cheers whenever one makes it in.*

<I don't get it...I know I should trust Xarion. Everyone else seems to. But...I can't bring myself to.

<Wras on the other hand...he's been a bit rude, and yeah stealing isn't great, but...

>*You think back to how Wras was trying to warn you and Johaness about the sea snakes.*

>*The festival is not for a fort night, as far as you can remember. You feel...*


>*You try to shake off your nerves physically but the water's friction causes you to just sway slowly instead. Looking down, you realize you're being stared at by a crowd of curious school fish, their barnacle game now abandoned.*

>*Before you can say anything, they start babbling to each other about why you don't look like a sea person. One of them darts around you in a circle to observe you from all angles.*

<Descant: I'm actually visiting from up above. I haven't been here very long.

>*They all chatter excitedly; offering up bits of knowledge about the sea, their town, and where to stay if you're a tourist.*

>*After getting dragged around town for a while, you end up alone again in front of an inn, full of knowledge on what to eat and where to stay. Your apprehension temporarily forgotten.*

>*You decide to get together an outfit for the festival. Thankfully you were given some good advice on clothing shops too, since most of your clothing is back on the surface. From perusing the shops, you settle on a nice orange dress that flows gracefully with the current, paired with a cape.*

>*You figure you might as well stay the night at the inn since the festival isn't starting for another day. The innkeeper is an imposingly portly giant goldfish with pomp in his every movement.*

>*You manage to book an air bubble room made especially for land creatures, it appears to be technology made by Olievar. You eat and sleep well, dry for the first time in a while.*

<It will all be fine, right? What's the worst that could happen?

>*The morning is signaled by a chorus of dreamy sea music, made by angelfish swimming along the roads and playing what look like golden panpipes. You feel oddly refreshed, despite not being able to tell too well from the light whether it would be morning or night on the surface.*

>*You throw on your dress and decide to do something different with your hair since its gotten a bit longer. And of course finish with your usual beloved flower crown.*

>*You grab a quick breakfast of kelp sponge and re-enter the water. You feel heavy at first, and then surprisingly light again, treading the currents towards the festival grounds on the other side of town.*

>*The closer you get, the more citizens are on the streets, all of them swimming in more or less the same direction. Slowly you begin to see signs of the festival along the paths.*

>*Beautiful kelp forests line the paths, illuminated with glimmering lanterns and glowing coral. The paths all wind their way to the base of various coral covered canyons, and continue upwards to shrines at the top.*

>*There's a great billowing banner describing Vaer's festival ahead of you, and you spot Xarion not far beneath it, a group of Vaer Justices disguised in some familiar armour are milling around as well.*

<Oh gods don't look at me don't look at me don't-

>*Xarion immediately spots you as you swim over.*


>Xarion: World-hopper. Here to join the feast, I see. Are you prepared to perform the rituals of the shrine?

<I have a name you know...

<"What's that?"

>Xarion: I suppose I never fully described the rituals to you. It was my mistake, as an outsider would have little knowledge of our customs.

>Each year, the people of Vaer Reef climb these sacred paths up the canyons to reach the shrines located all around the city.

>They do so in order to pray to Vaer for guidance, whether it be an end to a problem, a prosperous next year, safety, or happiness.

>We believe that Vaer will only act if in doing so, order and balance are maintained.

>This ritual is normally reserved for denizens of the sea, but all are welcome.

>May Vaer judge you justly.

<...I didn't exactly agree to this, but I get the feeling you won't let me say no.

>*Xarion clears his throat, and looks at you pointedly.*

>Are you ready to perform the ritual now?

<"Yes. Can you take me there?"

<Descant: Yeah, I'm ready.

>*Xarion beckons you with a jerk of his head, and strides into the packed street. The crowds part for him as soon as they see his imposing height and judge's robes, and all you have to do is follow along.*

>*After making your way up the path, you reach a shrine with walls so covered in coral that you can't tell where they end and the coral begins, tiny fish the size of your fingernail swimming in clouds around them.*

>*Towering up over the walls, in stone so black it seems to swallow all the light that falls upon it, is a monument in the shape of a lunging shark.*

>Xarion: Swim upwards, and place your tribute into the mouth of Vaer. Since you're unfamiliar with the customs, I took the liberty of preparing something for you. We wouldn't want you throwing random vegetables into the sacred statue.

>*Xarion hands you a small sculpture, the stone carved into intricate, abstract ribbons.*

>When you give your offering, ask Vaer for guidance on what troubles you. Whether you worship him or not, you swim in his domain. That is enough for him to answer.

<"Look around."

>*A stream of petitioners makes their way to the shark shrine. Robed priests of Vaer walk through the courtyard, directing lost children and supporting elderly worshippers too frail to swim to the shrine alone.*

>*You join the crowd of people swimming towards the shark's mouth, and find yourself stuck behind a group of friends more interested in chattering to each other than moving. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a flash of bright gills.*

>*You whip your head around to look.*


>*Even if he was here, he's already melted back into the crowd.*

<...Hope whatever he's planning goes well.

>*When you finally get to the top, you stop and take it all in. The shark sculpture has an open mouth large enough that it could swallow you in a single bite, and teeth so sharp that parents carefully keep their kids away. You ready your tribute.*

<"Ask nothing. You don't need this deity's advice."

<...I don't think you have the answers I need.

>*You drop your offering into the shark's mouth. As it tumbles into the inky void, you start to feel a sinking sensation tugging at your limbs, almost like you're falling, too.*

<"Kick your way upwards."

<No. No I'm not leaving here too...!

>*You struggle against something stronger than gravity. It feels like the ocean itself wants to push you down, but you won't let it have you. You thrash and fight, baring your teeth.*

>*It feels like your teeth are stronger, sharper than they were before. You have so many of them, and each one is a warning to your enemies.*

>*Something feels different. You're more alive now, more aware, almost like jolting awake from a very long dream.*

>*Down below you, you can see all of Vaer Reef laid out like a miniature model, the crowds like streams of swimmers flowing towards the mass of feast goers at the center of town.*

>*Vaer Justice members are dotted at every intersection. They nod at Xarion as he passes by, giving their reports on any pirate activity with whispered words.*

>*Not far away, you spot Wras trying to hide his distinctive fins with a very large hat and a coat. He blends in with the crowds for the most part, joining a very large family at their table, falling into line behind a row of construction workers.*

>*They're only a single street apart, so close that all Xarion would have to do to see him is turn around.*

<"Wras, you need to hide!"

>*Xarion and Wras both hear your shout.*


>*...They heard your shout.*

>*For a split second, you think maybe Vaer did do something for you, only to realize with terror that it wasn't your voice that came out of your mouth.*

>*You start to feel panicked.*

>*Wras is already moving, but Xarion spots him before he escapes.*

>*Vaer Justice members swiftly form a perimeter around the street, blocking Wras' route and ushering civilians out of the way.*

>Xarion: No use trying to escape. Surrender now, and Vaer might even show you mercy.

>Wras: Oh, I'm not running away this time. Looks to me like you're the one who should be asking me to let you off easy.

>*Emerging from the crowd and casting off their civilian disguises, Wras' crew assemble around him, here to protect their captain.*

>*You rush towards them.*

>*Xarion and Wras glare at each other for a tense moment, each waiting for the best moment to strike, when a shadow covers them, blotting out the light.*

>*You look behind you, but see nothing. When you look back, you realize the shadow moves with you.*

>*It's your shadow, cast against the courthouse wall in the shape of a mighty shark.*

>*Your panic rises.*

>Wras: What...

>Xarion: World-hopper...

<No this...this can't be happening...

>*You become more aware of the presence that's...invaded, for lack of a better word. You don't know how you can tell, it's not really saying anything with words, but it seems it wants you to...stop the conflict...?*

<Ok, yeah, how the hell do I do that?

*You have to choose.*

<"Consider Wras."

>*Wras lifts his chin defiantly when you turn your full attention onto him, but there's a hint of an uncertain tremble in the way he stands. You've reminded him of childhood stories of Vaer the vast and powerful.*

>*He believed in them as a kid, but Vaer never seemed to answer his wishes. Eventually, he decided that if he wanted anything he would have to claw his way into it himself.*

>*Nobody ever took responsibility for him, and now he doesn't need to be responsible for anybody else. To Wras, that's a fair trade.*

<...You didn't deserve any of that. No one does.

>*The presence disagrees. It was not his job to answer prayers and solve all problems. He cannot be expected to favor one over another, as it would put things out of balance. It does not mean he doesn't hear all of them.*

<You could've at least helped a little...

<"Consider Xarion."

>*You look at Xarion, and his whole life unspools before your eyes. You see long nights working at the courthouse, agonizing over every choice, fighting for justice despite the people who mocked him for caring so much.*

>*He learned very young that life wasn't fair, so he decided to make it fair, even if he had to do it alone. There is a hazy vision in his mind of the world as it is supposed to be, as it could be if everyone just tried.*

<But is what you're doing really making it fair...?

>*The presence assures you that, in time, Xarion's goals will come to fruition. You just have to trust him.*

<Then why don't I?

<Why does it feel like what he's doing it just making it worse for everyone? You've seen the area where Pyrifera lives, you're saying this is more important than making sure people can eat?

>*...The presence just reiterates that you have to trust it. All will be balanced with time.*

<Yeah, and how long's that gonna take? How many more people are gonna suffer because neither him nor you will do anything to help and just focus on some godsforsaken pirates?

<You are a god. You have all this power. You could do something.

>*He doesn't respond to that.*

<"Look at the bigger picture."

>*Xarion's team and Wras' crew are just as frozen, united in mutual awe. As your eyes skim over them, you see their histories too, a flood of memories almost overwhelming your mind.*

>*One of them remembers the feast as a day stretching far back into their childhood, a day full of celebration and making new friends from different walks of life. Another remembers the turmoil they went through years ago due to a devastating event, and getting guidance from Vaer during the festival.*

>*You see a parent heaping food onto their child's plate. A pickpocket strolling through a crowd of targets, taking whatever they please. A group of friends on the cusp of adulthood, celebrating the last days of their youth.*

>*Alone, each seems like a such small, private moment amongst a vast sea of memories. But somehow every one of them feels as precious and important as any hero's tale. Seeing them, you're reminded of the minute, mortal every day parts of life, and soon you begin to feel smaller, too.*

>*You sink down towards Xarion and Wras, the water easing your fall. The shadow on the courthouse flickers and fades, shrinking down to your own familiar size.*

>*As the presence begins to fade, it commands you to make the right choice.*

>*The panic really starts to set in. It's like the stage play all over again. You can barely process what happened.*

>Xarion: A message from Vaer...


>Wras: No way. It can't be.

>Xarion: Do you have any other explanation?

>*Wras glares sullenly at the ground. Xarion turns to you with fervent awe.*

>Receiving Vaer's wisdom at this moment of conflict is no coincidence. He must have chosen you to impart his wisdom. What happens here must be your decision, as it is Vaer's will.

>*The shark puts his hand on your shoulder.*

>We shall all abide by your verdict.

>*You slap his hand away and stare him down.*

< don't get it, do you?

>*Everyone in the crowd is staring at you, awaiting your answer. Well, awaiting Vaer's answer. They don't care about you. You're just the mouthpiece for some grand authority figure.*

>*You didn't ask for this. You didn't want to be some gods messenger. This isn't even your god. And yet, here was Xarion, basically telling you that you should feel proud about this. It's an honour to be chosen. And you can tell it's only because he thinks this will work out in his favor.*

>*You're holding back tears at this point. Not this. Not again.*

>*You look over at Wras. He's looking off to the side, presumably planning his escape route. You think about what Pyri has said about her clinic and the people she helps there, and the area she lives in. None of this was right. How could Xarion not see that? There's so much more important things to do than just arresting some pirates.*

>*Did he just not care? Was it too much work to him?*


<I know what I can do.

>*You test your voice.*

<Descant: We...

>*As before, a voice comes out, but not your own.*

<"We should not force our will on others. Wras's crew should be freed."

>*The voice almost feels like it's fighting back, like these aren't the words it wants you to say and is trying to stop you. You know it isn't what it wants. It's a struggle, but you manage to get the whole thing out, barely before the voice fades completly and you're back to the silence you've almost gotten used to.*

>Wras: Ha! Where's your deity now, judge? Looks like you're not as righteous as you think.

>*Xarion is so shaken that he can't even reply. He slumps over, only barely managing to put a hand on the wall to steady himself. Wras takes the opportunity to gloat some more.*

>You're the one who dedicated your life to the guy, and now he's on my side. Gyahaha! How does it feel knowing all of that was a worthless mistake?

>Xarion: I dedicated my life to justice. To protecting the city! No matter what this sign from Vaer means, I will never regret doing what's right.

< aren't though. That's the point.

>*Xarion recovers from his despair, standing up to stare Wras right in the eye.*

>*Wras's expression is unreadable. He could be anything from angry to impressed, and when he breaks the staring contest, it's with his usual smirk.*

>Wras: Huh. I thought for a second there I'd finally broken you. Too bad.

>*You're still shaking when you hear the familiar cries of Chrominance and Jevil. They must've been looking for you in the crowd this whole time. The two nearly knock you down when they jump onto you. Having them with you again helps you to feel a little better after all of that.*

>*Wras makes a signal to a crew member, who hands him a large, ornate staff. He knocks it on the floor, and is answered by a rumbling from below. The ground shakes, dangerously unstable, until a giant crab bursts out of a tunnel, followed by several more.*

>*With a whoop of delight, Wras swings himself onto the largest crab and yanks on the reins, directing it at small marble building adjacent to the courthouse. He and his crew don't just free their comrades, they destroy the building until it crumbles into dust. Clouds of debris swirl up in plumes in the waters.*

>*The streets fill up with spectators, drawn there by the commotion. Many of the escaped pirates melt into the crowd. Some reunite with Wras, and others take off for parts unknown.*

>*Wras rides out triumphantly from the rubble on his giant crab, and starts throwing treasure into the audience.*

>Wras: Loot for everyone! It's time to celebrate! Vaer Reef is free!


>*That sticks in your mind. They're free...*

>*With a wink, he throws a bundle directly at you. A squid standing next to you tries to seize it first, but you snatch it before they can. As you inspect your reward more carefully, you realize that what's inside are actually chocolate coins and assorted gem candies...*

<Heh. Yeah that's a Wras move.

>*Jevil and Chrominance are very interested in the sweets.*

>*For a moment, you think you feel something rough swim past your skin, almost like it was cutting you, hurting espcially bad on the spots with your scars. But when you look, you see no one, only a slight feeling of a judgemental stare from...somewhere.*

<...You don't scare me.

>*There's a mad scramble for Wras's gifts as he scatters them into the crowd. It's total pandemonium, and the chaos spills out into the streets beyond, rowdy and uncontained.*

>*Wras and his crew hold their wild celebration into the early hours of the morning, tossing even more fake treasure into the crowd at random. There's yelling and dancing in the streets as they watch citizens climbing over each other to grab more of the fake treasure.*

>*A few Vaer Justice members have stayed behind to try and keep citizens from fighting each other over all of the fake treasures in the streets, but they're no match for the city's rebellious mood.*

>*A savage joy has seized Vaer Reef, made it more alive than you'd ever seen it before.*

>*You still need a moment to rest after all that's happened. The sounds of the music and the company of your pets help to calm you down.*

>*It's good to see everyone in the reef happy. It almost makes the god possession worth it. Almost. You get a feeling of pride. You helped to get to this conclusion.*


>*You hug yourself tightly. You never, never, want that to happen again. The whole experience, it...*

>*...Felt all too familiar.*

[Complete quest.]

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