brontide (bron'•tīd) n. -- the low rumbling of distant thunder; the tide of a woman's anger
Pike seeks her out after the dragon retreats, the beast sly and slick and smooth in her stolen form. While the others plot and plan in lowered voices, she searches the castle. She knows it well now, feet familiar with the winding halls and white, worn stone after hours of aimless wanderings when sleep is distant and trouble too near. She puts her knowledge to use, tracks down her quarry, and she’s no hunter like Vex––too loud, mostly, she thinks with a wry smile––but she knows this castle, and she knows who she seeks, and she’s prepared to search the whole town if she needs to.
She doesn’t need to search the whole town. In fact, she barely needs to search the castle. Pike finds her within the hour, discovers her upon the parapets, skirts snapping in the wind and hair a like a banner, bright against the heavy grey clouds gathering in the distance. Keyleth’s a narrow thing, frail and sharp at the same time, and she stands upon the edge of the ramparts, poised as if to fall.
Or to leap, perhaps. Pike isn’t sure Keyleth herself knows.
Pike slips along the wall, silent save for the rustle of her clothing in the gathering wind and the tapping of her feet upon the stone. Keyleth does not turn to look as she approaches.
“Are you going to tell me to be patient?” she asks, sharp angle of her chin jutting out defiantly. “Are you going to tell me I’m being foolish?”
Pike steps up next to her, the vale of Whitestone laid out like a quilt far below: a patchwork of green with the smudged grey line of the sea barely visible far to the west, hidden behind the rough cut of the mountains. The wind that whips around them makes Pike think of the ocean, and she swears she can almost smell the sharp-salt odor carried on the crest of the gathering storm. She breathes it deep until it feels it catch in her lungs, ribcage full of lightning and sea air.
“No,” she says evenly, sigh like the breeze that fills sails, soft and steady. “I came to ask if you’re alright.”
Keyleth breathes deep, head canted back, and she looks untamed, hair a wild cloud around her face and the line of her neck the arc of a bow. Godlike, Pike might say, and it doesn’t feel like blasphemy; it feels right on her tongue, heavy and sure: she is a creature of storm and sea, unbound to the laws of man, and Pike might say it except she knows Keyleth would hate that more than she hates the threat before them.
And there is only so much hate a heart can hold, Pike knows. So she presses her lips together and listens to Keyleth.
“I want to kill her,” she says to the open sky, voice shaking. “I want her to know every ounce of pain she brought to my people and feel it ten times over. I want to see her burning and screaming and dead, I want her dead, I––”
She catches her breath and opens her eyes. Pike watches her tremble in rage, a storm caught within brittle bone and fragile skin, and waits.
Gods, but she’s beautiful.
“No,” Keyleth says. She looks down at Pike with red-rimmed eyes, “I don’t think I’m alright at all.”
Pike breathes, the sea caught in her lungs. “Sit with me,” she offers, and Keyleth only hesitates a moment before she sinks down, sharp limbs curling in on themselves, feet tucked beneath her. (Pike has seen few cranes in her life, but she thinks of them now, long limbs and awkward grace and a sort of solemnity that sits heavy on one’s shoulders. She wonders if Keyleth has taken their shape before, among the myriad animal forms she slips into. She wonders if it would be a good fit, or too similar. She knows how hard it is, to become something that is almost yourself but not.)
Pike lets her legs hang over the drop, castle blending into mountain and the green valley floor far below. The vertigo feels the shift of the ocean.
“I’m sorry,” Pike offers, gentle and true, and Keyleth pushes her wild hair out of her face.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says, mouth working around her words, trying to find the shape of them. Pike remembers months ago, when she fought for each and every one of them, and marvels at how smoothly they come now, and wonders how she missed this change. Or, perhaps it is another thing she has lost in being gone. “I don’t know what to do with this anger, this hate, I don’t–– I don’t know how to be what everyone needs.”
Pike has to smile at the irony of that, and the wide-eye horror of apology flashes across Keyleth’s face before she sees Pike’s grin and echoes it, smile small and still half-sorry.
“We won’t think any less of you for what you feel,” Pike reminds Keyleth. Pike, of course, could not think any less of Keyleth no matter what. But these things bear repeating, and she knows this family she has chosen and how rarely they remember to speak these sorts of truths, to each other and especially themselves. Pike accepted that particular task a long time ago. (Healing, as all good healers know, is not always bones and blood; often the deepest hurts are of the heart.)
“No, I know.” Keyleth says it in a voice that sounds more convincing than convinced, and that brings a smile back to Pike’s face. “But–– I know, I know she could help us, but I don’t trust her, not at all, and everyone else is–– I’m not being stupid. We know she’s dangerous. I just––” She trails off, seeking the right words. “Percy says this is part of leading, y’know. Breaking eggs to make omelets. I just, I don’t think this many broken eggs is gonna make any omelets. It’s just gonna leave us with a lot of broken eggs. Er, or something like that.” She rubs her thumb quick and anxious across her ring. Pike places a gentle hand over Keyleth’s own; her skin is sun-weathered and she stills beneath Pike’s touch.
“Keyleth,” says Pike, tamping down mirth. “Percy hasn’t ruled a day in his life.”
Keyleth stares, and a flicker of amusement flashes across her face, the sun behind stormclouds, and Pike’s heart swells to see it, to know she is still there, bright and warm beneath. Her amusement dims, though, as quickly as it arrives.
“But Raishan––” She takes a deep breath. “She’s dangerous. We can’t trust her.”
“I know,” Pike agrees readily. “And Percy might have lots of terrible thoughts about all of this, but you aren’t Percy, and you don’t have to be. You don’t have to be like Vax, or Vex, or anyone. You don’t have to be okay with this.”
“I want to kill her.”
“Then we’ll kill her,” Pike replies easily, and in the distance thunder sounds. The air smells electric, like rain and lightning. Keyleth’s hair snaps around her face as she stares at Pike, searching.
“But I thought Sarenrae–– She’s the goddess of healing, isn’t she? I mean, redemption?”
“Yes,” says Pike, calm and hard like iron. She feels the changing air pressure against her skin; it leaves her humming and ready, poised on the brink. “But not everyone deserves redemption. Some people––some things––need to be destroyed. We aren’t going to abandon you to fight your battles alone, Keyleth.”
“I–– But everyone––”
“Just because more people say it doesn’t mean it’s right,” Pike tells her. “I think that must be part of leading too. Standing up when other people won’t.”
Keyleth stares. “How are you so wise?”
“Oh, I’m not,” Pike laughs, a bright thing that catches in the air, dances around them and disappears with the last light of the sun as the clouds close in. “I’m no wiser than anyone else. Well, except maybe Vax.”
“Everyone’s wiser than Vax,” Keyleth says with a fond smile, and Pike grins back, and they are alone at the top of the world, and the wind rushes through the valley to meet them, and Pike’s blood is electric beneath the weight of Keyleth’s gaze. Keyleth catches her like a fly in amber, and she has to tear herself away, turn to stare at the storm.
“I think… Maybe you should talk to Grog,” she says. “I think he might have some good advice, about being angry.” It’s an old friend, Grog’s rage, one they have discovered and overcome together. If any of them can fully understand Keyleth’s anger, it will be him.
“I wish I could do what he does,” Keyleth says, half a sigh, and her words disappear into the distant rumble of thunder.
Pike replies, “I think we’d all like to be like Grog, sometimes.”
Keyleth laughs, rolling and bright as fire, and lightning flickers in the distance.
“We should probably go inside,” she says. “The storm’s coming.”
“Yeah,” says Pike, and she watches Keyleth unfold to stand tall and proud upon the edge of the world, and the the untamed surge of the sea-storm fills her chest. Goddess, she thinks, and Pike has always been a holy woman. “Looks like it is.”