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  1. #21
    Mortal Sins, Part Five: Anakita Snakecharm




    Halloween, 1079 A.E.


    The fight was swift and furious. Arcane hexes and curses flew from the Court, and undead blades slashed. From the other side, a forest of spirits sprang up around Chava, and Anakita picked off targets with arrows. The lich still looked confused about what had happened, but had apparently decided to trust the Ranger and the Ritualist for now, and she challenged the Court's magic with her own similar skills.

    Soon Anakita faced the Countess of Hakewood directly. She dodged several slashes of the deadly knife, then scrambled onto a rock that gave her the extra height she needed to reach a wrought-iron candelabrum. Quickly she ignited an arrow and sent it at the Countess - who didn't bleed, being undead, but apparently could burn. The Ranger caught a glimpse of Chava crushing the noblewoman's pumpkin skull with a rock. Then Anakita switched the shortbow for her flatbow, and took the next shot at range, repeating the process to send a fiery arrow into King Thorn's chest, even as his sword slashed downward at Chava. The king staggered backward and caught fire. The Court scattered, most of them retreating into the shadows.

    Anakita hopped down from the rock, and cautiously approached King Thorn. He was motionless, lifeless. Dead, truly dead, as he should have been long ago. The Ranger turned her back on him, adjusted the purple skirt, and then started to walk toward her friends.

    She heard a peal of insane laughter... then felt the point of a sword between her shoulder blades, pressing through layers of silk and the decorative corset, deep enough to draw blood. Anakita whirled around to face King Thorn - very much alive again.

    "What the...?" she murmured. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Countess of Hakewood rise too, her shattered head re-forming effortlessly, joining in the creepy mirth of her liege.

    Anakita realized then why she was destined to lose this fight. Not because of strength, or skill, or tactics. But because when your opponent literally couldn't die and you could, your attacks were useless - any victory was nothing more than a temporary reprieve - and the outcome was inevitable. She was no longer confident she could save the lich woman. She was no longer even certain she and Chava would survive this themselves.

    The Countess grabbed the lich, and dug the blade into the flesh of her throat. The lich didn't make any sound, but she squirmed in discomfort. "Drop your weapons," the Countess said coldly.

    The Ranger's hands released her bow without protest, and she heard Chava's staff make a muffled thump against the frosted turf. What was the point of fighting it? Their weapons were pretty much useless anyway. If they were going to win this, it was going to have to be another way.

    King Thorn was still laughing, seeming to regard the little mutiny attempt as nothing more than the evening entertainment, and being set on fire himself as the grand finale. He was probably right, Anakita thought. They'd made no more progress than if they were fighting a stage combat with dull wooden weapons. What did the Mad King have to lose?

    The King began to applaud slowly, a dull, muffled sound. "Well done, mortals! Well done! You have provided me with more entertainment tonight than any Halloween in years. You have pleased me. Consider yourselves fortunate to have earned my favour. As such, I will graciously grant you the right to choose your reward, Anakita Snakecharm, since you are the leader of this little escapade."

    "Our reward being how we want to die?" Anakita asked, already tired of his verbal flourishes and hoping that if they were going to fight again, they could just get down to business.

    "Not at all, foolish little mortal. Why would I wish for your deaths? No, I expect you will amuse me for many Halloweens to come."

    Somehow Anakita didn't think, based on his tone, the Mad King was taking a 'no harm, no foul' attitude. She waited for the other boot to fall... and she didn't have long to wait.

    King Thorn gestured to the captive lich, and the Countess grinned and tightened her hold. The knife point sank deeper, and a bead of crimson blood rose at its tip. "This one does not amuse me so much," the Mad King said jovially. "She is a sullen and unappreciative member of my Court, who ignores my generosity and bounty. She would be no great loss to me. Perhaps you feel differently?"

    "What's my other option?" Anakita asked bluntly. She was fairly sure she was going to have to choose between the lich and Chava - which she couldn't do, meaning they would all die trying to fight - but she figured she might as well find out for certain.

    The King's grin broadened. "You may accept a curse. A permanent one, upon you forever. A constant reminder of my great kindness in allowing you to live after your pathetic act of rebellion. What is your choice?"

    "I'll take the curse."

    King Thorn laughed again. "Without even asking what it is? I could cause your skin to rot from your face, or your limbs to fall from your body. I could transform you into a statue, aware but unable to move or speak. I could turn you into a dog. I could turn you into an ettin..."

    "Just curse me," Anakita said wearily. "Whatever it is. And get it over with."

    She was resigned to the fact that a minute from now she was probably going to be an ettin. The Ranger might play the tough, hard, indifferent, battle-scarred soldier, but she had a heart, even if she didn't often express it in words. There was no choice. She couldn't win this fight, and she couldn't ask for the lich to be killed. There was one option. The curse. Since it was going to happen either way, she didn't want to stand and listen to him chat about it.

    "I hoped so. How I enjoy this! Much more exciting than simple death, is it not?"

    "I suppose," Anakita replied. She could feel Chava's pity, and she didn't meet the Ritualist's eyes, unable to accept it. She just needed to get this over with, ettin or not.

    "Anakita Snakecharm, I pronounce this curse upon you. The immortality of my Court is now conveyed upon your family. Your line will not die until all of the Elder Dragons are dead."

    The Ranger couldn't help showing her surprise. So her family line was just supposed to last until the dragons were defeated? That didn't seem like much of a curse. What, was she supposed to hope her descendants would die out instead?

    Well, that's not that bad... Anakita told herself. Perhaps the Mad King really was so entertained by her attempt at revolt that he had decided not to do her any harm after all?
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 07-02-2012 at 01:07 AM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #22
    Mortal Sins, Part Six: Anakita Snakecharm




    A few hours past midnight, All Hallows Day, 1079 A.E.


    They were silent for awhile. Finally, the lich woman said, "I'm sorry."

    "For what?" Anakita asked. "We got off easy. Nothing bad happened."

    "I suppose not, but... immortality is overrated. You may not enjoy it as much as you expect to."

    Anakita almost fell over. "Immortality? What? I'm not..."

    The words coursed through her brain again. The immortality of my Court is now conveyed upon your family. Your line will not die until all of the Elder Dragons are dead. Her breath came in sharp gasps, hyperventilating, and although she managed not to collapse completely, she sank to her knees on the frozen ground, doubled over and trying to get the air to move normally through her lungs. The immortality of my Court is now conveyed upon your family...

    Anakita had always expected that she would live a normal time and then die of old age, or else she would be cut down in battle and the Envoys would come for her soul before magic could get her heart beating again. Those were the only options. She worried about what would happen after she died, and wished she could leave a forever peaceful world - but she had always assumed, on some level, that she would have no choice but to leave it as someone else's responsibility. That she would eventually be able to lay her burdens down. Now it seemed she would have to carry those burdens for a long time... maybe forever, if the dragons were as powerful as legend claimed.

    Another thought crossed her anguished mind. "He said my family. Not just me. How many people are going to have to deal with this? Just my blood kin? My parents and my twin brother are dead. I'm not sure if Miles would still count after what Shiro's magic did. What about my husband?"

    The lich shrugged, and said honestly. "I don't know. I think it's important who you consider family. I'm sure your husband would be included, and your children. Blood or not. Probably a replacement sibling, since yours is dead. Maybe more people down the road. Anyone who marries or is adopted or born into your family probably inherits the curse too."

    "Damn," Anakita said quietly. That was a lot of people. When she made her choice, it hadn't occurred to her that the curse might affect anyone but herself. The weight of this new revelation pressed down on her, and she didn't know what to do about it. Within the space of moments, her entire view of the world had to change.

    "So... I'm sorry," the lich said again. "I know you must regret it now."

    Anakita looked up at her, her expression a little dazed. Her eyes took in the hooves, the wings. The pale flesh, dotted with cuts oozing too-crimson blood from where the Countess of Hakewood had gotten too enthusiastic with the tip of her knife, and bruised from the Mad King and his followers' rather violent sense of humour. Yellow eyes beneath a shadowing hood. Nothing human. But no longer condemned to the shadows.

    "No, I don't regret it," Anakita said. "Stuff happens. We don't throw away one of our own. Stefan knows that. Ryder knows that. And we're going to raise our kids to know it, too. They'll understand. This is just how it had to be. By the way... what's your name?"

    The lich looked surprised. No one had asked that in hundreds of years, and she had forgotten why it was important. "Allirea," she said quietly.

    The newly-minted immortal smiled. "That's pretty," she said. "Well, Allirea and Chava, what say we get something to eat, to celebrate surviving another Halloween?"

    With many more Halloweens - and many more other days - to come. At least until the Elder Dragons were defeated.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 11-04-2011 at 05:05 PM.

  3. #23
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Northern Heritage – Part Five

    At least something had finally gone right. Gunnar and his party had returned before the blizzard – which meant that her father was busy and wasn’t currently available to notice her return or punish her absence. The news made her sink into a lower level of despondency. After the meeting, they would probably be going home.

    The girl sat on the step in front of the great hall, chin in her hands, all joy gone. The great tents, the Norn themselves, everything she had dreamed of for so long, all seemed to have turned to dust. What had she been expecting, really? That she would be so much the same as them that they’d let her stay? Yes. Yes, that had been the desire of her heart – still was, despite how things were turning out. But it seemed that the only chance of her wish coming true was melting away faster than the snow on her cheeks.

    “They do not belong here. The sooner they are gone, the better.”
    “I haven’t really noticed them…they aren’t so obtrusive.”
    “Little better than prey. They eat, drink and sleep. They know not of the hunt, nor do they respect the spirits.”
    “You are too harsh. Perhaps they are waiting to be invited on the hunt.”
    “They are not Norn! They do not belong!”

    The discussion suddenly hushed as the group passed in front of Constance. She already knew it was the Norn youths she had tried to become friends with – and that it was the blonde girl who was making the worst comments. The child raised her head, trying to look less upset than she felt. Her antagonist’s cheeks were flushed with anger and exertion – clearly she had been speaking at some length on the topic. A quick glance among the other faces revealed a wide range of opinion. Some didn’t seem to care either way, others were for the shunning of the outsiders, while a few yet were willing to give the humans a chance.

    A wicked sneer crossed the Norn girl’s face as she met Constance’s eyes for a moment – as though she saw that small spark of hope and was compelled to crush it as well.

    “I had been hopeful when I heard that their leader was a Bard of Flame. But, it seems ale swallowed up all his stories. They would have been boring anyway. Insignificant dreams of insects.”

    She and a portion of her entourage laughed, making move to carry on. A small, sharp voice stopped them in their tracks. Constance had drawn herself up to her full seven-year old human height and stood at the foot of the step, facing the group. Her tiny finger pointed at her great foe even as her face scowled out her fury.

    “That is not true! My father is a great man and a great bard. He is simply more than those things. Here, he needs to be a merchantman and ambassador to mankind. It is you who is too stupid to see how things truly are.”

    Such strange words for a child to say, for they were from her father’s mouth, yet she spoke them with fierce determination. The Norn girl glared back and pushed her way to the rear of the crowd to tower over Constance. Looking down her nose, she spoke in a dangerously low voice.

    “Are you calling me a fool, bug?”
    “Yes.”

    The child’s reply was simple and serious, which earned her some minor favours. Still, no one could deny that the Norn’s description was somewhat accurate. Constance barely came to the other girl’s knees. What confidence was shored up in that small brain of hers? The Norn now bent her head closer to her young rival, speaking in an even more hushed tone, willing her to crumble under the hardness of her stare.

    “Is that a challenge?”

    It occurred then to Constance that this was the very feat she had been looking for. Someone small doing something big. Hermand, for all his boasting, had unintentionally laid a portion of his burdens on her young shoulders. She had to impress, not just for her own sake, but now for the sake of humankind. If she was weak, the Norn would assume they were all weak – mere insects. Constance knew she could not allow that to happen.

    “Yes.”

    To her credit, her voice did not quiver with fear, nor boom with over-confidence – but was spoken in the same quiet manner as before. The smirk returned to the Norn’s face and she straightened to her full height once more. When she spoke, Constance could have sworn she saw the girl’s teeth grow into fangs.

    “Then ready yourself and meet me in the training ring before Raven takes to the sky.”

    Nightfall was not an hour away. Already torches were being lit and the smell of suppers being cooked filled the air. Constance skittered between the tents alone, avoiding members of her father’s party. What she hadn’t counted on was a Norn interest in her movements. A large hand across her chest stopped her forward movement completely, pushing the air from her lungs. Before she could even breathe, Gysir was kneeling before her, shaking her shoulders.

    “You crazy girl! Do you realize what you’ve done? A challenge among Norn is a fight to the death! Feoda will not hesitate to kill you for your slights!” His tone turned less desperate and more convincing. “No one will blame you for not fighting. You are not Norn. You are not held to our laws.”

    Constance ducked out of his grasp and shook her head violently. “That is why I must fight. I accepted the challenge not only for my honour, but for that of my people. I may not be Norn, but this is where the Norn live. How could I face another Norn knowing that I disregarded your traditions? I shall carry through with the challenge and you cannot stop me.”

    Her words were accurate, for as she spoke them, Gysir made a move to capture her. No doubt, his intentions were good enough. He had warned her fairly that she could die in this endeavour – he likely only wanted to keep her safe. Still, despite this noble purpose, what she had said struck a chord with him. It was what stayed him when she ran across the yard to the training circle, though he could have easily caught her. In the end, Gysir could not deny her reasoning. It was Norn.

    Light notes of laughter greeted the young human’s ears as she approached the ring. Her foe was clearly surprised that she had come at all – and amused at what she had brought to do battle with. Constance had not any armour, nor an arsenal. All she had brought was a knife. Feoda’s face broke into a wolfish grin.

    “Only a human would bring a knife to a Norn battle. Come, let us cross blades…gnat.”

    Constance remained silent – until she stepped into the ring to indicate she was ready. Then, she let out a battle cry and ran straight towards her opponent. The Norn roared back in a mocking manner, laughing at how the girl came at her without any sort of flare or disguise. She brought her axe down, willing to use the flat to simply knock the wee thing unconscious. If it killed her, then the species was weaker than she thought.

    Much was her surprise when her axe hit the sand and she felt the bite of a knife blade digging deep in her wrist. Instantly, all humour was gone. The indignity of the child drawing first blood forfeited all good intentions to leave her alive at the end of the match. She was old enough to make the challenge. Old enough to hunt. Old enough to die.

    The Norn swung around with a yell, keeping her axe low in hopes of catching the child from the side. She didn’t find Constance there, and shuffled her feet in an attempt to locate her. The knife stabbed her right ankle, bringing a curse to her lips as she leapt upward and away from the source. Instead of leaving the youngling behind, she found Constance running between her boots, deftly slashing at the laces as she ran. Feoda’s next swing was high over the girl’s back as she slid to a halt to crouch like a cat on the earth.

    They eyed each other for a moment. Feoda was seething with rage, while tiny Constance hadn’t yet broken a sweat. The smile on the girl’s face was enough to bring about a quick series of attacks from the Norn. One, two, three. Feoda swung her axe before her as she moved forward, keeping the youth from running between her feet again. The only thing the human could do was back away, keeping an eye on the giant blade before her, waiting for an opening.

    Constance couldn’t back away fast enough to stay out of reach of her enemy for long, but she wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of seeing her run away. So, even as the breeze of the passing axe moved her hair, she stood her ground. Literally. The Norn’s next step took her beyond the girl without so much as touching her. Constance jabbed Feoda behind her left knee to let her know she’d made a mistake.

    This time, the small human misjudged the speed and agility of the Norn. Her foe turned quickly, passing her blade before her even before she’d regained her balance. Constance was still facing Feoda when the other girl’s axe sliced through the air before her. The girl had the presence of mind to rock back on her heels, saving her skull from being split in two, but not her knife. The meagre weapon was sent flying from her hand, taking a bit of knuckle skin with it.

    The axe had again missed its mark, and therefore flung itself wildy to the side, causing its wielder to follow suit. If her boots had not flopped open and her ankle had still been whole, Feoda likely would have stayed upright. As it was, she appeared to throw herself violently onto the ground as though some hidden force had shoved her face into the dirt. Constance stood stock still as the dust billowed up around her, disbelieving her eyes. But only for a moment. So as not to lose the temporarily higher ground, the girl lept onto her opponent’s back and proceeded to put a choke hold around the Norn’s neck.

    An instant later, Constance realised this had been a poor choice. In her eagerness, she had made a misstep. The angry Norn below her surged to her feet, her hand closing about the girl’s arm. With a single motion, she broke Constance’s hold and flung the girl to the ground before her. The human rolled to a standing position, turned to face her opponent, and was met with a solid fist. Feoda let out an enraged bellow as she put all her strength into a single right hook. Constance flew out of the ring like a bird, ending her flight by hitting the stone wall head first.
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  4. #24
    Restoration, Part One: Anakita Snakecharm

    "There's no time to lose, I heard her say
    Catch your dreams before they slip away
    Dying all the time
    Lose your dreams and you'll
    Lose your mind.
    Aint life unkind?" - The Rolling Stones, "Ruby Tuesday"





    Shaemoor, Queensdale, 1325 A.E.


    For once, Anakita had decided to be obedient. It figured, though, that on such a rare occasion, she wasn't able to follow the instruction. A Seraph had ordered the civilians of the village of Shaemoor to gather at the inn while soldiers fought the centaur invasion descending upon them. It had been a long time since Anakita had thought of herself as a civilian; looking back on it, her last day of purely civilian life had been the morning of the Searing. For all practical purposes, though, Anakita was a noncombatant for the moment. She was weak as a dandelion stem, barely able to draw her bow.

    That was why she was in Shaemoor in the first place. Rest, restoration - rehabilitation. The priests and priestesses who were tasked with repairing her had been shocked by her condition when she was brought in, horrified by the dark magic that had sucked her dry. Anakita just smiled whenever they brought it up. What she had bought with a portion of her own life was worth the price.

    She was feeling a little better now, but she wasn't going to kid herself that she was in proper fighting form. Even Azh seemed to have been affected through their bond as companions, although the dutiful cat stayed at Anakita's heels as always. Anakita would never take back what she had done, the price she had paid for the life she had needed to save, but she felt a little embarrassed as she hurried off with the intention of hiding in the inn where the others had gone.

    Anakita couldn't find the inn. She ran around for awhile, knocking on the doors of random buildings and getting no answer, then finally she gave up on the whole thing.

    If only she had a bow. Anakita was in Shaemoor for rehabilitation, though, not to fight, so no one had given her a weapon. She yanked an axe out of a nearby woodpile. It was better than nothing.

    The first few steps, she staggered almost drunkenly, with even the minor weight of the axe unbalancing her. Then she found her bearings, and started using the axe with a finesse she wouldn't have expected. It had been obvious to her from the start that she couldn't hack with the weapon as her old friend Constance had, so she threw it instead, attacking at range and then retreating, attacking and retreating, taking more damage herself than she was used to but giving lethal damage back.

    Finally, the call came to retake the garrison. That sounded a lot more fun than huddling in the inn, so Anakita took off in the direction of the Seraph patrol and threw herself back into battle. She felt strong again, a strange elation of combat.

    Then, in an instant, an exploding earth elemental put her straight back in the hospital. Anakita sighed, thinking that all of her progress on healing and strengthening was gone, then the world went black.


    ***


    Divinity's Reach


    Anakita put off the meeting with Lord Faren as long as possible, although he'd asked her to contact him as soon as she was back in the city. Faren was her friend, theoretically, but he didn't really know her. He always listened through her rather than to her when she spoke. If he'd understood her better, he would have known that a party would be the last thing she wanted upon her return from Shaemoor. He would have known how excruciating it would be to try to make smalltalk with a bevy of nobles, to receive excessive congratulations about a minor victory against the centaurs - it seemed so patronizing, after all she'd been through in the past. All the real battles she'd fought.

    The bandits who attacked the party seemed like almost a relief from the excruciating chitchat, especially since she had her bow back.

    Finally, it was all over - party suffered through and bandits banished - and she could slink back to the house.

    There was a shadow silhouetted against the curtain. The silent man standing by the window turned to look at her. His face and hands were scaled over with old burn scars, the flesh melted and twisted. He was no longer able to speak, but he made a strange sound deep in his throat, a harsh clacking and grating.

    "Yeah, you just go on laughing," Anakita growled in response. "Next time I'll make you go to the fancy party, and see how you like it."

    He made the grating sound again, a sound that by now she could recognize as his laughter. The single breath he had taken in the moment the Foefire consumed him had drawn the unholy flame deep into his throat and lungs, searing his vocal cords forever.

    Anakita rolled her eyes, but they both knew her irritation was entirely put on. He was with her. Her Stefan was here with her, for her to roll her eyes at. That mere thought made joy surge up in her chest, and brought a smile to her lips.

    Stefan was with her. That was what the sacrifice of her strength and health had paid for. Anakita might be physically weak these days, but she felt balanced again. She felt safe. Without him, she had been a ship drifting aimlessly on a stormy sea. Now she was anchored again.

    For more than two centuries, she'd been adrift, but no longer. No longer a lost soul. Physical strength would return slowly. Now that she was anchored - and only then - she could be a hero again.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-07-2012 at 10:47 PM.

  5. #25
    Restoration, Part Two: Anakita Snakecharm and Stefan Baruch

    "You were long gone
    So far away from here.
    All I can say at the end of the day
    Is goodbye to another year.
    Time is moving slow.
    Where'd you go?
    Rain turns into snow.
    Where'd you go?" -Great Big Sea, "Long Life"





    Beetletun, Kryta, 1090 A.E. (235 Years Earlier)


    Just looking at the scroll - travelworn parchment with a hastily applied, dripping royal seal - Anakita knew things were going to take a turn for the worse. Thinking back in the years to come, she would remember that moment, and wish she'd thrown the letter into the fireplace unread.

    She didn't, though. She just asked, "What's that?"

    Stefan opened it, read it, and said, "The Charr legions are threatening most of Ascalon. They're even pressing against the walls of Ascalon City itself. King Adelbern has called us back to make a stand against them. We've been assigned to Grendich Courthouse."

    "King Adelbern," Anakita muttered, making the name sound like a curse. "He's an old fool, trying to be the king of a pile of ruins. He should have followed Prince Rurik across the mountains like we did, and brought all the citizens with him."

    "I know," Stefan replied.

    "But you're thinking of going anyway?"

    He nodded. "Not for the old fool. For Ascalon."

    Anakita wished she didn't understand that, but she did. Ascalon had been their first home, the land of their birth, cruelly ripped away in a rain of flame. Kryta was their home now, but Ascalon still mattered. Ascalon was like a mother - a cruel, exacting mother, but no matter how much grief she caused you, she was still your own. The Ranger felt herself nodding, even as she wanted to yell at him to stay.

    She asked softly, "He summoned both of us? But obviously there will be no 'we' this time."

    Her hand went to her belly, round with his child. Tiny feet kicked against her touch. Anakita was in no state to go to the endless battleground that was Ascalon.

    She'd been pregnant with Miles when she fought in the War in Kryta. That was different, though. For one thing, she hadn't even been showing yet; the baby that would become Miles had been no larger than a bean, well protected by his mother's body. Also, during that war their present home had been directly threatened, and Anakita had decided that her unborn child would be better served by his mother risking them both on the battlefield than by a Kryta ruled by White Mantle tyranny. Even so, she'd been reluctant and torn about it, and had worried for her baby's safety even as she gave her all to putting Queen Salma on the throne. Anakita had been glad that the next child she bore, Craig, had been conceived, gestated, and delivered during a time of relative peace.

    To her own surprise, Anakita had enjoyed being pregnant when she didn't have dark magic to contend with in the process. It had felt more natural than she had expected, her body fulfilling one of the roles it was designed for. The pregnancy and birth to bring Craig into the world had been easy, a happy time for the whole family. This new child - their seventh child, the third pregnancy for Anakita - had been a surprise, but a welcome one.

    Now, though, there was no way that the Ranger could follow her husband to Ascalon. Her unborn child tied her to their new home in Kryta, even as their first home called him away in its time of need.

    Stefan told her, "I want to be back here for the birth. Send me a message through the Asura gate when the time comes, and I'll get back right away. I promise."

    "You'd better," she replied. "I'm not doing this without you."


    ***


    She never sent the message.

    Anakita was still pregnant when a message came from Ascalon, instead. She listened without comprehending. Foefire. Ghosts. They were all ghosts now. Neither living nor fully dead.

    It would have been easier to bear, in a way, if Stefan was just gone. If he was at peace in The Mists. She could have mourned him, and tried to move on with her life. He wouldn't be able to rest in peace, though, even if the ghosts were freed... because Anakita had brought down the lich curse upon them, the curse that would give them no eternal rest while the dragons still lived. Because of her love, he was damned to either this suffering or to total oblivion.

    She was broken, snapped inside, shattered at the core. Stefan was the rock that had held her. Anakita wasn't just one person alone any more, she was half of two. When had that happened? It was too late to undo. Anakita had told herself when she was young that she wouldn't allow herself to become a lovesick fool over a man, but this wasn't foolishness. It was a soul mate wretched from her in a senseless act of violence committed over a barren patch of dead ground.

    Stefan didn't make her into someone different. He made Anakita more herself than she'd ever been before she met him.

    Her scream sounded more like a wounded animal than a human being.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-04-2012 at 11:04 AM.

  6. #26
    Restoration, Part Three: Anakita Snakecharm

    "Without you, the hand gropes, the ear hears, the pulse beats.
    Without you, the eyes gaze, the legs walk, the lungs breathe.
    The mind churns. The heart yearns. The tears dry.
    Without you, life goes on.
    But I'm gone.
    Cause I die, without you." - Rent, "Without You"





    Beetletun, Kryta, 1090 A.E. (The Year of the Foefire)


    Two weeks after the birth, the midwife knocked on her door again. As far as Anakita could tell, she'd been doing as well as could be expected, after her husband was seared in a burst of evil magic flame and trapped in a living hell as a ghost. She'd delivered the baby with the support of her friends, wishing for Stefan but making it through. She was caring for her children. The new baby was getting nursed on a regular basis, had clean diapers, was held most of the time. What more could be expected?

    One more thing, it seemed.

    "You haven't named the baby," the midwife scolded.

    "I haven't decided on a name," Anakita replied, sounding distant. This didn't seem like a pressing concern. The baby wasn't old enough yet to care if he had a name or not.

    The midwife frowned at her, as if she was a recalcitrant child. "What's to decide? You should name him Stefan, after your husband."

    "No!" Anakita told her firmly, raising her voice for the first time since she'd received the news. She didn't elaborate, just crossed her arms and glared.

    "It's the expected thing," the midwife persisted. "People have started to talk. Why wouldn't you want to honour your husband's memory by naming the child after him now that he's gone? People are starting to wonder how much you could really have cared about him, if his baby doesn't even..."

    "It's because he isn't gone!" Anakita growled. "Because there's only room for one Stefan in my life."

    "You're a widow, Anakita," the midwife insisted. "You need to accept that. Grieve your losses, then find yourself a new husband. Your children need a father, not just a ghost."

    Anakita felt she'd been remarkably restrained to do no more than shove the woman out the door and slam it behind her. She'd been tempted to reach for her bow and quiver.

    In the hours that followed, though, Anakita realized the midwife did have a point, as clumsy as the delivery of it had been. Not naming the baby was some sort of denial - a subconscious imagining that she and Stefan would do it together someday. That wasn't possible, though. Anakita hadn't given up on getting Stefan back, not in the least... but it wasn't likely to happen before the child grew old enough to realize he was nameless.

    Nor was it possible for her to name the baby Stefan Junior, though. She couldn't say that name day after day without tasting the bitterness of loss. She couldn't use that name again without feeling like she was giving up on the original Stefan being with them again. There had to be some middle ground, some way to honour Stefan without turning him into just a memory. Something to acknowledge that he was coming back someday, and he couldn't be replaced.

    Then she remembered that Stefan had a middle name. Anakita had never seriously considered giving it to one of her children, because she didn't particularly like it just as a name - she only liked that it was his. Now, suddenly, anything that had belonged to Stefan was sweet as honey, was ointment on her wound. That name would suffice.

    "Your name is Kenden Baruch," Anakita told her newborn son. "I promise you that someday you'll meet your father."
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-08-2012 at 07:39 PM.

  7. #27
    Restoration, Part Four: Anakita Snakecharm

    "All around me are familiar faces
    Worn out places, worn out faces
    Bright and early for the daily races
    Going nowhere, going nowhere
    Their tears are filling up their glasses
    No expression, no expression
    Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
    No tomorrow, no tomorrow..." - Gary Jules, "Mad World"





    Ascalon, 1325 A.E. (The Year of the Charr/Human Treaty)


    How do you go on fighting when you have more understanding and sympathy for your enemies than for your allies?

    Anakita had thought that during the whole journey across Ascalon. She thought it every time she bent to offer her hand to a downed Charr soldier. Every time a Charr comrade made some gruff, brutal remark that made her human mind rebel at the sheer callousness, the lack of remorse or regard even for another of their own kind, the alien sort of intellect that would produce such a comment and call it normal. She thought it most of all every time she loosed arrows at a Separatist, and couldn't help seeing that they looked just like the Ebon Vanguard soldiers she'd fought beside two centuries ago - and how they were fighting more or less the same battle they had back then, but now Anakita was on the opposite side of it. Anakita could easily comprehend why the Separatists wouldn't give in, why they hadn't yet given up on having Ascalon in human hands, whole again.

    People found it hard to believe that before this year, Anakita hadn't been back to Ascalon since the Foefire, but it was true that she hadn't. It was always easy to come up with some excuse, some reason she was needed elsewhere instead. Her ties to the Ebon Vanguard had never been as strong after they tried her for treason - even though she'd been acquitted, the professional relationship had somewhat soured as a result, and she'd gone from being a highly ranked officer Vanguard officer to rarely even being present in the domains they patrolled.

    The Shining Blade and the Sunspears had given her plenty of work to keep her busy enough to have good reasons to be in other places, although the latter connection had been severed when Elona was cut off. Her seven children had needed her, something any parent understood. Anakita had never officially left the Vanguard, she had just drifted away.

    Now, more than two hundred years later, it was time to mend their differences.

    There were three reasons for her decision to return at this particular point in time, two of which were obvious.

    The first reason was political; Anakita was a strong supporter of the truce between the Charr and the humans who still remained in Ascalon, most of whom were holed up in Ebonhawke. She supported the truce without particularly liking it. Anakita knew that not all Charr were evil, but she also found the majority of them difficult to get along with and hard to fathom. She still felt anger and sadness over the Searing, and she still dreamed about Ashford many nights.

    Too many people had died over memories, though. Too many people had died for revenge. Anakita supported the truce because she didn't want to see more blood spill where far too much had been spilled already. Ascalon was just soil and rock. They could give up soil and rock to save the lives of people - human and Charr alike.

    It was hard to be seen as a true supporter of the truce in anything more than name, though, if she herself wouldn't go anywhere near a shared Ascalon.

    The second reason was personal but far from secret. Anakita's second-to-oldest daughter, Kimi, was a medic in the Vanguard hospital in Divinity's Reach. More and more often in recent months, she'd been assigned to a team traveling to Ebonhawke through the Asura gate to assist the personnel on the front lines. At first, Kimi had volunteered for the assignments because she liked the work, but gradually she had built up a rapport with the man who commanded there. Recently, Kimi and Commander Wade Samuelsson had announced their engagement. Anakita had decided she liked Wade, and had been making more of an effort to assist the Vanguard and get in their good graces to smooth things over for Kimi. In the process, Anakita herself had been reinfected with the Vanguard spirit, and soon it wasn't just Kimi and Wade that she fought for. She came to care about the other comrades she fought beside as well.

    The final reason Anakita was venturing back to Ascalon now was known to fewer people. She simply hadn't had the strength to face it without Stefan. She didn't have it in her to look at the ruins of their destroyed homeland without his arms to wrap around her for mutual comfort. Nor could she tread on the soil where he was prisoner until she could do something to help.

    When Anakita returned to Ascalon, she had always known it would be to save him.

    And save him she had. Now, with Stefan at her side, she was able to work up the courage to face what her first home had become. Without him, she had only been half of a hero. Now she was whole again.

    So they were back, offering their support to the Vanguard and the allied Charr legions alike, and defending the delegates who had met to sign the treaty that would bring peace to the embattled land.

    It was both easier and harder than she had expected, being back. Anakita had imagined Ascalon looking worse than it did, is if the Searing were still as fresh in reality as in her memory, but the land seemed to be starting to recover. Trees and grass were growing back where there had been just scorched earth, the waters were running clear again, and flowers grew around the monstrous crystals that had torn the ground.

    Seeing it like that, it was easy to picture the land being once again the way it used to be. It was harder to remember why they were letting any of it go.

    Anakita was also a little bit surprised that, for the most part, seeing Charr architecture sprouting in metallic clumps throughout Ascalon didn't bother her all that much. She'd been told that Charr buildings were utilitarian and imposing, and all that was true, but there was a strange beauty to them, too.

    She'd been both eager and reluctant to see the Black Citadel, the Charr capital built over the ruins of Rin, which had been the capital of Ascalon in her girlhood. The Citadel was vast and intended to be slightly intimidating, but it wasn't as ugly as she had expected - nor as dark. The citizens were less talkative than they would have been in another city like Divinity's Reach or Rata Sum, but life seemed basically as normal among the Charr too. Anakita had known that not all Charr were monsters, but she had never really known any outside of a military context. Seeing actual civilians was good for her, helped her gain some perspective that most people in Tyria, including Charr, just wanted to live out their lives in safety.

    It also helped when she saw that Rin wasn't completely obliterated. The Charr capital had been built alongside the human one as well as directly over parts of it, and there were some foundations and collapsed arches left from the days of Rin. The ruins didn't seem to interest the Charr aside from a few scholars from the Durmand Priory, so the site had been allowed to return to nature. With the plants growing and the birds calling... well, it was nothing like before the Searing, but it was better than in the years right after. Rin was a scar now, no longer a fresh wound.

    For the most part Anakita tried to suppress her thoughts about the continuing Charr presence in the land they had ravaged and conquered - but every now and then, a flash of emotion made it through. Not all the flashes were negative. Once she'd stood on a hill looking down at a Charr building she had thought was a purely functional construction of scrap metal up close; from a distance she'd seen that the buttresses were actually fairly elaborate hawk faces, and she had found it beautiful.

    That wasn't to say Anakita found such unexpected pleasure in all of it, though. After a few days getting the tour of less important sites, Anakita had told their Charr guides that she wanted to see Ashford, the village where she was born. They'd seemed strangely reluctant to show her, and soon she saw why. The footprint of the village, including where her house had been, was now completely covered over by a Charr military base - more specifically, a fighting pit to train soldiers. Somehow it seemed insulting, almost blasphemous, that Charr warriors fought against captive local wildlife and even captive Separatists above the bones of the dead people of Ashford.

    Eventually, she talked herself out of these feelings. Perhaps it was better that the area was being used, not left as a graveyard or ruin. Perhaps it was best that it was unrecognizable; it would have been harder to walk away if it still bore any resemblance to home. Citizens of the Tyrian nations were entitled to the right to trial by combat for their crimes, so perhaps it was kinder to the Separatists, too, than summary execution would have been. It was probably no worse than ambushing them in the mountain passes, as she'd been doing herself for days. And thus, Anakita said goodbye to Ashford, relegating it to memory.

    Her parents' tomb was still there, although it was now on a tiny island in the centre of a lake, whereas before it had been on a plain of dry land. Anakita had knelt in the rubble by the spot where her mother and father were buried, and found a measure of peace there with the water lapping and the sun streaming down. After a time, she was ready to press on to meet the treaty delegates.

    Their Charr hosts had been extremely solicitous and concerned about Anakita and Stefan's well-being. Tribune Rytlock Brimstone himself had welcomed them, assigned his personal aide-de-camp to tend to their needs during their visit, and had given them complete free reign to explore not only Ascalon but the Black Citadel itself at their own discretion; the latter was a privilege rarely given to humans. They took him up on it, combing every inch of corridors and cellars and command posts, wading through knee-deep water to inspect the foundations, making sure there were no illicit weapons, no illegal political prisoners, no sign the Charr were approaching the truce in bad faith.

    There was nothing. At least nothing Anakita and Stefan could find, and they had left no stone unturned. It seemed the Charr were as ready to end the war as the humans were, even though it was an incomplete victory for their side too.

    The welcome wasn't just for the sake of showcasing Charr hospitality, of course. The immortals from Ascalon, one of the Flameseekers and her husband who was the lone survivor of the Foefire, needed to be seen to be in complete support of the treaty. Had they not been, they would have become a key rallying point for the Separatists, a warhorn calling the human nation back to war. The Charr hosts were nervous, because Anakita and Stefan's words could cost many Charr lives if they were unimpressed, and this was one battle the Charr couldn't win with physical force alone.

    Anakita and Stefan supported the treaty. They stood silently in the background near Queen Jennah when the accord was signed; they didn't need to speak. Their presence was endorsement enough.

    They supported the treaty even though Stefan's brain still had an instinctive fear of the Charr burned into his memories and impulses by the Foefire. He was only entirely comfortable with Kismet Snakeheart and her daughter Leela Snaketooth; other Charr made him tense, ready for battle, although he quickly controlled himself each time. Stefan had to remind himself constantly that the Charr weren't their enemies anymore, but he did so for the sake of peace.

    In a way, what King Adelbern had done to his own people had put things into perspective. It didn't excuse the Searing, but it did demonstrate that all races had their monsters, not just the Charr.

    They supported the treaty even though Anakita was dreaming of Ascalon again, of the day fire and killing crystals formed from dark magic fell from the sky. Every time a Vanguard soldier gave her one of their customary greetings, the admonition to "Keep Ascalon in your heart," Anakita had to force down a wave of irritation. Ascalon was far fresher in her heart than in the hearts of these striplings who had been born two and a half centuries after the true Ascalon was gone. She and Stefan had seen it on its last day; those who came after them would never see it at all.

    That was why they were here, though, Anakita supposed. Because the true Ascalon was gone, and there was no use spilling more blood over the burned and much-divided carcass.

    A number of Vanguard soldiers asked Anakita conversationally - strangers rarely tried to speak to Stefan directly these days, since they couldn't understand his responses and were often intimidated by his burned appearance - if she and Stefan would be returning to Ascalon as settlers when the treaty went into effect, and seemed surprised that she said no.

    Their Ascalon was gone, though. After the journey back, Anakita was increasingly convinced that the new Ascalon should belong to people who didn't carry the burden of that past. It needed to be seen through fresh eyes, not eyes clouded by nostalgia and bitter memories. The new land needed new life, and Anakita and Stefan had other battles left to fight.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-04-2012 at 11:51 AM.

  8. #28
    Restoration, Part Five: Anakita Snakecharm

    "I won't be made useless
    I won't be idle with despair
    I will gather myself around my faith
    For light does the darkness most fear..." - Jewel, "Hands"





    The Vigil Keep, 1325 A.E.


    She earned a field promotion for the mission. All the Vigil officers called it a success. Tactician Senna reported to Anakita that Warmaster Forgal called her "the kid I should have had," which under different circumstances would have been particularly affirming for a woman who could barely remember a time before she was orphaned.

    They called her Warmaster Anakita Snakecharm now. Quite an honour. She'd been climbing the ranks quickly since her admission to the Vigil, even though she'd started out no different than any other recruit. That was one of the reasons she liked Forgal - he hadn't cared about anything she'd done in the past, and wanted her to earn everything she hoped to gain from the Vigil. It was an attitude Anakita could respect, and attitude she found refreshing after the false fawning over her by the nobles of Divinity's Reach. Now she counted Forgal as a friend, and was cautiously starting to see him as a father figure - but she was afraid that if she let herself take another parental bond too far, she would lose him a heartbeat later, as she'd lost every other parent or mentor she'd ever had.

    The Vigil was pleased with the results of the mission. Anakita was numb.

    It hadn't been a success in her eyes. They'd stopped the tide of the Risen - more like staunched it, because wave after wave would come, endlessly until the free people found a way to destroy Zhaitan once and for all. They'd saved most of the village residents; a few soldiers had been lost, but that was inevitable when you were fighting such a hard siege. The Vigil had gained the Hylek as an ally in the battle against Zhaitan thanks to the help they'd given them, and the Hyleks' knowledge of poisons and silent, secretive ways were sure to prove useful, as well as just adding to their numbers. They would always need more numbers.

    The village had been lost, though.

    That though grated in Anakita's mind like a pebble in her boot. The Hylek had been driven from their homes. They were wanderers, refugees. Their dwellings had been torn apart by the swarm of foul locusts which had burst forth from the ranks of the Risen. The Hylek hunting and breeding grounds had been corrupted and poisoned. So much was lost.

    Anakita had seen loss before. She thought she was immune to seeing it. But that village... it was like a Hylek version of the Searing. They'd owned nothing on the scale of Ascalon, but in their own eyes their loss was just as great, their exile likely just as permanent.

    Another Searing she couldn't prevent. More deaths. Some of the Hylek were transformed into Risen themselves, Hylek Champions now fighting for the dragon they'd been sacrificed in a vain effort to ward off. Every one of them had been loved by someone, just as she loved Stefan. Every one of them had been taken, just as Stefan was taken from her by the Foefire.

    Once again, Anakita had stood by helplessly and watched while the people around her lost everything.

    There was one thought that cut through the numbness. The dragons have to be put down.

    Anakita had never doubted this, but it was easy to forget the urgency - especially easy for humans, because they had so much else to fight. The dragons were the greatest threat, though. The dragons would take everything unless their power was sharply and swiftly checked.

    Some people would stand against them, though. Anakita would be one of them, and she would think of the Hylek village, as well as of so many others, when Zhaitan finally fell.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-05-2012 at 07:46 PM.

  9. #29
    Restoration, Part Six: Anakita Snakecharm and Stefan Baruch

    "Laughing with your pretty mouth
    Laughing with your broken eyes
    Laughing with your lover's tongue
    In a lullaby..." - Ryan Adams, "When the Stars Go Blue"





    Beetletun, Kryta, 1324 A.E. (A Few Months Earlier)


    At first, he'd seemed reluctant to undress in front of her. That had surprised her, because Stefan had shed his clothes countless times in her presence. They'd had twelve years of marriage before the Foefire consumed him. Even before that, she had met him at the wolf shrine and demonstrated her intentions in a way that left no room for doubt, then their relationship had proceeded in the same vein from there. She knew his body in the most intimate way possible, just as he knew hers.

    Anakita hadn't been with another man since she lost Stefan to the Foefire. He hadn't been her first - not by a longshot, not since her first clueless fumbles at age seventeen - but he was the only one who had ever mattered. Without him, Anakita hadn't had any interest in matters of lust; the whole thing had just seemed pointless if it was anyone but Stefan in her bed. Those feelings had been frozen, waiting for him. Her last memory of physical love was his body, his touch.

    She knew without asking that he hadn't been with another woman, either. Stefan had already shown a tremendous willingness and capacity to wait for her, even before he dared to imagine she shared his feelings. Besides, he'd been a ghost until she restored him to the flesh, and as far as Anakita knew, ghosts didn't mate.

    So what was to worry about? They were far from strangers.

    Perhaps the very fact of their familiarity was what hid the obvious from her. Belatedly, Anakita realized his anxiety about showing her his body wasn't because the experience of doing so was somehow new to him - Stefan was nervous because he remembered the past as clearly as she did, and he had changed. The flames that had melted his face and hands had burned and scarred the rest of him, too. The Foefire had left its mark indelibly on every inch of his flesh. He seemed to think she might not expect that, although she had. He was afraid to show himself to her because he was afraid she might no longer like what she saw.

    Anakita had changed too, in the years since she and Stefan had met. Less than he had, of course, but noticeably, and not just because she was weakened by the spell that restored him. Her face was thinner, the chin slightly harsh but the jaw almost delicate now, and the corners of her eyes and mouth had some fine lines. She hadn't aged in two centuries, but worry had worn her down. Her face had whittled down and sharpened, even as her hips and breasts were evidence of the children she'd borne.

    She didn't think it was any different. He was scarred, and she was no longer young - the facades had changed, but the souls within had not. It took awhile for the thought to occur to her that Stefan might worry about her reaction. But what did she cared how he looked? The important thing was who he was, and where he was - still himself, and by her side after so much time.

    Anakita wanted him to make love to her again. They were both well enough physically now. She just had to help him find the courage to give her what she knew they both wanted.

    They used to bathe in the Bergen Hot Springs together before he was taken. Late at night, when the villagers had all gone to bed and the world was illuminated by moonlight, the two of them would slip down from Beetletun and shed their clothes by the edge of the water, sliding in with a splash and a giggle then embracing as the bubbles tickled their skin and the warm water soothed away the ache and grime of a hard day's fighting.

    The village called Bergen Hot Springs was long gone, along with the body of water for which it was named. Those moonlit nights would never fade from Anakita's memory, but the land itself had been shattered by Zhaitan's rise in Orr. The very geography had been shifted by the dragon's awakening, as if shuddering away from the ancient tyrant. She couldn't take Stefan back there to help him remember how freedom felt, but maybe it was best to make fresh memories anyway.

    Beetletun was on the curving arm of a lake now, which had surprised Stefan when he first saw it. For once the perils of dragon-altered geography had provided something pleasant. Most of the time Anakita lived in Divinity's Reach these days for reasons of practicality, but she still spent time in Beetletun when she could. It felt more like home than the city, for both her and Stefan. Beetletun was where he'd shyly bought a house he hoped to share with her, so many years ago. Now it was the place Anakita gravitated toward when she needed comfort.

    When the moon rose, she took Stefan by the hand and led him to the dock. She shed her clothes and stepped out of them, baring herself to the moonlight and to him. He just looked at her, his face a kaleidoscope of desire, fear, hope, and need... but he made no move to join her, no move to reach out and touch.

    Anakita knew she had to take the lead again, like she had that first time at the wolf shrine. Otherwise, just like back then, he would never dare to believe what she felt for him.

    She wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him confidently, leaning her body against his. Then slowly, piece by piece, she removed his clothing too, punctuating the actions with kisses and carresses.

    When he was as bare as she was, she let him see her looking at him in the moonlight.

    He tensed with anxiety.

    She grinned.

    He could no longer deny that she liked what she saw. Scars and all.

    Stefan smiled back at her, and let her take him by the hand and pull him into the water. When they were engulfed in the gentle rocking motion of the lake, all the years they had lost seemed to melt away.

    Anakita thought maybe they should have another child. Thanks to the lich curse, she wasn't too old. Maybe once the dragons were gone, she would give him a new baby. They would all age normally together once the Elder Dragons were defeated. It wasn't too late.

    No matter what else they decided, though, Anakita was fairly sure that Stefan wouldn't feel the need to hide his body from her after tonight.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-07-2012 at 01:54 PM.

  10. #30
    Restoration, Part Seven: Anakita Snakecharm

    "How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    How many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    And how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died...?" - Bob Dylan, "Blowin' in the Wind"






    The Harathi Hinterlands, 1325 A.E. (A Few Months Later)

    "I just don't understand centaurs," Anakita muttered.

    It wasn't centaurs per se she was struggling to comprehend, though. What she wrestled with was more a concept, and the centaurs happened to be the most obvious present example of it.

    How did a group go from being justifiably angry about being oppressed, to being unapologetic oppressors themselves?

    Anakita had no inherent hatred of centaurs. In fact, she'd been quite sympathetic and indignant on behalf of the Kournan centaurs when she found out that human soldiers had enslaved them on plantations. She'd had a relatively good relationship with some of the members of the Veldrunner Pride. She had worked willingly with Zhed Shadowhoof, although he'd been openly hostile to her more or less the entire time; at first, she'd simply assumed it was his youth talking, but he had never outgrown it. Almost every centaur Anakita had ever met had the same blindspot: feeling strongly about how they should be treated, but seeing no reason to treat others the same way. Not that such a blindspot was unique to centaurs...

    Surely that couldn't be innate. It had to be something they were learning, something they were teaching the following generations. But how and why had they come to accept that message as one to preserve and pass down?

    Ventari had been a centaur. People of many races and nationalities revered him. And yet his own people had strayed so far from all he held dear.

    The Harathi centaur camp where she was fighting was a slavers' camp. The centaurs were the masters this time, not the slaves. The irony of that after Kourna stung her.

    The slaves were nearly indistinguishable from each other to look at them. They were human. All the men had grown beards during their forced confinement, and the women had their hair cropped somewhere above the chin. A thick layer of dust from the red clay soil coated all of them, making their skin and hair look an oddly uniform colour, the same shade as the landscape.

    Some of the slaves were working, repairing bridges and buildings or carrying supplies. Others just cowered or cried. The overseers didn't seem to be trying to get the unoccupied ones to work - obviously they'd taken more slaves than they actually needed to perform tasks around the encampment. Anakita wondered why. The most obvious explanation was to sell them, but there weren't many markets for slaves in Tyria these days. The free nations didn't allow slavery.

    Whatever the centaurs' intentions for their prisoners, Anakita wasn't having any of it. She ran around the camp, breaking the slaves' bonds and freeing them, encouraging them or flat out insisting that they run off. Eventually, they all did. A few more families would have their loved ones back, at least. As she liberated the slaves, Anakita picked off the Harathi patrols and destroyed all the supplies she could get her hands on, setting fire to anything that could go up in flames.

    She felt strong.

    Not as strong as in the past, of course. Not yet. But for the first time, Anakita sensed that was coming. She felt the tension in her back from drawing her bow, a faint tiredness that said she could still do a hundred times what she'd already done. Her arms were light, her step was confident, nothing weighed her down. Perhaps she charged in too quickly, took on more than she could handle - but that felt good too.

    Maybe it was just that she was getting her health back. Maybe it was the exhiliration of freeing the slaves. Maybe it was both. Having Stefan's presence and support in her life was certainly a huge part of it. And maybe she'd been feeling it for awhile without noticing the sensation...

    There in the centaur camp, though, was the first time Anakita was conscious of feeling like her old self again.


    ***


    Molensk (Dredge Mining Operation,) The Shiverpeak Mountains

    To the extent that it was possible, Anakita avoided picking fights with the Dredge who were excavating the ore. She knew that none of the Dredge at these mines - more like forward military bases where metals happened to be extractable, really - were civilians. They were all part of the effort to drive the other races from the territory they were trying to claim. She also knew it was rather silly to sabotage their equipment but walk right by the personnel. How much damage was she doing to their operation, really, if she left the operators alive to continue their work?

    Anakita had no personal hostility toward the Dredge. They had been slaves of the Stone Summit for generations, and she felt for them in their bondage. She had done what she could to aid them. The Ranger had even gone before the Kurzick Count zu Heltzer to speak - and even, in an extremely rare gesture, to sing, knowing how much the Kurzicks valued music - on behalf of the Dredge in Cantha, hoping to negotiate peace and a place for the Dredge to stay. Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears with Count zu Heltzer, but the Dredge had been grateful. Back then many of the mole people had been so grateful for every kind gesture done to them that Anakita's heart had ached.

    Now the Dredge sought to eliminate everyone else who entered their territory, to seize the land and outcompete the other races for resources, and to kill all those who wandered into the areas they now decided they were owed... and they believed they were owed the whole world.

    Anakita had even seen the Dredge keeping slaves of their own in Sorrow's Furnace not long after their own escape from bondage; that was where she had found Gemma, who was first her niece and now her adopted daughter.

    How could a group of sentient beings who had been so damaged by their enslavement become slavers themselves? How could they respond to being pushed out of their lands by becoming the hostile invading force on somebody else's patch of ground? Just as with the centaurs, the oppressed had become the oppressors.

    Still, Anakita didn't attack the excavators. The armed guards and military patrols, she took down without second thoughts. She didn't harm the workers except in self-defence, though, even though she knew they would fight back if provoked.

    She was tired of death. The admitted, unashamed killer was tired of watching people die. Even enemies. Of course, she still killed on a regular basis. That was her life, and would be for the foreseeable future. A violent world needed a few violent people to fight on the side of the innocent, or else they'd be overrun by people determined to exploit them.

    Anakita took the Vigil words to heart. Some must fight so that all may be free.

    The Ranger was increasingly careful not to kill needlessly, though. Perhaps the excavators would do more damage if she let them live... but perhaps they would go home to their families and give up fighting. In a world like this, one seemed as likely as they other.

    Anakita had never believed that all members of a race could be evil, and her experience had borne that out. She'd met good people of every race and sentient species... she'd even met a couple of morally exemplary Margonites. Good and evil were a choice.

    Sometimes the line between good and evil was blurry, though. Anakita felt she herself was a case in point. All the battles she'd fought - all the lives she had taken - Anakita wondered if she was a monster. The world needed a few monsters, though. The world needed people like Anakita until all were truly and forever free.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-07-2012 at 06:45 PM.

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