He watched them as he walked by, heard them whispering and gawking. No matter how much he distanced himself, he still could never escape what he used to be. He was the Dragon Child, the Savior, and the one that brought both freedom and suffering—depending on who was asked.
What was left of the Knights of the Seal went on to become Eris's guardians and protectors. After all, after he and Manah freed the final Seal, there weren't anything left for them to guard except for Eris herself, and no matter what Nowe did or said, the Knights still resented him. He was the one that had shown Gismor to the world, showing who he really was—a menace—but by doing so, he caused the world to crumble. He had killed every one of the Guardians, he killed the red dragon—the last Goddess—and Caim, the one-eyed man, and he almost brought on an entire war against the Holy Dragons. In the eyes of majority of the people, and of the Knights, there wasn't enough good to balance the terrible things he had done.
Ignorance was bliss for too many people.
Manah smiled at him, but she didn't say a word. She knew better than to do that, even if she was a rebellious firecracker herself. She was just as hated as Nowe was as far as the Keep was concerned, if not more.
He forced himself to smile back, but the knotted up clump of anxiety in his stomach kept him from really meaning it.
Eris had asked for Nowe specifically by name, and even though she said she didn't hold anything against him, he couldn't help but still feel guilty. After all this time, there was no way she couldn't resent him for freeing the last Goddess. After all the pain, the hurt, the pressure, there was no way she wasn't angry. Every other Goddess in history had developed regret and hatred for the burden that was placed upon them, and Eris, some day, would probably be no different.
It was only a matter of when.
Nowe walked only a feet steps ahead of Manah, trying to ignore the whispers and stares from the Knights as he went. Their judgments had always eaten at him, but he was able to ignore them before. Before, he hadn't done anything to deserve their hatred. But now, he had his own guilt to fight with, and their "talk" only made things worse.
Two Guards stood on either side of the tall wooden doors, which opened into the hallway that led to Eris's room. Neither of them so much as looked down as they approached.
"Do we just go through?" Manah whispered.
Nowe cleared his throat. "We're here to see the Lady Eris," he said. "The Goddess."
He nearly choked on his words. It was still strange to refer to her as the "Goddess." She had always been the noble Knight, and the loyal friend. The Goddess was still something new.
The Guards didn't say a word. Nowe shrugged at Manah, and stepped forward to push the doors open. As he started to walk through, the Guards brought down their swords, blocking the path for Manah.
"Hey, wait a minute," Nowe said. "She's with me."
"The Lady Eris did not ask to see her," one of them said, trying to shoo Manah back with the steel blade. She took a single step backwards, staring defiantly at them.
Nowe turned around and, as he was about to try to help Manah force her way through, was taken by surprise as the other Guard knelt over, holding the sword down to him.
"If you are going to see the Goddess, then leave now," he said.
Nowe eyed the edge of the sword, level with his collarbone. He didn't want to leave her, but he wasn't prepared for a fight. It was the last thing he needed right now, to burn another bridge with the Knights.
"Nowe, just go ahead. I'll wait here for you."
He stared at her, and she smiled again. She nodded, trying to convince him to go.
"I'll be fine right here," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, just go."
He turned away from her, watching as the doors closed again, leaving him alone in the hallway. The red carpet under his feet led down the entire way and stopped at another wooden door. It was the only door in the entire hall.
Things were starting to feel like they had nine months ago. It was like he was being forced, again, to choose between Manah and Eris. Except, this time, things were only a little bit simpler. Or maybe, in reality, it was much more complex.
He knocked on the door, but no one answered. The air around him was silent. He was afraid to say anything, just in case he shattered the silence around them, and broke it into a million pieces just with a single word. He stood there a moment—waiting—and not saying a thing.
"You may come in."
It sounded like Eris's voice, except that it was worn and tired. It didn't really sound like her. It sounded so dead.
He pushed open the door, and was surprised at how empty the room was. They had put her in the highest tower of the Keep, with nothing more than a bed, a small table, and a chair. The walls and floors were stone and the only light that came in was from the window.
It looked like a prison cell. He wondered if every other Goddess had to live the same way.
Eris sat in a chair, facing the window, with her back to him. He couldn't see her face. She no longer wore her hair up in a braided bun. Instead, it was down and it had grown a bit longer since he had last seen her. Her hands were rested in her lap and she simply stared ahead, like she was entranced with the rainy weather outside.
"Eris?" he said.
Her voice was barely above a whisper.
He wasn't sure what to say to her. Asking how she was doing didn't seem like the best thing to do at the moment.
For a few seconds, he stood there at the back of the room before she finally shifted around in her chair to look at him. Her skin was pale, her eyes looking tired and sunken into her skull.
"Please, sit down," she said, motioning to the bed. "I would get you a chair, but…"
"You aren't allowed to go anywhere, I know," he said, walking over to her and sitting down.
She turned away again to look out the window. It was as if hearing the fact she couldn't go anywhere being repeated by another person had hurt her.
"The weather looks gloomy today," she said.
"It kind of is, and it's been raining every other day."
She looked sad again.
"Sorry," he said.
"What for?" She turned to look at him.
He debated on whether he wanted to apologize for the last twenty seconds or for the entire last year.
She looked like a ghost sitting in that chair. The strong and confident aura she once had was long gone, and it was replaced with a fragile existence. She wasn't the Eris he used to know. She was a shell of the girl he had grown up with, the girl he had trained with, the girl that was like a sister to him. The brave woman who gave herself up to save mankind was gone, and in her place, there was a delicate porcelain doll.
"Nowe?" she said.
He hadn't realized that he had been staring. He darted his eyes away and muttered a quiet apology, focusing on the floor.
"You look sad when you look at me," she said.
He looked up at her again, and the corners of her mouth twitched, like she was trying to smile. It was as if she had forgotten how to.
"Eris, what have they done to you?" he said.
She sighed and turned the other way, standing up and walking away from the window. She moved past the table, running her fingers over the cover of a book that was rested on top.
"It's the life of a Goddess," she sighed.
Her eyes drifted down and she looked at the book. Her fingers grazed the top of it again and she looked up at him.
"They never did anything," she said. "It's what I chose for myself."
He couldn't think of what to say to her. Nothing he could say could fix things, and it couldn't change what Eris had become.
"But I'm starting to think," Eris said, "that it was a mistake."
Her hand balled up into a fist and she jerked her head up. There was a sudden fire in her eyes, a burning. It looked too fierce for her broken body to handle. She stared at him, and the look on her face started to make him uncomfortable.
He slowly stood up and leaned back towards the wall, away from her.
"Why did you ask me to come here?" he said.
The fire went out just as soon as it had been sparked, and her eyes looked dull and lifeless again.
"I wanted to ask you something," she said. "I'm not sure, but I think it may be possible to transfer the Goddess Seal from one person to another. We—you—would have to talk to Hierarch Seere, but I think—"
"What are you saying, Eris?" He watched her, waiting for something, as if she was a mad animal that was about to snap and attack.
She paused. "I believe that Manah should carry the burden of the Seal."
"That woman is the reason all of this happened. It's because of her that the Seal we had before was released." She started to walk back towards the window.
"But the Red Dragon was—"
She spun around to face him, her hair whipping across her face. "The Red Dragon was a demon."
"No, Eris, you don't understand. She was—"
"Stop, Nowe. Just stop."
Eris leaned against the window and looked down.
"I don't want to hear the excuses," she said. "It's what I believe. Manah should be the one who bears the weight of the Goddess."
"You even said yourself that it was your own choice," Nowe said.
"I know it was, and I was wrong. I made a mistake, and I'm asking to fix it."
Nowe stood up. "You aren't asking to fix it. You're asking to pawn it off on someone else."
"Only on someone else that is much more deserving than I," she said.
"Deserving? How is she more 'deserving?'"
"She was the one who helped save the world, but she never would have had to if she never broke the Seals. She is both a hero and a heretic, and it is both an honor and a punishment to serve as Goddess."
Nowe started to move towards the door.
"She's done nothing to deserve something like that," he said.
Eris twisted around and started to follow him, taking long strides, anger rising on her face.
"And I do? Do you think I deserve something like that? Do you think I should suffer in such a way?" she screamed.
She went to the desk and grabbed the book, throwing it to the ground. It slid across the stone floor and hit the wall next to Nowe's feet.
"I don't want this anymore," she said. "I can't take any more of it."
She almost fell against the wall, propping herself up on her arm, silently crying. The pain was clear on her face. She was hurting, she was losing faith, and from the look of her, she was even dying. Whether it was emotionally or physically, Nowe couldn't tell.
He knelt down and picked up the book, flipping through it. It was a collection of illustrations, scriptures, and passages. It didn't make any sense to him, and yet, something about it scared him. It brought the reality of what pain the Goddess Seal caused to come crashing down again.
She walked over and snatched the book out of his hands. Tears were starting to dry on her cheeks. She looked him in the eyes, stared into them, and begged.
"Please, Nowe," she said. "Please."
Her voice started to shake as desperation took hold.
He pulled away from her and went over to the door.
"I…I'm sorry, Eris," he said.
He ignored her screaming and shouting as he pushed the door open again and disappeared back down the hall.