This story takes place just after the short story Lorelai, if you haven’t read that already, I highly recommend doing so first, though this story can likely be understood without it.
A rock in the road jolted Aurora, the High Priestess of her temple, awake. She attempted jumping to her feet, stopped by ropes binding her wrists to the floor. The fibers rubbed painfully against her skin as she attempted to pull free. She gave up and looked around. Immediately, her eyes locked with those of an Umbrai – a descendant of the Dark Makers – sitting opposite.
Everything about her betrayed this ancestry, a daughter of the Southern Continent: her dark skin, yellow eyes, and dark, curly hair – representing the Chaos that the Dark Makers so wished the world would fall into – that she had braided back into rows like the crops of the field. Her name was Amari if Aurora had heard correctly.
Beside her sat an Aratha, a man of the wild. He looked much like the one who’d come into her temple several days prior. That one was a Paladin of the Crimson Cord, a perversion of the Church’s traditions. This one bore no such mark. On his neck, however, was a nearly invisible tattoo, just darker than his skin, that almost looked like it moved, swirling like fire. He was a Keeper of the Flame – a druidic enforcer. It suddenly felt very warm as Aurora felt her heart leap in her chest. She knew no fear of these paladins and their wards until this very moment, as she looked upon the one likely to be her executioner.
No one else sat in the cart with them.
“Where is she?” Aurora demanded, once again looking to the Demonborn. She’d followed them into the Hartal Wilds to retrieve one of her priestesses – Lorelai.
“Dead,” Amari replied, “you killed her.”
Aurora tried to swallow, fighting back the urge to vomit. With each moment, the fear within her grew. “No, that can’t be.”
Amari sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees. Her face twisted in a scowl. “You could have just let her go. She’d still be alive if you had.”
“No, she can’t be dead.” Words seemed to simply flow from Aurora’s mouth. She didn’t think about what she was saying, only the consequences. “She can’t be dead. She had not yet been with child.”
Amari narrowed her eyes at Aurora, the High Priestess of the Temple of Liberport. “You don’t even care about her, just her ability to bear children. What, was she just ‘prime stock’ to you?”
Aurora shook her head as she continued, “I care for her far more than myself.” For a moment, her fear wavered. “She is of the line of the firstborn daughters of Ynara, the women of utmost respect among the Church, which our temple was trusted to protect. If she is dead, then there is much suffering to come; the force which keeps the Dark Makers at bay is waning. The world will fall into Chaos; the Balance will be no more.”
Amari wasn’t listening. “What good is it that you keep her body alive if you kill her soul in the process?”
“What good is it if she lives a good life if it dooms the rest of us in the process? What is one life lived in turmoil for the good of the world?” Aurora spat. “She needed to have a child, and we did everything in our power to make that happen! You killed her when you took her away!” Her fear returned as soon as she looked at the Keeper once more. It would have been better if she’d died in the raid than be captured. Keepers were not known to let those they execute die easily.
“Hers was not a life of turmoil!” Amari screamed. The Keeper placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hers was a life of torment and sorrow!” Amari’s face contorted, on the verge of tears. “Her death was better than her life,” she whispered.
“She can’t be dead.” Aurora’s own voice sounded distant to her.
“Let the Fires of Truth bear witness,” the Keeper muttered, “the last of the Line of Ynara has passed into the realm of the Shadows. The last of the Line of Ynara has breathed her last. And yet one lives on.”
Aurora’s mouth became very dry as she struggled to breathe. They blamed her for Lorelai’s death. The Keeper was going to exorcise her. Even if they didn’t, the suffering that would come was comparable to the death she was now going to face. She tried to wrap her arms around herself. To comfort herself. To know that she could still feel. The binds digging into her wrists worked to bring her back to reality.
“’Woe to all the land, for the last Daughter of the Maker has passed,’” Aurora quoted from her studies of the visions of the Prophet, “’The Balance shall be no more, and the Dark shall inherit the world.’”
The Keeper, Tupu, was familiar with a similar prophecy told by the Sabulosians and the Druids. “Woe to all the land, for the One who Binds the Chaos is slain. The Balance shall be no more, and the Shadows shall inherit the land.” A translation error, he thought. According to the Druids, ‘the One Who Binds the Chaos’ was no daughter of the Makers, but the World Guardian – leader of the Druids since the Balance began. How much of the Great Teachings have they twisted within their own minds to meet their own ends? How many of them truly believe the lies they spew is truth?
Aurora looked to Amari. “This must make you happy.”
Amari jumped forward from her seat and struck Aurora across the face. “It makes me no happier that the Balance should fall than it does you.” She took Aurora’s chin in her hand, forcing her to look her in the eyes. “But I believe the Balance did not hang on the life of one girl. That girl, however, was far more precious to me than to you.”
Amari shoved Aurora’s face away. “I guess it would be a mercy for you to die – if you are right.”
Aurora sneered as she glanced at Tupu momentarily before focusing back on Amari. To postpone death for a time – there was but one way.
“You cannot kill me,” she said. She did everything she could to hide her trembling. To ensure that they could not know her fear. “Your oath forbids it. You must keep me alive and attempt to turn me from my ways.” She sat up in a show of feigned dignity. A spectacle of righteousness.
Amari took on a venomous smile. She had thought of having mercy. She had been considering it. “That may be true. But his oath requires it.” She nodded to the Keeper before returning to her seat. To attempt manipulating her; that was the tipping point that swung the scales out of her favor.
Aurora’s breathing became quick and shallow as the Keeper began to breathe deeply. Within moments, tongues of flame leapt from his nostrils. He stood and knelt before her, rubbing his hands together. His palms became red, like iron fresh from the furnace as he let a breath from his mouth. A single bout of flame leapt forth.
Aurora squeaked, cowering in fear. She struggled once more against her bonds, splinters of twine digging into her skin.
The Keeper put his hands on her arms; her skin began to boil. She let out a scream and he pressed his lips to hers, a hot breath filling her lungs. Her cries turned to gurgles, and her gurgles to silence as her lungs filled with flame.
She should have been dead within seconds. But the Keeper wouldn’t let her soul go that easily.
Amari looked away from the spectacle just as Aurora’s eyes caught fire. Tiny jets of flame leapt from her pores.
She did not like what Tupu did for them. The violent, gruesome ways that he enacted justice. She thought for a moment: Should I have offered mercy? Should I have followed my oath to do everything in my power to preserve life? “I shall do all that is within my power, that none more blood shall be shed,” the oath went. Her eyes flashed back to the flaming spectacle for a moment. It was a wonder that neither Tupu nor the cart burned. But what justice would there be if she was allowed to live? What justice would there be for those she’s wronged? For what she did to all those under her? For what she did to my dear Lorelai? For what she did to my beloved Delilah?
Delilah once stood against the justice of Tupu. “What good does it do to slay evil? Do we not, by making the evil good, remove the evil? If we make the evil good, and they are truly good, then how much more can they do for us, to bring about more justice? Killing the evil is not justice. Transforming it, that is true justice. I say to you, Keeper, spare this one.”
Amari chuckled nervously as a tear rolled down her cheek. Her argument had no effect on Tupu. The sound of the High Priestess burning alive became distant. What would Delilah say now as the one she hated, the one who tormented her, who took her daughter away, tormented her daughter, and caused her daughter to die, burned in the Fire of Justice? Would she say the same?
The crackle of flame stopped.
Amari looked over to Tupu, a pile of ash before him.
He muttered a prayer under his breath, then turned toward her and nodded.
She looked to the pile of ash, hoping Lorelai would climb from it and into her arms. She never did. Amari closed her eyes and wept. There is no justice. No such thing.
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