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*****


Quinsareth leaned against the wall in the dim candlelight of a temple corridor, staring at the door across from him. Ossian's shield felt heavy on his arm, a sudden weight that had burdened his mind since the battle with Morgynn. Upon awakening in an abandoned home, he'd looked upon the face of the shield several times before finally entering the temple and finding his way to this door. Though she didn't know it, Elisandrya had told him the tale of the shield over and over in his mind, the legend of Ossian and his love. Zemaan's face, wavering when he'd found the shield in Jhareat's tower, had faded entirely during the battle. What remained was something for which he had no words or explanation. Taking a deep breath, he pushed away from the wall and knocked on the door. Elisandrya's sister, Dreslya, opened the door to look out at him. The legend of Ossian and Zemaan had brought him here, wounded and weary, but he was beginning to heal and hoped to sit with Elisandrya. "She's sleeping. She has been since, well, since it ended," she whispered through the crack in the door. She looked at him more closely and added, "I know you. You-"

"All the same, I would like to see her, briefly, then I'll be on my way." Dreslya deliberated a moment before answering. "I suppose no harm could come of it. I'll wait in the hall, but summon me if she stirs. I've begun to fear she'll never awaken." She opened the door and Quinsareth limped inside. "It's foolish worry, I know, but it is a sister's duty." "Quite so, and not so foolish at all," Quin replied.

Dreslya smiled at him. Peering into his eyes, studying his face, her smile faded. He couldn't place the expression she wore, only underlying recognition. Her eyes drifted to the sleeping Elisandrya and back to him. She smiled again, sadly, but nodded knowingly. "You are not what you think you are," she said, "but you'll figure it out one day. So will she." He'd heard rumors of her vision before the battle, of the actions she took. He could see no deception in her face, only subtle wisdom. No response came to him to answer her sudden statement, but it echoed within him, reaching places he rarely visited. Dreslya stepped into the hall and closed the door behind her, leaving Quin to look upon the resting Elisandrya. The moon's glow highlighted her face and hair as he approached and sat on the plain wooden chair by the bed, leaning his sword and shield against the wall. He could not describe what he felt for this strange woman he'd known for less than a day, but something had happened between them, in the shadowalk to Brookhollow, that he could not deny. A connection was made, somehow precipitated by shadows or gods, wild magic or whispered prayers. It seemed as though they'd been acquainted for years, so familiar her face was to him. Clearing his throat, he leaned forward to speak to her, though he knew she could not hear him. "I wish we might have met in some other time," he began, speaking softly. "Some other place or situation. My road rarely crosses with peace or the commonplace, so it is a fanciful wish, but it remains inside of me still. "I have a desire to stay here and wait for you, to discover what might become of us. I don't know, though, if that man exists in me." He paused, contemplating his words as if from a high precipice from which there would be no turning back. "That uncertainty gives me pause. "I am not the man they whisper about in the streets, this warrior out of a prophecy that endures in spite of its falseness. My contribution was incidental, a matter of habit, no different than what I always do. I did nothing out of purpose or goodwill for these people, though their tales in days to come may tell otherwise. You were the one who defied and stood, who fought for your home and a cause. I was just a sword, a footnote in your legend." He looked out the window, an emptiness settling in his stomach as thin clouds passed lazily across the moon. In their shadow, he rested his head in his hands, feeling his pulse pounding in his temples. That moment he'd left her bleeding as he pursued Morgynn into the temple had replayed itself a hundred times as he imagined himself sitting here with her.

He could still feel her hand on his cheek as he resolved what he must do. "I'm just a ghost, Elisandrya Loethe, passing through," he said, staring at the floor. Looking at her face, at her closed eyes, and listening to her soft breathing he added, "And you deserve more than that." He stood then, still watching her, and lifted his sword and shield from the floor. Turning away, he limped toward the door and stopped. Raising the shield before him, he contemplated the profile etched in the metal and turned back to lay it gently at her side.



EPILOGUE | Bloodwalk | *****