Purgatory

A sudden shock of pain tore Seibel from the gentle, dark abyss he had been floating in for who knew how long. A low groan sounded from a battered throat, and as his eyes fought to open the world swam in front of his vision, leaving him feeling dizzy. Not that there was much to see, wherever he was.

What had happened? He remembered resting, someone calling for help. Then… Oh god. The men had grabbed him, then there’d been nothing but the wind pouring around his ears and sharp pain with each jolt and bump of their bike. He must have passed out, as he had no idea where he was now.

The edges of his vision were murky, though he realized with some relief that it was only because of the dim lighting in the room, instead of some damage to his precious eyesight. The sharpest edge of the pain had began to dull, though now it radiated through his body, not offering much respite.

He focused on his breathing, trying to ease it from quick and shallow to something slower. As the moments passed he was keenly aware of the sweat soaking his skin, the uncomfortable heat crawling through his body, and what felt like something else sticky under his shirt.

He didn’t have much time to contemplate it, however, as a figure leaned into view, half blocking out what little light he could see. Blinking up at it did little to help.

“Wh-”

“Not much of a doctor, are you, running out of your safe place at the first sign of someone in trouble? Pretty stupid, if you ask me.”

The voice was familiar, but didn’t immediately register. He said nothing, trying to order his mind.

The flat of a hand connected sharply with the side of his face, momentarily chasing the thoughts from his head, leaving a painful sting in its wake.

“What are you, deaf? I asked you a question.” The figure leaned down over him, taking a hold of the front of his shirt and giving him a sharp shake. The pain it caused his still healing body drew another soft groan from his lips.

“The hell kind of people does Lorcasf surround himself with? Are you made of glass? I swear to-”

“He doesn’t look all that good, boss.” A second voice, far more timid, rose up. Its owner came into sight, leaning down over him. These hands were far gentler as they undid the top button of his shirt and drew the fabric aside, revealing the bandages that lay underneath. “I think he might be hurt.”

“The hell?” The first figure brushed the second aside and half-ripped his shirt open. In the light he could see the face twist and contort. Hands took hold of him, roughly pulling his shirt off his shoulders as he was suddenly turned onto his side.

He cried out as his wounds roared to life anew, his vision swimming. It hurt to be in this position, but they held him firmly still, twisting his body as someone began poking and prodding across his back.

“Look at this, Samon, he’s covered all over in lashes.” Fingers pushed against his bandages, inflaming one of the lash marks Domerin had given him. He bit back a cry.

“Seems an odd state for a doctor to be in, boss.” A calloused touch ran almost lightly over exposed skin, across one of the faded scars on his chest. This wasn’t Domerin’s careful touch, but he hadn’t the strength to pull away from it.

The two of them talked over him, as if he weren’t there, his pain growing by the moment. But, instead of running from it, he pulled his mind in, focused on it. He’d learned this precious lesson under Domerin’s care; how to use pain, to let it help him. He wrapped himself in it like a blanket, honing in on every moment, every detail he could catch.

He focused on their voices, and he finally recognized the first one, and just who he was dealing with. Zemo. The very man Domerin had been hunting. A sinking feeling settled into the pit of his stomach. All Domerin’s concerns had come to naught, as he’d been foolish enough to leave the caravan, practically throwing himself into danger.

“-eird, boss, he’s gone all quiet. Is he okay?” The second voice sounded somewhat concerned as he came back to the moment. The pair turned him, laying him down finally. The floor here was hard, but cold, and that helped numb his now half-exposed back somewhat.

Zemo leaned over him, eyes fixed on him. “He’s still breathing. But what do you know? It looks like good old Domerin Lorcasf likes to beat his people. I knew there had to be something wrong with that bastard. Looks like he’s been beating this one for a good long while, now hasn’t he?”

The man clearly expected an answer but he remained silent. He saw no reason to give this mad jackal anything more than he’d already gotten.

Zemo frowned, and laid the palm of one hand atop his shoulder. Then he pressed down hard, grinding the heel of his hand into his skin. Fire blossomed inside him and he cried out before he could stop himself, but even that didn’t make the man stop. He kept the pressure on for several more seconds before pulling back.

“I expect you to answer me when I ask you a question, old man.”

His body trembled, but not out of fear. This was too much, and he knew it. Domerin had been right that he couldn’t handle more than resting. But despite that he turned his eyes to Zemo and just narrowed them. This man was not Ilinir, not Domerin, was no agent of the faith, and had no authority over him. He was dirt under his heels as far as he was concerned.

Zemo let out a growl of frustration and thumped a fist into the center of his chest, not hard enough to take his breath but enough to aggravate his wounds. And he didn’t stop there. With a look of grim glee the man jabbed fingers into his bandages, took hold of his shoulders and squeezed, slapped his back. The moments stretched into what felt like a small eternity, as the pain threatened to overwhelm him.

Screams eventually tore from his lips, unable to stop them, his vision darkening until he was sure he’d pass out. But he still refused to give the bastard anything more, and would never beg for mercy.

“Boss, wait! Wait!” The other voice called out, sounding half panicked now, but fearful too. “H-he’s old, boss, remember? We need him. Lorcasf won’t give you what you want if you can’t give him back his doctor. Look at him, I think he’s probably learned his lesson.”

That, finally, seemed to calm down his captor enough, though Zemo was huffing and puffing, clearly trying to get his rage under control. For a moment he looked as if he wanted to start beating his companion instead, but he finally stilled and his expression became cool. A look of relief passed across the face of the man he’d called Samon.

“At least the old fool knows who he’s dealing with now, don’t you, doctor? You can see just how much Lorcasf appreciates what he’s got if he treats you like this. But, you know, you don’t have to go back to him. You don’t have to go back to being his slave, and whatever it is he does to you. I can take care of you too.”

Seibel was awash in agony, not even having the strength to narrow his eyes. He laid still, focusing on his breathing once again, and trying not to fall into whatever dark pit wanted to swallow him up.

Zemo, at least, seemed to realize this and he pulled to his feet with a dismissive huff.

“Just something to think about, old man. Lorcasf has brainwashed you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have other options.”

The two men stepped away, and he heard the thud of a door, and the turning of a lock, though in his state there was no chance he would be going anywhere. But the sound of it couldn’t help but remind him of another lock, another chamber, a different pain.

No matter how much it hurt, the pain Domerin bought him was always welcome. He reveled in the sharpness in the moment, and the ache that he carried around with him afterward was like a warm blanket. It was soothing, familiar, comforting.

Not a day ago his god had turned his eyes upon him, and brought him back to his truth path. Now, some godless heathen had despoiled that divine pain, had tried to make a mockery of it. It filled him with anger, and it hurt in a completely different way. The physical pain had started to fade to aches, but it still hurt inside.

What would his god say to this perversion of his penance?

He closed his eyes and Domerin’s face filled his vision. Despite his torment, thinking of him helped to ease the tension in his body somewhat. He thought back over their recent session, how harsh Domerin was and how gentle in turns. His caresses, the bite of his knives, his soft breath against his ear, fingers tight in his hair. It was all one, hard and soft, dark and light, pain and pleasure.

He thought of the man binding his wounds, tending to him so carefully, carrying him to rest. It was everything his faith spoke of to build a person into a better version of themselves. Zemo’s harsh treatment only made that all the more clear to him. How could any man hope to achieve the perfection he had already experienced?

The realization soothed him somewhat and his breathing became easier.

Domerin would come for him. He knew it as much as he knew the sun would rise. He would not allow a member of his caravan to be stolen away like this, not by the very man he’d been hunting.

He sent a silent prayer to Ilinir to watch over and deliver him. He would ask forgiveness, if it came to that, but for the moment he finally allowed oblivion to take him for a time, welcoming its sweet embrace.

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Rude Awakening

Crescent had retired to his quarters not long after the two masters had left the gathering. Usually he looked forward to night-time, but this day had left him tired and more than a little confused. Travel was new enough but the obvious tension between Domerin and Master Abolan had been rubbing unpleasently against him all night, and he found he tossed in bed, instead of falling into his usual easy sleep.

Ire for the guild master was not new, but perhaps it had been the naked way their host had called him out that troubled him so. Either way, he couldn’t let himself dwell on it. They were in for a full day tomorrow and he would be in no shape for anything if he didn’t get some sleep.

He didn’t know how long he was out for before he started awake, every danger instinct inside of him flaring to life. His eyes went wide, straining against the gloom of the room for any speck of light. His hand shot down, quick as a snake striking, closing instantly around the blade he’d tucked between the mattress and bed frame.

Someone was here, and for an assassin that meant a quick reaction, or a quick death.

He swung as he caught motion out of the corner of his eye, though his blade met nothing but empty air. His blood was pumping now, breath quick, eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the intruder. It took everything inside of him not to let the feline erupt from below his skin.

He drew in a few breaths, trying to calm himself. It wouldn’t help if he lashed out wildly, and so he stilled, feeling out whoever had intruded. He could almost feel eyes upon him, though he couldn’t yet pinpoint where they were coming from.

He crouched, ready to spring, when there was a soft click.

Light flooded the room, momentary blinding him in the sudden brightness, as the overhead light came on.

He blinked, on the defensive, but no attack came.

When he could finally see again his eyes widened when he realized who was standing across from him, and for a moment he stared, dumbfounded.

“Master Abolan?”

He was confused and shaken, nearly vibrating from the lingering adrenaline. He was very keenly aware that if the master assassin had wanted him dead he wouldn’t have woken up at all. That bothered him, more than he wanted to admit. But if attack wasn’t on his mind why hadn’t he roused him with the traditional signaling touch?

“Crescent, isn’t it?” The man asked, arching a brow, sounding as if he were reading the mail rather than standing in his room in the middle of the night.

He shifted in bed, drawing the covers a bit closer around him. He was the furthest from shy but for once was thankful he hadn’t slept naked. The question didn’t fool him for an instant. This man was well aware of who he was. He willed himself to breathe and returned the knife to it’s place, taking a moment to compose himself before speaking.

“That’s right, master. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, there is. I must speak with you. Now.”

It wasn’t a request, and he didn’t dare argue, not after seeing how unforgiving the man had been that day.

He would move to get up, but the other man held up a hand, and he paused.

“Right where you are is fine.” He would take a seat in a plush chair that rested near the bed, watching him with that single eye of his. It was impossible to tell what he might be thinking, and he sat very still, as if still expecting an attack at any moment.

When it came, it was not in the shape he expected.

“You’re good, young man. I was only in the room a few minutes before you sensed I was there. Fast too.”

But not fast enough. The unspoken words hung in the air between them. He wasn’t sure what to say, but the older man went on.

“But, you were not raised in the guild.”

“How-”

“You’re much too old to be such a recent graduate.”

That was true, but he got the feeling there was more to it than that. Why would Master Abolan be here otherwise?

“Yes, quite good.” The man went on, as if he were talking to him. “It’s not easy for those raised outside of the guild to make it through the training, let alone to excel. But then again, the former master always did have a very good eye for people. I don’t think he would have made you the offer he did unless he was sure you were up to the challenge.”

Crescent quickly clamped his jaw, and set his face to its most neutral, not letting anything through. He didn’t know what the master was on about, but there was only one person left who knew about that deal, and she wouldn’t have talked.

“Master, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is it possible you have the wrong room?” He tried his best to sound innocent, confused, hoping not to offend.

But Seibel didn’t seem put off, instead a knowing smile touching his lips.

“I understand your hesitancy, but lying will do you no good here. I know you made a deal with the former master, where he offered to buy your contract if you promised to help Master Lorcasf. I knew you’d taken the deal, but lost track of you after that. I must admit surprise that you made it through your training at all, let alone so quickly.”

Crescent bit his tongue. He didn’t want to speak of this but the the other man had details he shouldn’t, unless perhaps the former master had told him about it. One of the masters had whispered that the old man hated Domerin because he’d been appointed heir instead, and stolen his chance to be the guild leader. But if that were true, why would the old master have told him in the first place?

He supposed it didn’t matter right now. Seibel was looking at him expectantly, and he didn’t want to get to the point where the man started demanding.

“I didn’t ask for any special favors, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I worked and fought just as everyone else did.”

“I’m sure you fought very hard, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from the desires of the old master either.”

“If I did it was indirectly. With all due respect, I know guild law as well as you, master, and I swore loyalty to it when I joined.”

“As do we all,” the man returned, his tone sharp, holding a slight warning edge. “But that stops no one from also looking after themselves.”

Crescent bristled under the not so subtle accusation. He again willed himself to breathe, and shifted back to a tactic he’d used many a time back in his old life

“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost, Master Abolan. May I ask what it is you’re getting at?”

He infused it with as much innocent curiosity as he could. Unlike the nobles and johns back at the brothel, the man across from him clearly wasn’t taken in by the act, but if he wanted to accuse more he was going to have to come right out and say it. He was gambling, but didn’t think the man wanted to go that far.

A tense few seconds passed in silence, each of them looking at each other. Crescent refused to look away, refused to cow or crack.

Finally, after what seemed like a small eternity, Seibel smiled.

“Nothing at all, young man; merely pointing out facts. It’s good to know you’re so dedicated to the laws. We don’t have enough selfless assassins like you.” Though, by his tone, Crescent didn’t get the feeling the other man much believed him.

“As you say, Master Abolan.”

The older man regarded him silently for a few moments more, though it was impossible to gauge his thoughts.

Finally the man smiled again, but it didn’t reassure him, instead making him clutch the covers a bit more tightly. He was sure he’d seen the feline smile like that, just before pouncing, only this time he was the prey. It was not a comfortable place to be, not when the man after him was so high ranking.

“Well, this has been a most illuminating discussion, but I’m sure you’re eager to get some rest. You’ve a long day ahead.” He shifted, moving to get up.

“Are you going to tell Master Lorcasf?”

Seibel stopped at the sudden question. The way his grey eye bored into him made him wish he hadn’t spoken. He couldn’t charm or sweet talk this one, and that made things all the harder.

“Now why would I do that, Crescent? I’ve no reason to tell him, do I?” The man arched a brow, but a chill went down Crescent’s spine. Another word hung in the air, unspoken but ready to drag him down.

Yet. He had no reason to tell him yet.

For the first time in a long while, true fear bloomed in his chest. He was sure everything would be over if Domerin found out the truth. The man would never forgive him for that and, worse, it would break him. No matter how strong he acted, or how much he tried to avoid it, Domerin was, in some ways, more fragile than he would admit.

Master Abolan hated Domerin, and he would not allow him, or anyone, to use their relationship to hurt him. It was only knowing the old man would mop the floor with him that kept him in place when all his instincts told him to attack.

“No, Master Abolan,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, “there’s nothing he need know.”

“Very good. I’ll try my best to see that he doesn’t find out. I look forward to the rest of your visit, Crescent. It should prove to be… enlightening.”

Seibel – Wrong Thing, Right Reasons

Same character/same world/different time – I did the right thing

The sun shone down cheerily on the shore, its light glinting off the top of the waves as they rolled ever up onto the sand. The air was warm, but not so much so as to be uncomfortable.

Seibel walked just at the edge of the water, taking some pleasure in the way the ground sunk slightly under his feet with each step.

Just up the beach, in the shade of a palm tree, Naia sat on a blanket. Next to her, little Cael slept in a wicker basket, suspended from the sturdy trunk of the palm by thick rope. The breeze gently rocked the basket back and forth, lulling the child to sleep.

It was about as perfect a day as they could get. It had been a long time since he’d walked by the sea; and this shore in particular. Though he loved the ocean it was a place he had a rather complicated relationship with.

So did Naia, though she might not have remembered it. Twenty years was a long time to a human. Still, he’d debated long with himself before setting their course to this place.

The last time they’d been here she’d slept under a makeshift tent of palm fronds, lulled to sleep by one of her favorite stories, and the steady thrum of the waves. It had been a beautiful night.

The next morning had been less so. Her questions had started almost immediately after breakfast about when they were going back home. He’d been able to distract her, for awhile, but inevitably the tears had come and he’d been sure they would never dry.

Eventually, her desire for home had lost its grip. She had exciting new places to explore, new faces to meet, foods to taste, and the start of her magical training to occupy her. It had all steadily replaced the small island in her mind.

He’d been wondering, for perhaps longer than he’d allowed himself to admit, if she didn’t deserve to learn where she’d come from.

Her footsteps were soft on the sand as she came to join him at the edge of the water. She was smiling, and he couldn’t help but smile in return.

“I feel like you’ve been holding out on me,” she said, fixing him with a look for a few moments, “waiting so long to bring me to the ocean. I love it here. We’re going to have to visit far more often. It’s beautiful!”

“It is very beautiful,” he said, looking out at the waves, though his smile faded somewhat. In a way, he had been holding out on her, but if she loved it so much he wasn’t going to deny her any longer.

Silence settled over them for a few long moments, but next to him she shifted a bit from foot to foot, suggesting there was more on her mind.

“It’s more than just that. I feel a sort of… pull to the ocean I haven’t anywhere else we’ve traveled. Like there’s something on the edge of my mind.”

She sounded thoughtful, as if she were somewhat hesitant to speak of it. When he didn’t immediately reply she looked down.

“It’s nothing. You’ll just think I’m being silly.”

He shouldn’t have been surprised. He was sure he knew what that pull was, though he’d hoped she wouldn’t feel it. Part of him was tempted to dismiss it as nothing, but didn’t give in to the impulse.

“It’s clearly something, if it’s coming into your mind like that.”

“I don’t know.” She sighed and looked over at him. “It feels a bit like deja-vu.”

Her green-eyed gaze was seeking. He’d never been able to say no to her when she looked at him that way.

This was the moment, to face the choice he’d made. Even now, doubts plagued him, but she was a smart woman, and he felt sure she would understand.

“Well-” He started, and thought better of it.

Before he could change the topic, though, she’d fixed him with a look that he knew he wouldn’t be able to get away, prompting him to continue. She gave him similar looks during lessons when she wasn’t satisfied with his answers.

“Well, that’s because you have been here before.”

“I have?” Her brows knit together, and her lips pursed, the same face she’d always made when she was trying to work out a problem.

He gave an encouraging nod, and she closed her eyes, focusing.

“Wait… I have been here, haven’t I?” Her eyes opened in surprise, and she started looking around her, really taking in the beach separate from the initial excitement she’d felt. She knelt down and slid her fingers into the dry sand, letting the grains run between them. “I remember… sleeping in the sand, on a blanket. It’s all sort of hazy though.”

“You couldn’t have been more than six at the time, and you’d had a very long day. I’m honestly surprised you stayed up for your story.”

“If we’ve been here before why haven’t we ever been back?” She sounded a bit distant, as if she were chasing the answer for herself. She stood suddenly and strode the few steps to the waterline, the waves running over her feet and ankles.

She stared out at the ocean for a long time. When she spoke he could barely hear her over the waves.

“I used to have dreams, where I was walking on water. I never understood them, but, I remember… We walked on the water. In the middle of the ocean. I- I remember there wasn’t any land in sight, and it was scary and it took so long. I thought the sun was being swallowed by the sea, and you picked me up and carried me. That all really happened.”

“It did. We walked nearly all day.”

She turned back to him and her voice held a hint of desperation. “Why were we walking on the ocean?”

“We were running.”

“Running?” Her brows knit. “What could you possibly need to run from?”

“Slavery.”

“Slavery? I don’t-”

“We were trapped on a slave trading island, cut off from conventional magic. It looked like a paradise, on the outside, but it was run on the backs of slaves. I would never want to return there. I was one of the lucky ones, taken to be a caretaker and a teacher. Most were not as lucky. I was able to send out tendrils to Lord Kalindas, through prayer, and over time I managed to stockpile just enough power to escape.”

She was staring at him, as if she couldn’t believe it, but after a moment she closed the distance between them, reaching her hand out to brush her fingers across his neck.

“I remember you used to always wear an iron necklace.” At the realization of the truth, she gasped and drew her hand back, looking horrified.

“I was a slave when we first met.”

“And me? How did you find me? Was I a slave too?” She absently ran her fingers over her own neck as well, as if she could find some evidence worked into her very skin.

Here he hesitated, perhaps for the final time. She’d never seemed all that interested in asking about her past, despite knowing that he wasn’t her father. He could have lied to her, she would never have been the wiser, but he didn’t feel like that was fair.

“No, you were never a slave. You might not remember but you were the daughter of the people who owned me. You were my charge.” He kept his tone even, almost the same as he did when teaching his lessons.

Her expression shifted from horror to confusion.

“I was? Did- did they die? Did they give me to you?”

“No. They were at least alive on that last day. When I gained enough power to escape I made a choice. I used our outing as an excuse to get away, and I planned on sending you back home while I did so. But, by that time I cared very much for you. You were always a wonderful child, and I knew you’d make an amazing adult. But the thought of you growing up and becoming someone who bought and sold human life was too much for me to bear. So, you must understand Naia, that when the moment came to choose, I took you with me.”

She said nothing following his admission, staring at him as if she were frozen in place. The waves, the wind, and the distant gulls crying suddenly sounded far too loud in his ears. He reached out to lay a hand on her arm.

“Naia-”

She came to life all at once, pulling back from him. Her arms shot out in either direction, and her face contorted in rage.

“You did what!? You took me away from my parents, my life, and you never told me!? How could you?”

The force of her reaction nearly rocked him back on his heels. He’d expected shock, surely, but this sort of reaction wasn’t like her.

“Naia, listen to me, you’re being illogical. I did the right thing.”

“The right thing? How do you even begin to justify that, Seibel?”

“Easily. Who knows who you’d be if I’d left you there? Could you imagine yourself being comfortable with owning someone?”

For a moment his words seemed to strike her and she went silent. He knew how she felt about the idea of slavery; he’d always made a point to speak out against it, and she found it as abhorrent a practice as it was. Surely she would understand if she thought about it.

But the stillness didn’t take and the anger returned, if anything, growing in intensity.

She pointed a finger right in his face,  trying to loom, even if she was shorter than he was. He could almost see her anger roiling off of her.

“How was it any right of yours to make a decision like that!? It’s my life! My choice! And by the gods, Seibel, did you ever think of my parents? What would you have done if someone had just taken off with Cael? My world would collapse. I don’t believe for a minute that they didn’t love me, and try to do right by me.”

She drew in several breaths, in a way he’d taught her to help her calm down, but it didn’t seem to be helping. She shook her head but her gaze was no less intense.

“I’m sorry that you were a slave, but you had no right to take me away! None! Do you hear me?”

He’d never expected her to react this way, and it twisted his stomach. She’d never been this angry at him before, and he couldn’t help but think back to those same questions he’d asked the silent sky all those years ago.

“Naia, please-”

“No! I don’t want to hear any more of your bullshit justifications. You think you did right? That you were saving me? What you did was selfish and nothing more. You bastard!”

Her voice was like a whip in the wind, and up the beach Cael gave a cry, unhappy to be so rudely woken from his slumber.

They both looked automatically but by the time Seibel had looked back the tears had started falling again, Naia’s green eyes swimming in the light. But her anger was still there too.

He tried to reach out to her, but she narrowed her eyes at him, pulling away and stalking up the beach. He moved to follow but she rounded on him, her face and voice gone cold.

“Don’t you dare follow me. I don’t want to see your face right now.”

Her words stopped him in his tracks and she continued on, stopping only long enough to gather Cael up in her arms before she stalked away in the direction of their cabin.

Seibel stood alone on the shore, wind pulling at his hair and clothes, like so many invisible fingers. He felt lost, as if a hole he’d filled long ago had suddenly burst open, and he’d found the wrong person in the grave. He’d been telling himself he’d done right for twenty years, but with her gone it felt horrible wrong.

Without thinking he turned and looked up at the sky, but the sun and clouds offered no more answer than the stars.

Read what my writing partner did with this prompt. The Blessings of Marriage, by Megan Cutler

7 Deadly Sins – Wrath

“Seibel.”

The scent of fresh baking bread permeated the large, tidy, kitchen. Flowers and herbs, growing in the garden outside, added their own bouquet through the open window, carried in on a gentle breeze. Afternoon sun shone inside, casting everything in a lovely warm glow. It was beautiful. A perfect day.

He hated every inch of it.

He wanted little more than to tear the pots from where they hung, to fling the family crockery to the ground in a massive, broken, heap. In his mind he pictured himself slamming the window closed so hard the glass shuddered. At least it would keep the damned sun out of here. It was all too normal. It was wrong. The world was laughing at him.

“Seibel.”

His father’s voice broke into his thoughts, and he tore his gaze away from the slice of green and blue paradise he’d been glaring at through the open window.

What?

“I was saying, you do not have to do this.” The man’s voice was firmer now, but no less caring.

He didn’t answer.

His father and mother had been here since the news had reached them. Now they were trying to dissuade him from leaving, from avenging his wife’s death.

Seibel’s fingers curled into a fist, nails cutting into his palm. He welcomed the pain. It understood him. When it looked as if his father were going to speak more empty reassurances he slammed his fist down hard on the thick wooden table.

“Yes, I do!”

A shudder rocked the teacups arrayed between them, liquid sloshing over the edge of the one closest to him. He felt a perverse glee at the shocked look on his mother’s face, her eyes widened in disbelief at his outburst.

Maybe that would open her eyes, make her understand. He wasn’t the same mild househusband he’d been. His blood boiled and he could no longer find rest or peace here.

The anger inside of him only grew hotter as her expression shifted to one of concern.

“Your place is here, my son. What about the house? The lands?”

“They don’t mean anything, mother. Not to me. It’s just bricks, and wood, and dirt.”

“But it was her house. Her home. She shared it all with you.”

Instead of being reassured Seibel narrowed his eyes. He didn’t want to hear this, and he wished his parents would stop. Though he loved them, part of him wanted them to hurt as he hurt, so they would understand why he needed to do this.

“And she’s not here anymore. What am I supposed to do? Just sit here baking bread while those things rampage through our lands? Should I stand only when they appear on my doorstep? You want me to do nothing? The house will be fine. You are all are free to stay as long as you want, and we have a steward to care for the place otherwise. This house isn’t going to stop me from joining the army.”

The two older elves looked at each other, worry touching their features.

“And the children?” His father asked. The man straightened up, looking much like he had when he’d been a child in trouble.”You would leave your boys behind to run away into this… this madness?”

A stab of pain twisted his insides at those words, and he bent forward a bit as he tried to tame his wildly beating heart. His children. They were so young, and they still couldn’t quite understand that their mother wasn’t coming home ever again. The monsters had taken her from them all. In those first days he’d though he could do nothing to ease the pain, but he’d realized that was wrong. He could fight, and kill, and protect.

The anger he’d been feeling suddenly swelled inside and he turned on his parents. How dare they try to turn him from his path by using his children?

“How dare you. Madness? Was it madness when Laleh fought for us all? I am doing what she did! For her. If you can’t understand that I don’t see the point in continuing this conversation. The boys will be fine. They’ll understand.”

“And what are you going to tell them?”

“That I’m going away for awhile. They’ll understand.”

“Seibel, child-”

But he wasn’t having any more of it. He stood so quickly it pushed the chair back, nearly knocking it to the floor.

“I leave in two days time. Stay, if you like, or go, but you will not sway me from my path.”

And with that he stalked out of the room, leaving his stunned parents behind.

The night before he was to leave, Seibel worked to pack the satchels he would take with him.

His brother had joined him, offering to advise him on what to take. He’d been wary at first, only agreeing let him in since Lysandir had not spoken against his choice.

“You won’t need that, Seibel.” His brother said, as he’d been about to add some clothing to the bag. “They’ll give you standard issue everything, at first.”

“Thank you.” His parents had barely spoken to him over the past day. At least his brother was willing to help. He was a solider, he understood.

Lysandir toyed with a pair of socks he’d laid on the bed.

“The army isn’t exactly big on individuality. They try to work that out of you pretty quickly. They don’t want troops who disobey orders. It’s not an easy transition to make.”

“I can imagine it’s not for someone who’s not determined.”

“It’s not easy for anyone, even those who become the strongest warriors.”

Seibel noticed how his brother carefully avoided adding his wife’s name to that list.

“I’ll manage, Lys, but thank you for the warning.” Already his tone was crisp, a subtle reminder of what he did not wish to speak of.

Lysandir was looking at him, green eyes taking him in. They’d always been close, though he didn’t see his brother often these days. He could tell the man was debating whether or not to speak.

“Don’t just sit there, brother. Spit it out.”

The edge of a frown tugged at the corners of his brother’s mouth.

“You’ve only ever known sturdy homes like these. They are luxurious compared to an army camp; practically heaven when compared to one on a battlefield. What are you going to do when you find yourself sleeping in a tent in the cold mud?  You don’t know anything about being a solider.”

Instantly he stopped, eyes narrowed.

“It doesn’t matter. I know enough. They’ll show me the rest.”

“More like show you the basics and then throw you at the enemy first chance they get. They’re desperate for green recruits just like you, eager to defend the homeland. What are you going to do the first time you charge the enemy, Sei? It’s not like how they present it in the stories. It’s horrible, bloody carnage.You think just because Laleh could do it, you can too?”

“Don’t use her name against me! Who do you think was there every time she came home from all that? Who eased her weary spirit and sat with her each time a nightmare woke her? I know the horrors better than most civilians do. You really think I would do this without a thought?”

The thought of his wife caused his chest to constrict. He’d seen the horror of war etched in her face, but he didn’t care if it ruined him. He would destroy every last orc, would fight until the breath left his body.

There was no other path for him but in her footsteps, no redemption but in the blade. They would know his pain and his anger.

“This isn’t thought, Seibel! It’s grief, and you’re going to feed yourself to the beast because of it.”

“Enough! You’re just like mother and father. I would have thought you, of all people, would understand.”

“I do! You’re not the first I’ve seen. That’s why I know you don’t run off to join the army in your state. It’s suicide.”

Seibel fixed his brother with an icy stare.

“No, it’s revenge. It’s all those creatures deserve.”

He hoped his rage was plain on his face, daring his brother to speak more.

Lysandir’s frown only deepened but, for perhaps the first time in their lives, he turned away. He set the socks back down on the bed, and when he looked back up there was sadness in his green eyes.

“Do as you wish, my brother. But be warned as to where you may end up. Vengeance is cold, and lonely. Life doesn’t wait for those who walk that road.”

“I care not.” Life didn’t need him, nor he it.

Lysandir said nothing else, merely resigned himself, and helped him finished packing.

The morning of his departure was foggy and mild, and he’d set out well before the sun could burn away the mist.

No one had come to see him off, no doubt in protest, and he’d left well before the children would be up. He would miss their smiling faces, but the steady flame inside of him would not be denied. They would understand.

“Papa!”

The happy cry broke through the mist, but he didn’t need to see to know who it belonged to, and that they shouldn’t be out alone here. He drew his horse to a halt, looking around frantically for his son, Esrafel.

“Here papa!” The call came again and the mist parted enough for him to see the boy waving at him, from his seat in the crook of Lysandir’s arm.

The momentary panic was replaced with that familiar anger, which grew as he dismounted and approached. The fog recoiled from him, almost as if it melted away, to reveal his father and his mother holding his younger son, who looked half asleep.

How dare they bring his children out here, now. He knew exactly what they were trying to do and it only fueled the flames inside of him. Even so, he tried to school his expression, not wanting that anger to show in front of his children.

He approached and Esrafel reached out for him, and he took the child from his uncle’s arms.

“What are you all doing out here?” He kept his tone light, but the pointed look in his eyes surely told the other adults how he felt about this.

“Grandmother woke us up so we could say goodbye before you went on your trip. I wish you didn’t have to go, papa. Aryn said so too. We like it when you’re home.”

His son’s words pulled at his heart, and he drew him close against his chest, hugging him tightly for a few moments. He loved his children, truly, and he did not want to leave them behind.

For a few long moments hesitated, thoughts of his wife swirling in his mind, the pain of her loss still so fresh. Her memory tugged at him and he could not let go what had been done to her. The fire burned inside of him, growing ever stronger, slowly consuming his heart.

He drew back and lightly stroked his son’s blonde hair, so much like his mother’s.

“I know, but I have to go. I need to help keep you all safe, and I have things that need done.”

“Things that are more important than your children?” His father’s voice broke in, and Seibel narrowed his eyes slightly at the man.

“At the moment, yes.” He looked down at the child in his arms, his look softening. “You understand, don’t you Esra?”

His son looked up at him, eyes a bit wide, though it was clear by the puzzled look on his face that he didn’t really understand the full implications of what was going on.

“You won’t be gone for long, will you?” He asked instead.

“I don’t know for sure, my darling, but I’ll come home as soon as I can.” He knew, even as he said it, it wasn’t a promise he could keep. “Until then you’ll have grandmother and grandfather to watch over you, and you’ll be man of the house. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Esrafel seemed to perk up a bit and nodded, seeming to take it as if it were going to be a little vacation.

Leaning in, he pressed a kiss to the boy’s forehead, and Esra responded by pecking him on the cheek, and leaning in to hug him. Seibel held him tightly for a few moments before handing him back to Lysandir.

His mother looked as if she were holding back tears as she held out his younger son for him to take, and he cradled the half awake child to his chest before pressing a similar kiss to his forehead.

“Sleep well, my little Aryn, and dream sweetly.” He was young enough he might not fully remember these moments, or this morning. Perhaps that was for the best.

He drew in a breath and handed the child back to his mother.

A chill breeze blew around them for a few moments, though no one spoke. Lysandir looked stonyfaced, his parents a mix of upset and angry, but at this point everything had already been said.

“Keep well, everyone. I will be in touch.”

He couldn’t bear to stay any longer and turned to mount his horse.

When he glanced toward the group, like an island in the billowing fog, he saw tears running down his mothers face, unable to hold them back any longer. Esrafel had already taken notice and was looking increasingly distraught. There’d be no hiding it now. Fighting the urge to dismount and comfort his son he turned his horse away quickly.

He hadn’t gone a few feet before he heard small footsteps pounding on the ground behind him.

“Papa! Papa, don’t go!”

He couldn’t go back home. He couldn’t be a father to his children like this, not when every atom of his being demanded revenge, and blood to be paid for what had been stolen from him.

“Come back!”

He swallowed the lump in his throat, and sat up straighter, steeling his back. With each hoofbeat the flames spread where his heart should be. With each moment it became easier to ride away. He spurred his horse on, not looking back.

Papa!

The fog, and the fire of his hatred, swallowed his son’s cries as he rode away to war.

Seibel – Fever Dreams

A dream changes everything

The white hot rage burning inside him had driven him forward, as he cut a swath through the enemy. He hadn’t cared how far his advance had taken him from his allies, he’d only wanted to kill. He didn’t know how many he felled before he’d found their leader. The battle had been intense, perhaps the hardest of his life. Now, the orc brute lay where he belong, a foul smelling patch of green ichor pooling around his broken body.

He fell to his knees, vision blurring. The end of the orc’s spear still jutted out from his side. The haft had been shattered, but the blade was lodged firmly in his flesh. He slumped, a soft metallic thump heard as his back hit the trunk of a tree, his armor mercifully padding him.

The pain was intense, blossoming out like fire from his side, tongue of flame licking the edges of his torn flesh. This was hardly the first time he’d felt pain like this, his lost eye a testament to that, but that made it no easier to bear. Everything was hot, sweltering. His armor felt like an oven. He tried to shift, to get up. His only chance was to make it back to the line. If he stayed here they’d never find him. It had been foolish to rush away. A wall of pain hit him as he tried to move. Blood, forced out by the motion, oozed like lava from the wound.

He fell back, dizzy and gasping for air. He didn’t dare try to remove the spear tip. It was the only thing keeping him alive right now. The rough bark of the tree was little comfort for his head, but he simply couldn’t hold it up any more. His one good eye stared up at the canopy above. His vision blurred, everything blobs of green and grey. This was the end.

The sweltering heat and pain took him. Everything around him was hot, and bright. The forest changed from it’s familiar greens and browns to a riot of colors swirling around him. The blurry outlines shifted, as if alive, dancing in the light of an invisible candle flame. It was like a painting of a forest he’d once seen, but all the colors were running together.

He was walking. He didn’t know how he’d gotten up. Willing his shaking vision down he saw the spear still lodged in his side. How was he walking? There was no ground, no sky, no horizon. The only sound was some far distant thrum. The faint heartbeat of this place. Every now and again he swore he could hear distant whispers, and screams.

There was a figure in the distance. Unlike the world around him it seemed sharp, real. Silver flashed like a beacon and he stumbled toward it, fighting the feeling that his legs were stuck in mud. The world around him shook suddenly, the ground jerking under his feet. He reeled, and by some miracle managed to catch himself. He didn’t think he’d be able to get up again if he fell. Rumbles and shifts followed him the rest of the way.

He could feel his strength slowly giving out, sapped away by the pulsing heat. He feared he would never reach the silver figure. As he got closer that fear was replaced by who he saw standing there.

Up close her platemail still shone silver, undamaged, unblemished. Her blonde hair was cropped short, just like the last time he’d seen her her. Her pale skin was grimy, but when she saw him she flashed him a grin, her blue eyes full of life.

“You made it! I was hoping you’d find me.” She seemed utterly unconcerned about where they were.

“Laleh. I don’t understand. What are you doing here?” He was sure his eyes were wide as saucers. His wife only smile that self assured smile he’d always loved so much.

“I’m here to see you, of course. Why else would I be here?”

As she spoke the ground under them lurched again. He only just managed to keep his feet, while Laleh stood as if the rumble had not occurred. The colors around them shifted, and he felt suddenly heavy. He fought to stay on his feet.

“All these years…” His voice caught in his throat. “All these years and I’ve never seen you.” He wanted to reach out and touch her, but fear stilled his hand. He was terrified she would disappear if he did.

His wife’s face became serious.

“You are walking an ever more dangerous path, Seibel.” She lifted her arm, pointing  directly at his missing left eye. As she did a gust of chill wind whipped through his hair, and distant whispers sipped into his ears.

“You gave your eye. Now this,” she said, her arm shifting down to point at the spear still jutting from his stomach. As she spoke a new gout of flame erupted in his side, pulling a cry from his throat. He was disoriented, panting, and when he looked back up his wife was standing directly in front of him. She’d always been taller than he was, and she practically seemed to loom over him now.

“What’s next? Here?” She jabbed her finger toward his chest, over his heart, her voice cutting. “If you keep walking this path you might live to see tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be alive. You are hardly the gentle man I married.”

Her words slammed into him as much as a fist might have. The ground shifted and swayed again, and he looked up at her, desperate.

“It’s not enough!” His voice was rough, and he felt tears welling up. “They killed you! They took you away from me!”

“No.”

The single word was like walking into a brick wall. He gaped up at her.

“No one took me away from you. I took up the sword. I chose to fight to protect those I love. And yes, I fell. But I fell knowing I was leaving behind a better world for you, and our sons. We both knew one day it might happen. I do not regret my sacrifice.”

“Nor do I!” He tried to counter, part of him not wanting to see reason. The ground rumbled and quaked, and ghostly voices muttered and gibbered, before being lost on the wind. “I am just as willing to give my life.”

“No, my love, you must live.”

The ground shook, and the ever color shifting landscape seemed to crack. Hurry now… careful… The wound… don’t know if… The voice came from nowhere, and everywhere, vibrating through his very bones. He couldn’t see the speaker, but at the moment he didn’t care, focused on the woman in front of him. She seemed unconcerned by all the ruckus.

“I never wanted you to be a warrior. That’s why I fought, to protect you from that. Live  not by the sword. You have another path. Go and seek it. One day you and I will be reunited, but I do not want it to be this way.”

Her words were almost drowned out by a great crack. The ground gave one final, tectonic, shift below him, pitching him off his feet. The riot of colors began to fade, as did the oppressive heat. Everything went grey and soft around the edges. Laleh’s face hovered over him, a sweet mile on her lips.

“Live, you silly man.”

He let out a breath and closed his eye.

The world returned slowly. It was warm, but not oppressive. Birdsong flitted on the air, and faint laughter followed on the wind. He cracked his eye open, and soft light greeted his vision.

A face still hovered over him, but the woman looking down at him had dark hair, and very pale skin. She was old, for an elf, but her dark eyes glinted with pleasure.

“Ah, so you do live.” Her voice was warm and soothing, like a welcoming hearth after a long journey.

“W-where am I?” His voice felt like gravel scraping along his throat.

“Atlasan. The great temple of Ilinir. I am Head Priestess Nystra.”

The temple? His people must have found him, brought him here. Part of him tried to sit up, arms grasping for the spear tip that was on longer there. He drew in a hissing breath as every part of his body protested. The old elf’s hands were surprisingly strong as they pressed him back down into bed.

“Where do you think you’re going? With a wound and a fever like that, you were on death’s door. If your men hadn’t brought you to us you never would have woken up.”

“I- I don’t know.”

“Well, you’ve nowhere to be for some time now. There is no war here, young man. Only healing. Stay, rest. And if I find you out of bed I’ll tie you down to it myself.”

His eyes went a bit wide, and though the older elf chuckled he couldn’t honestly tell if she was joking with him or not. He decided it best not to test her.

“Thank you for saving my life, priestess.”

“Think nothing of it. Ilinir grants his grace to all, and we hope only spread that light. Now rest, I’ll send some broth up soon.”

Seibel gave in, pressing his one good eye closed. The images from his fever dream, if that was truly what it had been, returned, playing in the dark of his mind. He felt a soft caress move over his forehead and cheeks. It might have been the wind through the open window but it felt, more than anything, like strong but gentle, calloused hands.

He let out a breath. One he’d been holding for years.

Perhaps he would stay for awhile. The war could wait. The bloodlust had left him, bled out on the tip of a spear.

“Laleh, thank you.”

Aryn – Only Human

Only Human, from another perspective.

It was evening. The setting sun painted the land in orange and gold. The air had a chill to it, that spoke of the coming winter. The doors to the General’s balcony were open, letting in the air and late birdsong. Inside, a young man sat across a simple wooden table, facing his father. A lamp flickered between them, and beer foamed over the top of a pair of mugs. Aryn Abolan was wondering if he’d done right to accept this invitation at all.

He was here for two weeks on a diplomatic visit, and his father had reached out to him. It had surprised him, given their history, but after thinking about it had agreed to come up for a drink. He had seen a difference in the other man, though he was still skeptical as to just how much he could change. He kept expecting to wake one day and find him gone.

That he was shouldering much of the leadership for things had surprised him more than anything else. He still believed they had Domerin to thank for a lot of that. Drink had sounded like a good idea at the time, but things were feeling awkward now. He felt no real responsibility to start things off, not when his father had called him here. It had been nearly a minute, and the silence was rather deafening.

“How have things fared across the border?” His father asked. The other man might as well have asked him about the weather, for how personal the question was. Still, he had to remind himself they hadn’t really been on personal terms in a long time.

“Things are going well.” That seemed about the long and the short of it. He hesitated, and was sure he saw his father’s eyes go a bit wide. He realized the other man had expected him to say more. “There’s much work to be done, but the king has laid out his plans, both in working with the people here and internal works that can be done now that so many of our citizens aren’t off fighting a war. We’ve been in a holding pattern for a long time. It’ll be good to move forward.” Surely his father could understand that, or perhaps not, since he’d spent most of his life running away from things.

“There is always work for a soldier willing to do it. Sometimes the best work for a fighting man is to help with the clean up afterward. It shows that things can be rebuilt, that peace isn’t an illusion.”

Aryn could hardly believe he was hearing those words from his father’s lips, and he couldn’t quite keep it off his face. The other man had spent nearly his entire life making war, and then leaving before the real work began. He’d left when their family had fallen to ruin as well, unwilling to stay and pick up the pieces. Was this truly the same man he’d spent all those years hating? He nodded, but wasn’t sure what to say.

Seibel looked unsure, but forged on, like a man determined to see it through. “Things are moving here too. But, if I’m honest, I’m not always sure I’m the right man to lead these people.”

It was strange, hearing Seibel admit such a thing. There was no doubt he was skilled, as both a warrior, and a leader of men on the battlefield, but civilians were another story. He had honestly never expected his father to admit he might not have all the answers. That showed weakness, and that had never been tolerated under the General’s rule. It was jarring, and he took a long drink to avoid having to say anything right away, trying to get his thoughts in order.

“I’m surprised to hear you say that. You always seem so sure of yourself, and of your place in the world. You know where you’re going, even if it’s away from your family.” He’d said it before he realized, and his father winced. Despite that, he had a hard time feeling bad for him, still not having forgiven him for what he’d done. They couldn’t avoid it forever.

“I thought I knew, but I was only blindly running away. I never looked at where I was going, and it nearly destroyed me. It destroyed our family. What I did to you, to your brother, I can never undo.”

He’d hardened his heart, ready for lies, defenses, excuses. His father had never so nakedly admitted his wrongdoings, and it threw him. Part of him expected a trap, some puzzle or trick meant to draw him in, but he could see nothing hidden in the words. Did Seibel really regret what he’d done? After all these years was he ready to stop running and face the destruction he’d left in his wake. Part of him wanted to yell, but he realized too it couldn’t have been easy to say those things. His father’s eyes dropped, and a part of him released the tension, and the dam broke.

“You know,” he began, the words flowing freely, “when I was younger I thought you were some sort of paragon. Like the heroes of old in our stories, touched by the gods themselves. You were going to save us all. And then you left. I was heartbroken. I hated that you left us, that you let us down. And then, after awhile, I just hated you. You became the opposite of what you’d been before. A villain, this heartless character in my story. But life isn’t like that. Life just is.” He drew in a somewhat ragging breath. His father wasn’t the only one aching from old wounds.

“And you, you’re no paragon.” He saw his father wince, and his tone softened. “But neither are you the demon I made you into. You’re just a man. Only human, like me. It’s harder to hate someone when you realize they’re as fallible as you are.” He never thought he’d get to say these words to his father, nor that the other man would respond to them with anything other than disdain.

“I wasn’t even sure I was that, for a long time. I thought I’d left my humanity behind when I ran. but it never really left me, I just hid it away because I was too scared to face it. Strange, it took a man from another world to help show me that. I never wanted to leave you. I loved you both, very much. I still do.” Seibel looked up at him, there something so open and vulnerable in his eyes now. His father looked old, and tired, but more human than he had since the peaceful days back home.

The man’s words seeped into him, touched a part of himself he’d long since given over to stone and ice. There was no forgetting what his father had done, but he could see now that the other man had suffered by his own hand. Perhaps that was punishment enough. Words seemed inefficient, so he only nodded his understanding. It likely wasn’t everything his father wanted, but it would be more than he expected.

Silence fell again, and this time it was Ayrn who broke it. “You should come and visit me sometime. I think you’d like it, now that the war is over. The Commander… Elian, would be more than willing to show you around, I think.” He noted an unmistakable hint of relief on his father’s face.

“I’d like that. I’ll admit, I would like the chance to speak with your Commander. You two work well together. I can tell.”

“We do.” He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the other man, his thoughts straying to him. He missed him, and couldn’t wait to get back home again.

After a moment he noticed his father looking at him, brows raised slightly in question. “Is there… anything more between you two?”

He sputtered at the sudden question, certainly not one he would have expected from his father. It was hard at times to remember the other man had been young once, and had cared for another. “It’s complicated,” he finally managed, feeling like a child for a moment. Part of him expected his father to laugh, but the other man only gave him a knowing look.

“Such things often can be. Did you want to talk about it?”

Aryn wasn’t completely sure he wanted to have this conversation with his father. The other man had been absent for so much of his life, but he could see him making the effort, and a friendly ear wouldn’t go amiss. He drew in a soft breath, and began to speak.

Seibel -The Speech

Can you see yourselves for what you are?

“My fellow citizens. I come to you today with a heavy heart. Our town has once again come under attack from outside forces wishing to take our livelihoods and break our spirits. This morning, a large group of bandits descended on the town. Several citizens were wounded before my officers and I were able to respond. We had no warning they were coming, and are only grateful the damage was minimal before we mobilized. Managing attacks like these are never easy.

“I thank you all for following emergency procedures and hiding away until the all clear was given. It was a hard won fight. Several officers sustained minor wounds. It pains me to report, however, that two of them are currently at Larkspur Hospital. Lieutenant Alison Yu received a gunshot wound to the shoulder, and is in stable condition. Officer Brad Jackson also received a gunshot wound, to the abdomen. He is currently in critical condition, and the doctors are doing everything they can to see he recovers. He’s not out of the woods yet, though. I ask that you keep him, and his family, in your thoughts and prayers tonight. He, and all the rest of his fellows, gave their all to assure the safety of our town.

“It saddens me greatly to see any of my officers hurt. Each and every one of them works so very hard to a make our town the very best it can be. I could not do the job I do without their staunch support and strength. Alison and Brad are two of our finest. It’s never easy to send people you know into danger, but each officer is willing to lay down their life to keep their town, and their families, safe. Be proud of them. These brave men and women are our heroes.”

He stopped for a few moments, drawing in a soft breath, as if trying to regain his composure. He could have stopped there, but he hadn’t just come here to just report about his officers.

“Friends, there is something else of which I must speak. My heart is so full, it’s near to bursting. So many thoughts, feelings, and questions are flowing through me. If I may, I would speak of who we are, and who we might yet be.

“I came here some time ago, now. I know many of you, and this town, well. Your warm welcome touched me in a way I still feel to this day. I love our town, as I know you love it. The people here, the community, can’t be replaced. Children play outside without fear. Neighbors know each other. Shopkeepers are local, and trustworthy. You can go down the street to talk to your mayor, and you officers. After spending so many years in the city, this place is like a breath of fresh air for a man so long denied. I am home, and you are all my friends and neighbors.

“My fellow officers and I work our hardest to make this an even greater place. We, of course, couldn’t do this without all of you. We’re only one part of the puzzle. From Dean Johnson, giving out food to those in a rough patch, to Allen Construction Company freely updating the playsets in the park. We’re all working to make our wonderful community the best it can be. I can’t think of a place I’d more want to settle and raise children of my own in. I know you all feel the same. We are the frontier dream.”

He paused again, his eyes darkening a bit. It was time to hold up the mirror, and let them see themselves.

“But, we are not doing as well as we could be. I will not lie to you. We could have known the attack was coming. There is one single man who could have prevented this terrible situation from happening. Who could have warned us so we were ready for the bandits when they came. This man has continually give us the information we need to keep safe, and fight smart. This man knows the movements of those who would cause us and our families harm, better than anyone else on the frontier. He is, perhaps, our greatest defense. And we have driven him away. Through our own actions we’ve harmed ourselves.

“I speak, of course, of Domerin Lorcasf. All of you know his name. Since I’ve taken on as sheriff, he has been indispensable to my work. He knows the movements of the bandits, can provide the best information on what’s going on in the wastes. Have we forgotten the time he warned us of an incoming dust storm on the day a festival was planned? How many children would have gotten sick, or hurt, had we not known? And I have many records from the previous sheriff about how much help he was before I arrived. We have come to rely on his knowledge, and his skills. And we have all taken that for granted.

“Domerin always told me he was happy to help, that he was glad to see us doing well. But the way he’s been treated finally became too much. He’s ridden away, and I can’t honestly say if he’ll ever come back here. I fear without his knowledge, and all the help he provides us, that our town will be more vulnerable. It might not be safe for children to play outside and the chance for attack rises. My officers and I will continue to do all we can to keep you safe, but without Domerin we are missing a large piece of our puzzle.

“But, I still believe there is a chance to bring him back to us. If, and when, he returns do not greet him with curses and glares. Do not shout obscenities at him or shield your children away. Think of all the ways he’s impacted your life, or even possibly saved the lives of people you love. Show him that you want him to stay. I know want him to, because I can see a future without him in it, and it is a dark one.

“My fellow citizens, can you see yourselves for what you are? You are proud, and strong, and weather what the frontier has to offer. Our town is great, filled with so much determination. People from the city cannot hold a candle to us. Embody the spirit of the frontier itself. Brotherhood, welcome, compassion. Our community is in pain tonight, but we will heal. Next time we might not be so lucky. Next time, our loved ones might be taken from us, and the scars will be permenant. Domerin Lorcasf can help keep that from happening. We are strong, but we are only strong together.

I ask you, my fellows, friends, coworkers, each and every one of us, to open your heart. Take some time in the wake of this to think about the future you would like for your town. The future you would like for your children. I wish you all well, and my heart is with you.

This is Sheriff Abolan, signing off.”

He paused, looking long into the camera, waiting for the cut. When the clear came he sagged, and turned away. ~I’m going to hell for this, but at least I’m going with eyes wide open.~