Author's Notes: If you have a character for long enough, I think everyone starts writing stories in their head about them. I decided to put mine down on paper.
Lion's Arch felt different.
As I walked and browsed through the various merchant stalls, my hood carefully obscuring my face, I reveled in these differences. Several years ago, Ascalonians were settled in their own camp, away from Lion's Arch.
But the War in Kryta changed everything.
The White Mantle didn't see Krytan or Ascalonian. They simply saw 'enemy.' It gave those living and working in Kryta a chance to bind themselves through blood and tears, not just sharing land. Now it didn't matter where your homeland was, but instead where you lived and breathed. Where you were willing to pick up the pieces after the war and rebuild.
This sense of community was exactly what Prince Rurik hoped for when he led his people through the Shiverpeaks. I could only wish that he had a chance to experience this for himself.
I stopped suddenly at a stall full of meats and spices. The overwhelming guilt that I felt from ending Rurik's life threatened to spill over the sides of the box I had neatly tucked it in to all those years ago. At my core, I knew I hadn't killed him, I had freed him, but knowing that he ceased to exist in any form because of a simple spell from my hands…
In order not to attract attention, I quickly starting looking at the wares. There were spices from Vabbi and the Echovald Forest. Lion's Arch was truly becoming cosmopolitan. I picked up some sage from Rata Sum, idly wondering if the spice could improve the travel ration recipe I had been working on.
With no fight ahead of me, no cause to rally around, I had been focusing on my cooking, specifically the travel rations I always carried with me. They tasted awful, but did what they needed to do. Anything would be an improvement than what they currently tasted like.
A heavy breeze caught me unawares, causing my hood to fall from my face. I quickly pulled the hood back up, not wanting anyone to recognize me. A toothless smile from the spice merchant told me I was too late.
"Are ye the Lady Hindemith?" he asked cheerfully.
I sighed, cursing my white hair for giving away my identity so quickly. Nodding once, I hoped that would be enough to sate the merchant's curiosity.
Instead of leaving me alone to shop, as I hoped, he took a weathered hand and placed it on top of mine. I paused, and looked the man in the eye for the first time. While he might be only a merchant, just by looking in his eyes, I could tell this was a man clearly in pain.
"Thank you for saving Lion's Arch," he said simply.
I nodded once more, and allowing myself a small smile, I said softly, "You're welcome."
While I had hoped to pass through Lion's Arch undetected, I was glad that I had been recognized by this man. This was the type of man I was always fighting for. And I didn't want to be in danger of ever forgetting that.
I continued shopping until the sun was almost down. With no other tasks ahead, I wandered over to the numerous weapons stalls. There were weapons of all kinds, even ones that used to be considered exotic, such as daggers or spears.
However, exotic was not what I had in mind. In battle I had found myself relying on a wand and shield more often for when I used the element of earth. In light of that, I decided it was time to look for a fire wand and perhaps a focus as well.
While I doubted that any artisan in Lion's Arch could make a weapon to my standards – I would commission the weapon in Droknar's Forge, perhaps - I was more interested in seeing the aesthetics. For ideas.
Stopping in front of a small stall, I saw that there were a number of different types of weapons. That alone was unusual. Most crafters tended to specialize in one or two different types of weapons. This vendor apparently tried to specialize in them all!
Picking up a flame artifact, I realized that it looked incredibly familiar.
"You don't still have it, do you?" asked a deep voice.
I looked up quick and saw the vendor standing in front of me, his arms crossed. He was a stocky man in ill fitted clothes. At first, I assumed he was just like any other vendor but then I noticed the muscles that his clothes were obviously meant to hide. This man was a fighter.
"Have what?" I asked, curious to know where this sales pitch was headed.
The vendor gave a mock sigh. "I had more faith in you, Lady Hindemith," he told me. "I thought you the type to remember every weapon you've ever held in battle."
I was immediately on guard, knowing that this man not only recognized me, but was willing to call me out in front of all these people. At least at the cooking stall, I had been the only customer.
The murmurs around me increased, people no doubt whispering about the 'Lady Hindemith.' Trying to control the situation best I could, I held up the artifact.
"I held this very artifact in battle?" I asked with a smile. "I generally don't lose things that come into my possession."
And then I remembered. The coloring had looked familiar, which is why I had been drawn to it in the first place. "I wielded an artifact just like this in Ascalon, just before the searing!"
"An Arthur Ayala original," the vendor said with a bow.
"You sold me that weapon?" I asked. I vaguely remembered the weapon master in Ascalon City during that time. A bald, paunchy man. Certainly it couldn't be this warrior in front of me!
"Aye," he said with a sigh. "That was me. If you were ever to have told me that I'd be selling weapons in Kryta ten years ago…"
"Nothing is the same as it was," I said somewhat wistfully, remembering the few days before the searing when it felt like my most important task was finding a gift for the Lady Althea's birthday. And then came the day I remember even more clearly. The day I had proven myself worthy to stand among Prince Rurik's honored soldiers. And then there was fire…
"Well, I'd certainly be honored to sell you another," Ayala told me, interrupting my winding thoughts. I panicked silently, knowing I didn't have the gold for two weapons at the moment, not when I was saving for new armor. "However, I know my worth, and my crafting skills certainly aren't up to the level you would require, Lady Hindemith."
I smiled, sad to see him put himself down so, but also pleased that he understood my weapon needs.
"Thank you for the flame artifact you sold me all those years ago," I said softly. I bowed, and started to turn, when he put a strong hand on my shoulder.
"I'd be happy to have someone to talk to about the old days," he said. "Perhaps over dinner some night?"
I thought about that for a moment. POET was currently spread across Tyria, working on their own accomplishments. Personally, I was ready for a bit of a break from fighting. And if a break from fighting let me have dinner with an old friend, I certainly couldn't complain.
"So you're telling me that you stole a moa egg right from a nest? While the moas were right there?" Ayala laughed and took a swig of ale.
I smiled, remembering the things I went through to bring that little black moa chick to life.
The waiter came by our table again. "Another ale, sir?" he asked Ayala.
"Lady Hindemith, are you sure you don't want any?" Ayala asked me.
"I'm sure," I said softly, thinking of the times that I had abused drink and being so glad those days were behind me. "I don't drink."
"Your loss. This is fine ale," he said with a grin. Then to the waiter he added, "Another."
A comfortable silence settled over our table as I took a sip of water. This was the second time Ayala and I had met since our meeting at the weapon stall. And in those two meetings, I realized that this man had potential to become a good friend, a confidant, even.
"You've lived an extraordinary life, Sonya," he told me.
I looked up quickly, realizing that this was the first time he had called me by my given name. I had not once called him 'Arthur,' simply using his surname. I wondered what that meant.
"I've been lucky. I'm in an extraordinary guild. They deserve the credit," I responded.
"The famous POET."
"Not so famous. There are much larger out there," I countered. "One of our sister guilds has twice the number of members we do. But it's a wonderful guild, even if we're not grandest."
He was quiet for a moment, looking like he wanted to say something. I remained silent, letting myself enjoy the atmosphere of the small tavern we were in. My gaze fell on him then, taking stock of the differences that ten years make.
Back in Ascalon, he was a stocky man with a beard and a shaved head. There had been an unusual blue tattoo on the top of his head, which could only just be seen under the buzz cut he currently had. The beard was gone completely. It was like looking at a different man.
I know I certainly had changed since those days in Ascalon. Certainly no longer an idealistic eighteen year old. Physically I had changed as well, thinking of the hideous scar on my stomach, that no monk had been able to heal. That scar made finding armor quite difficult sometimes.
Ayala breathed in deeply, and let it out quickly. I looked at him, curious to know what he was thinking. I found out soon enough, as he simply put his hand on top of mine.
I paused, trying to decide if this was something to encourage. It had been quite some time since my last romance, as there had never been enough time to stop and think. However, with no battle ahead, I had the time to think. But I also knew that time was precious. Did I want to spend that time with Ayala?
Making an impromptu decision, I decided that I would.
[i]Six Months Later[/i]
I turned around at the sound of Ayala's voice, and was not prepared for the massive bear hug that was awaiting me.
"I missed you," he said, letting me go. "You never said you were going to be gone this long."
"I hadn't planned on it," I admitted. "But Cantha…"
I trailed off, thinking of what a failure my mission in Cantha had been. Emperor Kisu was growing more and more xenophobic. His late half-brother, Master Togo would have been devastated by these turn of events. I never understood xenophobia, thinking of all the amazing non-humans I knew, like Jora and Vekk. Humanity felt special, certainly, but I only felt that because I was human. Just like the Norn thought they were special, or the Asurans.
"There's a lot of rumors going on about Cantha," Ayala said.
I took his offered arm and we started walking around the Hot Springs, where we had agreed to meet for the first time in months. Today was my first day back in Tyria after a grueling four months in Cantha.
"Most of them are probably true," I said with a sigh. "I seemed to do nothing right. Though I did at least find a new hero to work with." While I never worked with assassins much, Miku's dedication would certainly be an asset whenever she was on my team.
"Did you do everything possible to make things right?" he asked me.
I stopped in my tracks and put my hands on my hips. "Of course I did! How could you even ask that question?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Then why are you clearly beating yourself over what happened?"
Looking inwards, I quickly realized he was right. I had been analyzing every single decision I had made over there. But I knew that I wouldn't have changed a single one. So while the events might not have gone as I had wanted, I did everything in my power to do the right thing.
"Thank you," I said with a laugh as we started walking again.
"For what?" he asked.
"For making me see reason. My guild mates weren't even able to do that," I said.
"Perhaps an outsider's perspective was all that was needed," he told me.
I stopped walking again and looked at him. "But you're not an outsider," I said softly. And as I said that, I meant the words. While I hadn't know him long, I felt like I knew who he was and that we seemed to fit together well.
He stared at me intensely and I wondered if this would be the moment of confession. We had been courting, as one might call it for two months before I was called away to Cantha. There had been a kiss or two at the end of an evening together, but no binding words spoken between us. He was a good man, and I felt ready for some form of commitment.
"Sonya…" he trailed off.
"Yes, Arthur," I replied, taking his hand in mine, encouraging him.
"I was wondering…" He took his free hand and ran it over his head, stopping on his tattoo. "Would you like me to teach you weapon craft?"
I dropped his hand, and the spell that had been woven between us was gone. "Weapon crafting?" I asked slowly.
"Aye," he said, looking down at his feet. "Would you be interested?"
I thought about his offer. As a matter of principle I generally never turned down the chance to learn something new. And I certainly wasn't going to start now.
"That is the ugliest staff I've ever seen in my life," Arthur laughed.
Looking down at my creation, I knew he was right. But it didn't matter to me. This was the first staff that I crafted that was magically sound. The previous staves I had crafted were unstable and hence unusable for combat. This ugly staff that looked more like a gnarled walking stick than a staff that had harnessed magic safely and correctly. Someday I would be able to make weapons that were both powerful and beautiful. But for now, I was content with powerful.
Arthur had been working on a blood magic specter. Back in Ascalon, before the Searing, he had been an apprentice to a necromancer, but told me he never felt comfortable with the dead, preferring weapon crafting instead.
He put down the specter, sat next to me and kissed my temple. I could tell he was as proud of me as I was. "What element shall you attune it to, my love?"
It had been a long six months to get to this point. While I helped out my guild as often as I could, they also seemed to understand that I was in a period of transition. I had finally realized that I was getting older, almost thirty now and had spoken several times of my desire to marry and have a family. When that day came I would most likely retire from fighting. But if I could craft magical artifacts, there would be no need to leave POET. I could still contribute and be a part of the guild.
"Fire," I said softly.
Fire had always been my favorite element. While I was versed in them all, Fire was the discipline I was most comfortable in. I didn't need a new fire staff; my Tormented Fire Staff was one of my most treasured possessions. But I wanted the first usable staff that I crafted to be in the element I loved the most.
There was a knock on the door and Arthur stood up. "Duty calls."
We were in his workshop near Nebo Terrance. Nebo Terrance had become one of the premiere crafting spots in the last year or two, even eclipsing Droknar's Forge. Artisans of all flavors called this area their home.
As he went to open the door, I studied my new staff carefully. After a moment, I realized that I had made a staff that looked quite like Nicholas the Traveler's walking stick. My thoughts linger on him for a moment as I remembered Mary.
He had loved her so passionately that there had been no consoling him when she died in the Searing. And he had been running ever since, traveling all over the world trying to shed his grief.
I wondered if I could ever love that deeply and passionately. Arthur was a wonderful companion and I cared for him deeply. But that type of love?
I looked up to watch him, to gauge my reaction to him after thinking these thoughts. He was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest, talking to a gentleman in a cloak. With a start, I realized that the stranger had the same blue tattoo on his forehead that Arthur had.
The visitor caught me staring and jerked his head. Arthur seemed to catch his drift immediately and left the workshop with the gentleman, letting the door slam behind him.
Feeling a bit slighted, I went back to work.
"Thank you all for being here," Rayvn Silverwind said with a grin.
I was standing next to my guild mates, the first time we had gathered as a guild more than a year, since we had come back from Cantha. There had been plenty of informal gatherings in that time, certainly. But not an official meeting.
Looking around, I was thrilled to see so many familiar faces. Not a single member failed to answer Rayvn's call.
"There is trouble in Elona," Rayvn said matter-of-factly. "I've heard from my sources in the Sunspears that Pawala Joka is forming an army."
"I knew we shouldn't have let that madman live," Athos said under his breath.
"We gave him our word," Sir Beregond responded, ending the matter.
"Even with the fall of Varesh, Elona remains in chaos. Kourna is lashing out against its allies. We need to help," Rayvn told the group.
Over the next several hours, we discussed strategy. When Rayvn was content with our plan, he sent the guild on their way, save the officers. The seven of us then refined the details. Once done, Athos immediately ordered everyone to the nearest tavern.
"Sonya and I will be along in a moment," Rayvn said. The others shared a confused glance and went on their way.
I looked at my guild leader, wondering what he possibly felt he had to say to me alone and not in front of the others. POET simply didn't keep secrets from each other.
"Are you sure you want to go?" Rayvn asked softly.
"How can you even ask that question?" I demanded. "If POET will be there, so will I!"
Rayvn held up his hands in surrender. "Peace." He took a breath. "Sonya, you've spoken several times about your future lately and fighting hasn't been in it. I assumed that with your relationship with Ayala and your crafting…"
I rubbed my temple as I contemplated what he said. "You're right. Of course you made that assumption. I'm sorry for snapping like that."
Several members of the guild had met Arthur at this point. He seemed to be like by all, considering he had crafted weapons for several of them before the searing, like he had mine. Though Arthur never seemed completely at ease around my guild mates. And I had never asked why that was.
We had been a couple for more than a year now and had talked about the future. The word marriage had even been mentioned once. By now I knew how my transition would occur. Marriage and when the moment arrived and I found out I was with child, I would retire from fighting completely and focus on crafting.
But that moment hadn't arrived yet.
I put my hand on my guild leader's shoulder and smiled. "I'm ready for one more battle by your side, my friend."
"Sonya? Are you with us?"
"Don't leave us, Sonya!"
"I need room to work!"
Voices swirled around my head as the ceiling above me came into focus. It was my ceiling. I was in my bed. Why was I in my bed?
"That's it! Anyone who isn't a Monk get out now!"
That voice I recognized. It was the slight lisp of my dear friend Lin of the Grove. I heard footsteps out the door as I struggled to keep my eyes open.
"What do you think, Luc?" Lin asked.
"I don't know this curse," Lucius Agathon responded.
"You know every curse."
"This says else wise," Lucius said angrily.
"Sonya?" Lin asked gently.
I turned my head and looked at my friend. I tried to respond in words but nothing came out.
"Don't try to talk, dear," she said softly, putting her hand on my shoulder.
Desperately I tried to ask her what happened using only my eyes.
"Do you remember the fight?" Lin asked. I shook my head. I remembered we had been in Elona but that's about it. Lin's voice shook as she spoke. "It's all my fault, Sonya. Undead. We were taking a lot of hits… they were focusing on casters, ignoring Athos and Sir Beregond completely. I tried to heal as fast as I could but they started attacking Lucius and I knew if he went down, we all would, so I stopped healing you and focused on him and all of a sudden you just went down like a rag doll…"
"You did exactly what you should have done, Lin," Lucius told her. "Stop beating yourself up about it."
What was it about being a hero that made us feel like we were infallible? That it was the complete end of the world if we made a mistake? [i]Amazing place for an epiphany,[/i] I thought weakly. But it was true. We were only human and one reason we needed the Six Gods in the first place was simply because humans made mistakes.
"Can you sit up?" Lin asked.
It took several long moments and a refusal of help but I was able to get in a sitting position. I took stock, realizing that I was wearing only a long nightdress and that my hair was down around my shoulders. Silly as it was, I was slightly embarrassed at being so unkempt. I always prided myself about my appearance.
"You're weak," Lucius told me.
I rolled my shoulders and realized it was true. I felt extremely weak. But weakness was just a condition. And conditions could be removed.
"I don't understand," I said, my voice raspy.
Lin immediately gave me a glass of water. "Don't drink too fast."
After taking a sip, I felt better. "Why-"
"A curse of some sort," Lucius explained. "I can't figure it out. Lin and I, even Padraig the Unwise have tried every single spell we know and even a few we made up for good measure. Darweshi tried shouts and anthems, Jess tried spirits, Athos tried Mending… we just can't figure it out."
"But we will," Lin said, her voice full of resolve. "We will."
Later that night, I was alone in my bedroom. Lin was sleeping in the living room of my small apartment; she was planning on staying until the weakness was removed from my system.
I thought of Arthur and how much I would have liked him to have been here. But when he knew I was planning on going to Elona for an extended period of time, he thought that would was the perfect time to go to the Maguum Jungle for supplies. There were a few that he used in crafting that he preferred to collect himself instead of relying on vendors.
Suddenly, there was an insistent knocking at the front door. I could hear Lin get up to answer it.
"Where is she?"
I smiled to myself. Someone in the guild must have communicated with Arthur and told him I had been injured. I wonder who it had been.
My bedroom door slammed open, causing me to jump slightly. Arthur stood in the doorway and we looked at each other for the first time in a month.
"You're alive," he said, taking a tentative step towards me.
"I'm alive," I agreed. "I'm very, very weak though. Some sort of curse-"
I nodded, too tired to explain further. Arthur sat on the edge of my bed next to me and took my hand. "I was frantic after Silverwind talked to me," he said, leaning his forehead against mine. "I couldn't get back to Kryta fast enough."
"How did you?" I asked. Without map travel, it wasn't an easy trip.
"Met an Asuran doing experiments in the jungle. He had an operational gate," Arthur told me. "Never used one of those before." He shuddered. "Hope never to again."
"They're not so-"
"I thought I lost you," Arthur said. "All of my plans… and I thought…"
I placed my hand on his cheek. Just moving my arm like that made me breathless. "I'm right here."
"Marry me," he whispered.
This certainly wasn't how I pictured how our engagement would start. But then I realized that the beginning of the journey wasn't nearly as important as to where it led you. "Gladly," I told him.
We simply looked at each other for a moment. As exhilarated as I was, knowing that I was to marry Arthur, I was absolutely exhausted.
Luckily, Arthur seemed to understand that. He kissed the top of my head and stood up. "Get some rest. I want to talk to Lin."
I nodded and settled myself among the pillows, ready for a good night's sleep. The last thing I remember hearing was Arthur asking, "Tell me everything you know about this curse."
And so we wed.
It was a very small ceremony. Though we had quite a big reception afterwards, in which all of POET attended. I was seated for most of the party.
Even after three months, I still had trouble standing for long periods of time before I felt the need to rest. Fighting was impossible. Lin was frantic, trying to figure out the answer. She even started consulting the necromancer Beatrycze Zarebina, whom I know she has an intent dislike for, trying to find the answer.
But I could still craft. And I threw myself into my new vocation whole-heartedly. Soon Arthur had to admit that I made better magical artifices than he did. He then focused on crafting melee weapons and together, Ayala Weapons started gaining prominence in the crafting community.
We bought a small cottage in Nebo Terrance; I was glad to leave Lion's Arch behind. Officially, I was still a member of POET, though I could only craft weapons for my fellow guild members and cheer from afar. Rayvn hadn't asked me to give up my spot as officer, but I knew it was a matter of time before I did so.
Life became predictable, and after twelve years of adventure, I reveled in it.
But then after four months of marriage, everything changed again when I realized I was with child. I was both thrilled and terrified. Thrilled for the obvious reasons, but terrified because I was still so weak. How could my body ever handle the difficulties of pregnancy?
Both Arthur and Lin vowed to do everything possible to keep me safe. With their support, as well as POET's, I knew that I would fine.
"Yes," I said, barely able to breathe. One hand covered my mouth and the other rested lightly on my five month pregnant stomach. Something must have happened to Arthur. I hadn't seen him since this morning and it was almost midnight.
"Arthur Ayala is your husband?"
"Yes," I said, sounding stronger. Whatever had happened, I would be strong. I had to be, for my child.
"Ayala's been placed under arrest for treason."
"Treason!" The words came out as a shout, winding me so that I had to steady myself with the wall. "There has to be some mistake."
"No mistake, Ma'am," the Seraph said. "He was caught bringing weapons to a group of men believed to be White Mantle sympathizers."
"My husband is no White Mantle," I said decidedly. "I need to speak to him."
"He isn't allowed visitors at the moment," the Seraph told me. "I'm just here to inform you of the situation."
I closed my eyes, hating what I was about to do. I had never asked for favors because of my name and I didn't want to start now. But I had no choice. "Sir, I understand that you're doing your job, but I am Sonya Hindemith. I need to speak to my husband."
His eyes widened when he put two and two together. "Of course, Lady Hindemith. Just come with me."
Thankfully he was traveling by a cart and we made good time to Lion's Arch. The Seraph holding cells were crowded, but I was able to find Arthur easily enough.
He stood when he saw me. "Sonya..."
"Tell me what happened," I asked softly. The Seraph Captain hadn't left my side. I rested my hands on the solid iron bars for support.
"You know that big order we just finished this afternoon?" he asked me. I nodded. One of his steady clients, Ichabod, had recently placed a large rush order. We had been working night and day to fill it for the past week.
"Ichabod is a White Mantle sympathizer?" I asked in disbelief. I had served that man dinner in my house on more than one occasion. To think that he could possibly be Mantle…
"I didn't know," Arthur told me. "I had no idea."
I turned to face the Seraph. "Captain, if you're going to call my husband a White Mantle sympathizer, you're going to have to call me one. I made some of those weapons that were in the delivery." For dramatic effect I put my hands out in front of me, waiting to be cuffed. "Which cell is mine?"
"Lady Hindemith, please…" The captain looked incredibly embarrassed. "This was all a misunderstanding, I'm sure. Let me just speak to someone."
The captain walked off, leaving me alone with Arthur. Well, as alone as two can be in a crowded prison.
"I'm sorry you had to see this," Arthur murmured.
"Well, let's hope they see reason. How could we have known about Ichabod?" I said angrily. "We've never spoken politics with him."
The Captain and another Seraph came up next to me. "You're free to go, Ayala. Just be more careful about who you do business with in the future."
Arthur nodded as the Seraph opened up the cell. "I'll be more careful than you can imagine."
"Hopefully I won't be gone for more than a few weeks," Lin said worriedly.
"Stop worrying about me," I laughed. "I'll be fine." Which wasn't exactly true. I was now seven months pregnant and exhausted all the time. I couldn't stand for more than a couple of minutes before I needed to sit down again.
"I know he's not the best Monk, but Padraig the Unwise will be in the area," she told me.
"Why isn't he going to Ebonhawke with the rest of the Alliance?" I asked curiously. Gwen and Thackeray had put out a distress call to anyone who would answer to defend Ebonhawke. A large Charr force was gathering and if the outpost wasn't defended now, there probably wouldn't be one to defend in the future.
"Let's just say he's not in fighting form right now," Lin said, rolling her eyes. "But I've told him everything and he'll be here to check up on you once in a while."
"Lin," Arthur said, putting his arm around me. "Sonya will be fine."
Lin smiled brightly and put her hands on my belly. "And when I get back, it'll almost be time for this one to come out."
"Well, our son couldn't ask for a better protector than you," I said, squeezing Lin's hand.
"Son?" Lin asked curiously. "How do you know?"
I shrugged. "Just a feeling. Hopefully he'll be stronger than his mother."
"You're plenty strong in the ways that matter, Sonya, you know that," Lin said seriously.
But the ways I wasn't strong was what concerned me most. After the life I had lived, being an invalid for the rest of my days seemed like an impossible task. Arthur and I had discussed it though. Once the baby was born, we would go to Elona and search for a different cure there. They had shamans and elders that simply did things different than a Tyrian or a Canthan Monk.
Lin took her leave and I stood in the doorway, watching her go. I saw a few other members of the Alliance talking a walk to the Asuran Gate near Lion's Arch. Gently, I put my hand over my heart knowing I would be with my guild in spirit.
"I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I miss my brother," Padraig the Unwise said with a sigh.
"You hate your brother," I laughed, idly turning the page of the book I was reading.
A few days after the Alliance left, Padraig had gotten into the habit of calling over in the evening. He had wanted to go to Ebonhawke as well, but was recovering from a bad hex. I could tell he missed the guild as much as I did. And considering Arthur was out on business a few nights a week now… I was glad for the company. Tonight was one of those nights.
"I don't hate my brother. I just don't like him very much," Padraig told me. "There's a big difference.
I considered this and then decided to ask a question that had been gnawing at me. "Padraig, why do they call you unwise?"
He sighed. "Caedmon's fault. He once told me how he made decisions. He would ask me what I would do, then do the opposite. And hence, I became known as 'unwise.'"
I shook my head in wonder, amazed how some of these nicknames started. Like Niahm the Liar. She was one of the most honest people I knew. But she loved the name because it helped her deal with Corsairs.
"Do you have any monk tomes?" Padraig asked suddenly.
"I believe so," I asked thoughtfully. "I brought some here when we moved. They'd be in the attic. I've really no need for them now. If you bring them down, they're yours."
"Excellent!" Padraig said happily.
He helped me up and then together we went to the stairwell that led to the attic. "You know, I've never actually been up there. Arthur did all the moving, since I'm so weak.
"Do you want to come up with me?"
I shook my head, laughing. "If I manage to get back there I might not get back down."
He pulled down the stairs to the attic and made it up in record time. I leaned against the wall and listened to him prattle on about his budding relationship with Zenmai.
And then all of a sudden, he stopped talking. "Did you find them?" I asked. There was no answer. "Padraig?"
I heard him cast a protection spell and wondered what in the world he could have found up there. Arthur and I dealt with a number of different types of magical items in weapon crafting. Hopefully Padraig didn't find anything that had hurt him.
"Stand back, Sonya," Padraig said in a forceful voice, one I had never heard from him before.
Backing up a few paces, I craned my neck as he walked down the stairs, straining to see what he held. It was a small talisman of some sort. Unimpressive looking. But a curse radiated from every inch of its surface.
Without thinking I reached out to touch it. Padraig immediately lifted the talisman over his head. "You're not protected."
"Of course," I whispered. "Bring it to the kitchen."
We placed the talisman on the kitchen table and Padraig slowly opened it up. Inside was a lock of my hair. And then everything made sense.
I sat down slowly, not wanting to believe the truth that was now in front of me. Only one person had been up in that attic in the time that Arthur and I had lived here.
"Sonya?" Padraig asked.
"Destroy it," I ordered.
I didn't take my eyes off of it as Padraig called down a smite upon the talisman. Immediately it burst into flames, which Padraig quickly put out.
The moment it was destroyed I could feel strength returning to my body. For the first time in a year my head was completely clear.
I stood up quickly. Padraig jumped, not expecting me to move that fast. "I need to find Arthur," I told him.
"Arthur?" Padraig said. "Shouldn't you be more worried about whoever put this talisman in your attic?"
I gave him a sad smile, unbelieving that my life had taken this turn. "Find Arthur and we find the one who kept me cursed."
"I don't like this, Sonya," Padraig told me.
Night had fallen and we were outside, walking down a path towards the Cursed Lands. Arthur had told me where he did a great deal of business there. I had no reason to doubt him and he had no reason to believe I'd ever go there, weak as I had been. Hiding in plain sight.
Each step I took made me stronger. I had been so weak for so long that I had forgotten what it had been like to feel elemental magic flowing through my veins. Tonight I would get answers.
Padraig was worried that Arthur would try to kill me, but I knew that wasn't bound to happen. Whatever his reason, Arthur needed me alive. After all, he had all his plans…
My Gnarled Walking Stick was strapped to my back, and I held a specter and a focus I had just finished crafting in one had. When I had gone to my weapons chest, I found that my old weapons, my Tormented, Destroyer and Oppressor staves were missing. No doubt hidden by Arthur.
Even though he was still recovering from the hex, Padraig refused to let me go alone. "What kind of man would I be if I let a pregnant woman travel by foot by herself?" he had asked. I had no answer.
As we approached the meeting spot, I tried to move as quickly as a seven month pregnant woman could. Arthur was there, talking to two other men, one of them, I realized quickly, was Ichabod.
Before we could confront them, the three men quickly set off onto another path. My heart filled with dread when I realized they were going.
After the Battle of Lion's Arch, the monks had decided to hastily dig a mass grave for the bodies of the White Mantle and Mursaat. Many hadn't agreed with this, preferring the remains to be burned. But the monks insisted and so the grave was dug.
Arthur was heading towards that grave. And if he was as powerful a necromancer as I now suspected, there would be problems.
We allowed more space between us and the men. "You should go get the Seraph," I whispered to Padraig urgently. "This is much bigger than us."
"I'm not leaving your side, Sonya," Padraig said fiercely.
"Fine," I told him. I briefly thought about the pair of us going back to Lion's Arch. However, I wasn't sure if I could map travel safely in my current condition and I simply wasn't willing to risk it.
I felt my unborn child give a swift kick, right into my ribs, causing me to pause. [i]I do this for you,[/i] I thought desperately. I gave a prayer then to all the gods, asking for them to protect my child. They could do with me what they would, but if my baby was safe, I could ask for nothing more.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the mass grave. We were slower than the three men; when we got there, some sort of ceremony had started. Arthur was on his knees, his hands in the earth, chanting.
"Arthur!" I yelled as loud as I could. The weather had gotten colder now, wind was swirling as clouds gathered overhead.
That got his attention and the ceremony stopped as he rose to his feet. He smiled a malicious grin; one I had never seen in the two years I had known him.
"Feeling better I take it?"
"Does it matter?" He waved one hand towards me. "Take care of this."
Ichabod started walking towards me and I was careful to step backwards, making sure he could not get behind me. I wanted my eyes on all three of them.
He lunged. "Do not harm her in any way!" Arthur said furiously. I was right. He did need me for something. But for what, I had no idea.
From behind, I could hear Padraig readying a smite. The White Mantle I did not know was down in one shot, his sword tumbling away from him.
Arthur laughed. "Him? You brought him to be your cavalry?"
"You timed it this way, didn't you?" I asked.
"So that your precious Alliance was out of the area? Do you even need to ask that question?" Arthur said mockingly.
Ichabod made another lunge and not being ready for it, I tumbled to the ground, thankfully on my behind, not my belly. As I fell, my focus dropped beyond my reach. Seeing that I didn't have time to unstrap my staff from my back, I did the only thing I could think of.
I grabbed the dagger that I kept strapped around my thigh. A hold-over from my adventuring days, one I hadn't ever thought I would need in my new life as a wife and mother.
Thinking desperately of how to protect myself, I slashed the air in front of me with the dagger. To my amazement a Ring of Fire appeared and I instinctively knew that any foe to cross that ring would burn.
Arthur laughed again. "Do you have any idea how pathetic you've become, Sonya Hindemith? How easy it was to court you simply because I was in the right place at the right time? All I needed to do was say a few choice words and a couple of looks and you were mine."
My blood burned, knowing he was right. This marriage that I thought I wanted, I had simply settled for because I thought I was getting old. And once I was cursed in Elona, I was tired. Marriage had seemed like the sensible option.
Padraig cast another smite towards Ichabod, who dodged it easily. Ichabod then shot an arrow at Padraig, causing his wand to break clear in two, leaving him only his focus.
"Kill him so we can complete the ceremony, please," Arthur said, sounding almost polite as he sank his hands in the earth once more. "This needs to be finished soon."
Padraig rolled to the ground and picked up the fallen White Mantle's sword. He then stood up in front of me, though not behind the Ring of Fire. Ichabod must have released a dozen arrows, but none were able to pass as Padraig continually blocked them with the sword. Even more amazingly, he seemed to be sending out magical projectiles as well.
One hit Ichabod, giving me time to get back on my feet. I clutched my dagger and wand, and saw that the Ring of Fire had dissipated. I screamed at Arthur, trying to get him to lose focus as he started chanting words that I did not recognize. But he would not stop.
Ichabod recovered from the blow more quickly than I hoped and shot another arrow at Padraig. This one hit, right in the heart.
Enraged, I cast my power using my new weapons towards him. The fire almost seemed to grab him and Ichabod fell straight to the ground, burning.
"Padraig!" He was bleeding so profusely and I had nothing to stop the blood. Though Padraig was more level headed than me and crawled over the White Mantle warrior and quickly took the warplate off the fallen man's body and strapped it on himself.
"That should stop the blood for a bit," he wheezed at me. "Ichabod?"
I looked over at the man, confirming what I already knew by the stench. He was dead.
"Arthur. It's two against one. Give up and you might be spared," I told him.
His hands still in the earth, he laughed. "He's half dead, Hindemith." Without warning, he stood up and cast a hex at Padraig who couldn't get out of the way in time. He crumpled to the ground.
"And you're too scared to do anything that might harm the child." He looked me in the eye and I saw no trace of the man I thought I had been in love with. He cast a spell and I could feel myself starting to bleed.
He smiled. "I win."
I fell to the ground, on my side, and felt a sharp pain in my belly. "No," I whispered, desperately looking for something to stop the bleeding I was experiencing.
"I don't want to kill you, Sonya. I need that child," Arthur said, walking towards me. "Blood of the son is required for this spell to be completed. Our son will be honored above all else once we bring back the Mursaat."
At that point I was too weak to even respond and I closed my eyes, silently accepting this trade. My life for my son's. But what sort of life will I have condemned him to?
A shout caused me to focus once again. Padraig! He was up - barely - and clutching the sword and focus as if his life depended on it. I heard him say the incantation for Ray of Judgment and I wondered if it would possibly be enough to stop Arthur.
The beam of light fell from the Heavens and I felt renewed in its glow. At once the bleeding stopped and I could feel my strength returning, though my belly still cramped. Arthur took some damage, but not nearly enough as he should have. This was not a Ray of Judgment that I recognized.
And it wasn't enough to stop Arthur. He shouted a curse and instantly I knew that Padraig was dead. In that next moment, I took all of my hatred, fear, anger and yes, even love for my unborn child and gathered it up in my core.
I released it as quickly as I could, letting the magic flow through my arms and into my weapons, the specter and dagger I was holding. The magic burst out and enveloped Arthur in its flames.
The one spell exhausted me; the benefits from the Ray of Judgment hadn't lasted long. I collapsed onto the ground, and wondered just who was shouting behind me…
[i]Three Years Later[/i]
Sitting outside my small house, I carefully engraved the specter I was currently crafting. A giggle broke my focus; I looked up and saw my young son running in a circle, proudly holding a small wooden sword.
The sword was his prized possession, given to him by one of his many 'uncles,' my brothers of POET. As much as he loved the sword, adventuring would never be in his future. Having been conceived while I was cursed, he was a quite a sickly child. Lin warned me that he would never be strong.
I loved him all the more for that.
"Yes, dear?" I asked, putting my work aside. Crafting was my main profession now, though I was starting to truly discover the joy of scholarly pursuits. Since my discovery of the Ring of Fire with the use of a dagger, I had been eager to learn other secrets of the elements.
One thing I hadn't done since my son was born was fight. I was very much an active member of POET, an officer still, crafting for my fellow guild members and even mentoring young elementalists who asked for guidance. But my fighting days were behind me.
"Tell me the story!" He ran to me and struggled to pull himself up into my lap. I helped him up and gave him a kiss.
"Which story, Paddy?"
My son's name was Padraig Hindemith. I quickly went back to my maiden name once Arthur Ayala was defeated. As for his first name, Padraig was the only name I considered, considering his namesake had sacrificed his life to ensure our survival.
"When you crossed the jungle with the Prince!"
Hugging him tight, I let out a laugh. "It was the Shiverpeaks, Paddy. So cold that your nose could turn blue. Prince Rurik met with the King of the Dwarves while I carried a magical beacon…"
And happily I told a tale from my past to the hope of my future.
A/N: For those curious, Lin of the Grove, Padraig the Unwise and Beatryze Zarebina and other characters of mine. Other original characters mentioned are my guild members. Thank you very much for reading!