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The Starting Line

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“Make sure you start this one with the boat wreck.”

At Dogi’s words, Adol lifted his quill and gave his companion an unimpressed look. There hadn’t been a boat wreck yet (though they’d never discount the possibility completely), but in Adol’s experience, it was better not to think about it, lest the winds of fate decided to listen. He’d already received a few wary looks from a couple of guests who’d recognized him by his hair when he and Dogi checked into the port town’s inn earlier in the evening.

More importantly though, he hadn’t started anything yet. Perhaps Dogi couldn’t see it while stretched out on the lower bunk across the room from the desk, but the book in front of Adol wasn’t his new journal. It was a separate book he kept for inventory. The journal he’d bought earlier was tucked away safely in his bag. Journals began when the adventures did, when he arrived at his destination and discovered what awaited him.

“No, no they should really start with the boat,” Dogi said again, more insistently this time. “How else would we know we’ve stumbled onto something?”

By meeting a mysterious woman, encountering the supernatural, or discovering a new ruin? Usually all three? Adol shook his head. Not all of his adventures started with boating incidents. If he thought about it, the count was currently in his favor. And even if tomorrow’s boat did sink or he fell overboard or Dogi fell overboard, he wouldn’t want to start his journal with that. Not unless the shipwreck turned out to be relevant. But he wouldn’t know that until later.

“Yeah, I guess you did write about the boat trip to Altago. And we arrived there just fine,” Dogi suddenly sat up in alarm. “That must be the secret!”

Adol just rolled his eyes. He’d written about the boat to Altago, because it had been relevant. It had been a destination his eyes had been set on for a long time, but the conflict between Altago and the Empire made it difficult to find passage. He couldn’t not commemorate the end of the war and the opening of the border!

Still, Adol thought, that had probably been one of the few times he began a journal with the journey instead of the destination.

“It’ll give the scholars and playwrights a good starting line at least,” Dogi agreed.

Adol’s journals were the first and foremost source of his adventures. He’d began as a simple traveling swordsman, but the years had built his reputation into something legendary. As word about his departure from any particular location began to spread, scholars and enthusiasts all flocked to learn what he’d seen. Speak to people he’d spoken to. Explore ruins he’d explored. Try to learn what he’d learned. Link together any new bits of lore to his past adventures. But in the end the purest source of information and stories were Adol’s journals.

Once a year, Adol stopped by his hometown to visit his family and drop off a few completed books. It had been embarrassing at first, to know that people were very eager to read about his travels and discoveries, but over time he came to accept it as a part of being an adventurer. He’d grown up on these kinds of stories himself, and Adol was always eager to share his experiences. But he rarely ever stayed in one place for too long, and when he was grounded to an area, it was because he was exploring.

So over time, his journals became his way of telling the story. When he’d learned there was an audience, he’d started adding in some more narrative to help set the scene. By comparison, the older books read more like fragmented reports. Back then, he hadn’t kept a separate book for accounting, so the early journals were filled with supply lists and reminders alongside simple maps and general notes on the various dungeons and items he’d encountered. There was a sequence, but any real narrative had to be pieced together.

He had his memories though. He would never forget what happened.

“But neither should anyone else,” Dogi remarked. “This is the kind of stuff people are going to be reading about generations from now! You have to give them something to work with.”

Adol didn’t really know about that. He was just a simple adventurer, traveling the world and seeing what he could discover. He didn’t mind people reading his journals, and hoped they would inspire other would-be explorers, but he wasn’t anything special.

“I think anyone who’s ever met you would disagree with that,” Dogi told him earnestly. “Even putting aside the whole god-slaying thing for a moment, you’ve helped a lot of people.” Dogi was one of them. It went beyond a simple rescue from Darm Tower—though it was still debatable who rescued whom there—their visit to Felghana hit Dogi personally. It involved his home, his friends, his family.

It was a painful time in his life, but Dogi didn’t want that story to be forgotten. He wanted everyone to know how Adol saved the day.

“I just think people should know who Adol the Red is. That’s all.”

And I think I should stay outside the story. Adol thought pensively. Adol was the type who stumbled into a conflict that would have occurred with or without his presence, and there were always heroes ready to rise against the evil that threatened their homes. From an outside perspective, namely his own, he was their sword, forged by their determination and support. So it was their stories and histories he wanted to record.

“So there’s nothing personal for you at all?” Dogi was skeptical. “What about Esteria? Your first adventure? The future hero setting out on his journey?”

The journal began with the stranger arriving in town.

“And that was even the wrong town! You could’ve at least mentioned getting shipwrecked in Port Barbado! Didn’t you once tell me that the whole reason you even chose Esteria was because you wanted to investigate the Stormwall?”

Good times, those were. Adol smiled as he remembered the sailors in Promalock, and how hard they’d tried to talk him out of it, before finally having to relent.

Dogi did have a point though. Back then, Adol was young and was looking for anything that sounded like an adventure, something that had to involve monsters and peril, because just traveling from one end of Eresia to the other wasn’t really anything worth getting excited over. Plenty of people did that. A mysterious storm that wrecked any boat that came near, and a land cut off from the world as a result was perfect.

He hadn’t actually changed all that much admittedly, still rushing to the source of any mysterious rumors and phenomena, but he now knew to appreciate the travels themselves and was much more diligent about logging the journey. Back then, he believed his journal had to only be used for the events of the quest itself, so Esteria’s story began with him meeting Sarah in Minea.

He would need to sit down sometime and write about Port Barbado, and Dr. Bludo, Slaff and the other people he’d met then. They were a part of Esteria’s story too.

“And write about you trying to breach the Stormwall,” Dogi added. “Everyone in their right mind knew to stay away from that thing and then you came along and somehow forced your way through. Why did you even do that? I’d say future generations deserve to know more than just the name “Adol Christin”, but it could be good for your own self-reflection as well. You have matured a little since we’d first met.”

His own self-reflection… Adol wasn’t sure how to really feel about that.

“Just think about it,” Dogi reassured him and turned over in the bed. “I’m going to get some sleep now. Don’t stay up too late.”

It was more formality than directive at this point because they both knew Adol rarely slept the night before a boat trip. He was too excited to sleep. He still wasn’t sure how Dogi managed it. But Dogi was always quick to fall asleep when he said he would, and soon the room was filled with the sound of his snoring.   

Don’t stay up too late.

Adol chuckled to himself. Dogi had given him a lot to think about before bed. Even on an ordinary night, he probably couldn’t have slept right away.

His own personal journey…compared to his nonchalance about people reading about his travels, this was more embarrassing. He wasn’t anyone special. He had a normal happy childhood. He didn’t have any unusual abilities. The people he met in his travels were far more interesting than he’d ever be.

He was just Adol Christin. An adventurer.

The daily inventory check was finished so Adol closed his notebook, and put it in his bag. Then, in a moment of nostalgia, he fished out another notebook, one that had long been filled up, and should have been dropped off at home years ago.

The Esteria notebook. With all of its supply lists, fragmented findings, and terrible sketches.

Adol didn’t think himself sentimental, but he felt calmer keeping this one notebook around. Maybe it was like Dogi said, and he did want some personal record of how far he’d come over the years. His handwriting had improved. He could draw more detailed maps now. And while he still kept himself out of the narrative mostly, he could hear his own voice in the words.

His adventures were personal to him. They weren’t his stories, not really, and he didn’t think he really needed to transpose some sort of personal narrative over them. But the wonder, the heartbreak, the experience itself was his.

Adol stared at the old worn out journal for a few moments before sighing and making a mental note to pick up another journal either before getting on the boat or immediately after arriving at his destination. He wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway, so now was as good a time as any. He took out the blank journal he’d bought and opened it to the first blank page.

His first adventure would need some supplementary pages to describe the events of Port Barbado and any other place he’d skimmed over initially. But there was another adventure that also deserved a proper retelling. One where he couldn’t claim not to have a personal stake, and the one his thoughts always came back to when he was remembering his experiences.

His second adventure. Another adventure written at a time when Adol kept barebones notes and this one may have suffered even more from this minimalism. Everyone wanted to know about Adol’s first exploit and the mythical floating Ys, so Adol had had to retell that story a lot and from what he’d heard, scholars and troubadours had settled on a general account. But he’d heard no less than three retellings of his second adventure, and while they had all picked up on the main events, they weren’t the real story, and they all missed the starting line.  

Because the story of Adol’s second adventure didn’t begin with him setting out from Esteria, or arriving in the Frontier Town of Casnan.

It began with loss.