The weight of responsibility feels inordinately heavy on my shoulders. It didn’t really hit me until I was standing outside with the Queen, being introduced to the knights and specialists that were going to accompany us to Drezen. I felt impatient, and felt wrong for feeling that way, while listening to her introductions. Goddess, there has been so little time for joy at our last victory. Had it actually been a victory?
All I wanted to do was to wait by Avashniel’s bedside and see this one thing be fixed -his eyes, there was no uncertain victory in that. There would be joy, and the prospect of joy to come filled me with impatience. Please, Queen! Do not make me think of the doom before us. Let me have these few hours.
I also sent several children out to search for my family amidst the refugees. I wouldn’t have time to look for them myself. I’m not sure that I could stomach the disappointment if they were not found. More refugees trickled in behind the army with each passing hour, and I didn’t have time to longingly watch the train. I dare not hope for their survival. I told them to spread word that the golden Aasimar lived and was with the Queen and was looking for her family. Hopefully that would be enough to bring my family forward. Sometimes it was very helpful to be so singular in existence. I’m alone, but also easily found.
The Queen introduced me to Sociel Vaenick, who seemed to be a Knight of Shaelyn. He was tall and dark, and very easy on the eyes. With him was a shorter and mussy-haired man in Templar armor who went by the name of Aaron Kier. This man was an engineer and tactician, and I’m certain he’ll be very important in the coming days. To my surprise, the Queen also announced that Erieiatania, the wonderfully talented bard, the friend of Anevia, would we joining us as well for she knows the city better than many. Finally I was introduced to a beautiful woman named Melasund, she was very sultry looking and striking. I wasn’t told of her use in the mission and it wasn’t apparent, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a magic user of sorts. My mind was elsewhere though, and I didn’t ask.
As soon as the Queen dismissed the little meeting, I immediately turned to return to the inn. It had been some hours since I first made my request to the Queen in regards to Avashniel’s condition. I was eager to be by his side.
My eagerness wasn’t borne out of desire for his thanks, or anything of that nature. I had a pit of fear in my stomach that grew hard like a knot. I worried constantly about what would happen if the magic didn’t work? I needed to by his side in that case. When he made his gruesome sacrifice, it seemed clear that he had chosen to live, but would he keep that promise? Would he be able to if he was given such hope for a return to normalcy and it didn’t work? I didn’t know what I would do if the magic failed, but I knew that I needed to be by his side to share that pain, if that was what was going to happen.
I barely noticed that Melasund followed me back to the Defender’s Heart. Luckily Anevia took care of Melasund’s needs, and I was left to go see to Avashniel. Or so I hoped. I was once again stopped by Matteau Garrett, my least favorite person in the world. I heard his arguments, and I was glad to hear that the magic was underway, but I couldn’t be at peace until I knew that this was taken care of. Securing his promise to wake me when Avashniel was about to come to, I very reluctantly went to bed.
My sleep was very fitful. I dreamed of demons with crab-hands, of blood, of death. Of dismemberment, and of knights who were pulverized beyond all recognition. There was so much blood and pain in my dreams. I woke up sweating when I heard a scream. An extremely familiar scream. The panic almost blinded me and froze me to my bed. Goddess but this wasn’t fair, we did our duty. Why was Selakilathiel screaming outside? I grabbed my sword and ran outside into the pouring, freezing rain. The temperature was unnatural, like much of the weather near the Worldwound. Influenced by demons, tainted by the things that unnerve us.
My simple white shift of a nightgown was completely soaked through and pasted to my skin by the time I found Selakilathiel. She was with Renault, and they were surrounded by demonic-looking ladies. They had wings and were pressing the two of them into a disadvantage. I heard the baying of a large hound and could only think of that demonic dog that we had encountered such a short time ago. I yelled warning to Selakilathiel and charged in to help her.
The attacking demons had vicious claws and they raked and tore at my skin, unprotected in my nightgown. Sharp, hot pain washed over me, threatening to overwhelm me. Only the piercing cold of the rain kept me from succumbing to the warm comfort of unconsciousness.
The dog came. It was not the hound that I had expected. Charging through the scene came a gnome atop a fierce looking beast of a dog. This being was no stranger to battle, and quickly helped turn the tide. When he spoke his words were full of strength – strength that I wish I felt.
All of a sudden a portal is opened. I didn’t see the characteristic movements of a portal being torn in the air before its appearance. Not that I would have had any way of countering it even if I had seen it, but as soon as the portal opened I saw fire and torment, there was evil from this place, and it didn’t seem like the same place as I had seen before.
There was a woman inside the portal. She wears purple, and has small horns. I am constantly harried by new cuts, new wounds, that spill red hot blood and dye my nightgown with gore. I barely blinked. The purple-clad woman said something to Selakilathiel, “Greetings from your brother” was all I heard, and then Selakilathiel was torn from this plane and pulled into the portal. I barely had time to breathe before Renault jumped in after her. There was no time. So many of those demons were between me and the portal and it zipped closed right after Renault.
I have never felt anger so hot before. The loss of my friends, and the pain of my wounds combined, and I threw everything I had into defeating those few demons that were left. My friends were gone and the only vengeance I had was making sure that these who were left felt pain at their passing.
I had hope for brief moments, thought that I saw Selakilathiel again, fighting by my side, and for a time my spirit soared once more.
Only it was over too soon. Recalling it now, I feel like there are whole minutes of time that I do not remember. I fell to my knees in the cold, muddy streets of Kenebras. Hot streaks ran down my face, but I couldn’t be sure if it was blood or tears. I wanted to lie there and die myself. Blood from multiple wounds ran down my arms in angry streams, it mixed with the mud. I urged it to leak faster from my body, so I wouldn’t have to feel this loss any more.
I felt myself being drawn to my feet, and I was forced away from my own thoughts by the shine of Terendelev’s dragon scales in the street. The dog-riding gnome spoke to me kindly, but the blood was pounding in my ears. The world moved slowly as I tried to pick up the scales. I weeped. One of the scales lifted easily but the other could have been the size of a boulder. The gnome walked to the scale and stood over it, motioning to pick it up. I shouted warning to him, the scale had given us great gifts, and was a boon of goodness, but because of them many had walked along a path to their deaths. Having just lost two of my companions, I felt bitter about Terendelev’s gift. The gnome did not heed my warning,and took the scale.
Goddess, you cannot take my friends and then immediately entangle another in my fate. I cannot stand it, the pain of their loss burned hotly in my chest as I looked at the gnome. It was as if I had seen his lifespan shorten right before my eyes. I carried sadness for him too. I looked away and saw Renault’s sword. That holy blade that spoke to so many, but not me. I voiced assurance to it that I would find it an appropriate home and took it with me.
It is strange that you can at once feel so hollow inside and also entirely filled with pain. I led the gnome back to the Defender’s Heart, and as soon as I crossed the threshold into the heat of the interior of felt sick on my feet. I had failed to heal any of my wounds, and they still leaked my life down my limbs and through my nightgown. I couldn’t bring myself to ask the Goddess to heal me. I didn’t want to be healed. I knew that my wounds weren’t fatal, but perhaps eventually, if left untended they would be. By focusing on my physical pain, I wouldn’t have to feel so much the loss of my companions. The line of reasoning wasn’t working.
I glared at Matteau Garrett for keeping from me the one ray of light left to me. I must have been a sight, for he looked fearful. The gnome threatened him in defense of my honor, and immediately my hatred for Mattaeu was snuffed out. The healer didn’t deserve my anger. I felt deflated. The gnome, offered to heal my wounds, and did it anyway even when I refused his service. I could do that myself, I said. I wouldn’t. But I could.
At this point the woman from earlier, Melasund, came down the stairs with a look of ire. I’m uncertain what she was angry about, but she seemed to quickly forget it and she ushered me to her room. Thinking on it now, I’m sure I looked like a frightful mess compared to when she last saw me. I was soaked, head to toe, bleeding, in bare feet and a torn nightdress with a bloody sword in one hand, the golden greatsword in the other and a dragonscale tucked under my arm. Yet she still took me in to her room and cared for me. I didn’t care much for myself at that moment. I’m not even sure I helped her when I was undressed and put into one of her own warm robes.
She spoke to me, and I felt the dragonscale burn cold next to my skin. I gripped it tightly despite the pain it was giving me to hold it there. I knew it wanted her. She was speaking softly and kindly to me, and though I was too caught up in my own pain to really listen, I knew she was trying to help me. I knew that the scale wasn’t evil. It was a symbol of goodness, the most incredible artifact I likely would ever posess. But I didn’t want this kind woman to be caught up in what it meant to carry one. It seemed that she felt the draw of the scale too, and suggested that I put it in the corner of the room. I did so, only reluctantly. It wasn’t my place to keep her from making her own choices.
I was weary beyond all feeling. I had died only a few days before, returned to life, was part of the removal of the wardstone barrier – essentially saving and dooming us all; I was told that Avashniel could be saved, and my family might still be alive. I awoke in an inn with many empty rooms that had once been full. I became a Crusader, and in charge of an army. I lost Selakilathiel. I lost Renault. I no longer had any energy to process my own feelings, and quickly succumbed to sleep.
Only to be awoken just a few hours later. The sun was just rising and sleep had buried my pain for the moment. The knocking at the door was Matteau, keeping his promise to me to fetch me when he thought Avashniel was going to wake.
Blessed Matteau, how unfairly I’ve treated you, if only in my own mind.
I have never walked down the inn steps so hurriedly. I walked straight into Avashniel’s room not waiting for Matteau’s permission. As I crossed the threshold of the room my vision blurred red for a moment, and a knot twisted in my stomach. I recalled the last time I entered the room and saw Avashniel’s life blood seeping through his sheets; I remembered his face twisted in pain as he spent his magic to give us one last piece of aid for the upcoming battle. I had kept the note that was smeared with his blood, but promised that he would live.
Today’s scene was wholly different. The rain had stopped, and the first of the sun’s rays had danced over his peacefully sleeping form. I sat gently at his bedside and took in the unmarred features of his face. No bandages lay over ruined eyes any longer. Perfect eyelids were closed over what promised to be perfect eyes.
He stirred, and the knot in my stomach grew tighter. He blinked his new eyes and looked at me. I couldn’t help but beam from the inside, the knot unraveled into warmth and joy, and I smiled at him unendingly. Several moments passed, and I didn’t know what to say. He seemed to be at a loss for words as well. I asked him if he was in any pain, and he said no. I could tell in his eyes that he could see me, and that I didn’t have to worry any longer about the magic failing. The release of stress and happiness bubbled over, and my eyes spilled happy tears. They drew lines down my cheeks and left golden traces as they fell. He lifted his hand and wiped my tears, and I held his hand to my cheek for a moment, feeling his warmth on my face. His new eyes welled their first tears too, and I could only hope they were in happiness as well.
He told me that it was incredible to have been blessed with such goodness in a place as this and he thanked me for my help. I felt that there was more beyond his words that he wasn’t saying. I reminded him that he had saved my life as well. He told me that there was old wisdom that said when two people save each other’s lives, they are responsible for each other forever. I wanted to kiss him for saying that. I wanted to bring my lips to his and know how he felt. But I didn’t, I was frightened. I told him that it was a responsibility that I was glad to have and he said the same.
He didn’t take his hand from mine like he usually does. He seemed comfortable with it there, and I think for a few minutes we both felt peace. I knew that within me there was a deep seed of love for him that was blooming. But with the future set before him and I, it was likely that traditional expressions of relationships would ever be able to happen. His short words of devotion and protection warmed me. As we both arose to walk to breakfast, I went to take his hand again, more out of habit than a desire to display affection. He pulled away, and I understood. His affection for me was private; just for us. As I stood there watching him join my new companions, I smiled broadly. Though I still felt the deep wounds of unhealed loss, I also felt strength and peace anchored with him.