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Qabian

Time Shattered

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Now I have a decision to make. An opportunity arises.

I don't remember the discussion well. Khorvis and Syreena, Lupinum, I think, commiserating about how Sanctuary gets away with great injustices and no punishment, how everyone seems to have forgotten what they did. I wasn't even there for whatever it is they did. Torture, I gather. Which is beyond hilarious. They always had such pretense for heroics. But yes, torture is fine. Torture away. Provide me with hours of laughter.

But I knew from the first I heard of them that the violet and gold were a ridiculous farce, so bringing them to their knees was always somewhere on the to-do list. Unfortunately, that list was always full of other things, still is, and they were never important enough to be far from the bottom. Perhaps most of us have forgotten, or were not there to experience their sins, as I was not. Perhaps my comrades are correct. No one is going to do anything. No one is even considering doing anything.

Except, curiously, me.

I interject with my situation, my considerations, that I came to entirely without any prodding from the Mandate.

Someone presents the idea of turning the child to my side, as if that weren't my intention from the moment I learned he'd somehow managed to survive this long. Well, other than the initial intention to have him blow himself up by teaching him magic he couldn't control. That didn't work.

But turning someone to your side is not something that can be done overnight or through sheer force of will. You cannot simply force someone to agree with something that has been taught to them as fundamentally against their nature, at least not in a way that cannot be easily broken. 

Turning someone to my side is not something I ever do. Murder is so much simpler. I have, on occasion, reached out to those who have not yet chosen a side and made my case. But to try to take someone from the light into the darkness? That is so much effort for so little reward.

It requires cajoling and convincing. It involves drawn out plots and schemes that cannot be accomplished efficiently or they fall apart simply by virtue of moving too quickly. One piece at a time. Slowly. Birds, small animals, larger animals, lesser beings, obvious villains, then the apparently innocent, until eventually, someday, everything becomes the target it should be. 

This drawing out is not in my nature. At all. I tried to skip steps, but this is a process that cannot be forced if there is any hope of success. I can easily cajole and convince those who are weak to certain wants and needs, money, murder, things that seem desperately out of reach but can in fact be acquired easily. But what do I have that a child wants? 

Apparently, knowledge. So I share that. Already, I've had more success than I ever expected. The boy is my apprentice, after all, not that I ever wanted an apprentice, ever, but his parents are... somehow accepting of this? I have not pressed them regarding why that is and I will not. I assume he simply has them more obedient to his desires than he is to theirs, as is the way of children who become too precious. I should know. He has already begun to break their rules at my request.

It is a process that takes time, I tell the others. How do I get anyone who follows people like that to instead follow someone like me? And any time I spend engaging in that endeavor risks them trying to play the game in reverse against me. However entirely certain I am that such a thing is a losing proposition for them, even the idea of fair play is unpleasant.

I present the situation. My companions give up easily. Just kill him. Just kill the kid. Why don't you just kill it?

Well, yes, that's an option. It would not hurt Sanctuary, though. It would hurt only his mother. I'm not sure his father even has emotions. The pain would be brief and restricted. The rest of Sanctuary would comfort her in her mourning. I would become the villain I already am. Too easy. Insufficient reward.

There were other plots, other people who needed to die in pain, other reasons to try to manipulate the child to manipulate his parents to manipulate their friends, but it has almost all fallen to the decay of complexity. The longer this debacle draws out, the more appealing the easiest option looks.

However, through pure chance, through an unexpected occasion for honesty, I am also closer to gaining the child's trust than I have been thus far. If I continue to bide my time, to act in gentle ways they do not expect, occasionally, when it is natural to do so and not suspicious, perhaps the future will hold the key to using him to dismantle them entirely.

The child has also given me an unexpected gift. Most of my memory has been mangled, but the moment his mother assaulted me, a brief point in time from before bronze interference, now stands out with a clarity I had believed impossible to achieve. Simply being able to see that moment so clearly has given me valuable insight into the self that was very nearly devoured by dragons.

There are other memories crystallizing. The statues of Azshara. The blood I spilled before them in my search for answers. The endless horizon line.

Are there ways to reveal other memories like this? Is that even something I want?

No, it isn't. It is no gift. It is a curse. 

And yet, there's something brilliant in that particular memory, my hands at her throat, the anger in her song, the words we shouted at each other, such rage, such vitriol, the pain I suffered that day, the pain I caused that day. Its clarity is a gem once entirely lost, now found again.

She was pregnant with him. I nearly killed him then, before he was even born. Amusing. Disappointing.

There is something else that is concerning. I have a weakness. It arises so rarely that it is just as rarely a problem, but the boy has touched on it. When someone is genuinely interested in me and my words, and are not themselves entirely repugnant, I am easily convinced to share my thoughts, even to overshare to the point of considerable risk. That never ends well for me. Apparently simply knowing a weakness exists is not enough to prevent it. I should take more care.

So here I am at this crossroads.

I can kill him, or rather, have him kill himself, because he wants power so badly, he'll no doubt choose the most dangerous targets in range. Even better, I may have the chance to make it look like whatever accident befalls him is his mother's fault. Does no damage at all to their organization, but it would certainly be satisfying for me personally.

Or I can take the gamble on another opportunity to do something far, far worse, far more entertaining, perhaps even far more useful down the road. If he does live through this venture, they will all have no choice but to trust me more than they do now.

As I consider this crossroads, I cannot help but wonder how much time can you bide before you realize that you have spent all of it only working against yourself, that your scheme will never truly conclude? When is it time to stop scheming and simply drop the blade? 

Usually, my schemes have the blade worked in. Its fall is inevitable and it does not wait for long. Not this time. This plan has been different from the start. I don't convince people. I kill them, or I offer them the blade with which to kill themselves. 

This is not the first time I've considered ending this whole charade. I have a decision to make. This is not my style. It is making me extremely uncomfortable.

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I am no noble. Such an amusing criticism.

I can understand the misconception, and I feel no need to correct it publicly. I carry myself as they do. I work alongside them. I was educated with them. I grew up around them. I idolized them when I was young enough not to understand where their power and prestige truly came from. I even murdered and schemed my way to a title that I no longer use, but which I suppose, theoretically, I still have claim to, so I suppose, on a technicality, the criticism is correct.

But my family, whose name I have abandoned for one with no history, had no money, none whatsoever. Our money and our status were lost at least two if not three generations earlier. My family sold their children to the church, to the schools, to the military, always in desperate hope of regaining what their ancestors had squandered.

Those children were handed nothing, were born to nothing, received nothing by inheritance. Whatever they have, their titles or status, their wealth, their power, they have earned through their work, their intellect, their determination. We are our own small meritocracy in a sea of displaced monarchy.

My family lost everything. And now they're just gone. Because I am the only one who survived, and I abandoned them and their name entirely. If I have any claim to nobility, it is mine and mine alone.

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Amusing how few Grim have any sense of irony. Peace through war? Makes complete sense to them. 

And the Horde? The Horde doesn't even know what it is one year to the next. How many of us were allies of the humans a mere decade ago? How many of us were simply humans a mere decade ago? How many of us are still allies of kaldorei? But that's what we're protecting? This amorphous mass of peoples without any real identity of its own?

Of course, what we seek is an everlasting peace for the Horde. What else would it be? The removal of all enemies and obstacles so that we can finally sleep uninterrupted.

That's what the Grim professes to want more than anything else the universe holds. Sweet, deep sleep.

I hate sleep. Memory and dream slice like a fan of knives. It is only in the center of the hurricane that thoughts go quiet. Create, create destruction, create destruction without cease, and at its core, there is the only peace worth seeking. As the Pandaren translated for me, the only peace we ever find is in chasing the dragon.

The peace of calm sleep is stasis. Stasis is death. If we ever actually won, we wouldn't even have the luxury of undeath. We would be the cold stone lords of a world of ice.

You want peace through annihilation? Walk into the fire. You'll find it.

For those who want something more than mere peace, there is an eternal supply of fuel for that fire. Burn it all down. When there's nothing left but ash? There's your peace. Overlooked seeds will grow, and we'll burn the new forest, too.

Not sure what brought Aquizit to his senses, but he's far better off. He had multiple opportunities to make a new bad impression, but somehow avoided doing so. We'll see how long that lasts.

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I've never had to spend much time with Awatu. Not that I had to spend much time with previous leaders, either, but it was occasionally forced on me. What few impressions of him I have are gentle and soft-spoken, stereotypical Tauren qualities. I've also seen him stubborn enough to be immobile once he has a notion in his head, so I've never had a reason to question his fitness for the role.

Now I know he's completely insane and fits here perfectly.

In the past, they've preferred deference, demanded it even. If you won't lick my boots, I'll crush you into the dirt and force you. Metaphorically, usually, but certainly by demanding your pride, rather than by simply pummeling your face. But they were always human corpses, not Tauren. 

Yichimet once tried to teach me something. He ended up... giving up. To this day I have no idea what he was trying to convey. Perhaps I'm simply ill-equipped to understand them.

Somehow bowing angers the Commander. I... What? Why? I wasn't kneeling. I wasn't prostrating. I wasn't grovelling. I wasn't going overboard. I wasn't doing anything untoward. It was a gesture of respect. And for that, I should be punished? All right then.

Perhaps he actually took offense to me telling him he was wrong. Because he was. I have never had this position. I began interviewing potentials shortly after I completed my own interview, yes, but I was never in charge. I was never in charge of anything beyond mages. They tried to force me to take charge of other people, other things, yes, but this position is not one I had. Poor dear, he was incorrect. Better beat the person informing him of the truth, yes?

He accused me of mocking him. That... I was not doing, but I was -- still am, to a degree -- extremely amused, not by his words or even the situation, but by the sheer lunacy of trust, so I can admit my tone may have sounded much like mockery indeed. How am I not supposed to find this funny? I acknowledge it might be difficult to separate the fact that I find anyone asking for my help hilarious from the possibility that I believe he's inferior. On the contrary, while everyone is inferior, he is certainly less inferior than most.

However, I acknowledge true subservience to no one and nothing, shu'halo nor sin'dorei, and yet I'm very good at making the pretence whenever necessary. What's the difference between pretence and actual subservience? I suppose that's for them to decide. My very reliability is itself a falsehood, but if I exercise it long enough, does it matter? Perhaps all of my time will be spent biding, but that doesn't make me hate them any less.

Syreena said I was being "elfy." Exactly how am I supposed to prevent that? Does that mean he prefers corpse-like stiffness in his communications? Perhaps he prefers acknowledgment in the form of salutes? I'm sure whatever he prefers, he prefers it without the smug, barely stifled laughter that I certainly had, and that I can certainly avoid in the future.

Further elfiness, however, that's an inevitable part of the package. I'd rather not continue to be pummeled for it, but maybe that's just going to be part of the job. I'll certainly endeavor to avoid it as much as possible, but I'm not going to die to be rid of who I am, or sacrifice my remaining ear to play human, sew my eyes shut and go back to Stormwind. I'll take the bruises if I must.

Syreena said she wasn't simply repaying my favor, but some part of me resists that. We'll see, I suppose. And I had my revenge by making her my second, which perhaps means I now owe her, not that I've ever cared about repaying debts. I owed Acherontia rather a lot. I don't believe I ever repaid her anything. I am rather glad to see the game with Syreena's girl is over, at least my part of it. Unfortunately, other games remain.

I'm not sure that hers was a good payment, at any rate. Yes, I have a taste for power, and if this were nothing more than decisions on worthiness, it would be power, but to me this is less power and more control. I dislike controlling others. If that were the kind of thing that appealed to me, I would have been a warlock when we were still allied with the humans.

However, there are significant positive aspects to this opportunity, especially in terms of position and influence, despite Awatu's insistence I not treat this as a game of lords and ladies, as though nobility are any different than anyone else. And the truth remains that my intentions toward the Grim are absolutely to further its strength. In that respect, perhaps I am what is needed. 

I am capable enough of coping with those who have already made it this far, that much is true, but I wonder if I am at all capable of making new connections. I went to one of the dozens of Hallow's End celebrations around this time of year and it took all my willpower not to roll my eyes and shout them all down as morons, nevermind actually striking up conversation of any sort.

It will be a challenge, at any rate, and that can only make me better. 

I hope.

Edited by Qabian
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It's not about the boy. Not anymore. It was at the beginning. It was supposed to be a harmless -- no, not at all harmless, but a simple, hilarious lesson about why children are a terrible idea.

Now, though... Now, it's something else.

At first, if he died, I gained something -- a laugh. Now if he dies, well, I’d still get the laugh, but I’d lose more than I’d gain. It’s not worth it.

If his mother dies, it’s the same situation. She has more sins, more flaws to answer for than the boy does, but I would not gain much more than a laugh, and I’d lose the investment.

It started as a prank, almost. Now, though... Now, it’s a game. Now, it’s politics. I missed politics. Kael’thas ruined them for me, at least when he finally met destruction. Toying with Pathaleon was incredibly entertaining. But those days are long over.

Perhaps that’s the reason to keep going, to move through the discomfort, to keep playing, to keep the pieces on the board, to avoid flipping the table. Politics. To give just enough that I’m not entirely turned away. To give just enough that I’m given a little more in return, and a little more in return, and a little more in return, until I can smash all of it at once.

There’s the reason.

It’s not about pleasure. It’s not about enjoyment. It’s not about romance. It’s not about ownership. It’s not about belonging. It’s sure as the sun not about love.

But it is about respect. If you only indulge with people you respect who respect you in turn, how does that possibly leave you open for exploitation? I suppose there’s the possibility for respectable exploitation, but that benefits everyone involved, hm? It takes a certain kind of person to find me respectable. The miniscule size of that population means my standards appear exceedingly high, and even, perhaps, inscrutable, when they are in fact simple, but rare.

I admit I... moved more quickly than rational on a few encounters, but Suramar is unique, and now that I have carved my niche there, it is not the sort of experience that will ever be repeated.

Edited by Qabian

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I am acclimating to the new role, taking it slowly. Three events over the Hallow's End holiday. 

The first was not oriented around the holiday, simple entertainment, and went as expected. No one so much as noticed my presence, but I was able to gain impressions of the others in attendance.

The second I expected to be horrible, seeing as it was by invitation only and my method of obtaining an invitation was less than straightforward. It was extremely sin'dorei, advertised as something I should have found awful, but it turned out surprisingly tasteful and thoroughly impressive. It was an experience I will seek to repeat, as long as it maintains at least a surface level of refinement.

The third was traditional. I made an ass of myself, though not overly so, and it seemed appropriate at the time. I was, however, grateful that there wasn't greater attendance. If I'm going to intentionally be an idiot, best to keep it to a smaller audience.

Finally met that orc that someone told me was dead, what, a year ago now? Curious which of the dead refuse to stay that way. Thankfully, the vast majority of mine have remained buried. And the bartender seemed so happy back then. No wonder he was clearly annoyed every time she opened her mouth. Offered to make her cry. I don't expect that will ever happen. To be fair, I'd prefer Khorvis came back and repeated the process. Curious to learn she's the sibling to that name I encountered months ago now. Still not sure anything can or will come of that, but it's an interesting thing to hold.

I'm certainly disappointed in the bartender's lack of action on his statements, but if anyone understands that achieving what you really want can be more difficult than initially assumed, I certainly can at that.

I found a troll. It is difficult to tell how that will end, but we shall see. Revenge is generally a strong motive, especially when those you are avenging are thoroughly gone and the ones who killed them can never truly be known, so the revenge is intended to be applied liberally and eternally.

Cessation of hostilities, ha! Must keep the propaganda moving forward.

Also disappointing yet somehow unsurprising that the girl has weaseled her way out from under us yet again. Hard to kill a target that's been reserved for torment, so escape is one of many paths she'll no doubt come across. Still, escape means the game continues. The longer she breathes, the more she will have to fear. She may be able to coax friendship out of her, but it would take eons. The only reason I considered the false pleasantry path for my own project was because there was one single person who seemed to want to believe the lie. With that as a base to build on, possibilities exist. Without that much, the problem may be insurmountable.

I've been considering amassing tales to tell, but thus far have not collected any that seem sufficient. They have to be just the right style if I'm to ply them on a crowd of tauren, and while I have a lifetime of academia behind me, I am no storyteller. I will continue the search.

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Well, that was... an evening.

I assume the bartender was talking about Hallow's End when he mentioned my appearance, but when he failed to explain it, he just made both of us look like fools. Then again, given the crowd that gathered, we fit right in, I suppose. Thankfully, I know him just well enough to believe he won't take my parting gift the wrong way. Services rendered, perhaps, but only by virtue of being the only other sane person in a room full of idiots.

Strange to hear the guild lunatic describe Syreena in exactly the same terms I described her to the "new boy" just the day before, but given that he mentioned he had already seen her in the time between, perhaps it was not an accident. In my defense, not that I need defending, I described her so in reference to how to choose gifts for her, not in general, but I suppose the description stands, at least in relation to me as the one who gave it to her.

Doing what's necessary without turning the world into a smoking crater, hm? If anything, tonight was proof that a smoking crater is absolutely what is necessary. It's not what the Grim want, no, but it should be.

I choose to believe they're all lies and bad illusions, and as the truth comes forward, then just cut his throat. Problem solved. The sea of blood we'll drown them all in lies through the middle of Eversong. It won't be tomorrow, but it will be soon. I've waited ten years. I can wait ten more if I must.

After all that, I found it difficult to focus at the following event. It remained refined, but there was something not quite right this time. I'm amused that I was not recognized. I do keep a low profile. But I wonder how many times I can be in attendance before that is no longer the case.

I've attempted to tail the troll through the goblins, so I believe he is continuing to work on his first assignment. We had best see more of him soon.

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I'm not entirely sure why I went back. After the dead man left, I expected there to be nothing worth hearing, just a rambling goblin that apparently some Grim paid a handsome sum at one time or another despite his complete lack of good sense and a terrified illusion, jumping at her own shadow. And I did have to go watch that ridiculous play. It was interesting, but yes, ridiculous.

But hours later after checking the auction house, thinking I'd move to the top level and eavesdrop without anyone noticing, there was already drama unfolding. Apparently already over, but unfolding for me at least.

I didn't intend to appear as some sort of protector. I've been accused of that with some frequency in the past, but I dislike it and it has never been my role. I did want to make them think twice about attacking, but not because I planned to get between her and danger. If anything, I intended to play the amplifier. If there was about to be chaos, I intended to double it. That is all.

But the shadow rabbit wasn't wrong. The Grim do tend to protect their own. No, not protect, but come to their aid. Fanatics know they need other fanatics to ensure their ideals thrive. I only denied confirmation because I know when we fight amongst ourselves, whatever loyalty we have to each other may as well be ash on the wind.

I don't know why she seemed to think I would reveal the answers to questions she wasn't even going to ask. I don't know her. She's with Sanctuary. She's not even sin'dorei. I'd rather answer her by filling her skull with fire, but I try not to give the bartender unnecessary work. I've revealed more than is reasonable to Ninorra's child, yes, but for all that is wrong with him, and there is plenty, he is a blood elf. I had to be convinced of that, but I am now. Mostly. The illusion is no such thing. I am often inclined to admit more than I intend when someone asks me questions, but I don't simply ramble endlessly without some point to speak on.

The truth is no matter how often Syreena and I trade favors, I will always owe her more than she could ever owe me. I'm the one who left. Does that mean I'll always appear at her back? Hardly. For one thing, I can't usually see her. But I also won't avoid a fray that she's involved in.

I hate regrets. I hate that I have them. But I do. They're there. And that's what makes me stand beside her when someone else tries to steal property that she earned, or when someone else tries to placate anger that she earned, or whatever. 

And she's been through enough. I haven't. Pick on someone you haven't tortured repeatedly yet, hm? The world's worst heroes. They make us look good, and we're too busy being correct to even pretend to be good.

The cow's little fire was cute, though. Red dragons, hah. All dragons are a menace to this world. Set them on fire and ride their bones. I was slightly surprised how allergic he seemed to the actual meanings of strength and courage, despite how much he babbled about them, but given how self-deprecating he was, I'm sure he's hopeless. Chooses bad company, at any rate.

I... honestly didn't think Syreena's party auction was supposed to amount to anything. I thought it was simply for the amusement at the time. Get her prize money, hand out her prizes, which I then walked away with, so why would I care beyond that. She acknowledged that, too, or at least she said she didn't care what happened afterward either. I know I only paid so that the people I paid for would get nothing out of it.

Apparently, the bartender thinks otherwise and believes I owe him? Coffee and books? At least give me a reason to say no outright. I was tempted to simply... play avoidance until he forgets about it, but Syreena thinks I should meet with him. Something dangerous going on? He shouldn't want my advice. He knows what kind of person I am. If he didn't before last night, he does now. I told him. 

I also told him I wouldn't wear the dress.

Given all of that and what came up in the discussion with the Commander, maybe I should cash in on the warlock I paid for. At least get some words out of him, find out what he was thinking, if Syreena and I further consider taking over his project.

The rogue is... He'll do. He's determined, intellectually curious, holds his own in a fight, and seems right in the head. He's a little too forgiving in... at least one way, but he's been advised to keep that to himself, and been advised that he might be forced to move past it to move forward, so he's prepared. He seemed a bit quick to offer his brother's life. If you want it yourself, then it's not a sacrifice, is it? That was my problem. What can I sacrifice when they already have everything of mine? 

But I had instructed him to think on it, so perhaps he's done that. He's already tortured himself, and he's ready to get it over with. We'll see.

Moving too fast, though. There may be other tasks waiting for him.

I was surprised he wanted to speak to Awatu. It fits the Trial we've decided to forego, and on his own initiative. Good for both of us.

I suppose if you view the enemy as a disease to be cured, then peace at the other side seems perfectly reasonable. Syreena, however, doesn't see that any more than I do. She and I were both Alliance once. We know better. We know this doesn't have an end. We know the Mandate is just one word, not three.

Edited by Qabian
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I'm more concerned than I expressed. There is so much risk to raising an enemy that is otherwise comfortably harmless as a corpse. And this one has retained far more of its memory and self than the one I did. Mine was nothing, an empty headed marionette, a body, mindless but mobile, a joke to be had at her expense, not a lesson for her to learn. 

This one has a taste for something, knows who it was. He might not think they'll listen to him, but they don't need to see what he's become to be manipulated by him. Perhaps he's not smart enough to do that. Perhaps he won't feel the desire. Perhaps Malkaris' work will be sufficient. Too much perhaps. These matters should have a certainty to them or be left alone.

But who am I to tell her what to do?

I can understand that she wouldn't see death as an impediment to revenge, especially if she didn't get to deal it herself. After all, she wasn't allowed to rest. Why should he be?

Then there's the whole idea that burying mostly whole corpses in this world, in that ground especially, is asking for a sequel. If you want it to be dead and stay dead, ashes on the wind or at least a thousand pieces that can't be sewn back together, especially the insides of the skull.

But not this one, no. It's not like anyone in their right mind is bothered by desecration. Better to put it through a meat grinder than risk the necromancers getting their hands on it, hm?

Especially when the corpse once held a dreadlord? If he speaks the truth, whoever buried him was stupid beyond stupid, or planning for this, neither of which are particularly heartening regarding this turning out well in the end.

When I die, I'm coming back to torture whoever's responsible for failing to burn the body. With luck, I'll have the chance to be sure of it myself before it's too late.

Curious to see if she'll enjoy my puzzle or hate it. I'm rather more afraid of the former than the latter. Always better to be underestimated.

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The bartender may be correct. If I am playing their game, I may be helping them, at least in the short term. I don't believe I am, yet. But if I am to get what I want, I will have to eventually. I must reconsider this. I am always reconsidering this. 

It made sense in days gone by. It does not make sense any longer. 

But if it works? If it plays out well? If it plays out in our favor? Even if I help them in the short term, if it ultimately erases them, or even just sows chaos and discord within them? It could be worth years upon years of toil and agony. I will move slowly. I will keep this to the edges. I will not ingratiate myself with their core, only with the periphery. A step here, a greeting there, a gift here, a compliment there, but all the while being who I have always been, insulting them profusely, never letting them think I've truly changed, only that I have a side they did not know, without ever betraying myself and my truths. I can do that. Can't I?

Maybe I can't. I still don't know that this is worth the risk. If I were sensible, I would put it all aside while I still can. Unfortunately, it seems I want the possible outcome of it all more than an appeal to good sense would say is reasonable.

Not so bad, hm? Oh, how wrong you are. If you can be offended by someone as ludicrous as Nathandiel, I am far, far worse, because I don't use lies to cause offense. I use the truth, and it stings much harder.

That in itself is a lie. I do the same as the lunatic. I use lies to provoke, to cause and abuse reactions. I'm simply less vile and more arrogant in the play.

To detest all men to the point of violence and not love women in their stead is a curious place for a woman to be? I can understand it, but in my experience, such people have been rare indeed.

She only thinks I'm not as bad because I offered to help her kill him if the situation should arise. And because she didn't hear what I would have said of her father after knowing the rest of the story.

I never expected to end up discussing the Barov witch ever again. I hadn't even noticed the parallels--

How could I have noticed the parallels? She never informed me of them. In retrospect, those seem like important details, but also in retrospect, I actively avoided asking her connections to the victim she sent me after. I knew something was off, but I expected family or friendship, not... this.

Did we kill the Barov? We must have killed the Barov. The Bronze stole this from me. We did. We did, yes? We did. How else could we have retrieved the shard? But I didn't? I wasn't there. Acherontia did it for me.

I remember Karazhan. I remember the spellwork to keep her silenced and hearing only silence. I remember the intensity and the difficulty of maintaining it week after week.

Wait, I was there. We did it together? I told her I would come alone and then did not. Was that how it went? There was someone else there? No, that was something else. Why can't I remember? I know why I can't remember. I hate fishing for these vague fractured memories that promise nothing. I regained some of what Ninorra did, but this is still lost. Yet... Didn't they happen at the same time? In the same...

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It certainly felt illicit, though it was nothing more than conversation. Perhaps she was right, I could only speak those things among large numbers. Where else would there be no questioning of both proximity and silence? Everyone was engaged in proximity and silence. There I can speak things I would never speak if anyone might overhear or even simply question. We certainly couldn't have that conversation in Dalaran or Silvermoon, and somewhere private is not viable, nor should it be. What is left but a large crowd with a focus on a stage?

Why even bother? That's a more difficult question, but given the rare opportunity, apparently I couldn't pass it up.

She practically had her fingers interlaced with those of Grim the entire night, to the abandonment of even her monstrous partner for a performance never performed. Given who she is relative to her so-called friends, her predilections and obsessions, given our numbers in comparison, and given that she approached us not the other way around, it rather seemed she was the one playing traitor, which is amusing in itself.

What do we do if not proselytize to each other, continually trying to convince the other that they are in the wrong?

Perhaps I should not have left Vyalis to her clutches. His fight with his brother took much out of him, I think. But I trusted him to either hold his own or show himself unworthy, either of which were valuable, and it seems he did the former.

He shouldn't have offered me a ring and a quiet explanation, though. Something else and a quiet explanation, or a ring and a clearly audible explanation, either would have saved us both looking foolish. He was tired.

Maybe the main reason I am Grim is all of them fall outside the usual stories. None of them put family above violence. Whereas everyone she works with is extremely usual, so usual that they inspire yawns so expansive they suffocate.

Khorvis... Ah well, none of it could have been avoided. I am concerned it will make him quiet, though. Khorvis is at his best when he is both loud and sharp.

I am curious how it would have played out. I believe I would have had the advantage, but there were too many reasons to leave it be. The first being not giving filth the opportunity to spread. The second being the importance of continued access. The rest being no desire whatsoever to interact in any way that would not guarantee permanence. I don't take joy in the pain, the humiliation, the pieces in between. I take my joy in the finality. There was none of that to be had.

I'm not sure why everyone I speak to is automatically deemed a romantic interest. Apparently, if I speak to anyone a second time, the non-existent interest has already developed into a full blown non-existent relationship. I have vague memories of the same happening in the time before, and it being just as distasteful. It's because of the usual stories. When all your concerns are pathetic, all your assumptions are as well.

In line with that, there are apparently only two explanations for my mutilation. The first is I lost to her in combat, which I did not, but I would prefer if I have to choose. The second is some sort of act of romantic submission. The truth is neither, but who would care to hear the explanation? The truth is a combination of pride and necessity. The truth is the culmination of months of agonizing over what I can sacrifice to prove myself after the sheer extent of my failure, only to be offered the clearest, most obvious answer in the last moments. 

My wholeness, that I regained at great cost to myself, was really the only thing of value to myself that I could have given, short of my very life. Why would I have said no to an ear when what I should have given was my throat? I did not give it to her, but to the Grim, and she stands as their representative better than any. She even knows the Mandate as I know it.

But no one outside the Grim sees that. All they see is the stitched up dead girl who collects pieces of elves as trophies and snacks, so I'm just another trophy and a snack.

Fine. Let them see their worthless lie. Let them speak it and spread it, even. It'll leave them underestimating both of us until the day the tides finally turn.

Edited by Qabian
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That... gave me hope, hope I thought was dead or at least dying. And yet. For so many reasons, hope.

None of which involve Malkaris. There I have only regret.

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It's the recognition that there are more of us than I've seen evidence of in the past few months. Often, it seems like it's Syreena and I against the world.

Not last night, though. Last night, we were the world, all of us, Syreena and her pet, and Vyalis, and the Grimtotem shadow, and the quiet wolf, and the knight with her broken mechanical voice accidentally screaming about horrible stereotypes. 

Even Malkaris, I suppose. He's worse in that skin. At least when he was more clearly falling apart, no one took him quite as seriously. Now, well, he keeps everyone entertained with his clown show, but I'm not sure we should have let him out of the guild hall. I don't think I ever want to see him and Nathandiel in the same room.

But even those who weren't us weren't the usual, weren't the kind who push me to despair of any future for the Horde. There were the Luna I've worked with before, the sensible yet angry from across the spectrum, the smug and the smart. Even the one with the reputation for collecting boyfriends, who apparently has both the lizard man from last week and Our Lord Gustblade checked off her list, seemed practically an intellectual compared to the usual crowds.

Even Kahlan gives me hope. There's something I like about her, and not just because she made the mistake of giving me a compliment once. Maybe it's her penchant for jumping immediately to violence. Maybe it's her utter dismissal of the continuous pathetic attempts to encroach on feelings she clearly doesn't have. Maybe it's her seemingly equal hatred of nearly everyone around her. She's not quite right in the head, being so defensive of the parents she was apparently avoiding, who I will ever doubt are actually related to her in any way, even through mere kindness. She doesn't seem to realize that everything she hates about men is all her father has to offer the world. He is the very pinnacle of what she detests most, and yet she leaps ferociously to his defense if anyone so much as sneezes in his direction. But if Kahlan were the worst the Horde had to offer, we would be well-equipped for whatever lies ahead.

Unfortunately, there are those like her parents, and the monstrous rabbit who put up with Malkaris' lechery with nothing but blushes and yet ran off in a panic at the sight of that half-demon I know nothing about and want to know nothing about but who I know has enough propensity for violence to be on the side of hope. But last night, they were outnumbered in a way that felt incredibly satisfying. So yes, hope.

Even at our meeting. It was small, yes, but not as small as it's been when the future has seemed darkest. We grow, slow but steady. The pendulum swings as it always does. I've been out of sync with the clock for too long to recognize its motions, but time tells its tales whether we want it to or not.

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I...

Is it possible to have too much coffee?

No. No, it is not. Well, it is possible to drink too much coffee, but it isn't possible to own too much.

The number of people who could have sent this is very small. The number of people who are likely to have sent it is...

But she must be dead. There's no way...

Maybe I should switch to arcwine for a while.

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This is fine. It’s fine. It will be fine. Once I’m no longer blindsided nor hungover, it will be fine.

I was prepared to deal with Silvermoon’s tizzy over nothing. I had all my excuses and counter-stories ready for those accusations.

I wasn’t at all prepared for Syreena’s little revelation.

It was just a stupid game. I was supposed to be taunting her for accessing my correspondence, nothing more. I asked for letters written in code, but I wanted them to be inane, perfectly pointless, so that if Syreena actually went to the trouble of breaking them, she’d get nothing but grocery lists and meeting minutes for her efforts. And there it was, the whole of it. Don’t read my mail was all it was supposed to say.

I suppose I should be taking this as a win, considering it convinced Syreena to essentially confess to reading my mail. However, that’s rather lost under what kind of mail it proves Syreena’s reading.

I got my letters in code. And they were ordinary, in the sense that they were the same kinds of letters that she had been writing before. But those kinds of letters were... Personal? Incriminating? Certainly not inane, not to me at any rate.

I decided I didn’t care that much because it was so unlikely Syreena would ever find the cipher anyway. I could keep the game going indefinitely, and I might as well keep it going forever, as punishment for getting into my mail. Fine. Read my letters. And end up with an unsolvable puzzle. Enjoy breaking your brain against that one for a few years.

Well, game’s over. The jig is up. Check please.

Why would she do that? All it does is ruin what Syreena thinks of me. I don’t care what most people think of me. Rumors have been an integral part of my existence for as long as I can remember. That doesn’t mean I need to pay any attention to them. But could you leave well enough alone the one person that I managed to convince I wasn’t worthless? Of course she couldn’t. She can’t know why it would matter to me.

None of this matters to anyone else. I’m sure none of it even matters to Syreena. It only matters to me.

I think I know why she did it. She thinks she’s better than I am. Of course she does, or I wouldn’t like her. So she’s showing me how much better she is. If that’s all it is, then this will be fine. It will pass. It will blow over.

For now, the game isn’t mine anymore. It’s Syreena’s until she gets bored of it. Let’s hope that’s sooner than later.

I’m not sure what I told the bartender, or what he gave me to drink before he sent me home with... Was that cider? I think it was rocket fuel. Rocket fuel and champagne? What the fel?

I wonder if everything would be better if I had managed to kill the kid. That was... a far greater ordeal than this petty game of letters and innuendo. And it was a wake-up call that I never wanted.

I got what I wanted. I succeeded in what I’d been threatening all along.

And it hurt? Why did it hurt?

No, I know why it hurt. And so I let her hurt me in turn. Saved my life, the kid did. Probably. I don’t think she would have killed me, but she might have kept me in a jar for a thousand years. 

He’s a good kid, smart, good reflexes, strong sense of power. I can hope he’ll grow up to have more sense than his mother, but with me stepping out that seems like a long shot.

Still, I’m glad to drop the teaching. I dropped the others, as well. I’m no instructor. All but one. I’ll keep her.

Ninorra said no one saw her. What a liar. I told her I didn’t care. Evidently I’m a liar, too, despite my great pronouncements to tell nothing but truths. I know she’ll tell Vicailde everything I said, and everything she said, so there won’t be any real need for him to come after me. But that’s not exactly going to stop the entire city and apparently the entire Horde from saying something that’s patently not true and makes him look like a fool. If I were in his shoes, I’d want to kick my ass anyway, just for the rumors, whether I believed my wife or not.

And Syreena was already angry with her, so now she gets to be angry with me as well, because of course someone like Ninorra can’t walk through Silvermoon’s streets without being noticed. I should have told her to wear a sack and cover her face or something. I didn’t think it would be so damned necessary.

I don’t know what Vyalis thinks he’s going to do. I made my suggestion. I think it’s a good one. We’ll see.

We’ll see with all of it. I don’t want to see. Can I just... lock the door and come out when everyone’s forgotten everything? It’s not like I’m innocent of anything, but that doesn’t mean I want to deal with this garbage fire.

Edited by Qabian
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Someone should have died last night.

And I don't just mean Anduin Babyface Wrynn and the spanking he got from three measly Grim. To be honest, Tradire could have taken care of him herself, most likely. Naughty child shouldn't have let his father die. The Alliance have degenerated so much. I wonder if Moira shows as poorly these days. Perhaps I should pay her a visit. She was never that impressive back when she was in Blackrock.

Poor little purple princess. She's so sad and cranky that she'd fall for the snipes of a lizard, accurate shots at her other half, a lizard who won't even respond at all when the pushback comes from the Tauren across the room.

Usually people like that, people who insist on playing for a team, they'll back off once they realize that causing me pain would only give me a good time. Wouldn't want that other team to rub off on you now, would you? He was apparently willing to take the risk. Well, I may not give a shit about teams, and perhaps I don't even have a type according to him, but I definitely don't play those games with vermin, wildlife, animals. I know magic, and I know whatever he is trying to be, he isn't right. And we can all make our dubious educated guesses, can't we?

I've taken enough of them apart, scale by scale, sinew by sinew, vertebra by vertebra, soul by soul, to know for a fact.

Dragons aren't people.

But he doesn't even get that far. He's something less, something worse. He is a dog, after all.

I'd have more respect for Aaren if she'd been bent over by an actual dog than that thing. It seems the standards she has for her collection are standards that idiots must fall below rather than rise above. Anyone with too much intellect has to be kept at a distance. More power to her, abusing the stupid to get what she wants. Not a technique I'd ever use, but whatever works?

Always hilarious to see cowardice looked down upon. If cowardice keeps me from falling like the purple princess to a puppy with small words and some ash in his drool, seems cowardice is preferable in every way, isn't it?

Syreena should be careful about listing my collection. One time-lost connection never technically severed that allows me to insist I am not single probably wouldn't even make such a list. But she would. Along with Ninorra and Fayleah, probably Tradire as well at this point, and I don't even want to know what she was saying to Gavril, maybe even the unfortunate new kid. And Eva, of course, the only one who actually belongs there. Nevermind the other two whose names no one knows.

The better comeback to her saying she hasn't been seen leaving my personal quarters would have been she's seen leaving my office where she's alone with me all the time, occasionally with bags of money, but maybe I wasn't entirely comfortable saying that. Or I didn't think of it until it was too late. Either way.

Maybe I don't care about teams, but one team seems to care about me, hm?

Team or no team, what Eva's learning with the shadow is horrible. Something new. Something I haven't trained with. Something delightful. She never had trouble keeping pace with me, but now that she's learning to heal, I'm the one who's falling behind. Perhaps there are regrets to be had after all, but she seems to enjoy the results.

Vyalis shouldn't have given up his ear. He shouldn't have given up at all. Ninorra's not that fearsome. I'll have to talk to him. He's setting a bad precedent for the necromancer's child.

Amusingly, Syreena didn't seem to realize just how much I knew. I wonder if she was trying to keep her plans secret from me and Vyalis bungled that, too. He still should have kept his ear. Pieces are to be given in pride, not disgrace. Like that oaf of a squidgoat and my eye back in the day.

There's something not right about Shalassian. I've gotten so used to understanding people trying to speak against me in a tongue they think I don't know. Amusing how Pandaren have never even made the attempt. Eva's shared a few words, but they have rather specific applications, none of which applied last night. Shame. I wonder what they were doing there, but I wasn't in much of a place to make inquiries. I doubt I ever will be. The Nightborne crowd I've fallen in with are not the Nightfallen, but they do suit my purposes oh so well.

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Home is a strange thing. People put so much stock by a handful of dirt. I mean Silvermoon is mine, and if it were to vanish tomorrow, I would lose perhaps half my reason to fight, but certainly not all of it.

I can likely thank my worthless family for that attitude, hm? Removed from home as soon as it was plausible to be removed, why would I give it any value? The fact that I had one for a time has only made it even less desirable, nevermind the butler.

I hope he is dead. I hope his child is dead, too. I hope all their children fall off cliffs and rot on the rocks. I hope their pathetic family disintegrates and their ashes scatter to the void. I don't know how they got Syreena to play their disgusting games, but it's painful to watch, especially when they make idiotic suggestions like putting the worthless parts of her back together. Let her be. She's sharp the way she is. That puff of cowardice would only dull her entirely.

It's not fair that people like that can taint the good, but I suppose there's always something out there taking what's valuable and twisting it to worthlessness.

Hilarious again to see that I am everything they wish they were and can never be.

I know peace. I know how to make peace. I know how it's done. I could teach them lessons. It's done so: 

You stand before your enemy, you lay down your weapons, and you open your arms.

If they kill you, there is peace.

If they don't, you ask them what they need, and you provide it for them. And there is peace.

I'm not an idiot. I know war serves no peace. I know precisely how peace is accomplished.

I simply have no interest in it whatsoever.

Oh, I'll fight for peace certainly. I'll fight to force the enemy to be the one to lay down their weapons and open their arms. And when they do? I'll cut them down, and there. We'll have our peace, the only way we have ever professed to take it.

And I'll still surprise the bartender when I know how to get what I want when I want it. And the hypocrites? They cry on each other's shoulders as, one by one, each of them turns bad, each of them starts fights, each of them sacrifices peace for petty revenge or misguided notions of whose home belongs to whom.

I have your peace right here.

And he'll surprise me when he's good at his job. Not the serving drinks part, but the other part, the letting your patrons talk out their own problems, or asking them the simple, obvious questions they hadn't yet thought to ask themselves. They're all so frustrating because they don't hide the way Lilly and I know how to hide. 

Vyalis hid quite well. I think that's why I liked him. Then when I force them to dredge up what they're trying to bury so that we can force them to kill it, even the ones who don't wave their issues like banners have to confront them. And Vyalis loses the advantage he had, as his issues cause his courage to deteriorate.

I have my baggage, but I don't wear it on my sleeve. I don't announce it to people in bars. I don't rant about the importance of family or the loss of mentors. I have a confessor for that now. I'll go to my confessional where I'll receive my freedom in exchange for truths until the burden becomes too heavy and sends me back. 

But the facts remain. Those issues I refuse to confront are what lost me my arm, not any warlock, nor her child. I'll still refuse to confront them. And maybe they'll lose me the rest of my body in the end, but I've accepted that. I am highly skilled at putting aside my past for the sake of my future. I have always been good at that, as he intuited. My past simply stood in the way of one small child's death. How could I have known his discolored eyes would hold all my ghosts? But it hasn't stood in the way of anything else, and no other child will have that measure of luck when I'm turning the next orphanage to ash, and the next, and the next.

I have their peace right here.

Apparently, I'm also neither pretty, not prissy, nor vain. Hahaha! She's so astute, but how many would disagree with her? And Tradire doesn't even count.

Her master would choose the overly prideful for his artistry, yet pride is a Thalassian birthright, yet he himself was Thalassian? There's a contradiction for certain. I don't want to tell her who's a fleshcrafter and who isn't. And I don't want to give her back that heart. She has two choices if she finds her master, and I don't entirely trust that she'll be capable of either yet.

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I don't regret any of this. Yet. Maybe some particular words used, but overall, no. I doubt I'll be lucky enough for Vyalis to simply grow a pair without revealing who handed them to him. And given what he's been through, if he follows my advice, he's not going to be cooperative, is he? Of course not. That would be too easy.

I don't suppose she'll have the good sense to talk to me first. In her place, I doubt I would, but we've been trading favors for a long time now. Not talking to me is what made all of this a problem instead of merely incidental, but somehow I don't think she has the wisdom to see that.

So I expect she'll do her best to make me regret, but while I've given her the tools to do so, I'm not sure she has the intellectual capacity to use them to effect. Will she get angry or bored if revenge gets no reaction?

I have a rationale for all my choices, several actually -- being uninformed, the ineffective motivation she was using, narcissism. All in her best interests as well as mine. But I doubt she'd understand them even if she did let me explain.

So if she's going to react without mercy, I'll expect none, but I know how to keep peace. She can have her pound of flesh. Not literally this time, at least not mine, but whatever she decides to do. Everything will be fine. 

Once the storm passes. 

I hope.

Maybe I should call for that protection that was offered. Ha!

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Seems if she's going to do anything about anything, it will be slow. I've spent too many hours worrying about something that isn't a problem. If anything, it's the opposite.

I've remembered something in these newest lost hours.

I fell back into my hatred of others easily. Its warm and inviting nature called to me the moment I stepped away from the Bronze.

What I did not immediately regain was the hatred of others towards me. Stormwind had it, of course, but even then, not in its old intensity.

It is just as warm and inviting to have the hatred of others focused on me as it is to have my own hatred focused outwards.

Perhaps I should make that my focus. I don't like puppetry, it's true. But I don't need to puppet someone to convince them I'm worthy of hatred. Even if they have no loved ones I can murder, there are other ways to make people hate.

And I am at my best when everyone hates me.

If she does take any steps, she'll make this happen for me. It will be... good.

Eva won't fall for it. She's too much like me. She'll take it in stride and find pride in new scars.

But anyone else? Anyone else can burn, and I'll pull a comfortable chair up to the fire.

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I wasn't certain, not at all. It was entirely my paranoia, and I know it. I was paranoid as soon as I heard that Vyalis took my advice to heart a little stronger than I might have hoped. So to send out a warning only to have that warning become useful? How could I not make the leap?

But if she were innocent, her initial reaction should have been outrage, rather than suspicion. Even then, though her initial reaction was convincing, it was not enough to make me certain.

What made me certain was her saying she didn't know where the money went. If she were innocent, she would have signed that paper herself. If she were innocent, she would have taken the gold in coin rather than paper. Now I can accuse her of anything, provided it's not something she can easily disprove herself, and even without proof of my own, I have the upper hand.

The only question remaining is how long to play the new game. And when I do put an end to it, I think my message will be quite clear.

Don't fuck with me.

I imagine she thinks she could turn me in for my financial games, but those are both false and warranted in ways her intentions to hurt me are not.

Amusing that she didn't understand how our relationship worked, given the nature of the correspondence she stole from me. I'm sure his name was mentioned several times. I could easily have brought him to the Grim instead, if he weren't so obsessed with Suramar and its well-being as a nation-state.

She's one of the ones who always thought I was better because I am not like the rest of them. Really? Do you not remember why I left? How I left? How long have you held onto that mythology?

Maybe they will finally lose the lie. I doubt it, though. You act cold enough long enough, and people will forget what they already know about you.

The only way I am different than the rest of my people is that I am superior. I am just as arrogant, but I am more arrogant and my arrogance is of higher quality. I am just as deviant, only more so, and again, higher quality. I don't feel the need to shout it in the streets the way the less self-assured do. I don't feel the need to appraise everyone who walks past as Malkaris does. But on my own time, behind closed doors, with a touch of common sense? I am exactly what they are. The only difference between them and me is I am not cheap.

So if being "elfy" as she would say is a crime, and I am not different, only greater, then I should get the harshest sentence, hm?

She would say Kiannis was different, but catch him when he thinks no one's looking and he's behind the shrubbery in Dalaran with his hand up someone's dress, too.

We are none of us different. We are all of us exactly the same.

I am merely better at it.

Edited by Qabian
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Tradire...

She's going to regret this. I'm going to regret this.

The reasons I had to shut her down are... numerous. And yet, it's a dance that requires two. We’ll see. I don't think she'll get what she wants and yet Malkaris already gave in. Maybe she's smarter than I give her credit for. But the entire conversation would go more smoothly if she weren't a coward. 

And it already feels like revenge, despite the looming specter of repeating history. Syreena will hate it. Good.

I'll need to get the heart back. It was cute for a show, but I'm already wondering if an alcohol soaked necromancer has ruined everything. Is that yet another decision I need to regret? Will the tower fix anything? She'll meet the others next week at least. That should stave off the worst. 

On the one hand, good to break that illusion early. On the other, its loss could do harm that cannot be repaired. Good to know now rather than much later, I suppose.

Syreena can take care of the new one and start requiring every Supplicant trade an ear for their tabard. I truly don't care. I'll fight their battles for them when their tests are over.

I have an offer for her. I doubt she'll take me up on it, especially now. We'll see if I even get the chance to make it.

I’ll at least have rather a lot to discuss at my next confessional.

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The wolf is right. Being Grim requires caring intensely. I didn't like that description initially, but there is core truth to it. It doesn't require caring intensely about others, but it does require a fanatical dedication to the goal. I'm not sure the girl has that. All she has is the sense of a debt owed. Paying debts is not all there is, and it's certainly not enough to make one Grim. Is there a test that can force her to care?

And her sense of Peace...

I see the pattern, though I'm loath to admit it to others. If I'm choosing alcohol, it's because my own failure has been too fierce to set aside. That's what I'm not going to spill. I'm not going to admit something is my fault without considerable duress.

I've failed again if she doesn't have the sense to keep that version of Peace to herself. Let's hope she shares that definition of peace with Awatu. He'll be impressed, I'm sure. 

Accept the Peace that those among us who believe in it desire. Accept it for what it is. And while they travel the endless road to their dream, enjoy the annihilation along the way. But you still need to accept and praise appropriately the Peace in public, or the entire structure falls apart.

It's better that Syreena doesn't trust me. I was uncomfortable enough that she trusted me with what she gave me. If there's anyone who should know better, she should. And yet? All evidence seemed to point to the contrary.

It's odd then, that while I got what I wanted, something seems off about the entire debacle. Does she even acknowledge what else I could have done with the power I had? Does she even care that it was less an outright lie and more a bending of the truth? She was absolutely responsible for the death of a Grim. It was just a brief death of a priest with priestly connections who never would have let her soul drift away for something as pathetic as an overly enthusiastic beatdown.

There was just enough truth in my lie that I could have played it for a very long time. I could likely have played it long enough to end her if that had ever been my goal, but it was not. 

My goal was confession. I got my confession. That game is over. I respect her incentives, despite how misguided they were, but she thought they were worth following for the same reasons that she is willing to take on puppets where I am not.

She had a right to be angry at my lies, whether they were based in truth or not, but it's not like she never lied to me. We lie to each other, all day every day. It keeps us going. The truth is inherently boring when not being manipulated to interesting ends. 

But her anger should have been tempered by how little I asked of her, how little I toyed with her. Was it? Would she have done worse if I hadn't kept the truth in the fiction to myself? I could have killed her with that weapon. That was never my intent, and she should see that. She should know that now, that her death, her punishment is not something I will ever aim for, because if I wanted it, I could have had it with ease. She should understand that now.

But something tells me she doesn't. All she holds against me now is my falsehoods, not my reasons for telling them.

Why do I even care? I don't. It's better when none of them trust me. They'll treat me as they should when I'm untrustworthy. I don't like the expectations that come with trust.

Tradire has... no idea what she's doing. I still don't believe I can give her what she wants. As much as she lies about what that is, I think she believes her own lies. But I do think she wants more than a shield. She wants conversation and there she takes advantage of the words that are my weakness. She wants knowledge, and though I do believe her when she says that desire is limited, I don't think it's quite as muted as she would insist. I also think she wants knowledge I cannot give her, or that my version of it is twisted and broken, and to share it with her would only cause harm.

What she wants she should really be getting from someone else, someone... softer in the ways she is, someone sheltered enough to still believe in possibilities that have long since been erased from me.

I've at least made it clear what lines I will not cross. And I haven't decided what I will or will not admit to in honor of her game, which makes most conversations where she becomes the subject incredibly awkward, but at least said game seems to be succeeding where it concerns my accepting my role.

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Mmhmhmhm...

Ahahahahahaha!

I win.

Oh, how I win.

Nothing I can take back to the Grim, of course, but mine is a dangerous ego to stroke, hm?

Taunt me with something you think I can't do that I know I can.

'Oh, no,' I'll admit. 'I could never do that. I'm simply no good at it. It's just not me.'

A little vulnerability, not even mock vulnerability, very real, but a wager in a bet I cannot lose, a little honesty, and just enough arrogance that who I am is never forgotten so I cannot be blamed for any deception.

And fuck you.

I win.

Truth and lies, truth and lies. That's what chaos is made of, yes? And what am I if not chaos? Is it true? Of course it is. Was it lies? Of course it was. Reality is never either or. It's always both.

Little human with broken eyes he needs to hide thinks he's being generous, offering me a chance to put him in his place. You don't need to make the offer, boy. You're already there. Why would you admit that secret of all secrets in front of me? And I'm sure my secret only made you feel worse, hm? You're not special. You're not even different. You're just a broken, defiled version of the real people all around you. Enjoy your misery. I certainly enjoyed giving it to you.

What an odd defect in me to harp on when it was caused by someone you claim as a friend. When what I have done with what I have lost is something greater than I could have done had I kept what I had, am I really even defective? Or have I improved? That's what we're all here for, to get better. I've gotten better. Have you? When you will never feel equal to the people around you because you never can be their equal? You can steal their faces, their friendship, their power as much as you want, but you will always be a pretender, and you will always have to hide your shame, because the day you accept yourself and live as you are is the day you'll die for it.

I have no shame.

I wonder how long I can play the lost bet excuse. We certainly gamble, but even though my win rate is expectedly even with my losses, what I ask for is always for my own greed. What she asks for is always my debasement, not enough to spark my anger or make me second guess, but enough to keep her laughing. I should have caught on to this sooner, especially after her little gift to Syreena. I think I did? And decided the price was worth it, and even a little entertaining for myself. The masochistic tendencies extending beyond physical pain, perhaps. I like it when she laughs, even if it's at my expense, and it's almost always at my expense. Explains too much. I shouldn't think about it too hard.

The wolf's advice is good. I'm always uncertain about plans that require biding, infiltration, masks of sweetness. I can do them to a point. I have my networks and systems that I use to pull on threads hoping they'll bring down the tapestries. But such things are distasteful when chaos will suffice. Yes, I understand the idea behind a little order serving to bring a lot of chaos, but such games are difficult to play and rarely end well. When they do end well, they end very, very well, but the risk tends to be on our side, not on theirs. Still, leading them patiently to their own failure is clearly our best option in the present, regardless of whether the pendulum swings in the way they seem so certain it will.

The violet commander's marital issues have caused a strange sea change. I, for one, don't think that little shift is enough to warrant the sudden acceptance of things as they are. They aren't different enough. I've only met the little warboss once? But I certainly have no faith that she's any sweeter. I blame the turning of the winds with the defeat of the Legion. Everything looks just slightly different, even when it isn't really. Old hurts have been fogged over just enough by time to be put aside long enough for coffee and brunch.

And I'm able to hear things I should never hear, share things that should never have been mine to share. I can sit quietly and let them berate me as much as they wish, speaking only when spoken to, offering only the gentlest of contributions, and still come across as cruel and strange. It's quite enjoyable, really.

I've had far too much enjoyment lately. It's going to my head. But given what led me to be so entertained in the first place, I'll take it.

Edited by Qabian
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