It can’t be. It cannot be.

 

Dasha paces, agitated, a caged animal. It makes the guards nervous. She ignores them the same way a lion ignores tomcats. There were bigger concerns, right now, than their feeble attempts to keep watch. If she wanted out, made an effort to get out, they would know it. But that was inefficient at the moment. Izzy was capable of springing her, if she asked, though it would be difficult to do without blowing her cover. She could get out at any time.

 

But.

 

But. There was the not so small matter of the lies.

 

Her thoughts chased each other, leaving her shaking and sweaty-clammy in their wake. There were two options. Only two: a binary set, yes or no, pass or fail…. Truth or lies. She hated both of them. Dasha clenched her fist, trying not to let her agitation show too much due to her watchers, but it couldn’t be helped.

 

Option one: Commander Riathan Bordren, her (former) commanding officer and comrade and, yes, friend of five years had put in a significant, concerted, multifaceted, deviously well planned attempt to deceive her into betraying her king and country and everything she’d fought for, both before her time as a Hand and since. Her Commander -the gentle one, the one who cared for them, who taught her to meditate and how to make a proper cup of tea, who had never lied to her even when she fucked up a mission (and not even she was perfect, it had happened once before)- was lying to her, manipulating her, using thier bond and thier friendship to try and tempt her into something heinous. He had fallen under the strange enchantment that permeated this warped future, likely originating from the False Queen Jennah, and was now devoted to working against and actively undermining the causes she stood for.

 

That was bad. Horrible, honestly- he was their commander, and yet he surrounded himself with… these Vanguardians, a full third -maybe even HALF!- were charr! It wasn’t safe! He wasn’t safe! How could he not realize that? Worse, he was moving against them, when they needed him badly for the King’s mission, to lead them to victory against the charr and whoever else may decide to stand in the way of Ascalon’s return. Nothing they did or said so far had even made a dent in that strange spell that held him and everyone else in this horrible, twisted, wartorn and dragon-ravaged time hostage. He refused to come home to them, and now he was lying, at great expense and with great effort, maliciously so, something she never thought he was capable of.

 

It was…. A betrayal. One that ripped at her heart, because she cared about him, deeply, the same way she cared for Fang and Talon. Despite what Maya said, Dasha knew she was strange and cold and unreadable and had difficulty caring for others. But she cared for him, and this…

 

But that potential betrayal was nothing compared to the second option.

 

Dasha felt herself trying to shy away from the thought. She grit her teeth and forced her mind back on the subject. It HAD to be considered so she could rule it out. It HAD to be examined, though something in her wound tightly like piano wire at the thought.

 

Surely considering it wasn’t disloyal. Surely.

 

The second option…

 

The Commander spun her a story, one with details tag lined up freakishly well to her own jagged memories of the worst day in her life. Her home, forest, village, and dog all slaughtered like animals, herself left for dead to be burned alive by the fire consuming the wreckage of the town, hot ash on the wind, burning effigies twice as tall as the trees, devourers the size of houses. The screaming. The agony of her own mortal injuries. The way she prayed for death at the end, to join poor faithful Biter.

 

A hand, reaching for her, glowing faintly blue. A kind man’s voice. A ring of gold and silver, heavy signet inset with a winged lion rampant. The symbol of House Bordren, the same ring she’d found on his desk. The same incident was recorded in his ancestor Barradin Bordren’s journal.

 

But those didn’t match with what she’d always held to be true. If they weren’t lies, like the first option presented them, then they were true. And if they were true…

 

…That would mean the King lied- lied to her, directly and repeatedly, for years during the war and uncounted years in the Mists as he hid, withdrawing to recover his strength -or so he said. The basis of her allegiance, finding that someone was kind to her for no reason, saved her, believed in her, wanted her by their side, respected her and her skills: a lie. And if THAT was a lie, then what was the King really doing? Who was he? Was he really the King she knew?

 

Did I ever really know him at all? 

 

And if THAT was all true, then the rest of it was as well. The King’s magical wards, Klounni’s words, the black eyes- the other two hands being controlled, by magic, forcibly, a rape of their free will at best. She felt sick, almost viscerally so. I was the one who caught Maya slipping through the shadows like an intruder and brought her to the King. I was the one who pointed out the necessity of someone like Izzy for their skills. I don’t know why he never “warded” me too. That’s a weakness- or was he so confident in my loyalty that he simply never felt the need? 

 

If it was a lie, all of it -if this was the real future- it meant the war was lost, the charr won, Ascalon ruined, her king was insane at best and actually evil at worst with the magical extermination of a country laid at his feet, humans had somehow decided to forget the extreme threat the charr posed to their entire race, dragons were wakening and wreaking havoc across Tyria unchecked, and she was something very like a murderer. A mass murderer, potentially, depending on how that was defined. A war criminal for sure-the interrogations, the killing. So much killing, in so many ways.

 

A monster.

 

A monster maybe worse than the charr she hated.

 

Because she had required no spells, no magic. She had not questioned. She believed, with all her heart, and gave everything she had willingly for the cause of the King and Ascalon. And she convinced others to do the same, was party to the magical enslavement of those she dared to call her friends.

 

And on top of that absolute crawling horror, if all of that was true, and the Commander wasn’t lying, on top of it all: Maya is imprisoned and dying, because of me, and it is more blood on my hands, I couldn’t protect her, I can’tprotect anyone, and I can’t- I can’t, I

 

She couldn’t examine that thought any further. Her breathing grew jagged, eyes burning with tears she didn’t dare shed. Her chest constricted, heart hammering, sweat like a feverchill breaking out. She could almost feel the flames again. Dasha staggered, lightheaded, trying to think. It had to be a lie. The Commander had to be lying. That hurt, it cut as deep as a sword, but she could fix that. She could fix it and he would come back and it would be okay again. It would all be like it was. The King was angry but surely he’d listen to her. She was his Shadowhawk. She was his. She didn’t want to be anything other than his and the Commander’s and the other Hands’. She would get through to him. It would be ok.

 

….The panic that threatened to set in made her old scars burn again, the phantom agony all too real. Dasha hissed, doubled over, grabbing her side- then slammed her fist repeatedly against the barrier until something popped. The fresh pain lanced up her arm, and she focused on that until the press of memory fell back into the past where it belonged, and she went from almost hyperventilating to merely jagged breathing.

 

She’s jammed, maybe broken, a finger, by the swelling. The unnerved guards watch, startled and very wary, as she mutely snaps it back into place despite the pain.

 

One pales. Dasha ignores him, turning her back toward her watchers so they can’t see her face.

 

It had to be a lie. The Commander had to be lying.

 

I’m not a monster. I’m not. I’m fighting for humanity. No human is safe as long as the charr exist. I know this. The king knows this. I’m not a monster. I did what I had to do to survive. 

 

I’m not a monster. The Commander has to be lying. This is a mistake, somehow, with Maya. I’ll make it right. I- I have to make it right. 

 

I have to make this right.

Author Cael
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