Damn her. Damn that blasted elf to hell. I hadn’t believed my eyes when I finally saw her, here, after all this time. I never thought she’d have the balls to come back, after what she did.
Although for awhile, I hadn’t thought I’d come back here either. But it was the fastest way to town. I had to take this route to get supplies every now and then, like earlier today. Only realized I’d forgotten my package of salt after I got home, so I headed back. Passing by, something sounded, looked, felt wrong, so I snuck up to find out. She was sitting there, where once, nearly twenty years ago, she had crouched over me, steel spreading a chill through my guts.
When she began talking, at first I thought that, like old, she had – impossibly – sensed my approach. Then I realized that she was speaking to a ghost, a man that she had tried to kill that day. When she finished her touching speech, more for herself than that ghost, she began to play that flute.
The first time through, there was only rage. She expected this tune, however well crafted and played, to make up for all those years? The second time, there was still anger, but also grudging admiration. She’d been playing for awhile by then, a complicated song requiring concentration to perform and insanity to compose. The third time – the third time, I simply listened. She always did have talent for the flute. Even counting for the fact that it was magical – had to be magical, to produce near-multiple tunes like that – she pulled it off with style.
The last dredges of light were fading when she finished. Her fingers had to be hurting from playing that long, but a slight grimace, revealed by a cool breeze that blew back her hair, was the only sign she gave of it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered again. “I’m so sorry.”
“After twenty years I thought you could come up with something better than that.”
It wasn’t until she spun around, eyes wide and white rimmed even in the dark hollows that told me someone hadn’t been eating or sleeping well lately, that I realized it was I who had spoken. She stared at me for a second in confusion, then she looked through the score of years that had not touched her, past my now gray and much shorter hair, and saw me. Her eyes widened with shock I enjoyed seeing. “Taylor?” Dirdre gasped.
“That’s it? Just ‘Taylor’? I expected a different greeting for an old friend you tried to kill.”
I didn’t give her a chance to finish. Years of pent up anger I’d thought I rid myself of long ago resurfaced with a vengeance. “Almost twenty years, Dirdre. It’s almost been twenty years! You tried to kill me! I sent you off to warn those people, but instead you disobeyed, you came back, saw the situation, and didn’t even bother to think that I might be stalling to give you time to get the warning through! Damn you, you never even came back!”
“I thought you were dead,” she whispered. Her eyes were closed, her head bowed. I didn’t care.
“Well that makes everything all better, doesn’t it? Why’d you come back this time, now?”
She shook her head, thick hair more than enough to hide her face. “I don’t know.” It came out nearly as a sob. “To... try to apologize, I guess.”
“Denied.” I finally felt that I’d gotten out of whatever nightmare this might be, and back in the real world. I realized that not only would I never get any satisfaction from this, but I wouldn’t be able to keep civil conversation going.
I turned and left.
Even a hurried walk back home couldn’t get rid of all my rage, so I spent nearly another candle-mark chopping up some logs. I didn’t need any more wood for awhile, but having a weapon in my hands and using it until it got too dark to work safely was infinitely satisfying.
When I finally went inside, I knew I hadn’t worked off all my anger, but I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be going out and trying to separate a certain elf’s head from her body.
Then I lit the lamp. Reflections of the flame mocked me from the table, shining from the copper of the bracers I’d left to her in a fit of insanity so long ago. It’s a good thing she wasn’t there, because I nearly lost control completely. I slammed the lamp down, nearly shattering the glass, but somehow managed to not destroy anything. That reminded me I couldn’t, shouldn’t break anything.
“Taylor, I... realize that no apology could ever be enough for what I did.” Her voice was thick, almost teary, but seemed to come from the bracers. Somehow, I doubted she’d picked up talent for going invisible over the years.
“You have no idea!” I snarled back, searching the room for her.
“But I feel that I need to at least make an effort, however useless it is. Since I never did manage to pick writing – ” Once something I’d endlessly tried to teach her – “this message crystal will have to do.” She hesitated, then laughed softly, an oddly teary sound. “Although I’d be surprised if you’re still there.” It was my rage that kept me there, not her. Never her.
“I...”She laughed helplessly again. “I wish there was something I could do to make things right, but I used those up. I just need to return these. You left them to the wrong person. I hope... I hope you find someone worthy of them.”
Before I had time to think, I was storming back there. I’m not certain what I was thinking, perhaps something about throwing the bracers back in her face, or maybe that old fantasy of dismemberment.
I found her still sitting there, as if she hadn’t moved from when I’d stormed off. She was holding a dagger, staring down at it as if to find some fatal flaw in the blade. When I realized what she was doing, and planning to do, I laughed.
She glanced up, a tired look on her face. The old Dirdre, the one that had thrown the dagger, would have at the very least bristled and demanded an explanation for why I was laughing at her. Now, she just waited.
“I don’t believe you,” I finally managed. “All that harping on about elvish superiority, and then you turn around and plan to suicide. You’re no different than any human.”
A faint wince was the only response, again not what I expected. What I did expect was her leaping up to tear out my throat, but she didn’t.
“Maybe I am no different. Or maybe I’m just cursed. Anyone I’ve ever had feelings for, anyone I dared care for died. Because of me. Often by my hand.”
“Oh please.” Now she nearly glared at me, a faint, smoldering anger the only sign of the old Dirdre. “You’re the only person to lose family? And friends? In case you haven’t noticed, the orcs have been running amok for over twenty years now. They still claim this area, even if they aren’t brave enough to come out during the day. You want to moan about family? My wife and children went to the gods, long ago. My friends...” I couldn’t stop a bitter smile. I gestured to her. “Well, you know.” She winced. “And I’d rather that I had given them a quick, peaceful death instead of what those monsters did. I’d – Augh!” Sudden fire in my side, a frighteningly familiar pain from a sword wound. A blur of movement appeared in the corner of my eye, and a dagger flashed past me. I turned to see it land in an orc. More boiled out of the woods, surrounding us.
The fight was short, almost surreal in how it was like the old days, Dirdre and I fighting back to back, falling into patterns I had thought forgotten.
Even as she gutted the last with almost demonic glee, I felt the ice spreading from my side. The ground was oddly soft when I collapsed, and I knew. The only other time I had felt like this had been here, with fallen orcs and her. The gods have an odd sense of humor. I’d walked away last time, but now, now they were calling the chips in. There was no healing potion from my wife this time. There was no reason to go on.
It would be nice, to rest, to let go.
“NO!” She was suddenly hovering over me, gently dragging me close. “No,” she said again, whispering it as if to keep me to life. “Not again. Not here, not with me. Please.” She was crying, and almost laughing hysterically as well. “You shouldn’t die here, with me.”
“It’s my time.”
“No. You should be with friends, family, anyone but me. Anywhere but here. It’s not right. ”
No. It was as it should be, the way things were meant to be. I just didn’t have the strength to tell her. Things were becoming so distant, so hard to feel. Like the end of a dream. I decided that if it was, then I had to do one more thing, before waking up, one last task I obviously hadn’t corrected.
If it was real, I still needed to fix it.
Taylor licked his lips and leaned closer. “Keep the bracers,” he whispered. I could barely hear him.
“No!” I protested again. Not after all that had happened. I couldn’t.
“Keep them,” Taylor wheezed, “and don’t... forget. Always... remember....” He trailed off into a rattle. His body relaxed.
I don’t know how long I was there, crying over the cooling body of my once-friend.
Finally, only detached emptiness was left. I stood slowly, glaring up at the stars. Mother once told me that was where the gods lived, in castles of clouds and stars. That didn’t matter. All I cared about was that they could hear me.
“Well?” I screamed to the night, “are you happy now? He’s really dead this time! And it’s still my fault! How many more? How many more people are you going to kill because you’re mad at me? You made your point! You’re not happy with what I’m doing! What do I need to change before another dies? Who’ll it be this time? Mercy? One of the kids? Or why not just bring Venian back too, so I can kill him again! Oh, I’ve got it, my entire family! What do you want me to do? What do I need to change to get you to leave me alone?!” Somehow, I was on my knees, pounding helplessly on the ground. From somewhere, I’d managed to find enough moisture to be crying again.
“Why are you doing this? Why do they have to die?”
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