“Aghh, ahh, shit,” Theo muttered, an inward hiss of pain. But it had to happen. A battered, bruised, bloody foe -such as she was, after the fight with the traitor- was easier to track, and she calculated she had some leeway before any decisions about search parties might be made. It was clean up now, or wait till later, potentially tomorrow or even the day after, when she was already far, far away.

 

There was quite a bit of cleaning up to do.

 

On the shore of the secluded pond, deep into the forest of Ardenweald, sat a pack and a pile of bloody clothing. A bow, carefully unstrung, and quiver lay next to them, as did a sword, blade freshly cleaned. Resting his massive blocky head on lethally clawed paws was Fang, her loyal companion, Seeker asleep on him, wings splayed. They kept watch while she was vulnerable. And currently polluting the shades of blues and greens dotted with odd sparkles like stars and giant lilypads and purple pitcher plants with the red swirl of her own blood was Theodora Evergreen, stripped to the skin, and attempting to wash as gently as she could.

 

Besides getting her face smashed up, the cut on her foot from the glass, and the burn from felfire, great ropy bruises marked the crushing grip and will of the Feverent she’d left pinned to a tree. Every breath hurt; she knew she had at least one rib broken, maybe two or even three. Here, away from the battle and the blood splattering the fallen leaves and her own seething hate, drained of the fury that gave her strength, the simple task of washing her wounds felt enormous.

 

She forced herself to do it anyways.

 

I will need this later, even if it hurts now. I can’t linger here, as lovely as it is. I’ve got my work to do, my promises to keep. Her face turned grimmer, harder. My lessons to teach. 

 

The anger came back, just a little, a magma-like bubbling in her core that she set her jaw against.

 

Nadana. I never thought it would be you. Those simpering, powerhungry fools in the Court, perhaps they couldn’t see what sacrifices must be made for Revendreth in these difficult times, but you- I hope it hurts, knowing the consequences of what you have done. After all, you helped make me, didn’t you? You know exactly what I am and what I will do. I hope you find your sleep uneasily, knowing that I am coming for you and everything you have built. You should have known better. 

 

The black thoughts kept her mind off the pain. Every inch of her hurt, and it would be worse later, she knew; Theo hadn’t been this sore since she’d been shown the way to repentance. A vial of anima would help her heal so she could function, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. She ducked her head beneath the water and began to rinse her black hair, trying to get the tacky blood out of it as the water stung everywhere the horns bashed her face. Surfacing with a pained gasp, Theo winced, sighed, inhaled, and did it again, then moved to focus on the rest of her. Around her, red tainted water seeped slowly outwards.

 

…Why didn’t you know better? Suddenly buying into Renethal’s propaganda doesn’t make sense. When did this change in you happen? Why didn’t I see it? Not only aiding and abetting those souls, but killing for them. That stoneborn was doing their duty! The same as me, or any of the Fearstalkers, or any of the Court!  And yet…

 

And yet.

 

Her mind returned to the last time she saw Nadana with fondness, not hate, in her heart: dressed in her court finery, smiling at her, even though Theo was grubby and fresh from the hunt on urgent summons. Right before she caught the wayward souls.

 

Her mouth twisted into a half-snarl.

 

Damn those Templars. Everything was fine until they showed up. Then suddenly-

 

She froze.

 

…Then suddenly Nadana betrays the Master, completely out of character for her- she’d die and kill for Revendreth and our mission, the same as me. Or I thought she would, anyways. Maybe they’re responsible? Maybe they did something, said something to her? But what could force Nadana to help them? And she did not talk as if she was forced when we fought on batback- but maybe she couldn’t! I’ve never known a soul to be able to do that, but then, I’ve never seen a soul go back to being corporeal, either. Possession of a sinstone can force cooperation.  Maybe they have some magic similar to it. Hope bloomed in her chest, against all odds.

 

Maybe these Templars were the key, somehow. And didn’t she hear about one of the other two -not the two she captured- being remarkably similar to Nadana in looks? The court had a good titter about the “little blue eredar” in the dungeons. She hadn’t been listening much at the time…

 

Maybe she wouldn’t have to kill Nadana. Maybe Nadana was a victim!

 

But I need proof. The Master is very displeased; a half baked theory will do little to alleviate that, or rescind his orders. I need to find one of those souls. Preferably the blue lesser eredar. Mind ticking away, she moved too fast on accident and doubled over for a moment as her ribs screamed agony up her spine. She waited it out, straightening slowly, breath shallow, adding that to her mental list.  I will use a vial. The Master gave them to me to help, after all. It will be enough so that I’m not slow, -I really need two, to heal proper, but I do not think it would be wise to spend them so frivolously when time and discipline will accomplish the same effect. Pain cleanses the soul, after all, helps you focus. Then I shall begin my hunt on Maldraxxus. I need to scout Druum anyways if I am to eliminate him, and from what I can tell the Templars are as subtle as a sack of bricks. Listening and watching will serve me well. I can use Seeker, see through his eyes and hear through his ears, if need be. I vaguely remember a blue lesser eredar in the armor of thier warriors at the crypt. Big weapon, plate mail, built like an ox. Maldraxxus might be his speed. 

 

Yes. It was a good plan.

 

I will acquire more information on the Templars. That will be useful no matter what. Then, if they have hurt Nadana, forced her to betray the Master, I will kill every last one of them and dump their corpses at the foot of the Master’s throne. 

 

And if they didn’t force her? asked a small voice in her heart.

 

Theodora ignored it stubbornly. That way lay more heartache. She had a plan. All she had to do was do it.

 

Resolutely, she waded closer to shore, and reached for a red vial. There was no time to waste.

 

Author Cael
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