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Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Bittersweet

She smelled of salt and leather and horses, dusty and sweat-streaked and tired from several days of travel. Fear and excitement warred in the pit of her stomach as she finally slid from the horse’s back, safe in her father’s custody – but not for much longer. The Abbey was an imposing building of sandstone, so much larger than her home, made bigger by the expectation which accompanied it.

The weight of his hand on her shoulder was like an anchor, and she reached, impulsive, to grip his fingers. She was nine years old, and on the verge of leaving home forever.

“I don’t want to go, dad – I miss mom, I don’t want to be a priest!”

Her father paused, looking down at his daughter. He smiled at her, teeth white against the steel bristles of his beard, and his hand tightened on her shoulder, eyes misty. “Don’t let your fear hold you back, Dolly. There’s never been a Keates with the aptitude before. This is your chance – make the most of it, girl!”

His voice was gruff, but still warm, full of love and admiration. She closed her eyes, swallowing hard past the fear that lodged in her throat, and let her hand slide from his to curl to a fist at her side.

It took a few moments before she was ready to keep walking. Opening her eyes, she looked toward the Abbey again, studying its walls anxiously for some sign, some -something- which would tell her this was the right thing to do.

Her father’s broad-tipped fingers squeezed her shoulder again, and he followed her gaze. “You’ll get the best training there is here. You’ll learn how to heal the sick; you’ll bring hope to the downtrodden. A priest is important, Dolly; maybe not as flashy as a soldier or a king, but without hope there is nothing.”

She nodded quietly, and squared her shoulders, lifting her hand to take the bridle of her pony. “Without hope, there is nothing.” She repeated the words stubbornly, and glanced up at him. “Alright.”

She was thirteen years old, and she no longer needed her father’s hand on her shoulder to protect her. They sat in a circle by candlelight, casting wary glances over their shoulders and smothering giggles with their hands.

“Truth or dare, Dolly!” The girl who asked was pale and blonde, her eyes a striking amber which seemed even prettier in the firelight. She smiled, and her her teeth were crooked, lending character to her thin features.

Dolores felt her face flush pink, and her heart beat a little faster, though she wasn’t sure why. “D-dare!” She sputtered, flashing her own easy smile in turn. The girl’s eyes widened in delight, and she squiggled closer to the fire, extending a hand over the candle’s flame.

“I dare you – to heal me! For real, this time!”

There was a gasp from the circle, and another girl hissed – “But you’re not even hurt, how can-”

“Listen, look – it’ll only hurt a little, but I want to see how it feels, you know? I want Dolly to do it.”

Her heart beat faster and Dolores shook her head quickly, but the protest turned to a squeal on her lips as Charlotte squinched her eyes closed and thrust her palm into the flame; the girl sitting next to her yanked her arm away, but too late. Already, the skin was red, a small, angry blister rising.

Dolores gasped. “Light, Lottie, why!” She seized Lottie’s hand, and it was warm and soft to the touch. Clenching her teeth, she closed her eyes tightly and bowed her head, hissing a prayer more fervent than any she’d uttered before, cupping Lottie’s hand with both of hers.

She heard the other girls gasp and opened one eye, a little surprised to see the intensity of the Light she’d called. But it was Lottie’s face which startled her most.

Lottie was smiling at her, and in the glow of her Light, Dolores was suddenly strike by how beautiful she was, crooked teeth and all. She was radiant, and she was smiling, right at Dolly. Her skin suddenly felt too warm, and abruptly, she let the other girl’s hand go.

The moment passed, and no one else seemed aware of it. They crowded around Lottie, begging to see.

The blister was gone, as if it had never been. But something still burned.

Charlotte and Dolores sat side by side on the dormitory floor, the blonde’s head resting atop her knees and her arms circled tightly about her legs. “I feel like I’m losing it, Dolly! When the Shadows come over me, I don’t feel like myself anymore, I – I don’t like it. It makes me afraid; afraid of who I am, of what I can do!”

Dolores let her hand linger on Lottie’s shoulder, shaking her head as she squeezed. “You’re scared ‘cause it’s all new to you, but it’s like Mother Anita said – there can’t be Light without Shadow. It’s just two sides of the same coin. Anything’s scary, first time you do it.”

They were seventeen, and Charlotte lifted her head from her knees long enough to shoot Dolly a watery smirk, eyes red and features blotchy from crying. “Some things aren’t.”

Dolores felt her face flush bright red, and leaned over to plant a kiss on Charlotte’s cheek to hide her embarassment. “That’s different and you know it. Be serious for a minute.”

She reached for Charlotte’s hands, and the other priestess allowed her arms to be drawn away from her legs, twining her fingers with Dolly’s.

“This – these shadows? They’re still part of you, whether you use ’em or not. You’re still you, and don’t let any magic convince you otherwise. It’s just different, and you’re not used to it. Don’t let being afraid hold you back; you’re the only one of us that’s got this power.”

Charlotte’s smirk faded, and she looked aside. “But I didn’t want it. Ever since I first met you, all I wanted was…”

Her voice seemed to catch, her gaze suddenly drawn to the floor boards of the dormitory. Dolly let the silence linger, patient, and studied their fingers, clasping together. Charlotte was so pale, her fingers long and thin. Her own hands were broader, the color of tea with cream. They looked right together, even if they were different.

“All I wanted was to be – with you. Around you, just near you. I wanted us to work together. I wanted to be able to tend the sick and the dying, right by your side, even before we ever – … But if I’m this – this shadow-caster… if I have this power, then they’re going to want me to use it. They’re going to take me away from you, and what’s going to happen then, Dolly?”

Dolores felt her heart sink, but kept her face quiet. She pulled a hand away from Charlotte’s, and carefully tucked a strand of pale hair behind her ear, leaning to press her forehead against the side of her lover’s head.

“Nothing’s going to happen to us, that’s what. Wherever you go, I’ll go too. I love you, Charlotte – and nothing’s gonna change that.”

The day Charlotte left the Abbey was grey and miserable. It came sooner rather than later, and Dolores barely even spoke her intention to follow Lottie before it was shut down.

“You haven’t an ounce of shadow magic in you, Dolores Keates. This is where you belong, and where you will stay – you will complete your training in a year’s time, and take your vows, and follow your assigned roles in the world. The Light of Creation calls us where it will; there is no place for you alongside Charlotte. Not now.”

She’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry; not while Lottie was looking. She promised herself she’d be strong enough for the both of them. Lottie’s life was the one changing, and the best she could do was support her, encourage her… and let her go.

Charlotte was destined to be something greater than all of them. She knew it in her heart, had known since the day Charlotte had unflinchingly burnt her hand. She was brave and she was good, and the shadows which had so frightened her all those months ago were far more powerful than any initiate priestess had ever wielded in Crestfall’s abbey.

So Dolly didn’t cry. The girl she loved more than anything in the world was going to embrace her power, was going to become much more than a priestess. The best thing she could do was to help her move forward, to encourage her to become the best she could be.

At first, Lottie tried to refuse, said she wouldn’t, couldn’t leave… but really, it wasn’t her choice. Dolores pointed out all the positives, painted glowing stories of her beautiful lover’s future, of all the ways she could help people – already, Charlotte had shown an aptitude for telepathy. She could change the world. She could save lives, and help heal those whose minds had shattered in battle.

And no matter how much she wanted to cry, Dolores wouldn’t let herself, just kept talking more and more about how wonderful things would be.

Charlotte didn’t like it. She wanted to live in the moment, but – the moments they had were so fleeting, so bittersweet, so overshadowed by the future that loomed before them.

When they finally took her away, Charlotte didn’t look back. It was a good thing, too. Dolly broke her promise. She couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down her face, as she watched the sails furl and the boat pull away from the dock. She felt her heart tremble, felt herself break down and sob.

Mother Anita’s hand moved to rest on her shoulder, heavy. There was little comfort to it.

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Winter’s Veil

She moved with a heaviness of stride and spirit, head bowed and gaze held low- tracking cobblestones and kneecaps as she strode quickly through the poorly kempt streets of Old Town. Somewhere beneath the simple white mask, her lips were pulled in a thin frown, lost in her thoughts.

It had been a day, maybe two, since Tremaine had fled the Tram tunnels, his pocketwatch in a thousand pieces, irreparable. The city had engulfed him, leaving no trace behind- he was careful, methodical, obsessed; of course they couldn’t track him. It was all too easy for a man to disappear forever- this was a fact that Odynae Dawnhammer was intimately aware of.

But it wasn’t the prospect of never seeing him again that alarmed her. No- what hovered at the forefront of her mind was the prospect of having to face him in combat; or worse, that his compromised emotional state would result in him becoming a puppet of the enemy once more.

Ereleth Tremaine had started as an adversary, but that was before she’d understood- before she’d been inextricably mired in the situation. It had been easier, then; life had been simple. Help the Good, vanquish the Evil, defend the Innocent and admonish the Guilty. That had been before. It had been some time, now, since she’d seen the world in easy black and white; now, if Tremaine came after her with murderous intent, it wouldn’t be an easy thing. Detain and deliver to the authorities was the prudent answer. But there were layers to the situation.

Whatever the end, she’d do her best. She felt sympathy for his loss; the damn pocketwatch had been the only thing in the world that made him feel safe. It had been his eyes, his ears, his sword and shield- how naked he must feel.

How alone, how frightened.

Whether or not he would go mad was to be seen- his paranoia had always remained a hidden aspect, though she had cause to be aware of it. The fact that it had shown, if only briefly, was troubling.

She shook her head, as if it might dissuade her thoughts, and lifted her gaze. Her feet had brought her to the Pig and Whistle- as seedy a place as ever, though this particular evening saw no enthusiastic duels. Instead, her gaze was drawn by color and light- a Winter’s Veil tree stood in the corner, adorned with baubles. There was a sudden lump in her throat. Winter’s Veil…

She’d forgotten.

Last year she’d spent it with Myk and Thoran; it had only been month or two later, that Myk had vanished. They’d had a quiet holiday together…

No sense in dredging up the past, not now. She squinted hard, staring at the brightness of the tree and its adornments, head tilting. Her lips grew thin in concentration. Presents. She had to obtain presents; perhaps not for everyone she knew, but at the very least…

Vyysce- it would be Vyysce’s first Winter’s Veil, so far as she was aware. For all that he was enormous and lumbering, his mind made him a child- perhaps thick of skin, but with a gentle mind. And Diane, of course. She’d missed the mage’s birthday, the first since Ashthra had perished- or was it the second? At any rate, Diane Marviere had spent the day alone- a condition that made Dyna sick at her heart. She hadn’t known; birthdays seemed inconsequential to her, but of course it meant something to Diane.

Tia… didn’t seem to recognize her these days, whether it was an intentional ignorance or not was no longer a concern. Her work with Tremaine had strained things; how could she possibly explain that alliance? It was beyond explanation, beyond believability—simpler, then, to let Tia Lansing simply be, without her.

Edd had gone missing again, but then, his alcoholism and foul moods indicated had been constant since the Curse had come upon him. She never had found it in her to tell him about Mykhael- perhaps it was just as well, then, now that Myk was gone.

She should get something for Mahl, of course. Something pretty – and something for his daughter, too, though she’d never managed to meet the child. Maybe something for Faeir as well, though she was at a loss there, considering all that Faeir had lost in the past weeks.

With a jolt, the ragged paladin shook herself from her thoughts, still staring morosely at the tree. Her lips pulled in an unseen grimace, and, moving stiffly, she tromped out of the Pig and into the night’s cold rain.

Winter’s Veil was easier, with so many lost and dead.

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Searching Silithus

It had been- more, than she had expected.

A moment that was indelibly etched into the fabric of her being, seared into her bones like white fire.

She’d never been to an ordination before. But even if she had, there would have been no way for her to know, to understand, as she did now.

Darkness and doubt had blunted the simple pleasures of being alive, casting perpetual twilight on her days; quiet, unspoken heartache had held as tightly as no lover could. Grief, despair, the inevitability of failure- these things had been facts in her life, and she’d born them as best she could. It was rare that she didn’t feel the weight on her shoulders, oppressive and smothering.

And all at once, it was lifted. How could she have known?

It was time to let go, and she felt that realization with the same tenacity that had defined her search before. He wasn’t coming back- no more so than Strahm had. No more so than Mayru, nor Gale, nor any of those that she’d lost to time and mortality. She’d never been good at letting go; not really. The memories were sacred, were held dear when nothing else seemed good in the world- and worse, they were glossed over with time, worn to a rosy glow that the reality had never truly matched.

She could scarcely recall what shade of grey the man’s eyes had been, beneath the wide brim of his hat- though the shape of his hands lingered curiously on.

Mykhael was still painfully clear. She’d marked Thoran’s birthday as it had passed- had visited the wee cabin that they’d called home, lit a candle and returned to camp; it was time to let go. The Light willed she should be ready for what was to come- and how could she, when she lived among ghosts?

Silithus smelled unpleasantly of hot, rancid cinnamon- all at once spicy and oppresive and wrong in ways she couldn’t put words to. She’d been fearful, the last time she’d stood here- afraid to hope, but even more afraid of the consequences, should they fail. Which they had, of course.

Now the Silithid were no longer controlled by the Apophan; the Cult had fallen, and she had done nothing to be a part of that effort, too burdened by troubles closer to home. It was queer, standing here, feeling the sand as though it was alive with the multitudinous vibrations of the hives hidden deep below the surface- subtle. Perhaps she only imagined it? The Light was living flame within her, a steady brightness that held her heart beating and her feet moving- careful steps, uneven shufflings to keep from revealing herself as humanoid life.

She reeked of that cloying cinnamon scent, had purchased it from a man who swore it would keep them from paying her much mind, but still she took care. The sun overhead was relentless, baking her inside the thick layers of plate armor that were a paladin’s accoutrements. It was difficult to breathe, difficult to see through the sweat that slid slickly down her skin, dampened her hair. Hours, she’d been searching.

Somehow, she’d know the bones when she found them- would feel… something.

Though the scent worked to keep her from being swarmed by Silithid, Odynae Dawnhammer would have been hard pressed to find the bones of her dead husband amongst the hundreds- no, thousands- of corpses picked clean and left to the sands and the carrion birds throughout the ages.

Not even the Light could have told her which bones were his.

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Realization of a Dream

She could feel the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, the wind that was the breath in her lungs, the touch of sunlight on her freckled nose as she sat cross legged in the sand, bare toes wiggling.

It had been too long since she’d enjoyed the simple pleasure of existing in her own battered body.

Of course, she was supposed to be in meditation or prayer; her Ordination loomed ahead of her, and she felt a sudden trepidation, a shyness that wasn’t like her- not these days. Sir Ballamore had given his blessing, which meant more than she could have expressed- and Sir McAllister had often told her he wanted to see the deed done. Sir Dominus had no doubts of her readiness. She had proven her worth, her courage, and her valor time and again, though it felt like boasting to believe it; privately, she was well aware that she still had hurdles to overcome. She wasn’t perfect.

But she didn’t have to be perfect; only had to keep striving for it, had to uphold the three virtues, to swear the oaths and believe in them, mean them, and continue to mean them for all of her days.

It might have been daunting, had it not been what she’d dedicated herself to for as long as she could remember.

Out of her armor, in the shade-dappled sunlight beneath the bent willow tree that marked Tara and Soren’s headstones, Dyna shivered briefly with the enormity of what lay ahead. Grixxis had said that an Ordination changed a person, made them stronger in the Light- made them new, somehow.

Something about the simplicity of the moment- the sunlight, her bare shoulders and thin cloth pants, knobbly knees bent, grizzled hands bared to the world and left loose over her legs- she did feel new, somehow. Young, perhaps. Almost as young as I am, she mused before letting out an unexpected laugh. The sound startled her, the echo of it ringing over the river. Familiar tension lanced from the pit of her belly up her spine, tingling at the nape of her neck. She felt stripped bare, armorless- shadows closing all around, remembered enemies gathering as her muscles grew rigid. The breath was caught in her lungs. Her skin tingled.

There was nothing. Her breathing slowed to near silence as she strained to hear over the unsteady patter of her pulse, the steady babble of the river ebbing along the island’s banks. Still no shadow-warriors appeared, no fel stone golems, no walking corpses or animated memories- no faces from the past, come to bear arms against her. It was only her.

So perhaps she was not new, after all.

Shaking her head, the woman scooted  toward the river’s edge, the motion careful so as not to unduly jostle the old aching scars along her torso- how many times ought she to have died, now? She was lucky. I am durable. I have lived through many things that ought kill a woman, and yet I remain- a collection of scars, a persistent tally. Whatever comes, it may mark me, may brand me- but I will remain.

As she dipped a foot in the river, sucking in a sharp breath at the chill of the water against her skin, a grin tugged at the side of her face still capable of grinning. I have lived through injury, betrayal, heartbreak. I have tallied the deaths of those I held dear to me. An Ordination cannot possibly be so frightening as facing my own mortality, as opening my heart, or charging down a wave of enemies who might smite me with fel magics in an instant.

I have lived through many things, and I will live through this as well. Today, I will not fear the realization of a dream.

Her grin ebbed a bit, head bowing as she carefully washed her hands, her face. I will become more than I am now, and will remember what I learned before. There is work to be done.

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Hold the line

Time had ceased to become something which could be measured, which could be understood. All that remained was the cold and the darkness that smothered her. Just dreams, now, and memories- her mind’s eye was vivid with color and regret. She couldn’t hear her own heartbeat, couldn’t feel her pulse. She couldn’t taste the air in her lungs.

Death wasn’t supposed to be like this.

She had dreamed, had imagined, that death would be a final sigh and then silence. She had thought that she would find the Light, warm and radiant and welcoming- that it would draw her tenderly, and she might glimpse a moment’s time with those she had loved that had fallen before her.

She had believed that she might find peace, at long last.

How different this was, then; a cold, bitter purgatory filled, only her own guilty memories for company, constantly reliving each failure- no wonder there was no joy for Odynae Dawnhammer, at the end of things. Her defeat was more than her own death. It was Tia Lansing, Antinua, Ereleth Tremaine, Jahgan, Samili- all of them would fall, now that her intervention had resulted only in lifelessness. Or worse still- the world would burn. All of it.

Too clearly could she see the blood and flame, the skies painted red and black. She was so cold. The darkness was absolute.

She had only the memories for company, but there was only one that she could not banish, could not hide from.

His face was vivid in her thoughts, smiling that liar’s smile, the grey of his eyes hidden in false cheer. His voice whispered to her in the darkness, sing-songing her betrayals in a tender croon. You weren’t there when we needed you most. You gave up. You let go. You moved on, while I rot in a shallow grave.

It was the truth of his whispers that hurt the most.

In life, he’d been a man who more thoroughly grey than anyone she’d ever met. It was impossible to cast him as either villain or knight; he was both. He was neither. Always, she’d painted him black, she’d painted him white, but it was the grey that eluded her. It was difficult to recall the shape of his features without casting him by turns- He lied to me, he betrayed me. I never saw his true face, and so he played the devil. But he loved me. He protected me, as I protected myself. He was kind. He faced his wicked deeds and rose above them. He taught me to value peace. He taught me love. A saint. By turns, she hated him for his deceptions- cursed him for leaving her, for being abducted, for being killed, for how he was used against her at her own hands- but even more, she hated herself for struggling to recall which Strahm was real and which was the facsimile. He had lied to her. He had turned against her when she needed him most. She had let him be taken. She had turned aside and let Marius kill him. She had brought him back wrong.

In the year, closer to two since she’d left him- given up on me, he whispered- she’d never found the chance to mourn him. It was well at least a year, now, that she’d been sure of his death.

Had she ever known him in the first place? Where did the lies end and the truth begin?

She could recall the weight of his arms about her broad shoulders, of his head beside hers, his body and hers, together in simplicity. There had been truth to that and to the vows they’d spoken aboard the Quel’talan.

It was cruelty that blackened his memories, that turned the collection of sweet moments to ashes in her mouth. He was never saint, nor was he was a devil. He was only ever a man, and she had loved him, for all that it hurt. I’m so sorry. I tried. I couldn’t bring you back.

For the first time, she allowed herself grief. She had no heart to feel broken and battered. She was nothing but memories now, and regret; it would hurt no one for her to mourn.

In the time since she had lost him, Odynae Dawnhammer- once Vindalis- had learned that everyone went away, given time. Sometimes they came back. More frequently, they did not- or if they did, they were changed and wrong.

How, then, could she willingly ask those that remained to her, to join her in harm’s way, to stride towards probable death with a smile? Her own death was inevitable; if only she could stop losing everyone else along the way. She was a soldier. She was a paladin. She was a martyr.

She was a bulwark for the Light and sworn to defend those who could not defend themselves.

But she had no choice, now. It was too late. Her soft heart had doomed them, and it was her fault. She hadn’t been strong enough to stand alone, and had been too weak to watch others fall.

She didn’t regret sacrificing herself- only regretted her failure. She was a shield, and it was her place to hold the line. But now the line would fall, and it was on her shoulders.

No one else would remember those who had been lost. No one else would pray for them, as she had.

No, death was not as peaceful as she had believed.

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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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