When I awoke the next day all I wanted to do was be near Avashniel. I did not want to deal with Melisande and her inevitable return, I didn’t was to listen to Reginald’s hatred for Mel. I didn’t know what to do about the statues. It pained me deeply that my friends were missing and so far I had no idea even where to start looking. It was like I hadn’t even slept, the continual stream of worry sat on my shoulders like so many boulders. Even though I had to have infinite patience with Avashniel I knew for certain that there was some part of him that cared for me deeply. Blink and I’d miss it, but it is there. So that was where I wanted to be.
I let myself into his office and he was already awake and reading. There were still moments of anxiety when entering his room where I still felt unwelcome. He had treated me so frigidly in the weeks after his sight returned that I still expect him to dismiss me. He hasn’t though. Not in many weeks.
I picked up a book I had been reading the last time I had been here – a book about arcane scripts and its nuances. So many of his books were unapproachable to me because I didn’t know the arcane language well. There were spells that could bring the knowledge to me instantaneously for a time, but it felt wrong to use them. I wanted to learn for real, and not cut any corners. There was a second chair in his office, it was uncomfortable (I’m sure to discourage people from sticking around), but I sat in it and read. I didn’t need him to kiss me or talk to me or have any of his attention at all, being in the same room was enough to regain a small bit of peace.
After some time a voice came to both of our minds. It was Melisande’s and she wanted to meet everyone in the council chamber. I closed the book angrily. It didn’t seem that he was surprised or disturbed by my reaction. He warned me that Melisande had done the things she did with full knowledge of the possible consequences – that there was no excusing the results as accidental. I couldn’t argue with him. It was true. She knew what she was doing and decided to use my parents anyway. I tried hard to think of a way to forgive her or her behavior, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to go to the council chambers and face her.
The council gathering was just as I feared. There was yelling and accusations, mostly between Reginald and Melisande. I found myself more worried that Melisande was going to leave without dealing with the devil or Reginald was going to kill her before she could. In fact, he didn’t want to give her any chance to talk to the devil at all. No one really had a good way of dealing with the devil without her though. I really tried to express that but Reginald’s feverish anger didn’t seem to allow that truth in. Not that I thought she should go unpunished but it wasn’t the time to dole out punishments.
Things become so feverish that Avashniel actually contacted the Queen. And she actually came. It’s pretty embarrassing when your “council” is so inept that they can’t make a decision about a person who willingly brought themselves back to the city, likely knowing that they’re going to be punished. The stress was very high though. I think everyone knew that the problem with the archdevil wasn’t going to go away without Melisande’s intervention. The logical among us knew that we needed her. The illogical didn’t care about that. And when religious fervor and ideals become more important than the safety of the city – that’s when things go wrong. There’s been many times along this journey where I’ve thought that perhaps the first four Crusades may have failed because only paladins were fighting the war. The inflexibility is so dangerous – and so predictable, I’ve sure if demons would think to do it they could have used that zealotry against the paladins. When you become willing to do ANYTHING to achieve your goal – that’s when you become truly dangerous. Maybe that’s what we really need.
All of a sudden, we here this ticking noise. It is unusual, it sounds like machinery. Reginald stands up immediately and runs out of the door of the council chamber. I have very little experience with actual machinery – those most mechanical things I have seen were the magic-infused creations of Zanthir Vang. I ran to follow Reginald. If Zanthir Vang had found some way to infiltrate the keep – and attack us while we were all arguing – well, we’d feel sorrier than we already do.
With Leon, Calder, and Melisande close at my heels we all ran down the steps to the basement and the source of the mechanical ticking. The devil was down there too, so I knew that nothing good was going to come of what was going to happen in the next few moments.
I never would have guessed, given a million chances, of what we would find in the basement. There was rubble all over the floor. It was a wonder we hadn’t felt the rumble of walls breaking. The cell that had once housed the devil had been destroyed. He hadn’t escaped, however, for the source of the ticking was the great archon of Abadar – Lawgiver. Reginald had said that he had seen Lawgiver once before, and of course, I believed him but I never thought that Lawgiver would ever intervene so directly to solve our issues. And solving them he was. He was fighting the devil, and beating him handily. The devil was bloodied and had a broken horn, Lawgiver had him in a chokehold. I knew how horribly powerful the devil was so this act of complete dominance was awe-inspiring and terrible all at once. It’s one thing to believe in the power of the Gods, but it’s quite another to see just what his minion can do.
Lawgiver and the devil retreated into the recesses of the cell for the last moments of their fight. The cell itself completely made all of the devil’s magic unusable so Lawgiver seemingly made quick work of the evil being.
Apparently Lawgiver wasn’t done though. As soon as he exited the cell he came for Melisande. He moved more quickly than a being made of stone ought to. He wrapped the fingers of one stoney hand around the delicate bones of Melisande’s neck.
I stood transfixed next to Calder. Either there was nothing that she could do to fight this being or she chose not to do anything. Lawgiver raised her several feet off the floor and slammed her against the outer wall of the jail cell. She was struggling to breathe and, to her credit, it seemed like she was trying to remain calm but there was a look of pain and panic across her brow.
Lawgiver could have easily killed her in half a moment. It occurs to me now that he must have elected NOT to kill her in that moment. He must have been waiting for us to intervene on her behalf. Who knows what he would have done if Leon hadn’t come to her rescue. I watched Leon very eloquently try to persuade Lawgiver that he should spare her life. He told Lawgiver that Melisande had suffered alongside all of us in the past and deserves a chance to redeem herself.
For my part, I just stood there. There was an endless war raging inside me, but I couldn’t bring myself to defend Melisande. Although I worship another Goddess, I didn’t have it in me to defy the herald of a God. Lawgiver has powers unimaginable to me and to any of us. If he could see into her soul and pass judgement and say that she should die for what is contained there… then who am I to disagree? Perhaps it was anger too though. She should be punished for what she had done to me and my parents. Looking at the life being forced from her face though… I couldn’t – she was still my friend. Goddess, I hated her for what she did, but no matter what warnings anyone gave me, I couldn’t in my heart believe that she had MEANT for that outcome for them. She was wrong, and bringing the devil to this place was deadly and reckless. She showed no remorse for anything she did.
But yet, I couldn’t hate her. My lips wouldn’t move in her defense either. I couldn’t defend someone who was so clearly wrong and so clearly unrepentant. But I didn’t have to let her die alone. I walked quietly to her side and held her hand as she hung almost lifeless from Lawgiver’s unforgiving fist. I whispered to her that I forgave her, and that I was her friend. I didn’t feel the forgiveness in my heart, but if hearing it could relieve any guilt (if she felt any at all) as she passed on to the next realm, then it was words that I could make my lips say.
Leon still fought for Melisande’s life. He made promises on her behalf that I knew he couldn’t keep – not without her cooperation. I just closed my eyes and tried to filter out some of the deadly tension in the room. I tried not to cry for her, tried not to let my hand shake as the long moments passed. I tried to think about what I’d do when she died and I saw the blue specter of her soul floating away from her body. Would I save her? What point would that make? I couldn’t respect Lawgiver’s judgement and then just return her to life.
So I just stood there and waited for the moment when her hand would go limp and lifeless. I would feel my friend die next to me and accept it because she made her own choices and had to pay for them. Her lack of repentance would kill her. And then I heard it, the thick gravelly voice of Lawgiver say, “One month. In one month I will return and make judgement.” He held Leon responsible and accountable for her. And then he was gone with one last comment, “Cities built on sand will not stand.”
I let one last tension-filled breath leave my lungs and was surprised when they refilled with anger. She wouldn’t pay for her crimes. She wouldn’t serve any punishment for what she had done to me and my family. There would be no repercussion for putting all of Dresen in danger. I dropped her hand and looked at her pitilessly.
She was still regaining her breath when a flood of rage-filled determination started fueling me. I wasn’t going to let her get away with what she had done. Somewhere inside me I knew I was glad she hadn’t died. My emotions were mixing and surfacing like expertly shuffled cards. I didn’t know how to be glad for her life and also angry at the lack of justice for my parents at the same time. Although I had already given forgiveness… she was going to have to earn my trust back.
Melisande said she was sorry, but I told her that I wouldn’t believe her unless she redeemed herself. I told her that we had other things pressing us, and that we needed to find Arushalae and our missing friends now. She was still mostly limp and not sitting up on her own when I brought her a bowl of water to use for scrying. It seems cruel, but still to this moment (many weeks later) I do not regret my actions. She didn’t deserve time to rest and recover – earning her redemption should be difficult. I am glad that she is not dead, but I do not think I will ever shed tears over Melisande ever again.