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Archive for August, 2012

It’s what you wanted.

It was quiet, so quiet, and the lights were all out.

She could feel nothing of the cold, of the darkness that crept hungrily closer; only dreams, now. Only memories, however bitter, however cruel.

Their words echoed inside of her, resonating with the secret doubts that seethed in her chest, that clutched at her unsteady heart. You’ve failed them, time and again. You weren’t there when they needed you most.

She’d been so hard, for so long, refusing to bow her head, to bend her back and give in to the grief and pain of the many losses she’d sustained, refusing to accept them as her own. Here was a woman held together with brittle bone and tired muscle, made whole only by her stubbornness and sheer force of will; and here she was, alone at last, no one to save- and no one to save her. Now you’re well and truly alone- you can do whatever you want. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? His words were soft, a whisper in her ear, his eyes hard and grey- that damn smile still persistent, a lie on his lips as he regarded her over the brim of his hat. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it…?

She could remember the shape of his features, the broad dark strokes of the Sigil crescent etched on his chest, the sing-song of his voice and the smile, that damned, persistent smile that never left him- It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? He jeered, now, voice mocking, striding forward as if to touch her cheek. You’re well and truly alone.

His hand passed through her, and he was gone in the blink of an eye- that voice, that damnable voice intoning softly in a sinuous curl behind her ear- you failed him. You weren’t there when he needed you most.

And she wanted to scream, she wanted to fight, but there was nothing to fight, no one to turn toward- there was only emptiness that yawned out all around her. Strahm was dead, had been dead for a year, for more than a year- And now you’re well and truly alone. You can do whatever you want. This is what you wanted, isn’t it…?

You weren’t there when he needed you most.

Her hands reached to clasp over her head, struggling to drown out the quiet voices, so soft, so insistent- once beloved. She listened for her heartbeat, but could hear only silence and her own ragged breathing. Before her, flames blossomed, a lone figure prone and gasping as he fell- those dark eyes wide, the black mask devoured by hungry flame. You give too much to emotion. You failed me. My suffering is on your shoulders.

You weren’t there when I needed you most.

She surged forward, but felt her feet catch and tangle in something- glancing down, her eyes widened. Cherry red entrails poured from an open wound in her belly, and she was tripping over them, more falling out like a spool unraveling- frantic, she reached, tried to push them back in, felt a knot in her throat as she struggled not to cry out. There was no pain. And that made it worse.

Isn’t this what you wanted? You’re all alone.

And there was Marius, tall and powerful even in his advanced years, lips thin in judgment, expression full of disgust. Reckless, risky, foolish- you weren’t fit to serve the Sigil, you aren’t fit to be a friend or an ally. Unreliable. Dangerous.

You only ever endanger the ones you love and care for. What kind of person does that, hmm?

Her spine drew straight, her murky eyes hard as she felt herself tremble in the onslaught of his words. I did my best to protect and serve- I tried–

Trying was never good enough, Chroi. You gave up on me, on Thoran; you stopped looking.

She spun, could see Myk’s face- sad and at the same time full of contempt. Thoran, a year old, grown from last she’d seen him- a bumbling boy, now. A toddler, tusks protruding past olive lips, wide eyed and fearful. The mage gathered his son closer, stepped before him as if to shield the child from the paladin. He skewered her with his gaze.

And now you’re well and truly alone. You can do whatever you want. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?

No one to love, no one to tell you no.

But you failed us. You weren’t there when we needed you most.

The words were pebbles, and she was stone. “You’re not real, none of this is.” Her voice was hoarse, choked by tears she refused to let spill. “You’re. Not. Real.” Mykhael stared her down hard for a long, then shook his head in silent disdain. Coward. He turned, scooping his child up, and was gone as rapidly as he had appeared- briefly a figure in the mists, then nothing. She felt hollow.

And suddenly, Tia’s head stared lifeless and cold, gaze empty of the spirit that her eyes should have held. Her body was no where in evidence, the box crusted with permafrost, the severed neck cut rough and jagged. The paladin reached, goaded by instinct- “I can fix this, I can change it, I can–” The head collapsed into maggots as her fingertips brushed the icy, pale cheek. I’ll never trust you to be there for me. You’ve failed me so many times. They squirmed hungrily against the wood, writhing.

She was stone, she had to be stone and ice and bricks and metal- she couldn’t bend. She couldn’t break. Not now, not yet. Not ever.

“It’s lies, all of it, lies! I’m not listening! You can’t hurt me!” Which was a lie, in and of itself. Mayru’s green eyes, full of loneliness, full of pain- you promised you wouldn’t leave. Diane, calling out for her, torn to pieces under a pale moon. The Bastion little more than a tattered pennant and memories already fading. Cogge shaking his head, turning away; you’ve lost your path. Sir Barclay, tortured indefinitely in the cold snows of Northrend.

And now you’re well and truly alone. You can do whatever you want. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?

The only thing worse than listening to the accusations, than reliving her loneliness and heartache- was when the voices went quiet.

Was when she was all alone.

And oh, how she was alone.

It’s what she wanted, wasn’t it?

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August 19

Damned if I can recall the last time I penned my thoughts, but here we are, regardless. Seems like it always comes back to this.

Sir Grixxis says I am ready to be ordained. That I probably have been ready for a while, now. I don’t know how I feel about that, though.

Things are different now. Even the way people act around me, feels different. They keep saying I’m impressive, I’m knightly- keep acting like I’m some kind of god-damned hero. It seems like everywhere I turn, I’m meeting approving looks now, and I know I should feel proud but instead I want to scream-

The only thing that’s changed is I am more stubborn, now. More thoughtful in my words. Maybe more careful than I used to be, but it feels like cowardice, in its own way, to pick and choose my battles as I have. It used to be that I would fight, that I would place myself in harm’s way any time danger reared its ugly head; now, I watch fighting break out in the Pig, on the Cathedral steps, and scarcely lift a finger to stop it. It has happened, it is happening, and it will happen again.

I used to think my Duty was to defend everyone small, everyone weak, everyone who needed protection. But now all I see is foolishness, and I know I must guard my strength jealously- expend myself for the things that truly matter. It is not my place to step in when someone goads a bigger foe to fight. I am not the city guard, who must come whenever there’s a shriek in the night. I will not turn my back on an innocent, but neither will I seek out ne’er do wells to educate them in the wrong of their ways.

I can’t be everywhere at once, I can’t force people to change their ways- and there are so many things that need my attention, so much still to be done and guarded and carefully tended to.

Sir Gauvain seems to think an Ordination should be cause for merriment; Sir Grixxis clearly felt he was bestowing a high honor. But if anything, I feel less noble, less honorable and more- worn. I do not think myself more worthy of the praises I keep hearing, and it seems to be coming from every side, every angle- yet the things I am the most proud of, the deeds that I feel show the highest estimation of my abilities, remain guarded in silence.

I could speak to my actions on behalf of Diane Marviere, to the scars that so mutilate my face- then I will bow my head and graciously accept that I have, perhaps, played the hero in my life. I could tell the tale of my dead husband returning, of how I was told I should accept him- and how I held fast to my convictions and to the truth, no matter how dearly my heart longed to believe the lies. How I tried to warn others, in spite of that they thought me a broken madwoman. My credibility suffered even as my heart broke time and again, yet I held fast, I didn’t give in; far more noble, I think, than keeping a civil tongue while bandying words with the Stromgardian knight.

Even the act of letting go of Godfrey’s criticisms, was more of a trial than it was to forgive him and feel compassion for his troubles.

But of the doubts that rest in my heart, the most insidious one is this-

If I am accepted, if I am Ordained as a Paladin in the eyes of all, does that make me like them?

In the time since I left the Abbey, since I’ve wandered this crooked, wayward path, I’ve come to find that most paladins are

Light help me, but they’re insufferable. They hold themselves with their noses in the air, so proud, so arrogant, so set in their ways and so unwilling to listen

 

An unworthy sentiment. It’s not quite true. Still, I can’t help but feel that I’ll be turning my back on all that I’ve learned outside the well-worn path to ordination- like I’d be placing myself above my roots, as dirty and muddled as they are. What kind of Paladin keeps daggers in her boots, aims for the kidneys and the groin when desperate- has fistfought in back alleys for gold? What kind of paladin has ever kicked a man while he was down, intentionally, knowingly tossing aside the rules of chivalry in favor of the rules of brutality?

Just because I strive to uphold the Knight’s code of honor and conduct, doesn’t mean I don’t know how not to- and I will not forget these things. I will not be above using them, if I must. Not when so much is on the line. My life is but a small thing, but with it, there is so much I have left to do…

There are too many shades between ‘white’ and ‘black’ for me to feel doubtless in my convictions. I will always question myself, must always question the motivations of others; I cannot have blind faith.

Would Grixxis still think me of a Paladin’s nature, then, if I could find my voice to speak such thoughts?

Doubtless, I’ll never know.

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She never felt quite so alive, as when death stalked her- brushed past her cheek, as intimate as a lover, but never quite touched her. Her heart would race and her teeth would bare, laughter and screaming burbling up in her throat- she would fight, fight, fight until the last breath in her body ebbed away into nothing, until the muscle and bone and animation failed her entirely… it was what she loved best, about living- the moments after a battle, when she could feel her heart pounding, her blood hot and aching in her veins.

It reminded her that she hadn’t failed, that she hadn’t fallen- not yet. Not now. Another day, perhaps.

She’d once made a promise, that she would strive to die old and withered, to pass peacefully on. It was a struggle, to keep that promise- it seemed inevitable that one day her luck would run out, her skill and determination would not be enough against the overwhelming odds.

But not today. Not now. Not yet.

Another day, perhaps.

She leaned against the toppled stone, staring quietly into the small, controlled flame that illuminated the shoddy lean-to. Breathing in deep, the cherry red glow of a cigarette burned as she pulled the smoke into her lungs, breathing it out into the darkness, eyes half closed.

At her side, Gaell slept peacefully, the young worg’s dreams untroubled, his wiry body warm against her. An absent hand lowered to ruffle his ears, a faint smile pulling at her lips as she relived those moments, again and again- the mad laughter, the flight of her enemies as she somehow, impossibly, proved impervious to their castings… the odds had been against her, with only Heyden at her side- and Light knew the dwarf had no reason to care if she lived or died. He’d lingered behind when she’d charged, a madwoman laughing in the face of death which surrounded her in the form of fourty cultists and all of their magics.

Either they’d been terrible cultists, or she truly had been blessed by the Light’s protection. It was impossible; no amount of skill or luck could be credited. And it broke them, the line of enemies in her way, as the white light of her spear had swung out, leaving blood and destruction in its wake. They had fled from her, as if she was something to be feared, something unnatural and cunning!

A shiver crept down the woman’s spine, and she drew another breath on the burning cigarette, tasting the smoke as she bowed her head for a moment, brow creasing. She’d taken lives this evening. Men and women who had once been daughters, had once been sons- beloved of someone. Redeemable, perhaps. The throng had fled before her, and she briefly wondered what it was they’d seen in the woman wielding the Light-imbued glaive. Still, it hardly mattered. She had lived.

They had discovered, too, that Antinua still lived.

More than that, she held the pieces of their plans in her hands- and for all that her cleverness had failed her in the past, it had been she who had discovered the lies, she who had so easily pulled the information from the shroud of falsehoods presented. At the time, she’d felt furious that the Ebon Blade had been so easily deceived. After all, if Dyna Dawnhammer could unravel the secrets, could so easily follow the logic that proved the falsehood- then surely it was obvious!

Or a trap. Always a trap. Perhaps it was a double-blind…

No. Not this time.

It wasn’t that the Blade were foolish; it was that she was familiar with the ways of these particular enemies, and she had learned, after so long, how to think as they thought. It was a disturbing prospect, but at the same time, she couldn’t help but feel pleased- here was proof, then, that she wasn’t so stupid as she had been a year ago.

She watched the stars, listening to the water washing across broken stone, the quiet grumble of the fire burning.

There had been many houses she’d lived in, many beds she’d slept in, but always those arrangements culminated in emptiness. Even the crude dwelling that was home now, bore the reminder of her brother’s absence- though it had only been a week or two. There was no death or disappearance to drive her away from here- not yet, anyway. Not until the months had passed and his absence was a fact, a gravestone marking an empty grave with the name Eddrick Spicer carefully carved into cold stone.

Death was always with her, though she could scarcely admit it.

The names were heavy on her tongue, yet somehow she felt stronger for carrying them every day. Strahm Vindalis, dead a puppet and a traitor at the whim of the Apophan. Sir Heliorn, a paladin and a Knight and a man she would have followed to whatever end, had he asked it of her. Sir Avisen Barclay, a soldier and a bigot and a power hungry hothead who had led most of the men and women in the Argentum Legion to their deaths. Audran, Marius’s brother- infinitely patient, infinitely wise, who had shown her the strength of a calm, quiet mind. Jannis Hubaan, who had taught her that not everyone could be redeemed. There were many names that passed her lips, that crossed her mind, each day and each night. She had lit a thousand candles in their names as time had passed, and that didn’t even touch the ones who were missing- she never knew if they had found an end or if they were still out there. Mayru. Mykhael. Thoran.

She felt closer to the ghosts and memories of those lost, than the living, some days.

But it made her strong to remember those she had loved, had hated, had fought for and against and around- the sun would rise anew. She would find new friends, new allies, new love- and all she could do was to hold on to those who were gone, to remember them when no one else would. It was bittersweet, but she couldn’t help but feel the sweet more than the bitter. After all, she’d been lucky enough to know them in the first place; she was blessed.

She took another drag on the cigarette, then plunged the tip into the dark earth beside her, listening to the embers sizzle and gutter before bowing her head. It was a bad habit. But she’d had worse.

Sir Grixxis had noticed her abrupt departure. No doubt she’d have words with him soon on why it was a Paladin of the Holy Light was following after an ill-mannered rotter who spewed obscenities on the Cathedral’s steps. Her lips pursed as she considered her options.

The truth, of course, was off limits. She couldn’t possibly explain it; it was dangerous enough, to have told those she did. As bitter a pill as it was, she would fight alone, this time. The Argentum would fight, if they had to. But she was done dragging others into the fight, was done being asked for an explanation she incapable of giving, was done asking people she loved to put their lives on the line- and being given demands, in turn, that she must follow orders in regard to what was to be done about the situation.

She could so easily picture Mykhael’s expression of disbelief and disgust, could hear the doubt in her mind’s recollection of his voice- but he wasn’t here now. It wasn’t his place to tell her she was a fool to fight alone. He wasn’t the one who had to live with the decision.

She didn’t know what she’d tell Grixxis or his order. What a fool she’d been, to begin to believe that she was free of this mess- there would always be battles to fight, lives that she must preserve. For now, she prayed they wouldn’t ask too many questions of her, and she could fight in peace; they didn’t need to know all the secrets she harbored, all the ghosts she kept.

She wouldn’t make the same mistake she’d made with the Bastion, with the Sigil- she wouldn’t share so much of herself again.

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My love’s an iron ball

She knelt in silence and in prayer, as the world crumbled and collapsed about her.

It was all she could think to do, the only thing left- they had failed. All life was forfeit for their loss. Azeroth would crumble and fall, her great cities lost to dust and nothingness. The people she loved would bear no tombstones. No one would remember their names.

Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the life in her beginning to fade, the air being sucked away, sensation failing and thoughts melting down to their core of molten regret- if only she’d been stronger, faster, smarter, oh if she’d been smarter!- the shadows were closing all around, their greedy fingers pulling her to pieces. A sound like a sigh parted her lips as the darkness swallowed her; all that was left was the Light, and nothing else mattered.

Somewhere in the distance, a familiar voice whispered- I win.

Odynae Dawnhammer jolted awake, cold sweat beading her pale features and the hair on the back of her spine raised in alarm. Her heart shuddered in her chest as she jerked upright, shaken hands fluttering over her arms before gripping them tightly. Her breath was a sob of relief and her eyes scanned the little campsite for a moment, gleaning comfort from the familiar surroundings- here, her glaive leaned against a thick oak tree, there, last night’s fire had become ashes ringed by stone. Gaell was nearby, solemn yellow eyes fixed on the woman. She offered him a tense smile, letting go of her arms and uneasily rising to don the heavy plate armor that was her custom.

The sun was only just barely cresting the horizon, pale morning mist not yet banished by the heat- yet her uneasiness animated her, chasing all thoughts of sleep away. Her calloused fingers worked carefully at the business of clasping clasps and buckles, checking and double-checking the fittings of her armor, oblivious to its weight after so much time spent in it. She could feel the familiar tenderness of her left shoulder, the phantom achings of her mutilated cheek- even the scar tissue mottled her abdomen joined in the clamor, stiff and stubbornly refusing to yield her accustomed alacrity of motion. It was hard to resent these things, though; the pain brought reality into focus, helping to dash away the night’s terrors.

Properly armored, she carefully armed herself- a dagger in each boot, her spear at her back. She checked her satchels- a field medic’s kit with bandages, needles, small phials of herbal concoctions; the small pouch she wore about her neck that held things she cherished. A sigil ring, a wedding ring, a length of pale chain carved from bone; a trinket from the man she loved, a hearthstone, a strange runic etching, a lock of wiry, dark hair. At her hip, a coil of rope- at the other, an empty leather circle that once held a pocketwatch.

She hesitated a moment, looking between the dirk she usually sheathed at her side, and a small mace she’d picked up somewhere along the way- then decided on the mace, a crooked smile briefly stealing over her features.

If she was going to be a Proper Paladin, perhaps she’d best bear a paladin’s armaments- though she hadn’t yet chosen a shield to carry.

Sir Dominus had made a compelling point about the advantage a shield could give her, but she was hesitant to give up her spear; not yet, anyway. Perhaps another morning, when the world was less dark a place, she would carry a shield. But for now, for right this moment, she was stubborn- and her ways had kept her alive for this long.

She wasn’t quite certain what to think of Grixxis and his Order, was reluctant to place herself in a position to be instructed by Sir Ghodfrey again. Her hopes were tenuous and brittle these days, having lost so much already and yet still retaining so much more to lose- she held herself wary of promises, when she must also be ready to join battle at a moment’s notice. Duty, always Duty; it was a constant refrain in the back of her skull, the drumbeat that kept her weary feet moving, her tired body straining and reaching and fighting…

But the urgency of her task had diminished. Things had settled, more or less… and she was unaccustomed, ill at ease, mistrustful of the change. But it was as she’d told Ziras; it was time to move forward, to live with intention- not to dwell on all that was gone from her life, on an end that had failed to come. She was so used to being called by Duty, and now her days were so quiet, so calm- it was all she could do to remain level. It was the quiet before the storm… or perhaps the winds had died away, and she waited, waited, waited for a day that would never come.

It didn’t matter. She would be prepared.

Dyna gave herself completely to the task of preparation for the worst- so certain it was still to come.

Comforting, to know the worries that gnawed at her frayed thoughts like savage dogs- were small, comparatively.

What was one absent man and his son, to the world that she sought so tirelessly to protect?

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