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    A Heart's Hopeful Haven


    There was something so very alluring about the garden at nightfall. A sense of enchantment that left ones heart hopeful, as if magic danced on the petals of every rose and sparkled in the soft shafts of moonbeam that fell from the canopy above. Within the garden all desires were possible, one only need but whisper them to the flowers. At least, that is how it had always felt to the two sisters. The years may come and go, and the gardens may change, but the feeling of wonder always remained the same. Their garden beneath the moon was a place of peace, their own hidden paradise. It was for this precise reason that Brianna now waited upon the elaborately carved stone bench next to the billow of dreaming glory that surrounded the fixture, swaying gently in the night's breeze.

    “Hello, sister,” Skylah spoke softly, interrupting the silence that Brianna had found herself content within. She took a seat next to the elder Priestess, who in truth was but three years older than her, and fixed azure eyes curiously her way. Brianna had asked Skylah to meet here for a reason, one that was sure to be of some importance she knew, but what? Her stomach clenched abruptly at the possibilities yet she managed to quell the surge as Brianna smiled warmly. “I apologize if I took a bit longer on the ride home. My thoughts sometimes come clearer on horseback,” Skylah added as an after thought.

    “Hello, Skyjade,” Brianna responded. She sat straddling the bench, with one leg dangling on either side. Between her legs rested an old and well aged bottle of wine from their private collections, with dust that still clung possessively to the label. A lazy wave of her hand commanded the cork and it popped loudly from it's holding place by an unseen force. The wine had a fruity aroma with an unmistakable hint of cinnamon spice that rose up around the pair and swathed them delicately. Grasping the neck of the bottle in hand, Brianna took a deep drink and then handed it to her sister as she spoke. “I understand. Did it seem to help?”

    Skylah tipped the bottle back, indulging in a long taste, before she answered the question. Within her voice there was a sigh of frustration. “Not this night, unfortunately.” Weariness pulled at her otherwise beautiful face, drawing down the corners of her mouth and draining the light from her azure eyes.

    The sight of such despair upon her sisters face may as well been a bramble of thorns, squeezing viciously around her heart to leave tiny pricks of helplessness. For a time she remained quiet, merely taking in the shadowed beauty that surrounded them. “Sky,” she finally began once the silence became unbearable. “There was a moment earlier at the Keepers meeting. There were too many around to ask further but... I felt the jarring sorrow radiating from you, almost suffocatingly so. I would never read your private thoughts but your emotions I can not help but feel. Will you speak to me?”

    A flash of alarm crossed the younger sister's face and she instinctively hid away behind another even longer drink of the wine – but she could only drink so much and her eyes fell then to the bottle as she lowered it between them. Unable to meet Brianna's gaze, Skylah stared at this bottle for awhile and struggled with how to begin. “I, um...” she attempted. Her foot began to bounce nervously among the lush grass, catching the intuitive eye of Brianna. With respect to Skylah's feelings and the challenge she faced, Brianna politely averted her gaze in hopes to waylay some of the pressure. Her attentions shifted to a nearby flower and she reached out to stroke the velvet petals casually. This seemed to help greatly and Skylah took a deep breath, affixing a distant gaze on Brianna's hand. “I fear to burden you with more of my issues,” she said bluntly. “You weigh yourself down by my needs as it is.”

    A cold uninvited void left Brianna feeling sick at the sadness in Skylah's words and she lifted her gaze to look at her sister, compelled by the desperate need to contradict such mistaken feelings. “Is that what you truly think? That I am burdened by you? That you weigh me down?” the Priestess spoke quietly, full of her own despair.

    “I do not believe you would ever admit such, but yes I do. With the worries that you must constantly have about me, would not your life be simpler without them? Without me?” Skylah whispered in return as the breeze caught her words and brought them crashing hard into Brianna's heart. Azure eyes searched her sister's face, begging to be heard – truly heard.

    “No. Skylah no,” Brianna spoke her answer with difficulty. Torment clouded her gaze, rising up to darken the emerald hue in much the same way a thunderstorm leaves the day dreary and gray, taking all hope for a glimpse of the sun in its wake. In the silence that followed, as Brianna regarded her sister intensely, tears gathered at the corner of her eyes. Storms always brought the rain. Gently Brianna moved the wine bottle away and scooted forward on the bench, closing the gap between them. She grabbed Skylah's hand beseechingly and placed it over her own heart. “Search my heart if you must know the truth,” she pleaded. “Pick apart my mind, I will lie all exposed to you! If you will not trust my words, trust that. Please, Skylah.” Brianna whispered, the first of the tears slipping down her cheeks. “You are never a burden. Never a weight or a worry that I can not bear. No, you are my Light. The mirror of my very soul. You are the beauty in my wicked world, don't you see?”

    Skylah wiped at her own tears, which flowed freely now, and held her palm firmly over Brianna's heart. From her lips, the words fell hopelessly. “But am I not the source of this wicked world anymore?” A small pause drove the thought home before Skylah whispered once more. “I am a dim light at best, and I feel as if my beauty has been soiled.”

    “And have you ever thought of me in such a way?” Brianna demanded gently. “For I have lain with the darkness for many years, bent it to my will, and relished in such. If you are a dim light, I am far beyond.” The Priestess shook her head, giving lift to the satin strands of auburn that framed her face as the breeze caught them and sent them swirling lightly. “No, you have not and neither do I think such of you.” Emotion rushed up her throat, filling the small space with desperation, and Brianna clenched her jaw briefly to keep it at bay. Though a struggle, she continued on. “You are even more beautiful than you once were. You have risen from the ashes of those foul hands to burn ever bright! You stand when they wanted you so badly to kneel. You must see that as I do! Everything we do is for justice. We are not the wicked ones. They are!”

    “Then why am I the one plagued with thoughts of taking ones own life?!” Skylah blurted out, words dripping with agony and soaked with a bleak misery. “I try Brianna. I -am- trying, truly. I know the truth of your words but when I am alone...” She bowed her head, unable to bear the weight of the words she spoke. Fallen tears dropped onto the cold stone between them, leaving tragically beautiful evidence of the pain that twisted her very soul. “I must cling to you and Bethany, for without you I am surely lost,” she voiced quietly.

    Brianna touched Skylah's cheek in comfort, brushing away the tears with her thumb even as she lifted the younger woman's face and affixed heartbroken emerald eyes upon her. “Because you have walked through hell, Skylah, and it changes a person,” she answered. She was doing her very best to not fall apart under such a deafening revelation but she was also not truly surprised by Skylah's confession. Hadn't she once thought of taking her own life as well? Aye, she recalled, you know what its like and you know what saved you. “I have had such thoughts, when I ki – when Father died,” she amended softly. “Though the trauma is different, the feelings are quite similar. I often thought you would be better without me, that I had caused much strife in your world. And the guilt, Light, it is enough to place the dagger in my hand for me but do you know what stopped me?” Brianna imparted a teary stare of importance to Skylah. “You did. Our bond kept the blackness from swallowing me whole. It is unbreakable and more powerful than these thoughts. And you never have to fight this alone, for I will always be here.”

    Throughout Brianna's words Skylah had sat attentively, with a furrowed brow of distress but azure eyes that held full understanding to the truth spoken and sympathy as well. The younger sister burst into full sobs, unable to truly respond with anything else, and dropped her head.

    “Oh my darling girl,” Brianna cooed. “Come here.” With a tender touch Brianna gathered Skylah into her arms and guided the girls head to rest upon her shoulder. For a time she merely held her sister protectively and pressed her cheek to the mane of auburn that so closely matched her own. Here beneath the stars, alone in their garden, the two sisters could do nothing but hold tight to each other and let the pain run its course.

    Eventually, when Skylah had finally exhausted herself, she lifted her head slightly and whispered, “I blind myself with this anger, this need to hunt them. I just want to be happy, with you, here at home. What can I do?” The frail voice cracked heart-wrenchingly. “I struggle in constant battle.”

    “I know the harrowing toll of constant battle within ones own heart more than most,” Brianna said in plain truth. Whether it was vengeance or forgiveness, Shadow or Light, guilt or justice – she knew the importance of balance and the strength one needed to see such controlled. “We will find your happiness once again,” Brianna vowed with a squeeze around Skylah's lithe shoulders. “It is not forever gone, but merely shadowed. And I know the first step to finding such but it is not something I think you wish to hear, for it is a most arduous trial.”

    Skylah choked back a sob at this, or perhaps it was a scoff, Brianna could not tell. “I don't know what could be worse. What more must I endure? How much more can I?!” Skylah cried, with words that danced teasingly on the edge of hysteria.

    Sky felt so small in her hands that Brianna was overwhelmingly reminded of Isabella and the times she had to comfort the child over a scraped knee or a torn dress. She had failed that sister, she would not fail this one. “Happiness and vengeance can not dwell in the same place, my Love. Not for one such as you, not now.” Delicately she caressed Skylah's back, running her fingertips over the knobby spine beneath. “The life you so treasure awaits you but you must first let go of the anger and the only way to do that, Sky, the only way to let it go is to make peace with what happened. And it will not be easy, it will be so frightfully hard to do but I can help you! I will do all I can for you,” she promised.

    “I...” Skylah tried to say, but her breath caught in her throat and prevented her from continuing. The grip around Brianna tightened and she hugged her sister as if afraid to ever let go. “I... don't know that I can, Bri. I wish I could but every day I see things that remind me. The herbs I now rely on, the apparent celebrity status that comes from almost being hanged, and this...” She stopped, holding up her prosthetic hand. “There will never be a day that I am not reminded. The scars are mental as well as physical.”

    There was no way to argue that point, nor anything to say other than what Brianna whispered as she glanced to Skylah with a look of pure, aching understanding. “I know, Sky.” She gathered the young girl back into her arms and pulled her close once more. “That particular war has ended and you can never go back to win it but you can survive it. The pain will lessen in time and the scars will fade,” she spoke certainly and with emphasis. “You must now search yourself and make a decision. You can not be these two hearts at war inside you and I am so sorry, my sweet. I have been blinded by my own vengeance as well and have lost sight of the pain you feel. Please don't leave me, I need you.”

    The answering response was barely said above a whisper. “As I need you, Bri.” Skylah took a deep breath to steady herself and collect such thoughts that were beginning to rear up defiantly. “But what of those who deserve our wrath? Can I truly mend knowing they are still out there? Sometimes I know not what I wish for more – to be healed and whole again or to get my hands on each and every one that harmed me. To be the last thing they see before their dying breath.” Renewed anger pulsed in her azure eyes and Brianna noticed the clenched fists at her sister's side.

    A soft kiss was placed atop Skylah's head by Brianna, lingering there for a moment as she held her sibling closely and sought her mind for the right words to say. “I do not suggest we leave them to their lives, no. No, they must pay and they shall. But I do suggest this, Sky: You must truly heal first. This pain you feel must be tempered to a degree that allows you to see past it.” She guided Skylah away gently so that she could look into her eyes. “I have been remiss in my actions, I should have focused upon you firstly and for that I must beg your forgiveness. The trauma you've experienced is still too raw for you to fully claim your vengeance, it is splitting you in twain. I thought that being so active in their deaths would give you the closure you needed, and perhaps in time it will, but you aren't ready to contend with it all at once. I should have realized sooner. I have went about this all wrong.”

    “You are at no fault, though if you feel it is so then you have my forgiveness,” Skylah spoke gently. The tears had finally stopped but her voice held the weary weight of one ready to give up and it broke Brianna's heart. “If it is as you say, maybe I cannot see it yet. When I think of letting go of my vengeance, I feel as if I am losing something I can never reclaim. A part of me.” Growing ever tired, she laid down along the length of the bench and rested her head in Brianna's lap.

    The urge to refute those points rose eagerly in Brianna's throat. She wished to tell her that it was but a toxic part of her, one not needed but she couldn't bring herself to be so hypocritical. For she held tight to that very same vengeance and cursed those that tried to take it from her. The difference was that she was strong enough to do so and Skylah still stood upon a shattered foundation. But not for long, Brianna vowed to herself. She would rebuild Skylah's inner fortress bigger and better than it had ever stood. So instead she brushed Skylah's auburn hair back from her tear streaked face and whispered softly. “You are not happy as it is, so something must be done. That is the bold truth, my little Skyjade. I think you need to step back for a time and focus upon the scars of your heart. What of a vacation? Leave it all behind you.”

    Skylah closed her eyes beneath the soothing touch and exhaled slowly. “To where might we vacation?” she asked. “Is there a place where I might feel free of these chains? I welcome it, truly. I do not wish to die, Brianna, but I fear I have forgotten how to live.” How incredibly sorrowful those words were as they took flight over the tops of the dreaming glory blossoms.

    “Where ever you wish,” Brianna replied gently while running her fingers comfortingly through Skylah's tresses. “Far away from all of this. You could go to the sunny beaches of Quel'danas or the snowy mountains of Dun Morogh. Where ever you choose you will have nothing to worry of but you.”

    “Will you make the arrangements?” Skylah spoke, still a little uncertain at the prospect. “I cannot think of a place at this time. And will you be there with me, or must I go alone?”

    Brianna peered down at her lap to see azure eyes staring up at her and it lifted her heart to see the small sliver of hope that shone therein. She smiled warmly at Skylah as she spoke, “Aye, I will make all the necessary arrangements and inform all that need to know, leave everything to me. And I will be there, if you want... but perhaps a retreat for the two turtle doves, you and Bethany, might be more in order.”

    A smile formed on Skylah's lips, small but there, and her body relaxed a bit. “I think I would like that.” It had been so long since she had been alone with Bethany in any intimate capacity. The notion both excited and frightened her. “Will you write me? Or keep in touch? I do not believe I will be taking my guild stone,” she decided.

    Brianna delicately ran one fingertip along the curve of Skylah's ear in sisterly affection as she responded softly, “I will of course keep in touch. But we will speak only of your adventures, nothing of business, of the Empire, that wretched Cathedral, or the hunts that continue. I want such far from your mind.” She cupped Skylah's cheek gently and peered down at her with a weighted gaze that imparted the importance of what she next spoke. “Skylah, for this to truly work I must know that you understand what is at stake, your inner peace. Your ability to find the happiness once again, in time, and hold it securely in the face of the vengeance we will take up once more – if you so want.”

    Skylah nodded, the tears long dried upon her beautiful face and spoke agreeably. “For you, my lovely sister, I will do this. You have done so much for me. Should I return whole enough, maybe you can find time for yourself and Rorrek, away from everything.”

    The thought for her and Rorrek's welfare touched her heart and Brianna smiled lovingly. “Perhaps so, but with you and Bethany gone from the house, it will be a vacation for us as well, no?” She laughed slightly at the jest, nudging Skylah in hopes to bring a smile to her sister's lips.

    Skylah nestled her head in Brianna's lap and rewarded her sister with a smile. “I do understand, Light I do. To see myself in the mirror these past months has been painful enough. To see the person I was staring back at the person I am...” She shrugged softly. “I want to be better. I realize I will never be that same girl, but I will settle for better.” She shifted slightly, taking Brianna's hand between hers and holding it tightly. “I love you, Bri.”

    “I love you too, Sky. Always always,” Brianna whispered in response.

    As they fell into a peaceful silence, Brianna glanced appreciatively around their garden. The enchantment was still very much alive and it had emboldened each of their hearts with renewed hope, just as it always had. Thank you, she thought with a grateful smile, looking then to the willow tree that stirred slightly in the cool breeze. You're welcome, it responded in the lift of it's fronds. Yes, the garden was a magical place indeed.

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