Julian’s Journal, Adventure Six
I begin to accept that my destiny has changed. Stumbling across the ancient temple of the Aron-Tybel Dyad, in the company of the strange child Paki, has placed us in a unique position. I had already begun to expand my horizons, from a privileged child with no real responsibilities to an entrepreneur responsible not only for a new and risky business venture, but for the lives and welfare of thousands in Lower Ballarian. Now my role expands again. Aron and Tybel seem quite seriously to have charged us with saving the world.
Of course, we did pass their tests. About the long and arduous journey we took through their mysterious land, I shall say little. Except that I can apparently walk on water, which discovery pleases me. On the other hand, my mobility – my lightness – deserted me for weeks in that strange place. I have always thought of it as a natural part of me, and I’m a little disturbed to think that it can be cancelled by an anti-magic field.
About the mirror test I shall write at more length. This test was designed to reveal the viewer’s true self to himself. It seems to have been intensely traumatic for Paki and Jerrick, far less so for Tianna and Lylee. I was, I suppose, somewhere in the middle.
My mother taught me that it’s impossible to live a moral life without continual self-examination. That’s easier said than done, but I try. I have relatively few illusions, and I expected to see my character flaws. The two I expected in particular to see were cowardice and vanity. And in a way I did see them … but not quite in the way I had expected.
I’m going to describe this vision as though a series of images were displayed in front of my eyes. But that’s not really how it was; it’s only the best way I can think of to describe it. As experienced, everything was simultaneous. It seemed to happen all in an instant, but that instant seemed infinitely long.
I saw the fight with the Beholder. I had expected to see it, because I had expected the mirror to accuse me, as Tianna had, of cowardice. But, re-experiencing my emotions of the time, I realize that I felt fear, but I also felt excitement. I kept both in check and tried to think clearly. I decided that our best option was to flee. But I moved into danger to attempt to convince my companions of that, and nearly died. I took cover from the creature’s beams, but when the opportunity presented itself, I emerged – despite being terribly wounded – to strike the killing blow. And even when I hid, I did so out of planning, rather than blind fear. I had, I realize now, no intention of abandoning my comrades.
I also saw the fight with the Remorhaz. I saw myself alone, against a creature vastly more powerful than myself. I was alone because the monster had just swallowed Lylee whole, and I knew that she was tougher than I was. But I did not flee, nor even seriously consider doing so. I saw myself sliding along the snow beneath the creature, dagger slicing open its belly, Lylee covered with slime falling out of the gash, thudding on the snow, me hurling aside my red-hot dagger to sizzle in the snow. That was brave, and I have to admit, I looked good doing it.
My parents, as long as I knew them, were cautious sorts. Careful, conservative bourgeois. They raised me to be the same. Where did this daredevil streak come from?
So I did not find the cowardice I had expected. Instead, I found a different sort of cowardice. I saw myself murdering the caravan master. A single, precise thrust through the heart of a helpless man, while I pretended to be looking after his welfare. And why did I do it? Because I was afraid. I knew that we were touching big conspiracies, and that I didn’t really understand who was involved, what they were doing, or what the results might be. I was afraid of taking the wrong side, and I was afraid of making enemies. So I eliminated the caravan master to reduce our risk. That was a cowardly act.
And would I have done it if he had been a noble, or a prosperous merchant? This is the worst of the blindness which the mirror exposed. I knew that others saw me as arrogant, but I didn’t think I really was, because I was courteous and generous. But to the lower classes – like the Mud People who saved my life out of kindness – I was arrogant. I thought – not consciously, perhaps, but on some level – that I was better than they were. That’s how I was raised. I was raised surrounded by dozens of servants who really were, legally and socially, less important than I was. My father, my tutors, even my gentle mother, all raised me to think this way. That my life, my time, my attention were more valuable than those of most people.
For the past two years, I have despised the Upper Ballarians for the way they treated my friends the Mud People. But for the fifteen years before that, I was just like them.
And yet … I don’t know whether I can afford true humility. My pride is my strength. My ability to think and move quickly, decisively, and effectively are all linked to that pride. And now, it seems that the fate of the world may rest on how good my moves are. This importance I’ve gained by sheer chance may make it impossible to deal with my new insight that I’ve been living with an inflated sense of self-importance all along. Overconfidence has been my greatest flaw, yet I may well find myself condemned to a life of acting more confident than I really am. Because if we’re going to save the world, I need to successfully close the biggest deal in history. And the first rule of making a deal is: always act like you know what you’re doing.