Shade glided across the hallway unconsciously stepping from shadow to shadow, avoiding all noise. The vampire was not active in his attempt at stealth, the movements had simply become so practiced that his body operated on instinct, especially while his mind was elsewhere.
The woman claimed to be his wife. She claimed to not know from whence she came. She knew his true name and she felt…a part of her felt true, felt real, felt alive. The stillness of his heart belied the frustration and building tension waiting within, ready to explode.
He stopped at an alcove staring hard at an ancient bust of some forgotten hero. Argent and its Hall of Champions was full of sculptures like this one. Remnants of history that echoed the past deeds of some long-dead hero. Paintings lined the walls, old scrolls and books of lost knowledge littered bookshelves and lay about haphazardly. Argent was accidental in its wisdom, like a doddering old grandmother alive when “the wars first started.”
Not one of these people were remembered by anyone of note. They were all old and dead and the heroism of their lives long forgotten.
Shade knew what it was like to be locked away. Lost forever. Forgotten. He knew what it was like to lose everything that mattered and then be taunted with its return.
I may return her, and the Prince, but they will not come back in the fashion you seek.
The Queen of Death claimed that she might bring back his wife, but he had refused believing the words to mean that she might arise as a revenant, or a ghost, or, worse, a vampire like himself.
As usual, he was wrong. The vampire turned and walked on. He was travelling, silent yet fast, towards Syndara’s rooms. He needed to speak to her. He needed to understand as much as he could before their group left the safety of Argent’s walls and –
Shade stopped, suddenly alert. A sound from up ahead…it sounded like a crash, like an explosion of wood upon wood and…yes, there it was again. Something heavy being tossed about and the breaking sound and a scream, a long scream and he was off, running as fast as he could, shifting from shadow to shadow in halting jumps. He was on the ceiling. At a crossway. At her door.
Shade stopped, one claw extended, teeth bared, not making a sound. Syndara’s room was havoc incarnate. Her bed lay on its side against the balcony window, the mattress split open and burned at the edges. The dresser, heavy enough that no five men could tip it easily, was in pieces all about the floor. A hole in the wall, clothes scattered everywhere and there, in the middle of it all, the woman who claimed to be his love kneeling, sobbing, shaking with anguish.
“Are you hurt?” Shade said. He wished his voice didn’t sound as flat, as emotionless, as he knew it did. He wished he could be certain of her origin and that he could move to comfort her. But he was not yet ready.
Syndara looked up between her fingers, face red, messy with snot and tears. She breathed in a deep, her body trembling. She seemed to expect…but no. The healer looked back down at her lap.
“I am unhurt. I…merely lost myself for a time. I have episodes. Spells. Faarlung has taught me how to control them, most of the time, but occasionally I lose myself and things like this,” she gestured expansively, “happen. I will clean it.” She looked at him, wiping the filth from her face. “Did you need me for something?”
The vampire stood, withdrawing his weapons, trying to be at ease. It was impossible, of course. Years working with the Company, trapped in a box, living in the Feydark, too many years requiring constant awareness, vigilance. Shade could no more relax than he could enjoy breath.
“I…had wished to speak with you on our matter. Our mutual past. I see that you are out of sorts and I will return another time.” He turned, slow, but with purpose. His footsteps fell heavy on the floor.
Syndara watched his back and wanted to tell him to stop. She wanted to beg him to stay, to wait, to pour out his dead heart and fill her mind with the memories that must have been so sweet, but she couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Instead, she watched him go.
Shade shut the door behind him making sure to seal it tight. He knew she wanted privacy. He started to walk back the way he had come, but his body halted before he understood why.
“Lazhar.” Shade’s voice was devoid of emotion, but he knew the paladin would understand the malice, nonetheless.
“Shade…I had wished to speak with you on a matter of importance. It concerns…” the Sentinel Marshall looked pointedly at the room behind the assassin and stood tall.
“She is of no concern to you, friend elf. You would do well to leave her be.”
“Yes, well. I would do that, but there is something I cannot keep to myself.” Lazhar took another step forward, the radiance of his soul a palpable thing to Shade. The vampire did not cringe, but neither did his posture change. He was not welcoming the approach.
“My woman? Paladin, if you think that Syndara is anyone’s woman, you are sorely mistaken. I do not own people. I…”
“Yes. I misspoke…I often do when what I have to say will be unwelcome.” Lazhar sighed and Shade saw him look up again at the broken door.
“My friend Shade…we are companions, for now, and perhaps for a long time in the future we shall be at one another’s side. I have no wish for animosity between us, but what I have to say will be difficult to hear. You would do well to know that I say it to you, not because I wish to cause you harm, but because I seek the opposite path instead.” Lazhar’s voice lilted, the tone welcoming and calm. He was a practiced diplomat and even Shade had to admit that he felt…less uneasy about the conversation.
“Say what you must and let us be on our way. We have business in Flamewall Tower and this…this is getting none of our goals accomplished.” Shade began to walk down the hallway a few feet away from that inward soul of radiance.
Lazhar gave one final look at the door to Syndara’s room and then turned. He followed along, wary, but not showing it in his stance. He was not certain how the assassin would react.
“I know that you wish not to mince words, so brevity it shall be.” Lazhar took in a calming breath, closed his eyes in concentration, and then relaxed to speak.
“I approached your wo…Syndara’s room, earlier. I had intended on a line of inquiry about the defenses of the castle and perhaps some protection that may extend to us once we are away. When I approached her room…there was a sound. It troubled me, so I drew closer, until I realized that she was speaking to someone…a man, with a deep, flat voice. I had believed the voice to belong to you, so I turned to go. But…” Lazhar stopped in the hall, far enough away from Syndara’s room that he was almost sure she could not hear.
“But what.” Shade stared.
“But…I knew that you were in the Hall of Champions speaking to Takara and Auden. I knew, because I had just left you there. It pains to me to say this, but I listened further, worried that perhaps she was in danger.” Lazhar seemed at a momentary loss, picking his words carefully. “She spoke of love being stronger than hate. She spoke to that distant voice in debate. She…said that surely her love to you, no matter that she could not remember its taste, would be stronger, certainly stronger than his hate.”
Shade’s eyes narrowed, but he did not look down the hall. He stared instead straight into the paladin’s eyes. For his part, Lazhar gazed back, unwilling to turn back now.
“The voice spoke from a void, but after listening for long seconds, I picked out a strangeness to its tone. The sound came as if from afar, but it was tinged with a hint of Syndara. It was then that I realized that the sounds both issued forth from the same place. From the same mouth.”
Lazhar returned the fierce gaze, trying to exude calm, but knowing the attempt for the futile gesture it was.
“My friend Shade…that voice spoke and I heard but a snippet, but the words…I could not let you go unaware.” Lazhar closed his eyes at the memory taking care not to twist a syllable out of place. “The voice said: You will see, haggard soul; you will see what your love can buy once hate rears its ugly head. The Queen cursed us both, you with loss of memory and me with loss of body, but I know the ancient ways, I know who must be contacted to draw my soul into supremacy and then…then we will see if his hate overwhelms your love.”
Lazhar stopped and opened his eyes.
Shade stared back hard not blinking. Not requiring it. Lazhar could see that his body was wound tight, ready to fight, itching to fight. The paladin knew that, if it came to that, he must allow the assassin to get in his blows and release his frustration. If it came to that, he would take the hit.
“Is that all.” Shade’s voice was dead. Lacking any of the emotion that his body ached to produce.
“I…” Lazhar stopped. He had been about to insinuate that perhaps Shade did not understand. But he knew better. The vampire was simply internalizing the information. Making it a part of himself. Trying to understand.
“Yes, my companion. That is all.”
Shade watched as the paladin turned and left. Nine different ways to strike the man’s open back drifted through his head before he could snap down his control. He did not look back at Syndara’s room. He could not.
He would not.
He walked on instead. Shade tried hard to block out the whimpers of pain echoing through the door, but knew it would be long before such a memory as this went away.