"...So. That's the idea."
The Avatar was, as always, excessively terse. Dupre rarely heard her say four words together. He had asked her about that once, and she had replied that the less she talked, the more others did, and she just supplied a word every now and then to keep them going.
Only she had been less verbose than that, of course.
"M'lady..." Dupre coughed politely. "You wish for me to remain here all night? And proceed meekly to the trial with the guards in the morning?" He hoped his disapproval with the plan was audible, but she nodded in agreement.
"Yes. Now - we have to go. I'll be back, dear friend." She melted back into the darkness. A few bumps and muffled curses indicated that Iolo had accompanied her, and was not finding his way around as well.
It had been too much to hope she would have elaborated a little. Dupre was not a man used to inaction. Valor, Honor, Justice; these were Virtues of action, for him, and those Virtues fit him like a well-crafted gauntlet. If attacking a dragon, or planning a troop movement in battle, or swimming across a raging river with a wounded comrade in tow, were the need, he would not hesitate for one moment. But this inaction sat ill with him, and he paced restlessly in the dark cell.
Once the Fawnish guards had tired of their attempts to provoke him, and had settled into a game of dice, he had used their flickering candlelight to investigate his room. He had found it well-constructed, the mortar strong, the strange white bricks solid. The only air came from the sturdy metal door, its lock well-made and thick. No, there would be no conventional escape from this cell. Yet - the Avatar had found her way in, and Shamino as well; both were excellent at opening doors that did not want to open.
She had told him to sit, and wait.
Dupre sat. He stared up at the dark, unlit ceiling, his mind far from rest. He had been judged by a city that worshipped beauty. What kind of a Virtue was that? Beauty was callously distributed with no consideration of merit; the fairest colleen could hide the most evil heart, while the pock-marked wench with the scraggly hair could have a generous and brave spirit. What judge was beauty? And the beauty they had here, the beauty of Lady Yelinda - the beauty of an intricate facade on a rickety building. A whole city worshipping such a hollow mockery of a virtue.
The train of thought could not lead anywhere but to the Fellowship.
It was hard for him to put into words what exactly bothered him so excessively about the Fellowship. Or, rather, had bothered him even before he knew of its nefarious purpose. After all, many common Britannians had followed its simplistic dogma, and they were not intentionally acting in the interests of the Guardian.
Yet, he could not feel charitable towards them.
The Virtues were to be striven for. They did not come easily, and one could never be perfect in them; that was their joy. No human could claim to master them, so none could oppress another with their own perfect understanding. They could be striven for in any setting. A lord could work to be more compassionate and just over his hold; yet still, a man could apply those same virtues to his household, or a child to his playmates.
The dogma of the Fellowship - it was so trite, so simple, and so belittling. Strive for unity - yet with no thought as to the purpose of that unity, or to the intentions of your fellows. Trust thy brother - whether he had shown that he deserved that trust or did not. And Worthiness Precedes Reward. This made Dupre twitch. Yes, as if the only reason to strive to be virtuous is to receive reward - like a dog begging for a table scrap, or a child given a sweet for cleaning her room.
Dupre let a long, quiet sigh melt into the cool, damp dungeon air. He had found little time to stop and think about the Fellowship, the Guardian, and all that had happened in the last few months. Now that he was forced to sit and ponder, his mind made its way inexorably to the Gargoyles.
A proud race, a stubborn race, a strong race, a race with little need for many of the frivolities of humans. He had fought against them, trained them, and fought side-by-side with them, and had been impressed by their fierce bravery and their staunch purposefulness.
And yet they, too, had fallen to this Fellowship virus. Their proud race had been bent by its petty dogma. He realized, now, that something within him had howled in protest when he first saw the mincing Quan, swimming in naivete, refusing to believe the proof right in front of him because - yes, because he Trusted His Brother, rather than being Honest.
That same howling part of himself fell into shocked silence when he saw the Fellowship medallion on the Avatar's breast.
Yes, now he could see why that had been necessary. But some part of him had trouble letting go of that image. If the Gargoyles could fall, could not the Avatar? She was, after all - as Dupre had, after so many adventures, come to know - only human. A particularly driven human, but no less so than Dupre himself. And if the Avatar fell, what then? Would this Fellowship virus of pettiness spread over the land, reducing the races to inanity?
Even though that had not happend, he had been startled to note that it was beginning to take hold in the Serpent Isle.
Well, although he refused to blindly trust, he could make himself trust the Avatar, for now - she had shown herself, again and again, to be deserving of it.
Dupre closed his eyes and lay back on the damp pallet, but sleep refused to come.
It would not, after all, suit Dupre to let the world's fate balance on a straw, no matter who had drawn it.
There would be no Reward for his Worthiness, just fiery agony followed by an eternity chained to the spirit of Chaos.
There was no Beauty in this, and nothing that a knight of Monitor would recognize as valor - since he could not brag of such an exploit later over a mug of ale. The self-serving mages of Moonshade would not dream of such an act.
No, this was an act that only Dupre could do. A man known best for his valor and honor - but his one final act, his moment of bare honesty, showed that his devotion to compassion, to truth, to justice, humility, and yes, yes, sacrifice, were no less.
The Avatar - known by another name in her world, a quieter name that raised no eyebrows - sighed, and sat back in her chair, staring at the stubbornly empty screen. Trying to put this all into words - it was impossible. It descended into trite cliche.
After the world of Pagan, she thought she would have time back in the peacfulness of Earth to think, to process, to go through these conflicting emotions within herself. But time weighed heavily, and epiphanies were not forthcoming.
Enough for one evening. Tossing the empty soda can into the trash, she shut the computer down and headed upstairs to sleep, a respite that did not come easily. She had become sensitive to the noises of the creatures of other worlds than this, and the simple chirping of crickets sounds sinister when you become unused to it.
Her dreams were disturbed and chaotic. Chaotic, indeed, with sinuous turns and a flickering sense of taste, catching on cool scales, tumbling in thick coils through an unimaginable void.
Yet, somewhere, within the chaos, could she sense a presence? Not quite a voice, but a feeling, a sturdiness, a presence - a companion, one long-lost, long-missed, sensing across unknowable distance and time...
To wake her, with a desperate plea.
'Til human voices wake us, and we drown...