In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 12: The Inn at the End of the Road

I woke up for my watch early enough to be ready to take my place on the rotation. No one was nearby, but who knew how far brigands would travel to reach a rich merchant’s wagon train. The more desperate a person was, the more they were willing to do to accomplish their goal.

I could see Darin was also getting up. He had signed up for the early morning shift at the same time as me. He was on the other side of the wagon train though. I went and relieved the guard whose place I was taking in the watch.

"Nothing new out here tonight. I would be surprised though if anyone attacked on a full moon and a night with no clouds and clear air," the man was grizzled looking older man, white hair clearly showing in his black beard giving. He had scars crisscrossing his face and his helmet looked as if it had seen its fair share of dents.

"Have you been a guard for long?" I couldn't help my curiosity. Most mercenary guards settled down when they had enough money with a family and took on only local jobs, or no jobs if they could afford it. Wagon train guards made a lot more than a normal mercenary who gave their life to fighting other peoples wars.

"Over twenty years, youngin. I started this job when I was seventeen. Ran away from home I did. Stopped counting how long I'd been on the job when I hit twenty. Figure it doesn't matter since I don't plan on stopping till I die. Nothing for me to live for. I used to save money, hope to meet a nice lass, but my sweetheart couldn't wait for me, married another man, and I haven't found another since. Used to save my money, now I just try to spend it all 'cause there ain't no one I live for," the man stopped as if he realized he was rambling. "I didn't mean to bore ya. I should leave ya to yar watch. Go get my old bones another hour of sleep."

"It's ok, it's my first job. I plan on dedicating my life to the Dark Lady. I was just curious," Semi-truth, but it would work.

The older man tilted his head to the side as if evaluating me. "Why would a sweet young thing such as yarself give yar entire life to em Lord and Lady of war? That young man traveling with ya, he clearly shows an interest in ya. Don't ya black mercenaries only give about four years?"

Now the questions. I evaluated the man and decided he could handle close to the truth, but not the truth. I would stick to my story, "I am a priestess of the Black Lady, and when I pledged myself to her she took my ability to love. In return I am a pretty good fighter, a gift from her. I have nothing for me in life but service to her in her name. When I die she will welcome me into her kingdom as one of her greatest servants."

The man scratched at his beard with a gauntlet covered hand and lifted his helmet off allowing me to see that he was balding across the top of his head and had shaved his hair that remained close arund his head, "Well I haven't heard of such as that before, but ya hear of new things everyday they say. I guess this is my dose of new. Never knew the Lady to take love before."

I smiled slightly, this man was much smarter than the front he put on, probably smarter than most gave him credit for, "The lady chose to ask me if I wanted this gift, and I said yes. It is not something she asks of many people. Thank you for talking with me though. It was very... enlightening."

The man nodded slightly, as if answering something to himself, "I know a dismissal when I hear one. I will leave ya to yar watch.

He walked off, back toward the wagon with a stiff gait that spoke of knees that didn't work that well anymore. I sensed a younger man slipping away in the shadows. Maybe the merchant did know of his employees weakness. Maybe he chose to ignore it in favor of years of service and a wish to die fighting. Maybe he didn't completely ignore, and maybe, some of the other guards helped watch over the old man to make sure he didn't slip up on his watch or brigands decide he was the weak link.

Whatever the case was, and for whatever reason the younger man was watching the older one, I approved. If a person wanted to die doing the job they did best, they deserved the chance to.

It was an uneventful watch, and soon everyone else was up and scurrying about. Chrisin brought me a bowl of oatmeal. I was tempted to say something about what he manipulated Kyra into, but I remembered the knowledge that this was necessary, and I kept my mouth shut. I also kept my disgust and dislike from showing. My own control surprised even me. Normally I would have had a fit if I had had to see him after what he did to Kyra, but for some reason, I could control myself. Maybe, just maybe, I could believe that Kyra's love for everyone would let her be happy married to any person. Maybe everything would work out fine.

Parsa brought me Zentas. Her gentle hand seemed to be keeping my young and crazy project under control. "Thank you," I almost missed the gentle whisper as I took Zentas's reins from her.

"For sparing Falarin. He's been talking to me, told me how you rescued him from dying when he tried to kill you," her voice was quiet, subdued, but I could still hear her even over the racket of the waking camp. She reached out and grabbed the bowl from where I set it down on the ground when she came up with Zentas.

"It's nothing, I needed more fighters," I didn't want her to feel indebted to me. I hated having people tying to pay off debts all the time.

"I have come to know you better my Lady, and I am simply grateful he is not dead yet." I needed a better reason, a strong reason.

"He still has a part to play Parsa. I wouldn't start counting the chickens coming out of those eggs just yet," there, that should remind her that I was not the good guy.

She simply stared at me for a second before realizing that I really was uncomfortable with receiving thanks. She finally left me and went back to her sweetheart.

I mounted up onto my crazy Zentas, and waited as everyone finished clearing the camp. As a guard I watched until the caravan started moving, so my own stuff was being loaded up by those left in camp, Luckily I didn't have that much, and what I did have I had already packed away before going to guard duty.

We rode the entire day only stopping for a quick lunch break and then moving on. After lunch there was a disturbance on the other side of the wagon, but all of us on my side of the wagon stayed put, waiting in case the disturbance was bandits and the bandits were smart enough to divide their forces.

Soon enough a guard came aound the wagon and gave the ok signal. He rode his horse to the guard nearest him, and told the guard something before riding back around the wagons. I sharpened my heariing when that man rode to the next man.

"Two bandits attacked on the other side, this country is thick with the bastards. We are to keep a warry eye on our side and toward the back," he spoke louder than the first man because his horse wouldn't stand still for long.

They rode down the line, each man warning the next. I extended my sense outward around the caravan, and found two more men who were supposed to attack at the same tome as the first men, but hadn't gotten their timing right and were preparing to attack at that moment. i gently rested my hand on my sword hilt.

The message hadn't yet reached me when the two men attacked. I saw tehm wuietly sneaking down before any of the men who were focused on where the message was. I rode at the bandits, sword out and ready.

What I was not prepared for was Zentas. The horse might have been light, to light to bare a fully armored knight, but he sure was nimble.

The first bandit swung his sword haphazardly at Zentas, which the horse dodged and danced away on his toes almost as if he was the fighter. I stuck out at the other bandit who had tried to sneak up on us and slashed at his chest. A small red line appeared, and the man laughed.

The other man got a kick to the chest and then Zentas jumped up into the air, jumping over the man slashing sword, and before the man could bring his sword up, the horse kicked it out of his hands. I was just glad I was a good rider and could sit this creature. He would almost be better at fighting without me on him.

I blocked a strike from the man that I had gotten a hit on. I swept my sword up and around the inside of his and braced his sword against my off hand knife locking him in as I lunged for the kill.

Zentas jumped toward the man, dodging something from the other man and forcing my sword into the man's chest, but not his heart like I had meant to. Then the horse reared up, causeing my sword to swipe up thhrough his body cleaving him in two.

I turned my attention back toward the other attacked, and realized that Zentas was beating him to a pulp. Goddess of darkness I had named this horse correctly. He was was death, or the bringer of death to his enemies. What had they done to this horse to train him so well?

I finally managed to convince Zentas to leave his oponenet, an we trotted back toward the caravan right as the message was coming to us.

The message bringer stared at us like we were completely crazy. I looked down and realized that Zentas and I were both covered in blood. Zentas's front legs were coated in blood, and my armor was dripping with blood from the man I had sliced open. It would need cleaning.

"Go aheah, what is your message?" The man repeated the message as if in a daze and road back to his station. I could see all the other guards eying the dead bodies as the caravan slowly moved past them. I rode Zentas to the next guard who was a woman, and gave her the message. She was the only one who wasn't looking at me strangely.

I couldn't quite understand why they were looking at me though. They had seen blood before as guards. Hell they had probably seen horses as violent as Zentas. I hadn'tbeen extremely quick about dispatching the two men. If I had wanted to I could have just shot them with arrows or dispatched them with knives. I had worked hard not to be spectacular. i had even waited for the guards to show themselves.

"So why is everyone looking at me like I am the craziest person they have ever seen?" the woman smiled at my question.

"You rode the beast in a fight. Not only that you stayed on and the beast didn't kill you. His last rider fell of and he killed his rider along with everyone around him, horse and human. He terrifies the other guards."

Oh. I had done something spectacular without meaning to, I had ridden the horse given to me well. "I've trained a lot of horses. I've never ridden any horse quite like this one. I trained my horses to do fighting moves when cued; this guy does them instinctively. I think that if he likes his rider he actually takes care of them. He seems quite smart."

"Smart as a hellhorse is what the other guards say. They say he is the reaper come to collect souls."

"Sounds like I named him well then. Thanks."

She nodded in agreement, "anytime you have questions, feel free to ask. My name is Quitaria."

"My name is Dyrana, and I would shake you hand in greeting, but my horse is dancing and my gauntlet is covered in blood splatters." Even as I spoke Zentas danced away from her horse.

She laughed and waved her free hand at me, "Go, take your crazy killer away."

I waved and allowed Zentas to jig back to our spot alongside the caravan.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, and luckily for Zentas and I, there was a creek for the two of us to go straight into to work on cleaning the blood off.

I stripped out of my armor and started by cleaning my armor and sword with sand from the bank of the creek. Once the blood was gone I rinsed it in the water till the sand was gone, then I dried it with a cloth and oiled it.

Once I finished with my armor I took Zentas into the creek which he willingly stood in while I scrubbed his legs and body to get all the dried blood off of him. There were still blood stains on him, but I kind of liked them. It told people just what kind of horse he was; he was a killer. A cold blooded killer.

I finished cleaning myself, enjoying the luxury of getting truly clean.

I did get a good bathe that often, and it was much easier to get clean with flowing water.

I heard someone approach and turned toward the person. Darin came out of the edge of the woods and turned a bright scarlet color as he stared at me speechless. He stuttered for a second and then finally thought to avert his eyes. I couldn't help myself, I laughed.

My clothing was drying on a tree branch and I didn't feel like wearing wet clothing. It didn't really bother me if he saw me naked. Of course, maybe I was the first naked woman he had seen. Nakedness had no effect on me, but that was probably because I didn't feel anything related to love, and nakedness seemed to be a reaction to that.

"Umm, Dy, you are naked."

Obviously. Sometimes he wasn't the sharpest blade.

"Why, yes I am.I didn't notice that," I couldn't help myself, I burst out into laughter again.

"Could you, um, clothe yourself. You are making me uncomfortable." He was still standing there, carefully looking away from me.

"I will slip into the water if you want. I don't want to wear wet clothing. Don't worry though; you can join me. It feels good to get clean." I stood up and walked to the bank where I slipped into the murky water. The stream wasn't too fast that I couldn't stand, but it wasn't slow either. For all that the water was slightly murky, it had gotten me clean and seemed fine to drink. All I cared was that the sweat was gone. The water came just up to my chest when I stood in the middle.

"Umm, ok..." He turned back and I could see his face was beat red. The guy wanted to sleep with me, and yet he couldn't stand to see me naked without getting embarresed. Maybe I was being slightly hard on him; he was a priest at the temple.

"Could you, umm, turn around until I, umm, finished getting, umm, undressed?" So polite.

"Sure, I'll turn around." I turned facing away, but planning a slight trick. I waited until he was undressed, and then I turned back around.

He had a nice build, all wiry swordsman muscles. Too bad he was facing away from me at the moment. Then he turned around and saw me, "You said you wouldn't look till I finished undressing!"

"I did. You are finished undressing now." I couldn't stop myself from laughing again. The expression on his face was priceless. Too bad I felt nothing for him, he did have a nice build.

"Come on, stop worrying and get in. There is nothing wrong with nudity, at least around me. I don't have feelings to get aroused by nudity." He realized the value of my advice and ran into the creek.

"But I do. I can get aroused." his voice was quiet, and he was looking away, but I heard him.

"Don't worry. I wouldn't let you touch me. I am quite good at defending myself." I used my hand to splash the water in his direction.

"YOU!" he said something else, but I missed it as I ducked under the water to evade his splash. Soon enough we had a full out splash war. I never touched him knowing that he would be upset by me touching him.

"Mercy, Mercy please. I surrender," I laughed mercilessly and gave one more good splash

"What was that for?" he spat water out that head had inhaled.

"For good measure. I think my clothes are done. Have fun." I got up and walked out of the creek to my clothes. I could feel his eyes following me with longing and desire, but his mind kept him in check.

I slipped back into my clothing, packed my armor and Zentas's armor onto Zentas, and made my way back to the camp leading Zentas.

Back at the camp I saw there was already a fire going. Nyltar was curled up against Zireana, his mother. The other child, Gonar was curled up against Parsa, and she was gently leaning on Falarin, stroking his arm.

It looked like everyone was healing. Soon I might even be able to start training all of them.

Kyra looked up at me from her position curled up against Chrisin, "You look wet. Do you know where Darin is?"

Why did she automatically ask me? "Darin is down at the creek bathing, and I just came back from there."

I could see interest spike at the idea of getting clean in the creek. I had a feeling that soon everyone would be heading down to the creek.

"Foods in the stew pot, I want to go get clean." Ollarin said while helping Lyanan up. She was starting to show her pregnancy even more now. She probably had about three more months till she gave birth.

Chrisin and Kyra nodded in agreement, and then with some nods and murmurs the whole camp was up and moving toward the creek to get clean while I sat watching the horses and getting some stew from the pot.

Darin came back soon after, and we ate the stew silently, simply enjoying each other's company. It was strange that I was enjoying his company. Since when did I enjoy simply being with a person? But I was enjoying it. Something inside me felt satisfied, as if life was good this way. This was the way I was meant to live it told me. Was it a human instinct left over from before my year as the Dark Lady's host?

I grew sleepy and soon enough I nodded off only o wake to the others coming back. I stumbled over to my bedroll and rolled it out to sleep in. I needed to get to bed to wake in time for my watch.

Sleep claimed my mind again, and I let it. I was talking to Darin, and yet it wasn't really Darin. The man I spoke to wasn't really a man, but a being, a male essence that I knew. It was strange, the feeling that he invoked. I wasn't really me, but I was. I was talking, but I wasn't really saying anything out loud. Something inside of me told me that it was right to be with him. It yearned like a tugging in my gut, or maybe it was in my chest. I had no words to explain this feeling, this... this... was it desire? I hadn't felt desire before, or had I? Had I just forgotten this feeling?

I woke with a start and noticed everyone else was still asleep. The dream, if it could be called that, was strange. It felt as if it had loosened something in me. I felt strange, almost light. It wasn't time for my shift yet. I needed to sleep. I closed my eyes and drifted off again.

The next morning Darin awoke me for my shift and I was glad I hadn't dreamed again. That dream scared me. Those feelings, they hadn't been right. They shouldn't have existed. Feeling required something in me, something I didn't want and didn't need. It would interfere with the mission. I wasn't supposed to feel. It was burned out of me. What power could make me feel? I shivered at the thought, and then focused on the task a hand. It was just a dream. Just a memory, a echo of feeling probably. I didn't really know what it was like to feel. I was probably in someone else's memory feeling an echo of what they were feeling in the burned out part of me.

All my bags were packed and Zentas was tacked. I looked over and saw that Darin was also finished. He was by the fire heating up the pot. He always made that hot biter drink before guard duty. Apparently he could wake himself up, but it didn't particularly mean he liked being awake. "Want some?" He had seen me watching.

I shook my head and went over to sit by him. "What is feeling like?"

His eyes narrowed and suddenly there was a very keen and alert look to a person who had been looking tired only a moment ago, "You know what basic feeling is like. Hate. Desire. Or wait, is desire and want considered love? Its very close to love you know. They say love and lust go hand in hand.. Why do you ask?"

"I don't know. I'm curious. I don't remember what love feels like, what it makes the body feel. I think I experience want, but I don't think it is anything close to desire. I know I experience, hate, anger, and even satisfaction. Satisfaction is the chemical reward to our minds when we know we have done something well. Anger causes us to feel adrenaline, to be pumped up, to be ready for a fight. Hate is a more slow chemical. Want is simply makes us do things because we want a goal. Want is the reason we live. But what is love? Is it just strong desire?" I couldn't tell him about my dream, but I looked down and realized I was twisting my hands, wringing them like I was worrying. I quickly move my hands to my side where they couldn't say anything about me.

He passed me a cup of his hot drink and took one for himself. "I want Koffee in the morning to wake up. But love... Love is this feeling of rightness. It is desire, but stronger. Its like a tugging in our core, a wrenching in your gut, and this feeling, this knowledge that if you give into this desire you will be more than just satisfied. You know that simply being with this person makes you feel at peace with yourself. You feel like you can be yourself around them, and when you are not with them, not near them, it tugs. Dy... please don't run away or yell at me when I tell you this, but it is what I feel. I don't care if you can never love me in return, I just like being around you. It feels right just to sit here talking with you. Please, even if you don't reciprocate my feelings, please don't ever send me away."

It wasn't his fault the chemicals in his body. I wouldn't send him away for answering my question. I was glad to know it was only an echo I had felt in my dream. it was probably just desire that was close enough to want that I could feel the echo in my dream. "Don't worry Darin, as long as you don't try to push yourself on me, I won't send you away. You are a good fighting partner, and you are one of the best fighters I have met. Except your hand to hand combat."

Now he even smiled, as if there was something to be happy about, "But I am getting better aren't I? I am a fast learner right?"

Suddenly I was laughing. It was too early in the morning, but he looked like a puppy dog begging for praise, "yes, yes, you are getting better. Soon you might even present a challenge," to someone other than me, but with that puppy dog look and the radiant smile at my agreement I couldn't bring myself to actually say that last part out loud.

"Come on you silly, we have a job to attend to. I want to keep my pretty new horse," I gently fake swiped at his head and found myself laughing at his fake hurt expression.

He couldn't hold it for long, and soon he was laughing to. We both got up and walked to our respective guard positions and relieved the current guards. I don't know why, but I found myself wishing that I could see him, that I was on the same side of the caravan. If he died I would loose a good fighting partner.

The day continued for the most part like the previous day, but this time there was no bandit attack, just a boring day of guard duty with some entertainment provided by Zentas when he decided to put on a show to see if he could best me.

At the end of the day I trained again with Darin. I enjoyed training with him. It felt good to have the adrenaline pumping through my body, and his company wasn't bad.

Soon enough I was waking up for the next night shift guard duty, and again I sat by him near the fire, drank Koffee, and just talked. I wasn't sure why I enjoyed talking with him so much, but my best explanation was that he just seemed insightful. That day we had a larger bandit party, and I wasn't the only one cleaning blood off my armor that night. Two guards were also dead, and I felt like it was my fault. If I was quicker I could have saved them. For all my abilities though, 24 men was more than I could handle, and having the other guards was a good thing. I wished I could have had Darin protecting my back though.

That night, even though there was a bandit attack during the day, we still trained. I guess the bandit attack made both of us feel like we had to train more and harder.

It was strange how quickly the days passed, how each day I found myself looking forward to training with Darin. He was progressing quickly, and soon he was a challenge. Training became sparring, and at some point we started sparring with swords, daggers, and all sorts of different weapons. He truly was amazing. He was the best fighter I had ever sparred against.

And some nights I had the dreams. Strange dreams where I felt strange things, and I was glad that I did not feel that way during the day. I worried though. The feelings scared me because they were stronger than anything I had ever felt before. They were stronger than even anger and hate.

I asked Zedigrivikonola about it, and she had no clue. The strange part about talking with her was I felt like I was talking to myself, except I wasn't really. Maybe it was just left over from when we shared the body, but it felt like something more.

Everyday it became harder for us to not be linked. She was experiencing the world through me and enhancing my experience of the world around me. I always knew where everyone was around me. I was hyper aware of everything, but it felt natural and right, similar to how training and sparring with Darin felt.

"You've opened up a lot you know," we were both sitting on the ground after having rolled off of each other in hand to hand sparing.

I was surprised and confused by this comment, "What do you mean?" Did he mean my fighting style was more open?

"Sorry, I was just thinking that you are easier to talk to. You used to bite my head off for the slightest comment, and now I can talk openly with you without you freaking out," weird introspection, but it was true.

"I guess it’s because we understand each other. You understand my lack off feelings, and I understand your feelings, but now I trust you not to act on them because you know mine. I guess its trust that has allowed to become… friends.” The words felt right. We were friends. Like in childhood, we were friends again. Our friendship this time though was not based on feelings, at least not for me, but on companionship.

“I am glad. It was hard talking to the stiff I hate the world Dy.” He was smiling as he picked himself up. Maybe he was hoping I was feeling something for him, but it wasn’t anything more than companionship.

“You remember that comment you made, back when Ollarin attacked us, about the mortal part of the Lords and Ladies…” I wasn’t sure why I suddenly thought of this, but that comment had been bothering me for a long time.

“Yeah, all the Lords and Ladies of the spectrum of light have a mortal half, a half they can split away from themselves and send down to the Earth. Why do you ask?” He was flippant, but I heard a note of worry in his voice. I needed to know what he knew about that though.

“Do you think… do you think that theoretically the Lord or Lady could recombine with their mortal self while the mortal self was still on the Earth?” There was that feeling, that feeling that Zedigrivikonola was a part of myself.

“I guess, theoretically, that if the mortal and immortal self had enough contact across the split that the barrier could become thin and eventually give. It would mean that the mortal part would die and recombine with the immortal part and the immortal being would fill the mortal body and be in whatever realm the Lords and Ladies reside in at the same time. It might be too much strain for the mortal body though. It is part of the reason for splitting off a part of their being so that a mortal body could handle them.” I could hear the worry in his voice and see the frown on his face. “Why are you asking this?”

He wouldn’t want me to be the Lady Zedigrivikonola. He knew she had no care for normal humans. They were tools to her. If I recombined with her… I didn’t even know if I was her mortal half, but if I was, and I combined back with her, I would lose all humanity I had held onto because I wouldn’t be human anymore. “Don’t worry, it’s all just theoretical curiosity.” Lie.

He was still worried. If I combined… I would warn him. Zedigrivikonola wouldn’t care about him and his feelings. I guess that was me. I wouldn’t care about them, but I cared now… Sarg! Life was complicated.

I wasn’t sure anymore of how long we had been on the road, a month, two months, three months. They had all passed by so quickly. I hadn’t noticed the time passing. I couldn’t even count the number of bandits I had killed either. We were all killers. I could hear the guards praying every night. I could hear it through Zedi. I wasn’t even sure when I started calling her… me… Zedi. At some point it simply became easier, and her nickname amongst the Lords and Ladies of light became fine for me to use.

I could feel when people were killed in battle. I could feel their spirits going up to my realm, and I knew the barrier was growing thin. I knew I should tell Darin, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. I enjoyed his company, and I was afraid he would change if he knew what was happening to me. I was afraid of it too. The mortal self dies… I kept hearing that over and over again. I was a person in my own right even though I was a part of Zedi. I wasn’t afraid of my body dying, but of my mind dying. What would I become, would I even recognize the fact that I had previously existed as a separate entity, or would I just be Zedi?

Soon enough we were at the Inn at the End of the Road. It was too late and too soon. Too late for whomever I was, too late for me to not change. It was too late for me to not call on Zedi so much, for me to have not been her host. I was her mortal self.

And it was too soon. Too soon for me to vanish. Too soon for all the people around me. Too soon to lose all feeling again. In that second when I saw the Inn and the town End of the Road, I knew it was the ending of the road for whomever I had been. Just as when I walked out of the temple so many years ago and changed; this time I would walk in, and I would come out different.

I recognized something now. I cared about them. I cared about all of them. It was probably the humanity I was born with. Love was not burned out of me completely, just placed behind thick barriers. No Lord or Lady could destroy a human’s love, and it was what Kyra had been trying to tell me. She loved them all so much. I didn’t love them all like she did. But the humanity in me did love them? Was I Zedi’s hidden ability to love? Would she care about them if I died, or would I; that human side of her; continue to be hidden away where I couldn’t influence her, or would I not even realize the difference?

Zentas jigged under me. He probably felt my fear of the unknown that was coming. I had no clue what was coming. I looked over at Darin and wished I could tell him everything. I wished I could tell him that the human part of me had learned to love again. But I hadn’t realized it till this moment. I hadn’t wanted to love, I hadn’t wanted to be hurt by it. I had hidden it, pushed all thoughts of love away. I had allowed myself to believe that the pain of Zedi joining with me was the death of love. We were taught that Zedi was the existence of no love at all, but was that wrong? Was I the hidden human loving part of Zedi?

It was a small two story in with a tavern for an entrance. It had a large spacious stable, though even that stable wouldn’t hold all the caravan’s animals. The building itself had wooden siding and a sign with a road and an inn at the end of it on it. It was amazing that only a small town existed at these crossroads, but that was the way of life, strange and inexplicable.

I glanced back at Darin. I didn’t love him. I needed him because he was a good partner. I had to know this, to remember this fact. I would warn him that my combination with the Lady was imminent, but that was all. There was nothing more to say. I pretended to rub at my eyes making sure that no moisture leaked out of them. I was the Lady of the Absence of Light. I was strong, and I loved no one. Love made a person weak.

A woman walked over toward us, and soon enough I recognized her as Tenale, the woman I had dueled for the job. “Exental asked me to bring your pay to you. Your contract is at an end with him.”

I was surprised he hadn’t come himself, but he probably had stuff he needed to take care of. “Thank you. The Dark Lady smiles on your life.”

“And may she forever favor you in battle,” Tenale’s response was mechanical, as if she simply spoke the words out of habit. She handed a pouch of coins up to me, “This is the pay for all the guards in your group. You worked well and Exental also included a letter of recommendation in case you ever wanted to work as a guard for a caravan again.”

She turned and walked away even as I called out, “Tell Exental thanks!” She never responded, but just kept walking.

I turned to face the rest of our group, “let’s buy a room at the inn for the night. This looks like a good stopping point and like it has plenty of stalls for the horses.”

Tired nods all around were the only replies I received. I dismounted Zentas and walked up to the inn leading him. I passed him off to a stable boy and went inside to pay for a room and stalls.

The man at the desk didn’t really seem to care about anything except getting me out of his sight. He got me the room and the stalls as quickly as possible without uttering a single real word. He made some sounds, but nothing truly resembling a word. I took the key and the not for the stalls and quickly left him to whatever it was that was so much more important than me.

I passed the note for the barn to the stable hand, and they efficiently dropped our gear and whisked our horses away before any of us even realized what was going on.

“So, where’s the room?” Kyra asked me from where she was standing supporting Zireana.

“If you will follow me, I will show everyone up to our room,” I grabbed a couple bags, waited for everyone else to grab their gear, and then went into the inn. It took a little bit to find our room since the man at the desk hadn’t been very helpful, but eventually we found it.

Everyone started to troop out to dinner; even Falarin and Zireana were well enough to be eating with the rest of the group, but I grabbed Darin, holding him back from leaving. He stopped the second my hand touch his arm.

Once they all left one eyebrow raised up inquisitively on his face. He didn’t say anything, but sat their staring at me, waiting for me to explain myself.

“Darin… I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something,” I turned away, unable to look at him and talk to him. I could feel Zedi listening, curiosity drawing her in.

“What’s up Dy?” I couldn’t stand to turn back and look at him. I had lied to him previously. Maybe not on purpose, but I had lied.

“Darin, do you remember that conversation about the mortal half of gods?” There was a window in our room, and I walked toward it, drawn by the view of the mountains and my desire to have something to look at.

Darin followed me, and one hand came up onto my shoulder. It felt like a jolt of electricity went through me. “Dy, I remember two such conversations. Why are you so curious about this?”

He had obviously stopped believing that I was a mortal half of the Dark Lady. “Darin, I think you were right all along. I think I am the mortal half of the Dark Lady.”

He laughed. I have no clue why, but he suddenly laughed, “that was a good joke. Was that all you held me back for, a joke?”

“Darin… this isn’t a joke,” I turned back around to face him, to allow his eyes to search my face.

“What do you mean the? Why are you telling me this? Why does this even matter,” His voice was getting frantic and both his hands were stretched out and gripping my shoulders tightly preventing me from turning away.

“I… I didn’t want to tell you, or anyone for that matter. Zedi and I have been becoming… closer you might say. I’m not sure, but I think the barrier is weakening. I think for all that we were combined and yet separate for that year that we never really combined. We were always actually two people, but this time we would be one. I would fully become the Dark Lady’s mind in a human body. “ I couldn’t look into his eyes. I couldn’t see the hurt and betrayal in them.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I could hear the hurt in his voice and it made me wince.

“I wasn’t sure for awhile, and I was scared. I won’t be separate anymore. I was afraid of who I will become, but I feel like you deserve to know. I have been affected by human emotion, but she is not human. I feel as if I am going to die or something.” I wasn’t expecting the hug I was folded into, but soon enough I detached myself.

“Dy…?”

“hmm?”

“Would you kiss me, just this once since you still have humanity.” I was about to vehemently chew him out for even suggesting that, but I looked into his eyes, and for all that I denied the feeling, I couldn’t bring myself to deny this.

“This means nothing except goodbye. Don’t ever forget that” And I kissed him. I pressed my lips against his and felt him respond, his arms folding around me, pulling me close. I was shocked by how good it felt to kiss someone.

I felt a surge of power, and the wave swept over me, consuming me.

What was I doing? Why was I kissing this man? I pulled myself back, unable to keep the disgust off my face. I carefully schooled my features. I lost myself to the feel of the body, and the rush and combination of memories. So many memories. Every mortal part of me had their own separate memories, and every time I separated I forgot all those memories, but now I was whole again. I could feel the simple human feelings I hadn’t been able to destroy, and I pushed them to the back.

I was the Lady Zedigrivikonola, I was the Dark Lady, the Lady of the Absence of Light, and now I was in two places at once. I was immortal held in a mortal body, and immortal soaring free through the realm of the spectrum. I belonged nowhere and everywhere.



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