“We all follow the path the Flame illuminates for us.” Those were the words she said to me the day our paths crossed.
Back then, I didn’t really understand what it was she meant by that. Today, it is one of my greatest treasures in all of Osterra — the treasure of friendship.
In truth, it hadn’t been all that long since I had set out from Rippletide, a bustling merchant town located in the Coastlands. Word of great treasure led me far into the Frostlands, landing me smack in the middle of Flamesgrace. There, in the heavy snowfall, was where we met that fateful night.
Swaying along with uncertainty’s tune stood a lone figure center of town, orbs scanning ‘round at those who passed by. Blinded by the snow, I squinted my eyes, curious at first if it were jötunn or not. After all, a town was the perfect place for an ambush! I lifted my trusty lantern, allowing for the light to reveal to me its answer. She looked to be a priestess at the grand cathedral here in town. Her expression, while frantic, was weighed down by a decision hidden behind her gentle face. Should she, or should she not? No, her heart was already set on what it was she needed to do.
“Excuse me,” I called out.
Lifting her head, the woman looked my way. “Yes?”
“Are you from around here?”
She offered a gentle smile and gave a nod of her head. “Yes. Is there something I can help you with? Are you lost?”
At first, I stared back, relief washing over not long after. While happy she was a local, part of me wondered why she was out so late. “Er… Not exactly,” I replied. Quickly I returned the smile and extended a hand to her. “The name’s Tressa! Tressa Colzione! I’m a traveling merchant.”
The smile never once left her face, even in her own distress. She reached out for my hand, taking it gently and giving it a firm shake. “And I am Ophilia. Ophilia Clement. I am a sister at the church nearby. It is a pleasure to meet you, Tressa.” Her kindness never ceased, even after the warm greeting. Despite my attempt to hide it, Ophilia noticed that I was not cut out for the bitter cold, a shiver racing up my spine.
“Might I show you to the tavern, Tressa?”
“T-that’s ok!” But I really was getting cold, despite my efforts to play it off. When my stomach chimed in, a humble laugh left from her.
“The tavern it is. And you’re just in luck too! They have the best carrot soup around.”
As I downed the soup, I listened well to the story she shared, more than willing to lend an ear to whatever burdens she had after all she had offered me. Even in her own panic, with time fleeting so quickly, she never once rushed me. She stayed by my side until I had warmed up and was fed. Ophilia was thoughtful and caring. Anyone could see this. To take on what was expected of her sister so that those at the cathedral could remain free of their own burdens… If I was in her situation, I doubt I’d be able to stay so calm and collected. She truly was an inspiration.
I sat the bowl down, staring back across the table. Who was I to refuse her plea after all she had done?
She looked back to me, confused and alarmed. “Eh!? I’m terribly sorry for rambling…! Please forgive me. Was the soup enough? Did you like it?” There was panic raising in her voice, as though she were worried her tale had made her a poor host.
“No, no! It’s ok! I want to help you!”
I stood, giving her a thumbs up.
“You want to…?”
“Come on! Let’s go already! The night’s not getting any younger!”
“Tressa, are you certain? Please do not feel you are obligated by any means.”
With a firm nod, I smiled back. “Of course I am! Now let’s go!”
Taking her hand, we left the tavern behind in a trail of dust and snow.
With haste, she showed the way to the Cave of Origin; a winding path which lead to a sacred place filled with monsters and danger unimaginable, guarded just at the mouth. As we fought our way towards the Sacred Flame, I came to realize with each battle that Ophilia had left a stronger impression on me than I initially realized at that point in time. Driven to help those around her achieve peace and happiness, the selfless act of putting others’ needs before her own… It was almost like she were the Flame personified, bringing warmth and healing to those whose hearts she touched. I couldn’t help but smile. Without even knowing what the pilgrimage was, I found myself wishing that I could help her achieve her goals while also achieving my own.
“Huh?” I stopped just behind her. “What’s wrong, Ophilia?”
My eyes followed towards where she pointed. Before us towered a mighty flame, swaying gentle yet emanating great power from the shrine whence it rested.
My gaze drifted back to her, seeing uncertainty sway as she shut her umber eyes. Before I could muster words of reassurance, the flame called out, pulling our attention with little effort. The ground on which we stood began to shake violently, bits of rock falling around.
“Ophilia!” I called out.
She remained still.
“Ophilia, this isn’t safe! The cave might collapse! We should go! Come on!”
Another voice boomed. The Sacred Flame had announced our presence, and so too had its guardian.
Even in my own panic, Ophilia remained strong, clasping her hands together. This was all part of Kindling—something she had mentally prepared herself for long before our paths had ever crossed. If she were to fall here, all would be lost and those she fought so hard for would be heartbroken. Hesitant, I grabbed my spear, stepping beside her. We would make it through this together. And, well… maybe if I got super lucky there would be some cool treasure too! Right?
From the ceiling dropped down a massive creature nearly four times our size. My mouth hung agape. Ice shield and sword equipped, the Guardian was not about to mess around. Looking to Ophilia once more, I finally smiled as all tension turned to adrenaline.
“I will not lose to you!” She shouted, charging forth. Faithfully, I followed suit.
We would not fall.
The Sacred Flame would guide our path.