Samantha was being watched.
It was a subtle sensation, this feeling of a slight shadow crossing her path, just outside the range of her vision. The hairs on back of her neck stood on end as she continued the pretense of examining the windows of the abandoned inn. Even other knights of her rank may have missed it, despite their intensive training. Commander Samantha Bergeron was not the average Crimson Blade, however.
She whispered a soft chant under her breath, scanning the room with sharp, green eyes even as her slight hand rested on the hilt of her rapier. A shadow on the far wall glowed briefly, revealing itself for a split second before dissipating into the ether. She nodded in satisfaction, but then let out a startled gasp. A pale figure emerged from the shadow's hiding place, his metallic hands applauding her ingenuity in a quietly mocking tone.
"He has taught you well, my dear," he congratulated her with a smirk. Samantha hissed and drew her blade.
"Get thee behind me, Sydney!" Her voice quivered a bit in fear, but she held her ground.
"For what purpose, dear Samantha?" The smirk on his lips slithered into a lewd smile. Samantha scowled at him, inching forward with her rapier held steady in her grasp.
"None you would favor, heretic. I do God's work here."
Sydney leaned against the wall, claws drumming a steely rhythm upon the exposed brick. His expression turned rather curious.
"God's, or Guildenstern's?" Sydney raised a questioning eyebrow at her, and she narrowed her eyes in defiance.
"They are one and the same, fiend."
"Are they truly?" Sydney stared at her, all trace of mirth gone from his face. She stopped in her tracks, baffled by the sorcerer's sudden, chameleon-esque change in demeanor. She didn't like the way he was looking at her, with those questions in his beautiful brown eyes. It seemed as if he were peering into her very soul, and it unsettled her deeply.
"Why are you here, Sydney? What is the meaning of all this?"
"I thought I was merely enjoying a spirited conversation with a lovely young maiden."
"Be serious, fiend!"
Sydney bore down on her in the blink of an eye, so fast that Samantha's reflexes simply didn't have time to react. She found herself disarmed and pinned against the opposite wall, mithril claws pressed into her sleeves, his eyes boring into her once more. Samantha squirmed, but his height advantage was too much for her to overcome. Those eyes, beautiful and terrible, would not let her flee so easily. She closed her own and turned away, unable to bear his probing stare.
"My lady," Sydney began in a soft whisper, "what precisely do you mean to accomplish here in the Dark City?"
"I…" Samantha felt her will crumbling to dust, even as she knew the sorcerer must have placed some compulsion on her. She clamped her eyelids tighter, focusing on the shielding charms from the grimoire. Eko-navorum-este-prostasia-
She felt a single, razor-sharp talon lift her chin ever so delicately, forcing her to look upon him.
"Get thee gone—"
"Samantha," Sydney repeated a second time, more firmly than the last. "Open your eyes before the Master of this city."
Her eyes opened with his command, and locked on his. To her surprise and bewilderment, Sydney was looking at her not as an all-powerful sorcerer about to crush his enemy. Instead, he looked upon her with empathy. Pathos, even.
"But, why?" Samantha asked quietly. Sydney smiled at her, and it was like a golden sunrise captured in glass.
"Do you think me a monster, Samantha?" He brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes, nicking her cheek with his claw as if to punctuate his question.
"You…you fear nothing, not even God. Indeed, through the Dark you work miracles and claim His mantle," she replied.
"And what of your own, private miracles? Are you and your fellow Blades not workers of the Dark yourselves?"
"We are servants of God," Samantha insisted, though it seemed as though she was trying to convince herself as much as Sydney. "Through Him, all things are made pure. Ours is a righteous cause, and better these gifts used by the righteous than by heathens with no respect for God."
"The ends justify the means, then? I don't recall reading that in St. Iocus' teachings."
"What would you know of such things, pagan?"
Sydney leaned in close, so close she could feel his breath upon her neck, and it sent a very unwanted tingle down her spine.
"I know that pride cometh before the fall, and that dreams not shared become dreams deferred. Take care that the dreamer's pride does not consume you both," he breathed into her ear. Samantha's eyes grew wide, and she began to falter again. His specific choice of words was disturbing…how did he know of the dreams she shared with Romeo?
"You know nothing of our dream—"
"His dream," Sydney countered. "And what of your own, sweet Samantha?"
"I…I would remain at his side, until the end of days." She suddenly found herself quite incapable of lying to her interrogator, and she wondered if he had imposed his will on her again, despite not sensing it. Charm was its own form of magick, she supposed.
Sydney simply sighed at her answer, and brushed her cheek with the back of his mithril hand. It was imbued with a sense of warmth, and the Dark, and sympathy, leaving yearning in its wake. Samantha felt a pang of regret seasoned by guilt as she realized she felt so cold when he withdrew it.
"Dear Samantha," Sydney sighed, "there is no room for love in the heart of a tyrant."
"Romeo is no tyrant!" Samantha cried. "He wishes to cleanse the kingdom of corruption, and bring the people closer to God…"
"He seeks to forge an empire of cold, unfeeling legalism and will plunge this land into despair if he succeeds."
"Stop it!" Samantha screamed, Sydney's words piercing her as surely as his claws. This pagan sorcerer, foul heretic…he knew nothing of her lover's heart. These words were meant to enrage her, and nothing more. Sydney was the enemy, after all. "Romeo is a good and honorable man…"
"The proverbial knight in shining armor," Sydney chuckled. "But you are a commander in your own right, are you not?" He gestured briefly at the basket-hilted rapier on the floor a few feet away from them. "It is not customary for fair maidens in distress to carry swords, if I recall correctly."
Samantha bristled and managed to stand a little taller, looking up at him indignantly. Just who did he think he was talking to?
"I am Commander Samantha Bergeron of the Knights of the Cross," she said imperiously. "I am no damsel-in-distress."
Sydney smiled, and somehow it made her knees tremble and her blood run cold all at once.
"Of course. You are the finest field medic in the Cardinal's employ. You've brought men back from the very precipice of death itself." Sydney stared at her pointedly. "Why, then, do you fear it so?"
"I…I fear nothing!" she stammered. Sydney merely smiled at her again.
"Come, now. Everyone fears something."
"What is it that you fear then, Sydney?"
"Being alone," he replied quietly, and Samantha could hear the sincerity in his voice. "However, I believe my question to you remains unanswered. Why have you let this fear tighten its grasp on your heart to the point where you follow this man blindly?"
Samantha stared at him helplessly, her mouth half open as if she were about to answer, but the words just wouldn't come. Sydney was right, and in spite of her feeble protests to the contrary, she could not conceal her feelings from him. Death frightened her indeed, perhaps more than anything else—even separation from her beloved Romeo. Only torment and unending suffering awaited her in the House of the Dead, if she crossed its threshold at all. Traversing the streets of Léa Monde, haunted by the souls of those damned by the Dark to walk in unimaginable yearning for all eternity—this opened Samantha's eyes to the true nature of the forces Romeo and the others so casually dealt with. The power she's so naively partaken of, thinking it God's will…even now, inside this decrepit old building, she could hear the fruits of this power in the despairing wails in the wind. They were the cries of the wandering lost, whose deaths were incomplete, and the very thought that she would likely become one of them terrified Samantha. That was to be her fate, but Romeo would save her. He would never let her suffer so.
"He is a scoundrel, sweet Samantha," Sydney said gravely, answering her silent thoughts as clearly as if she'd spoken them aloud. "The fiend plays you false, smiling with honeyed words to your face even as he coats his blade with poison behind your back."
"You lie!" Samantha gasped.
"What possible reason would I have to lie to you?"
"You seek to sow discord among us, to buy you and your cohorts time to escape."
Sydney laughed bitterly, pulling away and turning his back to her.
"Don't be so daft, Samantha. Your Cardinal may find your doe-eyed innocence endearing, but it may be the end of you yet. Ask yourself why Guildenstern concealed his knowledge of the true nature of the Gran Grimoire from you, despite the fact that you are ostensibly his apprentice, and you may yet begin to understand his purpose here."
With that, Sydney grew stiff and suddenly fell backward, disappearing into a flock of black doves as he hit the floor. Samantha watched as the birds scattered one by one, disappearing into shadow, leaving her to contemplate his disturbing words.
She retrieved her rapier, and sheathed it. Sydney was a wily opponent, indeed, and known for his use of guile and subterfuge as much as his prodigious charisma and skill at manipulating the Dark. However, he did speak truth…Samantha felt that Romeo's reaction to the revelation of Léa Monde itself being the Gran Grimoire was a bit too pat. Was he truly feigning ignorance all this time, and for what purpose? What was he hiding from her?
Samantha left the inn, and perhaps a few illusions behind.