Preening its feathers, the red feathered bird glanced about. All around the trees branches and leaves shielded the elegant creature from view while allowing him windows into the world around it. Through one gap in the branches it peered into the open passageway of the large rectangular tree beside it.

Just a few feet away the bird watched curiously the tall and erect creature inside a large nest of this areas peculiar variety. Standing in front of her reflection, the pale being gazed at herself as she hefted a long metallic tubular object to her head. Twisting it through her pale blond feathers it left behind a thick bundle of curls behind it with each flick of their elegant wrist.

The foreign grooming ritual fascinated the tiny red bird, distracting it from its own. Its head twisted as another tall creature stepped into the nest from some unseen pathway inside. The two of them wore some long plumage down their entire bodies of various colours and styles, though this new one had an orange head and her feathers less cared for than the other.

Twisting its head about, the bird watched curiously as the original laid down the cylindrical object and stepped up to the other, ushering her in. Muttered communications passed between them, though the bird oddly recognized the chirping from the pale one as pleasant.

Staring into the mirror rather dully, the orange headed one stood still, her hands on the porcelain basin as the smiling pale creature began to groom and preen her feathers for her. It seemed a curious sight to the bird. When the pale one behind her seemed to finish, she leaned over the orange’s shoulder and seemed to communicate something that caused them both to break out into loud chirping.

Quickly after, the pale one moved forward and took the other one in her hands. Moving together, they seemed to glide out of the nest, as if flying very low to the floor.

Curious, the bird flew down to the window sill of the nest and peered in, but before it could take much of a peek around inside, the pale one returned and stopped in its tracks, staring at the red curiously. The shock of the pale one returning, however, set the red a flutter back into the sky with a beautiful display of its own red plumage.


Andulin was behind me, brushing my hair, but I couldn’t see her because I was keeping my eyes closed. She always sat me in front of a mirror to do it, and the vision in front of me was never the person I hoped to see. She only does it because she cares, and I don’t think she knew what I looked like before I met Eng… she wouldn’t, I guess.

“There you go!” she spoke happily behind me, and I could almost hear her smile through her words. Andulin was always happy and positive. She says she gets the strength from the Goddess, but praying only makes me feel weak and exposed now, not forgiven like it’s supposed to.

“Thank you,” I mumbled, trying to force a smile to my lips, wanting so hard to make her happy, but the smile never works right. It feels awkward on my lips, disjointed and strange. It’s easier just to frown.

Her hands moved from my head and I could hear the clinking of the brush onto the vanity table before she embraced me in a hug from behind. My eyes widened because it was unexpected, and I look at her reflection. Her hair draped down my shoulders, so pale and pure, just like her skin.

“What’s wrong?” she smiled, chipper as ever, and inwardly I feel warm for a brief moment before the feeling is replaced by guilt and disgust, as always. Andulin is my best friend.

Shaking my head, I frowned and closed my eyes again, trying to hold back the seemingly endless stream of tears, “Just some bad dreams.”

She moved away from me for a moment before I felt her lifting my hands. I opened my eyes again and she said something, though the words are hazy now, “Bad dreams? Oh poor dear… bad dreams are still just dreams, they can’t conquer you.” It was taking too much effort to stand, so I allowed her to guide me to my bed, tucking me in before she crawled in next to me, hugging me around the waist. She always likes to be close, but that’s okay, because usually I don’t have the strength to move on my own. Some days I won’t move if she’s not around to help me out of bed.

Her hand moved to my forehead and she rubbed it softly, “Now tell Andy what’s the matter.”

Immediately the tears I had been fighting poured from my eyes, and I knew that that day was the day I needed to tell her everything. I needed to get it all out; it was pushing at me, inky and viscous and dark.

I’m not usually good at starting at the beginning, but this time, I did.

“I was a priestess, just learning, and I was helping in the war, like I said. But one day, the party I was with was ambushed by a lone troll. I don’t remember much, but I woke up and everyone else didn’t.

“Then, after that, I started hearing something. I thought it was the light… I though it was talking to me and guiding me. But instead, it just guided me back to him. He was inside my brain the whole time, Andy, talking to me… listening to me. Every time I spoke, everything I saw… I don’t know, but he knew everything.”

“I met him after and I was so scared and so angry. But then…” and here I faltered. I was doing so well.

“Don’t be afraid Celebrin… get it out.” She coaxed me and cooed, urging my story out, and the blackness inside me screamed and my body shuddered. I had to keep going.

“But then, he told me he’d make it better, and I didn’t have a choice. He punched me when I even THOUGHT a bad thing about him!” I wanted to stress that… even my thoughts weren’t immune!

“So then he told me he’d make it better and told me to get to bed and get undressed, but I didn’t want to but then he just started massaging my shoulders, and that was okay, except it felt different. He…” I paused again, whispering the next words, “he was using magic…

“I didn’t realize at first, but then I saw his finger tips glowing and the rest of the night is a blur but I woke up the next day and I hurt down there and I didn’t know what happened. I was so scared of him, but I did everything he said.

“And…” I faltered again… it was so hard… “and it became tolerable and sometimes,” I could feel my body shudder again, as though the blackness was trying to crawl up my throat, “sometimes I li-liked…” I stopped, I couldn’t complete that sentence. My head screamed with the black and I didn’t know if it wanted out or was screaming because it wanted to stay in.

She caressed my side and stroked my hair, soothing me, muttering encouraging words, “It’s okay… it’s behind you now, go on.”

“But he was old… he was… and I don’t know but then I was given to someone else… an orc. But his fingertips didn’t glow blue… they were black… blacker than night… he had these shards. Everything he touched… Andy…” I struggled to open my eyes, finding my vision blurred by tears, “I liked it so much… it was so…” I paused again, swallowing.

“The troll made me feel tired, always lazy… always dazed… After he would touch me with that glow, I wanted nothing more than to just lie there and enjoy all day. But the black… afterwards…” I whimpered a little, “I wanted to kill, to hurt, to do so many terrible things. I used to…” I couldn’t finish that sentence either.

“At the Keep… he was there at the Keep, and we fought… but he disappeared after… I don’t know where. He gave me a few little shards to tide me over… but it wasn’t enough.”

I swallowed again, and felt as though the black had turned a little more watery as I shook my head, “I did so many bad things, Andy… How could the light forgive me?” Inside, I trembled with fear, really wondering how I could forgive me…

She kissed the side of my head over my hair and hugged me reassuringly, “You were a victim, Celebrin. A victim of the war… long after the war should’ve ended for you and us all, it…” she paused, as if something were caught in her throat.

“Everyone did things… felt things they wouldn’t have normally because of the wars… you, at least, had more of an excuse than all the rest of us. More than a mangled unhealable limb, more than… mental scars.” She laid her head against mine, the genuine concern mixed with pity and sadness.

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