Kuori?s large hand rested on the door of Chryrie?s temple, hesitant, fearful. Were they still looking for her? She couldn?t be sure. She had ideas about how this could go, all of them painful. For everyone, not just herself. Her tongue slipped out to wet anxiety dry lips. She felt her heart pounding within her considerable chest. The powerful goliath took a steadying breath and walked inside the temple, going for the main hall of worship. She?s avoided this for too long. It?s time to stop running and face her fate here...even if what transpired was beyond her abilities to prevent.
As she walks by, she felt the eyes of acolytes upon her. Heard the hushed whispers of shock. They know her sins. Things she needs to answer for. One of those acolytes turned and fled from the hall, bare feet pelting the smooth wooden floors in a mad dash to find the High Priest. Within moments, heavy footfalls came at a run toward the hall. Vyska, Chryrie?s Champion, rounded the corner in full regalia. His lip curled in a feral snarl as he slowed, sheathing his weapon. ?Kuori. You will put your weapons on the floor and surrender. Now.?
This. This, Kuori expected and had knowingly come unarmed. She held her hand out, palms up, and unfastened the clasp to her cloak. Beneath it she wore armor of tattered rags. Her gray skin showing through several rips and tears as the single garment, like a tunic hung down to her knees with a simple leather belt tied about her shapely hips. She kept her hands held high as she walked towards Vyska, her face a stoic mask.
?I am here to seek penance?? Her own bare feet grazed across the wooden floors in calm, even, strides as she advanced on the Kirn-Ular
Vyska clamped his mouth tightly closed, fingers curling tightly. ?It is not my place to assign penance to you. That is for Khoom to decide.? Mercilessly, the paladin conducted a thorough search for anything hidden, because it was his duty to do so, then reached for a compartment on his belt and pulled out an elaborate set of oversized bindings for her wrists. As he opened the bindings, his expression softened, if only a trifle. ?I ? appreciate your cooperation.?
The sound of the bindings latching echoed loudly in the silence of the hall, as the acolytes looked on, some trembling with naked fear. They?d heard of the goliathess, heard of her transgressions. Some had even seen the ones she?d hurt. They?d cared for her, during her recovery. One and all were united in their desire to see justice. They?d all come from pained pasts, had known torments.
While she didn?t look at any of the onlooking acolytes, she could smell their fear. It was a stench she?d come to loathe. But she knew their fears were well founded. ?I burned every bridge I?ve ever built, Vyska. Doesn?t matter whether what I did was at my own hands or the creature which controlled me. I must answer for every sin.?
Even during the Kirn-Ular?s search of her person, Kuori?s eyes remained straight ahead. She?d forgotten how large Vyska?s fingers were compared to her own. A reminder that she?s not always the biggest being in the room. Eyes forward, Kuori worked to keep her breathing steady and even despite the iceberg in the pit of her stomach. The goliath?s surface thoughts were a maelstrom of what ifs that sought to feed her doubts and unease about what lay ahead of her.
Vyska remembered a quote someone once told him. If you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite. A very wise opinion ? but not quite applicable here. Killing was the last thing on his mind. Still ? ?If you will walk with me.? The bindings had no chains between them, simply holding her wrists bound crossed before her. Thick, and well-constructed, they seemed formidable indeed. Turning a half-turn, the paladin lifted an arm to indicate the way, and inclined his head. ?Please.?
No acolytes followed them from the hall ? none wished to be anywhere nearby when Chryrie?s wrath descended. Thus, the noise of their steps echoed softly off of sun-warmed stone and wood, as Vyska walked beside her. Soon, they came to a moderately unassuming door, where Vyska crooked a knuckle and knocked, once. From inside, came a painfully neutral voice, and a single word. ?Enter.?
Ushered through the door, Kuori?s determination stayed true to her resolve that this must be done. She fought to keep her inner turmoil from breaching the defenses of facial features. She didn?t look around the room about her, instead she focused on the blue Kirn across from her. He looked good, if stern. She knew this would not be a pleasant meeting for any involved. However, she didn?t speak; instead, she waited for Khoom?s next action.
Khoom, for his part, looked nothing at all like his usual hedonistic, smiling self. Grim-faced, fingers steepled under his chin, elbows resting on his desk, dressed in all his formal attire. The golden medallion bearing Chryrie?s sigil gleamed against the dark fur of his chest, visible down the part of the vest. Across from him, a single oversized chair sat empty, waiting. ?Kuori.? He nodded, once, indicating the chair, then turned his eyes back to the paladin. ?You may go. Stand watch outside.?
As Vyska closed the door behind him, Khoom locked eyes with the goliathess, hiding none of his formidable will. Shrewdly, he gauged her appearance, her demeanor, all the telltale quirks her body language gave away that her face kept hidden. Even his empathy, usually kept under tight guard, came into play, reading the churning sea of emotion behind her eyes.
She moved to take her seat and did her best to smooth down the lines of her tunic, bending to sit as close to proper as she could. Her hands rested nervously upon her lap while watching Khoom. It was a struggle to keep silent when all she wanted was to scream her apologies. However she knew that will come eventually. A distant hope that despite the severity of the punishments awaiting her, they?d be swift.
?You look like hell, Kuori.? A statement of fact, really. Beggars wore less tattered attire than this. Rising slowly, Khoom turned to a cupboard behind his desk, and drew out a tray, with two mugs and a pitcher of tea, with cubes of ice floating freely within. With an expression that brooked no argument, he set one before her and poured, before filling his own and sitting again. ?And, you?ve quite vexed my paladin. He?s been searching everywhere he could reach for you.?
?After...Thea,? Kuori paused here, hanging her head in shame. ?I went to Thorn seeking a place to hide because I was scared of what was happening to me. The urges that were consuming my thoughts. Well?.that same darkness, which I now know was a demon, tried to use my body to attack her. As it did Thea, and Jak, and others. I lost. Soundly.?
?I see.? Khoom picked up his tea, took a thoughtful sip, and regarded Kuori once more. He could see the regret, the trepidation, the desolation of knowing that people she?d come to care for were hurt, and by her hand. ?So Thorn gave you refuge?? The fact that Thorn hadn?t come to him with this information stung, but didn?t surprise. Thorn was a law unto herself, as was Roan, and he held no power there other than the bonds of friendship.
?I don?t know if refuge would be the right word. She nearly killed me. But rather than let me die, she put me in a sleep of sorts. Helped me, heal. Not just physically. Rather than fighting what was controlling me over my own body...we were both locked inside, unable to hide from one another.? She was divulging many things that weren?t being asked, she knew it, but there?s no point in hiding anything. These were all words that need to be said. Slowly, she reached forward to take the mug of tea in her hands. Her large fingers cradling it delicately.
Solemnly, Khoom nodded, taking another sip and keeping a careful watch. Wordlessly, he urged the goliathess to continue her tale, mentally passing along every scrap of information to his patron. He wasn?t afraid, not even with these revelations of possession. If Kuori, or whatever had claimed a hold upon her, wished to harm him, he had his defenses.
?The Other, was me. At least a part of me. It mocked and taunted me for refusing to give in to things. For holding back. For not subjugating a weaker person to my wants. It fed on my secret enjoyment of?.? Kuori shook her head, not wanting to voice that darker part of herself, not even in this confessional. ?Like something took the darkest parts of who I am, and gave it a will of its own.?
?Ah. A ? personal demon, then. And now?? Khoom leaned forward, setting his mug down and fixing her with an unblinking . that seemed to penetrate deep. ?Do you feel ? healed? Whole?? Careful questions, all of these.
?I?? she struggled to formulate her thoughts. ?No. What I feel is ashamed and sick. I don't know if I'll ever feel whole again.?
?I do not know either. But all of those feelings ? those are promising. Those tell me that you are ? truly repentant.? Sitting back in his chair, elbows on the chair?s arms, fingers steepled, he focused even tighter on her eyes, under half-closed lids. ?And, this Other. She is ? once again dormant? Purged, somehow? What did you do, Kuori? How did you manage to regain enough control to come and seek help??
?It told me that I created it. Months ago, a hand mirror was delivered to my house by parcel. There was an inscription on the back of it. That there are two wolves in all of us, the stronger one...is the one you feed. When I looked into the mirror, this Other or evil wolf woke up. After looking in the mirror, I started having spells. Hours out of the day where I couldn?t remember what I did or where I went. Not until I started getting messages from coworkers saying ?You were great last night, I look forward to it again? or...it broke the arm of one of my subordinates at work for posturing about being strong.? Her voice steadily cracked with each word. ?Then it started attacking my friends, right after I?d made a decision to go to them and seek help. First Jak, then Thea, Thorn. Every bridge I built...it wanted to burn and it did.?
Again, Khoom nodded slowly. All of this was important information, but it didn?t answer what he?d asked. Patience, he told himself. Patience would win the day here. In the meantime, an idea was blossoming in his mind. Inspired by Chryrie, or a seed growing in the fertile soil of memory, he couldn?t say. Either way, it seemed fitting.
?After its failed attack on Thorn, I started hearing whispers. I don?t know if they were her, or something else. But the struggle was that I didn?t accept parts of myself. The things the Other fed on. ? She couldn?t look anywhere except at her hands as she spoke. ?I didn?t accept that everything it represented, could be balanced to what I still wanted to be. That I could be feminine and strong. Warrior and Lady. There did not need to be an either or. Could enjoy dominating men and being emotionally open with women??
?And you believe you have found this balance? And that this will keep the ? Other ? at bay?? He had to keep that point at the forefront, because it was the most crucial part of his blossoming plan. ?It is what brought you here??
She made a face at that question. ?I don?t know!? The words actually shouted. ?Give me a weapon and point me at an enemy...that I know. A door that?s stuck, I can kick it open. This?? Her hands gestured between them, ?The thing that took me over? This is mage games. The abstract, there isn?t a physical enemy for me to slay and put down. I don?t know how to fight this. I?m fighting my own mind?.?
?You have always been fighting your own mind, Kuori. As do we all. That is morality. That is knowing what is right, and what is wrong. Knowing what is the proper thing to do, what the honorable thing to do might be.? Khoom rose then, the medallion swinging like a heavy pendulum as he rested his fists on the desk. ?The acolyte told me that you seek penance. Why??
She leaned forward with her hands opening and closing, practically clenching at the air. Kuori didn?t look at Khoom, merely her hands while taking several breaths to put her words straight. ?I?? it was a rough start as she took a deep, steadying, breath.
?It. Hurt people. Several that I care about. It was my body used as the weapon...so, I seek forgiveness for my own ease. Maybe getting those I hurt to forgive me, I?ll be able to forgive myself. Eventually.? There it was. The simple truth of the matter as Kuori saw it. If those she hurt can forgive her, there might be a chance to move beyond what happened.
? ? ? Khoom fell quiet for a long moment, still appraising her, before he spoke. ?Do you think that you have this Other subdued? If I allow you to remain here, to serve this penance, is this Other going to be a danger to those already here?? While he spoke, he silently beseeched Chryrie for the knowledge and power to make his idea reality. But first, he needed to know.
?I don?t have an answer, Khoom. Struggling with it for as long as I did, being told that I had to embrace it as part of me. Part of who I really am? It just disappeared when I did that...I?m not sure if it?s gone, or if we?re one and the same now?? She looked upon Khoom with wide, helpless eyes.
?Then ? I suppose we have no choice but to find out. You wish for penance? You wish to somehow, some way, find a slim chance of atoning for your sins?? The mug of tea in Khoom?s hand clicked ominously on the desk as he rose, fur fluffing as he drew in the power. ?So be it. But, I will not risk you being a danger to this temple and the people we help here. People like the ones you ? and this Other ? hurt.? Lifting a hand, he extended his arm out, palm facing her, and a bright sigil began tracing over the surface of his palm. ?To understand someone, you must live as they do.?
?Yes.? The answer was immediate and firm.
?Then so be it.? Khoom?s eyes flashed in a stony mask of concentration, and the sigil flared brightly.
(this was a log form a long stretch back to wrap up part of one story and begin a new. Thanks to Khoom's player for working with me! ))