Interlude 03: Farewell

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There was a very obvious reason why Peace chose the Plains to build her home. It was the tranquility in the sight of tall grass swaying across gentle rolling hills to the cool afternoon breeze, in the scent of flowers permeating the air from the seemingly endless fields, in the way the sun bathed those same fields in a gentle, glowing warmth, unabated. It was something that couldn’t be experienced anywhere else. The forest shrouded itself in mystery, its true nature buried within the depths of the land itself. Its beauty, whispered from the shadows, seeped into the hearts of mortals, but was often imperceptible to their eyes. The plains, however, were open land, vulnerable to the touch of the elements. The fields basked in the golden rays of the Sun, glowed silver under the influence of Moon’s light, danced with the wind’s cold touch. Even amongst ruins, even in the wake of War’s destruction, the Plains still breathed life. And the forest. The forest whispered Death. There was beauty in that, as well, there was Peace in that, as well, but it wasn’t the kind of beauty most people understood. No. It took a special kind of soul to endure the weight of such a reality. It wasn’t meant for everyone.

An assassin’s footsteps, although usually light, felt inexplicably heavier crossing those sunbathed fields; uncharacteristically brutal as they crushed innocent blades of grass against the cold, hard ground. The silence, the tranquility, and the sheer beauty of her surroundings made a mockery of the inevitability of her actions. No amount of light was enough to obfuscate the sheer bleakness of some situations. No amount of truth, no level of justification, would make light of a friend forced to hunt down a friend. It was inevitable. Like the pull of gravity acting upon the sand falling from an hourglass; unavoidable.

She stopped in the middle of the field, breathing in the scent of lilacs and feeling the wind’s soft touch. The act brought her no solace, no offerings of peace, only momentary reprieve; a futile struggle against the pull of gravity. With another deep breath she pulled back the hood of her cloak, running her fingers through her long brown hair and setting it completely loose in the wind. The sun felt warmer on her skin now, and the breeze felt colder, causing a small shiver along the length of her spine. It was pleasant. Soothing. Sobering. She wasn’t just some girl with a heavy heart, she was the hand of Death. There was peace in that, as well.

The wind picked up as the Sun began to lower in the South. Heavy boots took their first steps across the borders of a small village and a cloaked figure drew the curious eyes of the children playing in the center square. The smallest of them; a little blond girl, smiled and waved before being ushered home by a watchful parent. The assassin smiled at the scene. Only a child’s innocence would smile and wave at Death when it stepped into their home. The adults were wiser, however, and slowly but surely, the whole of the village retreated into their homes. They knew why she was there and much like the assassin herself, they knew this was something beyond their control. Peace demanded acceptance after all. The inevitability of fate wasn’t something to be fought but embraced. If the assassin had always admired one thing about these people, they understood that sometimes the only possible course of action was to stay your hands and avert your eyes. And there was nothing wrong with that. Not everything needs to be a battle.

The heavy boots dragged to a halt. Dark blue eyes scanned the surface of a door. The faded green paint stood out from the frame, its intended bright splash of color offset by the passing of time as the original dark wood fought its way back to the surface. Splintered edges matched the scuff marks on the threshold and door frame, each of them a scar left behind by the comings and goings of occupants over the course of many years.

The house to which that door belonged was something small and simple. Irregular stones made up the walls, dark wood framed the door and windows, and straw covered the roof. Without even trying, the assassin could feel the signs of life beyond the faded green door. Light footsteps grazing stone and the sweet musical humming of a very familiar voice slowly added to the heavy burden of responsibility. She pressed her right palm against the door, a heavy breath pushing its way from her lungs, her fingers grazed the wood in a gentle caress as they curled into a fist. She knocked once, her left hand curling securely around the hilt of her dagger.

The door creaked and slowly parted until fully open. The only thing separating blade from flesh now was an empty threshold; an invisible line waiting to be crossed. The dark blue eyes met a much lighter pair of blues. One stood in the dim light of the moon, the other flickered under the light of a fireplace. Words passed behind them, between them, accusing betrayal, demanding answers, shouting curses . . . begging forgiveness. None were spoken because, in the end, words changed nothing. Two full spectrums of emotion were conveyed in one moment of heavy, pained silence—the dark blue eyes fell into a state of resignation, the light blue ones into one of peaceful acceptance. The woman who answered the door retreated a few steps into the house as a sign of welcome. Her heavy boots crossed the threshold and the door closed behind them, fingers tightened around the hilt of the dagger. There, flickering in the firelight, stood the smiling figure of a dear old friend, the stone-faced silhouette of a heavy-hearted girl, and the life-shattering burden of inevitability. The hand of fate. The sand in the bottom of the hourglass.

Her blade pierced skin. Sunk into soft flesh. Blood permeated the air with the unmistakable scent of death. Dark blue eyes shut as the dagger twisted, the assassin now heavy with not only the weight of her actions but the physical burden of a limp body. The physical burden of a fallen friend. She retracted the blade and let it fall to the ground. The sound of metal hitting stone echoed and bounced off the walls around them. She cradled the dying woman in her arms and gently lowered her to the ground. Ragged breaths resonated, growing ever weaker, casting the last shreds of life from her weary body. Light blue eyes pierced into the assassin’s dark gaze without a shred of resentment, only that same acceptance mixed with a shred of sympathy. It hurt, but there was Peace in that, as well.

Seconds passed slower than ever until one last breath faded into dead silence. The hand that once held the dagger now extended, shaking, to gently close a pair of dead blue eyes. The assassin retrieved her fallen dagger, sliding it carefully in its sheath, and leaned into her now deceased friend, briefly pressing her lips to the woman’s forehead. A wordless farewell.

The assassin rose from her knees and pulled her hood over her eyes once again, a bittersweet smile concealed under familiar shadows. It wasn’t what she wanted, but it was closure. And there was certainly some small amount Peace in that, as well.

Her left hand now reached for the door but froze with a tense grip on the handle. Every part of the assassin’s body held firmly in place by the most unexpected of sounds. The high-pitched wail of a child. Realization shook every last shred of resolve holding her steady, crushing it under the weight of a burden far heavier than Death . . .

Life.

[Wolves Camp | Otium 8th, 2517 | Middle of the night]

Lena’s eyes flung open. High pitched wails tugged incessantly at her consciousness. The foggy image of a wooden ceiling gradually solidified. Lena sat up with a sharp inhale and ran both hands over her eyes. “Sarah,” she whispered. It wasn’t the first time the baby cried in the middle of the night and while it normally didn’t bother her, this time the sound was causing an unpleasant feeling in the pit of her stomach. She groaned and sat up, glancing at the bed across the room. Dani was unfazed, lying on her stomach and hiding her head under her pillow to muffle the noise. Lena got up and out of bed, unsteadily reaching for the bedroom door, pulling it open. Tom was pacing the office in an attempt to soothe the screaming baby in his arms and Lena almost collided with him on her way past.

“Helena,” he called. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Outside. The noise is making my head hurt.”

“Don’t stray too far, please.”

“Mm…” Lena hummed agreement on her way out the cabin door. It wasn’t an excuse, pins and needles had begun assaulting her temples, but she didn’t want Tom to make a fuss or her mother to catch wind of it. They had their hands full already.

Lena huddled into herself under the night’s cool breeze. Chills shot up her legs through the soles of her bare feet as they collided with the stiff earth. But along with that chill was another; a different chill, like something whispering uncomfortably close to her ear. She walked, aimlessly, until the sound began to fade into the background. The knot in her throat remained, however, and she continued until she found herself by the edges of the lake. The air was even cooler near the water and rife with the scent of wet soil and fresh grass. Deep breaths pushed the restlessness from her body. The ringing in her ears faded to dull silence. The surface of the lake lay still before her, a dark mirror reflecting the glow of moonlight and a pair of glowing blue eyes.

“Lena?” Tom called from the path, exhaustion clear in his voice.

“I’m here,” Lena answered without turning around, gaze fixed on the pair of eyes staring back at her from the lake. Only when she felt a gentle touch on her shoulder did she finally look away.

“Is everything alright? I told you not to stray too far.”

“Uhm?” Lena looked up at Tom and blinked a few times until his face was in focus. “Yeah, I just… Was having a weird dream, is all.”

“Well, Sarah’s calmed down now, and you have training early tomorrow. You shouldn’t keep Matthison waiting. You know how he gets,” Tom said, guiding her away from the lake by the shoulders.

Lena nodded agreement. It had been just that; a dream, nothing more, but as she turned to walk away she glanced at the lake one last time. Maybe it was her sleep-ridden mind playing tricks, but she could’ve sworn she met a pair of familiar blue eyes, much lighter than her own.

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