A Little Piece of Home

It starts with a Death,

It ends with a birth.

It was another day in Yu-shan, not perfect, not dreary, just another day. It was a few hours before sunrise back on Creation so naturally Ash was waking up. Sitting up, she took a deep breath and began to meditate.

Today is the day that I… She stopped. She looked around for a moment, seeing Sambar and the other trappings of her new life. She walked over to the mirror. She looked for a moment at the reflection in there, how she had changed since this all began. The curve of her face, the shape of her body: generally the same, just amplified: made perfect. Given the pallor of death. She closed her eyes a moment trying to remember the way she used to look: simple, just better than average.

She spent the mote of essence and opened her eyes. There it was, the perfect black circle on her forehead. The necrotic sore on her soul made manifest. There was also the lines of blood seeping out of the symbol of her greatest mistake, her death. She corrected herself: her death wasn’t her fault, and the mistake she made wasn’t dying, it was refusing to let go. Though she reminded herself that that wasn’t even true, she didn’t want to die, part of what made her what she is now is that she survives. No, her biggest mistake was accepting her former master and serving him with unwavering loyalty for 5 years. Her greatest mistake was giving up.

Today is the day that I live. It was a weight off her mind. She heard the sounds of Sambar moving. A quick glance in the mirror revealed what she already knew, that he was watching her. He woke up when she did.

“It’s still there. Have you tried soap?” Ash turned around, shooting him a flirtatious glare. He simply nodded and smiled.

“Listen, I…” Sambar cut her off.

“Stop. Stop that right now.” He got up, the distinct sounds of his footsteps echoed reassuringly on the walls of the manse. “For the past two weeks you have been saying your good-byes. So stop it. Look, I know this is going to be hard, something like this shouldn’t be. This is something that should kill or harm almost everyone that tries. Almost everyone, you…you are gonna make it.” He put his arms around her. “I have faith.”

Faith…

Faith was a funny thing. Seven years ago she had complete faith in the fact that Anathema were demons riding the bodies of loved ones, and that Dragonbloods were the rightful rulers. Six years ago she had complete faith that she was supposed to kill the enemies of the Neverborn. Faith wasn’t static. Now though, now she was worried—she had been for several weeks. What she was about to go through, what they were all about to attempt, it was all just so far from possible Ash doubted that she would truly be able to make it. Body, mind and soul: she had to commit to this, to commit wholly to this change. If anything was hesitant she would be consumed.

That thought scared her, more than anything else. Hesitant. It was easy to commit with words, and thought: she had seen people talk up and down about their devotion to a cause, to a people, to a faith or ideology. Though, once it came down to it only a handful of those people stood up, and smaller still was the group that made it out alive. How many people had she seen that knew what they wanted, spoke volumes of what they would do to get it, and then took the easy way out when it came time? Too many. Five years of indoctrination, five years of daily rituals and habits that were created to keep her loyal, and only within the past year was she truly shrugging of a majority of them. It worried her that there might be some small part of her that is still loyal, still subservient, still hesitant. She was scared that that part would be her undoing, a part that she couldn’t control.

It was a few hours past dawn, she found herself in a room on Creation. There was a vague notion of where she was: a manse, a Temple, asking for the glory of the Unconquered Sun. She felt a bit like the mouse in the cupboard, a strange mixture of excited and worry for being caught. She glanced over to Sagacious Jade and Adi who were collaborating, talking about the ritual to come, ensuring they knew what was to come. She read some of the Old Realm writing on the wall: “By your light the Darkness is washed away, in your Holy Ablution, cleanse and banish those Creatures Of Darkness that wish us harm.” It didn’t make her feel any better, something deep within her was reminded of how the light could burn her. How she was a creature of darkness. Her eyes caught Sambar, who had a simple reassuring smile. She took a deep breath.

“Are you ready? Calibration is starting, this is your last chance to back out.” The words were Sagacious Jade’s, there is was: the easy way out. She could get up, leave, and never have to deal with what was to come. She could worship Five-Days-Darkness as what she is, and continue down this road of damnation. She could give the shard to her new god, and upon her death force some other poor soul to go through this instead. She could take the same road of thousands of other people before her.

“Yes.” That one word hung heavy in the air. It wasn’t like Ash to not get her hands dirty. Fuck other people: even if this killed her, it would be on her terms. A final insult to the thing that took an idyllic life from her, she was taking it back. “Thank you again, I want you to know that…” She was stopped by a gruff guttural ‘bahh’ and a hand waving in front of her.

“Thank me when this is over.” He began walking over to stand opposite Adi.

In the center of the room was a large sigil made of Oricalcum, a circle with lines and geomantic patterns to direct the essence to the center, into whatever poor soul happened to be there. Naturally Ash was that poor soul. She walked over to Sambar.

“Listen…I…” Ash started, stopping Sambar from interrupting her. “Listen: I just want to tell you that I…” It wasn’t easy for her, to say this in front of people: everything told her to be quiet, so this can’t be used against her, to keep her safe. “I…I love you, and I trust you.”

“I love you too.” He kissed her, much like he had at Carcosa. She walked away this time, sitting in the center of the geomancy, she heard Adi speak next.

“Trust in the Sun.” There was a simple maternal smile that she had which spoke of unwavering faith, and trust in Ash. There slight movement to her side, it took a moment to distinguish it as the shadow given form, Five-Days-Darkness. The Sorcerer and the Priest began speaking. The Oricalcum on the floor began to glow slightly and essence began to channel to the center: even though there was nothing but darkness outside, the circle began to fill with the holy light of the Sun. At first it was warm and welcoming, then the ritual began.

“The Soul within this circle,” Sagacious Jade had a definite purpose in his tone, directions that she could feel tugging at her, she tried hard not to resist. “is bound to this Spark. The light from this soul shall expunge the stain.” Her arms were suddenly heavy, she couldn’t move anything but her neck. Daylight was given off by his caste mark, it hurt her eyes.

“I speak on behalf of the Sun,” spoke Adi, “who sees this child and the evil, and darkness within her:” The full circle of gold now blazed with light on her forehead. “Be cleansed.” She said it softly, but the weight of the command resonated within Ash.

There was nothing gentle about the column of light now, it was fire: molten, and focused. She didn’t want to scream, she wanted to run, she wanted to hide. She wanted to find the cool shade, somewhere far from the light, somewhere far away from the heat. She heard something under the sound of the prayers and sorcery. She couldn’t tell what it was at first, but then she knew. When had she started screaming? She remained in the light. She forced herself to stay within it, defiantly, refusing to have her soul retreat to whatever dark place it could find. There was a searing pain across her body, everything was on fire. Her mind raced with the thoughts of her victories and losses: her battles, her challenges. Her Valor.

To her, Valor wasn’t confronting a fight head on. It wasn’t climbing the mountain because she knew she could. It wasn’t doing something because it was easy. It was facing something hard: physically and mentally. It was climbing the mountain because there was an herb up there that was needed, and the climb could kill her. It was doing something that demanded something from her, standing and fighting when she wasn’t sure if she would make it, to see that others would: fighting the Dragon that would kill her. It was easy to stand up to someone when you out class them. Valor was knowing the difficulty of something and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do. It was not yielding to the armored behemoth though she has no weapons. Valor was courage in the face of something greater.

Her skin was red as the prayers began to die down. She knew it was night, near the end of it. Moments before dawn. It had been a whole day, but she was still there, alive and exhausted. The chanting and the light picked up, once more she was in the blistering fires of the Sun.

She began to panic: what if today was the end? Her body was being consumed by flames and light. Today could be the day that she waivers, where she hesitates, where she dies. She recognized her screams immediately now. It held within it the weeping sounds of a soul wanting to give up, wanting to simply burn away, rather then face the pain of the unbridled fire of the sun. She opened her eyes to glance around, maybe in partial panic, maybe in a desire to ask them to stop. Instead she saw Adi, Sagacious Jade, and Sambar. They were standing on the outside of the circle bathed in a light that didn’t burn. She was breathing deeply, dry, molten air singeing the inside of her lungs. She closed her eyes again, reminding herself that she can make it through this, that she wanted this. Her mind became flooded with thoughts, and images of her beliefs. How they had changed, how they had been challenged. Beside them were the thoughts of her desires and her motivations for her actions. Her Conviction.

Conviction is knowing the actions she took were just, while ensuring that they are. It is too easy to let one’s might mean they are right. She didn’t like that. It is about watching what you do and knowing that you are doing right, but could be wrong. People can’t be blind. Blind pure faith doesn’t mean you are right. Conviction is about being willing to change what you think, what you believe, in order to stay in line with what you want. Sacrificing anything to get it, but refusing to sacrifice everything. It was…this act. Sacrificing herself because she couldn’t sacrifice her Self. It was a balance. Somewhere between sacrifice and uncompromising integrity. It’s having doubt, having second thoughts, and knowing those are good things: because that means you can still adapt.

She tried to yell, but it came out as a scream. The whispered scream of a voice half scoured away. It was the beginning of the third day. Her skin was blistered and charred in some places, and she felt sorry. She could feel the fear and the terror within her, wanting to hide from the light, seeking to do anything to make this pain stop. Story’s-Heart, and Song-of-the-Hearth, and the Lunar Children of his, and his former wife: the feelings of hatred she held for them so many years ago. She thought of the truth of what had occurred. She came face to face with her Compassion.

Who was she to speak of compassion? Compassion was weakness, so she had been told, it was something to be manipulated, turned against others, and used like a tool to destroy. She didn’t believe that anymore: compassion, to her, was about understanding the consequences of your actions. Knowing that every action you take effects someone around you, and being willing to inflict that pain, suffering, or joy upon them. It is knowing that this death might prevent the war, but will cause suffering in those touched by that person. It was understanding. It wasn’t the willingness to do something, or performing those actions: it was understanding the aftermath. Most of all, it wasn’t prevention. It wasn’t sparing someone’s feelings, it was breaking the leg so that it would heal properly. Cutting off the hand to stop the infection. All the while knowing the temporary pain you inflicted, and the fact they will never be the master craftsman again.

The light faded slightly, as the prayers again became whispers. Her arms were heavy and leaden, her skin, now burned, was in pain at the slightest breeze. Her mouth was too dry, and her throat too hoarse to speak. Ash simply sat there, and the torture began anew on the fourth dawn.

She wanted this to be over. She didn’t want to wait anymore, to sit there and suffer constantly. the dark, evil thing inside of her wanted to act quickly. To forget any plans, and just run, or attack, or just do anything. She tried to breathe again, but it was hard. She forced herself to wait, to hold out for the reward at the end of all this. Soon her mind was flooded with the thoughts of her plans, her willingness to act, and her choices to wait. Evidence of her Temperance.

It was harder for her to focus on this aspect of her meditations. Not just because of the pain, but because she felt she understood this ‘Noble Virtue’ least of all. To her it mostly meant waiting to strike. Watching, waiting, and knowing when to hit when someone is most vulnerable, but that wasn’t who she was anymore. She was still an Assassin, but no longer tied to the whims of an angry ghost. No. Temperance was control. It was having an emotion, but not letting it control you. It was the expression of the Higher Soul. It was acceptance. It was letting the anger and sorrow of the past to exist, to be felt, but to not blind you to the actions and emotions of today. It was peace, it was calm, but not at the expense of emotion.

It was a few hours from dawn. Her body now had a patina of scab tissue. Most of the ritual was complete. The column of light was still present and beginning to pulse. Blessed-Lotus walked up to Adi, and handed her a scroll. The Priest read it out:

“The Unconquered Sun recognized this shard, and relinquishes ownership. Do you, Five-Days-Darkness, take this shard into your protection, and care?” The shadow given form nodded. There was another burst of light from Adi’s Anima. She looked right at Ash, through Ash. “Be Clean.”

Once again the heavy weight of her soft words hit her hard, and the river of unbridled sunlight came crashing down on the frail, near broken body in the center of the circle. Ash was so close to the end of this, she waited as the pain simply became more and more intense. Her mind began to wander to the events of the past four days.

How her temperance interacted not just with her valor, but with compassion and conviction. How they were forged and made stronger by something else. After a moment of contemplation she realized what it was: her Self, her Will. All these ‘Noble Virtues’ only influence and direct the Self, but it is the Self that comes to these decisions. It is the Will that chooses to enact the glorious examples of these virtues, and is burdened with not being overcome by them. Will is what makes it all work. It was her Will that brought her here, and by her Will that this will not kill her. She could feel the darkness within her scrambling to find somewhere to hide, but now, now there wasn’t anywhere the Sun hadn’t shed his light. There were no shadows here for it to hide in: it was then consumed by fire. Then she felt something that scared her: cold, cool darkness.

It was cold, and soft: like laying in the shade of a familiar tree. Opening her eyes she saw the familiar shape of Five-Days-Darkness in front of her, the pillar of light replaced by a pillar of shadow. Ash panicked now, she had just rid herself of that darkness, she didn’t want it back, she didn’t want to be evil. She couldn’t move, her muscles had been burnt stiff, and her skin was black. His hand was in her forehead, his palm where her mark should be, she looked into his face—where his eyes should be and understood. This is where she could have failed, this understanding, this which had been drilled into her Self by a vengeful, and angry Deathlord. A lie that was so easy to believe that it just felt natural.

Darkness isn’t Evil: what she was, and had in her wasn’t Darkness. It was necrotic, it was evil, it was dark in color only. It sought darkness not because it was darkness, but because that was the only refuge from the Light. It was now her job to protect the Creation where the Light couldn’t go. Evil finds refuge there only because the Darkness hasn’t noticed it yet. It wasn’t the light that had stopped the Evil within her, it had been her. It ran from the light, and she gave it nowhere to go. She could feel her skin being renewed, muscles re-knitting, and her hair regrowing. The coolness on her skin felt more comforting than the harshness of the pure light. As she stood sections of her scabbed over skin fell off, revealing the soft, living flesh underneath. She gasped and took a breath as her lungs returned to their undamaged state. The shadow removed it’s hand, and nodded. The Woman he was touching a moment ago smiled. It was the dawn of the sixth day.

Sambar went to her side, holding her clothing so she could get changed. The woman was surprised to see that he once raven black hair was bleached white, but happy to see that her skin had regained the pallor of life. Her tattoos, that once were prayers to the gods to give peace to this dead body, were now asking for the protection of the God of Calibration.

“Ash?” Sambar had noticed she was out of connection with reality for a moment there. She smiled, and nodded.

“Ashborn Nightingale.” She spend the essence needed to display her caste mark, a solid black circle that shed wisps of shadowy smoke off it. She couldn’t see the difference without a mirror, but she could feel it. She was a Deathknight no longer. She kissed Sambar. “I love you.”

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