I couldn’t gauge a response to my words, the faceplate, coupled with their lack of bodily cues, left them inscrutable. “I see.” They replied finally. “In a way you’re correct… Their opinion might matter more in regards to the world, but you aren’t part of their politics. You lack the myopia that would otherwise affect them, while we are too far detached. Our war was fought to protect them from our machinations, now for the ‘Greater Good’, could we really decide to perform them?”
“So what will you do now that I’ve given my opinion?” I asked, folding my arms and squaring my shoulders. “I’d hardly be able to watch every one of you, even with your force small as it is. As you said, I’m an outsider, hardly with the infrastructure or the personnel to enforce anything.” I’d still attempt to check in now and then, but if they swallowed this… it’d keep me safe…
They shook their head. “I won’t do anything to you.” They sighed. “And for what it’s worth I’m trying to make sure we don’t walk that path. Much as he may malign the bureaucracy, this isn’t a case for blind action.” They sighed, reaching up to remove their faceplate. Crimson catlike eyes caught mine, she smiled slightly. “It’s somewhat interesting to see his old and new personalities clashing.” She said.
I arched an eyebrow, there was only one person I knew that that could refer to. “The old Seraph still lives?” I asked, ignoring the removed faceplate, perhaps it was meant to garner trust, or to get me to do the same. I didn’t want to humour that, even if it would be easy enough to just assume a different identity. Page had annoyed me almost incessantly until we were both satisfied about the potential inherent to the nanomachines in my body. But I didn’t trust the Aerathi, and there was no reason to show otherwise.
“Of the many that once benefitted from the preservation runes, he’s the last.” The soldier shook her head. “It will be decades before we might rediscover the method they used. He’s apparently a very different person now than he used to be.” She cupped her chin. “You could meet with him and see.” She said. “I doubt the twin would mind.”
“And what about the actual person?” I asked, snorting. “Even if you did though, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t trust you. I won’t enter your encampment for any reason I can think of right now.” Still… there were no other Aerathi nearby, unless they had learned to cloak their souls… “Now, tell me, what are your plans for the Edratchi? It’s fairly obvious you aren’t just locking them away and tossing the key, why?”
She fidgeted at that. “First off, you understand their situation?” She asked. “That they are attempting to seek refuge beyond their world?” I cocked my head, then nodded. I remembered that from what the soul copy had said. “We’re looking to provide them that refuge.”
I narrowed my eyes. “So they’re going to have a foothold on this plane?” I asked, pulling my arms closer to myself. “You realize that most people won’t like that. They’re the ultimate evil of several religions, turned the warfront into a charnel house, and have a presence that unsettles almost every creature around them.” I flatly stated.
“Yes, we anticipate… difficulties.” She said. “But their position is understandable, and letting them rot in the world that their ancestors settled will only drive another violent exodus into yours eventually.” She carefully reasoned. “We might also be able to harness the natural magics of their plane to both make it safer for them, and provide energy.” She said. “I don’t know the specifics of it, but the scientists that suggested it seemed sure it’d work.”
“I can’t imagine there being anything on this plane that would benefit from such a power source…” I said. “The only one I know I’d rather leave unpowered.” I said, reminded of the prototype that lay back in Romus.
“There aren’t any here right now no.” She conceded. “We could use the energy however, and should this work the Edratchi will have no reason to invade this plane any longer.” I looked at her sceptically. “At least not to escape their own.”
I shook my head, unconvinced. “If that does happen however, overpopulation will need to be guarded against.” I said. “Otherwise they’ll invade again for more space. In any case this is beyond me, I don’t really care about it that much. If it does happen it’ll be long after I’m dead anyway.” I added as an afterthought. My focus had waned, it was obvious that there wasn’t anything important to discuss. I turned to leave, walking in the direction of the camp.
“Do you really have no interest in seeing the Seraph?” She called after me, moving to keep up.
“No.” I replied. “With the end of the war I think I’ll just disappear somewhere.” I thought of Soren, wondering if I could simply take up work as a farmhand. No. I thought to myself. They know who I am, there’ll be questions… I’d need to travel elsewhere, it would be easy enough to hide away, few knew what I looked like beneath the armour. But first I want to go to Kikre.
“To hide away?” She asked, sounding surprised, a click sounded as her faceplate slid back into place. “Why? Your actions have managed to forge peace and maintain order. Your title is whispered by people from all walks of life with either reverence or fear.” I grimaced. Fear? “Why did you take up this mantle then, if you’re going to just disappear?”
“Because that was never my intent.” I said simply, moving the branches out of the way. “I never wanted to be the centre. This…” I stopped, whipping around and gesturing at my armour. “This was just what kept me safe, I delayed fighting on the front, I delayed and protested joining their group of irregulars.” I snarled, stabbing a finger towards the ground. “But I couldn’t just ignore it.” I gestured towards the encampment, deflating. “I probably should’ve though.” I turned away.
“You sound angry that we arrived at all.” She said, surprised and disgruntled. “Do you know how hard it was to even convince the council to provide aid?” She asked, her voice raising in pitch. “Is it truly too much to ask for a little gratitude? I’m sorry we decided to intervene and end it.” She snarled. “Maybe we should’ve just let you all be? After all, it isn’t our war is it?”
“It’s not mine either.” I replied. “And I’m damn tired of this.” Right from the start I’ve always been involved in these things haven’t I? Intergalactic wars, the death of an old order, probable deicide, and now this… I shook my head. “I’m an outsider as well.”
We exchanged no more words, and once we reached the encampment she went on her way. “It seems there was not a fight.” Azarint said from behind me. “And yet somehow the atmosphere seems even tenser than before.”
“The Aerathi are aiming to forge peace here.” I said. “I don’t know what else it might change, but on the whole I’m pretty sure they’ll do a good job of it.”
“And where are you headed at this hour?” He asked. “You seem to have found new direction to replace what you had lost.”
“Away. Somewhere.” I said. “Anywhere they don’t know Kael.”
“We could still use you here.” Azarint said. “Even if you decide to just stop hunting, your experience and skill could be leveraged for training purposes, just as I aim to do.”
I turned, staring at him. “I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore.” I said. “I’m done. If I hadn’t started in the first place…” I gritted my teeth. “Sorry.” I sighed. “None of this was on you or anyone else. It’s always been my choice to make.”
“I do not know what you are talking about, but surely a decision like that, you could stand to tell the others?” He said, folding her arms across her chest.
“I could.” I conceded. “But I don’t want to. That’s all there is to it.” I turned away. “Unless you’re going to stop me, I’m leaving now.”
He stepped forward, settling a hand on my shoulder. “I can’t say I fully understand your reasons, but I can tell you that I’ve felt similarly before.” I somehow doubt that… I thought to myself. “If after you’ve had time to think and wish to return, remember that you have a place here.”
I nodded stiffly, shaking off his hand and taking away down the path. Along the way I stopped once, adjusting my gear to something less obvious, looking more like the guard I’d been back when I’d protected Soren. Coming across Kikre again was… odd. There weren’t that many people, but you wouldn’t have known that just a few months ago it had been a ghost town, destroyed. There were even children running around in the snow, snow angels and snowmen occasionally dotting the landscape.
I made my way to the memorial tree, passing by a number of people, none of whom recognized me for who I was. My fingers traced the names written onto the tree, new names had since been added, but the long string of unbroken names… I grimaced, thinking back to when we’d found Gen, muttering those names over and over and over. They hadn’t moved back to Kikre, I couldn’t fault that, just the sheer number of names daunted me. Gen had known every single one of them by name, having them all be killed… that left a mark.
When my squadmates had fallen back in Alida’s world… I hadn’t been nearly as affected. I’d kept my distance, stayed detached. Part of it was because they were reavers, even if they were products of their time, I had still found it hard to reconcile. I shook my head, clearing it of the memories. The townsfolk had mostly ignored me, perhaps they were used to people coming to pay their respects, or maybe they just didn’t want to interfere. Either way suited me just fine.
I spent the night in an inn, thankful for the warmth I could get away from the elements. The shaper sat on the table, I hadn’t figured out what to do with it to be honest, passing it back to the Aerathi seemed an odd choice, but there was no need for more elementals. The tiny soul copy leaned up against the shaper, seemingly asleep. Ever since the Edratchi had been defeated that had been its only action, I gave it a faint smile before falling to sleep myself.
Haen was my next stop, it seemed no one had been sent to resettle, and in the interim animals had taken up residence in the buildings. Snow piled high on the buildings, and in places some of the buildings had collapsed under the weight. On the memorial tree I’d easily found Yinea’s name, and Jerrin’s followed closely behind. Rael’s name isn’t here. I realized as I circled it. Had they really not even bothered with that tradition? I pursed my lips, taking out my knife. He had been a good person, aiming for peace, and that, if nothing else, deserved respect. This wasn’t nearly enough to balance the injustice, but with how the books had been balanced, it was all I could do now.
“If you could only see how things are now, I imagine you’d be in for a shock…” I muttered to myself, tracing out Yinea’s name. I’d brought with me so much death. Hell, almost everyone who had lived here died by my hand. I slammed my fist into the bark of the tree. I had wanted clarity, I’d hoped that maybe coming to these places would’ve given me some kind of epiphany, instead all I felt was emptiness and guilt.
What the hell am I going to do now?