"Places I’ve seen in decay
Things that I’ve done fade away
People I’ve known never stay
Things that I am yesterday."
- Týr: Wings of Time.
I slapped him, slapped him hard. How dared he suggest that I was neglecting my children! How dared he suggest that I should neglect my duty as a Paladin! To neglect my people! Everything was hazy. My mind was tired. My body was tired. Exhaustion kept threatening to overwhelm me. Blast it. He almost made me forget why I was heading back to the Cathedral.
I went there to...to...
What was it...?
Oh, yes, my horse. My horse stands tied to one of the lamp posts. And there was something else. Something about shadow wrecks. Oh, yes, the escape.
I turn to walk, still furious at Richeron, who merely stands and stares at me – not even bothering to caress his cheek, which I assume is stinging.
Why was it I slapped him again?
Everything comes out of focus, the world is going out of joint. The stairs to the Cathedral start to look like the surface of water being caressed by the wind.
Something is wrong.
I don’t feel right.
Everything slowly goes black.
"Richeron," I hear myself say. "I don’t think I’m feeling well..."
The blackness decends, and I hear his voice speaking to me in the ensuing darkness, "You don’t look that well, either."
All is black, and I feel my legs buckle. Light...I think I’m fainting...
"Do your worst," Ormsby says to her, stretching forth his wrists. "Come on. Do your worst."
Elizabetha frowned, and wondered why he wasn’t tied up by whatever magic it was that Merwyn was able to conjure. She turned her face, trying to look for her. Instead she saw herself. Blindfolded, wearing the characteristic scarlet armour and a tabard with a red burning flame.
She blinked her eye, wondering what was going on.
"If you won’t do it," she saw her Scarlet self say. "Then I will. Can’t take any chances. He’s a shadow wreck. He can hurt people. It must be done."
The Scarlet Elizabetha unsheathed a greatsword, and pushed past her roughly.
"Wait, what are you doing? What is going on?" Elizabetha asked utterly confused.
Ormsby stared at her as the Scarlet Elizabetha took position in front of him. "Doing what is necessary, which you are apparently incapable of."
"Wait, no!" Elizabetha cried as her Scarlet self lifted her greatsword and chopped off Ormby’s hands in a single stroke – his blood spattering on her face.
Ormsby yelled in pain, falling unto his back as Elizabetha’s Scarlet self turned, blade raised. "There is forgiveness for those who wish it. There is redemption for those who seek it. I do not see that in you. Be still and be judged."
"Stop this!!" Elizabetha screamed.
Her Scarlet self laughed as blood tears started to stream down her cheeks. "The blood of the righteous will one day drown the wicked! Can’t you see it?! Can’t you?! We will mingle it with the blood of the unjust, the impure and the wicked! The world will become a better place! All cleansed in blood!"
Elizabetha stared incredulously at her Scarlet self, crawling backwards. This couldn’t be right, she thought. This was not who she was, she protested in her mind.
The Scarlet Elizabetha stopped her laughing and seemed to stare directly at her, blood still pouring in steady streams down the cheeks so that the tabard became drenched in blood. Ormsby seemed to have vanished, and everything around them seemed so dark.
And it became darker still until she could see nothing.
Elizabetha panted in her terror, and tried hard to see in the utter darkness.
"Still crawling your way through your darkness?" a familiar voice said – however, she could not see anything.
"Pity that I can’t lead you any longer, hmm?" The voice chuckled coldly. "My poor blind sister..."
She gasped, and hurriedly stood up to run away, but quickly fell on her face again, incapable to make her way in the blackness.
"Stop running away, dear sister. Come, I won’t hurt you. I’ll be your eyes."
The darkness went away in the blink of an eye, and Elizabetha stared right into the face of the person speaking.
"Yes, sister. Your hearing is still good." Honoria smiled, offering her a hand. "Can you stand?"
Elizabetha frowned, looking around herself. Trees, grass, birds, flowers, a little lake were the things she could see around her. "Sister, what is going on? Where am I?"
"Shhh, it’s alright. You are safe," Honoria said as she helped Elizabetha stand up. "Give your sister a hug, will you? It’s been so long."
Elizabetha’s eye went wide open as Honoria unsheathed a dagger, a shadow falling upon her countenance. The surroundings quickly became dark again, as well.
"No!" Elizabetha screamed and ran away.
"Oh, come, come, sister! You’ll be dead anyway when the Faith takes over, and I and all those who know the Light to be weak reap our rewards!! You can’t escape it! You can’t overpower it!!" Honoria’s laughter boomed, echoing in the woods, which seemed to slowly melt away before Elizabetha, as she ran past.
"The shadow will kill you! Maybe even I will! Dear sister, hah!!"
The ground below her grumbled and everything tumbled downwards – Elizabetha included.
Faces could be glimpsed as she fell down – faces of people crying in agony, in pain, in suffering. Then hands appeared, reaching out for Elizabetha as she fell past – but she could reach none of them, and their wailing only became louder at that failure.
"Paladin! Paladin! Save me!"
"Help me! They will kill my children!"
All manner of pleas and supplications from desperate voices howled at her.
Yet still, she could reach none.
And then she landed.
Not even pondering how she seemed to have survived the long fall, much less escaped breaking every bone in her body, Elizabetha rolled over on her side, weeping bitterly. Was this true? Was the shadow unbeatable?
Was it hopeless?
Was she becoming what she preached against?
She curled herself up, feeling so cold, lying on the ground like a child that had been hurt, wailing loudly as memories of painful moments seemed to overwhelm her.
Shhh...you fear too much...
Elizabetha almost instantly stopped her tearful sobbing, slowly lifting herself up a little, supported by her arm. She wiped her eye with the other, gazing over in the distance. Everything was dark, but there, over the distance, almost like in the horizon, a faint light was growing.
You worry too much. You question yourself too much.
A figure became visible, as the light quickly cast away all the darkness around her – and it became so very bright. The figure seemed even brighter. Hooded, yet the head was illuminated, as though by some halo. Silvery shining eyes gazed at her. The shoulders seeming to sport something that looked like wings curling backwards and a great staff was held in the figure’s gloved hand. It took Elizabetha a split second to recognise the symbol of the Holy Light adorning that staff, and she felt a pleasantly warm sensation overtake her. A sensation of comfort and love poured into her being.
The brightly shining figure kneeled before her, reaching out with a hand.
Then the light flashed, and the Celestial looking being was replaced by a young woman with fair brown hair flowing down her head on whose brow rested some sort of tiara, gentle eyes gazing into hers, a warm loving smile that made her feel even more loved.
She didn’t know this woman, yet she seemed so familiar.
The young woman’s hand gently wiped away Elizabetha’s tears. "You are who you are. And in that you are perfect." She grinned. "Always been like this, haven’t you? Expecting yourself to be more than you are. Always striving to be more than you can be."
Elizabetha frowned. "The people...they need me. I have to help them. I have to strive to be more..."
The young woman nodded slowly. "But not at the expense of your own life, and those who rely on you. You are too hard on yourself. That is why you have these memories haunting you. Failures are failures. Leave them behind. Learn from them. And know that your Light will only shine when you are at peace with yourself." She chuckled kindly.
Elizabetha blinked her eye, placing her hand on the one caressing her cheek. "Who...who are you? You look so familiar."
The young woman smiled.
"Wake up now. We need you and your Light."
Everything faded away before Elizabetha could begin her question.
I wake up. My head feels so heavy. My body aches. I hear someone crying. The voices are not of grown ups, but that of infants. I sit up in my bed, and look over to the cradles. Iohan and Annika have awoken, crying because they are hungry most likely. I give them a weary smile, and barely manage to get out of the bed. Richeron is already there by my side as I try to calm them.
I look at him, and remember what I had done, and how foolish I had been. I have worn myself down. Worst of all…I blamed him for hindering me.
"Richeron..." I say, my voice sounding even more tired than I feel. "I’m so sorry..."
He says nothing, merely caressing my cheek tenderly before he leans closer and kisses me softly on my lips.
Then we focus on the twins again. They are hungry, and right now that is all that matters.
Light, how I love them.
How I love my family.