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Anaphora: Pariah

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Anaphora: Pariah

Post by WritingBookworm on Wed Jun 03, 2015 7:58 pm

Heya, Writing here!

So if you think this looks like a spin-off from the fabulous Anaphora RPG, then you're correct, because it is. This will be about 5-7 chapters long, transpiring directly after one fateful night in Acritudo, and it's told entirely in the perspective of Lucian/Luke Zeidan. When this is finished, there'll also be a spin-off about Therese (which I'm frankly even more excited to write).

And before this begins, allow me to say a big, special thank you to Athena Lionheart -- not just for making the title banner and creating the Anaphora RPG in the first place, but for being awesome in general. You rock! Very Happy



Chapter 1: Darkness Falls



I remember very clearly, for I can never forget.

The unjustified terror inflicted upon a little girl bearing raven hair and eyes as bright as aquamarines.

A raw fear that paralyzed a young nobleman upon realizing the gravity of an aging man's words.

The desperation and panic that overcame his body from the inside out as he sprinted through the dark winding corridors.

The descent of the girl, whose eyes no longer bore a purity from Heaven, but a fire from Hell . . .

And then the blood, the blood and the light and the pleading --

And finally the race out into the night, with the crippling knowledge that nothing will ever be the same again.

Memini.

I remember.

And I can never, ever forget.

~  ~  ~

"Huff . . . huff . . . huff . . ."

I run through the forest, my twelve year old, aching body dwarfed by reedy pine trees all around me that touch the star-speckled sky, as well as the line of mountains to the side. If you manage to look through the cloak of sharp pine needles, you can see just how big those russet peaks are, so great and powerful and godlike.

Just a day ago, I was poised to lord over all of this.

Not anymore.

Now, I retain nothing of my old life save the formal suit on my back, the black wool growing dirtier and tearing more and more with each step, and a graying servant that warned me of my impending execution, who somehow manages to be over ten steps ahead of me despite his age.

Quintus Randall doesn't even look back as he hurls himself around a tree, performing a quick left turn that's so sharp that I can barely keep myself from tripping right over my feet. I seize a tree, pulling myself upright before propelling myself forward through the forest again.

I race forward, too breathless to even address the stitch burying itself in my side. I need to keep running. I need to keep running. I need to keep --

I yelp when I slip over my own feet and plummet face-first to the ground.

Too tired to even groan, a few chokes tumble out of my mouth. I close my eyes, letting my head touch the pine needle-strewn ground. A splitting headache punches itself into my skull, and thick bile surges up my throat as my breaths saw in and out of my body.

Surrounded in blackness, it dawns upon me that all I want to do is just melt into the earth and never rise again.

I barely even notice when I hear a flurry of footsteps racing toward me.

"Stand up," I hear a deep-set voice growl. "Stand up, Lucian."

Weakly, I raise my head and crack open my eyes. My surroundings settle into focus until they've become clear again, allowing me to see the hardened face of Quintus Randall.

"It's . . . Master Lucian . . ." I burst back into a fit of coughing.

Quintus clamps a hand onto my shoulder. I jump, snapping my head up to see that his expression hasn't changed.

"We are not in Poena anymore. You've lost your title, and with it your authority. From now on, you and I are equals."

Too stunned to conjure a response, I only watch as Quintus rests a hand on his knee and turns his pointed face forward, his long gray ponytail fluttering in the slight breeze.

"We must keep going," he says. "There's no time to waste."

"Can't we . . . just . . ." I swallow, trying to regulate my breathing, and concentrate on articulating my words more clearly this time. "Can't we just rest for a second? We've been running nonstop for nearly a whole day --"

"If you believe we can simply stop and catch our breaths, then you're wrong," snaps Quintus. "We will soon have soldiers on our tail, who will not rest until they capture us -- until they capture a Trait Bearer."

Trait Bearer.

Inch by inch, I lift my hand and raise it up to my face until my eyes rest upon it. I stare deep into each and every finger and at the curved lines etched into my palm. I then turn it over, absorbing the sight of the back of this hand like I'm seeing it for the first time.

I know what I saw. A light materializing out of my hand, straight after I felt a rush of true compassion.

Trait Bearer, I think again. Is that what I am, then?

Quintus continues speaking, and his words slices through my thoughts like a knife. "There's a supply ship slated to leave Ars in a week. If we catch it, and manage to slip inside, then we should be able to get to Cruore. We won't be as easily found there. But in order to make it and ensure your mother's sacrifice wasn't for nothing, we have to hurry."

"Wait, my mom's sacrifice?"

Quintus looks over his shoulder and directly at me. But he says nothing.

Finally I push myself up into a sitting position. What did he mean, my mom's sacrifice? I know that he'd said that Mom had been distracting my father while Quintus shuttled me to safety, so obviously that meant she had been in on it. That she'd been planning this for a while, even.

But a sacrifice?

"Your mother knew what the ramifications of this would be," Quintus finally says, his voice quieter.

My face becomes as white as bone. Oh god. Oh god no. Please no.

"There is a good chance she would have been executed simply for failing to produce a Cruelty Bearer," he continues, but now I'm clamping my hands over my ears, because I don't want to hear it, I don't want to hear it. "And now she certainly will be, for assisting in your escape. She knew that there was no possibility that she would emerge from this situation alive, so she at least wanted to ensure that you would."

"We have to go back." I shoot up to my feet, desperation clawing up my chest and through my throat. "We have to go back, we have to save her --"

"We can't."

My mouth falls open. Did he just  . . . did he just . . .

"Yes we can!" I yell, cracks splitting my voice apart. "Please, Quintus, please, we have to go back while there's still a chance --"

"There is no chance!"

I open my mouth to protest, but the former servant cuts me off before I can even begin. "Even if we did decide to return to Poena, even if we could miraculously slip back inside the city walls, we're a day's walk from the Capital. She'll be executed before we can reach the city, if she isn't dead already."

My heart drops like a stone sinking into a bottomless abyss. The flare of anger in Quintus's eyes gradually recedes, and for the first time, I can see how difficult this is for him, too.

He closes his eyes, as though he has resigned.

"It's too late."

Silence falls, sizzling into every corner and every crevice of Anaphora. None of the creatures of the night offer song, and a cold wind sweeps by, bending pine trees ever-so-slightly and chilling me to my core when it brushes my skin.

I crumple to my knees, my legs now drained of strength. I look down at the ground, not daring to even blink.

Mom.

Just the one thought is enough to make my chest throb like I've been punched. My lips tremble, and I shake my head, refusing to accept any of it, but that doesn't stop a prickly sensation from welling up in the bottom of my eyes.

Lips locked into a denying grimace, I close my eyes. And for one of the first times in my life, I let the tears flow down and cry.

"Lucian?" Quintus says. "Are you -- are you actually crying?! Now is hardly the time to cry!"

A sharp, bitter laugh erupts from my lips.

"You kidding me?" The words are supposed to sound angry, but they throb with pain and sadness. "Quintus, my father wants me killed, Therese has descended into madness, and now Mom's going to be executed. I've lost everything. How isn't this the time to cry?"

Quintus is silent.

Then he crosses over to me. He crouches down, so that we are directly face-to-face.

"This isn't the time to cry," he says slowly, "because your father wants you killed. You cannot cry because Therese has descended into madness, because your mother is going to be executed . . ."

He looks at me dead in the eye.

"And because you have lost everything."

A chill sweeps down my spine. My tears now forgotten, I stare into Quintus's face, breathless. My mind is still reeling when he stands back up to his feet, and continues to be frozen even as he clears his throat. "Now stand. It's time to walk onward."

He turns around and begins to proceed forward. For a moment, all I can do is watch him.

Then I feel something inside myself harden, like a metal forming under a blazing fire.

I stand.

And I walk onward.

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Athena Lionheart on Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:04 pm

Hooray! I'm so excited to finally see this! Amazing work so far Smile

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Salphirix on Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:06 pm

AHHH already feels I'm loving this! Very well written I can't wait for the next chapter!<3

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Mythie on Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:18 pm

AHHH I love it.... and no Luke, you still have another sister, not everything Wink

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Wishie on Thu Jun 11, 2015 12:32 pm

Oh my gosh, this is going to be amazing, I can tell. Scratch that, this already IS amazing.

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by WritingBookworm on Wed Jul 08, 2015 12:38 am

Thank you guys so much for your comments. They mean a lot. ^.^

Sorry it's been this long, but I also want to quickly just say that the next chapter's coming soon -- I'm gonna try and finish it tonight, after I get off work. Again, thank you guys for your support.

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Athena Lionheart on Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:05 am

Hooray! I can hardly wait to see the next chapter! Very Happy

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by WritingBookworm on Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:31 pm

Chapter 2: Strength



I pop my hand open, half-expecting a golden light to burst from my skin.
   
It doesn't.
   
I repeat the motion again, regarding the prehensile organ with close scrutiny.
   
Nothing.
   
I curl my fingers, allowing my fingernails to seep into my palm, before my hand explodes open again --
   
"Your abilities will not work like that."
   
Quintus regards me from the opposite side of our resting place, where we've finally decided to stop and get some rest before taking off again tomorrow. It's a simple and small clearing between a few trees, with no fire flickering between us. While understanding the reasoning behind the fire's absence, I can't help but still yearn for the warm heat to dabble upon my skin.
   
"Each ability corresponds heavily with their Trait," Quintus says. "In order to obtain the Cruelty Trait, you had to be cruel. It works precisely the same way with the outlawed Traits."
   
"And how is it that you know?" I ask warily.
   
Quintus doesn't answer. He directs his gaze up to the silver crescent hanging over us, and a bird trills in the night.
   
"The hour is late," he says. "It's high time that we both get some rest."
   
Well, I certainly can't object to that. Too tired to say anything else to them, I slip off my now-tattered suit jacket and come to lay on my side on the ground. I find myself adjusting my position constantly, uncomfortable in the prickly grass, before I resign and put my suit coat over me like a makeshift blanket.
   
I turn on my other side so I can protect my expression from Quintus.
   
I miss them. I miss Mom and Leyland and Jezebel and even Therese. I wish to be by their side again, that they didn't have to witness their own mother be led to the slaughter right before their eyes . . .
   
None of this should have happened.
   
My eyelids droop down, and I gladly sink into a welcome and dark abyss.


~  ~  ~


Just a quick tug, and it comes down with ease.
   
I observe the fruit with a careful eye, turning it and inspecting it from all sides. On our second full day on the run, Quintus and I have briefly separated so we can gather food quickly before taking off again.
   
Satisfied with the food, I decide to keep this one before reaching up for another --
   
" . . . swear, he's so paranoid."
   
I freeze.
   
My entire body is immovable as rock, all of my thoughts wildly dispersed throughout my skull as I stay rooted exactly where I am --
   
Finally I manage to grasp some semblance of order throughout the churning chaos, and act by immediately dropping my food and darting behind the thick trunk of an oak tree.
   
" . . . can't really blame him though." Another unfamiliar voice, deeper than the previous one, slithers its way into my ears. They're accompanied by two pairs of footsteps, growing louder and louder as they draw nearer to me.
   
"After all," the second one continues, "his wife shamed his family, big time. That means he has to be as cautious as he is now. If anything at all happens in anything that's under his watch, then it's goodbye for Abraxas Blackthorne."
   
Abraxas Blackthorne.
   
Oh no.
   
The blood in my veins morphs from an anxious fire and into a slow, cold ice. This is bad.
   
The General Abraxas Blackthorne of Acritudo is easily one of the finest warriors the entirety of Anaphora has ever seen, let alone Acritudo. Soon after being put into the Acritudo Military, he proved to be one of the most vicious Cruelty Bearers ever to have been born, slicing down other trained men like they were nothing. He quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the most feared men in the country, second to maybe only Vandor Zeidan himself.
   
This fear only became stronger when it became apparent that his true calling was not just to drive a sword through the hearts of men -- it was to break them. I personally had to watch Blackthorne torture a person once, back when Vandor was trying a variety of methods to awaken my Cruelty abilities, and . . . just to watch another person listen to another's screams like it was a melodious nocturne, to see Blackthorne forgo using his Cruelty abilities so he could personally carve deep lines of red into flesh and sever limbs and gut organs like he was a sculptor fine-tuning his latest masterpiece . . .
   
It was unspeakable.
   
However, despite how far Abraxas Blackthorne came, a good amount of his reputation fell to shambles. His wife, Amber Blackthorne, was thought to be a good and modest member of Acritudo's society -- until she slipped up one day and revealed herself to be an Imagination Trait Bearer. How she actually managed to hide her having a Trait as spontaneous as Imagination for over thirty years, especially right under Abraxas's nose, is a complete mystery that remains unknown to this day.
   
But regardless of how she managed to pull it off, that didn't change the fact that Amber Blackthorne was promptly executed in front of a wide array of Acritudo citizens. Now, Abraxas is only survived by his children -- two adult sons, both away in the military, and a third child named Alexis, a daughter around Therese's age.
   
Amber's execution has only made Abraxas even more ruthless. In a strange way, while he's more disrespected than ever, he's also more feared than ever. Now determined to restore his honor, he has become more vicious than ever. So for a patrol from Abraxas Blackthorne to be here, just a mere few feet away . . .
   
My heart stops when I realize something.
   
Blackthorne's scouts.
   
They've gone completely quiet.
   
A rigid fear paralyzes me from my heart all the way to the tips of each of my limbs. Because oh god, I dropped my food earlier, didn't I?
   
Mustering up an extra handful of courage, I risk a glance from behind the tree . . .
   
Sure enough, they're inspecting the abandoned fruit with close scrutiny.
   
That is, before one of them glances up a second before I look away.
   
The scout in question launches up to his feet at the sight of me. "What the . . ." His eyes widen in recognition. "Hey, wait a minute!"
   
Crap. I whip my head around and take off running without bothering to hear him say anything else.

I sprint, sprint sprint sprint as hard as I can, flying by past tree trunks and thin branches that year at my face.

Many would consider it uncharacteristic and cowardly for a child of a ruler to run away, but there's no other option. I may have been taught to defend myself with a sword, back when I was actually expected to inherit the throne to Acritudo, but how's an unarmed twelve year old supposed to defeat two trained military men? The only option is to --

I hear a bullet explode from a gun a second before it lodges directly into my leg.

I gasp, pain blooming in my leg --

And then I scream, scream and crumple I the ground because it hurts, it so utterly hurts --

I clamp my eyes shut, trying to find some semblance of sense throughout all of the agony. My Trait . . . I can . . . I can heal . . .

Reopening my eyes just a crack, I stretch out my weakened arm, causing my trembling hand to hover over the crimson bullet wound . . .

It's not working.

I will the healing light to come out again, as though to forcibly push it out, but dang it, it's not glowing, it's not glowing at all --

A chuckle. "Well, well, well."

Cold fear seizes my heart when the two men stalk into view, both bearing wicked grins only one from the land of Cruelty could wear.

"Hey, Cohen!" the first Acritudo scout continues. "Look who it is! It's that traitor son of Vandor's."

"Lucky us, wouldn't you say?" the second one -- Cohen -- says. "I believe General Blackthorne will definitely be interested in this sight."

I attempt to stand up, because I have to get away get away get away --

My efforts are rewarded with another electrifying round of pain as a result of moving my leg, and I yelp when I just come crashing back down to the ground.

The first of the Acritudo scouts bursts into laughter. "How pathetic! I can't believe we were once actually supposed to respect this brat."

"Well, you know what they say, Deimos. Things certainly do change."

Cohen draws a pistol, nonchalantly swinging its barrel to the side until it's aligned exactly with my head.

"Perhaps it's true that the right thing to do is to bring you to General Blackthorne, so he can turn you into your father," he says, as though he's doing nothing more than commenting on the weather. "After all, I'm sure Dictator Zeidan would love to put an end to your life. But to kill you myself . . . well, now. Wouldn't that just be delightful?"

My blood turns into ice. Frantically, I once again try heaving myself up to my feet, but I already hear a click from Cohen's pistol and his finger pushing down on the trigger and --

BANG.

I remain right where I am, eyes shut tight and every bone in my body braced for pain that is sure to come in seconds . . .

. . . But it doesn't.

Gradually, I peel my eyes open. Wait . . . am I . . . still alive?

I gasp when I see the answer to that question.

Because now I know what the bullet hit -- not me, but rather, an earthen wall right in front of me.

Speechless, I can't do anything but stare at the wall that I swear wasn't there a moment ago. It's barely even much of a wall, being barely big enough to cover my body. But it was big enough to stop Cohen's bullet.

It was big enough to save my life.

Barely even registering the scouts' shocked cries, I swing my head side to side, searching for the source of this --

It isn't long before I do.

Standing behind me, just ten or so yards away, is a man with overlong, grayed hair tied back in a long ponytail. His arms, in front of him like he was raising something up with great effort, gradually lower back to his sides, revealing an aged face slick with sweat.

It's a face I've come to know very well during these past few days.

My eyes become the size of large coins.

"Q-Quintus?" I whisper, utterly awed and completely bewildered at the same time.

Quintus . . . the wall . . . the wall and Quintus . . .

It is only a matter of time before it sinks into me. The thing that links the two of them together.

Strength.

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by Athena Lionheart on Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:55 pm

TEH SEAL OF APPROVAL

Awesome job! Very Happy

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Re: Anaphora: Pariah

Post by WritingBookworm on Sun Aug 09, 2015 11:02 pm

Chapter 3: Compassion


   
I blink a couple of times. "Q-Quintus?"
   
My voices does nothing to catch his attention. Quintus stares at the Acritudo scouts, his gaze unwavering and unbreakable.
   
Deimos busts out into laughter. "Well well well! What is it that we have here?" He shrugs, as though vaguely bemused. "Gotta say, when I think the words 'Trait Bearer', I can't say that a pathetic old man is what first comes to --"
   
The rock that dives into his gut is as fast as lightning.
   
Deimos reels over, and Quintus seizes his chance. He ducks from Cohen's bullet before reaching Deimos and slamming the end of a staff into the backs of his knees.
   
Now the victim of two hard blows, Deimos crumples to the ground as Quintus advances to Cohen, whose finger is winding around the trigger of his gun --
   
Quintus is faster. He deals two quick, hard blows to Cohen's hand, causing him to drop the gun before following it up with a strong uppercut punch to the jaw. And now with both of the scouts briefly stunned, Quintus darts for the dropped gun.
   
Cohen and Deimos don't stay down for long. Already Cohen is recovering, and Deimos is back up on his feet and charging right at Quintus --
   
Two bullets sprout from Deimos's chest.
   
Deimos stumbles back, horror neatly captured upon his pale face, but Quintus doesn't bother to watch the man fall. The Strength Bearer just turns around, aims the gun at Cohen, and --
   
I close my eyes and look away just as the gunshot goes off.
   
I don't reopen my eyes when the clearing is injected with silence, and I certainly cannot bring myself to reopen them when I hear the sickening thud of Cohen's body dropping to the ground. Instead I shake, shake like my own personal winter is plaguing me as the gunshots and the scouts' death replay in my head over and over like an insidious loop --
   
Something touches my leg.
   
I jump and instinctively lash out and hit whatever it is --
   
A man grunts. "Easy there, Lucian."
   
I crack open my eyes. Quintus's face comes into focus, and my accelerated heartbeat slows into long, tedious beats, as though it's taking slow steps toward its execution.
   
He looks down to my leg, where blood almost seems to blossom from a bullet like petals blooming around the center of a flower. His thin gray eyes don't seem to be as hard as they usually are, and his angular, weathered face is weary from exhaustion.
   
He looks the same, but I no longer recognize him.
   
"This will have to be treated right away," he says. He comes to look at me. "If it isn't, it will only slow us down and . . ."
   
He trails off when he sees my face.
   
"Who are you?" I blurt. "Who are you really? I thought you were just a servant but . . . Strength . . . sixty years -- how the heck did you manage to hide your abilities from my family for so long if you lived in the mansion --"
   
"I didn't."
   
My breath gets caught in my throat.
   
"If you got caught," I whisper, "then . . . how . . . how are you . . ."
   
How are you still alive?
   
Quintus expression tells me that I didn't need to voice the rest of my question in order for him to understand. "Some aren't always born with a Trait. Some gain it throughout their lifetime, and such was the case with me. I gained my Trait far later than most, and for years, I actually managed to keep it hidden. However, when a Trait Bearer serves in the Zeidan household, it's only a matter of time before they are to get caught. Fortunately, it was the right Zeidan that caught me."
   
"R-Right Zeidan . . . ?"

"Your mother wasn't just kind. She was incredibly brave, even going to measures to help me cover my abilities up from her own husband. Initially, I didn't understand why -- why she would go to great lengths to help a Trait Bearer she barely knew. At the time, I believed that it was simply because she was a far better person than Vandor Zeidan.

"But in light of recent events, I believe I see the bigger picture. She may have been kind, and she may have been brave, but above anything else, she was smart. Now that I look back on it, the time she had seen what I had become was also around the time that your parents were beginning to wonder if you had not been born with the Cruelty Trait. It would be easy for your mother to forsee what could happen if the Dictator decided that the result was negative. So how to provide you with a way out? Who to trust with something as important as her son's life? Why, someone who was indebted to her, and had just as much reason to flee the manor as you would."

Both of us are silent for a few moments afterwards -- Quintus because he'd opened up so much, and myself because . . . well, there was a fair amount to process.

But there is still something I'm wondering about.

"You know Abraxas's wife?" I ask. "The one that got executed for having an Imagination Trait a year ago? If Mom helped you out, then was she also involved with helping Abraxas's wife cover her own up? Amber Blackthorne was an Imagination Bearer, therefore having very spontaneous abilities, and yet somehow managed to actually keep that from under her husband's nose. A lot of people don't know how she did it. Do you?"

"As far as I know, I was the only Trait Bearer your mother assisted," he says. "How Abraxas Blackthorne's wife hid her abilities so well remains a mystery, especially considering she exhibited absolutely no signs of being a Trait Bearer during her youth. The only explanation I can come down to is that she was like you and me and developed her Trait later into her life."

"You . . . and me?"
   
Quintus nods slowly. "Just like the both of us."

I sit up straighter, propping myself up with one hand as the Bearer continues. "And now, as ones bequeathed with these Traits, it is our ability to use them for the greater good. Tyranny and fear has ruled this world for far too long, and it is time that this era comes to an end. Do you believe you and I are the only Trait Bearers alive? That is far from the truth. There are others out there, scattered throughout the nations all across Anaphora. I imagine many of them are lost and confused, not in a manner too different from yourself. Yet I believe all of you can find each other eventually. I believe you and the others will come together, ignite a revolution, and become a conduit for a new era that is far more benevolent than this one. And when that time comes, peace can truly, finally exist."

"What about you? You're also a Trait Bearer. Can't you . . ."

I trail off, because already Quintus is shaking his head.

"Trait Bearer or not, I am too old for this," he says gravely. "Even now, defeating those simple scouts was incredibly taxing to my stamina, and I am only getting older. In the end, I would only slow others down. The most I can do now is to accept my own part in this -- that is to teach you, and to help you accept your own role in making such a huge difference."

"But . . . but I can't! I can't, I can't help start a revolution, please, I don't want to make a difference!"

Quintus's face becomes one of dangerous caution, as though he means to warn me. "Lucian . . ."

My entire body quakes. "This means overthrowing governments. And overthrowing governments means . . ."

Quintus doesn't even bat an eye. "It warrants the downfall of the rest of the Zeidans, yes."

I stare at the older man, meeting his eyes in a lock that he holds in a demeanor of utmost calm.

So I look down.

Because as much wrong as Vandor Zeidan has done -- as horrible as he is -- he doesn't deserve to die.

I force myself to swallow a lump that had been building in my throat.

Leyland, who strives to do his best for his family, and Jezebel, so young and innocent and pure . . .

And even Therese, who suffered and fell into madness because of me . . .

They don't deserve to die!

I close my eyes, and I feel something flowing through my veins -- something that is somehow both warm and cold at the same time. I extend all of my will up towards the shining sun, reaching to anyone or anything that might be watching over us, or that could ever make things better.

Please . . . let them live.

They're only as human as the rest of us.

Please . . .


"Lucian."

My throat tightens at Quintus's voice. "Not now. Just . . . not now."

"No, Lucian, open your eyes."

His insistent tone overcomes my own feeble resolve, and so I open them . . .

And almost jump out of my skin right then and there when I see my hand glowing in a warm golden light.

My eyelids grow to the size of large coins . . . only for them to relax once more, like I'm beginning to absorb the warmth of a cozy blanket. The light is timid yet prominent, and like a plant taking in the light from a gentle sun, the bullet wound on my leg bathes in the glow's radiance and gradually begins to repair itself.

Quintus watches the process, his eyes the tenderest I've ever seen them.

"Compassion," he says quietly. "The capacity to mend anything that has been hurt."

He stretches his hand toward the healing wound like he means to touch it, only to retract it like he's afraid of ruining a beautiful work of art. So he settles for simply seeing this sight.

"The mere fact that you could gain this Trait while growing up in the ultimate house of cruelty . . . it helps me place my faith in humanity. It helps me place my faith in you."
   
He looks into my eyes, and I'm left awestruck as I see a new side of Quintus Randall for the second time in one day.

At last Quintus stands, using his staff to help him up, and turns his face forward.
   
"We must begin moving again," he says. "It's only a matter of time before General Blackthorne finds the bodies and knows something's up. And . . ."

He looks back to me. Hesitance flickers across his face for a long moment, but then they solidify into a firm certainty, as though he's made a decision.

"I'd hoped this could wait until we reached Cruore," he continues, "but something like this scuffle could easily happen again. It is time to begin."

The wound in my leg now completely healed, I manage to get up to my feet. "Begin? Begin what?"

Quintus looks at me pointedly and lifts his eyebrows.

"There are two types of people in Anaphora: lovers, and fighters. While this in itself is not a bad thing, very rarely are there people who come to be both. One must be both should they wish to change anything in this land."

The Strength Bearer takes another long look at me, scanning my body from my toes, to my chest, and to my head. "Your Compassion, while it bears a very loving ability, does not bequeath you with much in terms of being a fighter. So now . . ."

He rotates his staff so it is in a horizontal position before tossing it to me. I take a step forward and catch it in a bumbling fumble.

"Now, we begin your training. Now . . . you become a warrior."

Rendered wordless, I stare at the man, barely able to grasp the meaning of his words.

Then I look down to the staff, and at the word carved into the wood.

Elpis, the inscription reads.
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