Lagarde's departure story

PirateFox

Scholar
Wyoming GM
(OOG: Written approval gotten beforehand from Jenny/Blue, Paola/Sleet, Marc/Copper, Kavi/Tivi, and Nick/Thran)

For days, Lagarde remained disturbingly sober, watching and waiting as people from all over the shard came through...or left via...the portal in New Acarthia. He had watched heartfelt separations and numbly witnessed the pain the exodus was causing on the population, while his own emotions were suppressed, waiting for a true answer of how things would turn out. In truth, he cared little about the victories and accomplishments. He had far greater concerns.

Foremost in the thoughts he allowed himself, he glanced down at his long claws, seeing the faintly black and purple mist that had clung to them as though it were still there. It had faded away long before, but it was a strong memory. He could still feel the chaos, even though multiple identifies had cleared him of any fear that it was a part of him. A problem for another time.

With the final departures underway, time was running out. Word had come through just that morning that the bridge and many of the portals were beginning to destabilize. He did not have long left and yet few of the wylderkin from the Wylands and other outlying areas had come through. It left Lagarde beyond numb—it left him wondering if he was leaving behind everything he had ever fought for. Everything that he had bled to save. These were his people, choosing to stay behind.

As though hearing his concerns, a call came out from one of the town guard on watch, alerting that another group of refugees had appeared. The first wave of people appeared moments later, a vast horde of sylvanborn, dressed in the attire of their homeland and smelling of the Marsh. The town guard, used to arrivals by this point, began directing them toward the bridge and other points of exit from the shard as guides took over, leading them to their eventual destinations.

His hopes dashed, Lagarde stopped watching the portal before it had stopped belching forth furless arrivals. Instead, he stared off to the north of town, where The Salty Vixen—Vixie, to most these days—floated slightly above the road. The boat had kept itself occupied for the most part, chasing birds and exploring the region, ever since their last trip to pick up refugees. She had been somewhat distant since being yelled at by Baron Egil for being involved in rescuing him from the war front. The idea that a ship could be offended by yelling was still somewhat of a new concept, but one that Lagarde was getting used to gradually.

A fresh shout made Lagarde tense, thinking that perhaps an attack of some sort had come, only to realize it was another announcements of refugees. Looking back to the portal, he found that fresh on the heels of the still-departing sylvanborn, a massive crowd of wylderkin had appeared. Those arriving were varied—as their people tended to be in all things—showing signs of being from many different regions and villages. As soon as Lagarde spotted several from the northern forests, he set toward the group, hoping that they had brought a familiar face with them.

Waving aside many kin who greeted him or asked about others, Lagarde forcibly asked any of the northern kin, “Is Pholtis here? Points? Prongs? Whatever you call him these days? Where’s your councilor?”

Most hurriedly shook their heads and got out of the way, but finally, Lagarde found several elk-kin who seemed less willing to respond. They, after a moment’s hesitation, explained that Pholtis had stayed back at the stone. He intended to remain with the shard, no matter the cost. Before Lagarde could ask more questions, a human pirate leaned close and added, “A talking turtle said much the same. He wanted you to know. He won’t be coming.”

Lagarde had expected nothing less, but the news hit him hard. Snarling—his only way to vent the impotence he felt at being unable to help those he had worked beside for years—he hurried through the crowds, no longer willing to even acknowledge the people. These were the people he had spent his life trying to do right by after abandoning his homeland, yet now they were in his way. They were a constant reminder that he had yet to see those he was seeking.

Panting and nearly in tears, though growling out of reflexive instinct to keep others from asking about him, he finally reached the portal, having worked his way through the whole crowd without finding a single familiar face. With the abruptness of a weapon blow, he dropped hard to the ground on his backside, staring at the shimmering portal, knowing there would not be another wave before they had to go.

This was it. Years of work and sacrifice, and now only his friends were going to make it out. His family had never arrived. Wherever they were, they were not here. Deep in his heart, he dearly hoped they were safe and happy, but the sting was real, even if he had known they were.

The numbness spreading, Lagarde struggled back to his paws and took a deep breath. He had lost everything once before, when he had fled the Wylands in the face of lies about his involvement in his own mate’s death, but this felt different. He was having to leave behind his family again, this time forever. Once he departed, there was no hope or dream of returning. The finality absolutely made him question whether to stay behind and risk death in the failing shard, yet his nature—surviving no matter what it took to make it happen—refused him that as an option. He would leave and he would regret it for the rest of his life.

Again, Lagarde eyed his claws, wondering if he had slipped so far that he could leave his family behind, but he knew the truth. This was not a choice to leave them, so much as a decision to go on, knowing they had made their own choices. That those choices might not include him was nearly unbearable, but not something he had control over. He would have to move on and pretend to forget. Pretend as he had so many times before. Fascades were definitely becoming his specialty. Worse still, he was losing time pondering this, when he knew he should be leaving.

He took several more minutes, searching the crowds. Once he was confident that he would not find anyone he knew, he marched across the field to the section of flatland below the floating ship. Lagarde did not need to even motion for Vixie to know what he wanted. This was something he refused to think too hard on, lest he have concerns about whether the fae “ship” really was reading his mind or intentions. Rather than think about it, he grabbed the rope ladder the ship had dropped to him, scrambling up it without much thought to the distance he could have fallen or the decision he was making by leaving town.

Pulling himself up onto the deck of his ship—or rather, the ship that he rode, as it was neither his property nor under his true control in any fashion—and looked around at the crew waiting there. Most were his friends and those he had conscripted from the former military. The distinction between the two was clear as several saluted him, while others did no more than nod in acknowledgement that the captain was aboard. His friends and extended found-family from the adventuring community were a bit more wordy, but seemed very ready to leave.

Ignoring both groups, Lagarde motioned toward the vague direction of the bridge. Even without the action of his crew, the ship set off, gaining speed without the need of sails, wind, or tide. It flew low across the ground, racing toward the bridge between worlds. As they flew, Lagarde leaned against the railing at the fore of the ship, watching the landscape blur below them. Alongside him, he occasionally glanced at the damaged wood where the gryphon had broken the railing, somehow managing to overcome the ship’s rendered body. The wounds were mending slowly, but they were another sign he had failed someone close to him by allowing them to be hurt.

Another snarl was all he could manage to dismiss the fact that he was missing people he had expected to have with him when he had faced his end. Though this was not an end for him, it felt the same with the loss of the only true home he had ever known. He was surrounded by people, yet felt more alone than he had since the day he had left behind the body of his first love, murdered by those seeking him out.

“Captain,” said one of the military crew members. The voice and smell tugged at Lagarde’s memories, slowly reminding him that the woman had come from the Bayennan navy. “The others are belowdecks. Do you have any special orders?”

Lagarde rolled his eyes and kept his back to the woman. “Others? How many refugees did we take on board?”

“Beyond the crew? Only the five others, sir.”

Lagarde straightened up, ears perking and nearly knocking off his hat. “Five? That’s not many refugees.”

“They said they were supposed to be here. Should I throw them overboard?”

Rounding on the woman, Lagarde eased his posture. He very consciously made sure not to show his teeth, as humans like her always misinterpreted that as a threat, even when it was not. “No. No one goes overboard today. I’ll go talk to them.”

Marching across the deck, Lagarde pulled his hat off and twisted it in his hands. He did not really want his last remaining relative to witness him yelling at refugees. That though stopped him cold, staring at the old leather hat.

“Great,” he muttered to himself, shoulders and ears sinking. “The only family I have left is my deceased uncle. No offense, Mel.”

The hat remained silent, though it somehow impressed a sense of acceptance on him. There were times he felt as though he were losing his mind talking to a hat, but this was not one of them.

Heading down the stairs into the ship’s small crew hold—far smaller than it was when the ship was reshaped for other tasks such as battle or cargo-hauling—Lagarde found himself in the deep dark of a poorly-lit hallway. It took him a moment to recognize which of the many layouts the ship had chosen for this purpose, but once he knew, he could navigate it blind. Heading forward without needing sight, he made his way toward the crew quarters, where he expected he would find the stowaways. There, he would brief them on the journey that was ahead of them.

Lagarde strode into the crew quarters without even thinking to sniff. It was rare he did not prepare himself for what was ahead of him, but given the day’s events, he had no motivation to care. He stepped into the larger room, raising one hand to point at the refugees angrily, before launching into a speech he had done more in the last three days than he cared to think about. As soon as he came out into the lamplight of the room, any thought of scolding was gone.

To his left was his mother, an elderly red fox vixen who was sipping at a cup of his stashed “good” rum. She sat atop a keg he had made special efforts to hide from the crew. How she had found it was beyond him, though memories of his childhood and having her find things he hid from her came unbidden to mind. “About time you arrived, Melly. You still going by that ridiculous pirate name?”

Beside her, his aging father sat on the floor. The badger-kin smiled and nodded at Lagarde, always less willing to speak up and far more understanding of how his son felt.

“Momma?” Lagarde mumbled, barely able to think. “Papa?”

“You think we’d miss this?” his mother asked, scoffing. “Your father said we would be late getting here. As usual, he’s wrong.”

Lagarde’s father sighed and shrugged. “Somehow the worst times bring out the best in people. I do wish your uncle could have lived to see it. He always thought the lands would sit by and let their neighbors burn.”

Glancing at the hat with its ghostly inhabitant, Lagarde winced. Someday he really needed to tell his parents about that, but not today. “Yeah. Uncle Mel would have liked to be around. I’m sure of it.”

“You’d have liked him,” Lagarde’s mother assured him. “You and Mel have a lot in common.”

“That I definitely believe,” offered Lagarde, putting the hat back on. He could practically feel the badger-kin ghost’s grin through the physical contact.

Turning, Lagarde had to force himself to look at the others in the room. He had spent so little time with his parents since freeing them from the clutches of pirates trying to trap him that it was always difficult to leave them in any sense. When he saw who else had joined him, he could barely hold back tears.

Beside his father, two more kin were seated. Closest to his father was a grinning deer-kin, bouncing slightly with excitement.

“Tivi?” asked Lagarde, genuinely surprised.

“Yes!” she exclaimed, clapping. “We saw your ship and wanted to come along. Is that okay?”

“I...yes. Absolutely. Always,” Lagarde said softly, relieved. Glancing to his right, he looked to Tivi’s mate, Thran. “Welcome aboard, Thran.”

The far more composed deer-kin male huffed and looked around the room. “Thanks. Are we on the big lake now? I didn’t see it when we climbed on. Feels like we’re moving.”

“Not much water up here, but soon, there’ll be a big lake,” Lagarde assured him. “The new world has more water than most Acarthians are used to. Might be the biggest lake you’ve seen.”

Thran nodded knowingly and leaned against the hull. “Maybe. Let me know when we’re there. Tivi said I should stay down here so I don’t fall off. I can swim.”

Lagarde struggled not to laugh or cry, nodding instead. Taking a shuddering breath, he trained his attention on the last person in the room, who was trying to remain out of the light. They really wanted to be the last seen, if only to scold him for not noticing her.

“Thank you for getting everyone here, Blue,” Lagarde said, without looking at her.

Stepping out of the shadows, the cross-fox-kin scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. “About time you said something. You trying to leave without us?”

“I’ll try harder next time. Somehow, you always catch me,” he teased back. “When’d you all arrive through the portals? I’ve been watching for you.”

Blue shrugged it off. “Not watching very well, obviously. That and we came in with a refugee caravan, not through the portal. We’ve been here for hours. Hooooooours.”

Thran frowned and tilted his head. “Do hours mean something different to foxes?”

“Or maybe an hour,” Blue corrected quickly. “Time flies. Either way, you’re late.”

Dismissing her banter, Lagarde swept her up in a tight hug, not having seen his mate in far too long through the war. For all her objections, she clung very nearly as tightly. About the only thing that made Lagarde ease his grip and look around again was the realization that there were only five people in the room. His joy faded abruptly.

“You weren’t able to find them?” he asked, shoulders sinking. His tail practically sat on the floorboards in disappointment.

“Not for many months,” Blue explained, clearly understanding who he meant. “They were heading to Shadowwatch Keep at the start of the latest round of the war. We went there first. The place had already been packed up. By the way, where did the baron put the lava sharks? I didn’t know those could be transported.”

“You don’t want to know. They were cared for better than he cared for himself. I’d stopped by Shadowwatch, too. Those scouring the place for supplies said that no one had seen those two for some time.”

Nuzzling his mate’s ears once more, Lagarde went around, greeting and hugging his family. After the niceties were finished, he excused himself back to the upper decks to guide the ship, hoping for a moment to grieve the loss of his adopted children. To his dismay, Blue followed him all the way to the rails near captain’s perch with its wheel.

“We both know the ship sails itself,” she reminded him. “What now?”

“Now? Now, we move on, find a new place to live, and reestablish our lives. Maybe find a good community to live in.”

“And exploit them for all they’re worth?”

“I absolutely didn’t say that. Hardly even meant it. You’re a bad person and should feel bad.”

“You first, Lagarde. Or, should I say...chaos lord?”

“Blue, you’re a brat. I’m not a chaos lord.”

Flagging down a passing crew member, Blue asked the man, “Am I a brat?”

The sailor’s eyes widened and he looked between the two fox-kin, swallowed, and walked away without replying.

“You trained them better than the last crew,” Blue admitted. Squinting at the horizon ahead of them, she asked, “Where are we going? I thought they said the bridge was more east.”

“It is.” Lagarde pointed vaguely to a spot out near the river. “We have one more stop. The orphanage sent most of their things ahead on an earlier wagon, but I was told I have a few volunteers there packing up the last of the spare blankets and toys. We’ve got the room to carry it, so I offered to save them the travel time. They’d have been cutting it close.”

Moments later, the ship began its descent, angling toward one of the more outlying sections of New Acarthia. There, a few buildings had been erected among the trees, where the cost of land was far cheaper. Most were clearly abandoned, but the one they flew silently toward had lights in the windows and even a carved pumpkin outside the door.

Gently, the ship touched down, somehow balancing on its hull as the gangplank descended on its own. As soon as it was on the ground, Lagarde marched down toward the small orphanage. Now, there was not much left of the place, as it had been stripped for any supplies they might need to rebuild. Several of the nicer windows were
even missing. About the only remaining item of significance was a bronze plate near the door which Lagarde had objected to in no uncertain terms, which named him the primary benefactor of the place. This, he pulled down, intending to take it with him.

From inside the building, a shout came, making Lagarde nearly drop the plaque.

“Put that down! No looting or...dad?”

The final word took an extra second to sink in and Lagarde dropped the bronze plate on the porch, having entirely forgotten it existed. All of his attention was on the fox-kin emerging from the building, wide-eyed and obviously as surprised as Lagarde was.

“Long time no see, Copper. This isn’t exactly where I expected to find you,” Lagarde admitted. “What’re you doing here?”

The lanky fox shrugged and pointed back toward the heart of the building. “Sleet insisted we come here to wait for you. When the evacuation started, I mostly helped them pack up. She wouldn’t leave. I think...wait, is that a...boat? We’re not near water.”

“No, we aren’t. Is everything ready to go?”

Copper motioned to several boxes inside the front door. “As ready as we’ll get. The other workers decided to leave this morning. It’s just us. I would go let Sleet know, but...well...she’ll bite me if I say we’re leaving. Could you let her know?”

Laughing at his adopted son—despite knowing Copper was likely correct—Lagarde headed through the building. The place was heartbreaking after years of work, seeing it stripped to the walls. Here and there, he spotted small drawings from the former residents, as well as the newer boards on one wall where a necromancer’s den had been concealed, before being destroyed and reburied.

Lagarde soon passed through to the far side of the building, where the other porch faced the primary road into the town outskirts. For someone wanting to watch for wagons or horses, this was the right place...for watching flying ships arrive, less so. The field on the far side was far better when landing.

Seated on the porch was a young white-furred wolf-kin, legs tucked under her, as she watched the road intently. On some level, Lagarde still had to push aside his fear of wolves, but it had never quite been the same with Sleet. She was family, after all.

Lagarde checked the wind, confirming that Sleet could not smell him, and made sure to stay behind her. He paused a moment, watching her ears twitch at every sound, before clearing his throat softly.
“Not going,” she told him gruffly. The slight movement of her hands toward her sword and shield did not go unnoticed as a threat to whoever was asking her to leave. “They’ll come back.”

Grinning, Lagarde prepared himself to duck behind the doorframe if Sleet did try to bite him. “I hope they show up soon. The rest of us are leaving now.”

Sleet’s ears shot straight up and her tail thumped the floorboards loudly. “You’re sneaky. How long?”

“Just got here. You ready to leave?”

Rolling onto her paws, Sleet nodded and shoved her weapon and shield under an arm. She walked up to him, glowering at him—while her tail wagged furiously, giving away her real feelings—then punched him lightly on the arm. “You’re late, but I told Copper you’d come.”

“Wouldn’t dream of leaving you two behind, given any choice in the matter. Blue and my parents are on the ship out front, waiting.”

“Grampa and Gramma are here?” Sleet perked up again, then raced off in the direction of the ship.

By the time Lagarde reached the ship, Sleet was already belowdecks, likely being spoiled by her adoptive grandparents. Copper, on the other hand was on deck, waiting diligently for everyone to arrive. The few boxes from the orphanage were already onboard, too, likely having been loaded by the crew while Lagarde was inside.

Marching up the ramp, Lagarde barely had to motion toward the sky before The Salty Vixen raised its gangplank and rose from the ground eerily. Though he said nothing, Copper clung to the rail for dear life, to the amusement of the few crew members who were already used to magical travel.

Soon enough, given the absurd speed the ship could provide when it wanted to, they slowed to a floating stop above the shimmering bridge to the new world, where a few remaining refugees were still crossing. There, Lagarde asked Vixie to hang for a little longer, as the sun set over the mountains west of Acarthia.

“Where are we going?” Copper asked, leaning cautiously over the rail to look at the bridge.

Lagarde shrugged, taking in the lands he could see for miles in every direction. “Home. Everyone’s here, so it’s home. I don’t know where and what the land is...but nothing changes. It’s still home.”

When the last of the sunlight had vanished, the ship turned and flew through the magical bridge, leaving behind the shard that had been the crew’s home, destined for a new start elsewhere.
 
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