Author's Notes: Chapter 5 is finally here. Yaaaay! There were two really important points I needed to cover in this chapter. One was Kirin's injuries; the other was Kian's refusal to run when he had the chance. Other than that… this was all sorta just thrown together a bit so sorry if this isn't one of my better chapters. Please notify me if you see any errors. As always I apologize for how long it takes me to write these chapters. –NoodleNeko

V. UNFAVORABLE MEMORY

1.

Three days had past. Three days and no response to treatment from Kirin…not once had he opened his eyes. Would he ever wake? Concerns like this plagued Kian, forcing him to walk the floor of his tent for hours, trying to think of the right thing to say… something to do…anything that might help. To upset to eat, the trays that were brought to him were left untouched.

Walking back and forth here is not going to wake him up; bring him back from the brink of death. I have waited here long enough, held back for fear that one of them would be angry with my visits. No more. I cannot stay here and fear upsetting them. Kirin protected that woman and myself from death that day. He deserves my thanks, if not more.

But what could he do, and what would his 'thanks' accomplish, other than to make himself feel better?

I have to do something. I cannot just wait here any longer.

Stepping out of the tent he winced as the bite of the chilled air from outside hit the skin of his face. Though snow on the ground had been a beautiful sight to him when he had first seen it, he had never become accustomed to Marcuria's biting cold winters, and the cool blast of air reminded him that winter would again be coming shortly. There were times he longed for Sadir's desert climate, the warmth and the humidity could sooth the ache in his bones; but his chances of seeing Sadir again outside of a prison were slim to none. If he attempted to go back there, he would be captured on sight.

Walking swiftly to the medical tent, Kian tried to ignore the glares that were placed at his back. April's men, the rebels, hated him. She had been right about several things during their arguments. Had it not been for her, the men would have attacked and no doubt killed him. This thought had angered him before, and at one time he would have accused them of being like Vamon and his followers—Murderers. Long ago he would have pulled his sword and cut them down one by one, calling them heretics and heathens. Now he knew differently. Though many of them still had blood on their hands and murder in their hearts, it was the path that the Azadi had chosen that had done this to them. Many of them were simple farmers…field hands…carpenters…potters…craftsman and hunters…these were not criminals. What bound them together was a desire to see their home free of tyranny.

But where do you draw the line between justified rebellion and murder? Both sides had suffered losses, not just one. Many of the men that had been sent here to fight the rebels were boys… young and with heads full of lies. They were shown no mercy…just as those simple folk here were shown none by the Azadi. Both sides had committed crimes against each other. The only difference was…the Azadi had started it.

This thought made Kian tighten his jaw.

Damn them…they filled my head with lies and my heart with hate. No matter how much I could apologize, it will never be enough for her…nor her men. They will never accept my help even if I was willing to offer it. They would always wonder if I were not going to stab them in the back. Damn them for making me what I am…and damn me for being too blind to see it.

He allowed a soft, gruff growl to escape him and kicked a small crate as he entered the medical tent. Kian suddenly halted as he looked up and realized April was standing there. The look on her face squashed any confidence he had built up as he had marched through the bitter cold to this tent.

That expression doesn't suit her…will I ever be able to see her smile?

This thought surprised him. What was he doing thinking about her in such a capacity? What right had he to think of her as little more than a captor? At their current status they couldn't even be called colleagues, let alone friends.

Why do I care so much about this woman? Is it merely her words that inspire me…or is it something else? Has my finding her familiar brought this out of me? Has the treatment I have received here gone to my head?

She gave him no time to mentally answer these questions.

"I'm surprised to see you here. I was under the impression you intended to hide in your tent forever."

"Originally, I did intend to do just that."

"Oh? So you talked yourself out of it? Why?" She turned around and regarded him warily.

"This man saved an innocent woman. He deserves respect. Whether or not your men choose to accept my stay here, I am free to come and go as I please as long as I do not leave this camp. Therefore, there is nothing to stop me from paying my respects."

"You were worried they would be angry."

"Was it wrong to be so concerned? To your men, I am an unwelcome guest. No doubt they would love a shot at me if you had your back turned long enough—"

Her lips parted to speak an objection, but he pushed forward, not giving her the chance to cut in.

"—However, I realized that my concern for the welfare of this man was more important than my concerns about your men, at least for the moment. How is he?"

She sighed and slumped into a chair, rubbing her forehead wearily. "Still no sign of change… the doctor says he's hovering between life and death. He's fighting, but he's not putting full effort into it."

"He will make it."

She looked up at him, eyeing him with guarded curiosity. "What exactly happened out there? Benrime has been resting, so I haven't received the full story. Enlighten me."

Kian nodded, moved to a comfortable spot in a chair at the end of the cot where Kirin lay.

"We were ambushed. It was obviously a trap set by Elias. Kirin and I held them off as best we could, while we kept Benrime out of sight and range of the archer. Elias and Kirin fought…Elias… cheated. That is how Kirin ended up as he was."

She frowned and seemed to digest this information in silence.

I have to tell her something… she has to see that although I do not openly desire conflict with those of my people… I do not intend to betray her. She needs to see that I can be trusted.

"I…feel the need to be honest."

Looking up at him again, she quirked a brow. "Oh?" There was a wary tone to her voice.

"My original intent when I left with Kirin to find Saliman was not to help…I intended to break away and disappear."

The lack of shock on April's face loaded the guilt onto his shoulders. She had already assumed he would plan such a thing.

"What changed your mind?"

"I don't exactly know. The situation presented itself… the plight of your man here… and Saliman… seemed more important."

"Are you saying you are changing your mind about helping us?" The sound of disbelief in her voice could have cut like a knife.

"Not… exactly. I cannot openly plot to kill my own people…however; I intend to protect those who mean to do well."

"So you're going to help those who you think deserve it…and just pray that it works itself out?"

"…that is one way to put it. Is that so wrong?"

Again, she seemed to become lost in thought, and then she shrugged. "You have enough of a conscience that you couldn't leave Kirin lying there to die. You had enough courage to walk through a camp full of people who would like to skin you alive merely to check on someone who needed aid. That is enough to satisfy me…for now."

She will never give up. She will always push for my complete and total loyalty. It is not something I can promise her… but I will do what I can to make up for the mistakes of my people. Though I have no power in Sadir with the Six, I have power enough to protect those who could be harmed by what the Azadi has planned. I will not plot to kill my own, but if in protecting the innocent a few of my own must die…then that is the price that must be paid.

2.

Dark and cold it was. The only sounds she could hear were that of her own breathing and the crunching of snow beneath her feet, which made her loneliness so much more evident. Where was she? What had become of her?

The barren white landscape that was laid out before her should have been beautiful, but in the night, and with the atmosphere of complete helplessness, it was most dreary. The cold…she couldn't feel it, but she knew it was there. She could see the snow all around her, but she couldn't feel it. She couldn't feel anything. That was what frightened her most.

What happened? Where am I? The Azadi! That assassin! He allowed his men to stab me… and I fell…wet…then…nothing…

WHERE AM I?!

Panic seized her and she looked about, calling out as if anyone could hear her.

"HELP ME?!"

The sound of footsteps alerted her to someone's approach from behind her, and she whirled to face a tan skinned man. The appearance of this man should have frightened her, but she felt at once at peace.

"Who…are you?"

"That does not matter, dear one. What matters is that you have come to tell a story, have you not?"

"Have…I? I don't know where I am."

"You are…"

His voice cut off as his expression grew alarmed, his eyes trained on her body, her focus being her arms. In surprise, she looked down to see she was fading away, bit by bit.

"What's….what's happening to me?!"

He opened his mouth to speak, but then was gone.

A panicked shout came from her lips as she jolted upright in bed, chest rising and falling from panicked breath. Looking about in fear momentarily, she began to relax as she noticed the familiar surroundings that made up her personal quarters. A sigh and a groan emerged from her throat and she rubbed her forehead. The second night in a row…and the same dream…

No…not dream. You know all to well what that was. That was no dream.

A cool cloth pressed to her head caused her to start, and then she recognized the pudgy hand that held the cloth to her forehead, and more importantly the person attached to the hand.

"Benrime…how long have you been here?"

"You make quite a racket when you dream like that. Are you alright, dear? At the moment you seem worse off than I ever thought about being."

April groaned again and rubbed her forehead. "A lot has happened since your capture. It would take a long time to catch you up on the details."

"Catch me up on the details? That's Stark talk."

"I'm sorry Benrime…It's…a long story."

"I'm from Arcadia, child. We love long stories."

She would have found that mildly amusing if she didn't know it was completely true.

"I'm sure you already heard about the incident at camp."

"They told me you were dead. Imagine my shock and relief when Kian informed me that you were alive and well."

"Tatya saved me...but I suppose I should start with what I know."

"Always easiest to start at the beginning…unless you are one of the Venar."

April smiled softly.

"Tatya is a shifter from Stark. She had the misfortune of shifting right to the spot where the Azadi let my body drop. She brought me back to life and with help from her friend Kirin; they nursed me back to health. Kirin was a member of the rebels, but he had been out of the area, scouting out recruits when the attack occurred. It was with his help I was able to rebuild what you have seen. Tatya runs the warriors as my second in command. Other than me…she's the only one they listen to now."

"And what about the assassin…why is he here?"

April's proverbial hackles rose at the mere mention of the man, but now it wasn't as much because of the aggravation of dealing with him as it was that she was beginning to feel everyone was questioning her decisions. Did no one trust her?

"I had him brought here to try and gain his aid in fighting the Azadi. He has an inside view of how they operate. He's been…"

"Reluctant? Is that no surprise, child?"

"Not a surprise, no. But irritating as hell, yes."

Benrime offered a warm smile and a chuckle. "Child, the Balance wasn't made in a day. You must have patience if you expect to win his help…or is it more than his help you are looking for?"

Again, April grew tense. Another topic she did not like hearing about.

Why is it everyone in this camp thinks that Azadi and I are having a love affair? Is there nothing else to think about in this time of impending war? I feel like I'm living in a soap opera…

She groaned and rubbed her head again. "Benrime, he's practically my enemy. He's all yours if you want him; I'm not interested. I have a war to plan for; I don't have time for the 'two ships passing in the night' thing."

"Alright, alright, child. I know when to leave it well enough alone. I pray you know what you are doing, April. Bringing him here…"

"Is dangerous, I know. He hasn't exactly sworn loyalty to me, not that I'd expect that from him…but the old fight seems to have gone out of him. He's not…pushing back against the idea of helping as much as he had before. Perhaps he's finally seeing and understanding what I was trying to beat into his thick head."

Then again…maybe not.

"Well, he saved my life, and Kirin's. That so far works in his favor." Benrime said, though April could sense the doubt in her voice, as if a 'but' was coming.

April sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Don't worry, Benrime…I'm not going to let these men suffer another defeat. We have to do some good this time…find some way to pay the Azadi back for what they did to the innocent women and children of that camp."

Benrime frowned and her kind eyes watched April with concern. The ex-shifter could guess quite well what was going through the older woman's mind. Benrime had always wanted peace of some kind. Though she had done her best to support the rebels, she had also stood by her ideas that violence and revenge were not always the solution. Although April agreed with this, and longed for a peaceful conclusion to the problems they were facing…the likelihood of peace at this stage was slim to none.

First the Vanguard…then the Tyren…and then the Azadi. Marcuria has fallen prey to every power-hungry empire that comes along. It's time to take back control. It's time that Marcuria spoke for itself for once. This land should have the choice to be free, just like any other. Those with magic should be allowed to practice. Those who believe differently should still be allowed to worship their faith. Tyranny and oppression will always be fought as long as someone in the world has a voice against it. That is why the Azadi are afraid of me. Not because I can wield a sword. They are more afraid of a full-fledged uprising than anything else.

"April, child, have you heard a word I've said?"

April shook her head to clear the cobwebs and looked up at Benrime in surprise, only to realize she had been staring off into space and lost in thought for several minutes.

"I'm sorry, Benrime…"

"I understand, child. You have a lot on your mind. And you're tired. You should try to sleep, dear—"

"—I can't see that happening after that nightmare I had to put up with…"

"What exactly did you see, dear child?"

April looked over the woman's pleasant face. She had decided that telling anyone about what she had seen would have immediately placed doubts on her as to her sanity…and yet she really wanted to tell her. These are things that normally she would have talked to Tatya about, but her second in command was not here…she was off in that place.

Stark. I wish I could have sent myself in her place. She missed the deadline for coming back…is she alright? Is she dead? If only there was some way to get in contact with her and find out how things are going…

April closed her eyes a moment and rubbed at them with her fingers, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees and leaning forward gently to stretch her back out. Allowing another sigh to escape her, she sat up and allowed the reluctance to show on her face, but still spoke.

"Right after they stabbed me… I saw… something. I'm not exactly sure how to explain it. Do the people of Arcadia believe in a heaven or hell? Is it possible the guardian created a realm where people go to die?"

"What a strange question…what exactly did you see?"

"A snowy landscape, and a tanned man who asked me if I was there to tell a story. I get the feeling that my disappearing from that place wasn't normal…He looked quite shocked when I just vanished before his eyes. The only thing that I can use to explain my vanishing from that place is that Tatya brought me back…that's…why I think I was dead. No one would confirm nor deny it. Tatya and Kirin both kept tight-lipped about it. I think I'm starting to understand why."

Benrime shook her head. "I have never heard stories of such a place. But if you would like, I can slip into Marcuria…speak with—"

April shook her head vigorously and scratched her head as she felt an itch crawl its way up her neck and across her skull. "Not a good idea. If the Azadi see you they will only attempt to capture you again." She left out the part about The Journeyman. No doubt it was in disrepair, even shambles, and she didn't want her friend seeing it like that. "Right now Marcuria is going to be a danger zone, with Elias dead, you and Kian having evaded capture…Kian for the second time…"

"Then what will you do?"

"I have a few people I would trust with such a mission. I can send one of them…but I don't think I will. Not now. The Azadi are searching for us, for remnants of the rebellion that they now know are still at least partially active. I had hoped to sneak about under their nose without their knowledge, but it seems that Elias has ruined that plan."

"It was bound to happen sooner or later, April…war is upon this land."

April nodded in solemn agreement, feeling the frown on her face deepen. "And when it happens, we have to be prepared for it. I can't watch those willing to stand up against these odds fail and die. Not this time."

"Where is your second now? Don't you need her at a time like this?"

"I…sent her to Stark."

"What? At a time like this?? Why???"

"There is some unfinished business that needed attending, and I don't have the ability to shift. There was no one else who could take the mission that I trusted. Tatya is proficient in many tasks, she's smart, quick, and she makes good decisions on how to act and when. I trust her with my life, and there are few I would trust with that anymore."

"That unfinished business you are talking about is Miss Castillo, isn't it?"

April nodded solemnly again, reaching her hands towards the roof of the tent in a stretch, and then swinging her legs around to the edge of the bed to get up.

"Yes. I would have expected her to come back again…but she hasn't. Not in a year."

"Maybe she cannot come back."

"Possibly, but I had to send Tatya. I have to know. A suspicion has been hovering at the back of my mind… that the problems going on in Stark are not over… and that Zoe was involved in something extremely dangerous. Now she's cut off contact. Which might mean either she doesn't want to risk her life…which I find unlikely considering all the trouble she went through to find me…or she's unable to come here."

"Did she lose her ability to shift too, perhaps?"

April shook her head. "She never had it. I don't know what it is, Benrime, but she didn't shift. When Na'ane tried to teach her to shift using her magic…she simply vanished. Right out of her clothes."

'That is strange…"

"You're telling me. That's why I sent Tatya. This has to be checked into. I have a nagging suspicion that the problems I was having with the Church of Voltec…aren't over."

"I thought they would have fallen apart by now…it's been ten years."

April shook her head and stood, reaching for a shirt and pulling it on. "I thought so too, but all the information that Zoe had babbled on about… it sounds like something that the Church would have their hands in. Besides…when was anything that easy? Keeping in mind what I went through with them the first time, if they're up to something as I feel they might be…Gordon said that it wasn't my job to protect the balance anymore…but…something tells me this isn't quite over yet. I get the feeling I'm supposed to be doing something…anything."

"The Guardian told you that your protection of the balance is done…and you don't believe him?"

Buttoning the shirt, April gave a toss of her head to move her hair out of her eyes in order to see better. "Crazy, I know…but I just have to know. If nearly dying…or dying for the matter…taught me anything, it's that I can't take everything I'm told for granted. And I certainly can't let go of my suspicions simply because the naked man in the blue light told me so."

Benrime nodded. "You must do what you feel is right…your instincts will help you. Perhaps that is why things have gone so wrong until recently…you're finally beginning to follow your instincts again. Sending Tatya to Stark…bringing the Azadi back here…most would consider those missions to have been insane, and futile. Yet you stood behind them." A smile spread across Benrime's jolly face. "Dear child, I do believe you've found your purpose again."

April blinked and stopped, hands still on the last button of her shirt. Her mind began to reel as she realized that what she had longed for…to feel needed…to have a purpose…was so easy to obtain.

The Azadi isn't the only one who's been blind. I've been walking around in a daze for so long…ten years can do that to a person. After the balance was saved…I felt like it was all over and began questioning why I was even alive, when the truth was staring me in the face. The balance isn't safe…what Gordon told me…it can't be true. If the balance were safe…why would this feeling have returned to me… the one I had in Stark when those strange events started to occur. The feeling that something is not quite right; like pins and needles on the back of my arms and neck…something is very…very wrong. Why would the guardian lie? Did he lie?

"April?"

April started out of her thoughts again and apologized with a peevish mutter. Finishing the last button, she pulled on a pair of pants, buttoning and then buckling them.

"Do you think the guardian lied to you?"

"I…don't know at this point. I don't think that Gordon would fill my head with lies. Maybe he was…there are only two things I can think might have happened. Either someone is misleading him…which would take a great deal of power. Or…he merely told me what I wanted to hear at the time."

"I suppose the real question is…what did you really want to hear?"

April thought this over, but there was no answer that she could give. Her lips parted to speak, but she never got a word out.

"Raven…Kirin has awakened."

3.

His wound was being re-bandaged when they entered the medical tent to check up on him. From the looks on their faces, Kirin could see that they had all been worried about him, though the thought of why never crossed his mind.

"How are you?" His leader asked, approaching the cot with purpose. There was something in her eyes…resolve. Something had changed while he had been out.

"Well enough. I should be able to move about regularly soon. Right now, the healer is still concerned with me tearing my wounds." He could hear the annoyance in his own voice, but he didn't care. Three weeks he had been asleep….or on the border of sleep and something else. During this time, he might have missed countless things…information on Tatya….something important, and yet instead of informing him on what he had missed… they were standing there staring at him.

"Any news on Tatya…Elias…anything?"

"Elias is dead." The voice came from the back of the tent. The Azadi…Kian. He hadn't even realized the man was there, and turned gently to look at him, being careful of his wounds.

"Dead?" His voice echoed the last word out of the Azadi's mouth. "Benrime?"

"I'm fine, Kirin." Benrime approached and sat down at the end of the bed. "And no…I didn't have a hand in killing that man…though from what I hear he betrayed the rebels…and it was only narrow luck that he didn't kill you…so I will shed no tears for him."

"Then who…"

Kirin caught sight of April, and she motioned with her head slightly and then her eyes…over to Kian. He knew he couldn't hide the disbelief on his face, and didn't bother to try.

"Miss Saliman is right. It was only luck that kept you alive. I had to make a choice, flee or fight. Fleeing with that archer at our back would have been far too dangerous. I know he was a kinsman…"

Is he going to apologize for protecting an innocent life?

Kirin emphatically shook his head, not allowing him to finish his apology. "No kinsman of ours would dare betray us. It may have been –must have been- his intention from the start. You protected Benrime, and were able to bring her safely back here. You didn't betray us to them…those tasks alone set you apart from your…would-be peers. I think that Raven would agree."

"I do." She murmured quietly. "But we can talk about all of this later. Now that you are awake, we need to make plans to move the camp."

Kirin frowned. It bothered him immensely that she would be so insistent we move camp even though it might endanger Tatya, but when he himself was injured they did not move camp. "Why wasn't it already…"

"We were awaiting supplies…news…and for you to awaken. With my second in command away on assignment, I need you're help, and moving you around in your state might have killed you."

The voices of the men were raised in anger.

"How long must we run from what needs to be done?!"

"Are we men or dogs?!"

Kian watched by Benrime's side as the men shouted and shook their fists at their leader. Their rage no longer surprised him. The need for revenge, for 'justice' ran strong. It wasn't difficult to see that they felt April was holding them back; intentionally keeping them from their goal. What did surprise him was the way April surveyed them calmly and without frustration. Kian regarded the woman that stood before them with purpose, and could not help but admire her. She was strong…determined. Perhaps it was that and her dangerous use of words that made his people afraid of her.

She has a will of her own, that's what they are afraid of. To think for yourself and make your own choices, to go your own way and not follow the ideals of a single group or a single person…these things are not the Azadi's way. We believe so heavily in strength through unity and forget the individual and the power that an individual has. That is why my people fear her. It is not her way with a blade, but her spirit and her iron will. She will not bow to them. She will not bend. She stands before the Azadi just as she stands before her own men. As still and unmoving as an ancient tree. These traits can work in her favor, but if she is unwilling to make changes to make things work, the traits that could be her powerful ally could be her worst enemy.

"Our time for battling the Azadi will come…but there are more important matters at hand. There is the health and wellbeing of our comrades. Ensure the safety of the women and children that remain with us even though there is danger. Remember that we must not only think of ourselves and of revenge, but of those around us. Everything we do is to benefit them. Everything we do could cause them harm. We cannot go about this without thinking of what the consequences will be. We have lost before because we ran headlong into battle. If we are to beat them, we must understand them. We must strategize. Strategizing will take time, and it will take us working together."

"And what of the Apostle?! You let walk about this camp as if he owns it!? Is he a prisoner or not?!"

"Your strategies take too long! What of the women and children whose crypts were made of the swamps where the old camp stood?! Where is the justice for them?"

Kian watched her expression as it grew momentarily aggravated. Even with her strength, he could see she was also tired. Tired of the fighting, of the endless challenges she faced as leader, and tired of having her ideas questioned. It was the plight of any leader, that inevitably one or more of your followers would question your decisions and accuse you for their shortcomings.

"I will deal with the Apostle. He is no concern to you."

"If he will not swear his loyalty to us, we should kill him and leave him for the wild animals!"

Kian felt his own jaw tighten. He felt a small, pudgy hand on his forearm and looked over to see that Benrime was looking up at him with a soft and reassuring expression. She gave a small nod as if to say 'it will be alright'.

How could a woman who had been treated so badly by my people treat me with such kindness. If she knew what had been done to her Inn, would she still treat me as she was? Would she turn against me as the others have?

"ENOUGH!" April shouted above the din.

The entirety of the congregation went quiet. Not even the chirping of birds could be heard, nor the small animals in the brush; only the rustling of the leaves on the wind. April offered another sigh.

"I will deal with the Apostle. You have your orders. Make ready to leave camp immediately."

With that, she turned and headed off to her tent. The men shouted angrily a bit more and then grumbled on their way to do as she had instructed.

Deep down they know she is right. Though they are common-folk, many of them are not the fools they show themselves to be. These courageous men are as tired as their leader. They want to go home to their families, to the life they knew before the Azadi.

No matter how much good we did when we chased out the Tyren, we've merely replaced them with another dominating government who hopes to destroy them. We've been fed the lies that we are trying to purify them, but the more we try, the more they push back. In the end, this will only bring pain to both sides…and more to the rebels and those in Marcuria than anyone else.

What could the Six stand to gain from these lies? Do the Six even know this is going on?

Deep down he knew that they must. They had to. The Six knew everything. He felt a tug at his arm and looked to Benrime, seeing that she was attempting to guide him away from the meeting area.

"Come. We must talk."

Benrime regarded the young man as he sat down on a log by the fire. She could tell that the meeting had bothered him. It amazed her that someone who had been with the Azadi so long could allow his emotions to show so clearly on his face. Truthfully, the entire man amazed him. Though he was still an enemy to the rebels; the fact that he so willingly stayed in an environment that was hostile towards him when he might easily steal away in the dead of night surprised her.

I can only imagine what he must be going through. To find out everything you've been raised to believe is a lie…to spend you're entire life fighting for a cause only to find out that you've become a monster in the eyes of the people. To learn that your enemies do not have enough respect for you, that they would just as soon spit on your corpse as shake your hand...I can't imagine living in a world where I am hated by all. And now his own people want him dead. He is truly alone…

"They will kill me if they get the chance." Kian murmured, watching the fire with a soft frown creasing his brow.

"Can you blame them? It was not long ago that you were in their place. It is difficult for those not educated in the plight of others to see past their own nose. What I mean to say is… they can't understand what you're going through anymore than you could understand what they were going through."

"Could? You think I understand now?"

Benrime nodded, regarding the man calmly, but not unfriendly. "I do. I think you have been around them enough and have had ample opportunity to see what they have been through and to better understand them. I suppose it is a shame that they cannot see past what has been done to them in order to better understand you. These are simple folk, and it is easy to forget that there are others in pain when you are in pain, is it not?"

Kian didn't bother to reply, and Benrime understood why. What point was there to remarking on what she had to say?

It bothers him that no one is willing to accept him for who he is here. He doesn't want to admit it, but he does not like being associated with the monster the Azadi seem to have made him into. Not surprising. Who would want to be seen as a monster by the only society who hasn't seen fit to put him before the ax man's block?

"You were an orphan…weren't you?"

Kian looked up at her in shock. "How did you—?"

"—I'm a very observant person. You don't seem quite as…faithful to the Azadi beliefs as those that I met while I was being held prisoner in that place."

"I do believe in the goddess."

"But you don't believe in what the Azadi are doing to the people of Marcuria…or at least you do not cling to it now that you have seen the trouble it has caused. You aren't a zealot."

"…I could have been called one…until I met…her."

"Is she the only reason you turned against your people?"

Kian sighed and ran a hand through his hair, regarding her for a moment as if assessing her or the question, or both. After a moment, he answered.

"April helped me think about things in a way I hadn't before. She opened my eyes to what was going on around me. If it hadn't been for her, I might have gone on blind to the tragedies that were being caused by my people…by me. She was willing to speak strongly and honestly to me in a way not many of the other folk had seen to do. She was not afraid of what I was. She is…opinionated."

"Yes…that is definitely a trait she is well known for."

Benrime eyed him as he answered her question, assessing what he was saying, trying to determine if he was just telling her what she wanted to hear. However no matter how long she looked at him; at his face and his eyes…she could find nothing that indicated he did not mean what he said.

Either he means it…or he is an extremely good liar.

Something inside her tugged at her heart. She knew she shouldn't, but she felt badly for him, and she trusted him. She could sense his pain, it was almost palpable. His guilt seemed to swirl around him like a fog, always present even in moments when he should have been indignant.

"Why didn't you say anything when the men spoke ill of you?"

"What good could come of it… and they are right, are they not?"

"Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren't."

He sighed again. "Do you think I should swear my allegiance to the rebels? Forget everything I've lived for all these years?"

"I think you should do what you feel is right. But I also think that everyone could stand to see that there is room enough for more than one faith in this world. There should be ample room for the Balance and your Goddess. However, if people realized this… there would be no war…or at least there would be a few less. Whatever you decide to do, you should do it on your own time. Do not let anyone push you. If you rush into it, you can make mistakes."

"Do you think it would be a mistake for me to swear loyalty to them?"

"I think it would be a mistake for you to do it for the wrong reasons. If you are going to, do it because you want to, or because you believe in it. Not because someone else is forcing you, even April. She's a headstrong girl."

Kian nodded, smiling softly. "Yes…she is."

Benrime chuckled. "I had better go. It's time to tend to Kirin's bandages, and the doctor is resting."

Kian nodded. "Thank you, Mrs. Saliman."

"Mark my words, Apostle. Make your own path." She stood and wandered off towards the medical tent.

4.

When Kian entered her tent without asking, her proverbial 'hackles' rose in irritation. Why did that man always seem to visit at the worst possible times? When it wasn't one thing, it was another. It was bad enough she had had to stand and face her men while they threw their concerns and her failings in her face…but now he was no doubt coming to start another fight.

I need a vacation…

As usual, she used her irritation in the only way she knew possible. She put it into her tone and her words. "What do –you- want? You hear to complain about my decisions too? I'm really not in the mood to hear anymore. I'm going to set up a complaint desk outside and start telling people to take a number."

Kian leaned against one of the support posts for the tent and regarded her calmly, not speaking. This only caused April further aggravation, and for a moment she actually wanted to pick up, and hurl, something at him.

"Have you had enough fun annoying my men and have chosen a new target? Or are you just bored?"

He sighed, soft and low, and shook his head. "I don't want to fight with you. Not now. There was enough shouting outside."

"Then why are you here?"

"What reason do you think I need to visit? Do I have to want to fight with you? Perhaps I just wished to see if you were alright. Why must you always assume the worst of me?"

April scoffed, slammed something down, shook her head, and approached. "If you would just satisfy the men by saying something, anything, to get them to trust you…we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. You're rigid decision to stick to your teachings is causing this tension, and you want to come and see if I'm alright? If you want to do me a favor, right now why don't you go walk off a cliff."

Kian's jaw tightened visibly. "I shouldn't have to bow to another's will any more than you should. You talk of how my people are forcing you to be something you aren't, forcing you to believe in something you don't…and yet you do the same thing to me."

"Oh no, you don't. You don't get to start playing the blame game."

"I'm not blaming you; I'm asking you to give me the time I need to make a decision."

"If I give you the time you need you'll –never- make a decision. By the time you've chosen a side my people will be laying dead at your feet!" She pitched a metal cup at him.

Kian ducked to the side and out of the way, the cup barely missing him, and clanking to the ground behind him. He moved in, grasping her wrists before she could throw something else. He gripped her wrists gently, not allowing her to get enough space to get away from him.

"Would you please calm down!?"

"Calm down! Calm down?!" She pulled with her arms, attempting to break free. "Let me go!"

"Would you please calm down, you're going to hurt yourself, or me… you're angry… I understand that… but please calm down…"

She continued to pull and twist, attempting to break away and put space between them. Kian pulled her close, wrapping his arms about her upper arms to keep her from moving, trying to make her be still while she continued to flail. He winced as she smacked and punched at him the best she could. But no matter how much she fought, he would not relinquish the control he had for that moment. This only made her angrier.

I won't let him gain control of me…

"April…"

There was something about the sound of his voice that forced her to pause. Something she'd never heard before. Anguish. Guilt. Desperation. She looked up at him, and they made eye contact. His eyes were filled with pain.

Why is he looking at me like I've hurt him? What could he possibly be thinking about?

Before she even knew what was happening, he dipped his head low, and slowly, gently captured her lips with his. In that moment, she felt like the air had been sucked from her lungs. Her knees weakened, her head swam.

I should pull away… I shouldn't be…

She knew she should push him away, that she should slap him. But there was something in this kiss. It seemed so sad… and yet at the same time so warm and familiar. Why did he seem so familiar to her? Why did they seem to know each other so well?

I have to stop him…I…have…

A sigh escaped him and he moved an arm, sliding a hand up her back to cup the back of her head. She couldn't stop a whimper from escaping her. She knew it wasn't right, what others would think if they saw, if they knew…but for the life of her she couldn't stop him. He held her so softly; he was so gentle with her…It almost frightened her. Her heart thundered in her ears, she felt dizzy and confused, and yet safe…safe in his embrace.

Why…why do I feel this way…who –is- this man…?

With a gasp, as if suddenly coming to the realization of what he was doing, he pulled back and put space between them, and the warm feeling went away, leaving her cold and somewhat empty.

"I…I'm sorry…" His expression shifted between sadness, guilt, and then nothing.

April's heart sunk, and she turned away. "Just go."

"I…"

"Just go."

She kept her voice devoid of all emotion. She heard the fluttering rustle of the tent's opening, and she knew then that she was alone in the room. She sunk into a chair.

I can't be attracted to him. He's the enemy. This can't be happening. It doesn't matter that his people have turned their back on him. In his own mind he is still an Apostle to the Azadi. He still clings to their beliefs as if they are the very air he breathes. I can't let this happen…I can't…

And yet, even though she knew she could tell herself that a million times, she knew it wasn't true. Whether she liked it or not, he had kissed her. And whether she had liked it or not, she had let him. He was slowly wiggling his way into her heart somehow, and now that he had come this far… she knew that there would be no stopping him. She glanced up at the tent's ceiling, as if gazing to the sky.

"This is all your fault, you know?"

"April…are you alright?" Benrime's concerned voice called out to her as she entered the tent. "The Apostle looked upset. He didn't harm you, did he?"

"N…no."

Benrime must have heard the nervous tremble in April's voice, for she gently grasped and turned April to face her, looking up at her face. "Child, something is wrong, isn't it?"

"Nothing is wrong, Benrime. I don't want to talk about it right now."

She knew by the look on Benrime's face that she was seeing right through her. Benrime had always had the knack of knowing more about you or about what you were thinking than she should have. Some people thought that she had magic herself. April had always believed she just understood people… and had good instincts.

"April…" There was a definite ring of warning to her voice.

"He…kissed me."

"April!" She hissed in a whisper.

"I know! I know!" April whispered back. "I didn't mean for it to happen… I don't think even –he- meant for it to happen… he freaked out…"

"Don't get too close to him, child. He could do you more harm than good."

"I know. It won't happen again."

"How can you be so sure? April, dear, there is definitely chemistry between the two of you. Anyone would have to be a fool not to see it. Considering what you've told be about how he seems to recognize you from somewhere…it isn't all that surprising that something is happening between you. But make sure you don't fall into a spider's web. The Apostle cannot be trusted."

"You don't trust him?"

She sighed. "He is a good man, and I feel deep in my bones he will do the right thing in the end, but I mean trust him with your heart. You've been hurt so many times because you let yourself get carried away with your hopes…don't let your hopes and dreams rule you and cloud your better judgment. Your men need you. They would be furious to know that anything at all happened between you two. It would confirm their worst fears, or at least reinforce them. They already think you have been swayed by Kian. Don't let that become truth."

April felt a sigh escape her and she shook her head.

I'm not trying to get involved with the Apostle, Benrime. I'm trying not to feel anything at all towards him. He is still my enemy, whether he is cooperating or not. He is unwilling to help us; showing me that he still feels loyalty to those who fed him lies and turned him into a monster.

"Do what you feel needs to be done, April. All I ask is that you think before you make a decision. As you said outside…we must all think of the consequences of our actions."

"I know."

"Benrime is right."

April and Benrime both looked towards the entrance of the tent. Kirin stood in the doorway, supported by a wooden staff that one of the carpenters had carved out of a thick tree branch for him.

"Kirin…you shouldn't trespass on others conversations." Benrime reprimanded him calmly.

Kirin scratched the back of his head nervously and looked apologetically at April for a moment before he shook his head. "I think he's a good guy, April. But now isn't a time for romance. War is impending, and eventually he's going to have to choose a side. If you bind yourself to him, let your feelings conquer you, and he chooses the Azadi…You'd be heartbroken. You'd be angry. You'd be unfit to lead because your mind would turn to doing harm to the one who had hurt you. Trust me, I've been there. Tatya stopped me from doing just that. Don't walk that same path."

April shook her head and sunk into a chair. "It's not that simple, Kirin. I'm not attempting to have feelings for the Apostle. I'm not trying to feel anything at all for him. At the moment, he is still a threat to us. I don't understand why these feelings have presented themselves. Do you both think I'm stupid enough to act like a daffy blonde at a time like this?"

"A daffy blonde?" Benrime looked confused.

"Think village idiot." Kirin explained the best way he could.

"Oh." Benrime seemed to go deep into thought.

April could not help but laugh at this. Once her laughter had subsided, she shook her head again. "I'm not going to be stupid about this. Both of you can be reassured by that."

Benrime nodded. "I know you'll make the right decision in the end." She glanced to Kirin and shook her head. "And you could learn to take a page from your own book, Kirin. You know Tatya does not feel the same way as you. You should find yourself a nice farming woman."

Kirin grinned. "Are you making a proposition, Benrime?"

Benrime scoffed and gave Kirin a gentle -fwap- with her hand before leaving the tent. April chuckled again.

"Promise me something." Kirin murmured quietly after Benrime was well out of sight.

"What's that?"

"Use your head. Whatever you do… don't be dumb about it. I've lost enough friends already. I don't want to lose any more."

Kirin didn't even give April a chance to answer. He turned and walked out, leaving her alone.