© August 2012
Hope’s face had blanched as Ten’s story unfolded, culminating in a single tear trickling down her cheek.
“That’s terrible,” she said softly. “Ten, I am so sorry she made you do that – such an evil act.”
“It was,” Ten replied. “But my point was that Charris herself was not evil.”
“Oh?” she prompted, brow raised. Seven’s amber eyes dimmed.
“It has been a debate among us since the beginning,” he admitted. “It might interest you to know that the child that died so that Exile could live had a disease. One that inevitably would have made her life short and death long and excruciating.”
“It was why she was selected,” Ten stated. Hope maintained her cool gaze at Seven.
“Are you saying what she did was not evil?”
“Not at all,” Seven replied. “I have long argued that the death of a child is never justified.”
“And I have argued that in death, the child allowed for a new life,” Eight interjected. “In a sense, that little girl was as much Exile’s mother as Charris was.”
Nine shifted but did not speak. But Hope’s eyes found her anyway. After a long moment, Nine grew uncomfortable.
“It is not my place,” she stated carefully, “to speak against my elders.”
“It is here,” Hope replied softly. “No reprimand will befall you – speak your mind.”
The burnt blue of Nine’s eyespark flared. She glared at Seven. “To hear you speak on good and evil, one would believe that no evil can be redeemed. And we both know this is not the case. And you,” Nine leveled her gaze at her brother. “Adding flowery words to an evil act does not justify it – it merely makes it sound more acceptable.”
“And what do you think?”
Hope’s question clearly caught Nine off her guard, but she composed herself quickly.
Her eyes burned as she cast her gaze on Twelve and then Ten in turn. “Unlike certain others who abstain their opinion, I believe that Charris did what was necessary – that the child was diseased did not factor into it.”
Seven’s amber eyes smoldered. “She did not need to choose one so young!”
“She needed a young soul or the transference would have been rejected,” Nine returned, calmly though her burnt blue eyes burned all the more brightly.
“She did not need to terrify her so!” Seven snarled.
“She needed to be certain the spirit lingered long enough for her to take hold of it, and fear is the only sure way to do that, we have been through this a thousand times! I have studied Charris’ notes-”
“Enough!” Ten’s deep voice was not loud, per se, but the authoritative tone brooked no dissent. Being the youngest of the three, he had no such authority, but they listened anyhow.
“You have a story to tell,” Hope said to Nine. “But for now, we are speaking of the Exile. As she is not present to speak for herself, are there any that knew her mind?”
Four pairs of burning eyes, amber, silver, burnt blue, and gold fixed on the violet eyespark of Boneguard Twelve.
“I suppose I knew her the best,” Twelve admitted. “That does not mean I know her mind.”
“What was she to you?” Hope posed gently.
“We had a unique bond, a connectivity that the others did not.”
“You were in love.” It was a simple statement that carried great weight. Twelve hesitated.
“Perhaps. I have read a great deal on the subject, and while our relationship defied the precepts of gender and lacked the visceral need to procreate, I would define it as love.” She paused, seeming to gather herself. “Yes. We were in love.”
Hope simply lofted a brow. Twelve shifted. “What I have learned on the subject is simply academic, but love is a multi-faceted word. It transcends gender and race and occasionally species though to a lesser extent. I say that because we Boneguard lack gender. Certainly our unique personalities identify as one or the other but we are made of metal, wood, stone, and magic, we are without the anatomical characteristics that define ‘male and female’. As such, we lack the urge and frankly the capability to procreate. Therefore, I am forced to define love as the melding of two spirits, and while the act of love celebrates that, it is not strictly necessary to the state of being in love.”
Twelve turned to Seven. “What Exile never told you was that she insisted on seeing her birth parents several days after her Awakening. Charris expressed the appropriate concern – but did not forbay her.”
1001 years previous…
“Elven, I beg you to reconsider,” Charris rested her hand on the plating that comprised Exile’s shoulder. “This will be difficult… for all of you.”
“Nonsense,” Exile retorted, moving through the crowded plaza, ignoring the stares that she and Charris drew in equal measure. It was market day in the small village and it seemed every farmer, merchant, and craftsman for miles around. Exile drew stares of fear and mistrust, but Charris by virtue of her stunning beauty. “They are my mommy and daddy. They will love me anyway.”
Charris’ face did not exactly darken, but her face changed subtly. “Humans do not whether change well,” she said softly. “Your parents gave you to me because you were sick and I offered you a chance at a future.”
Exile was not truly listening. As they passed a patch of trees, four children dashed into the street in front of them.
“I know them! They are my friends!” Exile exclaimed. “Jocen! Marcoux! Hellow!”
The children turned at their names, but then Jocen, the youngest, screamed at Exile’s visage and fled. The other three, looking just as terrified, ran after. Exile’s crimson gaze flickered erratically.
“They are afraid of me,” she murmured, touching her faceplate. She turned to Charris. “Am I a monster?”
Charris shook her head. “You are unique,” she stated. “Sometimes people forget that one is not the other.”
Exile hesitated, as if deciding something.
“No,” she said, more to herself than to Charris. “They will want me.”
Charris simply followed behind, unconvinced.
Exile found her parents’ shop without difficulty. It was small, out of the way, and boasted blue shutters. Through the windows, motion indicated the shop was occupied and bustling.
“I should go in alone,” Exile said. “Mommy and Daddy do not trust magickers.” Charris pursed her lips.
“I don’t know if that is wise.”
“It will be fine,” Exile insisted. Charris crossed her arms over her perfect bosom.
“Fine,” she said. “But I am coming in at the first sign of difficulty.”
Exile turned and walked toward the shop. The door opened as she reached for the handle. A woman, on the young side of middle age, stood there, staring at the construction before her, decorated with a skull-shaped faceplate, and bone motif, seeming for all the world to be reaching for her.
She screamed. She recoiled back, slamming the door.
“Mommy!” Exile exclaimed, bursting through the door after her. Charris cried her name, but it was drowned out by her mother’s screaming.
Charris darted in after her in time to see Exile’s father, a huge brutal man with small squinty eyes and a pig nose pull a chair leg that served as a club from under the counter and brandish it at the creature in his shop.
“Stand back monster!” he yelled, in a somewhat higher pitch than could be considered manful.
“But… Daddy, it is me!” Exile exclaimed in a voice that should have been small and vulnerable, but sounded more menacing coming from the necromantic-themed creature.
“My daughter is dead!” he shouted. “And how dare you even think to pretend to be her! She was a sweet innocent child while you are a horrific monster from the depths and if you come one step further into my shop, I will send you back from whence you came!”
It would have been a fairly impressive speech if the acrid stench of urine did not assail Charris’ nostrils and she stepped into the shop. Exile, for her part, wailed in anguish and fled the shop. Her father, startled by the sudden keening from the monster in his shop, flung the club letting out a distinctly girlish squeal. The hunk of wood bounced off of Exile’s metal-bound back and deflected directly into Charris’ nose.
An audible crack issued from the enchantress’ face. Exile disappeared out the door. Everyone in the room froze.
Charris touched her nose and rubbed the blood between her fingers. Slowly, the crooked bent straightened and the blood ceased to flow, but even as they did so, Charris’ eyes burned with malevolence and rage.
“How… DARE you.”
She whirled on her heel and stalked after Exile.
Exile knelt at the city square in the middle of a semi-circle of an enraged mob of villagers, her back to the giant willow tree that grew there.
“Die vile creature!” someone screamed.
“Destroy the monster!” someone else bellowed. The mob roared its approval as Exile pleaded with them.
“Please! It is me! You know my parents!” the crimson of her eyespark flickered rapidly as she begged.
“Destroy the monster! Destroy! Destroy!” the crowd began to chant.
“No!” Exile cried out, but could not weep. She was not equipped.
Everything stopped: Everyone froze in place, some of them mid-scream. Exile glanced around to see Charris walking toward her.
“You made me into a monster!” Exile screamed. Charris set her jaw.
“I gave you a less breakable form,” she said calmly. “It is not how you look that makes you a monster, but how you act. Now, Eleven,” she paused. “Are you a monster?”
Exile stared at her for a long moment.
Twelve stopped her narrative. She had settled to her knees before Hope as the young woman sat on the altar. Hope waited a moment but soon realized that Twelve was not going to continue.
“What happened then?” she asked. Twelve stood.
“I do not know. Exile never finished telling me that story,” she murmured. She turned and rejoined the others. Ten did not step forward, but he spoke.
“Around that time, there were reports that the village had burned to the ground. There were no survivors.”
Hope looked to Seven.
“And you never knew of this?” she inquired. Seven shook his head.
“I knew of the tale that Ten told,” he admitted. “But Exile and I never got on.”
“She hated you,” Nine stated simply. Seven nodded.
“She hated me.”
“Why did she hate you?” Hope prodded.
“We had very different views on faith,” Seven said, but Nine shook her head emphatically.
“She hated you because of what you meant to Twelve,” she insisted. “And she never forgave you for what you did.”
Seven leveled his gaze on Nine, but his voice was soft when he spoke. “I did nothing that did not need to be done. And it is a story I am not interested in repeating at this time.”
“But it needs to be told,” Nine returned. “Hope has a right to know. You said so yourself.”
Seven opened his mouth, but before he could speak, a low whistle filled the room with sound. The Boneguard all looked in the direction of the Tomb’s entrance, while Hope glanced around.
“What is it?”
“Someone has approached the mouth of the Tomb,” Seven replied. “We have visitors.”