It was remarkable how fast moods could change amongst people beforehand destabilized by a long sequence of misfortune and ill happenings. On one moment, Aemoten had been down on his one knee, his expression as he looked at Jaelnec and Thaler seemingly blankly neutral. His mind, meanwhile, had frantically tried to prioritize one thing above another given that he was suddenly faced with at least three separate, but yet tightly intertwined issues at once. And at the same time, in some bizarre manner, he had been feeling physically numb at the Daywalker's words despite being just as aware of each and every sensation as always, if not sensing everything even more keenly than ordinarily. At that moment, it had seemed that Jaelnec was too deep in his thoughts to pay much mind to what was happening and Thaler had been seemingly equally distraught by the news and disoriented by her recent sleep.
During the transitional phase between that moment and the next, the Sekalyn had opted to briefly neglect dealing with Jillian and focused the bulk of his attention on Thaler. His head had given the muscles in the rest of his body the order to move, and his muscles had complied, starting to bring him into a full standing position, supposedly also letting him sidestep and perform a sidestep and a quarter-turn simultaneously, in one fluid motion...
And then, Jillian had uttered her fateful words, completely devoid of compassion or understanding, or even basic comprehension of even the most primitive rules of agreeable communication. One would have expected that her alleged mid- to high-class upbringing had taught her social awareness, at least through etiquette if not otherwise, but either it was not the case or she deemed it acceptable to entirely drop manners in this company. It was evident without asking that she felt no true regret at the former Cleric of Hazzergash's death, and by this point he would not even have expected more humanly feelings from the witch. ...But Kreshtaat take it, could she not, at the very least, remain silent when it was appropriate?!
Albeit the red-haired woman's words were quiet, Aemoten had heard what she said clearly, his intention of getting up momentarily halted, but delayed for no more than a split-second. For the briefest of moments, he had also dared hope that Thaler and Jaelnec had been too preoccupied to pay attention to something muttered quietly under one's breath by someone they were not explicitly talking with, if it was even loud enough for either of them to properly decipher the content, but that hope was quickly extinguished.
At the witch's unbefitted comment at Brand's untimely death, Thaler's fingers suddenly clenched around his shoulder, with a surprising strength for someone of her build and current physical condition. Had the foreign warrior's shoulder not been protected by the winter-coat he had earlier loosely thrown over his shoulders, it would not only have been mildly painful, but her fingers would probably have left clearly visible marks on his skin.
“Speak well of the dead," the Daywalker hissed beneath her breath. She uttered more, an uncannily joyful warning - or urging? - for the witch to leave, but Aemoten paid little attention to it above noting its general message. Thaler had let go of him, and looked quite ready to throw herself at Jillian, regardless of her illness and complete lack of weapons besides her own nails and teeth.
It remained unseen what would have happened if things had been left to progress on their own, for he had already moved, much as he had originally planned, though for entirely different reasons - stood, and and caught the blind woman's hands in one of his own, and set his remaining hand on her opposite shoulder. The Daywalker was shaking, strongly, though he did not know whether from irritation, the effort to overcome her sickness or something else, and if if it was because she was irritated, he did not know whether it was more at Jillian for having spoken up or at him for stopping her from clawing the sorceress' eyes out. Some part of him thoroughly expected the Daywalker to try and make an attempt to tear herself free of him - not that he would have dared let go of her now.
It was surprising that when his spoke, his voice was still full of conviction and undisturbed by his own emotions, the words coming out only slightly faster than his speech would have normally been; the mild trembling of his hands the Daywalker probably did not notice, not over the shaking of her own body. She did not try to remove him from herself, for some reason instead lightly gripping his back once he had let go of her hands. Instinctually? He was the only thing which was within her easy reach.
The dread which had earlier given the impression of something physically coiling around his body to stop him from breathing - but not truly restricting anything - was still present, even stronger than before, though he wasn't even certain what precisely he was afraid of, or if he was afraid at all. This pre-existing and developing feeling had furthermore mingled with anger, oddly cold and controlled - by what part of him? old habits reawakened, bare training? - and never acted upon. Neither of those feelings was a good one, or one that agreed with a rational mind and good decisions. Right now, it felt as if the dread dominated. There was furthermore no telling whether the odd, heavy feeling in the lower center of his chest he also felt had anything to do with dread or ire or not.
A part of him wanted to act, do anything, but he remained mostly inert in spite of that urge, and everything.
Thaler merely shook her head when he mentioned that Hazzergash was the main perpetrator behind Brand's death and the one to be blamed for it. Her next words were at the Code of the Will having clear instructions - though that was Jaelnec's order, and the Daywalker was not truly a member of it - on what she must do with demons.
Demons? a part of the foreign warrior's mind repeated dully. No, the Daywalker was not one who should fight demons, here and now... Not Hazzergash, not others, not even Usha, though she was only three quarters of one. At least not unprepared, and not alone, and even less in her current state. "Jaelnec is too good and too kind to do what needs to be done, but I don't mind," the Daywalker then said, patiently and softly as if it had been him who had lost control of himself, and not the other way around. He continually did not know what part of him specifically controlled his body, but he looked completely neutral at this point, only his heartbeat and breathing quickened and muscles more tense than was usual.
Jaelnec would gladly have ripped out your throat with his teeth had that monster only asked him nicely two days ago, without the slightest bit of hesitation... the deeply unpleasant train of thought made its return, dragging its ugly self out from whichever recess of his mind it had been hiding itself in.
Only now when this uncannily persistent and equally undesirable reoccurring line of thought resurfaced did it become apparent that it had, for a time, been absent, despite the topic presenting itself when Jaelnec came to relay them the news of Brand's death. Then, Aemoten realized, he had been simply worried about the other, and nothing more. Only when Thaler decided to phrase her message in this particular way did he recall his own earlier thoughts, and the fact that ... had Natyr not intervened at the right moment, Jaelnec would probably have killed him for now, and then everyone else present but the True Child herself. Thaler included.
It took a few moments for Aemoten to realize that this time, Thaler was not speaking of Hazzergash or Usha, but it was Jillian who she called a demon.
And Jillian was no demon, but just a human. Technically speaking, she most likely did not even act driven by some exaggeratedly evil agenda. She had simply tried to compensate for her lacks with the fairly empty objective of gaining additional blunt power, but that was all. Even if she appeared to lack some basic human feelings, she had probably been born this way rather than voluntarily cast such parts of her aside. By now the outlander also had a strong suspicion that the witch would not improve herself, like he had briefly hoped she might. She would continue her way, and she would fall quickly. And maybe make a few others fall with her.
But what could one do against lacking a piece of one's soul, the one reserved for feeling gratefulness or empathy? If there were the soulless, people lacking a much smaller fraction of their expected nature surely couldn't be an impossibility. And I said I'll let her live, let her have one last chance, simply because she has not committed any preplanned, intentional crimes. She does not feel regret when she should, but she hasn't made sure that death is the only thing she should ever be warranted, either. A last chance is just that - a last chance, and all I granted her. Although...
...and may only those who regret retain their weapons.
- That was what the closest thing to a Code he had said, and it would have been a hard task to find an example that this line could be applied to more accurately than Jillian. The Ienaphyoram essentially stated that the right thing to do with Jillian would be to remove her weapons from her, for her absent remorse. She was however a mage, and thusly removing her weapons was mostly beyond his capabilities - unless she was killed or taken to Zerul, to be submitted for the very fate she so and honestly feared - to be made into a Sniffer.
Sniffers were furthermore very keenly in touch with others' feelings, so in the end, Jillian would learn to feel for others in a way she intuitively had never been able to - a near-sociopath effectively turned into an empath, if against her own will. Two things dealt with at once - her careless use of destructive magic and her inability to have feelings when a normal person would. It was hard to come up with a more fitting punishment she could be subjected to. Furthermore, these were not even new thoughts, but old ones which Thaler's words made resurface. He had already reached this conclusion when Jillian first mentioned her fear of Sniffers.
- It was, however, all an unrelated and mostly irrelevant bit of speculation. They would not be dragging her along, even less under a false premise. She would be on her own way unless she did something especially stupid which would prompt them to attack her in retaliation and thusly justified the killing of her after he had told her she would have a last chance. If it was his doing, they would part on relatively peaceful terms, and as quickly as possible.
When he spoke to the Daywalker, however, it had nothing to do with what fate would be the right one for the inept and incompassionate sorceress.
Thaler's one hand had dropped from his back, and now her fingers were grasping the hilt of his sword - the sword, the great blade, and not one of the daggers. It was practically impossible that the Daywalker would have managed to draw it, not with such an unnatural angle and in her current state. Besides, the thing weighed about eighteen pounds, so even if she somehow managed to get it into her hands, it would have been extremely unlikely she would have been capable of swinging it, or at the very least she would not have been fast enough for anyone to be caught in the blade's trajectory.
The marks from her tears had still been on her face at that moment; the Daywalker had as if frozen when he lifted his hand to her face to wipe her tears away. By now, the outlander's almost-blank expression had been replaced by a hard one and all visible traces of any kind of inner turmoil - which had never been there to begin with - were completely absent from his visage.
It seemed as though the Daywalker's confidence had been wiped away along with the wet trails on her face. Once more, the thin woman was trembling; her speech was no longer either unfittingly joyous or strangely calm and reassuring, but rather she was quiet and, if he was not mistaken, also scared. Once more she compared Jillian to a devil, but now it was accompanied by the simple desire for her to leave.
Yes, she is a human. Just a human... thought the foreign warrior. A short and painful stab went through his heart, but he ignored it once more. It was not physical. I want to leave, too. The impact it all had on Thaler was probably more a factor in it than his own feelings. Death of a stranger, or many strangers in itself affected him probably significantly less than it did her.
He did not answer the Daywalker - not directly; he merely attempted to calm her down, and convince her to remain quiet.
Small children were never afraid of death, or the dead. A small child might easily reach out a hand to touch a dead person, and then ask why the one does not react, no more than simply curious. The acute apprehension and fear of death came later, if it came - most of it was taught, and firsthand it required one to comprehend what death represented while at the same time being kept from facing it.
- Aemoten did not recall a time where he himself had been afraid of death or the dead or felt aversion of either - and he had seen plenty of death even before he even learned to speak, let along afterwards when he was already a warrior himself. No one had kept the children separate from those scenes left after battles, or the sight of the severely wounded - it would simply not have been possible.
When he had been very young, he had not understood what death was ... when he had grown older, he had started to feel grief because he had gotten to know what death meant. But, the sight of a dead body or death did not shock him or fill him with unnatural fear. Most Sekalyns were the same way, including those who had not had to grow up amidst war. It was probably because their entire view on death differed from that of the northerners - if one grew up knowing that death was something that simply occurred, not something inherently scary and unknown, one typically became to believe it.
In the end, Aemoten only felt sadness at death, and sensed the disturbing smell of death where its presence was heavy. Otherwise, he was not uncomfortable with it.
- The Sekalyns were also people who only valued innocence as long as it meant not having committed any crimes. They did not even acknowledge purity as a concept in itself wherein it stood for not having seen the worst of life. Those things which the northerners tended to occasionally set apart as such, especially in the realm of pure knowledge, the Sekalyns typically called inexperience and ignorance instead - both of which were extremely undesirable and downright damaging to any individual. It was better if one lived one's life without ever having to suffer deeply, but it never did anyone any good to not know that suffering as such existed - lest they be unprepared should they ever come to actually face it.
And, it seemed that they were right in this philosophy - people coped better when they knew how things were. If one desired to protect someone, one first taught the subject to fight, not vowed to shield the subject from everything with one's own body. If one took into one's mind to shield another from everything, one not protected the other, but made the other dependent on oneself. And if the one fell, the dependent subject was destined to suffer even more severely from the would-be protector's ill-placed charity. If the subject had been taught to fight, however, the protector's fall would not be as devastating. Furthermore, people typically fought better side-by-side, and the would-be victim who had initially seemed to need protection could in the end even turn out to become the eventual savior of the original protector.
“He's not okay,” Thaler unexpectedly whispered, barely audibly even to him. At least this time, Aemoten had no doubts over whom the blind woman was referring to. The hard gaze of his eyes did not shift from Jillian, but in his peripheral vision the foreign warrior could see the younger Nightwalker clearly enough.
'Okay' had not been the correct term to use when the squire came to inform them of Brand's death, and it would probably not have been correct to claim that he was okay now. It was however evident that Jaelnec was currently not in a deep shock - either the initial assumption had been an incorrect one or the young Nightwalker had regained his composure surprisingly quickly.
One could almost say that the boy was as if mimicking the older warrior - Aemoten himself had briefly been visually neutrally devoid of emotions, then once again the impression he gave was that of impenetrability, whereas Jaelnec had first seemed to be in shock, and now his gaze was dark and brooding. At the same time, dark and brooding was something that Aemoten was not, the same as he had suffered from momentary indecisiveness, and not from shock, and even the indecisiveness had been invisible but for the half-a-second thinking-pause.
Frankly, the Sekalyn liked the current impression the young Nightwalker gave off even less than he had his previous one, especially now that he had - again - been unintentionally reminded of the squire's former betrayal against him. It almost felt as if the squire was mentally daring the sorceress to do something stupid that would justify cutting her down where she stood, just so that he would have an opportunity to do just that with a semi-valid reason. The outlander was not furthermore too certain that Jaelnec would obey him if he gave an order; he was not at all certain what the young Nightwalker would do. And that added an entire other layer of how things could go terribly awry...
"And that is another reason why you should try to calm down above everything else," he in the end opted to tell the Daywalker in a quiet whisper, briefly lowering his head to the Daywalker's ear. It was pointless to deny that not everything was as it should, and he had the feeling he would not manage dealing with all three. Simply. Physically. If at least one of them stayed rational through it all... "More not thought-out words and actions - from any of the people here - aren't bound to help anyone now. Once the witch has left, then - when it would be just us here yet again, but not before. I'll try to make it as quick as I can; the quicker we'd get everything done and this place left behind, the better. Until the witch is gone, please, just try to calm down... Okay?"
It seemed that she was trying to take his advice to the best of her capabilities, never mind that she had never learned the kind of self-control he possessed, nor was she naturally predisposed to mastering it easily. But she was trying. And, if people were still trying, there still was hope. Apathy ensured loss just as certainly as the utter lack of skill and prowess. As long as there was just one person left - Etakar, who was digging a grave and sending wary glances in their direction, did not count - besides him who still had the will to try... If there was just one person besides him who was still trying... Still cared about others, and still tried, illness or no illness, despite the past days...
The foreign man's unreadable exterior broke as much as to allow him - it seemed - sigh lightly. He felt strange, internally. It was an almost heavy feeling, but it had nothing to do with the dread. Sadness? It was not precisely grief, either, at least not in the usual sense of the word. There was not an accurate word to describe it, or if there was, he did not find it.
Not even truly knowing why - though the desire to help Thaler calm down or try to reassure her somehow was a part of it-, he took half a step closer to the Daywalker, setting an arm around her and carefully running the fingers of his other hand through the woman's hair. All even as his face bore the same unreadable expression it had had for a time now, and the look in his eyes was hard and piercing.
"If you are incapable of seeing the wrong in your thoughts, at least learn to remain silent during the times it is appropriate," he informed the witch. Bluntly, without much discernible feeling. Some detached part of him was still angry, even if this time around it had not even flickered into his gaze; neither had any visual part of him been touched by signs of any kind of fear.
And, why had he mentioned Gerald? Of course, he had forgotten what he had forgotten meant to say before he had spoken up, and he was no more successful at recalling what he had actually planned to voice now. That part of his memory had been wiped out somewhere between the news of Brand's death, Thaler's reaction to it and everything else. In fact, this part of his mind that had been formerly dedicated to it was curiously completely empty and unresponsive. Deep down, some part of him had began to borderline desire the quick departure of the witch. The rest had become indifferent.
"Necromancer and arcanist, as far as I know," he opted to elaborate in the end, his tone strictly neutral. If he already began to speak of the warlock... "One who refuses to use that art of his to raise the dead, before you ask, however I'd say we saw enough of his magic to not doubt his proficiency." I more so than the rest. "Also a not too patient fellow when it comes to others and their manners, though one who might also agree on sacrifices in the name of greater good, or self-preservation." Had seemed to value logic and deductive skills; not probable to turn against one's companions, but rather likely to leave them on their own to save himself and his research - the latter thesis had found confirmation. "It was two days ago that we parted ways - he headed into the Anaxim Forest in order to find out why the people there have, in cases, recovered from the Withering. Chances are he might still be there. If you are going to follow him into the forest, however, take note that Olan's warning is not without a cause - unless I'm mistaken, the trees there might be of the kind which are more aware than the usual ones - the Anaxim Forest might be a Living Wood, if you've read about those. Irritate or harm the forest somehow, and you might find yourself waking up to a root wrapping around your neck and snapping it."
Great wars gave rise to those - and those between the Sekalyns and their neighboring peoples had been no exception. Perhaps Anaxim had once been a site to some such massacre or several the same. From what he had heard of the country's past, it probably was.
Aemoten had only vaguely registered Olan's movement in the background, but his announcement did not come as an utter surprise to him because of the subconscious awareness. He had simply not paid conscious attention to what the older Nightwalker was doing, however he had nevertheless known that the other was there, and hence Olan's abrupt announcement did not startle him the least, even less visibly.
"Thank you," the Sekalyn noted, in a tone which oddly enough felt almost relieved in addition to being more conversational than the one he had been using with Jillian. And indeed, he was grateful, probably disproportionately so. Olan seemed to still be his usual self, no sicker than he had been before, and he had also managed to do something which was at once necessary and which he himself would not have had enough resource to manage when he was already dealing with three. In truth, he had not even had time to think of it after he had first assigned the task to Jaelnec...
There was a short pause between the older Nightwalker's question and Aemoten's reply.
"And yes, we are leaving soon. As soon as is possible," he confirmed in a notably heavier tone, briefly glancing down at Thaler. Should the Six-Eyed God have mercy.