Her Mother, or the people like her, the people she had lived with, the people who had outcast her when she was younger, still among them, they would have said it was all that was left to her. But she did not believe it, could not believe it, not when the truth was so tangibly opposite.
She did not have hope.
That too, like so many other things achingly remembered, had been taken away from her. There seemed no end to the things she had lost, and could never hope to recover. All that remained, all that she had been able to preserve, despite her best efforts, was the consequential knowledge of what she had allowed herself to lose.
A wry, bitter grin twisted her mouth, a mouth originally formed for a life kinder than the one she had made such knowledge was galling and abhorrent to her. Who was it that had had the audacity to say that life was nothing more than the endless pursuit of knowledge? That, too, she did not believe. Had she anything left, she would have given it all to forget, for just one brief moment, the hopeless ache of loss that had become the sum of her life.
Dark lashes closed over strangely warm golden eyes, holding the memories at bay. It was no longer an amazement to her that she was a warrior, not when she came to the unwilling realisation that every moment of her life was a battle to forget her past. The twin blades sheathed at her back, the daggers strapped one to each thigh, the knives tucked into her boots, the staff held in her hand these things were as familiar and unwanted to her as any memory.
The lashes rose again, the eyes surveying the terrain before her. It had become equally as familiar to her, through time and need. The earth was scarcely vital enough to support the hardiest of vegetation, and seemed more like desperate broken shards clawing at the sky like fingers, than dirt itself. The theme was not lessened or softened in any way the rivulets of lichen or moss that managed to eke out an image of life in the barren wastes before her, nor by the sickly, putrefying plants that lay straggling under the brown-hued, shifting sky, clinging frailly to existence.
They reminded her of herself.
True, she did not struggle as they did to retain some kind of life. She had never known that struggle, had never needed to strive so fruitlessly for something that had come all to naturally for her particularly now. But life was anathema to these plants, as it was for her. It was the gift of life she was cursed with, life that would not could not release her. In that way, she envied the plants their mercifully brief lives. However bitter, however hard their lives were, they, at least, were certain of an end to it. Such release was eternally, unbearably denied to her.
But because she was who she was, and could not do anything else, she bore the knowledge of her pain as best she could, though she, too, was slowly putrefying under the weight of it.
Her hands tightened on her staff. It was of long, clean wood, unstained by any blemish of pain or struggle. If it was in her to believe in such insanities as hope, here was a sign as potent as the curse of life itself. For the wood from which she had formed it had come from the desolation before her, from the place where health was as corrupt as her own contradictory sense of self worth. Yet the wood was as healthy and pure as the life before her was corrupt. In such a place, which mimicked the emptiness and deadness of her own life, such a thing could not be anything other than a sign of hope.
It all came back to hope, and her denial of it.
For this reason, she had taken the wood and formed it into a staff, as a tangible, irrevocable sign of her denial. For a moment, she had an unwonted perception of herself as a child, plaintively and ignorantly insisting on the truth of her rectitude. But the image cleared under the weight of her conviction. She could not be anything other than what she was.
Convinced of this, she turned to leave the precipice by which she stood, her back as strict and straight as a commandment but she clapped her hands to her head, and fell to her knees, as fragments of madness and vertigo swarmed in her head. Through the tumult of color and sound, one thought forced itself to clarity. Such an intrusion into the privacy of her mind was not possible, could never be possible, unless by the one being who could conceivably have the audacity, and the will, to do so.
That name reiterated through the whirl of chaos. Clenching her will against the madness of confusion, she lowered the mental barriers that fought automatically, stridently, against such an intrusion. At once, the tumult slowed, calmed, allowing her to breathe, to think, to remember. With a private sigh of relief, she let herself float on the now sluggish current of chaos, allowed the images, sounds, and impressions to come to clarity.
Like three mental blows of a fist, she saw Rohirrien, Aircristir, and a dark, faceless shape that tugged vaguely at her memory. Then, with a wrench that shook her to her bones, the tumult gathered towards focus again, became commandments, words. Almost before she had assimilated them, the world around her began to become corporeal again. Frantically, she groped among the chaos, fought to bring more into focus.
But she could not. She could see nothing now but the dirt scant inches from her face, her fingers clenched against the force of vertigo, furrows in the earth, and dirt in her nails. With a groan, she let her mind fall blank, unclawed the grip of her will on the madness. Deep within herself, she found the bitterness for curses. Aircristir? Aircristir?
Shuddering, she closed her eyes, sought to repair the disorder of her composure. For the moment, she put aside her bitterness, reviewed what she had learned.
For she had learned. Several thoughts, that had been obtrusive at the most inconvenient times for months now, now made sense. The dark, faceless yet insistently familiar figure she had seen, she now realized was the source of the strange disturbances she had been sensing from almost as soon as she had come here. But who -?
The same wry grin twisted her mouth once again. In denial of herself, she had already made her decision. Though she had sworn never to leave this place, questions needed answering. And there was only one person she could think of to ask.
And she had not seen or heard from him in five hundred years.