((The one where it all comes home to roost. Hitting rock bottom involves pain… and actions have consequences.))

 

 

Nadana lead Nemalu to the cell where Theo was being kept. It had been something thrown together but over the past few days it had been modified to better suit the it’s current need. Inside the venthyr Theo slept. She was bandaged and beside her strewn sheets of paper laid out on the floor. On them notes and scribbled drawings, a map? Pieced together on the floor marking what Nadana recognized as the interior of the Castle.

Nadana nodded at the Templar sitting by her cell excusing them for the time being and stood by the bars looking down on the sleeping figure. Her face impassive .

Nemalu loomed behind her, a mountainous dark shadow whose fel-tainted eyes were the only distinguishable feature without direct illumination.

He said nothing at first, simply folded his arms and remained a half step away from the cell bars. His gaze idly scanned the prisoner’s accomodations, taking in the various details for the first time.

“She looks… comfortable.”

“She certainly looks better than she did.” Nadana noted one of the no-longer luminescent anima cone by the edge of the bars then to the notebook she clutched to her chest. “I believe there is a druid among the Templars who is borrowing your anima Nemalu.” She said making motion to the dull Ardenweald acorn. She was content not to wake her just yet as the pair bantered a moment.

“The Templars brought them in to face the consequences. If anima is what it will take to deny her a swift escape, I gladly provide.” His voice was measured and heavy, the words chosen in a slow and deliberate manner.

Theo slept.

She does look improved; it might take slightly more than a stiff breeze to kill her now, though her elevated, bandaged arm in it’s sling, her ruined face with the missing eye and the socket sunken slightly wrapped in gauze verify the Templar’s reports of where they found her. The pallet on the floor is a little rumpled, but it seems like Theo hasn’t moved from it much at all. She’s wearing loose white linens, the shirt a few sizes too big, and her head has been half-shaved where the bandages are. Her “blind” side faces the bars, so she must turn her head to see visitors; as it is, she must not be capable of moving much, because she hasn’t tried to fix this. Or maybe she doesn’t care.

An empty wooden glass with a straw is wedged ungracefully between her arm and side, where she can get to it easily without having to actually hold it.

Nadana nodded. “If you’re content with it. I am not quite sure what to make of her, she is stubborn and brash..” Nadana shook her head and set her jaw at the thoughts of the druid who thought she knew better. “I assume she’ll fit right in with yours when she arrives. You’ll eventually teach her how things work.”

“Such soft hearts on those Templars. Easy to tell that your prisoner has recieved several visits and gifts since her arrival.”

He moved up beside Nadana, taking a spot where he could lean a forearm on the bars and peer inside more closely. “Perhaps some one can bring her a feather pillow and some reading material.”

“Nemalu.” Nadana spoke his name sharply and glanced his way but said no more, he needed no scolding. “It’s different when they’re no longer souls.” She said that barely above a whisper to him and with no tine or inflection that could be read, whether it was a statement to him or a reminder to herself was hard to say without knowing her.

“Theo.” Nadana said her name with a crisp loud tone, one meant to begin rousing her. “Besides,” she said as a quick aside to her eredar Brother. “They are bringing her the barest of mortal comforts.”

The word roused her. It always had, in that tone of voice.

There’s a small noise as she shifts, part sleep, part pain. Her good arm stirs, knocking the dry glass over, and she’s too slow to stop it from rolling away.

Her single red eye opens. I thought I was dreaming… I thought Nadana was here. Stupid. She lifted her arm, heavily, to rub the good eye, and then turned.

Icy fear came crashing down like the proverbial bucket of water and finished waking her completely and instantly. Her stomach knotted. There was no hiding the sudden inhale of shock, even as she froze completely.

She had heard Nadana. Because Nadana was right there, whole and well and the sight made her emotions twist and knot around themselves joysorrowhopefear flickering in the lone red eye. And standing next to her was Nemalu, the Feverent she left pinned to a tree a lifetime ago, looking unreadable and stoic and whole and strong- capable of killing her then and quite capable of finishing it now with the power in his left pinky finger for how weak she was.

Theo blinked in shock, mouth working for a moment before she closed it.

Nemalu’s fist closed around one of the bars and clenched just slightly when the wounded venthyr glanced his way.

His response to Nadana’s words would have to wait.

The green hue of his gaze narrowed, becoming that much more sinister in the dim crimson lighting of the chamber.

His breathing remained steady while he stared holes through the captive. He yielded his time for Nadana to say her peace first.(edited)

Nadana’s hands were folded in front of her and she made an effort to remain stiff and cool in tone. “Have you been enjoying your many visits Theo?” She waited for an answer of some kind from the broken venthyr. She glanced to Nemalu then back to Theo before speaking again. “I have decided the fairest treatment for you will to be undergoing another Ritual of Judgement.” She paused then added “If our assault of the Master’s castle is successful that is.”

“…Not that many,” Theo said, a bit hoarse- Nadana seemed to expect some sort of response. She only meets Nadana’s eyes briefly before looking away, unsure. The eredar resembles a statue carved of ruby, cool and stony, as aloof and distant as when they first met and Theo hated the very sight of her. I suppose the shoe is on the other foot, now. She wiggles, oddly, a motion in her chest and core like Theo is trying to sit up but can’t.

Another Ritual of Judgement. The most important, terrifying day of any soul’s existence on Revendreth; and probably the end of her own, considering who stood besides Nadana. But it will be quick. Fair. That is all I can ask.

With her good hand, she moves the papers out of the way, a picture of someone or something on the top of the pile, with the cup like a paperweight.

Her eye darts to Nemalu, skitters away. If Nadana was here, and said she’d be judged thusly, then thusly she’d be judged, and Nemalu was unlikely to kill her…. yet. A lot of things lay between “dead” and “alive”, however.

They seemed to expect something. Theo searched for what they might want her to say, and eventually settled on, “I had heard of the assault. They found a way in while I was…. gone.”

Nemalu continued to scowl from his silent vigil outside the bars.

The wounded animal snared before them was the least satisfying outcome to the events that had transpired.

Still he deffered to the other Eredar, existing only for silent moral support for the time being.

“The Prince has made surprising progress.” She answered glancing towards the newly uncovered drawings. “But he was the Master’s first creation.” After Revendreth itself of course. “I’m certain you’ve had to express this many times already but entertain us. What happened that you ended up in this state?” She barely moved content on remaining stiff and distanced.

Theo almost heard the echo of the past saying Attend, Samantha, pointed but not sharp. It made her heart hurt.

She swallowed. Retelling was reliving- she did not want to remember. But then, that is not my decision to make either, is it?

She inhaled and exhaled slowly, drawing what strength she could from it, still not looking at Nemalu, schooling her face into as close to neutrality as she could manage with the looming specter of the High Ferverent she left for dead close enough to destroy her if he wanted. Theo reached for the empty water glass, realized it was gone, and drew her hand back.

“Are you aware of the battle on the bridge?” She asked, deciding to start at the beginning. “They tell me it was… ten days ago.”

“I am aware of the battle, yes. Ten days sounds about correct, give or take.” She responded She was honestly glad Nemalu was there, she didn’t think she could keep her composure this well without someone to keep it for. That was the point of bringing him with her after all. She could clearly see that at this point Theo was no threat, but it was surely not the Templars nor Duurm and the blazing light of the Ember Ward that did this to her.

Theo nodded, mechanically. “After I fled, Fang found me. He brought me my anima, and saved me; the effects of the Light and the wounds sustained previously were not inconsiderable. I crawled into the darkest closest hole I could find and passed out for some time while I healed enough to be functional. Then I woke. I was in pain, but alive and able to move. Th- He needed to be informed of your defenses -the Light is a potent weapon and to o- his knowledge not one you or Renethal had access to before- and I needed more anima to finish healing and plan my next assault.”

Her utterly neutral words were business-like, a report, facts only.

“I had not been to the castle in some weeks. When I crested the rise of it, I saw the anima hemorrhaging into the Maw. Immediately I ran for the throne room, to alert him of what I thought was the worst counterattack possible from our enemies upon Revendreth. I burst into a meeting and interrupted him with the Stone Legion generals and several other trusted members of court. He said he was going to take me into his confidence, and told me how the Jailor promised him reign forever, power beyond what he had now, dominion over other Shadowlands… how I could share in these marvelous benefits. I spoke without thinking. A tactical error on my part. If I had been less shocked… but it doesn’t matter. At any rate, I asked him But what about Revendreth? ….It was the wrong thing to ask. He used my sinstone against me, freezing me in place, and thanked me for being so loyal.”

The word, before so proud, is ash in her mouth: hubris, come home to roost horribly, the culmination of her pride and wrath.

“But I was a risk he could not afford and my usefulness was ended. His “brother” might be able to find some purpose for me though, so he was sending me to the Maw. As a gift.”

The words got more and more emotionless as she talked.

“That was when Fang leaped at him, doing what I had trained him to do. Seeker flew at him also. Huntsman Altimor shot Seeker; she made it through the window, but would not have gotten far with a shredded wing. Denathrius grabbed Fang by the throat midleap and, without looking at him, crushed and squeezed until he was able to close his fist around Fang’s esophagus and rip it out. After that, I was sent to the Maw under the thrall of my sinstone, where I was held under varying conditions for… some time -I do not know how long- until the Templars found me, and brought me here.”

Nemalu remained quiet (again,) but this time it was out of the need to process all of the information.

His grip on the bar slackened, and a slow breath was released from deep in his chest.

“Quite the tale.” He mused, with a disapproving curl of his lip. “Strangely enough, I do not doubt its authenticity. But it remains deeply unfulfilling, just the same.”

Nadana listened impassively till the end as she mentioned her pets. Nadana façade faltered momentarily before it returned to a cool neutral expression. She waited for Theo to finish. She nodded only slightly once Nemalu finished speaking. “An unfortunate flaw in your person, your strength of loyalty was one of your old sins, one I did not properly exercise. I blame myself for this.” She shook her head though her words still sounded business-like as though she were speaking to a newly arrived soul.

“I regret to inform you that Seeker has likewise perished. She sought me out but there was nothing I could do for her but offer her fleeting comfort in her final moments. Your sinstone has been retrieved and is once more hidden away in my care. To offer you answers to a few questions you may have. You can thank the kindness you have shown the dredgers all these years for your…capture.” She chose to use capture instead of rescue for the time being. She was, after all, a prisoner.

Nemalu’s jaw clenched at the mention of kindness, but he held his tongue.

Seeker. Always the smart one. Would that I had not failed you, too. True grief flickered through the fragile shell she held around herself before she could stop it. At least she died without torment… unlike poor Fang.

When Nemalu spoke, Theo couldn’t quite keep her flinch in check. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the Ferverent wanting revenge, and she was in deep trouble already. He might yet come to collect his pound of flesh out of her hide… And there would be little she could do about it.

After all, he’d been right.

She kept herself to a jerky nod, eyes on his waist and not his face, as Nadana spoke.

I blame myself for this.

That could not stand. Theo risked meeting her eyes with her remaining one.

“My sins are mine and mine alone, Nadana,” she said softly. “As are their consequences. ‘Be that as it may,'” she quoted, though she did not dare look at Nemalu.

“I’m not here to argue with you Theo.” She clipped at the woman’s rebuttal to her words. “It might not have changed anything in the long run but the truth is I did not complete my job adequately enough. Still we are here and you are right the sins you have committed since your recreation as a venthyr are yours and yours alone, even if the cause may have come from your mortal flesh. Nemalu did you wish to address the prisoner?” She said turning the lead of the conversation over to her Brother.

Theo tensed, bracing herself.

Nemalu’s nostrils flared at the mention of consequences, but he otherwise kept his expression composed.

“Then we are all in agreement. How fortuitous.” He cast his gaze upon the prisoner after a brief glance to the Prime Censer. “This being is no weapon, no beast. She has experienced two life times, and though her loyalty confuses her, her decisions are still her own.”

He paused for a moment, releasing another slow breath. “She chose her to remain allied to a corrupted master despite receiving all the same hints as you did. She chose to pursue a petty vengeance quest more out of her own impulses than any duties dictated upon her. She chose to violently exterminate twelve of our brethren for no practical reason other than her own cruelty and spite.”

The words were allowed to hang in the air, and a brief glance was again cast towards Nadana before he moved his eyes forward again. “Indeed I do wish to address the prisoner, though I believe I’d rather allow her the opportunity to address me first.”

His gaze narrowed, seemingly lacking any sympathy for her present condition. “Is there anything you would like to say to me, Theodora Evergreen?”

Nadana didn’t respond though her cool façade remained as the heat in his voice raised. She simply motioned through the bars to the prisoner when he addressed her. Clearly they did have more to talk about, but perhaps away from the prying ears of the prisoner to whom they spoke.

The words lodged in her heart like knives. But there was no disputing them, and she did not try. There was a pause before Theo replied; it took her a moment to get around the knot in her throat.

“…I do not believe there is any words I can say that will make any difference, even if they are from my heart. ‘I’m sorry’ is wholly inadequate. ‘You were right’ is blatantly obvious…” There is a wooden shrug, as she comes close to looking at him, but again doesn’t dare. “I can’t offer anything to fix it, not even myself. The Justicar says I will never use a bow again, even if my arm recovers; and that is in question, let alone the rest of me.”

She inhales shakily, continuing. “The only thing I could give is a promise to accept that Judgement, no matter what, but my word may mean little to you- and rightly so. I will be Judged on my actions, not my words.”

Nadana caught herself short of rolling her eyes though still ‘tsk’ed her tongue at the mention of the Justiciar’s conclusion to her condition.

“You are correct.” He released another breath while glancing between the two of them again. “Your words would mean nothing. Your awareness is noted, as is your lack to even make an attempt.”

He shifted his weight before straightening up slightly. After a deep breath, he unraveled a folded piece of parchment and began reciting from it extemporaneously.

“Vorsuun. 14,471 years. A decorated soldier of Argus turned a fearsome general of the Burning Legion. His individual war crimes numbered in the thousands, though like many in his ranks, his loyalty was the strongest contributing factor to his misdeeds. His weapon of choice was the battleaxe. Slain on Marduun in his sleep by enemy forces. Soul recruited approximately ten years ago. Tasked as a guardsman to assist in protecting the cycle of rebirth in Ardenweald. Enjoyed woodcarving as a hobby, and appreciated the sharing of stories among comerades. Existence ended three months ago to the day.”

Nemalu then moved to a new heading on his piece of parchment and began reading another entry in its entirety.

For a moment, Theo is confused. Then, the realization dawns on her face before she can stop it. She looks away by instinct, but willpower is what drags her good eye back to him, forcing herself to watch fully instead of shrinking away. She makes no move to interrupt.

Just watches, and listens.

Nemalu proceeded to read the summarized obituaries of all twelve eredar from his outpost who had perished on that day. Each time he was sure to include their full ages, what they were like during their waking lives, as well as some positive anecdotes about their personalities and quirks during their times in Ardenweald. He labored to ensure they were remembered as the fully formed people with histories, dreams, stories, shortcomings and failures that they were.

No details were spared or glossed over. He made sure to go over every. Single. One.

Once he made it to the twelfth entry, the parchment crumpled in his hands, and his voice faltered slightly in his attempts to get the words out. It described the young female eredar who had plucked up enough courage to throw a few feeble spells at Theo in her final moments.

“Ayuuli. 3,654 years. A prodigious scholar who quickly rose through the ranks in the fields of fel-weapon development and optimization. Simultaneously shunned and revered by her peers for the intellect that made her such an asset, but increased the rifts between her and others. Slain along with her associates when her ship was attacked by the army of the light. Assigned as a cataloguer and assistant in her second life. Enjoyed the feeling of long grass beneath her fingertips, and feeding treats to the animals that roamed nearby whenever I… wasn’t around to see and scold her for it…”

Nadana was familiar with nearly each of these individuals, at least by name and mortal deed. She stood silently as he read down the list commemorating each of the fallen eredar. Some of which, the latter, she believed he had likewise known in life.

Theo listened. She said nothing, did not interrupt. She did not look away.

Going back to the Maw would be less painful than this.

Which, of course, was the point.

Pain cleanses the soul.

The venthyr held out from crying almost until the end, a heroic battle she still lost when tears pricked her eyes as he came to Ayuuli.

….She had been brave. And Theo cut her down ruthlessly, her and all of them, to pursue her vendetta against Nadana in her wounded rage. Whatever she thought her reasons had been, she was wrong. The crawling horror of her deeds threatened to take her there as it had in the Maw, and worse, there was no promising respite in the form of oblivion for her here.

She did not look away.

Nemalu composed himself and calmly folded the piece of parchment. “The common thread, as I’m sure you noticed, was that they were all flawed people in their waking lives. The results of their misguided actions were numerous and horrifying, as were my own.”

He spared a glance for Nadana before continuing. “But in this second life, they had been given a purpose. A chance to atone, beyond the concentrated rituals that Revendreth had to offer. In many cases, it would take many more thousands of years to come even close to true absolution, but the path towards it was there, and clear. Likewise, our purpose, the protection of the Shadowlands natural order, was a worthy goal of the highest nobility.”

The piece of parchment was slowly tucked away. “The tragedy is not that their souls were brought to peaceful oblivion. It’s that their story has reached an abrupt end before they could reach the repentance they sought.”

He took one more deep breath, before adding his final point. “And all so that you could send a more impactful message to our Prime Censer. I’d wager that wasn’t even a part of your lord’s instructions. The horrors you visited upon my people, were likely a result of your own cruel creativity.”

Nadana listened stoically nodding slightly as he spoke but added nothing nor interrupted his address. As he finished though she glanced away, his words drawing other thoughts to her mind. A frown crossed her face for a moment before she returned to the instance at hand.

“…Pain cleanses the soul,” Theo said hollowly. “Denathrius wanted her head. I wanted her back. Or revenge, for the pain of her leaving. It was all mixed together. But it doesn’t matter. It was still wrong.”

“You wield the mantra incorrectly for it’s intended use. And with many mishandled weapons you have only injured yourself.” Nadana responded quickly to the commentary of soul cleansing. She was however mute on the rest of the woman’s sentiments.

Nemalu cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and performed the obligatory male act of forcing it all down beneath the veil of a heavy grunt. He leaned his forearm against the bars again. “I have nothing else to add. I take no pleasure in berating a wounded animal. But before returning to my silent, empty outpost, I wanted to ensure their tales were heard.”

Another pause followed before he flicked another glance to Nadana. “If you’re as contrite as your reaction indicates, you must have something useful to share about facing the master.”

That seems to jar her, a little, back to herself. After a moment of hesitation, she picks up the sheets of paper, rather self conscious.

“They may not be able to read my writing. And the diagrams are poor. I’m not finished yet- only on the third floor,” she said, very quiet. Her good arm reaches out to hand them over for review.

The topmost sheet is a floor plan of Huntsman Altimor’s wing- with entrances, exits, stables, holding pens, secret passages, doorways, closets, guards, stable hands, and more all labeled in a shaky hand. The next sheet is pictures of the three beasts that he’s starved into service, though not as good as artistry as usual, with notes on weaknesses and how to take them down, as well as a picture of Altimor himself and notes on him.

It’s an assault and infiltration team’s wet dream. She has spared no detail. The other pages cover more of the castle, people of note they may meet and how best to kill them, areas to avoid, even snipers perches and potential ambush locations.

No wonder she has ink smeared all over her hand.

Nemalu retrieves the offered sheets and offers them to Nadana offer a few quick, cursory glances.

“We can’t rule out that this could be an elaborate ruse, and that all of this could be leading to a trap.” He grunted, though the apathy in his voice seemed to make it clear that he wasn’t overly suspicious that a bamboozle was in the works. “This whole process has been remarkably easy and swift, all things considered.”

He gave a deep sigh. “Though it’s not like our forces wouldn’t already be vastly outnumbered walking into the viper’s nest regardless.”

Nadana reached for the notes as Nemalu handed them over and skimmed them. Without flipping through them she glanced up. “No. These are correct.” She said and offered them back to Theo. “I recognize most of this and the information on Altimor is nearly spot on. She perhaps over exaggerates some of his negative points, but it won’t matter in the end.” She briefly turned her attention to the prisoner. “Give these notes to either the Justiciar or the Reliable Vindicator when you see them next. Is that understood?” She waited for an answer before returning her attention to Nemalu.

“I appreciate your company High Fervent. We can leave at your leisure.” She said in a courtly tone.

Theo remains silent -they’re not addressing her- and takes the moment to wipe her good eye, since attention is diverted. When Nadana does, she nods, woodenly.

“Yes, Lady Nadana.”

Nemalu slowly pushed off from the bars, returning to his full height again. His wings stretched slightly before relaxing again.

“Indeed. I have nothing else to say at this time. Her fate is not for me to decide.” He gave Nadana a nod, and Theo one last contemptuous (or perhaps pitying) glance, before turning to depart.

Nadana nodded once she had been addressed and returned her attention properly to Nemalu. “Then let us depart for now. I would have a few more words with you and perhaps we can speak of our own strategy.” She shifted using a hand and a bend of the wrist to offer him the lead. For one reason or another she did not address Theo again as they turned to leave but sent the Templar back to his guard duty once they had left

Author Cael
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