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.~

 

Seibel – In Dreams

In dreams

He walks a path of mist. Leaf litter rustles beneath his booted feet, each step sinking slightly into the damp ground. He cannot see far on either side. The mist is like a tunnel, closing in behind as he goes. Looking down, he can only see his feet and a small circle of ground where he steps. No matter how wide his stride, the circle never stretches past it. No sound, save his steps reach his ears, and the light is weak and grey. He would not be able to guess where the sun is, if there is one in this place. The mist presses in, curling around his legs and arms, as if eager to draw him off the path. He resists. He’s been here before. This path will take him somewhere, if he follows for long enough.

He walks. The light never changes, he never tires. He does not know if time has passed, or he’s taking the same steps over and over again. Before the nothing can drive him mad, he hears a sound in the distance. The ticking of a clock breaks the silence, growing louder as he goes. The mist parts and he sees the clock, suspended in the air, attached to nothing. The dark wood is beautifully carved, and the clock’s face is painted, showing a field of stars. The hands are still, but the ticking continues. It hovers just outside his circle, close enough to touch, but he knows better than to reach for it. He continues on, the ticking fading into the distance.

More objects come into view as he goes. A sturdy wooden table stands in the nothing, bearing a cheery green bowl filled with enticing purple fruit. A blue rag lays in the dirt, mist swirling around it. Chairs, a wooden bin, cabinets, a window. More and more objects fill his vision. Some slide past, repeat, and some stick in place, as if following him. Eventually there are more objects than mist. They began to solidify, the place he is becoming more and more real. He closes his eyes.

It is the scent of cinnamon, tickling his nose, that signals something has changed. The sharp scent is the realist thing since before the mist. He opens his eyes. The path is gone, and he finds himself standing in a large kitchen, on a smooth wooden floor. The air is comfortably warm and smells of baking bread and sweet spices. It is intimately familiar. This was his kitchen, so many lifetimes ago now.

Dried herbs and vegetables hang from the ceiling, amid bright copper pots and pans, making a riot of delightful color. Painted green pots of flour, sugar, pollen, honey, and other such foodstuffs line shelves build into the walls. A black stone oven takes up one wall, and a fire burns within, sweet-smelling smoke flowing up the chimney and outside. It was cherry wood. He’d always said it brought the best out of baking bread. He had spent so much time in this place when he’d been young.

Out of the corner of his eye he notices remnants of grey mist curling around the outside of the windows, before they slowly fade away, replaced with bright afternoon sunlight. It’s inviting and beautiful, calling up so many afternoons baking. But the sight of the mist leaves him with an uneasy feeling. This is not a place that is anymore. It hasn’t been for a long time.

He moves to the counter top and runs his hand over the dark wood, feeling the grain under his fingers. As if on cue, the door opens and a woman steps in. He is sure this has happened before, but he doesn’t care. Everything else falls away at the sight of his wife. Her blonde hair is done in a braid, secured at the back of her head. Her green eyes are wide, and full of life. She is still wearing her armor, as if she’d just ridden in from the field, but it is clean, untouched. It’s out of place. She never wore her armor in the house. She sees him and smiles and every other concern falls away.

They both move at once, and meet in the middle. To his shame, he hesitates and her arms wrap around him first. He flinches, as if expecting her to disappear, but she is solid and warm, and after a moment he embraces her in return. She smells of vanilla and spring air, nothing at all like the blood tang of a battlefield. Her arms are strong, the arms of a warrior, and he buries his face against her neck. Her hold tightens and he relaxes and for a moment closes his eyes.

When he opens them again they are sitting at the table, a pot of tea and a loaf of sweet bread between them. They’ve been talking for hours, and the light outside has faded to reds and oranges. He’s told her all about their sons. How Aryn is working to make the world better, how they’re trying to build something between them again, and how Isra has a family of his own, and a little grandchild he so very much wants to meet. They’ve spoken about everything. Everything but the war. It’s been hours but she is still wearing her armor.

A noise begins outside, so soft at first but growing quickly. Shouts, the ring of steel, the screams of elves and horses, the guttural language of orcs. There is a battle being waged outside their kitchen window. The garden must be piled high with corpses. He knows what war sounds like now, though he didn’t when this place had been real. Mist presses up against the glass once more, though now it is tinged red. The sounds become louder, drowning out the ticking of the clock on the wall, and his wife’s voice. She does not turn her head; she doesn’t hear it. Instead, she pulls a chunk of bread from the loaf, popping it in her mouth. Before his eyes her armor begins to tarnish. The polish fades and it begins to dent and fold directly on her body. Dirt and blood make the luster almost impossible to see. His wife takes up her cup and sips at her tea, oblivious to the blood that’s begun dripping from her eyes.

When the first sign of the wound in her head begins to form, when her skin starts to go ashen, he stands and turns his face away. Hasn’t he always told himself he always wanted to see her, no matter what? But like this! There is a touch on his cheek, cold and clammy. His wife is standing in front of him, looking like a dead thing. Her face is grey, her hair covered in blood and flesh from the wound that killed her. There is still the barest hint of green in her eyes. There is concern there too, despite the blood, and after a moment she leans in to kiss him, just as she always did to comfort him.

Part of him, a primal, visceral part, wants to pull away. But this is his wife, and he has missed her more than anything in the world. He presses his lips to hers. There is hardly any warmth left, but they’re still pliant. The iron tang of blood fills his mouth and the musty scent of freshly turned earth assaults his nose. He kisses her despite all that, even when the last of the warmth has faded away, and he knows it’s not his wife anymore.

He doesn’t open his eyes again. Stumbling back, he turns and runs, pitching suddenly forward into nothingness. He falls and falls and the sounds of war are all around him. He presses his hands against his hears, trying to drown it out. He screams and struggles, but the sound turns into a roar, then a rumble of thunder that shakes the world.

His whole body jerks and his eyes open a final time. Thunder rolls, and he pulls in desperate breaths. It is dark, but not so dark he can’t see the edges of his room. A flash of lightning momentarily illuminates his quarters in the citadel. He sits up, running a shaking hand over his face, feeling the dreams clinging to him like cobwebs. He throws off his sheets in a flurry, wanting to be free of the feeling. It was doubtful he would be getting any more sleep tonight.

He lurches out of bed, splashing his face with some water from the basin. He dares not look in the mirror. Lightning illuminates his way to the table and it takes only a moment for his hand to contact a bottle. Only after he’s opened it and drank deeply does he light a candle, and settle in for a long night. Every time he dreams of her the war inevitably comes and takes her away. Despite that, in dreams, he can at least see her again. Lost sleep was worth that.

Seibel – Called to Prayer

There are things you just can’t escape

The bunker was cool, with long concrete hallways. Usually a place like this would be bustling but at the moment sound was hushed. People with guns, the sort you didn’t cross, filled the hallways. Some looked strangely awkward, shuffling booted feet. Others looked tense, alert, on edge. There were even some, though not many, with an eager glint in their eyes. They were all waiting, as if the entire complex was holding its breath.

He’d passed them all while being led through the halls by a tiny older woman. The criminal element always took the best places in any town. This bunker was underground where it was cool, and well defensible. It was a bit of a labyrinth if you couldn’t remember your way. Most non-gang members who ended up down here never saw the light of day again.

Luckily, he was in a special position. News of a doctor in town spread fast, and he’d been brought down here with promises of reward. It was the leader himself, who was barely able to croak all that he’d give him if only he could somehow restore his health. The man was sick, far more than he had the ability to heal. In the old days he could have brought him back with a laying of hands and a little magic, but even with the supplies the raiders thrust into his hands, there was nothing he could do.

He tried his best for several hours, administrating what treatment he could, but it had only delayed the inevitable, and his patient had given up the ghost soon after. There had been witnesses the entire time, to assure he didn’t try anything bad. The mood had been tense, oppressive, and it broke the moment he announced the death. Almost moments after another had stood up, proudly proclaiming to have taken his place. He must have had a strong claim to the position, since no one yet challenged him. There was shouting, and wailing, as the news spilled into the hallways. It was a mess, but it wasn’t his mess, and he ignored it all, as he packed his bags to leave.

When he was done, he sought out the man who had proclaimed himself leader. He was huge, and burly, no doubt powerful. When he asked about payment the other man laughed in his face.

“He died. Like hell we’re going to pay you.” After a moment a rather evil grin curled his lips. “You did try, though. Speaking of a doctor, why don’t we just keep you here? No need to go tracking you down constantly. Would be nice to have a dedicated doctor, just for us.”

Seibel wasn’t afraid of men like this. It wasn’t that he was particularly strong, or powerful, though his skills did give him some immunity. It was more that he simply didn’t care. His expression was deadpan, giving little away. “I’ll not serve you. I won’t work if you hold me here.”

The man was clearly displeased by that answer, and he took a step forward, perhaps thinking his physical presence would do the trick. When that didn’t produce a response he sneered.  “I doubt you’d be saying the same if shot you in the leg, or cut some bits off that old body of yours.”

“I still wouldn’t work for you.” He returned, the threats meaning little. What did it matter if he died here? He was nothing. Just a wretched man without a purpose. His death would do nothing but leave one less doctor in the world.

“Then what the fuck good are you?” The man lifted his gun, holding it just inches from his face. Some of the other raiders also aimed their weapons at him, but held their fire for the moment. “We might as well kill you now.”

“Then go ahead and kill me.” Seibel looked down the barrel pointed at his face with what appeared to be apathy. The raiders looked unsure. If he was calling their bluff he was doing a damn good job of it. Perhaps he really didn’t care if he lived or died. A man like that could be dangerous.

The leader scowled, forcefully pushing the barrel against the doctor’s forehead, grinding the metal into his skin. The action didn’t even produce blink, which was unnerving. His finger tightened on the trigger a moment, but then he cursed and put his gun down, indicating for the rest to do the same. “You’re fucking lucky you’re more valuable alive than dead. Now get out.We’ll find you when we need you.”

Seibel didn’t hesitate, knowing when it was best to be gone. Once again his skills had saved him, and the raiders had been wise enough to see having a live doctor in town was better than a dead one in their base. He remembered the way out, and he hurried from that place, surprisingly glad to see it behind him.

Outside, the sky was dark, a heavy storm brewing. Despite his previous calm, he felt as if he’d been suddenly struck, the realization that he’d been that close to death gripping him hard. He lurched away, ducking into an alley, his knees suddenly feeling weak. Why, after all this time, had he been affected like this? He thought he was beyond caring what happened to him.

He looked up at the sky. The roiling storm clouds formed into dead faces that swam in his vision. The rumbling thunder became a cacophony of chastising voices. Wind whipped around him, feeling like so many hands plucking and pulling at his hair and clothes. He let out a groan, covering his eyes with his hands. Even in the darkness he could see their faces. It seemed the dead weren’t done with him yet.

What was he doing with his life? He’d been ready to die in that moment. Part of him had wanted it. But he’d never been that close before, never felt that sure someone was going to pull the trigger. How was he honoring those he’d betrayed by giving in so easily? If he just laid down and died to scum like that he might as well have been betraying them all again. They’d fought, suffered, and died. He’d done none of that.

He rubbed his eyes until he saw spots and looked up again. The clouds swirled wildly, and oddly parted for but a moment. The sun broke through, briefly blinding him, and he could swear for a instant he could feel its heat. It seemed so odd. What, or who, could part the clouds? A thought began to form in his mind, small, but insistent, like a pebble in your shoe. He could have sworn he felt something moving deep down inside of him. He needed to change, to seek the light.

He thought it was, perhaps, time to get out of town.

The man had a motorcycle with a sidecar. It was an unusual sight, but he’d welcomed it, since it meant he didn’t have to spend the ride pressed up against a stranger. He’d set a broken leg for this ride. You could get a lot if you had skills most others didn’t. Long ago he would have found using his skills as a doctor to barter for services abhorrent. This land wasn’t that forgiving and he’d long since stopped letting it bother him.

He settled down low in the carriage, a borrowed pair of goggles pulled over his eyes to keep the dirt out. The dull landscape flew by as they raced over the flat ground. He hardly saw it. The world was broken, shattered, and he doubted there was any way for it to be mended. Even if, some day, something came out of all of this waste, it would always hold the cracks of the fall. Some things could never be fixed.

In the past this might have felt like running. It was far from the first time he’d skipped out of a town, seeking something new. This was something different. He’d spend days in isolation after the incident in the bunker, most of those given over to prayer. It had been so long since he’d prayed, but he’d opened himself up completely, and felt himself filled with the divine. He’d known then what he had to do.

It took them half the morning to reach their destination. He’d heard about the church from some of the locals, and knew it was where he belonged. It was little more than ruins. There was a hole in the wall that would have taken a work group to fix, and would likely decay more over time. The garden was filled with desiccated weeds, the iron fence having been stolen away at some point. Inside he found water warped pews, broken tiles, and shattered windows. There was a basement that smelled of something rotting.

But, there was an altar with a most intact statue of his god. The basement could be cleared, the weeds in the garden pulled up. And there were still various shards of colored glass left in the window frames that left dancing patterns on the floor when the sun shone through them. There was beauty here. It was a holy place, where he could be shriven.

His ride had remained, standing in the rubble of the collapsed bit of wall, in case the strange doctor changed his mind. When the old elf informed him that he’d decided to stay the question had finally tumbled from his lips.

“Why you want to be out here anyway? Ain’t no way for a man to survive.”

Seibel stood among the ruin, the sun painting his face with a myriad of colors through the glass. A knowing smile touched his lips. “I’ve come to learn there are things you just can’t escape, no matter how far or fast you run. So why not turn and embrace it? It’s far past my time to.”

The answer didn’t seem to really satisfy, and his driver had eventually wished him luck and left him to it. As the sound of the engine rumbled away into nothing he turned to look in at his domain, feeling more content than he had in a very long time.