Never, not in what short life she could properly remember, had Cael thought those words would apply to the Templars of the Rose.
Yet here she stood, chest heaving raggedly as she struggled to lift her sword and strike the training dummy. The sun was low now, much lower than when she’d started. But sleep would be impossible entirely if she didn’t drive herself to her limits tonight. The only reason she slept at all the previous night was bone deep exhaustion, mentally and emotionally from the Tribunal, from keeping control, and physically from the run after.
So she attacked, vicious, relentless, going through every move she knew and then did them all over again, over and over and over, until she was almost too tired to see straight, in an attempt to keep from bloody THINKING too much.
(Step, strike, undercut, twist and stab into the throat as her legs burn with the effort)
It wasn’t working.
Judgement from the other Templars, when Zasheena revealed her desire for revenge; but who were they to make faces and murmur at her? Cael remembered Sielic, remembered him being stabbed without a word, remembered no one had stopped her and sedveral actively argued that he should be let die, as Cael and Wei worked to save him, the only ones following orders of the entire Templars, it seemed. A broken truce, broken on thier part. Hearing this was acceptable, inevitable even, from members of the Rose itself, when it most certainly was not, no matter what kind of enemy they were. A truce was a TRUCE. The look on Zasheena’s face when that woman, Kanta’s wife, said such vicious and vile things to her and the other blood elf -their supposed ally, the commander of the Blood. That this was Kanta’s WIFE speaking, his SPOUSE, his beloved- this creature who would condemn an entire race, and didn’t the worgen in the room know a little bit about that? Nevermind it was better now, but better didn’t mean there weren’t some who still called them that hated word, “monster”. Nevermind her own struggle with her feelings on the undead, the cellular flinch they got from her even despite her best efforts, and she knew of hypocrites she was one, but she- she was TRYING, trying so hard to be better. To hear that woman say those words was beyond shocking. To hear the Blood commander make that comment about allies, how that cut to the core, and worse, so, so much worse, how she could understand and not blame her in the slightest.
(Jerk the shield up, under the chin, cut at the neck)
Kanta, lying, being revealed to be such. But it was a time of war, wasn’t it, there and then, when this had happened? That not everyone had known of the truce, which was an unacceptable lack of communication at best and just plain sloppy at worst. He struck first, but she was the enemy. She was a healer. Had he been one who hadn’t heard of the truce? Cael didn’t know. What wrong was there in being a good soldier? He was doing what he knew, what he had been taught, what he’d been praised for before, no doubt, they were at war even if the truce paused it, and he was the Justicar’s friend, he’d been a Templar for years. The look on his face when the sentence passed. Was this Justice, the Justice she wanted, a lifetime of service gone in the pregnant pause before speaking? Maybe it was an honest mistake and he regretted it as much as he said; shouldn’t there be mercy, as well as Justice, or was one lie enough to undo everything? If it was, SHOULD it be? If it wasn’t,was the Justicar wrong?
(Duck, roll, pop up, parry)
(Kick out violently, stab at the weak spot in armor by the knee)
All of them- were they WRONG?
(Reverse, twist of the wrist, slip through the guard and cut the throat, she gasps for breath)
Was Sielic right?
It made her heart sick and her head hurt and her stomach clench in pure, abject misery, and guilt, and shame, as she doggedly pressed on.
This was no fault of outside forces.
This was them. Them entirely. This was THEIR fault, blame resting entirely on Templar shoulders. No Sielic, no Doctor- this was on them.
So she’d walked out of the room in a shocked numb sort of state, left her guildstone on the steps of the newly rebuilt Keep, and left.
And she’d run, and run, and run, and run, through the dark brown and green piney woods with slippery icy leaves, through the snow-covered fields, startling those massive shaggy horned beasts whose name she didn’t know, run through the biting icy wind, run along the cliffs where the seaspray made her eyes sting, and kept running until she reached… somewhere, far, far away, a small sandy island off the beach, just barely poking through the water.
Only then, then, isolated and away, safely so, did she let herself break for the second time since taking her oaths as a Templar of the Rose. The wolf in her was furious and howling, for what she didn’t know or couldn’t articulate, raging at the mental bonds she’d put on him, because she was hurt, hurting, in agony the kind of which she’d never seen before and he’d rip tear rend kill destroy make the pain stop blood blood blood on the wind–
Pulling her knees to her chest, Cael shook, not from the cold, buried her face between them, and shattered as she concentrated on keeping herself from turning into the thing she feared most. It was close. Too close, much too close for comfort, skinned raw and bleeding type close, and Cael knew she’d been right in running. Eventually, though, the storm of her emotions, her fear, her anger, passed, leaving nothing but wreckage and cold and numbness in its wake.
It was here they found her.
Koryander, and Arialynn, on a majestic white hippogriff, setting down gently on the beach. And it was on that unnamed beach where Cael, voice harsh from crying, nose stuffed up, face cold with frozen tears… It was there she lost her temper and yelled at both of them, eyes half-worged and glowing feral gold, choked up, exhausted, shaking from the effort required when she was so tired she just wanted to lie down and sleep and never wake up. None of this was ok, none of this was acceptable, NONE of it, they were Templars and they should be BETTER than this!! She yelled at them despite the voice in her that screamed what are you doing stop and the fear of people being mad at her and now they will hate me and how much she just wanted to follow orders.
And when she’d finally subsided…
“W-We have to, to b-b-b-be better than, than this,” she’d told them, eyes on fire, jaw clenched, not just in anger, but in the kind of pain that made anger so much easier to bear. “We’re Templars. W-We HAVE to be, be, be better than this.”
Koryander stepped forward, leaving Arialynn with her stoney expression behind her. “We will,” she said, eyes too kind right now, too understanding, too warm, seeing too much for the shaky, raw mess of jangling nerves that was Cael at the moment. It wasn’t enough. She needed more than that.
“Promise. P-P-Promise me,” Cael had demanded, with the wavelets lapping gently and in stark contrast to her tone. It was not a plea. It was not giving. It was not gentle. Her hands shook so hard it as difficult for them to be in the balled up fists they were, and only the tension in her body kept them there as she stood on that cold, sandy, bare beach, and the lowly Templar soldier, the nothing, the no one, the shaking wreck of a young woman who couldn’t even read or remember the most basic facts about herself at times, the mentally damaged monster, stood there and demanded of Marshal Koryander Emberstone and Justicar Arialynn Dawnfield the promise to do better.
“P-Promise m-me, me that y-y-you, WE, will b-b-be better than this.”
Her molten eyes met thiers, and for once, she did not flinch away, nor bow her head, nor cower.
And Cael knew then, knew in the deepest reaches of her, that if they could not promise her; if this happened again; if they could not be the force for good she’d thought they were…. She would leave.
It would kill her. In every way, it would kill her.She had nothing else, nothing but a past drenched in blood and a fractured mind Cael waged a war of wills with half the time.
But she would do it.
She’d made the choice, when she joined, and it had been nothing but crystallized since. She wanted to help. To fight the bad things. To be a protector. To pursue Justice. To be, do GOOD. She’d chosen the Templars because they embodied every inch of that. And yes, they were merely mortal, and people made mistakes, as Arialynn had said.
But there were mistakes, and then there was this.
This was unacceptable.
They HAD to be better. She loved them, loved them all enough to die for them without hesitation or regret- but only if, as Mosur had once said… She only failed if she died in vain. And she would, if she died for something she did not, could not, wholehearted believe in. If the Templars weren’t that, then- there was nothing else for it.
“We promise,” Koryander said, the imperial, married type ‘we’. But she was one of two. Cael looked at Arialynn, silent, waiting.
The Justicar nodded. “I promise,” she said, simply, and with that, all the fight left Cael as swiftly as it had come.
She nodded, still sort of numb, tired beyond anything she had the ability to articulate.
“…T-Thank you,” the exhausted young warrior said, very quietly. Sniffled. Rubbed her tired eyes. “…I d-d-didn’t w-w-want to, to leave.”
After that was an emotionally numb blur. Koryander, of course, helped her get back to Westguard and told her to rest, looking out for her as she always did. Cael, meanwhile looked for Mosur, and didn’t find him, not till much, much later, when she and Kory (recruited in a panic, because what if Sielic got him?) set out to look for him and found him in the Dragonblight.
He was taking a leave of absence, he said. To see family. That was good. She knew she was not the only Templar affected by this, not by any means at all. Before he’d left, they’d shared some quiet words, a promise to return, and he’d shown her and Koryander the spirit of air.
The memory of a howl on the cold air, of dancing, momentarily lifted her spirits, giving more life to her steps as her sore muscles struggled with what she demanded of them, strike and block and parry and dodge.
So much. It was all so much, all at once.
Why was being good this hard? she asked, and not the Light, nor Goldrinn, nor any deity answered her, nothing but the frigid wind of the North answered her, blowing snow into her eyes as it started to fall. She did not abate her training, even as it started to come down harder, driven by the wind.
But they had promised. Arialynn and Koryander had promised her they would do better. That they would BE better.
And she believed them, couldn’t not believe them. They were paladins. They were THEM. And despite all of it, they, the Templars, HAD done good in the world.
They had given her a second chance at an actual life worth living. So she gave them the same, without hesitation or reservation, once the promise was made, an oath similar to the one she’d taken already when she joined, except going two ways this time.
Now, there was only aftermath, and the terrifying future, and trying desperately to exhaust herself enough to sleep without screaming horror nightmares that night.
Cael would keep moving forward.
She had to.
There was no other choice.
Not for her.