Out-of-character notes: This is an RP post. It's from Galen's point of view, and is in the first-person. If you don't like RP, or don't like the Galen and Joylah characters, don't bother reading this post, it'll just bother you. This post is around PG-13. There's some rather explicit violence, involving people not monsters, and sex is referred to. Most events referred to in this post aren't public knowledge, with the obvious exceptions. (People know the towns have been invaded; know about Clainin's murder; etc.) This post is long. Those of you still with me, enjoy! -Galen's player ---------------- “From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire.” -R. Frost In the midst of a long, protracted conflict, for me, one day has always been very much like another. It's always been that way for me...Not sure why that is, not sure what it means. I lose track of time very easily. I can remember things hazily from yesterday, and clearly from months ago. It's all the same after awhile. Blood, fire, heat, screaming. It all runs together, like book, or a piece of parchment, left out in the rain, the printed words slowly being washed away, running together. This incident, took place in Skara Brae. Yes, Skara; because that's the only town with a Community Center. I'd been fighting a General of the Shadowlords' armies down by the docks. We'd had a long, pitched battle. I'd gotten away from the other defenders somehow, and stumbled across him after killing a few elementals. There were the sounds of battle from throughout the city. From what I could hear we were winning. Storybooks said I should be taunting my foe, trying to drive him into a rage, make him slip up more. But I've never been good at that...Talking just seemed like a good way to distract myself, not my foe. So we fought, for what seemed like hours, without speaking a word. Just the sounds of battle, generating from us, and from all around us. Our swords clashing, making sparks. The heat from the burning city, somehow reaching us, even though there weren't any burning buildings immediately around. It occurred to me that I'd never heard one of these things, seemingly human members of the Shadowlord armies, talk. No shouted orders to one another, no pleading one of us for mercy. They appeared to, technically, be human, yet they never seemed to speak. Strange that. Damn it, my mind was wandering again....I had to focus on this fight; it wasn't over yet. I was clearly winning, the General was starting to stagger. I'd wounded him several times; my own wounds were minor by comparison. He wasn't going to last long. He knew it, and I knew it. The fight in the rest of the town started to spill our way. I could hear it come closer and I could start to see it out of the corner of my eye. Clashes of swords, explosions of spells being cast, growls of pets, howls of pain, screams of terror and death. There were always more fires at first when we started winning, when the tide turned in our favor, like the sins brought in by the Shadowlords and their foul armies were being burned away, like it took the fires to sear off the corruption from our citizens. What then, of the sins that were already here before their arrival? A young girl, no more than 12, ran from the crowd of defenders and attackers. She was running towards me, towards my fight. Why? Why was she running this way, she could see how dangerous it was. Couldn't she? No she couldn't. She was blinded by fear....Not Cowardice, she hadn't been infected from what I could tell. She was just afraid. The General saw I was distracted by the girl, and took advantage...He pressed his attack, trhusting his sword low underneath my distracted defenses. His scimitar punctured my breastplate, and cut into my skin and the flesh of my stomach. I staggered backward. He pulled his scimitar from my stomach, and it made a sickening noise as it withdrew. Blood spurted from the wound. The girl was close by now. The General turned and ran toward the girl, and grabbed her. She shrieked. He turned her around, facing me, and held her tight against him, with his scimitar pressed to her throat. The girl barely came up to the General's chest. I stood perfectly still, trying to stem the flow of blood with my cloak. I'm very bad in hostage situations. My instincts were at war, at once telling me the girl had a better chance if a charged and if I held back. But I of course couldn't do both at the same time. The General was serious, I knew that. He'd kill this little girl, end her life before she'd even had her first romance, without batting an eye. The General said nothing. These things never talked, did I mention that already? Suddenly his sword flashed down. “No, stop!” I yelled, but it was too late. This man, this monster, this vile, inhuman monster had cut off the girl's arm. Just to show he was serious. Which of course I already knew. Or maybe, worse yet, it was just that he wanted to hurt her. His motive didn't matter to the girl. She screamed and cried, her noises somehow drowning out the ever-closer sounds of the battle. Looking back, I feel strangely naive. I know what evil people, and monsters, if there's a difference, are like. There's no reason I should have been surprised by this *******'s barbarism. Yet, somehow, I was. The General slowly started to back off, dragging his hostage with him, his sword pressed against her throat. The girl's severed arm quivered on the ground. She was crying, spurting blood from the stump where her arm used to be. I followed, matching the General step for step, keeping my distance. He hadn't thought this through. That was my advantage. If he killed the girl, I'd charge and finish him off. If he stayed there long enough, the fight in the other parts of the city would finish, and someone else would come to help. Someone that would stab him in the back, or someone's pet dragon would swoop in with deadly silence and bite his head off, before he had a chance to harm the girl. But, time was against me also. The girl was bleeding badly, and there was a limited time wherein the arm could be reattached. The girl faced death, or a lifetime with one arm, unless she was rescued quickly. And even that hope assumed her arm could be found and saved. It seemed like a long time we continued this way, him slowly retreating me matching him step for step but not getting any closer, but it couldn't have been more than a a few seconds. We both knew there wasn't much time before someone found us and turned the standoff in my favor. The General turned and ran, carrying the girl in front of him, awkwardly, her feet dragging on the ground, getting bloodied and bruised. I ran after him, I was closing the distance fast, when suddenly something thudded into me from the side. It was another from the evil army, a Corporal I think. He slammed into me hard, knocking me off my feet, onto the ground. He was a big, heavy man, I couldn't shake him off. His sword, an old-fashioned broadsword, was inches from my face, barely held off by my leafblade. Every second, more of my blood, and I could swear some of my guts, were spilling onto the streets of Skara Brae. He was stronger than I was. He couldn't beat me, even wounded, but time didn't favor me. The General was getting away with the girl, and I was bleeding out through the hole in my stomach. I saw another figure out of the corner of my eye, the flashing, neon orange of the Overseer Sundered Blade. The figure kicked the Corporal in the ribs, knocking him off of me. The figure jumped over me, his blade flashing down, the Corporal barely rolled out of the way. I was impressed by how well the Corporal responded, by how fast he was on his feet and swinging at the figure, whom I now recognized as Xenom, a young necromancer. He had been a lot of help during the invasions, and seemed to genuinely relish watching his foes die to his blade, especially the Crimson Dragons. The General was getting away. I pulled myself to my feet; it was a lot of effort. I had lost even more blood than I'd realized. I wasn't sure whether to help Xenom or chase down the General, but Xenom solved the issue for me. “Galen! I got this. Get the girl! Go, go!!!” He hadn't quite finished his phrase when I was off, after the General. He'd gotten pretty far ahead, but I saw that he'd dragged the girl into the Skara Brae Community Center. He didn't realize I saw. He also didn't seem to realize that there was a back entrance. I snuck in through it, attempting to muffle my footsteps. The back entrance goes into a backstage area, behind a curtain, for performers to change and ready themselves. I slowly advanced on the curtain. I could hear them on the other side, and see their silhouettes, through the curtain. The girl was sobbing. The General still spoke no words, but he was breathing heavy. They were on the stage area, he had her up against the wall. I heard, and saw in silhouette, him tear off her dress, and toss it to the ground. The *******, knowing he was dead, was going to make sure he took what was left of her innocence with him. He was going to force himself on a 12-year old girl. His last actions on this earth would be to tear off a little girl's arm and then to give her nightmares for the rest of her life. And that was assuming he left her alive. I strode up to the curtain and thrust my leafblade through it, into the General's head. I could hear his skull crack, his brain matter easily giving way to my blade. He gurgled in pain and surprise. I withdrew my blade, taking a lot of the fiend's brain, and some of his skull, with it. He stood there, paralyzed. His body was still making sense of the shock, figuring out how it should react. I solved the matter by kicking through the curtain, knocking him away from the girl. His armor rattled on the floor as he fell, his now-dead body crumpling in a heap. I quickly cut a hole in the curtain and went to the girl, nearly slipping on the fiend's brains. I tried to field dress her arm as best I could, patching it up and crudely applying salves I carred around with me. I was aware of her sobbing, of her humiliation, but I couldn't think about that. I focused on the arm, on stopping the bleeding. I should have kicked the General's weapon away from his hand, across the floor. Or cut both his hands off. Or stabbed him repeatedly through the heart. My enemies have a habit of coming to life right when I think they are done for. But I was lucky this time. He, it, was dead. I saw Xenom enter the Community center. “Galen...you ok?” He saw my stomach. “No, you're not. Is she?” “I'm fine,” I barked at him. The girl kept crying. “I brought it with me,” said Xenom. “Brought what?” My voice was curt, impatient. Xenom didn't seem to mind that much. “Her arm.” I glanced over and saw he was carrying her arm, carefully wrapped in a cloth; from the looks it was part of the Corporal's uniform. “I thought the healers could probably reattach it.” I smiled as I finished my field dressing. “Aye, they can....Good thinking....I'm sure she appreciates it.” I took the girl's tattered dress from the floor and draped it around her naked, shivering, sobbing form. “Get her to the healer's, and hurry....The Crimson will be up soon.” “You too, Galen...You're bleeding a lot...Stomach wounds are bad.” “I'm fine.” Xenom paused a moment, then picked up the girl in his arms and walked off. I stood there in the Community Center....The sounds of the dying battle in the city echoed through the building. I worked on my own wound now. I managed to stitch it up pretty well but Xenom was right. I should have had a real healer look at it. I'd lost a lot of blood. I should have, but I knew I wasn't going to. I heard the roar of the Crimson Dragon by the bank, and knew the fight wouldn't wait. I raised my sword and left the Center to meet it. I knew Xenom would be back in time. “But I have seen enough of hate to know that, for destruction, ice, is also great, and would suffice.” -R. Frost War and battle made me lose track of time. Did I mention that already? Take these attacks by the Shadowlords' armies. I honestly couldn't tell you when they started. After they appeared to end, I couldn't tell you how long they'd lasted. Not that it mattered though. I think the only one who ever thought the attacks had REALLY ended was, maybe, Casca. I wasn't there when he, our appointed “King Pro Tem,” supposedly ended the invasions by closing some portal, only to run like a coward when a Crimson Dragon had appeared despite the portal supposedly being closed. I knew it wasn't over. But, the reprieve, however temporary, was very nice and was welcome. People weren't dying in the streets, at least not for now. Businesses were slowly being rebuilt. The mood, though, was nervous, suspicious. I think most people knew better than to think it was over. Most people knew better than Casca. I dared not say so out loud, but there was always the possibility that Casca was something more than incompetent. Corrupt at best. Compromised, maybe. Or, a traitor from the start. That possibility rose every day, in my mind, but there was still no discernible, concrete proof. None whatsoever. The circumstances were damning. Sherry gone shortly after mouse traps were placed around where she'd appeared. Palace guards that he admitted were undead, “borrowed,” his own words, from Umbra. The circumstances of his appointment were cloudy at best. Either he'd appointed himself, or he'd been appointed by a newly-reconstituted Royal Council that he would have had considerable sway over. He was the sole survivor of the attack on the Royal Council, except for Sherry. He'd been “imprisoned,” but he was mysteriously allowed to keep his clothes. The suspected traitor, Avery, by contrast was in rags when he was found, and arrested, by Casca's men. The Followers of Armageddon, in their own notes admitted to having someone on the inside, but didn't say who. And now, Clainin was dead, after Casca had announced he'd personally secured his safety. How did the Shadowlords find out where Clainin was? And why would he be placed in a Faction City, in Felucca? And there was more. It was all damning, but as Joylah and I had discussed once, it wasn't enough I would bring to court back when I was King's Counsel. Poor Clainin....News of the attack on him by the Shadowlords Faction had reached me far too late to help. I visited the scene later, surveyed the damage. Much of the room in Trinsic where he'd been kept had been blown to bits, I'd heard mostly by Melissa's final, Blackrock-fueled spell. Thanks also to that spell, there was also no body to speak of. Just a few charred bones and some fire-blackened, splattered muscle tissue and blood on the walls. His skin had entirely melted. A few of the surviving guards were standing around, their eyes open wide, barely moving, seeming to not-quite-comprehend what was right before their eyes. Such had been the strength and suddenness of the assault. There was some term for it that old soldiers used. I forget what it was. No matter, really. I was in what you could call a cold, controlled rage. I'd been in that state a fair amount in my life. Gwendolyn was with me as I surveyed the scene. “Tell me, Gwen,” I said. “Can you think of a single death I've ever managed to prevent.” “My sister-in-law, for one.” Nine Lies. She owned the bathhouse in Buccaneer's Den. Why the Vesper Trading Company had taken her and imprisoned her in an icy cave to die was anyone's guess. If I ever knew why, I'd forgotten it. Gwendolyn named a few other deaths I'd prevented. This was of some comfort to me. Why I forgot this stuff so easily I really don't know. I forget what, exactly, she called it....But Gwen compared this matter to a con-game that often occurred on the streets of many of our cities. The gypsy variant used seashells, the one Gwen was familiar with used cups. Either way, the idea was to place a valuable object, a gem or a coin or something, under one of three cups or seashells. The con man then moved around the seashells. The customer, the mark, was supposed to follow the shells and identify which one the object was under, after it had changed position several times. “The hand is quicker than the eye,” the con man would often say. And indeed it was. The object was always, ALWAYS, in the con man's hand, deft fingers having removed it while the shells were being shuffled. The customer, the mark, would always be wrong, no matter how closely he'd followed the shells. This was because the cups weren't the important part of the game; the con man was. “He's been saying to us, 'look at the cups! Something valuable's here!'” said Gwen. “He” was Casca. We agreed on this. The problem, then, was where else to look. There were no easy answers. Hell, there weren't even any hard ones at this point. “Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” -W. Shakespeare Joylah would have reminded me, of course, of other lives I'd saved. She would have eased the pain. And, she often did. But, sometimes, it was just easier to not talk about things at home. On one level, there was no need...I had but to feel my earring, or listen closely for my wife's song to know that she was there with me, experiencing every step of the journey I took. I didn't really need to tell her what had happened that day, because on some level she knew everything. Sometimes it helped to talk, anyway. But, for some reason, during that invasion, it really didn't. It had all become a kind of terrible routine, a daily ritual of death and blood. It had somehow become not only something to be horrified by, but almost bored by, on some level. There would be days with nothing, then days straight of constant invasions. The progress that had been made on rebuilding by the survivors was erased so quickly. Britannians were a resilient people. We'd withstood a lot before. But, somehow, this was different. There was something about seeing your countrymen not just beaten, tortured, killed, violated, but also turned into shadows of their former selves, alternately possessed by Cowardice, Falsehood, and Deceit... This invasion wasn't the first time I'd had to kill a civilian. There'd been times when swords or arrows had pointed the wrong way, when human shields had to be killed because it was more important to get the target behind the shields. War is like that, and you often have to be as ruthless as your enemy. But this was different. I remembered one time in Minoc, a shopkeeper infected with Hatred got between me and a Crimson Dragon. I kicked him in the face, out of the way, shattering his nose and knocking out most of his front teeth in the process. It wasn't enough for him, in his infected, possessed, altered state. He came at me again, tried to stab me in the back. Later, when she'd found out I'd had to kill him, his wife cursed my name. I wasn't sure what else she'd wanted me to do...Let him kill me? Leave the Crimson Dragon unmolested, and thereby leave her husband infected forever? She didn't think about it, I suppose....It wasn't her job to, really. That was mine. It was her job to miss her husband. And that she did. How differently would Joylah react if it were me? Not very, I should imagine. As well she shouldn't. All that was bad enough. But what was really breaking us, I think, was the cruel monotony. Day after day. The enemy was as much wearing us down as anything. It was hard enough to raise the standard and face a difficult foe. It was quite another to face an unending, unyielding onslaught, day after day, an onslaught that seemed under control one minute, then raging the next. I remembered the journals of the cursed explorers of Khaldun....After awhile of fighting the undead of that foul pit, death lost its meaning to them. It was just part of their daily routines. Until, eventually, it was all there was, and they became what they are now. Hideous shadows of humanity. It was like that for us. The ranks of defenders dwindled, because that kind of terrible monotony became hopelessness very easily. How to find the right words to tell my wife what happened that day, even if it had helped to actually talk about it. By now it had all become so routine it'd almost be like telling her how good the garlic chicken, or how terrible the cinnamon coffee, was at the tavern in Nujel'M where I'd eaten lunch. Shadows....That image had become so common now; the reason wasn't hard to grasp. But the implications were still disturbing. Shadows...Penumbras. Places that were unclear, not-quite-seen. Where the truth of matters was hidden. So much of this affair had been like that, looking back on it...Since Inu the Crone first appeared, spouting what appeared to be fantasies...Until, one by one, they all came true...Or did they? They were so vague it was hard to assess. But they surely appeared to. Wasn't it strange that the latter prophecies were more explicit? Easier to verify? And even more true than the earlier ones? Or was it just coincidence? Penumbras....Shadows...Uncertainty. “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” -E.E. Cummings I don't know where it was that Joylah took me, the night of Clainin's murder. I don't even remember how we got there. Probably some kind of gate. Wherever it was, it appeared as a small room, warmly lit. Innumerable candles, but the light and warmth came from someplace else, unseen, as well. There were no shadows here. Nothing hidden, no uncertainty. Just her and me, and that warmth and light. Every time I saw Joylah naked she was more beautiful than the last time, but there was something about seeing her in this light. After that, I had doubted any other light could do her justice. The next night would prove me wrong of course, and I was glad for that, but I didn't know that yet. Even my own flaws, my scars, the dried blood on my skin that some days couldn't quite seem to be washed away, my skeletal frame, the way my muscles and skin sometimes hung from it uncomfortably, a thousand other flaws....Somehow in this light, I wasn't as conscious of them as I often was. She made love to me for hours, taking the lead. We should have been spent but we weren't. “Is there anything you don't know, melamin?” I asked her. She laughed. Music filled the room. “A thousand things, vernomin.” “I mean....When you do see something, when you get a clear look at it, are there ever shadows? Places, aspects, that you just can't see?” Her face grew dark as she considered my question, and her answer. I didn't like to darken her like that. “Alasse, I'm sorry...” “N'uma, melamin. Sinome, 'ere.....Truth.” “But I wasn't lying...My apology was real.” “I know love....But you also want to know the answer, do you not?” “Uma. But....” She placed a finger in front of my mouth. “N'uma, verno. Sinome, 'ere Truth.” I wasn't sure why she used the English, instead of Elvish, word for Truth....Truth, Love, and Courage in the sense they were used in the theology of the Virtues didn't exactly translate, but there had to be SOME similar word, didn't there? I needed to learn more Elvish. “Yes, love....There's much I can't see, no matter how hard I look. Certain hearts.” She looked pained to talk about this, I knew who she was talking about and I felt pain too, but of a different kind. Pained though she was, she continued on without hesitation. “Certain hearts, certain minds, are forever closed to me. Demonic things; also closed....The only visions I have of what goes on the Abyss come from books, and from you. Dead places...The Abyss, the Doom Gauntlet, the Ethereal Void, Felucca....These, also, I am blind to. Also, things more powerful than I...My gods, or the Time Lord....” “Can you see them?” The Shadowlords. She knew who I meant. “No....Blank spaces to me. I mean, I can feel what they stand for, what they embody. The Falsehood, Cowardice, Hatred. But those are everywhere now, now that they're loose in our world.” “Are there....Are there spaces in your life that you....that you don't know, that you can't explain.... Where you don't really know what happened.” She thought about this for a long time, softly playing with a scar on my chest and staring at a wall. Though I suspected strongly that those weren't actually walls at all. “The best I can tell you love....is that there are some parts of my life that, while I may not know everything? I know all I care to. Anything left, anything I don't know about, I'll just....leave alone.” “Are there things about me you don't know?” She smiled at me, played with my hair. “Not really. Though if you wished it so, I'd gladly overlook anything you wanted....” I chuckled. “What's that supposed to mean, love?” She laid down on the floor. It was carpeted, padded. Very comfortable to lie down on. She kissed my hand, held it to her cheek. “It means what you think it means. I told you long ago that fidelity wasn't expected...” “Love...where's this coming from...” “And you've given me so much, I no longer mind the thought of you expecting it of me even if I don't receive it in return. I am yours my love.” “Joy, I wouldn't....” “I know. You don't want to be a hypocrite. You can't stand the thought of my being with someone else, and you wouldn't stray no matter what, and even if you did you wouldn't demand from me what you didn't demand from yourself. I just wanted you to know...I can't stand the thought of my being with anyone else either. You can do what you want....Just love me, return home to me, keep me as your wife, don't embarrass me if you can help it....” “Joy...” “Don't reject this Galen. I'm not pushing you on other women. But....I have to be bare for you. No secrets, no shadows. I can't explain it, I just do. That includes being whatever you want, no matter how that changes. If you want to remain faithful, I would welcome and adore that...But don't reject this, please my lord....I want the choice to be yours; not that of any vow you made to me.” I bent down and kissed her mouth. “I accept your gift, my love. And I choose to remain faithful.” She returned my kiss. “Anything you want my love...” “Joy....Where'd this come from....” “I just wanted you to know. And here, there should be no shadows.” “You were worried I'd....” “No,” she interrupted. “I knew you hadn't. I knew you wouldn't. But I'd been holding back in telling you you could.” My hands were on her, playing with her body softly. She purred. “But....this line of conversation wasn't what you had in mind.” I shook my head, stared down at my wife. “No, no it's not...Are there things you don't know that you wish you did?” “Many things.” “Like what?” Her eyes twinkled. “Like what you were thinking that night you refused me, all those years ago.” “You know I'm not sure I remember what I was thinking....” “Mostly, though....Mostly I guess you're right. I am content with how things have turned out. Little reason to think about the past, to spend energy and time trying to sort things out, to poke around in shadows. I know you're different, mela. I know you think about such things and it doesn't mean you're unhappy or not content.” She kissed my hands again. I blushed sometimes when I saw how girlish she was with me on some occasions. I suppose I'd never get entirely used to it. “So much about what's going on right now is in shadows....Right now we don't even know for sure what side the King is on.” “You know more than you realize, love.” “How do you mean?” “Well....tell me the whole story. Tell me the outline of what's been happening. Not how events appeared at the time. That's the key. You have to look at what's happened not with your eyes then, but with your eyes now. Hindsight has less shadows. Don't worry about what you didn't know then...Just...Just stare at it, at all of it, from the beginning. Stare at it, and tell me what you see.” I loved many things about Joylah. One of them was that, after talking to her, I almost always knew more about the topic than when I started. I thought for a long time. Then started to relate everything I knew. Then, the shadows having receded in Joylah's light, she wrapped herself around me again.