After the events of Meru's Haircut, from Rose's perspective. A day in her life as she heads to Neet to regain her edge. An unexpected encounter with someone who sees too much.
She'd awoken to the sound of steel and old instinct took over from there. It was only when her arm ceased its motion - hairs short of lopping her assailant's head clean from their shoulders - that she realized who it was.
That troublemaking, always underfoot, teenaged annoyance of a Blue Dragoon with the frightened red eyes of Damia.
Damia... She would look at me with those eyes if she knew what I've done - what I've had to do. Sometimes, I can't help but think it was a mercy that you died before the end of the war, before the betrayal, before all of this...
The Darkness Dragoon was pulled from her thoughts by hands wrenching her off the terrified girl, and she took but a moment to comply with their urging. Standing, she sheathed her sword in a fluid motion and turned away from the awakening Dragoons. Habit had her wipe the tears from her cheeks, the only traces her night terrors left behind as her detached mask slid into place.
Too close, she thought, gritting her teeth, I was too close to sparing an attacker. That moment's hesitation could have had me killed! I only recognized her after I stopped my swing - why? What's wrong with me?! Her scowl firmly in place, she faced Dart as he blearily shuffled over.
"What happened?" he queried, his sword still in-hand. She coolly noticed the sluggish band still collecting themselves and cursed them for fools. Had this been an ambush they would all be dead by now. Though, perhaps I'm being too hard on them; they did not grow up with the dangers the original Dragoons had - there! There it is again, that soft thinking I've been doing lately. Dead is dead. Excuses don't matter to an enemy out for your life! She shook her head, both to clear her thoughts and act as an answer to Dart. I'm too old for this. After 11,574 years and 108 Moon Children, I should not have to deal with a mischievous Blue Dragoon without a sense of self-preservation.
She gathered her armor and packed her bag, levelly informing the group: "If you're awake, we may as well cover some more ground tonight." - a suggestion that was met with groans from all sides.
"Rose, I think that may be a bit much. Meru's had quite a scare, and I think she should get some rest." Shana was quick to pipe up from where she was calming the teen.
"N-No, I don't need to rest. If everyone else is good to go, I am." The girl contradicted, the quaver in her voice speaking to how little sleep she would get if she tried to rest.
The Dragoons reluctantly agreed, Haschel loudly complaining about midnight hikes and his old bones, winking jovially at Meru all the while. Rose rolled her eyes but kept her comments to herself as they walked further into the forest. The endless trees and her disturbed sleep led to the woman's mind wandering - something she tried to avoid when traveling through potentially dangerous areas. She thought back on that night and on the time she had spent with these strangers-turned-traveling-companions. She had been observing for sometime the relaxing of her guard and the blunting of her edge, but she had not thought it had progressed so far as to endanger herself and the others.
She cursed herself for becoming distracted as she tripped over a root hidden in the shadowy undergrowth, hopping slightly to keep her balance. She took a moment to find her footing again and continued walking, certain her companions were looking at her oddly to see her stumble so. That's it. I cannot allow this to continue any further, for my sake or their's.
When morning had come and gone and Rose had mulled over her options, she had determined she would need to separate from the group to re-center herself away from their influence. It's a risky choice - I will leave them without my protection or guidance for a time, but if my memory serves we're nearing the edge of the forest and just beyond that is Deningrad, which should be safe enough. Without much preamble she excused herself and walked back into the forest, deciding the best place to regain her edge would be at ruins it had allowed her to create - Neet.
Nothing has changed. Rose thought as she looked through the piles of scorched rubble. A hundred different burning towns flashed before her mind's eye, unbalancing her beneath the onslaught of memory. She threw her arms out to steady herself and felt her feet freeze in place, her breathing becoming rapid. Am I... hesitating? It's silly. She shook her head, repeating to herself her 11,000-year mantra: "It had to be done. It had to be done."
If it was so necessary, why do I keep seeing her eyes?! She thought with desperation, trying to rid herself of those frightened red eyes, Damia's and Meru's both. She would be so angry...
"Mother... I am back."
The voice cut through the still air, Rose frozen in place by the words. For one wild moment she was certain it was Damia's spirit, lost and searching for her long dead mother. When the voice continued to speak, though, the mermaid's image faded from her mind and her eyes focused on the true source: a woman by a communal grave marker. The warrior approached, curious but cautious of the guards at the woman's side. It took her a moment to notice there was another woman with the group, standing next to and supporting the speaker.
"Mother, it's been a while. Since the tragic day I lost my sight. I am able to see today, thanks to the love of many people like Setie here. May the Divine Tree bless all the victims of the tragedy." The woman continued, as of yet unaware of her new audience.
The Divine Tree bless them? Even though its birthing of the God of Destruction was the inevitable cause of Neet's ruin? Though, it was simply performing its duty as I do... Charle may be right; eternity might be getting to me, to think such thoughts...
"Who is it?" Rose was impressed that it was the seemingly blind woman who had spotted her first, chuckling slightly at the belated reaction of her guards. Sloppy work.
"I didn't mean to surprise you." The Darkness Dragoon stated, trying to set them at ease.
"You are?" Again the blind woman spoke, eerily looking directly at the woman she was addressing. There's hidden power there, Rose decided, and chose a more cautious approach.
"Just a traveler. Please don't be alarmed." She had the uneasy feeling that the blind woman could see right through her, maybe even to the demon lurking within herself. I hope she doesn't recognize my voice, if she had in fact been in Neet during the attack...
"There are people of Neet, and my mother, sleeping here." The speaker continued, her oddly piercing stare holding steady. Rose eased herself into a defensive stance, not knowing what to expect.
"Are you here to visit the grave too?" The other woman - Setie, was it? - interjected, breaking the tension.
They don't suspect a thing; how could they? The dark warrior did not hold the appearance of a demon, though she could not fathom what the woman saw with her blind gaze. The Dragoon shrugged, trying to seem nonchalant. "I guess so."
"Then, you know about Neet?!" Setie sounded surprised, though - Rose had to continually remind herself - eighteen years was a long time for those without eternity. She nodded and looked again to the blind woman, and was forcibly struck by a moment from the past - the mother and daughter in the burning barn; the echoing screams of the girl calling for her mother swallowed by the inferno's roar. She was sure of it. The woman before her had to be that little girl, not knowing the bloody corpse at her side was her own mother.
"It was a miracle that I survived." Her voice cut through the screams of the terrified girl-child she had been, startling the dark woman somewhat.
"I see. Then you were blinded back then?" A small mercy, not to see your family slaughtered in front of you and to not recognize the face of your attacker eighteen years later.
"Yes. However, God imparted me with something else." There again, that subtle power emanating from her form. I wonder, would she have recognized it for what it was had she had a normal life? Or was the trauma of her youth the key to unlocking it? She reminds me of how we were back then, finding strength in those dark times... though we credited someone very different for our power... Or perhaps, not that different at all.
"Sister Luanna can see people's souls! But, she can feel their pain too. Because of this, Sister Luanna has suffered." Setie broke in, eager to explain her sister's famous power.
What must she see when she looks at me? Does she see all I have done? Does she see the soul of the beast who killed her family, or the spirit of a woman charged with an unpleasant task? Does she even see a soul within me anymore? ... I'm not certain I want to know the answer to that.
"Now I can appreciate this power that I have. Because, it allows me to heal the pain in people's hearts. If you need to heal the pain in your heart, please tell me. I can help you."
"That's not necessary. By the way, are you done?" Rose stated quickly, hiding the relief flooding through her that Luanna had seen so little. If she thinks she can heal my pain, she obviously cannot see too deeply into my soul. No, she is no threat at the moment. Still, it would be safest to kill the lot of them to rid me of an unknown like this Luanna's power... If this had happened just a year ago, I would have...
"Yes. I will be going back to Deningrad soon." The blind Sacred Sister stated, an odd look spreading over her features as she observed the outwardly placid warrior in front of her.
I must be going soft, Rose thought, looking at the group and resigning herself to the knowledge that she could not kill them in cold blood. Even when I set out specifically to recollect myself something else comes along to unbalance me. Soa, is this your will? Are you still trying, after all these years, to stop me in my task? ... Nothing I can do about it, I guess. Whatever happens from now on I will have to deal with as I am; something tells me He's not going to give me much of a chance to regain my footing... If I'm done here, I may as well get back to the others to keep them out of trouble.
"May I join you? Even if you are with knights," she flicked an amused glance at the armored guards, "the forest is filled with dangerous monsters. I can protect you from them." She didn't know why she had offered, it could only serve her if they all died on the trip back, but she had a niggling sense that this encounter was meant for her. She could not let it pass her by.
Setie and the knights turned to Luanna for her judgment, her blind gaze searching as she continued her unnerving stare. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, she nodded and turned away.
"I see. Then I'll ask you to come with us."
Bowing, Rose followed the group out of the ruined town. Picking her way through the rubble, she couldn't shake the feeling that this course of action might be some form of penance to the dead of the village; a way to make her own burden easier.
"Too damned soft." She muttered, kicking a stone out of her path.