(Co-written with Cael!)

 

Dasha had changed clothes, by the time he came back, though she refused to initially without seeing her old things burned in person. “You have a blood mage,” she said, matter of fact, when they asked. “I’m not interested in giving her any more leverage.”

So now she begrudgingly wore a set of embroidered clothes made for her. A bucket of warm water turned up with the spare clothes and so she’d scrubbed as best she could, clinically cleaning what remained of her hurts without any self-consciousness at all. The worst of the effects was the concussion, the headache that it left her.

(Or maybe that was the echo of his words, lingering. No. Probably the blow.)

He didn’t hold back. Good, she thought, a little bit pleased despite herself. He never had with her, not after the first time they’d sparred and she specifically requested he didn’t. …He said he had his memory back. But whatever enchantment is over this area is still getting to him, and all the rest. Standing there unguarded with a charr at his back- gods, I hope Izzy is able to keep him safe. If I just don’t look at her, maybe I can keep from blowing her cover. But I have to find a way out. Maya will be worried, and the King….

If I gather some intel, maybe I can make this worth it.

The king wouldn’t be pleased with this fuckup, of course, but maybe they could turn it around. The Commander did want to talk. It was likely to be a difficult and painful conversation.

Dasha wished, almost absently, that he was the type more interested in torture. It would hurt less than what was coming. Seeing him so close and yet so far was much harder than she thought it would be.

….and… How had he known about her doubts?

I can’t lose faith now. I know what’s real. I am the King’s Shadowhawk, the arrow in his quiver and his talons in the night. I have to remember that, she reminded herself. The Commander has to be lying.

He was never a liar before, though. It’s…

She shook herself. No. No. Focus.
…But how did he get that ring back? Did he find my camp?

Her thoughts chased each other in circles despite her best efforts.

Riathan came back with a large tome held in his hand, tucked against against his side.

“Good afternoon. I’m glad you were able to clean up.” He sat down on the ground outside the barrier. Cross legged like he did when he would meditate back at the castle. One of the things the king often frowned on. Calling it a waste of time.

He was dressed down. Not in armor at all. Which for Dasha would be somewhat novel. Even at the keep they were often at risk to attack Riathan kept his armor on most times. A brilliant blue gem floated against his forehead, and monk robes similar to ones Dasha had seen in old Ascalon. Sandals and beads and wraps.

He set the tome down and laid the signet ring on the embossed leather cover.

“I’m glad you ate as well.”

“He knows you’re here. He knows you’ve been captured. He knew when it was happening. He didn’t do anything to stop it.” He winced as he said the words. Like tearing away a bandage that had been on a wound too long. Necessary but painful. He had to start there.

What kind of security do they have here? Dasha thought, frowning as she saw his attire. It was familiar in style but strange on him- she knew him in armor almost all the time by necessity, just like her. Allowing him to meet with a prisoner like me unarmored, cell or no cell, is asking for trouble. Or maybe that’s what they want. It would be convenient if I killed him, wouldn’t it? That big charr, the black one, seemed to have his ear… I should have shot him in the eye, not the chest. Guardians need quick kills or they heal.

She made a mental note of that as Riathan spoke. At first, she kept quiet, watching. Then she stiffened.

…How dare he, she thought, as her fist clenched at her side. Dasha looked away and sat in flat, angry silence for a moment, wrestling with the sudden spurt of fury. First his words at the swamp, and now this- I don’t know how he got the ring, but he knows me well enough to manipulate me, or try. He’s lying. Again.

“You never used to lie to me, Commander. Don’t start now. Also. You shouldn’t be wearing that,” she said, ignoring his words. There was no point in engaging him there, she couldn’t break the enchantment after all- and all it could do was shake her faith, which would play into the false queen’s hands. “It’s a weakness.”

Riathan had a sad look on his face. “I have never and, and will never lie to you, Dasha. When I came back. My friends discovered… a scar on me. But not physically. A shadowy tag on my light. Its the Kings attempt to tether me to his will. When he came to the Labyrinth and you ran into the Vanguard. He was trying to strengthen it. I know hes been looking through my eyes.”

He taps the blue gem on his forehead. Off to Dashas right she could see the rest of the guild hall. Bustling. Caravans coming through with supplies and traders hawking wares in the market could be heard. It was a small city on it’s own.

“What most call weakness I find strength in. What we had. Trust. Comraderie. Honor.” He gestures down to his robes. “These are what I wear when I wish to have a clear mind. When I need to train or exercise. These were made in the style of our peoples monks. Where I draw part of my guardian magic from. The part the king didnt want me embracing. Because of the connection to my great grand father.”

He looked so sad- so earnest…

But he had to be lying. After all, if the king was looking through his eyes, he would have come for her, or helped her somehow. This wasn’t an insurmountable setback (probably) but it wasn’t part of the plan and Dasha was needed in other places.

But maybe- maybe he THINKS it’s the truth? That would explain it. The enchantment has that effect…

“….I think you think that is the truth, Commander,” she conceded. “Whatever the reality is. I remember the monks. Strange fighters, but good.” Her face flattened into utter neutrality again.

“I haven’t seen any more since I’ve been here in this time. I assume they’ve all been slaughtered.”

Dasha took a breath, gathering herself again. She hesitated for a moment. The king had been a little impatient with the Commander at times.

“The King has to keep the big picture in mind. That’s why he’s the King. You were very good- the best- but there’s a difference in perspective. Sometimes you took too long.”

Riathan sighed. This was going to be tough. “They didn’t die out. They learned to fight differently. They evolved. We learned to wield heavy armor. We fought with martial weapons. We protected and healed in equal measure. We dealt justice to the tyrants of the land. We fought men like the King.”

His eyes started to glow. Blue flames pouring from his eyes as he lifted off the ground. A spectral hammer, shield, bow, and greatsword. All floating around him in the air. A lotus flower made of light pouring up from the ground as water swirled around him. All of this was something Dasha had NEVER seen from Riathan.

“The whole time I was with you Dasha, I was leashed. My blade blunted. He fogged my mind. He stole myself from me. Just like he did to you. To Maya, to Izzy. Only for you it started long before you found yourself in the Shadows. When you were found in a burning village.”

Dasha’s eyes widened despite herself. That… that was new, undeniably so. They had been through a lot together, including a few scrapes too close for comfort and some of those nearly disastrous. He’d been in danger, mortal danger, so had they, and he’d never displayed that talent or power.

Dasha has never mistaken his kindness for weakness, unlike some others. Soft could be strong. And as he glowed white-blue, radiating power, she remembered that.

Had he improved that much that fast? Or…

….The image of the asura doctor, talking about Maya being “cursed” somehow, suddenly popped into her mind. No. She was wrong. I don’t have a curse on me, after all. If we were being controlled, which we aren’t, we’d all have that.

“You’re wrong,” she said, with confidence. “I have no trace of curses on me. I’ve checked. There was a doc- it doesn’t matter. You’re wrong, though you’ve improved a lot,” she added. “I’ll forgive you your words about the King.” (edited)

Riathan gently unfolded his legs from the sitting floating position and placed them on the ground. “You’re different. He had you wrapped around his finger before you ever fell into the mists. You’re from his time. He’s lied to you since before you knew what your role would be. Maya and Izzy… they’re from my time. They were taken from positions that were meant to help the people of Tyria. You were shielded from the truth of who Adelbern REALLY is.” He knelt and placed the book on the ground, the symbol on the front cover matching the signet ring. It looked old.

He pushed it forward as a small slot opened to accommodate it and he placed the journal inside the barrier column. “I’ve not improved, this is how I’ve always fought. The way my Great Grandfather did. The way my father did. He tried to TAKE that from me.”

Dasha eyed the book warily, like someone might a bomb. That symbol… It was the same, the same as the ring on the hand she remembered.

The hand of the King, she reminded herself. It had to be.

But why had she never seen that power from him? Or the king with the ring?

“If the King has kept information from me, it’s for a reason. I understand that. I’m a soldier.” Though… something in her face wasn’t as confident there. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. She was the one he relied on. Surely he wouldn’t.

I have to get out of here and talk to him.

“I’m sure if I asked, he’d have a good reason, just as you did when you were our Commander and made the plans we carried out,” she said, stubbornly. “You’ll forgive me my doubts. Anyone can write a book and put a symbol on it.”

She didn’t take it, yet.

“I’m sorry you forgot your power, but that’s not the King’s fault. I’m glad you found it again though. You’ll need it when you return.” (edited)

Riathan shook his head. “Read the book Dasha. No one else could know what’s in there.” He avoided all of her other tangents to try and convince herself he was lying. He could see her trying to struggle.

“…..”

Dasha studied him in silence for what seemed like hours.

It could be a trap. It was probably a trap. Maybe this was the anchor of the enchantment’s magic. Maybe if she read it, she too would fall under the spell. Or maybe the Commander was crying out for help in the only way he knew how. Then again, he hadn’t lied to her before, but he wasn’t himself; not his fault, but what she remembered may not be the man before her. He was very fixated on this. She could tell it in his eyes. This was probably the reason he came here, to her.

“This could be a trap,” she pointed out eventually, ruthlessly logical. “Can you promise me it isn’t? That I won’t be snared by whatever has taken you?”

Riathan nodded. “I can absolutely promise it is just a book. And its truth.” That old look in his eyes would stick out to her.

The look of a man who knew he was right. Arguing the best course of action that the others didnt trust. He was always right. His decades of combat experience shining true.

….That tone, that look on his face. She wanted to trust him, with an ache in her chest that took her off guard. Dasha wavered.

If it’s linked to what’s going on with him, with this world… that’s worth the risk, she decided, after another interminable silence.

Slowly, she rose, walked over, and picked it up.

“Don’t make me regret this.”

Riathan nodded. The book had a few tabs on it denoting sections. The first tab was for Baradin’s early life in Ascalon. Earning his nobility. Becoming the lord of the Northern Pines.

The second section is during the war with the charr. And finding a tall skinny girl in a burning village. Using his secondary monk skills to save her from the edge of death.

Remarks on the attempts to take the girl, her name later revealed to him to be Dasha. And the king taking her despite Baradin’s wishes. Finding out about the girl being made into the royal huntsman. A girl who could have been given another chance. Turned into a weapon for a mad king. The tale of Barradin leaving Ascalon for Kryta. The loss of the prince he was following. Rurik. A great man felled by tragic events.

Years later receiving word of the Foefire. Of Adelbern using ancient magic to to sacrifice all of his people in a mad attempt to turn them all into undying ghosts. The last section was about the charr rebellion. An older Barradin helping them overthrow their oppressive shaman caste. Kalla Scorchrazor freeing the charr females from servitude and then leading the charge to kill their gods. Barradins musings on the respect for a people that would throw off their own chains. Freeing themselves from Tyranny. Wishing Dasha could have seen it. Not lost in the foefire.

It was old leather, worn and cracked in places, recently oiled and apparently repaired there on the back cover. The emblem was stamped into the leather; a few odd stains marred it. When she flipped it open, the script wasn’t familiar, but the words….

She started in the beginning. A young lord, unsure of himself, but determined to do right by his people. He had been quite decent to live under, no obscene taxes, the guardsmen weren’t just glorified bullies, and the roads were kept in good repair. The soldiers came when they tolled the alarm bells…

…Even on that day. Even when burning effigies of death blotted out the sun and sent ash clouding the sky…

She glanced up at him, then flipped ahead.

“…The war,” she murmured, stopping. This page had a bloody smudge on it, old and brown.

….through the Needles, setting the forest ablaze…

Dasha froze.

…in time to prevent the slaughter…

…hoping the survivors fled; from the corpses of the guard and other villagers, a contingent stayed behind to buy them time…

…bright spot: a young girl, nearly a woman, curled around her dead dog…

No. No. That was impossible. How…

…think she was going for her boot knife. To think, trying to fight back as horribly wounded as she is…

…her wounds tended; my reserves are depleted now. Hopefully she survives the night…

A strange numbness crept up her spine. It couldn’t be. No. No. The King… the king wouldn’t lie. It couldn’t be a lie. If it was a lie…

Her hands trembled on the thick vellum pages.

Riathan sat again, still as stone. His eyes searching, watching her reaction as she started reading. His voice reached out, soft, familiar. “I know it’s hard… but keep going.” A faint breeze passed through the guild hall, tousling that streak of hair that hangs down alongside his face. His expression was stoic, but his eyes filled with the passion she’d known of him. Especially when it came to friends.

….came back, and she was gone. The King’s Royal Guard had heard of her, and said they had need- but she’s still so hurt! And so young…

…Royal Forester, a huntsman, of deer, charr, and rumor has it, people too. She wears livery of the Royal house, he said, and that she moves more like a soldier now. I suppose this war makes soldiers of children after all- but this doesn’t sit well with me. She deserves peace and quiet after what she’s been through, not more conflict, however good at it she may be…

…leaving. I cannot stand it any longer. Prince Rurik and what remains of our people will need all the support they can get…

Dasha thumbed the pages, numb. Somehow, she couldn’t stop reading.

…madness. Completely lost his mind!! Wanton slaughter of the people he should have protected! I’m so furious I can barely hold a quill to write this. By all the divines and whatever strength is left in me, I will oppose…

…makes strange bedfellows. Never thought I would be sitting peacefully next to a charr, but here we are. And this Scorchrazor…

No. No. Dasha inhaled, shakily, trying to gather herself back together. It wasn’t true. It was fake. It had to be fake.

“The ghosts you saw in Ascalon. They were created by him. I fear he is trying to do so again, but to use Kryta as well for his insane war.”

Dasha says nothing. She just stares at the book.

“Do you remember him?”

“…Get out,” she said, hoarse, quiet.

He sat there for a moment longer. Then stood and left her to her thoughts, and he was sure, her grief. His heart hung heavy in his chest, and he blamed himself, despite the necessity.

Behind him, fainter as he moved away, there was a dull roar of fury, and the sound of something heavy hitting something else.

Then, silence.

Author Riathan
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