Rain. Grey skies. Wet cobblestones. A dragon made of stone in a fountain in a square in a forgotten part of town.
A paladin thinks.
Red parka. Sturdy boots. Feet and belly warm and dry.
Drops of water, fat and heavy, fall on a head of thick blond dreads. Water runs down a troubled face. Calms an upset mind.
Memories of a past long lost.
Questions for a present full of change.
Flashes of uncertain futures.
Dark windows. Closed doors. A city huddles indoors. Hides from the cold and the wet. Waits for a better day to shine.
A paladin thinks.
Much is different.
A mother is dead. A father is a killer. A friend of old is gone, and a plan needs adjusting.
– – –
Toini shifted on her feet. A drop of water ran down the side of her nose, and she wiped at her face with the hem of her parka. It didn’t make any difference, but she did it anyway. A small symbolic gesture of defiance against the elements – or perhaps just an instinctive reaction to something touching her skin. It didn’t matter.
She had more important things to worry about.
Roy was gone. She was probably the reason he’d left, but it wasn’t her fault he’d not returned. Poor idiot. He’d never been good at dealing with things not turning out his way.
Him and her. That really hadn’t turned out the way he’d hoped for.
They’d had a good run. Growing up together – he’d been her sister’s best friend and she’d been the annoying kid sister that eventually grew into a person in her own right. They’d grown close, she and Roy. Became good friends, confidants. He was the closest thing to a brother she had ever known.
He’d wanted more, and in the end she’d served him a frying pan to the face and walked away. That had been bad. If he’d been a normal human he probably wouldn’t have survived. He’d been fine though. She’d checked his heartbeat before she left.
She hadn’t expected him to just leave and never come back though. That was a bit excessive. She’d just wanted him to take a hint and back off for a bit – not run away for ever.
Toini shrugged and hunched up her shoulders. She was being unfair. He’d thought her dead after all. Things like that were hard on people. And now she was back and soon he would know and that’d probably mess him up good too.
He couldn’t be pining for her still. It had been so long. He was a wrestler. Successful too. They lived rockstar lives. He’d have found someone else and moved on. He’d better have. Life was too precious to be hung up on impossible dreams. She’d kick his ass if he hadn’t.
She probably would anyway. Make her travel to the other side of the world like that. Sure, he hadn’t known, but that wasn’t the point. She had to vent, and that was his job. He was her best friend. She’d kick his ass.
Toini grinned to herself where she stood. Things hadn’t gone as planned, but they would work out. They always did, and good too.
And then her smile faded and she closed her eyes. What if she was wrong? What if it really was Adrian she was meant to collect? Her god had set her challenges before. He could do it again. Adrian could be one of them. Toini groaned.
The stupid prince.
They’d met in the army – at the air station. She, an ambitious young officer full of ideals and aspirations. He, an embarrassment the royal family shipped off to a military installation to keep him out of trouble and away from the press.
For the longest time she hadn’t even known.
Sure, she’d seen the glossy magazines and the tabloids, but never made the connection. He’d just been one of the other officers in training. A nice guy. Friendly, charming, handsome. They’d gotten along well, had some good times together, and become friends.
He’d asked her to be his date for the officer’s ball, but she’d already asked Roy, and Adrian had shrugged and made a joke of it and asked someone else instead.
And then, at the ball, her friends had gotten into a fight. Roy and Adrian. Proud young men. Ripped shirts, ruined suits, and fists red with blood. It had been her face on the covers of the tabloids then.
The memory sent her shivering to the very core.
She could never be someone’s princess. Not that she wanted to. Or anything else like that. Didn’t need anyone else. She was her own woman. Hers and Ek’s. She belonged to her god now. Life, body, and soul.
– – –
A paladin thinks.
Red parka. Sturdy boots. Hair wet with rain. It is not tears that run down her cheeks.
A mind races through time. Back and forth. For moments at a time a paladin is a young woman once more. Innocent. Unknowing. In the future she is old. Worn and tired. Dead. Tending the gardens of the temple. Fallen in battle. Talking to the trees. A whisper on the wind.
Most of all, time and time again, a paladin returns to the present.
Choices already made mature and become decisions. Instinct becomes certainty. Speeding thoughts slow down. A chronicler will do his duty as instructed. A sister will be left alone once more. Emotions grow still, and plans become clear. A friend of old will join a crew. A city will be left behind once more, and a prince will never know.
And then, just like that, everything feels a little bit better.