Pretend this is something clever.
Dismiss the guilt? Oh, hardly. Hardly. She had simply meant to remind Tevan that one crippled by guilt could not move forward. To feel so keenly was not necessary to fulfill one's duty, but the weight of it would not be forgotten. Ah, well. Her friend was wise, and understood the distinction well enough, she supposed. His pain, born of empathy, was subtly different from hers, born of broken honor. He must find his own way of coping. Not that she wouldn't keep an eye on him, to ensure it was effective.
Falarion's investigations indicated a skirmish. Solaris, for her part, saw no obligation to come to the aid of Imperial trespassers who, knowing the dangers, had willingly entered the forest, most probably to despoil and destroy. But she said nothing, knowing Tevan would prioritize looking after their own.
After what had seemed like a mere instant, as her mind calculated several steps ahead of their current objective, they arrived at the Rune Temple. Like the other structures, it bore the marks of desecration and decay, but it would make a serviceable base of operations. That was what she chose to see. Sparing hardly a glance for the relics of the past, as she filed in somewhat behind the others, she lit a small flame in the palm of her hand and held it aloft to inspect the ruin, assessing its defensibility and potential avenues of approach. As long as the exterior remained decrepit, it might be overlooked; but if the Imperials suspected that forces long dormant had begun to stir, they would search here, sooner or later. They could not stay long. Plans must be made, while they had the luxury of time.
Meanwhile, Siuhaydis cleared the dust out of the upper room, while Ralis began to straighten up. Solaris hung back and observed the exchange between Tevan and Tamakai, gratified to see Tevan in higher spirits. When his laughter subsided, she raised the flame at her fingertips, barely catching a double glint of yellow among the rafters before it blinked sleepily and retreated into a mass of feathers. She decided not to mention this observation. "I think our feathered friend is content to stay where he is, for the present," she said, with the faintest trace of amusement.
Now she followed Siuhaydis to the chest in the corner to assist in the distribution of its contents, setting lighted lanterns about the room and spreading a few blankets on the floor, in lieu of proper furniture. She was careful to avoid placing the lights too near the windows, to preserve their concealment. With a nod, she acknowledged Ralis' efforts. "It appears you will be staying with us until morning. I regret that we cannot provide better accommodations."
Her ears pricked at the ring of steel, and she turned to find Siuhaydis offering her a sword. A ceremonial piece, meant for ritual, rather than combat; but a blade nonetheless. "A most fortunate find." She grasped the proffered hilt and hefted the weapon, testing its weight and balance. It would do, for now. "You have my thanks, Siuhaydis."
Surprisingly, it slid into the mismatched sheath at her waist without too much resistance. It was good to wear a sword again. She had felt... incomplete, without the familiar weight at her side. Here was the means to protect, with all the meager strength at her disposal. Weak as her divine powers were, her skill with the blade equalled any mortal master, and she would bring it to bear, against any who threatened her own. Though better still if it did not come to that.
Rieve and Tevan disappeared shortly thereafter, no doubt discussing her policy of human relations over the past century. Good. Rieve would be dealt with in due time, but it was better first that she hear her friend's heartfelt concern, which would hold far more sway over her passions than the admonitions of an impersonal judge.
By the time they returned, the place was almost livable. Better than resting outdoors, at the least. At the request for a fire, she happily obliged. There happened to be a leather-bound record book, a corked inkwell, and a quill at the bottom of the chest. Sitting on one of the blankets in front of the fire with her legs folded neatly under her and the book in her lap, she began drawing a rough map of the new Averus under the Usurpers, based on Tamakai's description. The Empire's grip is not so firm over the South, he said... Shall we start there?
Frowning, she bit her lip pensively. That gods relied on the worship of mortals for their power reflected the innate wisdom of the natural order. Lest they forsake the purpose of their strength and pursue selfish gain, they must earn the respect and trust of their people. However, it did prove to be an inconvenience, in times such as these. To ask for support now would be to ask ordinary people to risk their lives. Understandably, few would be willing, and how could they justify endangering those who were? Yet, it was they, the cardinal gods, who had the best interests of Averus at heart. Even as mere shadows of their former glory, they must find a way.
A chill passed over her, and she noticed the light had dimmed. Glancing up through the hole in the roof, she saw a dark cloud engulf the moon. "A storm is coming," she sighed. What a nuisance. "We should prepare ourselves." Being cold and wet was not conducive to clear thinking.
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