Xian

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Chapter 3.10: Lately Reconciled.

“I’ve said much over the course of this tale, and you might have noticed a few inconsistencies, both in my own musings, and what they have to do with this particular tale. The brightest among you may know my reasons for this, as there is an ascending nature in both their subject and meaning. If you have not divined it, then I shall speak plainly: Life, and those who cling to it, are worthless. To cement this truth, you need only look at “The Hero”.

To enact justice on the cruel and prosperity to the virtuous, that is the way of the Hero. To fight on for those who cannot fight for themselves, that is the way of the Hero. To protect the hopes of all innocents over their own interests, that is the way of the Hero. To take nothing from Life, and give so much of themselves to its preservation, that is the way of the Hero. To fight for so long and to protect so much, until you are worn away entirely, that is the way of the Hero…

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Abram entered the ruined dining hall but didn’t pay much attention to it. He didn’t look at the many banners strewn about the wrecked ceiling, he didn’t fixate on the flames that persisted in certain areas only to be choked by falling stones. And he certainly didn’t care about the young man that was splayed on the floor. No, he only saw Atma.

And after years of feigning hatred, of fighting and scheming toward the goal of avenging and saving all that he cared for, Abram saw what it had all lead to. No more decorum, no more intimidating command, He dropped his sword and ran to this little sister. “Atma!”

Evangeline followed close behind him, her distress clear, as well as her surprise. Perhaps she had thought he had been lying? Maybe...but that didn’t matter now. Abram dove down to his sister’s side. He heard the barest hints of breathing, saw the wounds across her back, wounds from a Black Blade, and the claw of a divine dragon. With trembling hands, he lifted her from the floor, hoping to comfort her or perhaps even find a way to save his sister. He saw only more pain. Her body was torn and tattered, her face slashed across the middle.

He may have known something of medicine but this... “Maybe the sword? No, it’s too powerful, and it might just hurry her along. I can’t do anything...my gods, why am I always powerless when I am in most need? When the people I love are-”

No time to think, no point in being chained by regret. He had to act now, he had to do something. Yet Even though such thoughts spurred Abram to action, it took a monumental effort just to look away from his fading sister, and face Evangeline. “Get a healer.”

She looked at Atma’s torn form, battling through horror just to speak. “Divine magic won’t work on-”

“Then anyone! Find the Death Knight! Maybe she knows someone...”

Atma’s eyelids fluttered, and her breathing became more audible, though it was still ragged. And Ichor began to pour from her mouth. “Abram...please...”

“It’s alright I’m not...I’m not here to hurt you.”

Abram looked up at his lover, bereft of all which made him The Silvered Fiend. He’d never felt this way, and she never thought to see him like this. His ever proud and discerning voice crawled out in a pained whisper. While his eyes, always alight with idea and ambition, were now vacant and defeated. “Please, find someone. There’s nothing...there’s nothing I can do.”

Evangeline wasted no time, and ran out the way they came, even bringing on the hellhounds to help. Abram kept Atma in his arms and saw her eyes staring into his. There was no emotion in those eyes, only a probing skepticism. But it was barely an echo of her willful nature, and the vacancy left by death was already taking hold.

But Abram let allow no such thing. All he had to do was keep Atma fighting, right? How to do that though? He fumbled through his confusion and barely managed to keep the desperation and fear out of his voice when he spoke. “You know Atma, you could have waited to die until after I apologized.”

“Apologize?”

Abram had waited for this moment but was now at a loss. So he was as honest as he could be, even as the full weight of his choices rapidly fell into his consciousness, and each word became harder to say than the last. “I lied. I’ve lied this whole time. I’ve never blamed you for anything that involved Miranda...and I lied about it so that I could get revenge on Kiernan and the rest of them. And I am so sorry that I’ve been hurting you for all these years.”

There was still that tired stare in her eyes, but there was also focus and anger. “Take off your helmet.”

He knew where this was going, and found it childish. “I will not.”

Yet Atma showed no sign of budging on the matter. “You put me through hell Abram...You owe me this much.”

Abram thought for a moment and then used his power to teleport his helmet away. As soon as he did so, he felt Atma’s tired fist slam into his face with desperate and furious energy. The blow tilted his head a bit and showed him how weak Atma was.

But he set aside those feelings and tried to seat his sister in a more comfortable position. “You ought to save your strength.”

Atma was keen on doing anything but that and even made a futile effort to push her brother’s hands away. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

“I’m your brother, I’ll say whatever the hell I want.”

The anger disappeared from Atma’s eyes, replaced by sadness. “Do you mean what you said? You never blamed me for what happened with Miranda?”

The desperate soul of a failed brother had invaded the empty space where the mighty Abram Xian had been. The forgotten fears of childhood clawed at his soul and took hold of all that he said. “Yes, I did. Now please stop talking-”

Yet his pain was nothing compared to the shock and the confused hurt of his sister. With her words barely capturing the torture of her many lonely years. “Why? Why wouldn’t you tell me the truth?”

“I had to make it convincing-”

“And you thought I couldn’t do that? So you just left me alone?”

Abram took her hand in his and was surprised that she was holding it as tightly as she was. “I never blamed you for anything, I’m so sorry that-”

She cut him off, fed up with his reasons, and in no mood to be handled. “Maybe I blamed myself, did you ever think of that? Maybe I needed someone to tell me it was ok, and that I still had friends and family...instead of being left alone while my asshole brother goes on a revenge quest.”

“I did it for both of us. I thought...I thought you were strong enough, and you are. That’s why you’ve gotten this far, and that’s why you’ll live now.”

Atma gritted her teeth, and ichor slid through them. “I watched friends die, and people break because of what you put me through...because of what you put them through...you honestly think it was worth it? Is the thought of people calling you “Marshal” Abram Xian really that important to you?”

“It was all for so much more than that, I swear. I did it for us.”

Atma looked ready to laugh at that answer, but could only manage to roll her eyes. “Yeah well, I’m bleeding out...a bunch of my friends are dead...and you’re one of the most powerful men in the world. It doesn’t feel like it was for me.”

There was a long silence. Only broken when Abram took a deep breath and grasped Atma’s still hand in both of his. “I promise: I am sorry. I can’t do anything more than say that, and that makes me furious. But more than that, it makes me sad. This isn’t the end though; we’ll have all eternity for me to make it up to you and for you to be as angry as you like.”

Atma tried to smile, and more ichor spurted out of her mouth. “Abram, I don’t think that will happen”

“That’s not true.”

“Between the Black Blade and the dragon’s claws...we both know I’m finished.”

Abram’s grip tensed against her shoulder. And his voice became quiet. “Demons don’t die.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think we’re meant to stay here forever either...I feel like I’m being pulled somewhere. It feels warm, the same way it did when Miranda would brush my hair, and when you’d let me sit on your lap during winter.”

“You’re not going to die Atma.”

Atma smiled and leaned closer onto his shoulder. “I don’t think either of us has a say in that now Big Brother.”

He held her tight, his voice shaking. “Please. Not after all we’ve both been through.”

Abram expected more weariness, more coldness from his sister. Instead, there was hope in her voice. “Did you mean it? When you said you were sorry?”

Abram cried out as if he were a child again. “Yes, yes I did.”

Atma’s eyes wandered, and then settled as her hand once more tightened on his arm. “Then listen: There were so many times I wanted to give up on life, but something kept me going. It’s sad, that I’m just now realizing what it was now. But it was just that, Life. It’s hard, and so much is out of our control. But I don’t think we’d hate it so much if we didn’t know it could be better. And I know it can be. I’ve met people who’ve lost homes, families, everything that makes life worth living…but they keep going. They’re hurt, just like we were, but they keep fighting. They know that those things are worth having and defending because they know how horrible it is to lose them…

Another cough, more spewed ichor. “Help them Abram, and help yourself. That’s what you need to do if you want my forgiveness. Ok?”

Abram tensed up. “You certainly ask a lot, don’t you?”

“Are you not up to the challenge? Marshal Abram?”

He brought her hand to his heart. “Even though I know you’re just appealing to my ego at this point, I’ll do it. If only to keep you from haunting me.”

She leaned onto his shoulder “That’s all I need.”

While his sister rested, Abram kept his ear out for any sign of help. None came.

“Where the hell are they? Did Evangeline get detained? No, our contract would have allowed me to know if she was in trouble or not. Maybe there’s still something else I can do.”

Abram brought another hand to Atma’s forehead. He reached out with his powers of the forge, now expanded with his psionic abilities. She wasn’t just dying, but entirely fading out of material existence. Her very presence growing fainter, as the magic of the Black Blade and the Emperor’s touch continued to spread through her failing body.

Another loved one in his arms. Right in his hands, and still beyond his ability to help. Abram gave a final and futile examination of his sister’s injuries and found no answers. “Atma, I have no idea what’s happening to you right now. Both divine and infernal magic are tearing you from the inside out and there’s...there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe if we had a paladin and Evangeline here then-”

Atma gripped his hand. “It’s alright Abram. She’s here to take me home.”

“What?”

“You can’t see her right now, but she’s crying. And she’s happy that we’re together again. I’m happy too.”

“Why?”

Atma tucked her head closer into his shoulder, and Abram could feel her heart next to his, right to its final beat. “Because I got my Big Brother back, if only for a little while.”

And then she was gone. Her eyes closed, and the glow of her demonic insignia faded. She then faded from view entirely, her body breaking down into thin dust that flew on the soft winds blowing through the ruined halls. But Abram did not look to their course. He felt only the barest hint of a breeze as if it had been a kiss on the cheek. Yet his eyes were fixed on his empty hands and numbed arms.

Nothing remained of his sister, not even the ichor which had marred his silver armor. So he sat there, staring at the emptiness before him until he heard more footsteps. Evangeline walked in with A knight of black and gold in tow, as well as the Death Knight, The De-Fuoco children, and a taller human man wearing the Queen’s colors. No one moved for a long moment. Even as the remaining De-Fuoco’s looked at their dead brother, it was more out of pity then sadness.

Lucia, true to form, broke the silence. “He always was an idiot. I never thought he’d have been this much of an asshole though.”

Evangeline was surprised. “How do you mean?”

“I recognize the arrow wound. He must have tried doing something to Atma again...and she’s dead now too isn’t she?”

Abram couldn’t bring himself to look away from the empty air where his sister had been, and barely managed a response. “Yes. She said she was just going somewhere...but that’s not much of a difference as far as we’re concerned, is it?

Lucia, whose face was now blurred with tearstains, and whose eyes burned with the same desperation Abram had only moments before, turned to Babs. “Can’t you do anything?”

Babs did nothing to disguise the skepticism in her amethyst eyes, which somehow still flashing in the shadow. “Why do you care?”

“Because...she didn’t deserve any of this. Or anything I did.”

Babs folded her arms together. “No. She’s gone somewhere that even I can’t follow, her soul’s...beyond any need for guidance. And besides, no one ever really gets what they deserve. Isn’t that right, Sir Abram?”

Abram had gotten up at this point. He wiped the dirt from his knee armor and then turned with a whirl of his cloak. “My offer still stands Dame Barbara, should you still wish to hunt down your own abuser.”

He walked towards the assembly, but The Death Knight was not done. “This your idea of penance?”

“No. It is repayment, for showing my sister kindness when I was too weak and stupid to do so myself.”

Babs shot him a probing look. There were traces of hatred to be sure, but they were quickly replaced with an air of acceptance, and peace. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Abram thanked her, before facing the De-Fuoco children. Dirtied with dust and blood, their eyes full of sorrow and weariness, they looked up at him as well. Waiting with an almost tedious air for what the Silvered Fiend might say.

He did not disappoint. “If you wish to kill me for the death of your sister, and all rest. Then you had best act now.”

Lucia looked to her brother for guidance, though he seemed to be searching for the same in her. Whatever answer they found must have been a good one, for despite the bitterness in her voice, Lucia’s tone was that of a cordial and noble lady. “No. That monster, that man who murdered them is gone now isn’t he?”

“Yes. I have killed him.”

“If you haven’t, I’ll finish the job myself.”

Abram then walked over to the man in royal colors. “You are Lord Richard if I am not mistaken?”

“I am Lord Richard, and I have the honor of being her majesty’s envoy.”

“I trust our agreement still holds?”

“It does, Marshal.”

Abram felt a tinge of pride in this. He had won that much at least, and from this victory, he could accomplish all he had promised his sister and more. “Very well. Let us see to our losses then, and begin our work in earnest.”

Lord Richard bowed, and Abram reciprocated. He then motioned for Evangeline to follow, which she did. Once they were at the doorway, he took her hand in his, and they walked out into the burning city from this ruined castle. Abram’s many soldiers as well as countless warriors from Leo began to cheer for “The Silver Flame.”

But Abram paid no attention to them, he only tugged a bit on Evangeline’s hand and whispered to her. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For letting me love you, and loving me back.”

Evangeline was surprised by this, though happily so. Yet with all that had happened, all she could manage was a sad smile, and just enough strength to pull Abram close enough to rest her head on his shoulder. They walked on like this through the city. Until they finally found a place to lie down, with a fire to warm them while evening passed into night. As the stars shone above their heads, the two lovers, more exhausted than anything, simply fell asleep in their bed. Her hand in his, and his heart against hers.

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