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You Are My Way

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Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs and one head. But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited. Because they each shared the same soul. And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul. - Gabrielle.

"What is this godforsaken place?" the young squire grumbled, stumbling down the narrow, rocky path.

"Do you think it wise to use the Lord's name in vain on a pilgrimage?" an older squire walking in front of him loudly retorted, "You insolent little sop." he added in a mumble under his breath.

The thin and slightly worn line of travelers warily snaked its way down out of the hills. The surroundings were uninviting, rocky with sparse brush. The horses and carts kicked up dust all around them and the sun beat down on them relentlessly. It was nothing like the desert oases described in the stories they heard. They all quietly prayed to finally reach their destination safely.

A sudden growing rumbling of hooves coming from over one of the hills told them that this time their prayers would remain unanswered. The group of pilgrims stopped their caravan and turned to watch the ominous, thundering dust cloud approach. A group of marauders swept down the hills, yelling and swinging their swords that flashed in the hot sun. To the exhausted and foreign pilgrims they looked like mad demons who came straight down from the dark storm clouds gathering and swiftly advancing on the horizon. They had heard the stories of marauders attacking, robbing travelers of everything and murdering everyone if they so choose.

These pilgrims ignorantly traveled without any real escort, but it didn't matter to Karas for whom the spoils were more important then the honor of the fight. As the marauders closed in, the pilgrim women huddled into a circle as far from the attackers as they could while the armed men readied themselves. At first, the bandits simply circled the group, whooping and brandishing their swords, knowing very well that the fact the travelers had weapons didn't mean they knew how to use them.

"Well, let's get the heathens!" the young, grumbling squire foolishly cried, drawing his sword and letting desert hell break loose.

To Eden it didn't matter anymore. More fighting, more killing; it was all just more waste. She didn't rush in like the rest of the band with a charge of vicious energy. Instead, she dismounted her horse and walked up towards all the mayhem. One of the women in the party, dressed in a green dress with a bag slung across her chest, noticed Eden on the horizon, a different and darker marauder from the rest of the band and she was strangely awestruck for the figure was almost an evil sight to behold.

The heat rose from the ground and the dark bandit came forth like a nightmarish mirage being molded into a reality. The garments were all black from the boots to the turban, the loose material flapping in the desert breeze and making the marauder look even more demonic. Black, leather scaled armor was all the armor worn and from a thick, black belt hung a broadsword. The silver hilt was the only color other than black, except for the eyes of the marauder that watched with a gaze that seemed to pierce anything it touched. The angry fluttering of the black material covering the rest of the face only made the gaze more bone chilling.

The woman noticed the black bandit approaching with such calm that it was beyond simple determination; she was approaching with the emptiness of lack of purpose and the woman could almost feel her hollowness, it was so vast and loud. The woman in green looked on in startled fascination as Eden slowly unsheathed her sword in a manner that brought a chill up the spine. She walked almost straight into the middle of the battle without the slightest disturbance. Suddenly, the young squire who had started the whole frenzy jumped in front of the black bandit, pointing his sword at her menacingly. She barely acknowledged his existence. He continued to swing his sword around, trying to provoke the black marauder into a fight.

"Come on, heathen. Taste my Frankish sword." he taunted.

"Really?" Eden muttered and raised one eyebrow, sighing loudly.

She took her sword and struck it into the sand. The young squire knotted his brows in surprised confusion and looked at the black bandit with uncertainty. An evil look slid across her face and she outstretched her hand in front of her and then beckoned him to come at her. Yet he stood in place, unable to read the bandit's intentions.

"Come on now, you're not afraid of a...woman, now are you?" she sneered with an evil calm.

His eyes grew wide and then he grit his teeth and charged at her, yelling wildly. She showed no emotion, there was no crack in her cold and calm demeanor as she watched him hurl forward and at the last moment, she took a step sideways and elbowed him in the temple so hard that he flew to the side, dropping his sword. He landed on the ground with a large, heavy thud and before he could gather his wits, her boot was on his throat and his sword was pointed in his face.

"Well, that was...challenging." she mocked and the squire began to struggle in anger.

"Ah, ah, ah," she said, waving one finger in disapproval and putting more force on his neck, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. But then again, fortunately I'm not you." she teased.

In a quick motion, she pulled out her dagger with her free hand, lifted her boot off the man's neck and knelt next to him, putting the dagger at the side of his neck and the sword under his chin.

"Now tell me, oh brave and gallant warrior, what should I do with you, hm?" she hissed into his face. "Kill you now or let you go and kill you later?"

The squire's foolish bravado disappeared when he felt the blade tips on his skin. He began to tremble, looking into the steely gaze of the midnight phantom.

"You, you're the Black Watcher, aren't you? Please, please don't kill me." he begged.

"Oh, the pleading type, my favorite." she said, rolling her eyes.

She glanced at the others and saw that the rest of the fighting travelers were already either on the run or lying dead or wounded. She suddenly felt tired and indescribably irritated.

"If you do everything else the same way you fight, then I'm surprised you're still alive you boring, idiotic bastard. Now, I'm going to tell you what to do you little horse's ass and you're going to listen, alright?"

The squire nodded, his eyes wide with fear.

"Good, you're not as stupid as you look. See, I'm having a particularly...interesting mood today so I'm going to let you go and you're going to get up and run for your life as fast as your pathetic little legs can take you, understand?" she stated and pushed his sword against his chin a little harder for emphasis.

He nodded fiercely. She smiled coldly, took the weapons away, and got up. She tossed his sword back at him and then turned away. As she was sheathing her dagger, the squire scurried back up. He breathed heavily and the fear in his eyes turned into wild anger and with sword in hand, he charged her from the back.

"No!" the woman traveler, who had been observing all this from a distance, instinctively cried.

The black bandit had already sensed the presence of the charging squire. She calmly pulled her sword out of the sand and neatly turned around, letting him impale himself on her blade.

"Seems you're much stupider than you look, canis." the black marauder said to the dying squire, pulling her sword out of him sharply and letting him roughly drop dead on the sand.

She then turned her gaze to the direction of the cry and caught the eyes of the woman watching her from afar. The woman in green gasped, but the marauder didn't move or speak. That small moment which was inconsequential to everyone else left an imprint on the minds of the two women when their eyes locked. Despite the woman's fear and the bandit's disregard, something passed between them on the thread of that gaze though so minute that it was barely noticeable. Eden wondered why she had been warned and so did the woman in green. And after that fragile moment passed, Eden simply turned away.

The black bandit calmly walked back to her horse and when she reached it, took out a cloth from the saddlebag and wiped her blade before sheathing it. She was wary, she simply wanted to reach Antioch. She wished for this little raid to end quickly so that they could be on their way and she lightly caressed the dagger beneath her cloak. She has a destiny to meet. The heat, the fighting, the world made her immensely tired and she leaned on the side of her saddle with one hand and pulled away the fabric mask off her face with the other as if she had trouble breathing. The staring woman in green gasped inwardly when she finally saw that the terrifying black marauder was a woman.

When all the men had already fallen or ran blindly across the desert, Karas shifted his attention to the group of women who had herded themselves next to the only cart which hadn't overturned.

"Well, look at what we have here." he sneered.

He rode up to the woman in green who looked to be the most sophisticated of the group. She tore her gaze from Eden and turned it to Karas as he reached out to touch her face. She slapped his hand away.

"Oh, feisty, I like that." he simply replied, his sneer growing wider with his men now circling the women and jeering.

"Stay back, infidel." the woman warned in a quiet, but steady voice and suddenly brandished a dagger.

Eden took notice as did everyone else. It was a mistake to pull a blade on the raiders; it was an even bigger mistake to use the word "infidel" so readily for it was not a word taken lightly in these parts.

"Wench!" Karas yelled and backhanded her with his mailed fist so hard that she fell over onto her back.

The woman yelped, hit the sand, but almost as soon as she hit the ground, she groaned and got right back up again, standing defiantly against Karas, dagger still in hand, oblivious to the cut and quickly growing welt on her cheek.

"Oh, you like it hard? That I can deliver." he sneered and dismounted his horse. He walked up to the woman in about three big steps. She raised the dagger at him with a stance that showed both her defiance and lack of experience in fighting. With another backhand he knocked the weapon from her hand and with a punch to the face she flew to the ground with a loud groan. She spit out blood from her cut lip.

"You like that? I have more where that came from, latin whore." he spat out and started stomping towards the fallen woman who was trying to stand back up again.

Watching all this and reacting unconsciously, Eden approached quickly and suddenly stood between Karas and the woman, which she knew was a dangerous position to be.

"Out of my way!" he yelled and tried to push Eden away yet she caught his hand and stopped him.

"Karas, it's just some merchant's daughter. The men that ran across the hills, they were squires, one of them will have more on them than all these maids put together. Not to mention the wealth they carried." she explained, motioning her head to the trunks in the carts.

She knew that Karas was all about profit, looting, and pillaging and she watched him trying to decide whether to teach the annoying woman a lesson or simply gather everything up and visit the tavern in town earlier and in a better mood.

"They will fight to the death-" the woman in green began to cry when Eden interrupted.

"Shut up before I cut out your tongue and make you swallow it!" she shouted straight in her face with a tone and gaze that pushed the woman back down onto the ground. Karas grinned at the sight.

"You go after them, they haven't gotten very far. I'll... take special care of this annoying little harlot." Eden said quietly, turning back to Karas and he grinned wider.

"You heard her, let's go boys, we've got cowardly squire to catch!" he yelled.

"Zauba'a! Zauba'a!" the men cheered at Eden, raising their swords in the air and she lightly gave a flick of her hand above her head in acknowledgment.

The marauders yelped and shouted, spurring their horses and forming into a tighter group. Karas got on his horse and galloped off, the rest of the raiders following close behind him and leaving behind a flurry of stones, twigs, and dust. The moment the marauders rode away far enough, the rest of the women started to either run in no particular direction with a squeal or break down and cry. Eden threw them a cold look of sarcastic pity, rolled her eyes, and mounted her horse and started to ride away.

"Wait! Wait!" the woman in green yelled, running after her until Eden stopped.

Eden spun around.

"What is it?" she asked impatiently.

"What about me?"

"What about you?"

"Are you just going to leave me here? Out in the desert with no horse and no escort?"

"Well, yes." she retorted and turned the horse back towards her destination.

"You can't do that! Please, don't leave me here!" the woman screamed, falling to her knees.

Eden turned around again a second time.

"Look, I have no quarrel with you. But I have no use for you either."

"I can give you money for your troubles. Jewels, trinkets, whatever you want." the woman offered energetically.

Eden flashed a short, sarcastic grin.

"Look your majesty, just because I ride with those men doesn't mean that I think like they do."

"If you don't then why do you keep their company?"

The honest yet shrewd reply escaped the woman's lips before she could check herself and Eden was annoyed.

"Maybe your sharp tongue will help you out of your predicament." she shot out and started to turn her horse around again.

"No, please!" the woman cried with exasperation and raised her hands in the air in a show of peace, "Please. Please help me."

Eden glared at her hard. She just wanted to go, to walk the rest of her path, to follow the rope to the end. She finally looked into the woman's eyes for longer than just a moment and couldn't help but notice their distinct green. Like an oasis in the middle of this godforsaken dirt.

"What exactly do you want from me?" Eden asked, somehow not being able to tear herself from that green gaze.

The woman looked at the black raider. She really was a rather terrifying sight to behold. Dressed like death, she rode a horse that was even darker, a shining black like a crystal night sky. All that could be seen of the woman was her face and all attention was automatically drawn to two piercing, dark blue eyes that looked like they could penetrate a person's being to later tear its heart out alive. Yet the woman could swear that she saw some faint and distant glimmer of something else in the far corners of those eyes, something she could not at all describe, but something she somehow put her trust in despite everything.

"Just take me to the nearest town. That's all I'm asking. I won't be a further bother. Please."

Eden sighed deeply. Then the horse suddenly interrupted the conversation by slowly trotting up to the woman, something he never did and Eden knotted her brows and pulled back on his reins. She considered his actions for a short moment and then turned back to the woman.

"As long as you don't pull your dagger on me."

"As long as you don't call me a harlot and threaten to cut out my tongue." the woman returned, but in a sudden, slightly playful tone and Eden didn't know whether to slap the woman like Karas did or simply laugh and turn away.

"I can't decide," she began, leaning down on the pommel of her saddle, "whether you are incredibly brave or incredibly foolish."

"Probably more of the latter." the woman replied in the same tone and turning her head to one side.

Eden leaned back in her saddle and huffed, lightly amazed by almost everything in their conversation and especially by the fact that the woman didn't seem to be terrified of her. After some deliberation and the horse's impatient plodding about, she thrust out her hand and the woman got to her feet, grabbed her arm, and not without some trouble, hoisted herself onto the saddle in back of Eden.

"What about your...comrades?" the women in green asked after she had adjusted herself in the saddle as much as she could.

"Comrades?" Eden echoed sarcastically, raising one eyebrow, "Oh, they'll be just fine without me."

Eden took the reins, nudged the horse around, and they started down the road to Antioch.

Chapter Text

They rode in silence, the only noises being the dirt beneath the hooves of the trotting horse and the desert breeze. Eden appreciated the quiet, the lack of the constant jeering or whooping, the release and expanse she felt riding without the others. And though her body was stiff in control over the horse and awareness of her surroundings, a part of her mind relaxed, letting itself wander out to the horizon and back again, burying odds and ends of thoughts in shallow graves along the way.

The woman shifted uneasily on the horse, unaccustomed to riding this way. She began to feel every stone and dip in the road and desperately searched for something to take her mind off her hurting back and rear.

"I don't think I had a chance to properly introduce myself," she started and didn't see Eden roll her eyes when she extended her hand, "I am Arielle of Avignon."

"Arielle of Avignon." Eden simply repeated, ignoring the hand.

Arielle pulled her hand back after a while with a sigh. She waited a few moments, but finally realized that the rider had no real intention of carrying on the conversation and she bit her bottom lip lightly, trying to think of a way around the problem.

"Avignon is so much different than this place," Arielle tried again. "It's so far from these lands. It's a part-"

"Of the Holy Roman Empire. I know." Eden interrupted roughly.

"Oh, well, yes. Have you ever been there?"

"No."

Silence passed over them again. The storm clouds that had earlier only been on the horizon were now looming closely, threatening to catch up with them. The warmth of the now smothered sun was disappearing and the gathering breeze began to sneak through Arielle's dress. A cool gust sent a small chill up her spine and involuntarily made her move slightly forward against the warmth of Eden's back. She felt the rider jerk away at the touch and she pulled back immediately. After a moment or two, the rider returned back to her position.

"Which town," Arielle started, trying to escape the awkwardness of the situation, "are we going to?"

"Antioch."

"That's exactly where we were all headed!"

"I know." Eden replied with a disinterested sigh.

"In Antioch we were to split up. Some of us, myself included, were going to journey onward to Jerusalem. We were on a pilgrimage, you see."

"Ah, a woman of God..." Eden remarked.

"Well, yes." Arielle replied, knotting her brows, not knowing what to make of the comment. "Is that something strange?"

"No," Eden answered, shaking her head slowly, "you are one of many."

"Well, Jerusalem is the mecca for the reverent."

"Looking for God, finding those like Karas." Eden said absently.

"Well," Arielle explained with a hint of pride in her voice, "though I would have rather not met them, those raiders aren't going to make me turn back. Journeying down God's path is rarely simple."

"Naturally." Eden remarked, not even trying to hide her sarcasm.

"Are you a non-believer that you're mocking me?"

"First of all," Eden said, pulling up on the reins until they came to a stop and turning around towards Arielle which made her a little apprehensive, "I'm not mocking you...yet. Second of all, I know of God; we have a relationship the both of us can hardly stand; third of all, I think we might have to find shelter from the storm."

Arielle opened her mouth to comment that there was no storm, but was interrupted by a roll of thunder.

"See what I mean?" Eden added, raising one eyebrow and flashing a cocky grin.

Arielle only nodded silently and Eden turned back around and nudged the horse forward again. Arielle tried to decide what the rider did more, amaze or annoy her. She had a strange honesty in the way she was, but her insolence was much more than anything she was used to. A new, much fiercer gust of wind brought her out of her thoughts and she instinctively pulled the collar of her dress around her neck and cursed herself for having left her cloak behind.

The clouds made good on their threat and large drops of rain began to slowly fall. Fortunately, Eden knew the road well and remembered that there was an old, abandoned hovel not far off where they could seek shelter. She turned her horse and nudged her off the road and into the rocks and brush. Arielle began to grow a little nervous; she was in a thunderstorm in the middle of the desert on the back of a horse that was being ridden by a black bandit who was now taking them off the road. She held the saddle a little more tightly; the horse's trot quickening with the intensifying rain. A quick, but loud peal of thunder scared a small shriek out of her. Eden paid her no mind, focused entirely on navigating the larger stones and getting to the hovel as quickly as possible. They reached it just in time.

Eden walked into the one room hovel after having tended to her horse just as the clouds gave way to a downpour that Arielle had never witnessed before.

"We'll wait out the storm here." Eden said after shutting the door behind her.

She saw Arielle standing in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do with herself and apprehensively looking at her.

"That is, of course, unless you want to continue." Eden drawled sarcastically.

"No, no." Arielle said quickly, trying to contain her nervousness. "We'll stay here."

Eden walked over to the table standing in the center of the room and slid her saddlebags off her shoulder,placing them on the tabletop. She dropped herself into one of the two dusty chairs and leaned back, resting her feet on the table. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Arielle carefully sit down on the other chair at the table, resting uncomfortably, her eyes falling everywhere, but not on the dark bandit. She looked so lost and out of place, like a puppy in the middle of a forest, that it produced a small inward smile of sympathy in Eden.

The storm soothed Eden. For a few moments, she rested her head on the back of the chair and closed her eyes. Nearly any kind of sound of water had this effect on her and she listened to the pelting rain, the rushing of the water cascading down the walls of the hovel and she relaxed as much as she was able to. It felt nice; she found a peace in the ability of water to wash everything away.

Another loud crash of thunder shook the hovel and Arielle let out another shriek and Eden opened her eyes, turning to her. Arielle covered her mouth, embarrassed by her outcry and looked at Eden timidly. Eden regarded the woman's face and the wounds on it with a look that made Arielle feel like she was being judged for all her past and future sins and she squirmed slightly under the gaze.

"You took a good beating." Eden finally mentioned.

Arielle's expression turned to one of acknowledgment; she had almost forgotten. She raised one hand to her cheek and touched it too roughly and winced.

"Yes, it seems so. Is it really bad?"

"You'll live." she replied roughly, but after a few moments' afterthought added, "You should see to that cut though."

Arielle could feel the large welt that had developed on her cheek and the blood that had dried around it. She looked around the hovel and found a small mirror lying on a little table next to a wash basin. She got up, took the mirror and brought it back to the table. She then took the bag she had slung around her the whole time and removed it, taking out a handkerchief before placing the bag on the table. She began to tentatively try to clean the scrape, but each movement she made seemed to send a flash of pain through her face. She shyly glanced at Eden and then gasped.

During this time, Eden had unwrapped her turban and stood, unbuckling her sword belt, leaning her sword against the table when Arielle looked at her. Eden regarded her harshly and was about to ask with annoyance what it was that had scared her now, but after a moment decided against it. She looked at the wound again and saw that Arielle had little idea of what she was doing. Yet, Arielle had forgotten the handkerchief in her hand and the scrape on her cheek; she was overcome again by the raider's presence. The removed turban had uncovered raven-black hair, straight as an arrow and down to her shoulders with shorter fringes over her forehead. It spilled over her head like a black velvet curtain and seemed again to only exist in order to emphasize her enrapturing eyes. Arielle finally closed her eyes and shook her head lightly. She opened them again to see Eden still regarding her closely and she swallowed.

"Could you...?" Arielle tried to ask shyly, raising the handkerchief in her hand lightly, "No matter what I do, it seems to hurt a lot."

She saw no change in expression in the raider and she sighed quietly, resigned to taking care of herself as best she could. Eden contemplated her internally. There was a pure innocence in those green eyes that made the raider take notice; she hadn't seen it for such a long time. She examined the woman looking up at her. A slim, elegant figure in a pale green dress with a fabric and cut that screamed 'gentry'. Her emerald eyes, sharp but kind, gleamed out from under blond hair that ran down the length of her back, a long braid running down the middle. Eden would have said she looked like a fairy of the forest if she believed in them. The raider couldn't help but notice how ridiculously out of place Arielle seemed at that moment, but felt a tiny ray of respect for the blond because, despite all the circumstances, Arielle hadn't given up unlike the other lady companions she had been traveling with. This rain calms me too much.

She saw Arielle put her hand with the handkerchief back down with resignation, sighing and slumping her shoulders.

"Here." she said shortly and picked up her chair and moved it next to Arielle, who sat up straight in excitement.

She sat in the chair, sideways to the table and then turned Arielle's chair to face her with little effort which produced a look of shock from the blond.

"First, you need some water." Eden instructed dryly and reached over to her saddlebags and pulled out a waterskin.

She stretched out her hand for the handkerchief which Arielle gave to her. Eden dampened it with some water and turned back to Arielle when she suddenly stopped. Arielle looked at her in confusion, watching her eyes rapidly dart into the corner of the room and twitch in what seemed to be anger. Before she could react, Eden took a deep breath and looked back at Arielle with unnamed purpose.

"It still might hurt a little, alright?" she said quietly and with an unreadable expression.

Arielle looked at her curiously for a few, very brief moments and then lightly nodded her head.

Eden then leaned in a little and began to carefully clean the wound with precision and concentration, touching her as little as possible. As Eden's hand danced around the swollen scrape, Arielle wondered how this person who seemed to be just another lost, ruthless ruffian could be so gentle. The same hands that had no doubt reeked much violence were now covering her face ever so lightly and trying to heal. This simple exchange between lady and raider was beyond anything she was able to fully grasp. There was tenderness and death in the same hands, regard and apathy in the same eyes. Arielle's mind wandered into the realm of her vivid imagination and she began to paint Eden in the shades of some kind of light and some kind of dark, wondering if such a being could exist in reality.

"Arielle?" Eden said in a low voice.

"Yes?" she whispered back.

"You're staring at me."

"Oh," Arielle said with a jolt, snapping out of her somewhat dreamy state with embarrassment. "I'm very sorry."

Eden continued her task, concentration etched on her face.

"There." she said, leaning back and placing the handkerchief on the table.

She reached over to her saddlebags again and took out a salve. She looked at Arielle and again the blond saw the strange, anger-like look in the raider's eyes. Eden cast them down.

"This will help it heal faster. It might sting a little at first, alright?" she said to the floor and only looked at Arielle when she was done speaking.

The blond nodded and again Eden leaned in and applied the salve skillfully.

"Done." she said and turned to put the salve back into the saddlebags.

"It didn't sting at all." Arielle said quietly, in genuine amazement of how the raider had treated her wound.

"The cut on your lip just needs cleaning." Eden added, betraying no emotion.

Arielle nodded at little absently and took the damp handkerchief and cleaned the cut on her lip, noticing that it hurt and wishing that the bandit could treat it too, but she quickly shooed the idea out of her head.

Eden got up, walked to the window, and watched the storm raging outside.

"This will still last for a while. Maybe rest." she suggested absently.

After a while, she walked back to the table tiredly, sat down, and began to take some food that she luckily had out of the saddlebags. She noticed Arielle looking pitifully at it. The woman didn't say a word, but her stomach growled instead and she covered it embarrassingly with her hand.

"Or eat something." Eden remarked with a disgruntled sigh and pushed the food into the middle of the table and motioned for the blond to help herself. Arielle almost jumped at it, but still tried to keep herself under control. After eating a few mouthfuls and washing it down with water, Arielle looked up at Eden who was quietly sitting, looking at the table, and picking at her food.

"What will happen to the squires if those marauders catch them?" Arielle asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"You mean when, not if."

"Alright, when?"

"I don't think you want to really know, duchess."

"They're going to be killed, aren't they? And the women?"

Eden didn't answer which was an answer in itself. Arielle sighed and leaned back in her chair a little, much less agitated now that she had something in her stomach though when she thought about her traveling companions, her stomach threatened to revolt.

"And you travel with these people? You condone this?" she asked, shaking her head with some agitation and automatically saw that she had overstepped her bounds when she met Eden's glare.

"Who are you to judge me?" she hissed through her teeth in a voice so low it was barely heard and with eyes that housed an igniting blaze, "You have no idea who I am. Or what I can do."

Arielle swallowed and found herself to be completely mortified.

"I'm, I'm sorry. I meant no offense." she said quickly.

"Really?" Eden coldly snarled, her eyes narrowing.

"You just strike me as different from those raiders." Arielle rushed in her defense in almost a whimper.

"Oh, amuse me. How?" Eden challenged, crossing her arms on her chest.

Arielle realized that those arms could probably grab and break her in two if they wanted. They just lingered there for her to see, almost daring her to say something stupid so that they could show her the extent of their power. She could feel her own arms going limp and her heart beginning to race faster and faster. She is truly terrifying.

"Better." she simply said.

Prepared for a barrage of flowery words that carried little meaning, Eden was caught off-guard by the simple statement. In a fluttering moment, Arielle saw a stunned look cross Eden's face only to be quickly covered again by her stone mask of no emotion. And in a quiet moment, Eden noticed something change in Arielle's eyes, almost as if a different, wiser and more knowing person emerged from her to peel away the layers of the marauder and speak only truths. It made Eden want to physically draw back and evoked discomfort and anxiety within her. Arielle eased back in her chair a little.

"I really am sorry." she added and Eden just waved her hand, looking to the side and out the window.

The downpour had lessened somewhat, but it was still raining hard and the sun was setting over the horizon.

"We're going to have to sleep here tonight." she mumbled to the window.

They continued to eat in silence. Nibbling away contentedly, Arielle didn't notice Eden picking at her food only to finally push it towards Arielle with a hint of disgust. Only after she felt a pleasant heaviness in her stomach did the blond finally look up and notice that she had eaten a lot more than courtesy would allow. She blushed, embarrassed and rushed over several different excuses in her mind until she finally realized that Eden didn't seem to have noticed or cared. She sat with her elbow propped on the table, her chin resting on her hand, staring out the window into the growing darkness. At that moment, she looked quiet, thoughtful, and wise. Almost fragile.

"You know," Arielle started, breaking the silence, "I never thanked you for helping me today. With the raiders...and everything."

Eden only waved her hand again.

"No, really. It was very...brave what you did. And I know that you didn't have to. When we reach Antioch, I shall see to it that you are properly rewarded."

Eden turned her head slowly and Arielle suddenly remembered the comment she had made in the desert about giving her riches.

"That is," she said quickly, raising her palms up slightly in the air as a sign of no ill will, "if you want. I just want to show my appreciation."

"No need."

She frowned slightly, but in her mind Arielle decided that she would find a way to reward the marauder for her trouble.

"We should get some sleep," Eden finally said after some time, "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

Arielle nodded and they got up from the table. Arielle had no bedclothes to change into so she simply removed her belt and shoes and lied down on one of the two straw beds in the hovel. She did so cautiously, but was too tired to pay enough attention to her out-of-ordinary circumstances to complain. Besides, Arielle treated it all as an adventure, like the ones she had read about or recited herself; she had finally broken free of her constraints. On the other side of the room, Eden had carried over her unsheathed sword and propped it up against the headboard. She took off her leather armor and boots and finally stretched herself out on the straw bed. With no fire, the room had become just as dark as the desert night and Eden closed her eyes and listened to the quiet falling of the rain.

"Sleep well." Arielle whispered timidly into the dark room.

Eden wanted to snort. Exchanging well wishes before sleep was just as common for her as straw beds in an abandoned hovel were for Arielle.

"Goodnight, Zauba'a." Arielle added, thinking the raider hadn't heard her before.

Eden frowned at the mention of the name even though she knew she hadn't told Arielle what her real one was.

"Zauba'a doesn't say goodnight. It always means goodbye." Eden murmured in a low voice, with a hint of sad recognition.

Arielle was so tired that her eyes had already grown too heavy to keep open and she fell asleep before she was able to wonder why the marauder had spoken of herself in the third person.

Chapter Text

They awoke the next day to the rays of a risen sun spilling into the room.

Eden rose from the bed almost as if she had been shot out of a sling, stretching out her muscles and limbs in both an effort to drive away the rest of her sleep and to check if any of the previous day's events had taken any toll. After putting on her boots and leather armor, she briskly walked over to the wash basin, picked it up and walked out the door. When she came back, it was filled with rainwater taken out of a barrel outside. Eden washed her hands, face, and neck vigorously and then walked to the table. She wrapped the black turban around her head with ease and then fastened her sword belt around her waist, adjusting it a little on her hips until it felt comfortable. She repacked everything, save a piece of bread and a handful of dried figs, into the saddlebags and buckled them closed. She scanned the room to make sure everything was packed and that the hovel didn't betray too many signs of them being there although now, if Eden was to be honest, it didn't matter that much to her. She slung the saddlebags over her shoulder, scooped up the bread and figs, walked over to her bed and sheathed her broadsword. During this whole time, Arielle had managed to sit up.

Eden stood over the blond who was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, seemingly oblivious to the entire world around her. Arielle finally noticed the raider waiting there.

"Good morning." she said cheerfully and with a slightly goofy smile on her face.

Eden simply stared at her with a look of puzzled amazement and fought off a fleeting urge to simply just drop everything, sit on the edge of the bed, and cry in disbelief. Yet, the blond read the stare quite well and began to scurry around the bed like a frightened mouse.

"Right, we should get going, shouldn't we?" she said rhetorically and crammed her feet into her shoes after tying her belt.

She noticed that everything had already been gathered up so she nearly ran to the basin, washed her face, and then turned back to the raider still staring at her.

"Right, so, I'm ready to go." she said gleefully, grabbing her bag and then her growling stomach interrupted, making her blush.

Eden rolled her eyes and shoved the bread and figs she had into the blond's hands before she made her way out of the hovel. Arielle followed the raider with her gaze wanting to thank her for the gesture, but the raider was out and gone before she had a chance, so she turned her attention to the food. She stood in the doorway, happily nibbling away until Eden rode up and stopped right next to her on her horse. Holding on to the remaining figs, she put her hands on her hips and marveled at the raider.

"I understand that you probably want to make some sort of a statement, but must you really wear only black?" she asked in cheery innocence.

Eden glared down at her and the blond began to raise her hands in front of her to start apologizing.

"It brings out my feminine side." she said coolly and with a raised eyebrow.

Arielle raised both eyebrows, pleasantly surprised with the comment and the sense of humor the raider had just betrayed she actually had.

"Now can we get going?" Eden asked, her face instantaneously serious and gave Arielle her hand.

Arielle nodded quickly, took her hand, and somewhat clumsily found her way onto the back of the saddle. Eden veered the horse towards their destination.

"Aren't we going to Antioch?" Arielle asked, noticing that they weren't making their way back to the road.

"We are. It's a shortcut." Eden answered and heard the blond swallow hard. "Relax. It really is a shortcut."

Arielle nodded and tried to calm her nerves by reasoning to herself that no one in their right mind would go through so much trouble to kill her. She munched on the two remaining figs in her hands and took in the sight of the desert, which she was frankly getting a little sick of.

"So, your name, what does it mean?" Arielle asked, trying to start a conversation and ignoring the raider's sigh.

"Zauba'a?"

"Yes. Does that mean something special?"

"It's a long story." Eden sighed and Arielle noticed a hint of sadness in it and decided not to press it.

"So..." she continued, looking for a new subject, "are you married?"

Eden snorted so loudly that for a moment Arielle was afraid that both of them might fall off the horse.

"Yes, right, well, I should have, um, guessed that." Arielle babbled out. "So maybe some fair-headed fiancé somewhere, hm?"

Eden pulled on the reins and turned around to glare at Arielle who flashed her a nervous, silly smile. Yet the raider could find nothing to say to the blond's playful innocence so instead she simply shook her head disapprovingly and turned back around, nudging the horse forward. Arielle took a deep, but quiet breath of relief. For a while, she watched the skilled ease with which the raider rode her horse, meandering in and out of the rocks and nooks without almost the slightest move, reins in one hand and her other lying lazily on her leg. She wondered how it was this woman seemed to do the complicated things almost idly, yet a conversation seemed to strain her.

"I don't have a husband either," Arielle decided to continue by focusing on herself, "though I can't say it's through my parents' lack of trying. None of their chosen suitors ever seemed to interest me. They tried to force me once, naturally, but I threw them a fit the size of the Byzantine Empire and they finally let it go. Instead, they pushed me off on this pilgrimage. They said that perhaps God would finally knock some sense into my head. I didn't mind, I welcomed the chance. The Holy Lands, knights, desert bandits, exotic languages and foods; what an adventure! It wasn't exactly something I would experience at home."

"My family generally thinks there might be a little something wrong with me. I exasperate them really." Arielle continued to chatter, in her element and not even noticing if Eden was listening to her or not, "I spend too much time with my head in the clouds, they constantly say, instead of keeping my feet firmly on the ground. My sister, she's their pride and joy; elegant, married... They think I'm a child... a disappointment..."

Eden noticed Arielle's voice grow sad and taper off, but could think of nothing to say. Arielle solemnly shook her head and sighed and was about to ask the raider about her family until she thought better of it. She continued to think of several other questions she would have already asked any other traveling companion, but found to be afraid to ask this particular one. She sighed in small defeat.

"You didn't have any breakfast." Arielle mentioned after a moment thoughtfully.

"Not hungry."

"How is that possible? I'm always hungry, but especially in the morning. You really can't have a good day without a good breakfast in my opinion. You really should eat something." Arielle said with cheery sympathy.

"I said I'm not hungry." Eden muttered coldly.

Arielle's shoulders slumped. She already regretted the morning. She regretted that she somehow hadn't stopped time and the raider right before they rode out to take in that small ray of humanity she had shown. She regretted whatever she had done or said to bring back that frigid marauder though God knew she had tried everything she could think of to pry that marble mask off.

"How far is it to Antioch?"

"Few days."

Arielle nodded and resigned herself to a few more days of going nowhere with the marauder. After that they would part ways although she knew she would regret that she didn't get to know the raider any better. She felt that great stories could be told of her if she would only let them be.

Eden had brought them to a stop and Arielle raised herself a little to see the reason. Eden peered out to see a skirmish going on ahead of them, kicking up dust and bringing shouts floating over the sand towards them. Her trained eye identified those defending themselves as some sort of merchants and those attacking as marauders. One of the merchants on a pale horse broke off from the fight and tried to ride away only to find one of the bandits right on his heels. Both riders kicked up a fierce cloud of dust as they spurred their horses as fast as they could, racing in Eden's direction.

"Damn it all..." Eden growled under her breath.

"What is it?" Arielle asked apprehensively.

"Karas..."

At that moment, Karas gained a little on the merchant and raised his sword as he kept advancing. He let out a bloodcurdling yell the likes of which Arielle had never heard, making her blood run cold and she watched his sword come down in one swift motion, striking the other rider down, leaving only a bloody heap in the sand. Karas noticed Eden watching him, reigned his horse into a more controlled gallop, and approached her.

"Open your mouth duchess and I'll leave you here in a heartbeat." Eden shot at Arielle, turning her head slightly to the side. The blond swallowed, wide-eyed.

"Zauba'a!" Karas called out, raising his right hand in greeting, "what a pleasure seeing you here. Managed the storm?"

"Karas." Eden acknowledged coldly. "Nothing like a little rain to clear the air."

"Or cleanse the earth of...stains." he sneered, baring his teeth and staring at Arielle who Eden could hear swallowing hard.

"I see you're keeping busy." Eden said plainly.

"Oh, that." he commented, turning his head briefly to the corpse and then back to Eden, "A little uncooperative, that one."

An evil grin crossed his lips and Eden knew that as this small talk was only Karas's way of trying to intimidate her and especially Arielle. She demonstrated no emotion or interest towards the bandit, sitting upright in her saddle with a commanding, unwavering presence and a hostile half grin emerging from her mouth. She was simply waiting for what it was he really wanted.

"And how cooperative is that little tart being?" he asked with a little lick of his lips that made Arielle shiver.

"I've dealt with worse."

"That I can believe!" Karas admitted in a booming laugh, "So what do you plan on doing with her?"

"Taking her to town."

"There's no reason to."

"No reason not to."

Karas studied the two women for a moment, resting his gaze on the blond and giving her such a piercing look that Arielle felt as if her clothes were being ripped off her by his eyes and she unconsciously raised one hand and pulled her collar tighter around her neck. He smiled wickedly at her reaction and finally trotted up closer to Eden.

"You know, I think you can give her to me now. She's been enough of a burden to you already."

"You're sweet, truly," Eden responded cynically, knowing that his concern was as heartfelt as a kiss of a viper, "but I wouldn't dream of putting you in such an imposition. You are a busy man after all."

"Damn it, woman! Don't forget that I'm the leader of this band!" he shouted impatiently, his voice thundering across the hills and making Arielle want to hide under a rock.

"And don't you forget that I am Zauba'a." Eden growled in such a low tone that it was barely heard, but carried more threat than a thousand yells.

"I'm not afraid of you."

"Well, that's your first mistake." she hissed through her teeth, narrowing her eyes.

Arielle was afraid her heart was going to explode out of her chest and she fought back the urge to cling to the raider. She watched the two raiders duel in words and icy glares, feeling the tension rise with every passing moment. She secretly hoped that the black raider had come out with the upper hand when Karas grew quiet, but soon saw she was mistaken.

"Give her to me now." he growled menacingly, leaning forward and glaring at Eden as if he was trying to impale her on his gaze.

And then she noticed a strange shift in the black raider, a bizarre relaxed pressure in which she could sense that the black marauder was completely focused on Karas, but also at a knowing peace. Eden had felt that strange feeling before and she felt it clearly now. It was one of many that she had had since she could remember. That feeling of knowing something with absolute certainty. These were always things that had not yet come to pass or sometimes hadn't even yet appeared and through some unknown design, Eden already knew it. When she was younger, she sometimes mentioned these sensations and was belittled and called everything from a daydreamer to a witch. She learned to never speak of it again. And this time, after feeling Karas's demand travel through her and invoke that strange sensation of quiet resolution, she knew that there was something more in all of this. She didn't have the time nor strength to wonder over it now, but past experience had taught her that the sensations should be listened to. Arielle had to be kept away from that man and that was all Eden needed to know.

"Go home Karas. There'll be no bargaining here today." she said icily.

Karas only shot back a cold grin and turned back to his raiding party, trotting quietly away. Eden took a deep breath and felt the blond shaking in back of her, her voice emitting the slightest little mumbles that her sharp hearing was able to pick up.

"We're in a little trouble now." Eden told Arielle hurriedly.

"Why? He's riding away, isn't he?"

"Only to gather up the others."

"Why?" she asked, the fear growing in her voice.

"Because now he knows you're protected."

Arielle didn't have time to ask or even think about the meaning of what the raider had just said. Karas raised his sword in the air and gave a war yell that gained the attention of the rest of his band and sent them bounding in his direction. He turned his horse back in Eden's direction, a cold sneer on his face.

"Remember when you asked what Zauba'a means, princess?" Eden asked Arielle, her voice laced with an anxiety mixed with resolve.

"Yes..."

"Well, you're about to find out."

Time seemed to slow down for Arielle as the blood drained from her face and pooled somewhere down in her feet and fear crawled up her spine. She sensed Eden's whole body tense as she clutched the reins with such strength that her knuckles turned white. Eden almost didn't look human, her determination etched now on a face of stone, her every visible muscle rippling in ultimate exertion. And though like a slab of granite, she moved with the flow and grace of a mighty, ancient river, knowing its path and purpose. Not a single movement or breath was wasted or without function and Arielle would have studied the raider for hours in utter fascination if she hadn't been so terrified.

"Arielle, hold on to me and for the love of God, don't let go!" Eden commanded fiercely.

And with that Eden veered the horse off to the side and began to gallop away. Arielle didn't need to be told twice and instinctively grabbed hold of the raider, wrapping her arms around her waist and clinging to her for dear life. She could feel the powerful muscles of both the horse and the woman, working at full force, expelling massive amounts of energy and driving in a practiced unison. She heard the hooves of the advancing raiders and began to pray for any kind of help. Eden leaned forward, close to the horse's neck and they seemed to communicate, exchanging breathless whispers and ghosts of words, working together as one unstoppable force.

"Vola!" she ordered straight over the horse's head in a whisper that seemed to slide out of her lips like thick smoke and pour over the horse in an igniting magic.

The crawling time suddenly accelerated with back-breaking force and the horse sped up into such a run that Arielle was nearly flung off. She almost hysterically dug her fingers into the rider's leathers, clamping her legs around the bounding horse and squeezing her eyes shut so hard that tears began to creep out of them. She was absolutely convinced that she was going to die on that horse that seemed to have just changed into the wind itself. Her senses strained almost to their breaking point in her frenzied fight for survival; the hooves pounded in her ears, the labored breathing of the horse and rider heaved against her skin, dust filled her nose, the raider's angry, fluttering, black fabric brushed against her body assertively. But there was also a part of Arielle that remained eerily calm in the unique feeling of protection she sensed on that blazing horse, holding on to that relentless rider. That part synchronized with the horse and rider and hurled forward with them, knowing that they were right, knowing that they were held in grace.

She was frozen in such terror on that racing steed that she hadn't noticed when they had slowed down to a trot.

"Arielle..." Eden said quietly, trying to gain the blond's attention, "Arielle..."

Eden frowned slightly though understandingly, turning her head to the side to see Arielle clinging to her out of the corner of her eye.

"Arielle." she repeated a little louder and lightly touched one of her arms.

"What? What? What is it?" Arielle asked in a near yell, her eyes flying open.

Eden allowed her some time to notice that the neck-breaking run was over, the raiders were gone, they were safe. Arielle turned her head to one side and then the other and began to calm the breathing she had just noticed was racing.

"It's over. We're going to walk some now." Eden said quietly.

Arielle kept turning her head one way and then the other almost as if she didn't trust her own eyes and judgment.

"Princess, you can let go of me now."

"Oh," she said, seeming to finally break out of her stupor, "right. Sorry. Damn..."

Arielle practically peeled herself off of the raider, the leather armor leaving marks on her skin. She sat up straight, took a deep breath, and looked around her in awe.

"Holy, sweet mother Mary and Joseph, that was...amazing." Arielle admitted somewhat breathlessly.

Eden gave faint nod of agreement and then carefully dismounted. She then raised her hand up to Arielle who took it without question and let herself be eased down to the ground. Eden took the reins of exhausted horse in her hands while Arielle steadied herself, letting the solidity of the ground work its way up through her legs and back. She took a deep breath, glad to be alive and exhilarated to the point of bursting.

"So that was Zauba'a?"

"Pretty much. It's an Arabic word. Zauba'a is believed to be a demon that takes the form a whirlwind. When people saw me ride like that, they thought me a demon and that's what they called me." Eden explained.

Arielle took a long look at the rider in contemplation, clasping her hands around the strap of her bag.

"A demon whirlwind, the black horse and dress...you are making a statement, aren't you?" Arielle judged lightly.

Eden shrugged defenselessly, bringing a grin to the blond's face.

"But then that would also mean that Zauba'a isn't your real name." Arielle noticed.

She then saw the raider's expression change back to her hostile guardedness and her shoulders slumped somewhat.

"Let's go. We still have a long road ahead of us." Eden simply stated and began to walk forward, the horse loyally at her side.

Arielle joined the raider's side and for a time, they walked through the desert, each in their own thoughts, each pretending that what had just happened was really nothing out of the ordinary. Eden was thankful for the clouds that had gathered again, covering the sun every so often and treating them to a light, cool breeze.

"Why do you call me those things?" Arielle suddenly asked in honest curiosity.

"What things?"

"Princess... duchess..."

Eden knew why she did that. It was a course of habit. It kept people at arm's length, heck, at empire's length; it was safer for her that way. She used the terms to belittle, to scoff, to pretend that the people she met meant nothing to her for fear that one day, someone might mean too much. Attachment was a useless and dangerous ballast in these lands, in her life and she had learned to keep herself clear of it.

"Don't know." Eden replied with a shrug.

Arielle gave a single, silent nod and turned her gaze to the ground. Going nowhere. Eden knotted her brows and also drove her eyes into the dirt. She noticed how the young woman kept making her think with the simplest sentences about things she wanted to keep buried or dead. It made her anxious and somewhat bothered by her. But before Eden could ever take the time to wonder about the blond's ability to slip through the minute cracks in her mile-high walls, an exhaustion would overcome her and remind her that it didn't really matter anymore anyway. The tension and tiredness battled within Eden constantly and she sometimes reached a point where she wanted to simply fall onto her knees and scream until her lungs gave out. But there was no one who would listen and she was not one to kneel. The turmoil within her caused her to pull too much on the reins in her hands and the horse whickered in disapproval, tossing its head a little. Eden looked up at him and after a couple of moments loosened the reins and returned her eyes to the ground. Arielle watched this silent exchange between the raider and her horse and found herself wishing that she could communicate with the raider to even half the extent the horse could. The idea of being in envy of a horse brought a smile to her face and she shook her head in amusing disbelief.

"What did you mean by saying I was protected?" she asked timidly, determined not to give up on prying something out of the raider. She's so...stubborn.

She watched the raider suddenly stop and stiffen, visibly unnerved with the question and she automatically regretted having asked.

"It's just that," she added quickly, trying to calm the raider down, "I did feel protected."

Eden gave her a puzzled look, blinking.

"Amidst the flurry of stones, hooves, and men trying to kill us," the blond recounted with ease, adding some gestures for emphasis, but keeping her eyes constantly on the Eden, "I really did feel protected."

Eden felt agitated, as if someone was pounding on her door, trying to knock down her walls, break and crawl through her windows. She knew protecting Arielle at that moment was evident to her, but she never thought that the blond would be able to actually feel it. That small remark again slipped through some tiny crack in her armor and tried to stir up a feeling Eden hadn't felt for much too long. Purpose. Eden had known that Arielle needed to be protected and Arielle felt that protection envelope her. They had actually shared something for those brief, furious moments. Having this gift, this curse that couldn't be spoken of was something she was already accustomed to, but the thought that someone could also sense that gift was something Eden had never given any thought. She looked at those green eyes with the same intensity as they were looking at her and the green eyes noticed her uneasiness. Then the familiar, tired resignation spilled over her again. It's too late now.

"Come on," Eden said shortly, breaking their gaze and turning her eyes back to the ground, "it's getting late."

"Wait." Arielle said and walked over to one of the saddlebags, fiddled with it, and returned to Eden with a handful of dates and figs. "Here, you earned it."

Eden glanced up at her and for a moment gave a look of baffled amazement as if she was just being handed the beating heart of a dragon. Arielle smiled and then Eden's face was again covered in its stone case and her eyes burrowed into the ground.

"Let's go."

Arielle dropped into step beside her and contented herself with the knowledge that this time what she said and did somehow made its way through the twisting passages of the black raider. She watched the her cautiously chew on a fig and already knew that this day would make one of her favorite stories.

Chapter Text

Ringing church bells sing in the distance, filling the air. The air hot, dust hanging, unsettled. A winding path, snaking down from the hills to the walls of a great city. Sandy walls, high, thick walls and towers. The desert winds, the flag of Antioch fluttering in those winds. The winding road, a long line of carts, men, women, knights, merchants, children slinking down and through. Walls, alleys, hovels, churches, marketplaces, taverns, armorers. People talking, laughing, running, haggling, working.

"Eden..."

The whisper hangs in the air. The path again, overlooking the city. The warm sun.

"Eden..."

The whisper brushes her face. Eden turns to her right. There stands a bright figure, brighter than the desert sun, more magnificent. Outstretched wings white as virgin snow. Eyes of flame.

"I can see you. I can rest my eyes on you, angel."

"Yes, Eden, you can. You do not fear me."

Brilliant silver armor and robes the color of the clearest blue sky. Such serenity. Such peace of being.

A large cross on a hill in the desert sand. A lone sentinel warrior guarding the winding road. So many people streaming by. A voice. A voice she's heard somewhere before outside herself. The cross. The rolling wind. A black cloak dancing on the strong breeze.

A calm, unyielding warrior. Red and black. Fabric and metal. Sword, dagger, shield. That voice...

"It is time, Eden."

"Please..."

The angel raises his hand.

"Take heed, guardian for the Lord is with you. Travel to Antioch. Find there all that you have seen. Take that which waits there for you. There paths will straighten and converge. There shall the will of the Creator of all things come to pass."

"I...Angel, I..."

"Take heart and have faith, Eden. You will no longer be the Arab demon you never really were."

"No...I..."

The angel departs in a soft silence. The smell of earth, the crunching of hooves against small stones and dry dirt. That presence so nearby...

The church bells ringing again, the clash of swords in the distance. The cross against the sun, swaying bells against the clouds. The warrior sitting on a large rock, patiently waiting. The hum of arrows sailing through the air. A snow of white feathers. The warrior stands before her and points a drawn sword at her, a sword Eden knows...

Eden awoke with a start, breathing heavily, her hair clinging to her damp forehead. She sat up, resting her forearms on her drawn knees and hung her head slightly, trying to catch her breath. The desert night was quiet, the fire burned shyly. She turned her head and saw Arielle sleeping calmly on her bedroll. She turned back and stared out into the night in front of her.

"Gabriel..." she whispered.

Chapter Text

"We should reach Antioch by the evening." Eden said.

Arielle merely nodded. Eden, with reins in hand, was leading the horse, giving him some well deserved rest; it was a warm day. Arielle was walking beside the raider, her hands clutching the strap of her bag.

"Assuming we don't meet any of your... friends along the way." Arielle added good-humoredly.

"Yes, assuming." Eden replied with a very tiny snicker.

Arielle tried to tally up all that they had encountered during their journey to Antioch. There had been the raid that started everything. Then they escaped Karas's men in a mad flurry of hooves. Arielle almost stepped on some desert snake. Arielle insisted they help repair a pilgrim family's broken cart wheel on the road. Eden left Arielle at camp to find water without telling her and almost gave the blond a heart attack. She learned the hard way that no one touches Eden's horse when they both decided to ignore her in anger for a day after Arielle had tried to mount the horse herself. Arielle tried to chase a rabbit across the brush and Eden thought she went mad. Eden took an entire minute to teach some stray marauder who had decided to bother them a lesson. Every morning, Arielle awoke to the black raider glaring down at her impatiently. All in all, Arielle had concluded, it had been quite an adventure. She found herself growing a little sad with having to see it end already.

"You know," Arielle began in her usual chatty tone and Eden took a deep breath in anticipation, "I happen to be very perceptive if I do say so myself. And I noticed that your sword is different from the others I've seen."

"It is." Eden replied simply and flatly.

"Everyone here seems to carry sabers, but you, you carry a Frankish sword, don't you?"

"I do."

Arielle sighed, seeing that getting anything more than two worded answers out of the raider seemed next to impossible at the moment.

"It's..." Eden said tentatively after a few moments, making Arielle turn to look at her, "it's... I've had this sword for a while. I, I like it."

Arielle observed the raider's rare, slightly personal admission and how her one hand had unconsciously slid down to the hilt of the sword, holding it firmly as if she was afraid it might suddenly be taken from her. She seemed to be more at ease with one hand on her sword and Arielle could see that it really was something special to her.

"It's a beautiful sword." Arielle admitted with a smile, "So much in fact, that I would almost want one too. But, I've never carried any weapons or taken part in fighting. My father sometimes took me along on hunting parties, usually because I would moan about be bored for so long that he would take me along just to shut me up. It's unladylike, he would always say..."

Eden noted that a hint of sadness had entered Arielle's tone again.

"Swords aren't for princesses." she stated with a slight shrug of her shoulders, "But then again, neither are Arab demons."

Arielle glanced at the raider momentarily and smiled, seeing the compliment. Eden found that there was, in fact, a part of her that was rather proud and even impressed with the blond's handling of their journey. She had expected complaining, fainting, and wailing, but experienced none of that. True, if left alone Arielle might have begun to cry like the time Eden had gone off for water, but she really couldn't expect a Frankish lady to be able to survive days in the desert lands with ease. Arielle housed a calm spirit of adventure and Eden realized that of all the people she could have been traveling with now, she could have done a lot worse.

Their day was a quiet one and the sun had begun its descent when they reached an outcropping that overlooked a great city.

"There it is. That's Antioch." Eden announced and saw Arielle smile in delight out of the corner of her eye.

Antioch stretched out before them. Its long walls seemed to stretch on forever and its five gates stood like immortal sentinels. The front of the main gate bustled with activity even late in the day and a thin stream of people could be seen entering and exiting the city.

"It's... remarkable." Arielle wondered.

"The queen of the East." Eden added, "Let's go, it'll be dark soon."

An uneasiness settled over both the travelers as they neared the city. Arielle was finding it hard to deny that she had enjoyed their adventures and even the company of the brooding raider. She was finding it even harder to get rid of the idea to tell the raider all this, but next to impossible to find a way to do so that would leave all her bones intact. She grew quieter with the passing moments, sad to see the complicated, stubborn raider go and wondering how she would fare now on her own to Jerusalem.

Eden grew agitated with the memories of the vision in her dream. She had had these types of visions before and she knew that they weren't simply some haphazard product of a bored imagination. This particular vision she had seen before, though never did it have as specific a message as it did this time. The explicitness of the vision worried her; there was more to come, this was just a beginning, something was amiss. Yet, Eden was troubled because she had come to Antioch with her own plan and purpose. She was tired of the fighting, killing, and battles for survival, but mostly she was sick of disgusting herself. No matter how fast she could ride or how well she could wield her sword, she couldn't escape herself; there was only one way to do that. She didn't understand why it had to be Antioch, why now, why she couldn't just be left alone. But there was a dangerous truth she knew all too well; God's will was one thing, man's free will was another.

They walked through the main gate and were immediately swallowed by all the people, sounds, and smells of the lively city. Arielle absorbed everything around her through an open, smiling mouth and wide, captivated eyes. She thought that she could spend weeks there and not fully discover everything Antioch had to offer. Eden's sullen voice tore her from her enchantment.

"So..." she said slowly, looking at the ground and fiddling with the reins, "I guess this is it."

"Yes... you accompanied me to Antioch just like you promised you would. And you didn't cut out my tongue." Arielle said, trying to add humor, but something in the raider's presence made the humor sink like a stone, replacing it with a strange heaviness of being.

"Yes, I did."

"Thank you, for everything. It was a great adventure. It's a story I'll never stop telling." Arielle said nobly. Can it wait perhaps one more day?

"Yes, well, I said I'd get you here and that's what I did. All's well, I guess."

The dejected stance of the raider tugged at something in Arielle's heart. She wanted to touch her hand in comfort. She wanted to suggest eating supper at the local tavern. She wanted to know if the raider was perhaps traveling to anywhere further later. But she didn't know how to make any of these things be.

"I'll be staying here a while..." Arielle mentioned timidly and saw the raider's eyes glance at her and then return to the ground.

"You should." she replied shortly. Why now?

The tension was getting to be more than Arielle could handle and she found her fingers tangling and untangling over and over again. She finally sighed loudly under the pressure and the raider mistakenly understood it as a sign of annoyance.

"Alright then, I think I should get going." she said.

"I don't even know your name." Arielle suddenly blurted out with a look of dismay.

Eden lightly nodded her hanging head, sighed, and looked at Arielle defiantly. Arielle was shocked to see a mixture of heavy sadness and submission in those arresting eyes and she drew in a small breath.

"Take care." Eden said simply and turned to leave.

"Please," Arielle added hurriedly, "take care of yourself too."

It was all she could manage to say. Eden nodded and then walked off with her horse and was lost in the commotion of the streets. Arielle took a long, heavy breath.

"I am so indescribably silly." she muttered to herself, shaking her head.

She then stood up straight, straightened out her dress, and immersed herself in the nearby marketplace, full of colors, sounds, and smells that she had never encountered.

Eden finally found a good place to stable her horse.

"Be good," she whispered to him, stroking his forehead and nose, "then go."

The horse stared at her with gravity and made no noise. Eden patted him once more and turned to leave.

Her vision was so firmly burned into her mind, that Eden decided that she had no choice, but to adhere to it. Or at least in part. She spent the better part of the next day scouring the city for what she saw in her dream. Finally, in an armorer's shop in some small alley on the edge of the city, she was rewarded. She walked in and her attention was immediately caught by a red gambeson and a breastplate that was placed over it. She walked up to the burly, but friendly armorer who was wiping his thick hands with a cloth.

"Nice display." she ventured, motioning her head towards the armor.

"Aye. You interested?" he asked.

"Maybe. Seems alright."

"Aye, it is. Frankish, you know. Wouldn't shame a Templar. Have a looksee if you want." the armorer suggested quite warmly, motioning Eden towards the armor.

She walked up to it almost hesitantly. She slowly picked up the breastplate. The gleam of it was exactly as it was in her vision and the feel of it sent a hum through her hands telling her that it was hers to take.

"You know, most folks don't even notice that there lot. Seems to almost be waiting around for you though." the armorer mentioned.

Eden glanced curiously at him and he just shrugged. She looked back at the breastplate and caught her own reflection looking at her. She stood silent for a few moments, caught in that stare, the flames of the hearth dancing in the corners of her eyes, the rushing of its heat pouring into her ears. She brushed her fingers along the gambeson, the coarseness of skin against fabric that was waiting to be worn flooding her ears.

"Looks like that there lot found itself a proud owner." the armorer noticed with a smile, "Good thing too. Meant to see the world, that suit. Have stories told about it."

"Stories?" Eden asked curiously, turning to him with slightly furrowed brows.

"Sure. Why not?" he replied, shrugging.

Eden looked at him for a few moments and pulled out her coin purse.

"So how much?" she asked and the armorer's grin widened.

Eden took the armor back to her horse and packed it into the saddlebags. The stable keeper looked at her a little warily, wondering why someone would leave things that valuable out in the open, but Eden knew very well that just the sight of her horse made everyone take a step back and no one would dare to either steal it or anything near it. She then turned on her heel and quickly walked away.

She had done what was asked of her, she fulfilled God's will and now she wanted to be left alone to fulfill her own. She slowed her step and breath, falling into unison with the capitulation inside her. She let everything that was outside of that slowly seep out of her and spill onto the streets of Antioch until she felt completely empty. Time slowed down for her as she felt the night fill her, the black she wore on the outside matching the icy black now within. She walked in time with phantoms, the people she passed hardly noticing her except for the slight chill she left behind. She slowly unwrapped her turban, the fabric unwinding like a giant, dark serpent and she let it finally float to the ground to be trampled underfoot like it so rightly deserved. She meandered in and out of alleys and streets and the dancing shadows caused by flickering torches, the inner death wish steering her to the place of her choosing. She had waited so long for her peace. She had seen too much, paid too high a price, become an abomination. She had forgotten the feeling of being human and being a monster was too much like a second skin. There was that one piece of her, that one minuscule ray of hope that refused to fade and go out, that one remnant of the essence of a chosen one of God. But it wasn't enough and the strains were too many and Eden finally decided to surrender to the shadows that had her surrounded and give herself and the rest of the world some final peace. She noticed and sensed nothing, driven now by a deep seeded resignation. She finally felt like she was a part of something that was meant to be.

"Leave me be you whore's son!"

The scream tore through Eden's mind all of the sudden and she raised her eyes to find its source. She saw that down the alley, a group of guards were pushing around a woman and jeering. Although she thought it a rather pitiful form of entertainment, it wasn't all that uncommon. She was about to turn the corner to evade the conflict when the sight of the woman caught her eye. It was Arielle.

"We're just going to teach you some manners, wench. A little lesson to dull that sharp tongue of yours." a guard who was holding her by the hair growled into her face and then took to roughly cutting her hair with his dagger.

"Help, someone, please!" Arielle began to scream and tried to escape but with every attempt, one of the guards would kick or hit her back into place with a loud laugh.

Something in Eden imploded. Her heart stopped for a beat and then started again, now sending a fire through her blood. The flames licked her skin and surged up her spine, crackling in her mind and lighting her eyes. She heard nothing but that screaming and laughing. Without the slightest thought, instinctively, her feet turned her away from the corner and back into the alley and towards the men. When she was close enough, she suddenly stopped and simply stood there glaring at them. She was steeped in shadow, only the hilt of her sword glinting in the dark on the faint flickers of the light it caught. Slowly, the men noticed her there and stopped what they were doing.

"Who goes there?" one yelled.

Eden was silent. Her mind flooded with the sounds of an infernal blaze and each one of Arielle's whimpers. A brilliant, almost god-like force filled the entire fabric of her being and pulsated off her skin and she let herself drown in it. What is this force?

"It's a little late in the night for a walk. Perhaps you're looking for trouble? Or maybe... entertainment?" the leader of the group growled jeeringly and roughly threw Arielle to the ground and turned fully around towards Eden. The men let out a collective chuckle, but she still said and did nothing, hearing Arielle's whimpering and moans of pain. The leader grew impatient.

"Perhaps I'll just skin you alive instead!" he threatened.

This time Eden let out a low, chilling laugh that made the men uneasy.

"Oh," she hissed lowly, unsheathing her sword slowly, "that's nothing compared with what I'm going to do to you."

Arielle heard the men rush over to attack Eden, kicking up dust and pebbles as they did. She heard the clashing of blades and the grunts of the guards who completely underestimated who they were dealing with. She raised her head after one of the guards flew backwards and landed with a heavy thud next to her, his face bloodied, his eyes transfixed in fear.

"You're not human! You're a demon!" the leader cried out, on his knees, Eden holding him by the hair from behind and with her sword at his neck.

Her black was now sprayed with the blood of all the men and her eyes flashed with rage. Arielle had managed to somehow turn and propped herself up on one elbow to see what was happening and saw Eden standing over the leader with sword drawn.

"Zauba'a." she whispered.

"You, you , you're Zauba'a?" the leader sputtered out and began to shake in growing fear. "You, you are a demon among, among demons."

"Yes," Eden hissed straight into his ear, pushing the sword hard enough against his neck that it began to draw blood, "that I am. And now I'll send straight to the hell that I come from, you worthless shit."

A whimper brought her gaze up to catch Arielle's eyes and she was touched for a moment by something beyond her recognition. The fire in her remained, but the rage was snuffed out with perplexing ease by that green. Arielle finally slumped back down in exhaustion and closed her eyes. A moment later, Eden returned her attention to the man in her hands, her fury spent.

"If I ever see you again, I will tear your skin off in little strips until you curse the very fact that you were ever born." she promised him in a tone so low and cold that it sent shivers up and down the shaking guard, drawing her sword down the side of his face and leaving a trail of blood.

"Get out of here!" Eden shouted and kicked him in the back and watched him scurry away crying.

When he was gone, Eden took a deep breath and walked up quickly to Arielle, who was still lying on the ground.

"Are you alright?" she asked as she quickly wiped and sheathed her sword and crouched down next to her.

"Yes, I think. Mostly. I don't know." Arielle said weakly, looking up at Eden.

Eden sighed heavily. Arielle's face was a variety of scrapes, cuts, bruises and blood mixed with tears and dirt and Eden could only imagine what other damage was most likely done, but could not be seen. Arielle began to tremble uncontrollably and it jolted something in the raider. She felt a great bitterness, but this time it didn't concern her, but another human being. She resented Arielle being treated that way, subjected to such danger. She didn't deserve it, it was unfair beyond any words and it made Eden angry.

"You seem to invite trouble." Eden said a little absently, looking at her for any other visible signs of damage.

"It seems I do." she acknowledged in a trembling voice with a smile on shaking lips and absently moving slightly to rest her heavy head on Eden's knee.

Eden's first reaction to the touch was to jump away, but as soon as that reflex appeared, it faded away. Arielle could feel the woman stiffen, but was too tired to be concerned this time. And now the inferno in Eden suddenly shifted from a blaze to a milder, warm fire.

Eden looked at the sight for a few moments with a great stillness and sensitivity. She sighed heavily again and looked up the alley both ways and then back down at Arielle who was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. What is this?

"I have to get you out of here." she decided, "Can you walk?"

"I don't know."

Eden said nothing for a few moments, weighing two diverse paths with gravity in her mind.

"Do you trust me right now?" she suddenly asked.

Arielle looked at her for a couple of moments, surprised by the sudden question and thinking of how to answer. There were several different conflicting responses in her head, but she decided on a simple nod.

"Alright. I'll get you out of here."

Eden turned to let out a high-pitched whistle out into the night. She then put her arms around Arielle, picking her up and then curling one arm around her waist and placing Arielle's arm around her shoulders and holding it there. She took one step forward. Arielle moved with some pain and awkwardly, but she could walk.

"Alright, steady now. I've got you."

Eden walked Arielle towards her horse that had just trotted up as if he had just been waiting around the corner. She lifted her onto the horse as gently as she could. She then mounted it herself, in front of Arielle and wrapped the blond's arms about her waist.

"Hold on to me." Eden said and felt Arielle's grip tighten.

In a slow but steady trot, they left the streets of Antioch and moved out into the dark outskirts of the city. With the bigger bumps and jolts of the streets, Arielle winced and moaned quietly in her pain, her head falling from one side to the other as she tried to keep awake.

"Lay your head on my back. Between my shoulders." Eden instructed and Arielle complied and it made the ride more bearable.

When they finally left the walled city so far behind that Arielle was afraid that the night might swallow them, Eden slowed down and stopped.

"Here we are. Let me go now and I'll help you down." she said and once she unwrapped Arielle from herself, she slid off the saddle and then raised her arms towards Arielle.

Weak, frightened, and exhausted, Arielle reached down towards Eden and when she felt that the raider's arms had her, she practically collapsed into them. She spilled down off the horse and Eden scooped her into her arms with a bit of a huff and walked towards the seemingly abandoned hovel that Arielle only now noticed.

Once inside, Eden lay Arielle down on a bed of straw.

"I'll be back in a moment." Eden mentioned quietly.

Eden tended to the horse and took the saddlebags inside. She took a quick inventory of the place and saw that everything was mostly where she left it and then went towards the fireplace to make a fire. The nights were cold and the hovel a little drafty; it needed work that Eden had never found the time for. The fire began to spread warmth and light around the one room hovel.

Eden took off her sword belt and placed it on the table, picking up one saddlebag and then sitting down next to Arielle to tend to her wounds. Arielle couldn't decide which one of them probably looked more fragile, her or the raider. Eden busied herself with cloths and water and wiping away the dirt and blood, but did it so delicately as if she was afraid that Arielle might shatter if she touched her. Each cut or scrape she cleaned was one too many and stirred Eden's anger at the injustice of it all.

"This is not right." she whispered to herself, but Arielle had heard, sensing the raider's strange frustration.

"Am I bleeding wrong?" Arielle asked in a try at humor.

Eden looked at her, but Arielle saw that her anger was too much for a tiny remark to quell. She felt sorry for the raider then. She didn't want to be the cause of such commotion, such unease. Distracted, she gently placed her hand on the raider's wrist. Eden tensed and waited for some overwhelming admission to come and scare her half to death, but Arielle only smiled lightly and Eden found that that smile told her exactly what she needed to hear and she took a deep breath and calmed slightly. She then returned to her task. What is all this? What is this about?

Once Eden finished cleaning the wounds on that bard's face and hands, her brows knotted and her face betrayed some confusion.

"What it is?" Arielle asked in slight worry.

"Well, the rest... um, your um... I have to... maybe something's... broken or..." the raider stuttered and Arielle tried to hold back a grin.

"It's alright. Go ahead." she said soothingly.

"I'm just going to feel for breaks... or ruptures. I'll try to be gentle." Eden assured her.

She then ran her skilled hands down Arielle's torso, first checking if any ribs were broken and then down to her midsection to see if any organs might have been damaged. Arielle told her that she didn't feel any great pain anywhere except for probable bruises. Eden nodded in agreement and she then took out a few different salves and ointments and applied them where necessary. Feeling the warmth of the fire fill the room, the safety of being far from immediate harm and the care of the raider, Arielle felt very at ease.

"You know," she began a little dreamily, "I could get used to this."

Eden replied with a little snort, mixing amusement with disapproval.

"I'd rather you didn't. What if I wasn't there?" she replied and a heavy sadness tainted her voice. So close.

"But you were."

The statement brought Eden back to the present and she wondered at the bends and breaks of every day that could actually lead to changing someone's life completely. They had come close. If Eden had taken a different alley or left earlier, if Arielle hadn't had screamed. They had come so very close.

Eden finished applying the salves and wrapped one particularly nasty cut on the blond's forehead in a bandage. She glanced at her and was rather proud of the job she had done in repairing the young maiden. She eased herself into the chair and let out a deep breath, relaxing a little for the first time that day.

"You know duchess, we really need to stop meeting like this." she said with a slightly raised eyebrow and Arielle chuckled.

"I know, I'll quickly grow destitute from constantly having you properly rewarded."

And in that moment the both of them knew that they had just jumped over their first hurdle.

After a moment Eden got up and started to bustle about the hovel, unpacking this, moving that, rearranging the other thing. Arielle watched her for a while and then succumbed to her heavy eyes for a time. Eden tried to make the hovel as comfortable as it could be since she knew that they would be staying there for a while. When she finished, Eden sat back down in the chair next to Arielle, leaning back in it, stretching her legs out in front of her and crossing her arms over her chest. Arielle's eyes fluttered open to the sounds near her.

"Shame about your hair." Eden said after some time.

Arielle raised one hand and felt around her hair, scowling somewhat.

"Yes, well, better my hair than my throat. I can go to the barber when I'm better."

Eden observed the floor while Arielle stared at the door, an easy silence hanging between them. Eden noticed the blond's eyelids begin to droop.

"You should get some sleep. You had an eventful day."

"You too." Arielle noticed.

Eden got up, checked the windows and door, and then arranged a nice pile of sacks of hay at the foot of the bed, near the fireplace. When it seemed comfortable enough, she stripped off her armor and boots, placed her sword by her side, and lay down, her body beginning to feel the exertion the day had demanded.

"Good night..." Arielle began.

"Eden. My name is Eden." the raider suddenly added before she could stop herself.

"Sleep well, Eden."

Eden didn't see the smile that had crept over Arielle's face right before she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Arielle awoke the next day in a hazy confusion. She blinked a few times, scanning the hovel, trying to remember where she was. Jittery, she tried to get up until the throbbing pains from what seemed to be every part of her body forced her back down with a small wail. The door to the hovel was open and she was alone. Disoriented, foggy, and in pain, Arielle began to grow panicked.

"Eden? Eden?" she asked into the empty hovel quietly, but no response came and her heart began to beat more rapidly.

"Eden? Eden!" Arielle nearly yelled, her voice laced with fear and a sound at the door turned her head.

"Hey, take it easy. It's alright." Eden said, leaning through the doorway after she heard her name being called.

"Where were you? What's going on?" Arielle asked with misgiving and worry as if Eden had been gone for days.

"Calm down," Eden replied quietly, slowly walking towards Arielle, observing her closely, "I'm here. I was just outside the door."

Arielle looked at her and when her brain somehow finally registered that she wasn't either alone or in danger, her breathing began to slow down and the tension in her body loosened. She began to recall where she was and what had happened the day before, staring at the ceiling and blinking constantly. After a while, she turned her head to Eden, who had quietly sat down in the chair beside her.

"It hurts." she said simply.

Eden knotted her brows and let out a short sigh, crossing her arms over her chest. She thought for a while, tossing an idea around in her head for a few moments.

"How about I take a look at you?" she asked and Arielle quietly nodded, "But first, you'll have to change. That dress probably isn't helping."

Eden turned on her heel to the wardrobe and took out some of her clothes, knowing that it wasn't exactly something a lady would wear, but right now it was better than anything else. She chose a long, sandy tunic, a pale green skirt to go with it, and a belt. She turned back to Arielle and handed her the clothes.

"Call me when you're done." she said shortly and was out the door before the blond had a chance to even think about whether she could do it herself.

Arielle, not without some hissing, groaning, and desires to curse up a storm, managed her way out of her dress and thanked her reason that she had taken her simpler, more comfortable dresses on her journey. Her breath caught when she looked down at her middle at the speckled collection of bruises and welts of different sizes and colors. She shook her head lightly and made her way gently into the tunic and skirt. She fell back on the bed exhausted with the simple task.

"Eden."

Eden walked back in and over to Arielle. Her facial expression asked how she was and Arielle replied with a weak smile and a damp forehead from exertion.

"I'm going to take a look, alright?"

Arielle nodded. Eden slowly leaned over and very gently pulled the tunic up to expose her midriff. Seeing the slew of bruises, Eden shot a glance to the blond, who was observing her reaction and caught her gaze.

"Had their fun with me, didn't they?"

Eden shot her eyes back down to the bruises and gnashed her teeth together so that the blond could see Eden's jaw muscles flexing and relaxing. This is so unfair. Eden shook her head shortly once, concentrating on the task at hand. She gently prodded, searching for any signs of internal damage, but only confirmed what she had found last night, that there were none. There were no cuts or other wounds needing attention, everything would have to heal in its own time and Eden slid the tunic back down. She moved down a little and lifted the skirt just above the knees and found bruises and welts there too, but again nothing that needed serious attention. Pulling the skirt back down, she moved up to Arielle's head. She began to unwrap the bandage from around the blond's forehead.

"Did I even thank you?" Arielle asked.

"No need."

"Naturally. All in a day's work I suppose." the blond replied with a weak chuckle as Eden replaced the bandage with a fresh one, "Eden?...Eden?"

Eden was not used to being called by her real name; it was such a long time ago. The way her name rolled off the blond's tongue seemed to evoke some very far and faint memory of something she couldn't recall.

"Hm?"

"I wish I wasn't so helpless. I wish I could have fought those guards off." Arielle said in a shy confession.

"And how would you want to do that, duchess?"

"That's just the problem, I don't know. I never learned how to wield weapons. Maybe...perhaps you could teach me?"

Eden's eyes shot up at her and she gave her a startled expression for a split second as if she was just asked to build a castle before sunset. Eden couldn't think of a single reason why the blond should even think of learning to use a weapon and why Eden should be the one to teach her. Arielle was young, reckless, soft, naïve, and well, puny; she looked like a cough could knock her over.

"Rest first. Heal." Eden replied simply and Arielle gave up that fight for the moment.

Eden reapplied salve or other ointments where needed and noticed the blond carefully observing her almost every move. Arielle made a mental note to ask about all the treatments Eden had used, where they came from, how they were made, and what they were used for. She unearthed some bizarre fascination in all this medicine; she simply had to know what it was and how to use it.

"Hungry?" Eden asked simply, standing up when she was finished.

"Rhetorical question, isn't it?" Arielle said lightly.

Eden had to agree with a ghost of a smirk. She walked to the other side of the hovel and crouched near the hearth where she already had one pot hanging over the fire and an iron pot standing near the edge.

"Broth is a good idea."

"Sounds good. I'm a little cold."

Eden turned her head back and frowned. And before Arielle could say a word, Eden got up and began to bustle about the room. In an amazing whirl of taking, moving, shifting, and adjusting, Arielle noticed a fur rug on the ground in front of the fireplace and a chest dragged over with some sacks of hay put up against it and then covered with a thick though somewhat tattered blanket.

"Sit here. You'll be warmer." Eden suggested, pointing to the spot she had arranged for the blond.

Arielle sat up and winced in pain that was enough to make her still and grimace. Eden frowned. And then suddenly Arielle felt herself being scooped up from the bed.

"Oh dear me." she whispered, not knowing at all what to do with herself.

Eden placed her down on the rug and let her recline against the chest. Arielle shifted until she was comfortable and Eden covered her with her blanket.

"Oh my." Arielle commented with some astonishment.

"Here." Eden said, handing her a bowl of broth and a spoon.

She turned to the iron pot, pouring the hot water into a cup and then sprinkling in herbs from a small, leather pouch. She set the cup aside and then poured some broth for herself. They ate in silence, Eden lost in her thoughts, Arielle appreciating the broth as it warmed her from the inside, causing her aches and pains to fade a little.

"Thank you." Arielle said quietly when she had finished and put the bowl down near the hearth.

Eden shifted and leaned against the fireplace wall, across from Arielle, drawing up one knee and resting her forearm on it. The other hand idly fiddled with the fur rug. The blond observed her for a little, but naturally Eden's expression was unreadable and her stance on the verge of hostile. Yet she noted the bandages, the salves, the meals that said something different than Eden's demeanor.

"That was nice. You're not a bad cook." Arielle said, a noticeable return of some cheeriness in her voice.

"Oh, it's nothing really." Eden said to the rug, "Went to the market early this morning. But I didn't get much since I had to get back before you woke up. Didn't want you hysterically dropping dead because I was gone again."

Arielle gave a faint chuckle and slightly blushed, noticing that there was no blatant animosity in the comment. She shifted a little, folded her arms over her chest, and took a deep breath.

"Where do you come from?"

"I was born in Florentia." Eden replied after some silence.

"Really? That isn't all that far from Avignon." Arielle remarked.

"No, it isn't."

"Did you grow up there?"

"Yes. I left somewhere around the age of 15."

"That's the same as me. Except I got around to really leaving Avignon just now. I liked living there though, I have many good memories and I don't think I could ever just leave it for good. It just began to feel a little too, I don't know,... confined. So now I'm on this pilgrimage."

"And how is that turning out for you?" Eden asked suddenly with a flash in her eyes that startled the blond a little.

"It's not exactly what I expected, but I knew it might be hard. Like I said, God's path isn't an easy one."

Eden snorted loudly and the blond could sense the anger in Eden rising up almost uncontrollably and began to tense.

"Do you have something against pilgrimages?" she asked curiously.

"Not really. Just seem a little sentimental to me."

"There's nothing foolish in looking for God."

"Why look for God?" Eden countered, her voice rising a little, "Isn't God an omnipresence? He's everywhere in everything. So why drag yourself down here?"

"These lands are where it all happened. The things described in the Bible, the life and death of Christ. It's a source."

"God's source isn't found the rivers, hills, and sands here. It's just... geography."

"What is so wrong in trying to search for and understand God, in whatever way?"

"Understand God?" Eden scoffed, "Find me a pilgrim amongst all those in Antioch that really understands God."

"And you do?" Arielle challenged, becoming a little irritated.

Eden's gaze met Arielle's and she saw a lightning strike of anger in the stormy blue eyes only to then be covered over with a cloud of secrecy.

"Rest." Eden said flatly, getting up to her feet and grabbing her sword. "Drink the tea. It's for your fever."

Eden walked briskly out of the hovel before Arielle could say a word.

Arielle picked up the cup and held it between her hands, staring at it sadly for a while. Arielle was a person who liked other people, enjoyed meeting new people and got along with most. She saw the good in them and always tried to be understanding; she wanted everyone to get along. Yet, it seemed no matter what she tried with the raider, she ended up right where she had started and it frustrated her to no end. She is so stubborn...and angry.

She drank the tea and then shortly afterwards fell asleep. The sun had filled the hovel when she awoke and she stretched slightly, feeling better than she had earlier. She carefully tried to stand up and after seeing that she was able to stand without great pain, she decided to go outside. She found an old staff propped up against the entrance, so she took it and leaned on it, making her walking a little easier. Eden still hadn't returned, so Arielle decided to go out on a small expedition to find her.

The massive walls of Antioch could be seen in the distance, yet other than that, the hovel was quite secluded. There were trees here and there, offering pleasant shade and a place to rest whenever the blond became tired. The sound of water nearby caught her attention and she directed herself to it. Not far from the river, she spotted a black figure hacking away at an unfortunate, dead tree with a sword. Arielle didn't move any closer, but simply watched the black-haired woman with a great curiosity from a distance. The noise of the blade ramming into the wood filled the air. And words.

"Stupid. Foolish. Dim-witted. Weak. Weak. Weak. Sentimental. You idiot! Pathetic! You pathetic excuse for a human being!" Eden yelled with each swipe of her sword, "I can't stand you! Madness. All senseless madness! ...You all expect too much from me!"

The words stung Arielle and she pulled her tunic tighter around her as if she wanted to protect herself from them. She let out a heavy sigh. She watched Eden finally exhaust herself. Eden's head hung low and she then dropped her sword, sliding slowly to the ground and breathing heavily as if she had just been vanquished in the battle she was fighting. And then Arielle realized that the words weren't meant for her, but for Eden.

Arielle doubled back a little so that Eden wouldn't catch her watching and then turned back to the river, widening the distance between her and Eden. She reached the bank and decided to sit down against a rock, under the half shade of a battered tree. The rushing sound of water was relaxing and the warm day soothed her aching muscles.

"Feeling better?"

Arielle turned her head to the side to find Eden crouching a small distance off from her, playing with a stone in her hands and looking out onto the water.

"Yes. I decided to take a walk, stretch my legs. It's such a nice day." she answered, wondering how the woman had approached so close without making a sound.

They said nothing for a while and just stared out onto the water, wondering where it went and what it carried with it.

"Eden, I'm so-"

"Do you like fish?" Eden interrupted, turning to meet her face.

"Well, yes, yes I do." Arielle replied, caught off guard.

"Have you ever tried fishing?"

"Once. I fell in the river, of course. My father pulled me out, half-drowned and a crying mess."

"Want to try now?" Eden asked quietly and Arielle looked at her a little hesitantly, "I'll pull you out if you fall in. All in a day's work after all."

Arielle almost felt as if a burden had been lifted off her chest.

"Absolutely." she answered with a smile.

Chapter Text

The next day, Arielle awoke as usual to an already stirring Eden who was crouching in front of the fireplace.

"Good morning." the blond said sleepily.

"How are you feeling?" Eden asked, turning her head towards her.

Arielle stretched herself slowly and judged her body's reactions.

"Better. It doesn't hurt as much and I don't feel so hazy." she answered, noting that all the salves, ointments, and different teas she was being given had definitely helped with that.

"Good."

Slowly Arielle rose from bed and washed herself as Eden prepared some breakfast quietly. They ate in silence. Eden was pleased in the blond's relatively fast healing; the bruises were fading quickly, her forehead no longer needed a bandage.

"I'm going to the market for some more herbs." Eden mentioned after a while, staring at her food and Arielle raised her head from her plate.

"Herbs? Like the ones you make these teas out of?" she asked, getting a nod in response, "You know, it's all very fascinating; how they work, all those ointments and everything you used. ...Eden, could you...would you teach me...about the herbs?"

Eden didn't look up, but stopped eating for a moment, dragging her bread around her plate in circles. Arielle had begun to get used to the fact that sometimes it took time for Eden to reply and she patiently waited, hoping she hadn't gone too far again.

"You can come with me to the market if you want. I'll show you." Eden replied, slowly raising her eyes to meet Arielle's.

"Wonderful." Arielle said with a smile, her delight dancing in her eyes.

Eden's gaze automatically darted back to her plate. Arielle wondered in silence over that reaction. It seemed that every time she smiled or tried to be warm, the raider's gaze would flinch back as if burned. It puzzled her that all the reactions that would normally gain a person's favor, attention, and even trust seemed to irritate the raider. She rifled through all the reasons that her curious mind could conjure up, but none of them seemed to make sense. She had already seen that Eden had the ability to be warm and gentle, but somehow she simply chose not to be. Maybe it's the reputation she's living up to? Maybe something happened once?

After finishing breakfast, they rode back to the markets of Antioch, Eden armed and armored, Arielle dressed in the clothes Eden had given her, a thin shawl covering her head, and with the staff in case she felt tired. Eden could see through the main gate that the streets were bustling with activity and decided to leave the horse outside the gates, away from the crowds. Each carried with them a large shoulder bag and they dived into the market commotion. They walked from merchant to merchant, buying the things they needed. Arielle absorbed the atmosphere like a sponge. She had been in markets before in Avignon, but this one was different. There were different sounds, smells, and colors. The traders were so diverse and from so many different places- Armenians, Franks, Seljuks; merchants from Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Basrah, Rome, and Constantinople. The exotic flavor of it all intoxicated the blond- silk, grains, sugar, oils, wines, gold, spices, linens, silver, ivory, wax, skins, herbs. She seemed to marvel over almost every thing she encountered, wanting soak it up, to know it inside and out. Eden, on the other hand, went about in a very business like manner, spotting what she needed, paying for it, and leaving without dawdling, usually having to shout at Arielle to keep up. After having bought some fruits and vegetables, they went on to buy some bread, a little cheese, and lamb.

When they reached the herb merchant, Eden finally turned to Arielle and looked at her. She took a deep breath and proceeded to tell Arielle what she knew about healing herbs. At first, she thought she was simply indulging the blond in some whimsical idea of hers, but when she noticed the serious attention she was giving to the subject, she took more heart in the matter and actually wanted to pass on all she knew.

"These are cloves," Eden explained patiently and pointing to the different herbs, one by one, "used as a painkiller and antiseptic. Coriander for fevers. Saffron is for infections, though it's hard to find; it's better to use thyme or achillae for that. Balm leaves of Melissa for wounds. Coltsfoot for fever and inflammation. Yarrow helps you sleep. Garlic is good for everything."

Eden went through all the herbs she had used and then went on to explain what other ones did as soon as the blond asked. She could almost see Arielle registering every word in her mind like a diligent scribe, her brows creasing, her eyes focused. Eden noticed a peculiar little warm feeling in her chest. Perhaps because it had been a week since the day they met in the most bizarre of circumstances and Arielle hadn't once run for her life in a hysterical, screaming panic like most did. Or perhaps it was because she was talking about something different than battles or divisions of spoils; something she had to learn herself and that someone was actually listening and not out of fright, but with interest. Arielle looked at Eden who was lost in her thoughts and smiled at her and the sudden realization struck Eden that the blond wasn't terrified of her and it hit a chord deep within her. Arielle leaned against her staff a little more and Eden snapped back into the present.

"Enough scholarship for today." she said, paying for her herbs, "Want to go back?"

"Yes, let's. I am a little tired." Arielle admitted with a small, sheepish grin.

They turned back into the alley where Arielle accidentally bumped into a man.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Arielle said quietly.

"Watch where you're walking, you little piss!" the man shouted, waving his arms and blocking the alley.

Arielle took a step back in shock and felt Eden take a step forward and stand right behind her and heard a deep, low growling in her throat.

"Oh, no, this can't be. Oh, this is just too good!" the man began to shout in menacing laughter.

"What's the hold up there!" a shout came from the back of the little crowd that had gathered in the tight alley.

"Hey, look what we got here, chief!" the man yelled over his shoulder.

A darker, taller, and more formidable man pushed his way through up to the front and when he saw Eden, he simply crossed his arms over his chest and chuckled roughly. Eden suddenly felt the same sensation she had felt in the desert, the charge of protection. She effortlessly shifted around Arielle and now stood right in front of her. Arielle could smell her leather armor and feel a strange strength pulsating off her skin.

"Karas..." Eden growled through her teeth.

"Now is that any way to greet an old friend?" Karas asked, an evil grin on his face.

Eden's hand slid down to the hilt of her sword, which he immediately noticed.

"Ah, ah, ah. Now why would you want to do that?" he asked sarcastically and she watched as eight of his men drew around him as he took a step forward, "You know, I think you should be taught some manners. First, you leave without even saying goodbye and then you don't even say hello. You're getting to be like that little tart."

"Back off, Karas." Eden warned.

"Just some innocent advice." he said, mockingly raising his hands into the air and then resting them on his sword, "I think we could give you both a little...schooling."

"Back. Off." Eden strained through her teeth, feeling a strange energy being pumped through her veins and her muscles strained almost to a breaking point.

"Oh, come on, what's she to you anyway? She's certainly not helpful or useful. And you don't need good company. Everyone knows you have no friends. Isn't that right...Zauba'a?" he sneered.

The mention of the name sent shock waves through the whole crowd of curious onlookers. Arielle noticed everyone begin to move away in absolute fear, whispering the name to their neighbors and praying for themselves all in the same breath. "I heard she killed 10 men with her bare hands and blindfolded. Zauba'a killed Rebecca's daughter, she was only 9 years old. The candlemaker lost his eye in one of Zauba'a raids. She burns down churches, she's a witch! I heard she eats the hearts of the knights she slaughters. She once walked into a school and cut each child in half, my brother saw it with his own eyes. She'll murder us all or sell us to slavers." The remarks bombarded Arielle's ears and mind and she leaned harder against her staff for fear of being buried underneath them all. Eden cursed Karas to every corner of Hell imaginable. He knew that they wouldn't fight in such constricted quarters so he instead turned to a different way of inflicting damage. Plus, if he was lucky, the city people might just carry her outside of their walls on pitchforks themselves.

In the corner of her eye, Eden spied a small corridor in the sea of people that lead down a side alley. Seeing her opportunity, she suddenly grabbed Arielle's arm and pulled her behind her and quickly ran down the alley and turned left and right for what felt like an infinite amount of times before they were finally free of the city walls, the crowd's murmuring, and Karas's booming laugh. Without a word, she nearly flung Arielle onto the horse, mounted herself and galloped away from there as quickly as possible.

Back at the hovel, Eden dropped the shoulder bag on the table, picked up a small pouch off the shelf and stormed outside to a clump of trees off in back of the hovel. Arielle stood near the fireplace trying to think of what to do. She hadn't seen the raider that mad before and the thought of Karas being so near scared her somewhat. The remarks she heard in the marketplace relentlessly swirled in her head to the point that it started to make her head ache. She walked out the door and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. She noticed storm clouds gathering on the horizon. After a few deep breaths, she decided to go talk to Eden.

The blond found her sitting on a rock, under a clump of trees, sharpening her sword meticulously. She approached her from the back, but wisely judged not to come up too close and she stopped a small distance away. She listened to the sliding grating of the stone against the blade, a chilling yet practical sound. She noticed that it had a certain music to it and coupled with the raider's rhythmic movements, it turned into almost a type of dance.

"What does he want with me exactly?" Arielle asked quietly after a few moments of silent observation.

"I really don't know," Eden replied after a while, "but he knows it gets to me." He knows it'll hurt me.

Arielle stared out into the horizon and Eden continued sharpening her sword. They both wondered if she would be forced to use it one day against him.

"Eden," Arielle started tentatively, her brows furrowing, "those things they said...about you...being a witch..."

The sharpening sound halted and Arielle noticed how blisteringly quiet it became and felt uneasy. Eden sighed heavily and her shoulders slumped.

"What did they say?"

"They said... they said that you burned down churches. Ate the hearts of dead knights. Murdered children..."

"Is that what they think of me?..."

"Is it... I know some of it is crazy... Is what they say..." Arielle stuttered, somehow not able to formulate the potentially destructive question.

"No." Eden said, letting out a deep, slightly aggravated breath, "At least not all of it. I've killed, yes. I've torched and raided, yes. But I don't gorge on dead people, I don't touch any places of worship, and I would never hurt a child. Common peasants and their stupid, revolting imaginations..."

Eden returned to sharpening her sword vigorously. Arielle was ashamed to admit that she breathed a silent sigh of relief. She somehow felt that the tales couldn't be true, but, on the other hand, she couldn't say that she knew Eden at all. She understood, but feared the reputation that had probably kept her alive to this day. The demon horse and the demon rider. No fear in battle, no heart as a weakness.

"It was cruel," Arielle said with a hint of compassion and taking a few steps forward, "how they treated you. And what they said about you having no friends."

Arielle heard the sharpening sound slow down and that heavy sadness that Eden seemed to carry everywhere with her filled the air and hung like thick smoke.

"It was true." Eden admitted so quietly that Arielle almost didn't hear her.

The admission tugged at Arielle's heart. She wanted to tell her that although they didn't know each other, she somehow enjoyed the raider's company. She wanted to tell her that even though she could probably find a hundred sensible reasons against it, she still wanted to at least try to be her friend. She gingerly reached out and put her hand on the raider's shoulder.

Eden jumped up and swiveled around, raising her empty hand in protest and opening her mouth ready to shout out a threat. But she caught the gaze of those innocent green eyes now mixed with confusion and a little embarrassment and found the shout dissipate in her throat. They just stood there for a while, looking at each other in silence, Eden slightly crouched in an almost defensive stance, awaiting attack and Arielle standing straight with her hands folded in front of her, awaiting judgment. Then Eden began to finally relax, standing up straighter and lowering her hand. She sheathed her sword and walked forward a little until she was standing beside the blond.

"Do you like lamb?" she asked with a hint of doubt.

The silence that she was getting in response was making her nervous and she began to think that it was better to just turn around and run.

"Yes, I believe I do." Arielle finally answered, turning to Eden with a small smile.

Eden let out a small breath and they both made their way back to the hovel to roast the lamb over the flames.

A steady rain set in while they were eating their dinner and when they had finished, Eden threw more logs on the fire to keep the hovel warm. The room filled with bright light and they rested on the rug, opposite each other, drinking a weak ale.

"You know, I think that was probably the best lamb I've ever eaten." Arielle said a little dreamily, seeing Eden scoff lightly, "What? No, really, it is!"

"Alright, alright."

"I have an idea. How about I cook tomorrow? I feel a little useless and I'm not too bad around a pot and spit myself." the blond claimed, boldly raising an eyebrow.

"Alright then. If we die of hunger or poisoning, it'll be your fault."

"Hey!" Arielle chuckled.

Eden suddenly tensed and Arielle's laugh and smile disappeared. A few moments later she heard the sound of galloping hooves rumbling through the damp ground. She shifted her eyes to Eden who seemed to turn into one large nerve, picking up the slightest sounds and analyzing them instantly. The horses stopped in front of the hovel.

Eden felt her heart charged again, her blood racing slowly, her body at a tense peace, her being open and unattainable. She looked at Arielle with an intensity that the blond could hardly bear. Arielle saw such an iron gaze of resolution that she would have sworn she could move a mountain or push back the sea with those eyes. Long flames flickered in those oceanic eyes; it wasn't coming from anger, but something else that Arielle couldn't determine, something that seemed far deeper.

"Are you just going to leave us out here in the rain like this?" a shout came from outside, "Like I said, no manners!"

"Listen to me, princess." Eden said with a nearly lethal seriousness, "Stay here. If something happens to me, take the horse and run."

"Wait, what? What are you saying?" Arielle asked, obviously frightened and worried as Eden arose.

"Run and never look back."

Eden rose, turned on her heel, neared the door, opened it and walked out defiantly, leaving an alarmed Arielle still on the rug.

Light spilled out into the night, illuminating the riders somewhat and reflecting off the heavy rain. Eden stood opposite nine drenched raiders and knew that this encounter would not end with mere words.

"Well, well, well. Finally come to show us some hospitality?"

"Leave." Eden replied, her voice sharp like a stone.

"Guess not," Karas remarked, unfrazzled and shifting in his saddle, "You know, I've taken about as much lip from you as I can stand so I'm just going to say this once and for...well, old times' sake. Give me the harlot."

"What do you want with her?"

"Well, we know just how to break in a colt like that. Don't we, boys?" Karas asked, turning around to them and they all jeered, sending a shiver up Eden's spine, "So how about you hand over the little jewel, huh?"

"You know I won't do that."

"What is it with you anyway? You really want to cause such a raucous over that worthless tramp?" Karas asked, tilting his head slightly and leaning forward in his saddle.

"You're the ones who came galloping over here in the pouring rain for nothing." Eden retorted.

"You always were a sharp one," Karas remarked with a heartless chuckle, "and I never did like that very much. Oh, look who graced us with her unbearable presence."

Arielle walked into the doorway of the hovel. Eden turned her head to the side and saw the blond from the corner of her eye, her figure steeped in light, her face full of resignation.

"Eden," she said softly, "maybe I should...You can't fight all..."

Eden's heart began to hammer steadily and she turned her gaze back to Karas.

"You know as well as I do that if I want something, I get it. So hand her over and I'll leave you be." he growled.

Eden said nothing, the humming tension in her body filling her lungs, spilling into her blood, speaking to her. Arielle took the silence as a sign of hesitation and acceptance of Karas's terms. The sound of the blond taking a step forward crashed into Eden's mind with such force that she thought for a instant that her body might just explode. Eden shifted slightly to the side, now fully in front of Arielle, blocking her way.

"Do you really want to give up your life for this wench? Who is she to you anyway? No friend or ally. Have you grown that pathetic and sad? You want to become a martyr not even a dog will remember, is that it?" Karas yelled and his men dismounted, drawing their swords, "I'm warning for the last time!"

"No, I'm warning you. Anyone tries to touch her and I'll make them regret the day they were born." Eden hissed.

"You disgust me," Karas shouted, spitting on the ground near her, "I'll take pleasure in putting your head on the wall of the room where I'll have my way with that bitch!"

The men lurched forward and in flash Eden had her sword in her hand, ready to meet them. She let the terrible calm within drive her actions and she stabbed and slashed in a lethal dance that didn't allow for any mistakes. She flowed with power and grace and Arielle noticed that the raiders looked like badly made wooden puppets in comparison to the woman. The first man fell to a wide swipe of her sword before he could even raise his own. She then shifted her weight onto one leg and launched herself to one side, piercing the man there, pulling out her sword quickly and using her momentum to spin around and thrust her blade into the man rushing her from the other side. Four of the remaining men launched themselves at her simultaneously and toppled her to the ground under their collective weight. They quickly rose and began to batter her with kicks and the pommels of their swords. Give in. Give up. Just let it go. Have your peace finally. Find the solace you crave. You won't have to feel anymore and no one will ever hurt you again. Just surrender.

"No!" Arielle screamed as one of the men reached her and grabbed her by the waist.

"Silence!" the man screamed and hit her across the face with the hilt of his sword, letting out a terrifying smack.

"Eden!" she screamed with all her remaining strength as the man dragged her away.

The group of raiders abruptly jumped back as Eden suddenly vaulted upward off the ground and raised her sword, her name echoing in her mind, boiling under her skin. She let out a yell of near madness and hurdled forward, slicing the raider in front of her from the shoulder down to the opposite rib. The two raiders on opposite sides ran at her blindly. She took two steps to the side towards the youngest of the raiders who was scared nearly stiff. He began to slow down and didn't even raise his sword and she struck him in the head with the pommel of her sword, knocking him out. She then turned and fell to one knee, driving her outstretched blade right through the stomach of the charging raider. She pulled the sword out roughly and turned to the raider who grabbed Arielle.

"You really shouldn't have done that." she growled and the raider absently let Arielle gof, a panic beginning to overtake him as Eden began to stomp towards him.

She stared him in the face, piercing him through with eyes like some kind of demonic ice that could suck all of the humanity out of him and he began to tremble.

"I warned you." she whispered.

He suddenly jolted upright as Eden drove her blade up through his throat and out the back of his neck. He stared at her wide eyed and she kept her eyes locked on him, as he slowly slid down to the ground with the life that was seeping out of him. He finally crumpled dead to the ground and she pulled her sword out and breathed heavily.

"Not bad," Karas remarked, dismounting and drawing his sword as he approached Eden, "but like I said, I always get what I want."

"Karas, I'm giving you one last warning now. Leave now and I'll spare you your worthless life." Eden warned forebodingly.

"Oh, sorry, I've got other plans."

"Then, I hope they involve burning in Hell."

"Oh, no, ladies first." he sneered and hurdled himself at her.

His attacks were swifter and stronger than those of the other raiders and Eden, tired and aching, quickly found herself on the defensive. Karas sneered at her, knowing his advantages well and toyed with her, trying to wear her down as much as he could. Yet Eden knew him well and deflected his attempts using as little energy as she could. Karas finally grew annoyed when he saw he wasn't getting much of anywhere and launched himself at her in a flurry of strikes. The night was drowning in the sound of the deadly dance; sharp blades clashing, heavy breaths expelling, steps spinning in the thick mud. Karas grinned as Eden breathed heavily.

"I really don't see what everyone is afraid of." he spat.

"That's your first mistake as usual. It'll be your last." she retorted.

Karas lurched forward with another furious volley and Eden found each strike harder and harder to deflect. Just give up. Karas unexpectedly swung with his left fist and slammed into Eden's face, sending her to one knee with a groan.

"Ha! Pack your bags lovely," he cried to Arielle, "you're coming with me! Oh, I'm going to love you to death. That I promise you."

Eden saw Arielle huddled in the doorway with her arms around herself, her legs giving out and sliding to the ground. She heard her whimpering. She felt her fear. She turned her gaze to Karas as he looked back at her and rose to her feet.

"You sick, disgusting son of a whore." she spat coldly, her eyes freezing over, the charge swelling in her body.

Karas struck, but Eden parried his blow, holding her sword in only her right hand. Karas struck once more, but was deflected again and again. He noticed the awesome ease with which she fought now and felt a fear begin to crawl up his spine that she could easily sense.

"Did you miss me, oh gleam of my heart? Did you pine after your death angel, hm?" she hissed through her bared teeth and with a frigid glare.

Eden now took the offensive, each one of her strikes sending Karas back, stumbling in the mud and rain. Yet it came with a horrifying ease, her motions and aggression pouring out of her like the simplicity of breathing.

"I warned you, you sick bastard. I gave you a chance to save your miserable existence!" Eden raged over the rain, "But you couldn't leave me alone, could you? Well, now I'll send you to the hell I come from!"

Eden launched a barrage of strikes that he finally sank to his knees beneath. And as he hurriedly tried to shift and thrust his sword into Eden's side, she was quicker and plunged her blade between his neck and shoulder and straight down to his heart. His body jolted stiffly, remaining paralyzed for a few moments and then fell to the ground with a heavy thud.

Eden took a couple of steps back, retrieving her sword, breathing heavily and scanned the ground, looking at the havoc she reeked.

"You bastard! You sorry son of a blasphemy! You couldn't just leave me alone? You could've just listened! You soulless sack of pig shit! I hate you! I hate you and everything that came from you, you miserable bastard of a pagan!" she screamed as she paced amongst the dead, dragging her sword behind her.

And then she let out piecing yell, carrying all of her regret, sorrow, and hurt. Because she was the victor, but she had never really wanted any of this. She dropped her sword and sank to her knees and began to cry though no tears came. She pulled on her hair in anguish, her chest heaving in dry sobs, her whole body shaking from her effort that was beyond her means. Arielle heard the cry and saw the slumped black raider and felt something painfully twist within her. She pulled herself up and on her shaky legs walked out into the rainy night towards the forlorn figure. She moved as if by someone else's hand, along a thread she couldn't see and a reason she couldn't remember. Quietly and without reflection, she sank to her knees behind Eden and gently slid her arms around Eden's shoulders and rested her forehead on the back of her neck. Eden only hung her head and let out another cry, this one low, full of her heavy sadness and loneliness. Arielle responded by pulling her arms around her tighter.

A loud stirring caught Eden's attention after a while and she noticed the man that she had knocked out beginning to get up. She gently unclasped Arielle's arms from around her, got up, and walked over to the raider who had stood up and was clutching his forehead in a daze. Eden approached him, grabbed him by the collar and lifted him up so that he was on his tiptoes.

"Everyone else is dead." she told him in a frigid tone, her voice cracking slightly under the strain of her rage and sorrow, "Do you want to join them?"

The raider shook his head, blinking madly.

"Get these bastard friends of yours out of here and I'll spare you. If I see a single shred of them here in the morning, I'll find you and pull your spine out through your throat. Do you understand me?"

The raider nodded and Eden let him go and he dropped to the ground. He looked up to see Eden glaring at him like Death itself and he scurried on all fours over to the first of the bodies and began to drag him back. Eden heard Arielle approach.

"Let's get you out of this rain." the blond said softly and turned to the hovel.

Eden followed her almost unconsciously. She walked back into the hovel, closed the door behind her and faced Arielle who was looking at her. The sight of Eden broke the blond's heart; she was covered in mud, blood, soaked to the core and had the face of someone who had be robbed of everything she held dear. A tear fell from the blond's eye and silently rolled down her cheek. Eden noticed it and followed the tear's path down Arielle's face and neck until it disappeared behind her tunic. She found that tear strangely fascinating, as if it was the first time she actually saw one.

"Don't cry." she whispered hoarsely, her gaze a little blank and lost.

Arielle let out a stifled laugh mixed with a suppressed sob and raised a trembling hand to her lips as more tears threatened to show themselves.

"Thank you. I can't even..." she whispered in a breaking and trembling voice.

"No need." Eden replied shaking her head slowly, the water dripping from her hair and down her face.

"Stop. Just stop it." Arielle said softly, but sternly, catching Eden's attention as she walked forward and threw her arms around the dark-haired raider and succumbed to sobs.

The blond cried shamelessly into Eden's shoulder and for a few moments Eden simply stood there in utter surprise and confusion. Her heart began to hammer again, but this time in a steady echo, willing her to react against her well armed reason. Slowly she lifted one arm and wrapped it around the crying blond. They stood there like that for what seemed to them to be hours; muddy, bloody, soaking wet, and exhausted. Arielle cried over them both, realizing their pain and sacrifices, but not knowing how to help or heal. Eden had saved her life, but she watched her killing herself in the process and it made her feel numbingly helpless; she wanted more than anything to finally do something. Eden simply listened to Arielle's tears, feeling her tremble against her body, her breath settling on her collarbone, her hands resting on the small of her back. It was so gentle, innocent and purely human that Eden was completely awestruck. She felt like a child who was experiencing a beautiful summer's day for the first time. Her fascination struggled with her fear of humanity, but she was too exhausted for this battle and out of all the times she could have surrendered that day, she chose this one.

Eden sighed heavily onto Arielle's shoulder.

"It's alright now. It's alright." Eden tried to soothe.

She gently pulled away from Arielle.

"How about we put on some dry clothes, hm?" Eden suggested and Arielle weakly nodded.

They changed into the last two tunics Eden had, Arielle putting on another skirt and Eden putting on old animal skin leggings. They sat in silence on the rug and Eden made them some tea, willing her hands not to shake. They sat in their usual places by the fireplace and sipped their tea slowly, letting it warm them from the inside.

"Let me take a look at that." Eden said after some time, referring to the nasty bump on Arielle's cheek.

She shifted over closer to the blond, picked up a jar with an ointment and applied it with the same care as before. It almost made Arielle want to cry again. She then noticed a bruise forming on Eden's bare forearm and remembered the beating she took.

"And what about you?" she asked.

Eden looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully as she moved her limbs around. She winced and looked down, pulling her tunic up somewhat absently and revealing a long scratch on her side, below her ribs. She frowned at it slightly and reached for the ointment, but was halted by a hand on her wrist.

"No," Arielle said with a certain insistence, "This time let me. I want to do it. I want to learn. I want you to teach me. You have to teach me everything you know."

Eden looked at her with a baffled curiosity. But the forest green eyes expressed a deep urgency and pleaded for acceptance, for a chance. Yet, Eden saw that they were not the eyes of a naive, giddy, young lady, but someone much wiser and more knowing, who understood and believed in more than human reason allowed. It seemed almost as if an ancient spirit had taken refuge in a girlish body and it spoke to Eden in a silent tongue, asking to be seen. And Eden's emptiness responded, accepting its request for an audience.

Eden lifted her hand from the ointment and Arielle let it slide through and out of her hand. She then took the ointment in her hands and shifted closer to Eden.

"Tell me what to do." Arielle said with decision.

Eden explained and Arielle followed and Eden noticed that the blond's hands trembled, but said nothing. They both checked Eden for any other wounds, finding a couple more scratches, several growing bruises around her midriff, a cut on one arm and the bruise now forming under her eye. Once finished, they looked at each other.

"Sleep. It'll both do us some good." Arielle said before Eden had the chance to say the same thing.

Arielle went to the bed and Eden stretched out on the rug. The hovel fell silent except of the sound of the continuous rain and the crackle of the fire. Arielle stared up at the ceiling, feeling the pressure of Eden's hollowness in her chest and she decided to do something about it. She promised herself that she wouldn't leave Eden like this. She just couldn't.

Chapter Text

Arielle awoke at sunrise with a start, glanced down at the rug and saw that Eden wasn't there. She quickly got out of bed in a panic and rushed out of the hovel, bursting out of the door and sweeping her eyes across the empty, but battered land in front of her, her heart practically hammering in her chest, the memories of the previous night rushing back to her mind.

"Eden?" she called in alarm.

Eden suddenly appeared to her left, emerging from the lean-to where she had stabled the horse.

"What is it?" Eden asked, a little startled.

Arielle just looked at her, blinking, trying to register what she saw. When she finally grasped that what she was seeing was real, she began to calm down and relax.

"Nothing, it's just... a bad dream." Arielle answered.

"Alright." Eden said, a little unconvinced, but deciding not to push the matter and after some thought added, "Come here."

Arielle walked up slowly to Eden and the horse, standing in the opening of the lean-to.

"This is Arion." Eden announced, stroking the black horse's forehead.

From afar, Arion caught everyone's attention; he was blacker than death itself and the shine in his coat almost gave a metallic undertone as if he was armored. Yet up close, he was absolutely stunning. He had a powerful and noble presence. No movement or sound was unnecessary or for show and his eyes were always closely watching, judgments forming in them and reflected back. He was reserved, but held such a pulsating strength that one could think that he would tear apart anyone who crossed him in any way. He was both beautiful and terrible and Arielle found that he reminded her a lot of his rider.

"Arion?" Arielle repeated in surprise and scoured her mind, tapping her finger on her lips, "Arion... I know that name from somewhere... I think... Arion... An immortal, black horse known for his swiftness..."

Eden looked at her a little surprised.

"Oh, well," Arielle mumbled sheepishly, dropping her hand and trying hard not to blush, "um, I read a lot, you know. I like stories. And I have a, um, good memory."

"Well, you're right. I took a while for me to find a good name for him. I found that the old myths of Greece and Rome had lots of interesting... creatures to choose from."

"You chose well. If I believed in myths I would say that the true Arion is standing in front of me right now." she said and saw the corner of Eden's mouth twitch up in a barely visible grin and then fall again. "He really is frightening although even more magnificent. Even if he doesn't like me."

"He's just a one rider kind of horse. It's not that he doesn't like you, he's just rather distrustful."

"Like rider, like horse." Arielle said lightly and then her eyes widened when she had realized what she had said and silently cursed her big mouth.

Eden said nothing, took a few steps towards the horse and began brushing him down, her face unreadable. Arion turned his gaze calmly to the blond and snorted loudly.

"I am so sorry. I didn't mean-"

"It's alright." Eden said, cutting her short and letting out a sigh, "Not that far from the truth, I guess."

If Arielle could, she would have literally kicked herself hard enough to fly over the hovel. She saw Arion turn to Eden, nicker and nudge her arm at which Eden smiled lightly and it only made her feel worse.

"I'm going to make breakfast. Maybe I'll be lucky and accidentally burn my own tongue out." Arielle said in exasperation, tossing her hands up into the air as she stormed back inside the hovel.

Arion snorted again and Eden chuckled lightly.

"Be nice." she said and Arion replied with a shake of his mane.

They ate breakfast quietly. Arielle felt like an idiot, but had no idea how to talk about it with Eden without making it even worse. She didn't know that Eden didn't really mind, she had heard it all before. Compared with the sensation that she was drowning inside herself, Arielle's words meant rather little. There was a strange gnawing in her, like a relentless black dog gorging on her soul ever since the last raid. And though she hadn't been swallowed by it in the end, it was still there, making Eden uneasy and spent. When they had eaten, Eden went out "to do some things" and Arielle left her alone, thinking it best. The raider returned just when Arielle had finished making the dinner she had promised. Arielle had hoped the fresh air and time would have lightened Eden's mood, but she saw there was no change and that there was something bothering her still.

After dinner, Eden rose from the rug and said she was going for a walk, grabbed her sword and left. Arielle let her go, not really knowing what else she could have done. She found her journal, little ink well and quill and spent some time scribbling down the thoughts in her head and the things she had gone through. She finished, closed the journal, and looked around the hovel, feeling rather useless and got up with a sigh and went out for a walk herself. She hadn't gone out to look for Eden; she somehow thought she would find her eventually. She wandered among the trees, rocks, and bushes, trying to keep out of the thick mud that was still in some places. She took in the beginning of a beautiful sunset when she reached the riverbank and watched the deepening light envelope the dark figure sitting at the edge on a large rock. She walked up to her slowly and quietly sat down on a rock beside her. They sat there, both staring out onto the flowing water, finally letting the weight of the previous night's events slide slowly from their shoulders.

"What did he want from me?" Arielle asked quietly, "I just... I just don't understand any of this."

Eden realized that the whole experience with Karas was painful for her. She hadn't harmed anyone and there was a man who wanted to do all the harm in the world to her.

"He didn't really want anything." Eden answered in a sad and knowing tone, "He wanted to have you, like a spoil of war."

"Why couldn't have he just left me alone?"

"He probably would have, but when we met him in the desert, he saw a chance to hurt me as well."

"But you were a part of his band."

"No... I rode with him, but I always kept my distance... He really always hated me because I wasn't... submissive."

Arielle turned to Eden and looked at her with an intense curiosity.

"Eden... why did you ride with Karas at all?"

Eden exhaled loudly. The question seemed simple, but it was, in fact, complicated and sometimes she herself felt that she didn't have an answer.

"Sometimes I don't know." Eden replied slowly and quietly, looking out onto the water and watching the setting sun turn it to black and gold, "I just... I was... I was... wild. No path. No purpose. And he just kind of appeared and I had nowhere else to go, so..."

"Were the both of you somehow...?"

"Oh, God, no." Eden snorted, "Karas was heartless. And I... well, I'm a demon, remember? No, it was out of punishment more than anything else. And now... well, don't really know what now..."

Eden's voice trailed off and she drew her knees in and wrapped her arms around them, close to her chest, resting her chin on top of them. In the light of the setting sun and dressed in something other than her black clothes, Arielle suddenly noticed how delicate Eden actually looked. She saw a young woman, gazing out in front of her with unspoken questions in her eyes. She looked hurt, lost, and alone, very in need of some quiet and a friend. It stunned the blond to the very core when she remembered the completely opposite version of Eden from the day before. Fierce, frigid, and unstoppable, she seemed almost inhuman. She had survived thinking that her greatest gift was that of taking life. But now she saw that it was also her greatest curse.

When the sun had almost completely disappeared, Eden finally got off the rock and the both of them headed back to the hovel quietly.

"So what will you do now?" Arielle asked, linking her hands behind her.

"I don't know," Eden said in frustration and disgust with herself, fiddling with a blade of dry grass, "probably ride around in circles until I hit something again. Just like a whirlwind..."

Arielle said nothing, but knotted her brows and gazed at the ground in front of her.

"Have you planned out the rest of your pilgrimage?" Eden asked a little later with a slightly calmer tone.

"Yes... for the most part. I found some travelers at one of the inns in Antioch, they said that they could take me along. They leave tomorrow..."

"That's... good." Eden replied curtly and sped up a little, wanting the awkward conversation to end.

They went back inside and Eden took her black tunic, a needle and thread, sat down near the fireplace, and began quietly mending the tears. Arielle sat on the edge of the bed and idly moved some things from one place to another, pretending she was packing. The mending felt wrong to her. The black tunic was torn for a reason and mending it was a kind of surrender. Eden meticulously worked away at the blood-stained, black fabric, resigned to being the demon everyone saw in her. The blond would have never for the life of her interrupted the raider, but their was some deeper instinct pushing her to go and finally do something. You can't be scared of everything for the rest of your life. She finally tossed the bundle she had in her hands back onto the bed and got up, walked over to Eden with resolve and sat down next to her.

"No." she simply said, covering the tunic with her hand.

Eden first looked at her with surprise that then quickly turned to annoyance.

"What are you doing?" she asked rather sharply and Arielle swallowed.

"Leave it alone. Leave it ruined."

"Why would I want to do that? What would I wear then, duchess, hm?"

"Eden... you, you're not a demon... You don't need this." Arielle stammered out quietly and tried not to collapse under the suffocating silence that fell over them.

"What would you know about me?" Eden finally answered in a low growl and that made Arielle begin to tremble, knowing she was treading a fine line.

"I may not know much, but I know you are not like Karas."

"You know nothing about me. You don't know the things I've done, the things I've seen." Eden continued to growl practically through her teeth, her eyes beginning to freeze, her body starting to coil up as if about to strike.

"I've seen enough to know that what I'm saying is true." Arielle countered, determined to hold her ground and looking straight into Eden's eyes, "If you were the demon you say you are, then you would have let me die in the desert like a squealing pig. But instead you saved my life more than once. Everyday you have the chance to decide who you will be. Maybe it's time for you to start being a warrior instead of a demon. Stop being Zauba'a and begin being Eden of Florentia."

Arielle's heart raced in her chest so violently that she was afraid it might burst through her ribs and run off. Eden stared at her in a stony silence. The icy blue and emerald green clashed, their gazes locked. Arielle could almost see the waves of Eden's turmoil crashing in her eyes, the blond's arguments beating against the raider's own. But then Eden's vision emerged in the middle of the squall and she realized that some of the images had already become part of her real memory and some of the words had gained meaning. She had to choose between taking something on faith alone or probably never having faith in anything again; faith was such a fragile thing, but it was practically all she had left. Arielle watched the waves slowly calm, the ocean become placid, and the ice melt. They had both been holding the black tunic and Eden looked at it and slowly let it go. Arielle watched the raider moving her hand away and thought that she might just jump through the roof in relief. She held the tunic for a while in her hands and then squeezed it into a tight ball.

"This is where this always belonged." she stated and tossed the tunic into the fire.

Eden's gaze simply moved with it and she watched the flames devour the tunic, turning it into a black smoke that vanished up the chimney. Eden's gaze didn't leave the fire and for a moment Arielle began to worry if she hadn't pushed too far and too hard and if she had burned the woman along with the tunic she hated. Eden continued to look into the fire long after Arielle had gotten back up to pack and was still sitting there when the blond told her that she was going to sleep. Finally, under the heavy lids of the eyes that decided to finally defy her, Eden let herself fall asleep.

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Darkness. Silence. And a bright yet easy light. The flame and snow she had grown to know so well.

"Eden."

"Gabriel."

"It's good to hear you speak my name." he noticed with a smile, "It is time."

"No Archangel, I can't..."

"Why?" he asked, titling his head slightly.

"I've killed. I've killed, murdered, and destroyed. My punishment for my evil was only more evil. I'm tainted, corrupt,... an abomination. I am not meant for this."

"You are mistaken. You are already on that road, Eden."

"Please, not me. I'm not worthy of it. I'll only bring more shame and dishonor. It can't be true that I am a chosen one.

"Eden, even the most precious of stones are hidden under mounds and mounds of earth. God sees your deeds, but He also knows your heart. Do you really presume that the Creator of all things would make an unwise decision?" he asked gently.

Eden shook her head slowly.

'Eden...'

"But I've killed... I killed Karas, his men. I just wanted to be left alone." Eden admitted quietly.

"You took lives Eden, but you also chose to endanger your own for another. The power you felt there was not that of the damned." Gabriel stated and walked up closer to Eden until he was standing right in front of her, "You felt it more than once, Eden. And you know the difference between that force and others."

Eden hung her head, but had to agree.

"Do you know why you are chosen?" Gabriel asked and Eden raised her head and shook it, "You are not chosen for your purity, piety, or innocence. You, guardian, you have been chosen precisely for the fact that you have seen such evil and destruction. You have felt it, tasted it, toyed with it even, yet you never succumbed to it. You were driven back, but never defeated, you sank, but never drown."

"That doesn't change the things I've done."

"No, but your knowledge of evil can help you combat it. How can you vanquish the monster if you know not where it lurks?"

Eden understood the archangel's reasoning, but somehow found it hard to accept. Gabriel sighed.

'Eden...'

"You were a chosen one before your eyes opened in this world. The Creator knew what would come to be, yet never once renounced His decision. If there is no other way for you to see this, then see it as a new war. You are being given a path to redemption and the solace that you so desire."

Solace. Yes, I do want to finally know peace so much.

"This isn't a cruel trick?"

"No," Gabriel answered, a small smile forming, "this is no trick, my ever suspicious guardian."

Eden sighed deeply.

"Show me." she told the archangel.

Gabriel looked straight at her with eyes of pure flame and images flashed in her mind for a brief moment, telling her of where she was to go and fragments of what may come to pass. He then closed his eyes and reopened them again, his eyes turning back to warm sparks. Eden looked at him wide-eyed in near disbelief.

"But that means-"

"Yes."

"So I... that feeling... I knew..."

"Yes."

"Does that... is that... no, that can't be..."

"That is of things whose time is not present."

Eden tried to wrap her mind around what she had seen and the words of the archangel and only seemed to come up with even more questions. Gabriel felt her uneasiness and confusion.

'Eden...'

"Have faith, Eden, in your Creator and in your heart." he said warmly and she looked at him a little warily.

"I do not promise you anything archangel. But that you already know." she finally said and Gabriel put his hand on her shoulder.

"Be not afraid, Eden, guardian warrior, elect of Michael, chosen of God the Creator. The Lord, your God shall fight with you. Pax Domini." the archangel said, turning to leave.

"Gabriel?"

"Yes?" he asked, turning back to her.

'Eden...'

"Whose voice is it that I always hear calling my name? In the distance. Like a whisper."

Gabriel smiled.

"The voice belongs to the one foretold on your pendant."

And with that the archangel disappeared and Eden awoke with a start. It was the middle of the night and only the crackling of the fire could be heard. She lay back down and calmed her breathing and racing heart. She fell asleep again, feeling the black gnawing in her soul slowly disappear.

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Arielle awoke, opened one eye and noticed with disgust that it was only nearing dawn. She was about to turn over and go back to sleep when she noticed Eden sitting in a chair next to her and staring up at the ceiling.

"Are you alright?" she asked in sleepy and muffled confusion.

"Yeah. Why?" Eden asked, turning her head to look at the blond.

"Because it's still dark outside and instead of sleeping, you're sitting beside me, staring at the ceiling, twirling a dagger around in one hand much too close to your face for my comfort. That's why."

"Oh." Eden said and slowly put the dagger down on her lap and returned her gaze to the ceiling, "I was just thinking... where to go, what to do..."

"Oh. Well, you know, everything always looks worse in the dark." Arielle commented sleepily, "In the morning, maybe you'll see things better. There's no rush. We're in no hurry. We'll think of something..."

And there was Eden's answer; "they" weren't in a hurry, "they" would think of something. She turned her head back to the blond whose eyes had almost closed again.

"Actually, I think I have a plan."

"See?...s'good..." Arielle mumbled drowsily.

"Sleep now."

"Mhm..."

Arielle fell asleep and Eden returned to twirling her dagger around. She searched everywhere, but the gnawing was gone. The charge, now a constant, gentle murmur, took its place.

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"Arielle... Arielle..."

Arielle looked around, but saw no one and nothing, only total darkness.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Arielle..."

"Where are you?"

"Arielle... Protector..."

"Who are you? What do you want?" Arielle asked demandingly.

A light began to appear in the darkness, but didn't form into any shape in particular. The blond peered towards the light and though small, it hurt her eyes and she shielded them with her hand.

"What do you want? What are you?"

"Arielle... Do not fear me... Jerusalem... Arielle, be not afraid... in Jerusalem, protector..."

"Tell me who you are! Why do you call me protector? What is in Jerusalem?"

"Be not afraid..."

The light began to fade almost as quickly as it appeared.

************************************************************************************************************************************************

When Arielle awoke, she felt a little foggy. The words of the dream echoed clearly in her head though she had no idea what they meant and whether to treat them with any kind of seriousness. She had read the writings of monks and priests about visions, that angels, saints, and God Himself came to man in visions during the day and in dreams. She shook her head a little and decided to think about it later. She noticed that Eden was up and about as usual, busy at the table making an unusually large amount of food.

"Morning. What are you doing?" Arielle asked, getting out of bed and walking up drowsily to the raider and sitting down opposite her.

"Food. Rations. For the road." Eden answered, concentrating on what she was doing.

"For me? Oh, you didn't have to go through all the trouble..."

Eden simply shrugged. Arielle leaned back in her chair and sighed. Of course, all in a day's work I'll bet. She looked at the raider compassionately and shook her head lightly.

"You know," she said quietly, "I wouldn't have minded if it was you I was traveling with now and not those... from the inn..."

Eden stopped her work, sighed heavily, and leaned back in her chair, catching the blond's gaze.

"Would you really want to travel with me?" she asked with knotted brows and a tone that betrayed a real, deep doubt that anyone would want to do such a thing.

About a hundred things ran through Arielle's head, but everything seemed to be something she couldn't say, didn't know how to say, didn't know if she should say, a lady shouldn't say, wouldn't say to Eden for fear of the loss of a limb.

"You know," Eden added carefully, "I happen to have a friend in Jerusalem... I haven't seen him for a while..."

There was an immediate gleam of recognition in Arielle's eyes and a grin that crawled across her lips and that was all the answer Eden really needed. Faith.

"It's settled then." Arielle decided and started happily munching on some dates before Eden could get them out of her reach.

Chapter Text

Eden watched as the blond, who she usually had to practically threaten to get her to hurry and move along, now flew about the room restlessly from one place to another with a huge smile on her face. It started to make Eden dizzy and she had to ask her four times before Arielle finally sat back down.

"Listen, I can see that you're... full of energy, but if we're going to make this trip, we need to plan it out. The road is much longer than the one here and it's dangerous... We need to be a lot better prepared."

"Yeah, sure, dangerous, mhm, prepared, got it." Arielle repeated, but her face betrayed that she wasn't listening at all and she had to hold on to the chair to keep from bouncing off of it.

"Duchess..." Eden grumbled and gave her a serious look.

The look made Arielle settle down immediately and she gazed back at the dark-haired woman thoughtfully for a few moments. She looks nice with her hair tied back like that.

"Yes, yes, you're right, I know." she said, a mischievous grin forming in the corner of her mouth, "And I think the perfect place to start preparations would be some new clothes for you."

Eden blinked twice with some surprise and Arielle grinned triumphantly.

"Well, you did say yourself that you don't really have anything to wear other than the black tunic and with that gone..." Arielle explained with sarcastic innocence, "Unless, you decided to go romping around the desert like an Amazon."

"Oh, I sense trouble." Eden muttered quietly and with a little anguish.

"Yes, clothes," Arielle continued, ignoring the comment, "And the barber. Though with hair like this I'll probably be a less likely target for new raiders. Some equipment probably. Those herbs. Let's just buy all of them and I can figure out what they do later. Oh, and food, yes lots of food..."

Eden's head slowly sank into her hands and she began to wonder if this wasn't just another cleverly disguised curse. But there was a part of her that took a little delight in the cheerful rambling of the young blond. It's...pleasant.

"Alright, alright." Eden said, raising her head and stopping the blond, "I need you to listen to me."

"Yeah, listening." Arielle answered, blinking.

"I'm serious. This is serious. You may not want to go."

"Oh. Alright, I'm listening." Arielle said and became a little more serious.

"Like I said, the road is dangerous. And traveling with me, well, it doesn't make it any easier."

"I beg to differ. Have you ever seen yourself fight?"

"But I also draw trouble. Pilgrim trains are usually raided and left alone. With me, on the other hand, it may get a little...ugly. I'm rather well known... amongst the wrong kind of people."

"Oh, I see what you mean..." Arielle replied and creased her brows, emersing herself in deep thought.

Eden watched her carefully. She was sure that the blond was finally starting to realize what kind of person Eden in truth was and that traveling with her wasn't the best of ideas. She wanted to give her a chance to back out, for her own safety. Eden shifted slightly in her chair, waiting for Arielle to try to break the change of mind to her.

"Maybe I should get a weapon?... I did say I wanted to learn, didn't I?... What do you think?" Arielle finally said after some time and looked at Eden in all seriousness.

Where Eden saw a chance for her to go back to her life, Arielle saw a chance to finally tear herself away from it. Though a chance to have her "silly adventures and stories" out of her system and have some sense restored in her pretty little head was her parents' intention of her pilgrimage, Arielle had something different in mind. For her it was chance to finally experience all the adventures and wonders that she had only read about her entire life. She wanted to make her literary escape real, she wanted to see, feel, taste, and smell all the things that lived in her mind. Although she thought that eventually she would probably settle down into the life that everyone expected of her and said would bring her happiness and meaning, she knew that there was a part of her that didn't fit in. She had a secret hope that maybe in the Holy Lands she would find something that would finally bring that part some solace. Now, she perhaps saw her chance to become a person she wasn't ever supposed to be.

Eden was surprised by the reply, but saw the sobriety of the blond's expression. Eden wondered a little over the younger woman. There were times where she lived up exactly to her image- young, naive, giddy, and innocent if not a little absentminded. She could image the blond in a rose colored dress, dancing in all merriness with other girls, blushing under the stares of interested boys. Yet, there were other times when the green eyes would shimmer, unveiling a dark, rich forest full of many more secrets than could be seen at first glance. There would be a mature attentiveness of a sage, gentle understanding of an old mother, hard experience of a fighter. The stark difference between the two images perplexed Eden and she wondered which of the two the blond really was or whether she was neither in the end.

"You want to wield a weapon?" Eden asked after getting over the strange look in Arielle's eyes.

"Yes. This seems like a chance to finally do so. You said it's dangerous. Maybe if I had a sword or something I could teach those raiders a thing or two." the blond responded, the playful innocence returning to her eyes.

"Well, I guess you might need one in the end... For protection..." Eden said slowly because now, innocent or no, to her it seemed like she was trying to tell a hippo that it would have to climb a tree.

"But don't I have you for that?" Arielle shot out, blinked in her stupidity, and prepared herself to hide under the table if need be.

"First of all, I'm not your servant or squire." Eden snorted and crossed her arms over her chest, "Secondly, I can't always be right next to you. Your little rendezvous in Antioch is a good example."

"Yes...you have a point. I guess you're right."

"Thirdly, I'm always right." Eden added in good humor and the blond's grin returned. "That said, you can still back out now-"

"No, thank you." Arielle answered swiftly with a little theatrical sniff.

"Alright then." Eden stated, leaning back in her chair, a tiny grin hovering in the corner of her mouth. "It seems we have a plan...more or less."

"Well then let's go to the market!" Arielle exclaimed, bounding suddenly off of the chair and out of the hovel, almost hitting the door on her way out.

"Going to be a long day..." Eden muttered under her breath.


Arielle squirmed on the ride to Antioch so much that Eden had to tell her to sit still three times.

"What's gotten into you?" Eden asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh nothing. I'm just... excited." the blond answered, widening her eyes and grinning widely.

"Oh, dear Lord." Eden exhaled quietly and Arion snorted loudly.

When they arrived in Antioch, Eden suggested they start at the armorer first and they went to the same one where Eden had last been. The armorer seeing Eden greeted her warmly.

"Aye, if it isn't the lady that wouldn't shame a Templar. Say, you wouldn't be here with a complaint now?"

"No, no. Just some additional things I need."

"Ah, good to hear." the armorer said relieved and then turned his gaze to the blond standing right in back of Eden, "And so what would it be that the lady is looking for?"

"The lady doesn't seem to know yet." Eden intervened after Arielle opened her mouth three times, but couldn't get a word out.

"I see. Well, feel free to take a gander, little maiden. See if there ain't something to your liking." he offered and then walked to the back and returned to some work.

"Am I really 'little'?" Arielle asked, peering up with girlish, mossy green eyes at Eden when she turned around.

"Yes." Eden replied flatly, "Now go take a gander."

Arielle frowned, dissatisfied with the answer, spun around on her heel, and began to look at all the weapons while Eden took a few moments to appreciate the blond's young and somewhat sheltered innocence here where it wouldn't do either of them any harm.

Arielle lingered over and picked up a longsword with both hands and a smile only to drop it automatically with a tiny grunt. Eden rolled her eyes and approached her.

"Maybe you'd like to choose something... more for you." she suggested, picking up the longsword with one hand like it was a feather and ignoring Arielle's wide-eyed gaze while she put it back.

The blond put her hands on her hips, pretending to be insulted.

"Fine, maybe I don't have the same strength as you do, but not everyone has to wield a sword, you know." she said.

"Really? Well then what weapon do you want to wield... lady?" she asked with a smirk.

"I'm still thinking about that." Arielle answered, theatrically lifting her head a little to the side.

Eden rolled her eyes and sighed. They looked at different weapons, but Arielle felt ill at ease with them. They looked at armor and shields also, but without knowing what weapon Arielle would have, choosing armor was pointless. And suddenly the blond stopped and turned around to face the slightly taller woman with a glint in her eye.

"I know." she declared with satisfaction.

"You chose something?"

"A bow."

"A bow?"

"A bow." Arielle confirmed with a nod.

"Really?" Eden asked, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, really. I am not simply an elegantly dressed woman and nothing else. Come with me oh ye of little faith." she said in a light huff and walked out armorer's and to the fletcher across the alley.

"Morning." said the fletcher, grabbing his back, "By Christ's nails, I'm getting old. What can I do for you?"

Arielle stood in the middle of the shop, her hands defiantly on her hips, and scanned all the hanging bows inside. Her eyes moved from one to the other until they final rested on a bow, a little hidden in the corner, slightly smaller than the others.

"That one." she stated, pointing to it.

The fletcher scrambled over to it and pulled it down.

"There you are, love." he said handing it to her, "Shortbow of fine quality that one. For horseback even if need be. Designed right here in Antioch. Good range out of that one, tried it myself. And made out of yew, it is, as durable as a Crusader. Holy Mary, I swear I broke something this time."

"Thank you. I'll be right back." the blond said and swiveled on her heel, "If I could have your attention please, Eden."

Arielle walked purposefully out of the workshop, grabbing an arrow on her way and waited for Eden to stand next to her.

"Choose a target." Arielle said and waited.

"There." Eden said, pointing to a tall, yet slender basket on a second story balcony of a building about 250 meters away.

Arielle took an archer's stance, ignoring Eden's cocked eyebrow and a few baffled onlookers, took the arrow, nocked it, drew it, aiming at the target with strained concentration, and let the arrow fly. Eden watched the arrow sail through the air and hit its mark with ease. The blond faced Eden, leaning against the bow and put her other hand on her hip with an 'I told you so' written all over her face. Eden crossed her arms, looked at the arrow, and then back at the blond.

"Not bad." she remarked, "A bow it is then."

The blond's face lit up with triumph and she bounded back to the fletcher's shop with a big smile on her face.

"I'll take it!" Arielle announced to the fletcher. "And a quiver of arrows. Oh, and some wax and an extra string."

"Long or short bodkins, miss?"

"Hmm... make it half and half."

"Right away, young lady." the fletcher responded with a grin and then clutched his back, "Oh, this back is definitely giving me the jib again."

After they left the aching fletcher, they went back to the armorer and the rest of the day seemed to turn into a colorful, yet tiring blur. They moved from merchant to merchant looking, trying on, arguing, debating, arguing some more, complaining, requesting adjustments, and haggling. Eden would provide her knowledgeable eye and Arielle would talk her way into a better deal. They had finally purchased all their armor and weapons, clothes, equipment, and food. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, they passed the barber.

"Oh. A lovely afternoon to the lovely ladies! You come to Samir! Samir welcomes you!" cried out the barber happily, throwing his hands up in the air.

Both of the women stopped and stared at him, Arielle grinning in amusement, Eden scowling with annoyance.

"I did say I needed to go to the barber." Arielle pointed out to Eden quietly.

"Oh, lovely lady come for snip snip from Samir! Good choice, good choice! Samir turn you into a queen... Oh, you find such handsome prince after you leave Samir. Oh yes, you find king, become queen of great kingdom. When you are queen, you remember good Samir, yes?"

Arielle let out a little laugh while Eden rolled her eyes.

"Are you sure?" Eden asked, eyeing the smiling barber roughly and realizing that he kind of looked like a shorn sheep dressed as a court jester.

"Of course. He's harmless, just a little... overenthusiastic. He's funny." Arielle giggled.

"Come, come, royal lady! You travel far, have many hardships I see. Samir make you look like jewel again. You will be emerald of the East..."

Arielle giggled again and Eden thought that she just might throw up if she heard any more.

"Fine. I'm going to the blacksmith for some new shoes for Arion. I'll meet you back here." Eden decided, gave the barber one more hesitant look, and walked off.

"Ah, come noble lady. Samir will make you jewel of Byzantine Empire. Samir is king of snippety snip snip, yes.."

Eden came back to the barber's after a while, silently thanking her luck that some things were to be picked up the next day and she didn't have to carry it all around now. The blacksmith was nearly on the other side of the city and the whole hustle and bustle was tiring and making her irritated. I never did like crowds. As she neared the barber's entrance, Arielle came practically bolting out of it, in her shawl, with a very jovial Samir right behind her.

"I tell you, gentle lady, Samir is worthy of praise! Ah, you return, oh dark, mysterious maiden." he said, noticing Eden and bowing slightly and Arielle had to hold back a giggle while Eden had to hold back an urge to cover him in horse manure.

"Let's get out of here, he's already started naming my children... and grandchildren." Arielle whispered hurriedly and the both of them made a dash around the corner.

They were about to finally return to the hovel when they passed the stables and Arielle suddenly froze. Eden noticed after a few steps and turned around.

"What is it?" she asked a little tiredly.

"I... I..." Arielle stuttered.

Eden sighed and walked to the blond to see what the problem was. She glanced around, but saw nothing and was about become annoyed when she saw what had captured Arielle's attention. In the corner, a little farther away than the other horses, stood a beautiful chestnut horse. The horse caught sight of them looking at him and as if on cue, slowly trotted up to them. They had seen brown horses before, but this one was unique. His chestnut coat shone in the sun, letting off metallic reflections and the powerful muscle rippled beneath it. Yet Eden was struck mostly by his blond mane and green eyes. He was powerful, but stood with such calm and looked so gentle that Eden almost thought he wouldn't be able to step on a fly on the ground. He reminded her so much of the blond that it was almost uncanny.

"That's my horse..." Arielle whispered almost breathlessly.

"I know..." Eden replied similarly.

They rode back to the hovel, laden with their goods and Arielle on her new horse. The road back this time was quiet; Eden was tired of all the noise and Arielle was preoccupied with finding a name for her horse and she scoured her memory for mythical and magical beasts to name him after. When they finally arrived at the hovel and dismounted, Eden turned to see a widely grinning Arielle.

"Let me guess, you named him."

"I did. Xanthus."

"Xanthus?"

"Well, if you have a mythological stallion, why can't I? He was an immortal horse belonging to Achilles, blond and endowed with speech."

"Well, if he's endowed with speech then he's definitely your horse." Eden drawled a little tiredly, pulling the heavy saddlebags off of Arion and going back into the hovel while Arielle huffed and put her hands on her hips.

They ate in silence, both a little spent from the hectic day at the market. After eating, Arielle had unintentionally fallen asleep and Eden took her sword and went outside to alleviate her nervous tension with some weapon practice. She felt better with her blade in her hand and out in the wide open. People seemed to drive her crazy quite quickly; they had such a tendency to destroy things and hurt others. No one knew that better than she did. And though she didn't go around picking fights or being consciously aggressive, she also had no intention of being overly friendly. She just approached everyone indifferently and acted the same way others acted towards her. She whipped her blade through the air, slicing and disarming her invisible opponents. The tension poured out of her muscles, replaced by something much more natural and simple. This is the closest I get to feeling alive.

When she had finally drilled herself into a pleasant exhaustion, she returned to the hovel and stood in the entrance, turning her sword around in her hand.

"Is something wrong?" Arielle asked when she saw the dark-haired woman standing and staring down at her sword.

Eden looked up at her for a moment with somewhat of a pained look. No, there is no use in even searching for the words.

"No... nothing." she replied, looking back down and turning to her tasks and leaving the blond a little perplexed.

They spent the rest of their time checking their supplies, setting the herbs out to dry, putting aside some pieces of meat and fish to dry also. Eden repaired some wear she saw in her saddlebags and Arielle tore some of Eden's cloths into bandages. They worked quietly, Arielle making a comment every now and again and never receiving more than a 'mhm' from the older woman.

When night had fallen, Eden rose to go. She silently put on her new, hooded, black cloak and fastened her sword.

"I'll be back soon." she managed to say.

Arielle watched her wordlessly as Eden mounted Arion and rode off into the dark night. The blond wrapped her arms around herself, trying to ward off a slight chill at the thought that Eden wasn't coming back and had just left her there. Would she?...

Not long after, Eden finally arrived at the church of St. Peter and dismounted. She approached the door and knocked on it three times. It creaked open after a few moments and an old, but alert monk stood in front of her. A hooded woman in front of the church in the middle of the night was not an everyday occurrence and he observed her closely. She raised her gaze to meet his and he peered at her with intrigue. He saw her blue eyes flash for a moment in the light of the moon.

"Quis es? (Who are you?)" he asked, his gray eyes peering at her in curious scrutiny.

"Miles et bellator Dei sum (I am a soldier and warrior of God.)." Eden answered in a low, clear and nearly inaudible voice.

The monk knotted his brows and gazed at Eden in perplexed suspicion. He regarded her entire stance with his perceptive, experienced eyes.

"Num miles gloriosus es? (You are a glorious/boastful warrior, aren't you?)"

"Curator Dei sum.(I am a guardian of God.)" Eden replied and reached around her neck and pulled out a chain with pendant to which the monk responded with a startled look that then gave way to a slow nod, "Missit me Dominus. (The Lord has sent me.)"

The monk shuffled out of the way and outstretched his arm, ushering her inside.

Arielle leaned her forehead on the window, staring out into the night until her eyes slowly slid closed. She felt the coolness of the window against her skin, hearing the crackle of the fire that was throwing dancing shadows against the walls. Her mind's eye peered out into the darkness that had swallowed Eden earlier. She melted into the near silence of Eden's absence and the velvet night, feeling it's subtle energy, almost being able to sense its presence in the air and hear its movement through the passing of time. She felt at ease with a faint sense of belonging.

'Arielle... Protector...'

Her eyes flew open upon hearing the distinct whisper and she scanned the interior, but found no one there. What is going on? Am I going mad? Am I making a spectacle of insignificant things?

Eden was cradling her sword almost like a baby, the blade glistening with beads of water rolling down it, the monk with his hand every so gently placed on the tip of her shoulder. The monk led her to the door and then faced her.

"God speed to you, sister. May He watch over you, Eden."

The woman responded with a small smile.

"Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. (Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit)" the monk began, making the sign of the cross over her.

"Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula seculorum. Amen. (as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.)" Eden finished.

She left the church quietly and heard the door behind her close as she mounted her horse and rode off, cradling her sword in her lap.

Eden returned as quietly as she had left and found Arielle sitting at the table, watching the door. They both noticed peculiar looks on each other's faces. Arielle had one of concerned deliberation and Eden had one of a strange, humble surrender. Neither said anything.

Finally, Eden took out a clean cloth, kneeled down in front of the fireplace and began to wipe down the blade gently and thoroughly. Arielle observed her for a short while, her head tilted slightly to the side. It was a brilliant sword that despite all of the battles it had seen, seemed to gleam defiantly like it did from the day it was forged. It beamed almost as if holy itself, the hilt wrapped in black leather, the hand guard slightly down turned, the pommel with an engraved cross in the middle that was stained black in contrast to the pommel's shining silver. To Arielle, the blade seemed so massive and brilliant that nothing would be able to even scratch it, not to mention destroy the blade entirely. It was an elegantly regal sword, but deceptivelyy deadly and the blond noticed how much it really reflected the woman holding it.

"Where did you go?" she asked inquisitively.

"My sword..." Eden answered quietly, her eyes still resting upon it, "I had it... cleansed."

Her tone told the blond that something special indeed had taken place. There was some ceremony or ritual that the down-to-earth, realistic woman fighter was convinced had made her blade new.

"And you?" she asked very quietly.

Eden sighed and stopped working for a few moments. She then restarted.

"No. I've done too much." she admitted.

"You will be cleansed too, Eden. One day." she offered and met her gaze as Eden looked up at her from underneath her burden of sadness.

"Perhaps."

They returned to their chores, finishing them neatly before going to sleep in silence.

Eden woke up the next morning just as the sun was peeking through the window. She looked out of it and was grateful for what seemed like what was going to be good weather. She casually turned her head to the sleeping Arielle. She finally had the chance to see her in her new hair. She wondered why she had kept her shawl on the whole time and then wondered why she hadn't seemed to notice that earlier. Her hair was shorter, down to her neck. Eden looked at how the sunlight caught the blond hair and turned it into a fine gold and Eden found it very...beautiful. As soon as the word appeared in her mind, she angrily chased it away. But it's true. And in the light of a pure morning, she is just as beautiful as her golden hair.

Chapter Text

Xena: "I felt that way once. I felt there was nothing left to live for. I was tired of hurting and I just wanted it to end."

Gabrielle: "What changed it for you?"

Xena: "You did."


The two women seemed to now only be a faint resemblance of the people they were when they met. Arielle looked nothing like the traveling pilgrim that Eden had saved. She sat on her brilliant chestnut horse with a poise that showed that horse riding was nothing new to her. Her ladies' dresses were gone. She had thick, dark leather boots that were folded down at the top and dark brown pants. She wore a white shirt over which she had a forest green, long sleeve gambeson with a stiff collar which was covered with a chainmail shirt. On that she had brown, leather armor that covered her torso, shoulders, and thighs and was almost the same color as her horse. Her arms were protected by leather vambraces and darker, leather gloves. Her dark brown leather belt had a short sword hanging from her left hip, a small dagger on her front right hip, and a satchel in the back. While on horseback, she slung her quiver across her back and her unstrung bow was fitted into a long, thin scabbard that the leatherworker had made for her and was attached to the front of the saddle.

Eden's new armor made Zauba'a look like the demonic phantom she was. Arielle had argued, begged, pleaded, explained, and grown almost hysterical until she finally convinced Eden to at least not keep everything black. Eden had thick black boots almost to her knee and black pants. She had a sandy tunic over which she wore a long sleeve gambeson in a deep, blood red color with black hems with a moderately high collar and leather ties down the front. It had five wide, but deep fringes at the bottom that reached halfway down her thighs, somewhat covering her cuisses. On that she had a sleeveless chainmail shirt upon which she wore a breastplate and backplate with pauldrons that reflected brilliantly in the sun and vambraces on her forearms that were slightly covered by black, leather gloves. On a black leather, double wrap sword belt, her brilliant sword hung on her left and dagger on the right. She also carried a rectangular satchel on her belt in the back.

Their horses were laden with the women's equipment, apparel, and the few belongings they carried with them. They both trotted down the main road to Jerusalem with purpose though their reasons differed. Eden's thoughts drifted off to the morning for a few moments. She had been busy organizing Arion's saddlebags and adjusting everything to bring him the least amount of strain. In the hovel, Arielle had changed into her new clothes and gear and suddenly bounded outside.

"Observe traveler!" she shouted happily, outstretching her arms and with a large grin on her face.

Eden turned to look at her and felt her breath catch ever so slightly. Eden saw the almost dangerously naive look on the blond's face; this was all an adventure for the blond, a great harrowing tale from some story about princes and dragons. It annoyed her somewhat, that kind of attitude would get them into serious trouble sooner or later and taking into account the blond's luck, Eden thought it would probably be sooner. But there was something else. She didn't want to admit it and she tried to make sure her face didn't give it away- Arielle was a sight. Eden felt something she hadn't felt in a long time- she was amazed. And it wasn't the kind of look-at-this-field-littered-with-men-I-just-killed-and-to-think-they-were-alive-a-minute-ago amazed but the opposite, the the-strange-beauty-of-this-person-leaves-me-perplexed kind of amazed. The greens and browns Arielle had chosen matched her emerald eyes perfectly and gave a solid, dark contrast to her blond hair. Eden mused for a fleeting second that if she hadn't known better, she would have thought that she had just fallen in love. She scoffed at the thought, sending it scampering away. But even if for just the briefest of moments, the thought had appeared.

"So, what exactly do you do? Like a profession, I mean. If you have one, that is." Arielle babbled out, not long after they left Antioch completely behind them and pulling Eden out of her thoughts.

"A profession?" Eden repeated.

"Yes. Did your father train to do anything? Or..."

"My father." Eden growled out and then swallowed, "My father was a brewer and later tried his hand at being a merchant. He wanted me to learn more about trade. He even went with me to Venetia to see first hand how merchant trade worked. I spent more time staring at ships in the docks than anything else." Eden explained, ending with a shrug.

"Huh. My father is a merchant too, and shipwright. He always thought I wasn't bright enough to learn his trade. He would always say that it's not something for respectable women. He had lessons in music and needlework given to me though I was never quite good at it. Well, except maybe the flute, I always liked that instrument. I naturally grew restless and finally convinced my father to let me learn bookbinding and illuminations. I love books and stories and it wasn't too unladylike a craft and far enough away from being a bard, an idea my father despised. In the end, I always loved telling stories more than binding them."

"A warrior and a bard..." Eden mused half to herself, "Who would have thought?"

"It doesn't sound that bad though, does it? Like a great beginning to an even greater story." Arielle added, "Sounds better than my family. Cecil, the great merchant and shipwright with his wife of fair hair and gentle air and his two daughters- the lovely and quiet Thea married to a knight in shining armor and Arielle the bard... the fool of the family."

Eden cast a glance to the side and saw the blond's shoulders slump and her expression turn sad. She realized that Arielle's family evidently meant a lot to her and couldn't think of why they would be so obstinate towards her. Eden knew better than anyone that there was no forcing anyone into a mold, it only made everyone miserable sooner or later. And she had seen quite a few 'unladylike' ladies in her time and Arielle definitely wasn't one of them.

"Fool, huh?" Eden asked, raising an eyebrow, "Well, I happen to like a good tale. Maybe you'll tell one?"

"Really?" Arielle asked, her spirits lifting at the request, "You would really want me to tell a story?"

"Well, you're a story teller, aren't you?" Eden replied and Arielle showed off a grin.

The bard thought for a few moments and ended up telling the Jewish tale of the river Sambation. Eden listened to the story and watched as the blond grew more and more impassioned with it, moving her arms around, making faces, and changing her voice throughout. When the story ended, Arielle looked at Eden, nervously waiting for some kind of response and Eden wondered for a bit why she had liked the tale as much as she did.

"Your family." Eden drawled slowly, looking ahead of her, "I don't think I like them."

Arielle hung her head to hide a grin that almost threatened to split her face and a blush that colored her cheeks.

A few hours later, Eden noticed a darker spot near the road and as they neared, the spots turned into bodies and once they came up close, they saw the bodies were those of pilgrims. They had most likely been attacked by bandits and they had been the unlucky ones. Or, Eden mused, perhaps they were the lucky ones after all.

"Eden, children..." Arielle, who was right beside her, whispered in a quiet agony.

Eden saw that underneath the overturned cart, two pairs of young legs were jutting out. Eden's jaw clenched and her face turned stony as she stared at the sight as if she couldn't comprehend what she was seeing. And to a certain extent, she couldn't. They were just children and Eden swore silently that if she ever found the people who did this, she would tear them limb from limb.

"If you see anything on the road, tell me." Eden ordered Arielle and quickly dismounted.

She walked up to the bodies strewn beside the road. Women and children. Arrows and sword wounds. Damn all this. Arielle watched Eden as she silently picked up a shovel that had fallen out of the wagon and began to dig shallow graves for the victims. She worked silently, severe gravity etched on her face. The blond watched her drag the women into the graves and then the children. Eden laid the second child in the grave and Arielle felt a prick in her heart when she saw her pick up a rag doll from off of the ground and place it on the little girl, wrapping her lifeless arm protectively around it. She covered the bodies with dirt and stones and took some larger rocks which she arranged on top in the form of a cross. She then slowly stood up and for a moment looked out towards the horizon, silent and motionless, as if waiting for someone or something to appear.

"In nomine Patris et fillii et Spiritus Sancti, amen. Requiescat in pace." Eden finally whispered over the grave, making the sign of the cross in the air.

Eden turned back and mounted Arion and Arielle could see a deep trouble manifested in Eden's tense muscles and pulsing jaw with a renounced sadness in the corners of her eyes. Eden nudged Arion forward before the blond could say anything and Arielle silently took one last look at the grave and fell into place slightly behind the disturbed black and red rider.

"It was... it was a beautiful thing you did for those poor people." Arielle finally said after about an hour, trotting up alongside Eden.

"It just had to be done." Eden shrugged.

"A shame only that there was no priest to be found."

"Priest? What did they need a priest for?"

"For the last passage. To pray for their souls and entrance into Heaven." Arielle explained.

"I basically did just that."

"Yes, well, a priest is ordained. He knows how to do such a thing properly."

"Do you honestly think that those poor souls won't find their way to Heaven because a priest didn't stand over them?" Eden asked, somewhat irritated, "Blessings and prayers come from the soul, princess, not the cloth. And God is found in the heart, not a cross hanging about one's neck."

Arielle thought about it a little, feeling slightly offended. For Arielle, it was difficult to reconcile how someone could believe in God, but so reserved towards the Church. Her family was quite religious though she couldn't say that there were none more pious than they were. She had churches, masses, and priests made an integral part of her life ever since she could remember. Anyone who ever ventured to say anything to the opposite was immediately and harshly shunned by her mother and father and would quickly disappear from their lives, mentioned only cruelly in passing during a dinner or outing. Her parents had driven into the very core of her mind that she would never achieve salvation if she shied away from the Church. And, according to her parents, she was the child that needed salvation most of all. There was something different about her; to them something disquieting. But in an afterthought, Arielle realized that there was also something different in her dark-haired companion. She thought it ironic that one similarity between them was the difference everyone saw in them.

"Do you harbor ill will towards the Church?" the blond finally asked quietly.

"I have the same warm feelings towards the Church as it does towards me." Eden answered after a moment, "I've seen more godliness in men you would call infidels or heathens than I have seen in some men of the cloth. I have seen things done in the name of the Lord that would make all the angels fall from the heavens. I will serve and kneel before God only."

"But how can you serve God if you have no reference, no guide? A priest spreads the word of God so that we may be able to at least try to understand and find salvation." the blond asked, growing strangely frustrated with this different perspective.

"We save our souls ourselves, through our deeds, not through listening to others speak. And judgment should be left to the Creator only."

"But who are you to know more than the sons of the Church?" Arielle asked in a tone loud enough that it made Eden turn to look at her, "Who are you, Eden, to know the will of God so well?"

Eden stopped and gazed at Arielle with a hard, stark expression. She felt an anger bubbling up within her, but she used her will to keep it suppressed. She regretted speaking her mind to someone who didn't seem to want to really hear it. And who are you to think you know who I am? She said nothing. Arielle couldn't break through the unreadable expression, but something deep within her sensed that there was something more that was hidden deep beneath the surface. Who are you?

Eden finally broke the gaze and nudged Arion forward again and Arielle followed; both remained silent. Arielle was annoyed with herself. Eden's ideas were new and inviting; she saw a general sense in them. Yet the moment she tried to plant it somewhere in her mind, echoes of her parents would appear and howl at her. The blond cringed. What was it that she kept doing wrong? She continually tried to see the good in everything, even in those things that saw no good in her, thinking that maybe one day, the good would be reflected back to her. She simply wanted to be accepted and needed, to be seen and appreciated, to be loved. She remembered the nights when she would cry herself quietly to sleep, thinking of how there was always someone who would find something wrong with her no matter how hard she tried and would never shy away from telling her about it bluntly. Especially those who were supposed to love her the most. The blond sighed, recalling the particularly dark and lonely nights when she would dream of a knight that would gallop up to her manor and whisk her away, offering adventure and his heart. And she would imagine her parents shock and protest and the knight raising his lance and challenging them all to a duel because it would be an honor to die for Arielle. And the knight would love her for who she was and not who she should be. It was one of the few things, Arielle noticed, that she carried with her through the years.

Arion snorted loudly as they both noticed a cloud of dust ahead of them, a little off the road.

"Careful." Eden warned Arielle coolly.

They trotted up closer to see a set of travelers fighting off an attack. A group of about 20 exhausted and nearly weaponless pilgrims were desperately trying to fend off around 10 sword wielding attackers all on horseback. They watched as one of the men on horseback cut down a screaming woman trying to run away in no particular direction. They hardly had any weapons or possessions; they were just a group of traveling families all dressed in the one set of tattered clothes that they owned.

"They're just peasants. Damned Turks." Eden said in disgust of this raid unleashed on people who didn't even have anything and then turned to Arielle, "Stay here."

She spurred Arion forward and barreled toward the fight, unsheathing her sword and riding straight into the middle of the skirmish with it gleaming magnificently in the sun. Arielle stayed behind as she was told for a short time and watched Eden battle fiercely and bravely as if she had no idea that she was completely outnumbered. But Arielle had enough of being the helpless one. There was an urge, a great need to break free for some invisible shackles that she felt were holding her down. She wanted to do, she wanted to help, she wanted to be needed. She trotted up closer until she was in bow range and dismounted. She strung her bow and trying to keep calm, decided to even out the odds for Eden a little.

In the thick of battle, Eden was dueling with one warrior when she saw another fast approaching from the corner of her eye. Before she had a chance to think a way out of the situation, she saw an arrow sail through the air and hit the oncoming Turk straight in the upper shoulder, causing him to fall off his horse with a loud groan. Eden used the moment of surprise to suddenly disarm her assailant and backhand him with the broadside of her blade, knocking him to the ground unconscious. She spared a moment to find the source of the arrow and saw Arielle already aiming at another Turk. She didn't have time to figure out whether she was more mad that Arielle hadn't stayed behind or thankful for the assistance, no matter how unnecessary it might have been. Another Turk bolted towards her from the back and she threw herself into the heat of battle again. During the entire fight, Eden realized that Arielle was always somewhere in the back of her mind. Whenever she lost the blond out of her peripheral vision, she would turn ever so slightly until she saw Arielle again.

Eden flung herself towards two Turks dragging away another screaming woman by the hair, elbowing one in the temple so suddenly and powerfully that he collapsed, out cold. The other swiveled around, letting the woman go and quickly pointed a loaded crossbow straight in her face which she coolly knocked back so hard that it flew back into his face and broke his nose, cut his forehead, and sent blood streaming down his face. He cried out in pain, dropped his weapon, and trotted away. Before she could decide whether to chase him down or not, she suddenly noticed that Arielle was nowhere to be seen. She took another quick scan of the land, living, wounded, and dead and still nothing. She felt that charge of protection begin to pulse within her. And then she heard a scream.

Eden didn't need a single second to process whether the scream belonged to Arielle or not; she simply knew. She turned Arion towards the direction of the cry and he sensed her urgency and broke into an immediate, fierce gallop. Eden heard another scream. A few moments later Arielle's struggle came into view from behind a large boulder and time seemed to slow down for Eden. The Turk was straddled on top of a struggling Arielle, intent on wanting to have his way with her. He pulled at her clothes, punching her when she struggled. With one hand, Arielle tried to fight back and with the other was struggling to grab the sword he had carelessly tossed to the side. Eden saw his cruel sneer and the blood running from Arielle's nose. She crouched down in her saddle, her frigid rage turning into one, huge force. Her muscles coiled, aching to strike and a moment before she was right over him she let out a yell which caused him to raise his head and she uncoiled, springing up and then forcibly back down, driving her blade neatly between the Turk's neck and shoulder. He drew in a long breath, shocked and paralyzed, and his eyes wandered down to Arielle. He then gasped loudly, blood suddenly pouring from his mouth, his eyes widening. He sputtered twice and finally leaned over, letting out his last breath, dropping heavily on top of Arielle. The blond then felt the body being flung off of her like a rag doll and strong hands around her shoulders.

"Are you alright?" Eden asked, her voice laced with a frightening rage.

Arielle looked up at Eden in a stupor. Her eyes were wide, her lungs gasping for breath, her limbs sometimes twitching and jerking for no apparent reason. Her mind was having trouble registering what was happening. The bravery of what she had imagined she was doing was wrestling with the reality of battle that has no time or care for such sentimentalities and simply cuts down whoever is standing in the way. There was blood everywhere; on her, on Eden, on the ground. In a frantic attempt to regain control of her spinning mind, Arielle focused on Eden's eyes, two blue orbs like sapphires set ablaze. She watches me like..like a... Eden looked her over quickly. She saw that Arielle's clothes had remained intact; the brute hadn't managed to get much of anywhere and Eden let out an internal sigh of relief.

"I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm okay." Arielle managed to stammer out, slowly regaining control of herself and trying to hold back the fierce oncoming shaking, "Am, am I okay?"

"Yes, you're fine." Eden tried to assure her in a slightly gentler and calmer tone.

"Okay, I'm fine, right? I'm fine." Arielle repeated, not taking her eyes of Eden, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..."

"Listen to me," Eden began without taking the time to think or listen, "I need you to get up and get back on the horse so we can out of here. Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes, yes, I can, I can do that." Arielle replied and slowly and very shakily got up to her feet.

Eden took a step back and watched the stunned blond take shaky steps over to her bow that was lying on the ground a few steps away and then turn to walk back to her horse that had trotted away wisely to a safe distance. Eden didn't say a word. The blond staggered along, not asking for help, not making a single sound in pain. Eden rather reluctantly turned back to the peasant travelers. She got back on Arion and galloped over to them. They tried to thank and praise her, but she impatiently rebuffed their advances and told them to get moving before the Turks who had retreated in the meantime came back with a larger party. The peasants nodded and began to scurry about their horses and carts and shouted final thanks and blessings out to Eden as she rode away in a hurry.

She rode up to Arielle who simply sat on her horse, staring out into the distance, making no sign of recognition that she saw anyone approach. Eden saw Arielle lips move lightly as if she was silently talking to herself. The knot that appeared in her eyebrows matched the one growing in her stomach.

"Let's go." Eden simply said and saw Arielle nod faintly.

They made camp in the evening and spent it in silence. Arielle, as usual, fell asleep before Eden did and the warrior took it as a good sign. Yet a nightmare woke the blond up in the middle of the night. Eden shook her awake and when the blond took a few deep breaths, she returned to her bedroll on the other side of the fire. Arielle was quiet for the rest of the night.

Eden silently thanked God that the next day was one free from any unpleasant surprises. But it was also a very quiet day. Arielle said next to nothing, still silently mumbling as if she was trying to convince herself of something. Eden noticed the strange look on her face, the slightly dark rings under her eyes and realized that the only reason the blond had been so quiet that night was because she hadn't slept at all. The warrior began to rack her brains to find a way to help her with something she was evidently struggling with. She didn't talk, didn't want to eat. As Eden went though different things she could do, it suddenly dawned on her that her growing worry over Arielle's state was because she now saw a glimpse of herself in the blond. And then she mentally smacked herself upside the head with a mace. Arielle felt that the whole thing was her fault and Eden had done nothing to show her otherwise. She wanted to take the responsibility for something she didn't do upon herself and deal with a drastic ordeal all by herself. Yes, she should have stayed put like Eden asked her to, but, truthfully, that also was not a guarantee of safety. Eden let out a deep breath. If the situation wasn't so serious, she would have probably laughed. Arielle was trying to be just like Eden when Eden thought that no one in their right mind would want to be like her. I should have done something when I found her. I should have comforted her then. I'm so...

The day drifted into the evening and then into night. They made camp and ate in silence and lay down to sleep just like the night before. Arielle tried to keep awake, but her sheer exhaustion took control and covered her in sleep which was quickly interrupted with a strong shaking of her shoulders.

"It's just a bad dream." Arielle heard Eden say to her and she nodded and absently watched Eden return to her bedroll.

The blond lay back down and stared up at the sky, unable to register what she saw there; she was too focused on keeping awake. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the Turk's face, the cold sneer, the blood, smelled the dust, heard his disgusting laughter, watched him die right in front of her eyes. Before she could let her mind spin out of control again, exhaustion came to stubbornly claim her once more. And again her eyes shortly afterwards flew open to the feeling of hands shaking her amidst the echoes of her screams.

She glanced at Eden who was studying her with an intense and worried look. She furrowed her eyebrows and pursed her lips slightly and Arielle was afraid that she was angry or irritated with her behavior.

"I'm, I'm sorry." Arielle whispered in a slightly hoarse voice, ducking away a little.

Eden sighed heavily and returned to her bedroll. She found herself wanting more than anything at that moment for the blond to hysterically throw herself on the ground and cry her eyes out; at least then Eden would know it would be alright in the end. Arielle closed her eyes for a moment and breathed a sigh of relief that she had evaded ending up on the receiving end of Eden's anger and mentally scolded herself for being so troublesome. She rubbed her temples with her shaking fingers, let out a deep breath, and lay back down to stare at the sky absently again. Her head felt something other than the dead tree stump she had been leaning against and she jolted up and turned. Eden was there, looking at her closely, but with a great calm.

"It's alright," she told the blond, in a voice Arielle later would recall was like silk, "go ahead."

Arielle couldn't move and just stared at her. Here was the terror of the Holy Lands offering her her lap as a pillow. Arielle was completely dumbfounded. She had spent weeks prying and poking at the warrior to get her to show a human side Arielle was absolutely convinced she had and now when the rare moment finally came, the blond froze in amazement. And fear. She wanted to be strong, to be brave, she didn't want to be pathetic and weak. If she let the tough and fearless warrior comfort her, what would she be showing her by that?

Eden hung her head for a moment and couldn't help but notice the dire irony of the situation. And then she noticed the potential danger of the solution for her. Faith. She shifted up towards the blond and sat down right alongside, slightly in back of her. She then cautiously slid an arm around the blond's waist. She felt her heart quicken and took a slow breath to calm it down. When Eden saw no negative reaction she continued, pulling the blond in a little closer.

"It's alright. Come here." Eden breathed, lowering herself down on the bedrolls that she had pulled together earlier and taking the blond with her.

Eden lay on her back, her arm around the blond who now was on her side with her head on the warrior's shoulder. They lay there for a few moments in completely awkward tension. Something kept trying to continually rebel within Eden, to pull away, to close up, and shut down. The touch of the other woman burned her, both painfully and pleasantly. Somewhere in a deep cavern of her soul, it was something Eden needed and wanted- a speck of humanity, a touch of warmth. But her memories refused to accept it, reciting all the things wrong with it and the potential dangers it brought along with it. She almost wanted to laugh; if wars were fought with touches, she would have been defeated before she could raise a hand. She clenched her teeth a little and forced herself under control. 'This is not about me. This is about her. She needs this. I'm doing this for her.' she repeated to herself in an effort to quell the hateful voices in her head.

"Go to sleep." Eden offered, but she felt no tension escaping the blond, no change in her poise.

"It's alright now, go to sleep." Eden repeated in a soothing voice and ever so slightly stroked the blond's back with her thumb, "I've got you. I'll keep watch."

She heard the blond's breath catch with those words and after a few moments her body began to slowly relax. She noticed Arielle's trembling hand cautiously and somewhat absently venture around her waist. Eden shifted a little. The blond's hand froze on its route, hovering over Eden's waist, not knowing whether to advance or retreat. Without thinking, Eden gave the blond a very gentle squeeze, enough that the arm left its hover and rested finally on her waist. Both women let out a simultaneous, unconscious sigh. Arielle stared at her arm and the place where it found itself and was absolutely amazed. She was so baffled by it all that she moved her fingers faintly, feeling the fabric of the red gambeson and the small rise and fall of Eden's breathing. And then it suddenly hit her, the reality of all that happened and the reality that Eden was there, beside her, comforting her instead of being angry.

The blond's hand suddenly clenched, taking a fistful of Eden's gambeson and trying to draw it near as if she was hanging on for dear life. She buried her head in the warrior's shoulder and began to cry in an overwhelming rush of emotion. It brought relief to the both of them, the tension finally finding an outlet in the blond and Eden was calmer now that Arielle had found her way out of a sad place she had never really belonged. Arielle heaved sob after sob into Eden's shoulder, never loosening her fistful of the warrior as if she was afraid Eden might finally become fed up and just leave. Eden responded by wrapping her other arm around the blond and softly began to rock her. The warrior had grown to despise almost any emotion other than anger since they were just different kinds of weaknesses and weakness gets you killed. But here she found herself deeply touched by the blond and her shameless show of emotion; she saw the trust in it, she saw the courage. She marveled over it. All these years of killing and hating, building up impenetrable walls, keeping everyone fifty arms' lengths away and this young, giddy blond simply walks up to her and lets a tear fall onto the warrior's skin and sends all those years to hell. She thought it bewildering. She also thought it very dangerous. But not tonight.

The sobs faded after a while into quiet sniffles and whimpers. Arielle shifted her head a little and noticed a large wet mark her tears had left on the red gambeson. She raised her hand and absently stroked it. It looked like Eden's heart had bled out onto the surface.

"I'm sorry," Arielle said in a quiet, raspy voice, "I got it all wet."

"It's alright. Just water." Eden shrugged lightly.

Arielle returned her arm to Eden's waist and let out a pained sigh.

"Thank you."

"No problem." Eden decided on saying after biting her tongue on her usual response, "I'm just... I wish I had...It's not your fault. You know that, right?"

"I should have stayed behind like you told me to."

"Maybe." Eden acknowledged, "But he still could have attacked you. Don't know how he got passed me."

"Eden, you were fighting ten men at once. Someone was bound to get passed you."

"I don't know... But you did well."

"How did I do well? He attacked me. He almost..."

"But he didn't."

"That's because you got there in time. If it hadn't been for you..."

Eden squeezed the blond a little. There was no point in arguing the matter, in the end, all that was important was that Arielle wasn't hurt.

"I... I... see him... when I close my eyes. I feel his breath on me... I struggle to reach the sword to... so I can..."

"I killed him." Eden said strongly.

"I know. He was still breathing... still looking at me... I did nothing... I just let him..."

"I killed him, Arielle, not you. There was nothing you could do." Eden repeated, turning her head to look straight at the blond. "I took his life, no one else."

Arielle nodded and Eden turned her eyes back up at the stars. She wanted to find the Turk and kill him again for what he was putting Arielle through. These were the small trials, the tests of faith for Eden. She would see such a grave injustice done, no matter how small, and have to use all of her strength and will to not go on a rampage against God. What some considered a gift given to her, she mostly saw as a curse thrown upon her. She knew the one weakness in God's total power- the free will of man. And she had seen what man could do over and over again. She would have nothing against the cruel and the evil hacking each other to pieces in senseless wars until only the peace and simplicity of nature was left. Yet, when the dark side of human nature effected the innocent, those like Arielle, Eden just couldn't stand it.

"I saw you hit that Turk charging me." Eden offered, trying to show Arielle something she didn't see or think that Eden saw, "It... I... You did really well today."

Arielle felt a faint smile slide across her lips and felt a tension deeper inside her begin to slowly release.

"What happened to the travelers?"

"Oh, I told them to hurry and move along before the Turks came back."

"They'll come back?" Arielle asked in sudden worry.

"Ssh, no. I told them that so that they would move quicker. The road here is pretty dangerous. If they had just stayed there, then they would have been easy prey for thieves or whoever else. They had to keep moving."

"Eden?" the bard asked after a while.

"Yes?"

"I'm glad we helped them. I'm glad you helped them." Arielle admitted quietly.

Eden said nothing, but realized that for the first time in a long time, she hadn't fought for herself or out of anger. She had tried not kill anyone, though she felt no remorse for the dead Turk who attacked Arielle. In her mind, the blood that had stained her blade again was justified.

Eden shifted to unwrap her one arm from around Arielle and the moment she moved, Arielle's hand clenched and grabbed a fistful of Eden's gambeson again and she let out the very faintest of whimpers in which Eden could have sworn she heard 'no'.

"It's okay. It's alright." Eden consoled, returning her arm around the younger woman and feeling her noticeably relax, "Go to sleep now. I'll be here."

"You'll stand guard, won't you?" Arielle murmured, her eyes finally growing heavy, her voice growing quiet, "You'll watch me like a... like a hawk..."

"I'll watch you like a hawk." Eden replied after a moment, surprised but pleased with the comparison.

Arielle didn't hear her reply, but it didn't matter, it was something she already knew. She had no nightmares that night.

Chapter Text

"You know, I think this is probably the most pleasant leg of our journey yet?" Arielle reflected.

"Just might be." the warrior answered with a light nod.

The road led them across flat land, close to the sea and in a place where the road banked gently to a wide seashore, Eden veered off onto the rather coarse, dark brown sand and Arielle followed her. They rode alongside each other at the edge of where the sea met the sand, the horses kicking up a gentle spray that cooled off their now shimmering legs.

"You probably like the sea, don't you?" Arielle asked, shifting in her saddle a little, "Since you spent all that time observing the ships at port in Venetia, hm?"

"I feel fine out at sea." Eden answered with a shrug.

"I'm not that fond of the sea at all. For some reason I get seasick every time. I just need to walk the length of the ship and I end up hanging off the starboard side, nearly green as a turtle for the rest of the voyage. No, I'm definitely a dry land kind of lady."

"You're lucky I'm not a pirate then." the warrior replied with a tiny grin in the corner of her mouth.

"I could really imagine you as one though. Your black hair tossed by the wind, a cutlass at your hip... Eden, Scourge of the Mediterranean." Arielle announced, sweeping her hand out in front of her, "Has a certain ring to it, don't you think?"

The warrior only raised an eyebrow in response, but the grin didn't leave her.

"Well," Eden said after a few moments, "I'm not that fond of the water. All the numbers and charts in merchant trading simply bored me. So I'd go down to the port and watch the ships sailing in and out, wondering what strange lands they came from or were going to. Or I'd eavesdrop in on mariner's tales. It was much more interesting."

"I can imagine that your father wasn't very pleased with that." Arielle added in a knowing tone and watched the warrior's face suddenly darken.

"No." she answered, trying to keep her voice even, "He would find me, practically drag me back by my hair, always saying something about how no good was to come of me. We went back home after a short time."

"I'm sure my parents were positively thrilled with the fact that I get seasick." the bard mentioned, trying to lighten the mood, "They would likely both get the fits if they thought for a moment that I might want to start sailing around the earth."

Both women abruptly turned their attention to their horses who had begun to nudge each other back and forth.

"What do you think they're doing?" the bard asked with amusement, "It almost seems like they want to play."

"I don't know..." Eden mused.

Arion's behavior was a little strange to her. As far as animals were concerned, she could probably safely swear that there was no other as similar to her as he was. He was neither playful nor trusting so this sudden lighthearted behavior on his part was a little curious. She tried to carefully yank Arion away from Xanthus, but he would only snort impatiently and go right back to nudging the chestnut stallion.

"Maybe... Maybe they'd... Perhaps we could... race?" Arielle offered with some uncertainty.

"Race?" Eden repeated as if she had never heard of the concept before, "Hmm..."

"Come on, Eden, it will be fun!" the bard encouraged.

"Fun?" Eden repeated still with the same tone and now blinking at the bard.

"Um... it will be refreshing, a bit of exercise for all of us, and a quite welcome change of pace."

"Ah, well... I guess there's no harm in it." the warrior finally decided.

"But just one condition- you don't get to do that flying thing." the bard added playfully and saw the warrior raise an eyebrow, "Please, the chivalrous thing to do would be to at least give the poor, fair, young maiden a chance, wouldn't you agree warrior?"

Eden saw the mischievous twinkle in the bard's eye and the playful grin and realized that, quite simply, she couldn't say no.

"All right." she drawled, giving a bit of a mischievous grin herself.

"Good. We'll race to that large point over there. Is that sea wood? Looks like sea wood to me. I can't really see from this far." the bard chattered until she heard Eden clearing her throat suggestively, "Right, so we race to that... point. The winner... cooks dinner."

"Agreed."

"I say... go!" the bard shouted happily and took off in a frenzied gallop while Eden shook her head with some amusement.

"Well, you started this." she sighed to Arion matter-of-factly, "So, yah."

Arion shot forward like out of a catapult. Never one to turn down a challenge, just like his rider, he soon caught up with the bard and teased them by riding neck and neck with Xanthus, yet showing relatively little strain or effort. Arion then rode around the back of the bard to the other side and showed that he could do the same thing riding through the surf, happily splashing everything around him. Near the finish point, the black horse casually sped up and crossed it first, winning the race. Eden spun around to see the heavily breathing chestnut pair pass the finish point and the bard reined Xanthus in as she approached Eden.

"I swear I said nothing else than 'yah'... once." Eden stated, raising her hands up slightly in innocence.

"Alright, alright," Arielle replied, raising her own hands in surrender, taking deep breaths, "A smart woman knows when she's outmatched at the very beginning. But you have to tell me what you feed that horse of yours. Minced wind? Essence of rabbit? Freshly picked lightning, perhaps?"

They gazed at each other for a few moments, their eyes playfully twinkling, both of them noticing the light smile on the warrior's face responding to the bard's big grin.

"Come on," Eden said, turning back down the shore, "Let's eat."

"That's a challenge I'm always up for!" the bard admitted happily.

They decided to catch some fish and Eden took out a line and hook from her saddlebag. They walked over to a large rock that jutted out into and over the water and Eden handed the line to Arielle and waited. The bard looked a little anxiously at the warrior, but put on a determined face and began to swing the hook overhead, finally throwing it out to sea with such force that she nearly fell in with it, Eden's quick grasp the only thing saving her from an unexpected swim. The bard grinned sheepishly at the staring warrior and then put her hands on her hips.

"This would probably go a little better if I could just shoot the fish with an arrow, you know." Arielle noted.

"Where did you learn archery?" Eden asked, taking the line from the blond.

"Remember when I told you about the hunting trips my father would sometimes take me on if I complained enough?" she began, seeing a nod from Eden, "Well, I would often watch them shooting since I didn't have much else to do. I don't know what it was, maybe the way the arrow sails through the air, maybe how the bowstring sings, the power and quiet of it all; it simply fascinated me... Well, during one trip, I simply hopped off my horse and picked up a bow someone had left against a tree, took an arrow, and let it fly. The hunting party saw that, asked me to do it a couple of more times, the arrows all landing in a cluster. The party clapped and cheered and I probably turned thirty different shades of red. My father's good friend, Sir Edwin, one of those respectable knight types, told him that he was so amazed that he offered to teach me archery himself. Thankfully, my father was surrounded by people he wanted to keep in good standing with, so he couldn't simply ignore them or shout at me so he agreed. And that's how I learned..."

"Well," the warrior drawled, getting ready to cast the fishing line, "I guess your father should be proud."

"Ha!" Arielle replied with a cheerful snort, "If I know my father, he probably thinks I staged the whole thing."

Eden caught a fish in one try which got a playful huff from the bard. When the warrior placed the fish on the sand, the bard looked up at her with an innocent grin so Eden crouched down with a sigh and showed her how to gut and fry a fish over an open fire. They ate, adding some bread to the rather small fish, watching the sun begin its descent from its crest in the sky, as content and at ease with their company as they had ever been.

They remounted and trotted further down to the end of the shore and then back onto the road. They talked some more about different, small things, like fishing, the color of the sand, the distance left to Jerusalem, both pleased with the day.

Yet with the fading light, the bard watched something begin to change in Eden's demeanor, casting a shadow over her face. Almost like the day that slipped into the black shroud of the night, so did Eden, her troubles and scars awakening and creeping up to the surface like nocturnal creatures. To Eden, the night brought a certain bizarre kind of relief, she could melt into the darkness and become one with it and... hide. The hope that the day carried within her would finally collapse exhausted in her mind and let her doubt and despair stretch their limbs, trudging back and forth along Eden's already trampled heart. The warrior's hope was in dire straits. It was the weakest kind, the hope that appeared by its own sheer nature. There seemed to be a reason, Eden mused, why it was said that hope dies last. Yet, the warrior was too weak to fight for it and nurture it. She awoke not in the hope of a new day, but simply because she woke up and had no other choice but to rise and survive until she lay back down again to dream empty, black dreams. She often thought that she would have nothing against not awakening one fine day. No, the night was more her friend and she would sit in silence, surrounded by the dark and quiet, watching her misgivings and hurt creep over the remains of her soul with tiny, raspy taunts.

The change the bard saw saddened her. Each flicker of warmth from the warrior seemed to disappear as quickly as it emerged, leaving the bard to wonder if she had even really seen it at all. Ever since the night she had slept in Eden's arms, Arielle kept searching for telltale signs that the warrior was changing her attitude towards her, no longer seeing her simply as an annoying tag along and showing the heart she kept locked away under all that armor. But her own heart sunk a little when she noticed that the days and nights after that one just returned back to the usual; the bedrolls separated by the fire burning in between, the gruff, short responses to the blond's monologues, the long stretches of silence. Arielle didn't want to admit it, but she found herself missing that closeness a little. There was something bewitching in the warrior's presence, in the way that Eden held herself like a deeply hidden secret left in plain view. And she discovered a safe haven in Eden's arms that housed such a gentle strength; when wrapped in them Arielle felt that she was protected from everything the world might throw at her. It fascinated her to no end. The same arms that could have easily snapped bones and ripped away limbs were careful in their treatment of her as if she was made of holy glass and locked her not in a cage, but enveloped her in a protective armor. Arielle didn't know what exactly Eden kept hiding and why she was so intent on keeping it hidden. It was almost as if she was scared. But how could the dark menace of the Holy Lands be scared of anything?

That night also wasn't far from Eden's mind, there was something that had been gnawing away at Eden persistently since then. That touch. No one would ever believe her if she had talked about it, no one could ever understand. Even if a person was nearly completely lost, there was always a relentless, if faint urge for the closeness of another human being; a smile, a touch, a laugh. And Eden had believed that she had already won that war and sent that human urge deep beneath the sands until the night she comforted Arielle. It had awakened something within her long asleep, her walls shook, her heart rattled its cage, her arms ached dully. Her skin hadn't stopped burning, remaining a constant reminder now of a path she swore she would never go back down, but now somehow found herself turning towards. It was too dangerous, too risky, potentially... deadly. So the little, dark voices in her head had a festival with her and her weaknesses; ranting and raving in her head over how pathetic, worthless, and soft she really was. Something was gnawing away at that little ray of warmth she had experienced, trying to swallow it and plunge her self back into the chilly darkness where she belonged. But the stubborn, little ray wouldn't take darkness for an answer.

They arrived in Tripoli when the sun had already hidden from view and the dark was almost enough to force them to stop for the day. They were looking forward to eating a solid, hot meal and sleeping somewhere else than on the ground. They found a room in the first inn they decided to enter and went upstairs to leave their things in it before finding a tavern. Eden gladly took off her armor right down to her gambeson and Arielle did likewise. Eden noticed the bard unfastening her short sword, leaving her dagger as her only weapon. The warrior moved to protest, but on second thought said nothing. She knew that the bard was no warrior, no killer. She could tell by her stance and she knew it the day Arielle let her arrows fly into the Turks, making sure they hindered, but didn't kill. Arielle smiled at her warmly, catching her looking at her and Eden gave a ghost of a smile in response, deciding then and there that she probably wouldn't have wanted the bard to be in any way more similar to her.

They walked downstairs and went back to a tavern that they had passed on the way. They stood in its entrance, giving it a cool scan. It was pretty full, but not packed, stirring up a racket of voices, dishes, and movements and a fog of blending smells. There seemed to be almost every kind of person inside, from milkmaids to warriors, with a few misplaced gentry crammed into a far off corner, shooting off disapproving glances into the middle of the tavern every now and then.

"Could you... Would you do something... for me?" Eden asked a little warily, leaning a little closer to Arielle so she could hear over the tavern noise.

"Of course. What is it?"

"Could you, um... just... I... I wouldn't want to get... drunk, alright?" Eden finally stuttered out with a little embarrassment, "It gets... rather... ugly."

"Alright..." Arielle answered, her brows creasing a little.

She could somehow feel that the warrior was uneasy, but she thought it would be better not to ask.

They found a spot at a relatively empty table and sat down across from each other. They ordered food and drink, yet the bard noticed that Eden hardly touched her dinner and instead preferred the ale. The tavern keeper was a burly man with what Arielle thought might be the widest shoulders she had ever seen. The tavern maids scurried about with their orders, weaving in and out of tables and people. A bard was trying to tell a story near the fireplace to what looked like a group of only irritated people.

Eden was on her second ale when she suggested that Arielle go tell some stories since the performing bard was now having rotten vegetables heaved at him from every side by the annoyed crowd.

"Go on now, have some fun." she said loosely, feeling the ale begin its pleasant unravelling of her tension.

"Well... I could, but... I think I should... Are you sure? Are you going to be okay?"

"I'm fine. Go on. Be a bard." Eden said, shooing the blond away with her hand.

Arielle looked at her warily, feeling somewhere in her gut that something wasn't completely right. But she decided to ignore the feeling, thinking that it would do no harm and that they would be within sight of each other. She got up slowly and saved the terrible bard by digging him out from under the growing pile of vegetables and taking his place.

"Now friends, from far and wide, young and old, ladies and...gentleman." Arielle started and received a low chuckle from the men gathering around, "Let me tell you the tale of a fierce warrior, a mirage of the sands..."

Arielle told one story and then another and another, losing herself in them, the crowd of attentive listeners growing. She had turned down so many offers of ale that they began to bring her cider, mead, fruits, and anything else they could think of, encouraging her to moisten her tongue and lips and continue. The bard had loosened up pleasantly under all the drink and interested gazes of the doting crowd.

Eden was drinking her fifth ale, noticing it was much stronger than it seemed and knowing that she should stop, but she had passed the point where she was sober enough to care. A group of men was loudly exchanging war stories, evidently under the influence of generous rivers of ale and beer. They roared in laughter when their last story was finished.

"Bet you haven't heard a tale like that, have you miss?" the man sitting closest to her asked, nudging her with his elbow all of the sudden.

"No, can't say that I have." she replied coolly, raising an eyebrow.

"It just knocks you off your seat, doesn't it?" the man asked excitedly.

"Well, no, not particularly." she answered with a shrug.

"Ha! Did you hear that boys? The lass here says that story was a bit dull!"

The men took a look at Eden and roared in laughter. Eden didn't lose her cool demeanor.

"Alright, alright. Amuse me fair one. What was wrong with my tale, eh?" the man asked with a drunken grin, turning back to Eden.

"Well," she drawled, getting dangerously brazen, "it's just not the most exciting thing I've ever heard. Or interesting. Or clever. Should I go on?"

"Oh, wasn't it then, fine thing?" he replied, his voice teetering on the edge of a growl, "And you have the most daring tale up your little sleeve I'll bet."

"Actually, I do," she replied, mimicking his tone.

"Well out with it then, maiden." he said, leaning back at little and folding his arms.

Eden told them some raiding story. It was full of galloping raiders, burning buildings, terrified women and children, cut down villagers, plundered homes, devastated lives, rich spoils, ravaged lands; generally all the things that any raider usually ever talked about. They listened to her attentively. It wasn't the storytelling that held their interest. It was the fire, blood, and terror that they wanted, that ran through their veins and made their hearts pump faster. Those same things coursed through Eden's veins now, but she noticed that they instead began to make her stomach churn and she tasted bile in her mouth.

"Ah... Well, I have to say lass, the tale was a good one." the man admitted when Eden finished, his comrades all nodding in agreement and raising their cups, "Sounds like the handiwork of Karas. You told it well."

"I'll let him take the credit for all the terror and havoc." Eden almost spat out, starting another ale, the band laughing.

"Come to think of it, haven't seen him around for a while now." he admitted.

"Hard to be out and about when you're pushing up the flowers."

"So the stories are true, are they? You saw his grave then?"

"No, I put him there." Eden stated simply, no longer caring how reckless she was being.

The grin disappeared from the man's face and he finally took a more serious look at Eden.

"Aye, they did speak of some kind of a fair demon who cut him down in laughter. You know maiden, I knew him well."

Her blue eyes flashed in a whisper of potential menace and he knew that she was telling the truth. A uncomfortable silence fell upon all of them and she could barely hear one of the band nervously reaching for the hilt of his sword. The man took a breath and leaned in a little towards Eden.

"He always was a damned bastard, wasn't he?" he stated with a reappearing grin.

A roar of laughter scared away the tension and the man clapped Eden on the back.

"Aye, a fair deed you did for us, sending that carrion to the worms. I'm Jarin and that lot are my band. And what do they call you, lovely?"

"The fair demon." Eden replied flippantly.

"Oh!" Jarin cried out and slapped his hands against his lap, "Aren't you a feisty one! But alright, maiden, no harm. But you won't let me let your cup run dry, now will you?" he suggested, his drunken grin growing wider as he slowly shifted closer to Eden.

Eden knew she was in exactly the kind of trouble she didn't really want to find herself in. She knew that all of the things she was thinking right then weren't supposed to appear in her head. But it was that gnawing; she wanted it to finally stop. She wanted to drop into the darkness, let herself submerge in its black pitch where it was quiet, calm, and familiar. She gave in to the darkest part of herself; she wanted to self-destruct.

"And they say chivalry is dead." she replied, a devilish grin spreading across her lips.

"Oh!" the whole band roared and toasted her as Jarin called for more ale.

They drank, told stories, and competed amongst each other in terms of better tales, longer or deeper scars, richer spoils, and greater strength. Jarin shifted ever closer to Eden until he was practically draped over her, his arm over her shoulders, his lips whispering barely coherent things in her ear. Eden felt disgusted with herself and relished in the feeling. This was all she would get in life, her darkness told her. This was all she deserved.

That thought was disrupted when the bard suddenly appeared at the table.

"Oh now, where does such fine beauty come from? Is it something in the water here?" Jarin noticed, jostling Eden around a little as he bellowed in laughter with his friends.

Eden looked up drunkenly at Arielle who was peering down at her strangely. Eden was about to let herself be crucified by an emerald gaze of contempt and judgement, but she couldn't find it. Even in her near drunken stupor she saw no contempt, no guilt, no judgment. She tired harder, with all her might, and still there was nothing harsh there. The emeralds looked at her with compassion, question, and hurt and it sent Eden's mind spinning in the opposite direction that the ale had it going and it began to make her sick.

"She's been traveling with me." Eden blurted out.

"Aye, has she now?" Jarin replied, "I wouldn't mind that myself!"

Again the laughter, the ale spilling from cups and mouths, the awful squeeze of Jarin's hand on her waist and a sick kiss on her cheek. She hadn't taken her eyes off of Arielle and now there was something new appearing in that forest green and Eden hoped it was disgust. But the new thing spilled out of her eyes and swept over her whole face and Eden recognized it. It was self-reproach that the bard hadn't been there and let Eden slip.

"She's my friend." Eden mumbled out absently.

"Is she now? Well sit down, little lass. Any friend of this dark dame is a friend of ours. We all know what a rare commodity friends are!" Jarin bellowed, taking a huge gulp of ale.

Arielle looked around the table in silence and slowly sat down, not knowing what else to do. The men slid closer to her, offering her ale which she politely declined, all the while trying to ignore their drunken stares and licking of lips.

"So fair maiden, you're a story teller, are you?" Jarin slurred, turning to Arielle who was seated beside him, "Are you known for good bedtime stories as well?"

Eden watched as the bellowing laughter and growing stench and closeness made the bard very uncomfortable. She cringed under the noise and innuendo, but said nothing.

"What is it, little bard? Has your tongue gone stiff? Let me help you with that, lovely." he said and threw his arm around her and tried to give her a drunken kiss.

Arielle yelped and shot up out of her seat and away from Jarin. The whole table roared, except for Eden who was still watching her closely as if she couldn't believe that the bard was really there.

"I'm going back to the inn." Arielle stated firmly and began to walk out of the tavern, passing Eden.

"Wait a minute," Eden mumbled, awkwardly getting up, "I'll walk you."

"Hey now," Jarin protested, stumbling up as he watched his two prizes walking away, "what's the rush? The night is young, the ale is good, the company fine!"

"No, thank you." Arielle said sternly.

"Okay then, lass. I can see you'd like a little quiet." he said, stumbling towards her, "How's about a real brave man walk you home and give you quite a story to tell later, hm?" he suggested and grabbed the blond's rear and pulled her towards him.

Jarin didn't even have time to blink when the blond was torn from his grasp and his gaze was lifted by the cold point of a dagger under his chin to meet a frigid pair of blue eyes, flashing angrily in instant sobriety.

"Tell me, Jarin, are you suicidal?" Eden asked in a tone so low it practically slithered across the floor.

"N-n-n no." he stuttered, shaking his head, "Twas only fun, lass. No real harm meant."

"Go back to your troupe. And if I catch you even looking in her direction, I'll turn you into a story with lots of twists and turns, understand?"

Jarin nodded and Eden let the dagger down enough that he could move away and stumble back to his bench. The bard saw the stares from the men turning to Eden and the itchy fingers dancing around their swords.

"Let's go." Arielle told Eden in a tone that the warrior couldn't decipher.

They both turned around and left and only when they walked out of the tavern, into the cool, evening air did Eden's drunkness hit her again and she stumbled, nearly falling over. Arielle was there and caught her at the last moment by the front of her gambeson. They stood face to face, the blond holding the warrior in two fists and resisting the urge to shake her out of her senses.

"What are you doing?" Arielle asked still in that strange tone.

"I don't know. Talking, drinking. Arm wrestled with five guys. Won every time." Eden replied with a drunken grin.

"No, I'm asking you what are you doing? What is this, Eden?"

"I'm trying to unwind, alright? Can't a woman have some fun?"

"Fun? This is fun for you? Getting so drunk you can't walk straight? Almost getting into fights? That doesn't sound very fun, more like dangerous."

"And so what if it is?" Eden yelled, tearing herself from Arielle's grasp, "What difference does it make to anyone anyway, huh?"

And then Eden saw the disappointment in Arielle's eyes, both in herself and in the warrior and Eden thought she was going to drown in it.

"Look around you! I'm not superhuman. I'm no god or angel. This is my world! This is what I get! This is what I deserve! That's all!" Eden yelled and then grabbed Arielle by the jaw and glared straight into her face and the bard was almost overwhelmed by her fear and the stench of ale, "Look at me! This is all that I am!"

"No!" Arielle shouted and pushed the stunned warrior away, watching her stumble back a couple of steps.

The push had jarred something deep in Eden. For her the feeling of being pushed away was all too familiar. It didn't really matter at the moment that she had deserved it; the ale had loosened all of her meticulously placed constraints and she felt her bones and muscles tremble as the flood of everything she always kept locked away began to wash over her.

"Everything else has been taken away." Eden finally shouted in an angry sadness, throwing her arms around wildly, rocking on her feet, "I have no family. I have no friends. The only thing I'm good at is destroying everything I touch."

"That's not true..." the bard tried to argue.

"True?! What do you know about the truth? What the hell do you even know about me, hm? You come prancing in all happy and carefree like this is some adventure from a children's tale. What do you know about anything?! I could just slit your throat right now for all you know, couldn't I?" Eden shouted and drew her dagger.

Arielle raised in arms out in front of her, now realizing what the warrior had meant by saying "ugly"; she was potentially very dangerous. The bard fought back the strong urge to run away and tried to control her breathing. She kept her gaze on Eden and put all of her suddenly wavering faith in the hope that Eden wasn't drunk enough to forget who the bard was.

"Eden... calm down, alright?... Put the dagger away..." Arielle tried to calm, her voice shaking.

"Oh, no! Insane desert bandit has gone out of control! Everyone run for your lives!" Eden taunted and then lowered her voice, "There is a difference! You know what the difference is here? Between me and that horse manure inside? I would never hurt you. No... I'd hurt myself first... That's the difference, see?"

Eden flipped the dagger neatly in her hand and placed it up against the side of her own neck, her face with an expression of deadly intent.

"Eden, stop it... That's enough now..."

"Enough of what? We all pay sooner or later, duchess. Why not sooner? Come on, princess. Tell me how wicked I am. How pathetic and ruined. That even God Himself will sigh in relief over my corpse. That it's all too late. Tell me, tell me how damned I am beyond salvation!"

"Eden, stop it, please. You're scaring me."

"Scaring you? I'm scaring you?" the warrior repeated, lowering the dagger and her tone, "Did it ever cross your mind that maybe I'm scared?"

Arielle blinked at her a couple of times.

"For the love of God Almighty, do you have any idea what it's like when I'm scared?!" Eden began to yell, her hands balling up into fists, "Or sad or alone or exhausted?! No, you don't. No one does. I am a warrior with no heart and soul in the end, right? But I'm not, damn it! I'm a person just like any other! If you cut me, I bleed, if you run me through, I die... And I used to laugh, princess, you know? I used to laugh, I used to care, I used to see a future. And now?!" her voice began to break and tremble, her anger quickly spent, "Now... I can't remember when I last laughed... I didn't want to be this, I really didn't... I just didn't know... It was just too much... all of it... over and over... just so much... it wouldn't stop, it just wouldn't... stop... And now... I'm a monster..."

Eden glanced at Arielle, seeing the fear in her face. She glanced down at the dagger in her hand and looked at it as if she had just noticed it and had no idea how it got there. She frowned at it and sheathed it, dropping her hands to her sides in defeat.

"So that's the story, young bard," she said quietly, her whole body trembling just as much as her voice, "of a dragon born only to whither away forgotten, washed up under a bridge."

Arielle took a few steps forward, slowly lowering her hands. Eden looked at her with a quizzical interest.

"Come on, Eden," the bard said quietly.

"I'm tired, you know? I'm just so very, very tired..." the warrior admitted, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

"I know, I know... Come on, let's go home."

"Home?" Eden repeated in surprise, "I have no home."

"You have a home for today." the bard answered gently, "We'll worry about tomorrow in a day, hm?"

Eden thought about it for a few seconds, feeling the cool evening air starting to soothe her racing mind and heart.

"That sounds like a plan." she stated, her tone turning a few shades warmer.

"Alright, let's go then." Arielle said with a small grin of relief and reached out for the warrior's arm.

"No!" the warrior announced, moving her arm away from Arielle's hand, making her jump slightly.

Eden raised her hands to show she meant no harm and took a deep breath.

"Arielle," she said decidedly and calmly, "whether we part ways tomorrow, the day after, or in a hundred years, you will never carry me in dishonor or embarrassment."

Arielle looked up at her in understanding and with a small feeling of... pride.

"Sounds like a plan." she repeated, the smile on her face widening.

They walked back to the inn quietly. Though Eden was now walking rather normally, Arielle observed her out of the corner of her eye just in case. When they were finally back in their room, Eden ungracefully flopped down on the bed, wanting to simply curl up and die. After a while, she heard Arielle set some tea on the little table beside her bed.

"Why?" Eden asked, thinking the question so hard that it found its way to the surface out loud. Why don't you hate me?

Arielle looked at her closely and thought for a minute.

"Because you're my friend," she replied carefully, "and this is not all you are."

"I'm revolting..."

"No!" Arielle said sternly and crouched beside the bed and looked at Eden, resisting an urge to stroke her face, "You're brave, gentle, and protective, you just choose not show it. My God, Eden, you would have sliced a man open in defense of me! How many people, how many friends would do something like that?"

Eden let the thought seep into her brain whose defenses were weaker than usual thanks to the ale. She wasn't sure those words were true and even if they were, she didn't know what she was supposed to do with that truth. Or was there anything that could be done? Yet her mind was in too much of a whirl to debate and analyze the point now.

"Yeah, but I guess I might have overreacted some, huh?" Eden asked with a tiny grin.

"Maybe. Just some." Arielle echoed with a slightly larger grin.

"A little."

"Minutely."

They both smiled lightly. Eden lumbered around, taking off her gambeson, belt, and boots and Arielle did the same and slid into her bed. They lie there for a while, on their sides, looking at each other quietly. Eden lay in hushed captivation for a while, Arielle's emerald eyes sparkling in the dim torch light lazily seeping through the window. They shined like a promising beacon in the blackness, calling Eden forward, away from the shadows that were pulling at her. The gloom was familiar, it was already hers, yet this prominent little light continued to fiercely glow, adamantly beckoning the warrior out of that detached gloom, waking her heart and soul from her eternal midnight, calling her name with such an incredibly loud silence. So she decided then and there to forgo the starless and sunless twilight for something that reminded her of the frail power of a candle flickering on a holy altar. Those eyes...

"Arielle?" the warrior mumbled across the space between them, her eyes half closed already.

"Hm?"

"Never again... I... I promise you..."

Arielle smiled warmly and watched the warrior's eyes finally close and her breathing slow in slumber. The bard then rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She was never as aware as she was now of the potential danger that the warrior posed towards her person. Eden was filled with so much sadness and anger that she couldn't even start to wrap her mind around it. And what was worst of all, Eden seemed to carry within herself a nearly boundless hate... towards herself. Her brows knotted at the thought; the bard couldn't make sense of it. How could she feel so safe and protected in the arms of someone so violent and troubled? Yet a stubborn reoccurring notion swept over her that she had something she could give Eden, maybe a crumb of the things the warrior hoped for and needed so that at least a fraction of her soul could find some peace. Yet, Eden seemed scared of the very things she so desperately needed. And Arielle's mind then tripped on a thought. Even death is nothing to someone who doesn't have anything to lose. Perhaps losing something is exactly what Eden feared. Arielle closed her eyes and was slowly lulled to sleep by a soft, little hum of the part of her that had begun to reach out to Eden since the day she had fallen asleep in her arms.


A figure approached Eden from the quiet gray. Long, raven hair. A strong, powerful frame. Piercing, blue eyes. A sword, armor, and dark, green wings. Eden said nothing until the winged woman stood right across from her.

"Don't ever do that again. Especially around Arielle." she said, her voice taking on a low and rumbling register like a distant thunderstorm.

"Who are you?" Eden asked in a quiet wonder after a moment because she had never seen anyone like her before.

"Don't ever do that again." the woman repeated, taking a step forward.

"I won't." Eden answered, not even having to think about it.

"Good." the woman said, turned around, and left.


The next morning, Eden seemed a bit more busy than usual and used every excuse she could think of so she wouldn't have to face the bard. She packed quickly and then went down with the saddlebags to the waiting Arion.

"If you had only seen me yesterday..." Eden said to him as she started brushing him and he whinnied and snorted, "Okay, so I wish you hadn't seen me yesterday..."

She could have kicked herself to Constantinople for the way she had acted the evening before. She had made a fool out of herself, put Arielle in danger and as well as herself. And, interestingly enough, she was enough irritated with the fact that she hadn't heard a single one of Arielle's stories; she was too busy feeling sorry for herself. Eden huffed loudly at herself. She put the brush away and walked over to Arielle who had just come down from the inn and was adjusting her saddlebag on her horse. The bard turned to look at the warrior who was standing in front of her as if she was awaiting an execution.

"I... I'm an ass." Eden said bluntly.

Arielle looked at the warrior, standing there very unsure of herself, her hands fidgeting around her belt. She knew what she meant and it tickled a place in her heart because she knew it was difficult for the warrior to say and she had, of course, found a very interesting way of saying it. She smiled.

"Good, that's settled then." Eden said, clearing her throat and spun on her heel and walked back to her task.

When Eden was out of sight, Arielle raised a hand to her mouth and stifled a giggle, shaking her head in amusement. Sometimes she is so... adorable.

Chapter Text

After leaving Tripoli, Eden set a rather leisurely pace. They continued to travel close to the coastline with rather small, rocky and wooded mountains to their left, rivers occasionally running through them.

"The terrain here sure changes a lot," Arielle mentioned, "if it's not hard packed earth, then it's dry grasses, sandy beaches, stony hills, now wooded mountains..."

"Are you complaining, duchess?" Eden asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No... I'm just making an observation. I was just somehow expecting lots and lots of... sand... in the desert."

"Well, I'm sure the Levant begs your forgiveness." Eden said in jest.

"Do you like it here, Eden?"

"Truthfully, I'm more of a woods kind of lady. I'd take the forest over oceans of sand any day."

"Ah, yes. The birds singing, the trickle of water, the sunlight filtering through the trees. Yes..." Arielle mused.

"Yeah, something like that." Eden added with a slight roll of the eyes.

"You forget that I'm a bard, warrior." Arielle pointed out cheerfully.

"Oh, that I could never forget."

"I can just imagine our two versions of the forest." Arielle said, a smile crossing her face with the images in her head, "I'm thinking of babbling brooks and trees swaying in the wind, dark green grass or moss cushioning my feet, and that light, sweet smell of blooming flowers while you're probably imagining chasing down some terrified rabbit with your sword swinging overhead... Eden?"

Eden had frozen still, staring out in front of her. Arielle stopped beside her and turned her gaze in the direction of the warrior's. A sleek, black, hooded figure had seemed to rise out of the middle of the path and now rode towards them leisurely. Arielle wondered over the familiar blackness of the figure. As he approached, Eden felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and a strange tense, tingling sensation spread over her right arm. She flexed her right hand in slight confusion, but the sensation wouldn't go away.

"Who is that?" Arielle asked Eden quietly, feeling a sense of foreboding deep in her gut.

"I don't know." Eden answered in the same tone, which only made Arielle more fearful.

Eden then noticed that darkness and shadows clung to the rider in a way they shouldn't have in the bright day. She turned slightly to Arielle.

"Listen to me," she said in deadly seriousness, feeling the charge start to make her heart beat more powerfully, "I don't like this. Stay close behind me. And stay quiet. If anything starts to happen, ride up into those mountains as fast as you can. Run away and don't look back. Understand?"

"But, Eden, I-"

"Do you understand?" Eden repeated in a tone that showed that it was not up for discussion.

Arielle swallowed and simply nodded. Eden nudged her horse forward a little which left Arielle partially shielded behind her when the figure approached.

"Assalamu 'alaikum. (Peace be upon you)." the rider called, raising his right hand.

"Dominus tecum. (The Lord be with you)." Eden returned, mimicking the action.

"Ah, a Christian..." the rider noted, his voice slithering out and causing a chill to go down Arielle's spine.

The rider removed his hood. Arielle gasped quietly, seeing a man whose black hair and black eyes stood in stark contrast to the white teeth he bared in a demonic grin that spread across his face. Eden tensed as the midnight eyes bore into her own as if he was trying to run her through with them.

"You are far from home, Christian." he noted.

"Just on the way to the Holy City." Eden answered calmly.

"Ah, yes, you are of the pious sort, no doubt." the man sneered.

Eden said nothing, her gaze never leaving the man as his never left her. Her heartbeat grew stronger with his every word, the tingling in her arm never leaving, the bizarre calm tension mounting in her muscles.

"You shouldn't be here." he finally stated, his irritation growing.

"Neither should you." Eden chanced, switching slowly to her complete warrior stance as she realized both who she was dealing with and how much she would have wanted to avoid it at the moment.

"Ha! You are arrogant, Christian! These are my lands." he cried, sweeping the area around him with a black gloved hand, "They belong to my god. You are the trespasser."

"Your god and mine are the same. So neither of us trespass."

"La ilaha illa Allah! (There is no god, but God!)"

"There is no god, but the one true God. Of all things. By any and all of His names."

"How dare you presume to speak for Allah, daughter of Christ?!" he howled, causing Arielle to flinch back.

"I presume to speak no more for God than you, son of Muhammad." Eden fiercely retorted.

The irritated man spun his restless, midnight horse around in a circle. He studied the warrior confidently, calmly seeking out and choosing which weakness to aim at so as to evoke the most damage. He began to stare her down again.

"You recognize this color, don't you, blasphemous Christian?" he asked coolly, his feral grin returning.

Eden began to feel the weight of his gaze and him trying to enter her mind, probing through her thoughts and memories. Her grip on the reins tightened and Arielle noticed it.

"Ah, yes... The color represents something you know well. Something deep in your heart, in the center of your spirit..." he hissed.

Eden began to tremble, the rider digging further and further into her mind. He brought back things long buried and the images flashed in her mind as if they were happening right there in front of her.

"Yes... you know what I speak of. And you craved it, didn't you? The smell of blood and smoke, the clash of metal, the sound of chaos..."

Arielle watched with growing horror as Eden's body grew rigid, her shaking hands holding the reins so tightly that her knuckles were a ghostly white. The warrior trembled, her gaze locked onto the man who was piercing her with his coal eyes, her breathing growing shortened and irregular.

"Oh, how lovely. You even took upon yourself the burden of all that was done to you..." he hissed, leaning slightly forward with an evident evil satisfaction.

At that, Arielle watched a bright, red blood suddenly begin to trickle down from cuts on the warrior's brow and lip, which the bard would have found curious had the circumstances been different. She could hear Eden's tense body and ragged breathing making hardly noticeable pleas that were barely escaping through her clamped jaw.

"Oh, so much horror and pain that some of us experience in this life. I would pity you even... But I won't."

Eden was slowly losing control of her own body and spirit, but continued to fight with all her strength against the rider. She frantically scoured her memories, trying to find the good ones, the warm ones, the ones filled with light. And though few and far between, she held on to them desperately, like a drowning mariner clutching a plank on an angry sea.

"Leave her be, infidel!" Arielle suddenly cried.

But before she could make any move, he simply raised his hand and she froze. She felt an invisible, iron grip around her throat, clamping down mercilessly and she struggled, but in vain.

"Let's see how much she is worth, shall we?" he suggested to Eden and constricted his hand more and they both heard the blond cry out in pain, "Ah... that hurts you too, doesn't it?"

He sensed the hurt Eden felt through Arielle's pain and sneered at it. The memories Eden was holding on to were beginning to fade away, not strong enough to fight against the encroaching darkness and the weight of her guilt and sin. Just surrender, you're not strong enough, let it go... No... Arielle's struggling cut through her thoughts, her ears ringing with the sound of the bard's gurgling and whimpers.

"You could make this stop." the man noted so that both women could hear, "you could make this all go away. Peace, calm, quiet, isn't that what you really want? Call down your god, Christian! If it is like you say, then Allah will help you."

Eden said nothing and the man approached closer.

"Save yourself, pathetic follower of Christ." he snarled angrily, "Call down your benevolent god from your pristine heavens to save you from my grasp. If it is how you say and if are so much in his favor then he will save you. He will banish me and all this that I call mine will be yours and you will live your life like you desire. Just think, Christian, that which is of value to you will finally be yours. No more pain, no more fear. Just speak the words..."

Eden could feel a haze slowly covering her brain. In a last desperate attempt, her mind suddenly attached itself to the charge. All of her life force lurched at it, fusing with it, sustaining itself on it. Her heartbeat grew slower, but stronger, her breathing the same and her body fought against the rigidness. She took a breath. Faith.

"Do not test the Lord, your God." she whispered painfully and enraged the man.

"Say it! Say the words! Bring down your god from the clouds and save yourself! You will have all you want and you will have it now! Otherwise die!" he screamed in fury, his eyes drilling deeper into Eden and tightening his grip around Arielle who was now yelling breathlessly.

"Vade, draco maledicte. (Go away, cursed demon)." Eden whispered through her teeth, tasting her blood in her mouth.

"Ghazi? (Guardian?)" the man said in sudden amazement and that moment was enough.

His hold weakened by his surprise, Eden took advantage of it and in an explosion of desperate strength, unsheathed her sword and swung at him. He managed to evade her swing, but dropped his hand which released Arielle. Eden turned to her in the few seconds she knew they had before the demon came charging at them. She cupped the bard's face with her hand, watching her gasp for breath.

"Arielle," she said in low, but calm voice that made it seem like she was almost about to speak holy words and looking straight at her, "run now and don't look back. For anything."

"Eden..." the bard tried to protest.

"Go!" the warrior shouted and slapped Xanthus' side and the horse whinnied, turned, and galloped away.

"I see the treasure now, ghazi!" the man yelled and set to chasing Arielle.

But Eden cut him off, Arion standing defiantly in the way, causing the other horse to shirk away and having the demon nearly fall off his horse. The demon spun around, enraged. He brought his blade crashing down on Eden, but she was prepared. They clashed fiercely, nearly matching each other in power and skill. The rider finally took an underhanded swing at Arion and Eden reared back at the last minute to evade it. The demon took advantage of it and sprinted forward after Arielle. Eden took off right behind him. The horses grunted and their nostrils flared, the ground becoming steeper as they wound their way up through the mountains and in between the trees. Eden held the reins tight enough to let Arion know that they were on dangerous terrain and he responded with controlled force. The mountain became rockier higher up and cliffs appeared that plunged in some places straight down to the river below. Stones, boulders, trees, vines, protruding roots, and bushes made the ascent rough, but Arion was powerful and Eden determined and they stayed right on the demon's heels.

Xanthus appeared in the distance, standing next to some old ruins of a long forgotten castle. Arielle was standing right beside him. The demon caught a glimpse of her and urged his horse forward. Arielle saw them a few moments later and broke out into a chaotic run. The demon leapt off his horse and ran right after her, gaining quickly. Eden also leapt off her horse, knowing she wouldn't be able to take advantage of Arion's speed in all of the knots and tangles of the terrain.

Arielle ran as fast as her legs could take her, stumbling every once in a while over larger rocks, roots, or bushes. She turned her head around and saw the demon reaching out to grab her and she couldn't even find the voice to scream. Eden... And then Arielle was gone from the demon's sight. A loud shout and groan and the rush of tumbling rocks and earth registered in the demon's mind quickly and he locked his legs, leaning back and to the side and slid towards the cliff, stopping at the edge in a cloud of dust. He peered over and saw the blond down below, hanging onto a root for dear life, her legs dangling in the air, the only thing below her being the river.

"Such a shame, fajr (dawn, early morning)," he called out to her, "for even I can see Allah in you. But it will be a pleasure to see the torment in your defender."

"No! Eden!" the bard yelled.

A somersault through the air could be heard and the demon found two, blue, fixated lightning storms suddenly facing him.

"Growing sentimental, are you, ghazi?" the demon hissed lowly, his lip curling.

Eden replied with a sharp swing of her sword that sent the slightly surprised demon stumbling backwards.

"Hold on, Arielle!" Eden cried down to the bard.

Eden turned her head back to the demon just in time to see him bearing down on her, his sword overhead. He hit her ready sword with a ferocity and strength that pushed Eden back a little and down to one knee. Arielle felt stones and earth falling down on top of her and she looked up to see Eden kneeling on the edge of the cliff, it giving way beneath her.

"Eden!" she cried.

The warrior waited patiently for the slightest wavering in the demon's push, trying to balance herself on the crumbling cliff. Finally, she sensed the moment and drove her arms upward, up against the demon and pushed him back enough to be able to regain her footing.

"You are a challenge, Christian whore. I'm glad for I've spent so many centuries bored." the demon chuckled and they both heard Arielle scream out Eden's name again and some stones roll down the cliff, "Oh, such a difficult spot you're in. There's a price for friendship, have you forgotten?"

Eden closed her eyes and took a deep breath. For the outside world it seemed but a moment, but for her, time seemed to slow down. It was true, she hadn't forgotten. To her it almost seemed that she had been paying prices all her life, often not even knowing what for. And they had been hefty and high, leaving her dispossessed of nearly all the things she had. But this time it was a price she was asked to pay and she had accepted it. She had never asked Gabriel to take Arielle away; she had surprisingly never even thought it. No, there were some prices paid that left you with more than you had to begin with. Faith. She opened her eyes, revealing a clearer, sharper blue.

"I don't have time for you." she stated.

The warrior unleashed a barage of thrusts and slashes that the demon had a hard time dodging or deflecting. He was a good opponent, but Eden had fought and sent many greater than him to the dust before. Each movement began where the last ended, no energy or moment was wasted. A sudden overheard strike brought her to her knees. Yet, seeing her chance, she let his momentum drive her down a little into her heels and then, at nearly the last moment, when his driving momentum dissipated, she exploded upward from her heels, driving his sword nearly over his head and exposing his middle. She quickly flicked her wrist, bringing her blade downward, and drove it into his chest.

"Humiliare sub potenti manu dei, contremisce et effuge, invocato a nobis sancto et terribili nomine, quem inferi tremunt. (Be humble under the powerful Hand of God, tremble and flee, when we invoke the sacred and terrible name at which those down below tremble.)" Eden chanted, looking into the fading eyes of the demon, black blood spurting out of him, covering them both.

He slid down and fell dead to the ground. The face now looked peaceful and Eden shook her head. She then ran back to the edge of the cliff and peered over.

"Arielle?... Arielle!"

"Eden, help me!" came the tired cry.

"Hold on! I'm coming!"

Eden raced over to Arion, took a rope out of the saddlebags, and rushed back over to the ledge. She tied the rope around a large boulder and then tied the other end around herself. She grabbed the rope and lowered herself down until she reached the blond. Arielle was hanging on fiercely, but was also exhausted, pale, and terrified. The warrior maneuvered over to where Arielle was hanging, supported herself somewhat by resting one foot on a mound of earth and wrapped one arm around the bard.

"Come on. Grab the rope." Eden coaxed, but Arielle didn't move, "Come on, Arielle, that root can't hold you for much longer."

She pulled the bard a little closer and it somehow stirred her into action and she slowly moved her arms from the root to the rope, placing her hands right above the warrior's.

"There you go. I've got you." Eden said, not letting her go.

They hung there, swinging slightly, looking at each other. Yet, the warrior noticed a puzzling sound and looked up. She hadn't noticed the sharp edge of a rock jutting out just near the edge of the cliff and now the rather thin rope they were swinging on was being cut and beginning to fray quickly.

"Damn." Eden muttered.

She turned her eyes to the bard and looked at her with stony seriousness.

"You're going to have to climb up the rope." she stated.

"Eden, I can't... I'm tired... I can't..." the bard protested weakly, giving a pleading look.

"Yes, you can. Climb."

"No, I-"

"Damn it, princess! Climb up that rope before we plunge to our deaths. Move!" Eden yelled and it startled the bard enough to almost make her lose her grip.

Arielle gave her a frightened and hurt look that Eden made herself ignore by trying to push the bard up faster. Slowly but surely, Arielle climbed upwards. Yet, Eden could see that Arielle's climbing was causing a lot of movement of the rope, rubbing it against the sharp edge, fraying it even more.

"Climb faster, it's not going to hold the both of us!" Eden yelled when she saw the bard stop.

Arielle started climbing frantically causing more movement of the rope. Eden looked down around her and then looked back up to the bard. She then took out her dagger, cut the rope, and let herself fall. Arielle heard sounds of the shifting cliff, but was so focused on getting up and off that cursed rope that she turned around only when she had climbed safely onto the ledge. Eden was nowhere to be seen.

"Eden?" Arielle called out tentatively.

Silence. She glanced at the rope that had nearly frayed all the way through. She then saw the cut end dangling in the air.

"Eden?" she called out louder, "Eden?... Eden! Eden!"

Arielle threw herself away from the cliff in the terror of a realization forming in her head. She scurried away backwards on all fours until she reached the boulder the rope had been tied to and rested her back against it, thankful for its solidity. Her mind frantically tried to find a solution or explanation, but came up with nothing. Eden had fallen, cutting the rope she was on to save her. Just to save her. The thought caused her to draw up her knees to her chest and she wrapped her arms around them and rocked herself lightly back and forth.

"No, no, no." she practically chanted to herself, feeling the tears forming, "This can't be. It's not true. No, no, please God, no."

She rested her forehead on her knees, letting the tears fall silently, keeping the thought of the death of her friend at bay by repeating over and over that it simply wasn't so. Her lips silently spoke to anyone who would listen that she couldn't agree to this, that this had no right to happen.

"Well, I've had enough of rock climbing for a while." she heard a familiar voice say off in the distance.

The bard raised her head to her left and saw the warrior walking towards her up a path from the edge of the mountain.

"Eden?!" she asked in utter bewilderment, not noticing herself get up.

She watched the warrior walking, dusting herself off a little here and there as if she was just coming back from milking cows. And a sudden realization struck Arielle and her bewilderment shifted into a fuming anger. She stomped off towards the warrior with a vengeance.

"Eden!" she yelled when she reached her and pushed her with all her might.

"Hey! What?" Eden exclaimed, stumbling back, unprepared for the assault.

"What the hell do you think you were doing?!" the bard continued to yell, pushing Eden with every statement, "Why did you cut the rope? Why didn't you tell me?"

"The rope was fraying, there wasn't time." Eden tried to explain, but felt her voice rising with every push she was reluctantly allowing the bard.

"You could've told me! How dare you do that?! How dare you?!"

"How dare I?" Eden replied, feeling the anger rise in her now and halting her retreat, "I asked you to stay quiet, but you couldn't. I asked you to run at the moment of trouble, but you couldn't. You had to get yourself into trouble again. I was only trying to save your life!"

"Well, I am so sorry that I tried to help you. Yet when you yelled at me to climb, I climbed! But you just cut the rope!"

"I saw a way where I could land-"

"But you didn't tell me! You didn't say a single word!" the blond yelled angrily.

"I was trying to keep you alive!" the warrior yelled.

"And I thought you were dead!" the bard screamed out, pounding Eden's breastplate with her fists and Eden just gazed at her, stunned, "For me! I heard you fall! I thought you were gone! I thought you were lying dead somewhere at the bottom all because of me, you stupid, stubborn,-"

Arielle was cut off by the warrior's sudden embrace. Her first reaction was to tear herself away and she realized that her hands found their ways to the sides of the warrior and kept punching her in despair.

"It's alright. It's alright now. Calm down." Eden said quietly, letting the bard hit and curse her until she finally stopped, exhausted.

Eden pulled Arielle away to arm's length after a while and looked at her. The bard's face was covered in tears and dirt and she sighed tiredly, looking up at Eden.

"I could hate you," she sniffed.

"I know." the warrior said simply.

"You're lucky I don't." the bard added, giving her a soft pound to the shoulder with her fist.

"I know that too." Eden replied and they both smiled faintly.

Eden turned her head to the dead man lying on the ground with her sword still sticking out of him. She let Arielle go and walked over to him and Arielle followed her.

"He seems so... peaceful now." Arielle observed.

Eden said nothing, reaching over and neatly pulling her blade from his corpse.

"What is that stuff?" Arielle asked inquisitively, gazing at the blade covered in an almost black liquid and her curiosity caused her fingers to find themselves touching it.

"Don't touch that!" Eden exclaimed, grabbing Arielle's hand and pulling it away.

"Why? What's wrong? What is it?" the bard asked, a little confused.

"It's dangerous. It will... It will..."

Eden's voice trailed off as she looked at the bard's fingers covered in the black blood. She should have felt a searing sensation by then, the dark eating away through her skin to find its way into her soul. But Arielle felt nothing and the blood showed no reaction.

"That can't be... Unless..." Eden whispered in wonder, examining Arielle's hand, turning it over and back again.

"Eden, you're starting to scare me a little."

"It's just... strange." she said, looking up at the bard, still perplexed.

She wiped the bard's fingers clean with a cloth and then did the same for her sword and sheathed it while Arielle simply looked on in silence. Eden shook her head to clear it.

"Come on. We could both use a bath and I know just the spot."

They led the horses down the path Eden had come up from until they reached the river. There was a small spot where the riverbank widened and was nice and sandy and the river ran by strongly, but calmly. They stopped there, brushed down their tired horses and let them graze, taking their gear and placing it in a large nook in the cliff that formed a type of cave. They took off their armor and Eden took hers with her to the river's edge to clean. Arielle waded into the river while Eden first wiped down her armor, placing it out on the sand to dry. She then also waded in and began to wash her own dried blood from her face. Arielle noticed the distance Eden always kept, especially when they were bathing. It seemed to her almost that the lack of armor made Eden feel helpless and vulnerable and she compensated for that with physical distance. It amazed her how someone who risked her life for her without a second thought would then grow so bashful and fragile standing there in the flowing water.

"I think we'll just make camp here tonight. We won't make it back to the road before dark." Eden said while they sat on the sand, drying.

"We won't?... Yeah, I guess trying to escape from an angry demon makes you move a little faster than normal." the bard noticed and it got a small grin from the both of them.

They sat there for a while enjoying the rare quiet and calm of the spot. Unbeknownst to them, they were thinking the same thought. The silence isn't as heavy and deafening as it once was. It's becoming quite... comfortable.

When they had dried, they dressed, made a fire and sat down to eat.

"Who was that... man?" Arielle finally asked, chewing on a piece of smoked fish.

"That was a jinn. Of a really nasty sort it turned out." Eden replied, tearing her bread into smaller pieces and tossing them in her mouth.

"What did he want?"

"What any evil spirit wants. To be evil." the warrior replied with a shrug.

"For no reason?"

"It's their nature. But this one was a lesser demon. He simply tried to trick me into showing that I had no real faith and was spurred by greed and selfishness."

"A lesser demon?" Arielle repeated. "There are... worse?"

"Much worse." Eden answered quietly.

"What did he... When he was staring... What did he do..." Arielle tried to ask, her voice dropping and slowing.

Eden sighed and rested her forearms on her knees and looked out down the winding river's path. If some things could just float away like that, never to be seen again.

"Different spirits have different abilities. This one dug up my bad memories, bad deeds... He made me relive them again, drowning me in that darkness..."

"I saw the wounds..." Arielle said gently.

She saw the warrior visibly stiffen and realized that she had hit a very raw spot.

"You know, when he had me, I couldn't see much of anything." the bard said, trying to shift the subject a little, "I just saw these screaming, blinding flashes of... white."

She turned to Eden and saw the warrior regarding her carefully, but remaining silent.

"Tell me how to kill a demon." Arielle said all of the sudden, giving the both of them a little bit of a shock.

"Well, it's the same as fighting a person, but demons will always test your faith using trickery and deception until you surrender to them in some way." the warrior replied.

"So sometimes you can fight a demon without even raising a sword?"

"Arielle," Eden responded, her voice becoming serious, "I would rather you avoid demons at all costs. Don't talk, don't fight, just run."

"But-"

"You are no match for one, Arielle. Please..." Eden interrupted.

Arielle nodded and looked out onto the river, disappointment settling on her face as she started throwing pebbles into the water with frustration. Eden sighed internally. She wanted to tell her. She wanted to explain to her that the war with demons was one that went on forever, that took its toll on heart and soul and was something never at all to be envied. She wanted to tell her that she didn't want the bard to end up like her. You shouldn't ever lose that light of yours. The world is dark enough already. But, in the end, she couldn't find the words.

Eden stretched herself out on the sand, resting in the slowly sinking rays of the sun, looking up at the sky. The effort of the day began to draw attention to itself in her muscles and she stretched, pulled, and squeezed them into ease. Arielle had given up her pebble throwing and was resting her chin on her bent knees, staring out over the river.

"You know," the bard began quietly, a little grin starting in the corner of her mouth, "I'm going to have to start borrowing from other kingdoms to make sure you're properly rewarded."

"Well," Eden snorted lightly, "that's what happens when no one listens to me. Kingdoms go bankrupt."

The bard chuckled softly and turned to Eden.

"Eden, I'm sorry-"

"Don't be." Eden countered, turning her gaze to her, "You're safe now. You're alive, we're both alive. That's all that matters now."

Eden could see that there was something more that the bard wanted to say, a feeling that what had been said didn't do the day justice. But the warrior didn't have the strength to say any more, she simply couldn't.

"Do you like swimming?" she suddenly asked, getting a bit of a perplexed look from the bard.

"Well, I'm not very good at it. I never actually learned really." the blond replied a little sheepishly.

"Well, that's not good." the warrior observed, getting up and standing next to Arielle who looked up at her, "Let's go then."

"What? Swimming? Now? But I don't know how."

"Then it's about time you learn. It's useful, especially when you're hanging off a cliff over a river."

"But, the current... What if it carries me away?"

"Well... isn't that what you have me for?" Eden asked with a small grin and raised eyebrow.

Despite her hesitation, the bard gave off a smile at the comment and got up. They dressed down to their underthings again and waded into the river until they were about waist deep. Eden found a spot where the bottom was solid and she felt well grounded and began to teach the blond how to swim. Arielle was nervous at first, feeling the strong pull of the water, but she felt a stronger and more secure hold on her from the warrior and soon she relaxed and began to even enjoy herself. Eden patiently gave her instructions and reminders, observing with satisfaction how fast and attentively the bard learned. After some time, the blond was swimming against the current with a reasonable amount of effort and a huge grin. Eden smiled lightly and folded her arms over her chest, her eyes never leaving the bard. Arielle turned her head up to the warrior, beaming happily in her success. She then noticed Eden's arms and realized that the warrior had let go of her and she had been swimming all by herself. The realization stunned her and she suddenly stopped swimming and the current took over, starting to pull her downstream. Before she had a chance to shout, she felt her body abruptly stop, a strong hand wrapped around her wrist. She turned her head and saw Eden standing in the water with no intention of giving up the bard to the river. She pulled the bard towards her through the flowing water until Arielle was able to get her footing and was standing across from her, dripping wet and smiling. Arielle noticed that Eden's tanned skin took on a unique softness in the last of the setting sun and she considered the twofold nature of the warrior. She stood there like a pillar against the relentless water, unmoved and unimpressed by its attempts to sweep her away. But there was the other side to her, the side that was bathed in the golden red light of the sun, letting little, playful sparkles dance in her eyes and her skin absorbed the light and turned the pillar into something soft and warm that Arielle simply wanted to wrap herself up in. Which is your truer manifestation? A little, shimmering bead of water on Eden's brow drew the bard's attention to the small wound that remained. Arielle cautiously drew her hand up and lightly touched it and saw the warrior's jaw muscles tighten. But she kept her hand there still in an indescribable urge to just touch the wound and heal it, to fix the pain, to make it all disappear.

"Tell me where this is from." she gently requested.

"From a long time ago." Eden sighed, looking down at the water and hanging her head, breaking their contact, "It's getting dark. Let's go get dry."

Arielle simply stood there for a few moments, watching Eden return to shore, slouching under the burden of her sadness. Then she joined her.

Chapter Text

Arielle was walking back towards the road with a smile on her face. She had stumbled upon a wild apricot tree and plucked some of the remaining fruit off of it, carrying it in her hands like precious cargo, hoping it would be a nice surprise for her somewhat gloomy companion. Eden seemed to be immersed deep in thought ever since the encounter with the jinn, the bard noticed. Yet, although the warrior had turned quieter, she didn't seem to be disturbed or anxious and that fact made the bard a little calmer.

"Eden, look at what I fou-" Arielle started saying, emerging from the trees and seeing Eden standing in the middle of a group of groaning bandits, all writhing on the ground. "I see I missed out on some fun."

"Oh, we were just negotiating the road toll they demanded." the warrior shrugged with a slightly sheepish smile, sheathing her sword, "We get to continue on for free."

Arielle shook her head lightly with amusement and they walked towards each other.

"Apricots?" Eden asked, looking at what the blond was holding in her hands with interest.

"Mhm. I found a wild tree over there. I thought you might like some." the bard answered and stretched her hands out towards the warrior.

"Oh. Well, um, thank you." Eden replied with a little surprise, picking one fruit and biting it carefully.

"Oh, they're sweet, aren't they?" Arielle noticed, already having popped one in her mouth, chewing it eagerly.

Eden nodded and took two more, leaving the rest for the constantly hungry, young bard and motioned with her head to return to the horses and continue their journey.


"Don't you think that looks like a goat?" Arielle suddenly asked in curiosity some time later.

"Where?" Eden asked, scanning the countryside.

"That cloud on the horizon."

"Cloud?"

"Yes. Don't you think that cloud looks like a goat?"

"Well, it doesn't look like rain." the warrior answered, a little perplexed.

"Yes, I know that. But I'm asking you what it looks like to you. What it reminds you of."

"A cloud." Eden replied with a shrug.

"Come on, Eden, use your imagination." the bard gently persisted.

"I'm not the bard, remember?"

"But you are a human being. Eden, everyone has an imagination, you just have to know how to use it. Give it a try." Arielle continued convincing as she met the warrior's quiet and uncertain scowl, "Please?"

The bard gave Eden one of those innocent, pleading looks that the warrior had noticed she was quite good at giving. Eden didn't know why or how, but that look, those soft, green eyes in that look, always seemed to pull at something deep within her and render her nearly helpless and in complete surrender. Eden sighed and rolled her eyes slightly.

"That cloud over there?" Eden asked with some reluctance, pointing towards the horizon and getting a cheerful nod from the blond, "Hmm... still looks like a cloud to me."

"Eden..."

"Alright, alright. Let's see... I would say a battering ram."

"Of course." the bard commented, shooting her eyes up into the sky.

"You started this." the warrior reminded friendlily.

"I know, I know..." the bard replied, waggling her hand, "Well then, how about that one?"

"That big one? The siege tower?"

"A siege tower? It's a merchant ship! Aren't siege towers supposed to be standing?" Arielle argued amusedly, placing one hand on her hip.

"Unsuccessful siege." the warrior replied with a shrug and a mischievous glint in her eye.

Arielle chuckled and shook her head.

"Oh, what am I supposed to do with you, warrior?" she bantered.

Eden abruptly stopped and Arion became uneasy. The warrior swept her eyes back and forth over their surroundings.

"What is it?" Arielle asked, unconsciously moving closer to her, her voice low and quiet.

"Somebody's out there." Eden answered in a concentrated hush.

Arielle scanned the area, but didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary at all. But Eden saw the single frightened bird flying away, heard the tense, muffled steps somewhere up on the side of the mountain, noticed that something was simply out of place, looming over them with the threat of danger. She focused her gaze on the mountainside above them.

"Get over there." she instructed the bard, pointing to a small, thick clump of trees off to the right side while she kept her gaze fixed on the mountainside to the left.

The bard opened her mouth to protest, but then closed it and quickly trotted off to the indicated spot. She dismounted, quickly strung her bow, and crouched down with a nocked arrow in the ready. Eden also dismounted and gave Arion a gentle push and he trotted off. She took a few steps closer to the mountain, peering intently. Then a feral grin crossed her lips.

"Come on down, boys!" Eden called up the mountain, "Or are you scared of a... woman?"

A couple seconds of silence were followed by a small, hopelessly flawed rockslide that Eden easily evaded, chuckling sinisterly as she hopped between and around the rocks tumbling out onto the road. The last little boulder was followed by a hysterical war cry and a band of eight raggedly dressed bandits came streaming down the side of the mountain with their swords and shields ready. Eden simply sighed, calmly drew her sword, and stood ready, twirling the blade lazily in her hand while she waited for the onslaught.

Eden was actually quite entertained by the bandits who were practically tripping over themselves and getting in each other's way in a frenzy to get at Eden first. Her amused battle laugh could be heard between the clashes of metal and wood. An arrow pierced the shoulder of the man to Eden's right and the man next to him turned around to see where it came from. He spotted Arielle drawing another arrow and he nudged two of his comrades, pointing towards the bard with his sword. They took off immediately after Arielle and when she noticed them coming after her, the bard broke out into a run through the trees. Her mind raced over a rescue plan for herself, the continuing clashes that were slicing through the air telling her that her companion had problems of her own. The bard knew she couldn't run forever and the trees were only growing fewer as she ran towards the sea. She saw a large cedar ahead of her and decided to make her stand there, the tree covering her back. She reached the tree and whirled around, breathing heavily, holding her bow and arrow ready.

"Hey now, pretty little thing," one of the bandits teased when they all reached her, equally out of breath, "can't shoot us all. Seems like we've got you."

"Oh, on the contrary," Eden growled, appearing from behind a tree in back of the group and pointing her sword at them, "I've got you."

"What a bitch." the bandit complained.

They ran at the warrior and in a combination of three graceful moves, she neatly took out the three nearly breathless bandits, giving the complaining one an extra kick in the groin.

"That'll teach you to use that kind of speech towards a lady." Eden noted as the bandit dropped to the ground in a long moan.

The warrior sheathed her sword and jogged over to Arielle.

"Are you alright?" Eden asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. Just out of breath."

"Well, that was quite a run." the warrior noted, "Come on. Let's go back. I just can't wait to see what else is waiting for us on this road."

They walked back through the trees to the road, leaving the broken bandits behind them.

"I was going to make a stand there." the bard said, looking at Eden as they returned to the road and found their horses dutifully waiting for them, "I thought I was going to have to defend myself with my sword."

"Well, fortunately, it didn't come to that." Eden said, remembering the bard's qualms about carrying a sword from the very beginning.

"You know," the bard mused, looking down at her short sword, a tiny grin starting to quiver in the corner of her mouth, "I don't think I've ever drawn it yet..."

In a quick movement, Arielle drew her sword and pointed it at the warrior with a proud grin.

"Ha! I've got you now, warrior!" she called out happily.

Eden raised a brow. With agility that the bard hardly had time to register, Eden gave a sudden front jump kick, sending the sword flying out of the stunned blond's grip and up into the air until it fell back down into Eden's patiently waiting hand. She then took the blade and slowly pointed it at Arielle.

"On the contrary, I've got you, bard." she countered slowly with a mischievous grin turning up the corner of her mouth.

"I surrender, I surrender!" Arielle cried playfully, raising her hands in the air in submission.

Eden flipped the sword around and handed the hilt-side of it to Arielle and the bard took it.

"One day, warrior, you will be mine." Arielle threatened lightheartedly, sheathing her sword and mounting her horse.

In Eden's mind a thought flashed that someday that just might be the case.


As usual, it was Eden who heard the shouting first and trotted ahead to see what was happening. Further down the road, five bandits were assaulting an elderly, weary traveler who was bravely trying to fight off his assailants with a traveling stick while pleading for mercy.

"Is there some kind of bandit festival today that I don't know about?" Eden muttered in annoyance as Arielle trotted up beside her.

Eden galloped off without a word. She knocked down the bandit the elderly man was fighting the moment she arrived and two of the bandits launched themselves at her when she turned around. She dispatched them with ease, watching through the corner of her eye as an arrow sailed through the air and landed in the thigh of the bandit who was still harassing the old man. The last remaining bandit, seeing that he was outnumbered and outmatched, quickly turned and ran away, dragging his wounded comrade with him.

The elderly man dusted himself off and picked up his bundle from the ground as Arielle trotted up and stopped beside Eden. He almost looked like a forgotten monk, dressed in a long, gray tunic, tied at the waist with an old, leather belt and his short, white beard matched the thinning white hair on his head.

"Praise be to you, kind warriors." he said, "I give you my thanks."

"No need." Eden replied tiredly before Arielle had a chance to speak, "You should move along now."

The old man looked in Eden's direction with a somewhat surprised, but curious expression. They noticed his continual stare that was off place and his clouded eyes.

"Are you alright?" Arielle asked.

"Yes, a little shaken up perhaps, but nothing serious. Thanks to the both of you mostly." he answered.

"Well, that's good to hear. We're glad we could help." Arielle said with a smile and could almost hear Eden sigh impatiently.

"I am Thomas of Corinth. Who should I say were my angels?" the elderly man asked.

"We just happened to be passing by. We are no angels." Eden answered flatly, watching the elderly traveler and ignoring the stare she was receiving from the blond.

"Are you not? I thank you all the same guardians." Thomas replied gently.

Eden froze for a moment and stared at the man with a harsh and suspicious look. Arielle felt herself grow tense; the sudden, strained reaction in Eden made her start to fear that Eden might actually do harm to him.

"I live not far from here, just outside Beirut. Please, let me extend my hospitality to you in reward for your help." he offered warmly.

"We didn't help you for a reward." Eden answered shortly, "Anyways, we're on our way to Jerusalem."

"But the day is nearing an end and I really do not live far off. Please, I humbly ask you."

Eden felt a strange aura about the elderly man and studied him closely. She could sense that Arielle wanted them to take the traveler up on the offer, they had had a tiring day and a warm meal would be welcome. The traveler didn't seem to emanate any danger though she continued to feel oddly nervous and Eden finally shrugged.

"I suppose there is no harm in it." Eden finally conceded, "We'll escort you home, though it seems you fare quite well, even outnumbered."

"Ah, thank you for the kind words, but there is only so much these old bones can do." Thomas replied.

"Would you like to ride?" Arielle offered.

"No, dear one, thank you, but I fare much better on the ground at my age."

"Then let me at least carry your bundle."

"Oh, if that's not a problem. Thank you, indeed."

Arielle leaned over and took the bundle from him and attached it to her saddle. She was aware of Eden watching them both very closely, but it worried her that it made her feel uneasy this time. There was a sense of distrust in the warrior radiating from her guarded air and tensed muscles ready to pounce at any moment. Arielle couldn't see where any harm could come from the side of this particular traveler and simply decided to be gentle towards him where Eden could not or would not be. What is going on with her?

Arielle and Thomas engaged in petty conversation almost the whole way to Thomas's home and Eden rode in back of them, remaining silent and alert. They reached his home when the sun finally pulled its last ray below the horizon. The women dismounted and Thomas ushered them inside, offering food and drink. His asked them to sit, asking Eden to pull the table next to the bench that was against the wall. The women sat down on the bench as Thomas made his way around gathering food and plates and finally sat down in a chair across from them.

"You have a very nice home, Thomas." Arielle noticed, sipping some cider and starting on a bowl of stew that he had given each of them.

"Oh, thank you. It may not be much, but it is a home."

"Do you live here by yourself?" Eden asked, trying her best to keep her voice neutral despite feeling inexplicably uncomfortable.

"I do. Sometimes the neighbors come to help with more difficult things, but I get by on the day to day."

"Commendable." Eden offered.

"Or foolish." Thomas countered with a smile.

"Perhaps."

"We do not chose our fate, but we do chose what we decide to do with it." he said, his tone growing a little lower which started making Eden nervous, "Ah, but I can tell you it is nice to have a conversation with someone once in a while. To talk of different things, to tell stories..."

"Do you like stories?" Arielle asked, her interest piqued.

"Oh, I do. There are so many interesting stories to hear and tell. I was not born ancient, dear one, I have lived to see and hear many wonderful things." he chuckled lightly.

"Would tell us one of your tales? Please? I haven't heard one in such a long time."

"Of course, dear one. Let me see... Ah, I think I have a suitable one. Do you believe in angels, dear one?"

"Yes, I do. Though I haven't heard any tales about them. Do you really have one?" Arielle asked, the excitement clearly heard in her voice.

"Ah, I do. A great one." he claimed.

Eden leaned back on the bench, her arms crossed over her chest, constantly feeling on edge. Arielle leaned forward, elbows propped up on the table, her chin resting on her balled fists, her eyes wide with excitement and interest. Thomas took a sip of cider and then a deep breath.

"It is said that when God created the earth and heavens, He also created angels. Most of the angels served Him loyally, cherishing and praising His name. Yet, when God created man, some of the angels were displeased since man was given God's highest favor. So they rebelled against the Creator and fell from Heaven. Restless and envious of man and the riches he had at his disposal, they roamed the earth and took women. The offspring of these unseemly unions were savage giants who laid waste to all they saw. They taught man things like black magic, weaponry, and other forbidden knowledge. In anger, God finally decided to rid the earth of the offspring through the great flood from which only Noah was saved."

Thomas stopped to take another sip of cider and Eden noticed her heartbeat begin to quicken.

"Those fallen angels were called the watchers and were bound in darkness to the earth by God until Judgment Day. Yet lest the watchers reek too much havoc amongst men, God called into service those called guardians. It is said they are the spirit of angels in the body of man. They are known for their virtue, honor, and skill, being able to see and speak to the Lord and all that is holy, for each is a chosen one of the Almighty Himself. God dispersed the guardians all over the earth to protect mankind from the black tricks of the watchers. It is said that they live like normal human beings, with everyday lives, families, and homes. Yet they possess the soul of an angel and can fight with evil in ways that man cannot. And so the battle between good and evil is waged everyday in realms sometimes unseen to the ordinary human eye, maybe even right under your nose, dear one." Thomas said and tapped the end of Arielle's nose gently with his finger and it scrunched up cheerfully.

"Have you ever seen any of these guardians, Thomas?" Arielle asked in utter curiosity, taking a handful of dates from the center of the table.

"Oh, but I have, little one. They live amongst us."

"Do they really? But then how do you know that someone is a guardian?"

"Ah, little one, some say that they can be distinguished through their deeds, their honor can be so great. It is said they surpass others in strength, agility, wit, and endurance. Some claim they can come back from the dead. Others that they speak tongues unknown to any man. Still others that their blood flows a bright red."

Arielle gazed at him with wonder for a few moments until something suddenly began to register in her mind and her expression turned into a surprised confusion mixed with a pinch of fear.

"Bright, red blood?" she repeated, her eyebrows knotting.

Eden's bleeding image from her fight with the jinn suddenly flashed in her mind, engraving itself almost painfully into her senses. She suddenly turned around to look at a very tense Eden who was glaring a hole into the table.

"Eden?..." the bard whispered in amazed shock, her hand absently rising to half-way cover her mouth.

Arielle gasped as Eden suddenly shot up from the bench, her eyes locked on the aged man.

"Who are you?" Eden hissed, her hand on the hilt of her dagger.

"Do not fear me, guardian, I shall not harm you." Thomas said, his tone low and gentle, "I was who you are. I am who you will be."

"You know nothing of me nor am I meant to live to see your years." Eden replied sternly after a few moments of heavy silence.

"Oh, dear warrior," Thomas chuckled warmly, "not all can be seen by the naked eye."

"You..." Arielle whispered, staring at the warrior in disbelief, "I thought... How... What are... How can this..."

Eden only looked at her sternly with an unreadable expression, feeling exposed and unarmed. She wanted to run out of the room, she wanted to escape and never come back. She cursed herself for being foolish enough to think that maybe Arielle would be different, that maybe this time it wouldn't make a difference who she really was. Being a guardian made her different and she was tired of being different, tired of being poked, prodded, judged and misunderstood. It had plagued her all her life and she sometimes wished for the peace that came about from being just like everyone else.

"There now, little one. You may be astonished, but do not judge or be unfair. It's not a light burden to carry nor a simple thing to say." he told Arielle mildly and then turned to Eden, "Sit, guardian, please. You have only friends here."

Eden turned to him and regarded him for a few moments before slowly taking her seat.

"Who are you?" she asked again, in a low and wary tone.

"I am a guardian, a guardian healer to be exact. I used to be of more service before the years whittled me away. My brother was a guardian warrior. I made potions, he made wounds. Alas, he met the fate most warriors do and left this world long before I would ever consider it to be his time." he explained, his voice now weighed down with a certain sadness.

"Now you know why I said that your years are not meant for me." Eden replied, never taking her gaze off him.

"Ah, I see..." he commented, nodding slowly, "So, you are a warrior too."

"I am."

"What?... What... Who are you? Who are you, Eden?" Arielle stammered out in shock and disbelief, staring at the warrior with wide eyes.

Eden's eyes flashed with anger and hurt when they met Arielle's. She felt betrayed that her secret was uncovered in such a way, but now there was no use in hiding or denying it. She felt abnormal, hideous, and rejected under the bard's baffled gaze and that last question. There was a part of her that understood Arielle, knowing that there really wasn't much of any other reaction Eden could expect. But the hurt part of the warrior was louder and angrier, so she decided to continue to be different and cast her own little dreams aside.

"I am Eden, guardian warrior, the elect of Michael the Archangel, the chosen one of God Almighty." Eden announced and then turned to Thomas, "though I would stop short at the virtue and honor that I supposedly have."

"Oh, each one of us carries our own cross and shadows, dear guardian." Thomas chuckled softly, shaking his head.

"I can imagine." Eden replied sarcastically.

"You harbor much anger." Thomas chanced, his voice turning a little sad with the thought.

"I have many good reasons."

Thomas grew quiet, looking out into the distance with his unseeing eyes, his forehead and brows knotted in concentration. Eden began to feel a warmth grow in her chest. Though she knew what he was doing and didn't want to have it done, the warmth was a relaxing kind, one she had not felt for a long time and it rendered her unprotected and vulnerable. He slowly reached out and put his hand on top of Eden's head and read what was there.

"Oh... There is much turmoil and desolation here. Oh, my dear, dear guardian. Such loss and pain... Such fear of..."

"Enough!" Eden shouted, tearing herself out from under Thomas's hand and breathing heavily as Arielle, beginning to shake herself free of her utter astonishment, moved a little closer to her in concern.

"But there is also a tiny ray of hope. It grows with a frail but pulsating heartbeat." Thomas continued, lowering his hand.

"I don't see it." Eden retorted, still breathing hard.

"Oh, but you do, guardian."

"Are you alright?" Arielle finally asked Eden quietly.

The bard lifted her hand, but let it safely hover over the warrior's shoulder. Eden's eyes didn't leave the old guardian.

"You see it... with your heart." Thomas said with certainty in his voice.

Arielle turned her gaze from the warrior, to Thomas, and then back to Eden again. She let her hand gently rest on the warrior's shoulder, but Eden jerked it away.

"I see nothing." she spat out, getting up and suddenly storming out of the room.

A silence hung in the air for a while after Eden had left as the gray guardian and bard collected their thoughts.

"Ah, such a shame, that one... I feel such sympathy for her... Such a burden..." Thomas sighed, resting his hands on his lap.

"I... I had no idea... I knew there was something... She's somehow... different, you know?... But she said... nothing to me." Arielle stammered out.

"Can you blame her, young one?" Thomas countered softly, "She has known since she was a child that she was chosen and has paid a very high price for that knowledge. And you knowing she was a guardian could put you in danger, child. She would probably have none of that..."

Arielle thought over that for a while, staring at her fingers as they rolled a spoon over and over. Is this that burden she carries around constantly? Is this that weight that nearly breaks her shoulders?

"What does all this mean, Thomas? Who is she really?" the bard finally asked in a frustrated confusion.

"Ah, that is the simplest and most difficult question. She is both unique in every way and just the same as everyone else. You see, young one, each of us has a guardian angel that looks over us, that you know. But there are some who merge with their guardian angel to such a point that they practically become one entity. A guardian houses all the heavenly power a human body can withstand. She is an ordinary person like you or me, but she sees, feels, and knows more than most. Eden has abilities and senses that are amplified which is both a blessing and a curse."

"How could it be a curse? She has an angelic soul!" Arielle blurted out.

"She is only merged with the angel, her soul is her own. The angel helps her fight demons and relate to God. The rest is her own person." Thomas explained, "As to the curse... It is a very heavy burden to bear... It's a sacrifice from the very beginning..."

"Thomas..." Arielle said softly, her mind absorbing all his words, "You saw... things... in her... What did you see?... What is the hurt she carries?"

"My dear one..." he answered, shaking his head slowly, "It is not for me to say. But I can tell you that her price has been paid... more than once..."

"What can I do... to help her?" the bard finally asked quietly and Thomas smiled.

"Go to her. Show her she still has a friend."

Arielle nodded, got up, and walked outside. She looked around for Eden and found her finishing brushing down Arion in the torchlight, her face stern, her jaw muscles flexing. But then she watched as the warrior put the brush away and began to stroke the horse's muzzle. Her mouth moved with words the bard couldn't hear and her movements were gentle and caring. Arielle let out a sad sigh at the thought that Eden probably considered Arion her only real friend, the only creature on the earth who accepted and trusted her exactly the way she was. The bard walked over to her slowly, thinking of a hundred different things to say and all of them coming out wrong. She fumbled with a tie in her leather armor, giving her nervous hands something to do.

"Eden, I'm-"

"Leave it." Eden interrupted coldly and caused the bard to flinch a little.

"I'm trying to tell you something."

"Well, I don't want to hear it right now."

"Eden, you have to let me apologize." Arielle pleaded.

"No, duchess," Eden spat, shooting a glance at the bard, "I don't have to do anything."

Arion snorted loudly and Eden turned on her heel and began to stomp off into the distance.

"Eden, I'm sorry!" Arielle called out to her and watched Eden stop in her tracks, a small, thin cloud of dust collecting around her boots, "I was... I was just surprised, that's all. I don't know why you didn't tell me... I... I don't think any less of you..."

Eden turned around slowly and faced the bard, her face looking strained and tired.

"You should think less of me. I'm different, peculiar, nobody you would want to be around." the warrior explained in a hurt tone.

"Eden, you... you are different." the bard said gently and as she saw the warrior throw her arms up into the air in disbelief, she quickly added, "You're better."

Eden's hands fell loosely to her sides as if they had suddenly forgotten what they were doing. She watched the bard, trying to decide whether the blond really meant the words that meant more to the warrior than she would let on. But of all the things she could describe the blond as, she couldn't say she was deceitful or devious. The warrior slowly walked back towards the bard until they were standing face to face.

"I really was stunned. I didn't mean..."

"It's alright, I know. Maybe I should have told you..." Eden admitted with a sigh.

"Maybe, but I'm not all that surprised that you didn't. After all, we don't know each other all that well..."

"No..."

And then something that the both of them had been subconsciously aware of shot up in offense. Deep within them, it rebelled against the statement as if trying to tell them that they had known each other for lifetimes and lifetimes. For Arielle, their forming friendship wasn't anything much outside of the ordinary, except for her bizarre interest in the warrior and insistence on finding what she held within. For Eden, their friendship was one baffling amazement after another. She was astounded and worried about the rate and ease with which the young bard was scaling her walls and prying open her gates. No matter what defense she put up, the giddy blond would some nifty little way around it and come bounding in with a smile on her face. It all scared her nearly half to death.

"Begging pardon, fair warriors," Thomas called out into the night, poking his head out the door, "take rest here tonight if you may. The road to Jerusalem is still long. It's no burden at all for those who saved this shriveled, old fruit."

Eden looked at Thomas, then down at Arielle who was grinning, and nodded her head.

"Thank you, Thomas!" Arielle answered and the two women walked back to the door, "Actually, we are quite tired. Between raiders and demons, we could use a little sleep."

"Demons?" Thomas asked, raising his eyebrows in interest.

"We met a jinn on the road." Eden explained as they walked in and she shut the door behind them.

"It was the strangest thing, he seemed to just rise up out of the ground, his eyes black as night... Sent a chill up my spine." Arielle said.

"You saw him too?" Thomas asked.

"What do you mean? Of course I saw him too. He was right there. We were both watching as he approached. Why?" Arielle replied, growing a little confused.

Eden wrapped her arms around herself in growing tension again as Thomas said nothing, waiting for an answer.

"It's true." Eden said quietly.

"I see..." Thomas mused and then turned in Arielle's general direction, "May I?" he asked, raising his hand.

"Yes, of course." Arielle answered, a little bewildered and anxious and rested her head beneath Thomas's hand.

"Ah... Blinding light and... and... a gaping emptiness..."

He removed his hand and Arielle looked to the both of them for answers.

"What is it?" she demanded softly.

Thomas opened his mouth to answer until her heard Eden's voice cut through his mind.

'You know your connection can work both ways, healer.' she spoke to him in his thoughts.

'Ah, you are gifted guardian. Not all know that. Even fewer can use it.'

'Please, don't tell her what we both know.'

'Why?' the healer asked, slightly puzzled.

'Let her live in the peace she won't know otherwise. Let her live in a world full of colors and dreams. Please, I ask you as a guardian.'

'But-'

'I will beg you if you make me.'

Thomas sighed.

'Alright then. Since it means this much to you warrior, I will say nothing. But she will learn in time.'

'Perhaps. But not now.'

'Protect her, warrior. Guard her closely.'

'Of course. Thank you.'

Thomas took a deep breath.

"You have a beautiful soul, little one." Thomas answered warmly, "A true light in this world."

The bard looked at him speechless and then darted her eyes to the ground, fighting back a shocked blush.

"Let us rest, fair maidens. The day has been a long one." Thomas offered.

"Yes, you're right." Arielle replied.

The women lay their bedrolls out on the floor in a second little room he had, despite his insistence that at least one of them take the bed and rest in comfort or at least sleep in the larger room, close to the fire. Eden lay staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to take her and wondering what else lay ahead of them before they reached Jerusalem.

"Why didn't you tell me, Eden?" the bard whispered, the hurt tainting her voice.

"It's not exactly something one goes around sharing freely."

"But you could have told me."

"How exactly? Hello, my name is Eden. Oh, by the way, I'm an angel in human form. Here, have a pomegranate." Eden retorted sarcastically.

"I thought we... were friends..." Arielle protested quietly and heard Eden sigh heavily and turn on her side to face the bard.

"This is... How do I explain something I sometimes don't even fully understand myself... or want to... It's... It's just..." Eden tried to say and finally sighed with frustration, "I just wanted... to be me... for a while... and protect you..."

Arielle turned it over in her mind a couple of times. She had felt such shock from the news and hurt from the fact she wasn't told that she had forgotten to think of how Eden felt. The warrior was rough, a little scary and angry, and all around difficult, but she took Arielle's protection very seriously. Eden carried around her own burdens and troubles, trudging forward stubbornly under their weight. But when it came to the bard, the warrior simply flung it all aside and focused only on her. The memory of the night Eden had held her to guard her against her nightmares filled her with warmth. Yes, I did feel safe and protected.

"It's just a surprise, I guess..." Arielle finally confessed, letting out a deep breath and seeing Eden's troubled look even in the grayish dark, "So... can you see in the dark?"

"No." Eden replied, stupefied.

"Do you know the future?" the bard continued, her tone growing playful again.

"No."

"Can you fly?"

"Arielle!" the warrior cried out softly and the bard giggled.

They both smiled at each other, the tension and uneasiness having faded away. They finally closed their eyes and the warrior fell asleep after the bard did and both dreamed of big, white clouds.

Chapter Text

Quite a distance away from Beirut, the two women were eating in the checkered shade of an abandoned olive grove, resting against the forgotten trees. It was quiet; a warm breeze faintly ruffled their hair and rustled the remaining leaves.

Although she kept it well hidden, Eden had been observing the bard's behavior towards her closely, fearful it would change awkwardly or even hurtfully now that she knew that Eden was a guardian. Yet, the bard surprised her pleasantly by treating the warrior exactly the same as before.

"I was thinking about what you said about your sword..." Eden started quietly, referring to the blond's comment from the day before, "I thought that maybe... maybe you could... or maybe I could... teach you... to use it..."

"Oh, I see. Now that I know that you're a guardian, you thought that it would be a good idea if I could at least give the impression that I can defend myself, right? We wouldn't want me to bring you any shame now, would we?" Arielle asked with a slight twinkle in her eye and her hands on her hips.

Eden gave her a slightly flustered look, knotting her brows a little and about to protest.

"Oh, Eden," the bard said with a giggle, "I know just as much about weapons and fighting as I do about metal farming. I really do realize that."

"You... you can't farm metal..." Eden observed warily.

"Which just goes to show you how much I know about it." the bard replied cheerily and then lifted an eyebrow, trying to mimic her companion, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't I ask you to teach me fighting weeks ago already?"

The corner of Eden's mouth mischievously twitched as she rose silently, drew her sword, and looked at her with fake menace.

"Oh, alright, alright, calm down," Arielle soothed playfully, raising her hands up in front of her, "I get the point. You were busy. I understand."

A small grin appeared on Eden's face and she shook her head slightly. The warrior let the bard finish eating and then they walked a few paces off to a place with more space to practice. Eden taught Arielle some basic things about the sword, focusing on holding it, balancing it, and different defensive moves. The warrior noticed the intensity with which the bard listened and then practiced, that same intensity that she invested in all the things the warrior had showed her. Eden was used to seeing bloodthirsty men sword training; hacking away with deranged looks on their faces and blood lust in their eyes. The bard followed the warrior's patient instruction and practiced with an element of playfulness and innocent wonder that found its way under all the warrior's armor and tugged at her heart, bringing a stubborn little smile to her face.

"So, how is this move now?" Arielle asked, turning to the warrior, "Am I holding... Are you smiling?!"

"Start from the beginning!" Eden called out, the smile automatically disappearing into her usual sour look.

After Arielle had practiced with the air a little, Eden became her opponent. Arielle convinced the warrior to at least try and that it would be much more helpful than fighting air unless, of course, she ever had to battle a very angry breeze. Eden shrugged and reluctantly agreed. The bard saw the features in the warrior grow very tense and for a moment she almost regretted talking her into sparring with her. But it went smoothly and gently, the warrior putting just enough pressure on her to force her to focus and work, but not enough to strain her senseless. Eden was most focused on controlling herself, especially her anger. She knew that she was potentially dangerous and that she could easily shift from a sparring partner to an authentic threat in a second. Yet, it wasn't as difficult as Eden was afraid it might be. The bard's sporadic giggles, smiles, and happy shouts when she got something right somehow seemed to calm the warrior, a sense of comfort sinking down to her frazzled nerves and soothing them slowly.

They finished their sparring once Arielle finally felt pleasantly tired.

"I have to say," Arielle observed, breathing a little hard, "I really don't know how you can do this all the time. I'm tired... and hungry."

"You just ate!" Eden exclaimed, her arms flying up to the sides and then falling back down, landing loudly on her thighs.

"Yes, well, I used it all up with all that parrying, guarding, and trapping." the bard explained with a sheepish grin.

Eden let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes.

"It's a good thing Thomas took a liking to you." Eden said, tossing her a bag of dried fruit and nuts that the gray guardian had insisted the bard on taking.

"He was a very nice man." Arielle noted thoughtfully, catching the bag and starting to eat from it.

They sat down on the ground, the bard happily munching, the warrior absently pulling on semi-dry blades of grass. The bard silently observed Eden from the corner of her eye as the warrior twisted the grass with her fingers and swept the land with her alert gaze. She wondered over all the things that had happened to them since they first met. Most of it had been tense or unpleasant; Arielle had witnessed things she would have never wanted to. Yet, she also noticed that Eden was beside her the entire time and now, well, now it seemed to the bard that the warrior was just starting to let a different, more gentle side peek through. It trickled out through the cracks of her constant gloomy warrior stance and Arielle basked in a certain pride that she had helped chip away some of that formidable wall around Eden's heart and hoped that one day, the wall would come crumbling down. And there, now, with the sun shining on her face and a light breeze brushing away the hair from her forehead, the warrior was taking a second to do nothing else but observe the grass in her hand, turning it in fingers, oblivious to the blond's gaze. There was no blood, no hate, no violence, no anger and Arielle found herself lacking words. She is... She is... fascinating.

They finally rose when Arielle had finished eating and resting, mounted their horses, and returned to the road, trotting rather leisurely and enjoying the nice day and quiet.

"Eden, can I ask you something?" Arielle asked tentatively and Eden turned to look at her, her brows furrowed slightly.

"You can ask me anything. Whether I'll answer... What is it?"

"What did Thomas mean... and what did you mean... when you spoke of warriors not reaching Thomas's years?"

"Ah..." Eden replied as quietly as the bard had asked, turning her gaze forward again with a slow, single nod.

The question had a simple answer, but Eden noticed the strange apprehension with which it was asked and tried to find a way to at least be slightly more gentle than she was accustomed to being.

"Well," Eden started, slowly and quietly, "some guardians are healers like Thomas, some are seers, others warriors... Warriors are most often in harm's way... Things happen..."

"Can you choose a different way? Change it somehow?"

"No. It's not something imposed upon us; we find it ourselves. It's our choice." Eden replied matter-of-factly.

Eden kept her gaze pinned ahead of her in order not to see the bard's somewhat sad stare that the warrior could feel resting upon her. Eden wouldn't know how to react to it. Why do you seem to care? Of what use am I? There would be no loss for the world with my absence. Yet, then Eden realized that the very fact that she was asking those questions in her head was strange; she had been so sure of the answers before that she wouldn't have bothered to ask. And again she found herself wondering over the influence the bard was starting to have over her. On the one hand, Eden realistically knew that they hadn't known each other all that long, yet she could not escape a peculiar feeling that they actually knew each other well and had now been simply reunited after a very long time. The bard seemed to pick at her every lock, pry open her every hinge, open her every gate as if it was nothing at all. Men, families, and even kingdoms had succumbed to Eden, but never being able to pierce her armor. But this young, little bard could and with nothing more than a smile. And Eden began to realize that the thought began to nurture a feeling deep inside her chest which wasn't fear.

"Not every warrior is doomed..." Eden tried to comfort, yet keeping a stoic presence, "We go when our time comes, no matter who we are."

Arielle found that the comment actually made her feel a little better and the sadness slowly disappeared from her face. She wondered quietly over her reaction. She had always been considered an emotional woman, but the feelings that Eden began to evoke within her were different from the rest. Each of them, from happiness to sadness, carried with them a growing sense of attachment. Her emotions came from deeper and deeper within her spirit and began to have a growing influence on her thoughts and decisions. The warrior occupied the bard's thoughts more and more often and Arielle noticed that each new thing that she learned about Eden didn't really satisfy her curiosity, but only made it amplify. It was almost like she couldn't know enough, hear or see enough, or even be close enough and it was as exciting a feeling as it was frightening.

Some time later, Eden stopped abruptly and then a moment later Arielle also noticed the smoke rising up from a village in the distance. Without a word, they both had decided to ride up and investigate. They nudged their horses into a canter and not long after found themselves near the outskirts of the village. Eden stopped again and studied the scene closely. The stinging smell of smoke and dust invaded her nose and caused her jaw to tense and eyebrows to furrow.

"Keep close and no arguments." Eden said to Arielle.

They carefully continued towards the village. Arielle noticed that all the signs of good humor disappear from the warrior who instead turned gloomy and on edge. They rode through the village solemnly alert. The eerie quiet informed them that Death had claimed dominion over the area and that Eden and Arielle were not welcome. Smoke snaked through opened doors, up burned through roofs, along charred walls, off of still smoldering bodies. Broken belongings lay carelessly strewn around along with those whose life had been violently taken away. Arielle could hardly believe her eyes; men run through, children cut down, women with their dresses flung over their faces and heads. Their blood crept out along the dusty village paths, mixing with the churned dirt, soot, and shattered pieces of things and it all looked like a hellish mosaic put together by the Devil himself. They meandered between the maimed and the charred and Arielle felt her stomach begin to churn at the sight and stench of it all. Eden turned to see a man hanging off a hovel wall, a spear run through him, his eyes scooped out. The two women dismounted in a grim quiet and Eden walked up to the man and pulled the spear out, letting him drop to the ground. Arielle suddenly grabbed her stomach, ran to the nearest wall, and vomited. Eden heard the bard's body violently rejecting all the things that it was experiencing; she knew that reaction all too well. The warrior looked around and saw a bloodied warrior's body lying on the ground and approached it. Eden stood over the corpse belonging to one of those who had raided the village, three deep holes in him which fit the pitchfork lying next to him. Eden bent down on one knee and peered into the dead man's face.

"Damned be you, Saracen." she hissed with loathing, cursing mostly what she saw of herself in him.

Eden got back up and turned towards Arielle. The bard was sitting on the ground, her back up against the wall, holding her stomach and looking around in a horrified disgust. She caught the warrior's gaze as she approached her. A sickening feeling entered Eden as she saw the blond's reaction to the destruction that surrounded them. It troubled her to the core because she knew that it was close to the same destruction she herself had taken part in not all that long ago. The blood, the fire, the chaos; it had all been an intricate part of her and she had relished drowning in it. For so long Eden had judged herself by the fear she saw in other people's eyes, but she suddenly realized that fear was the last thing she wanted to see in the green eyes of the bard. The warrior felt disgusted with herself, the carnage around them resurrecting shallowly buried images of her own trials and sins, swirling inside her like a tempest. Eden walked up to her apprehensively, expecting to be judged, condemned, and executed by the young blond through the horror and revolt she most undeniably felt now. She crouched down in front of Arielle, one woman just as pale as the other.

Eden looked into the bard's eyes; the usual, bright forest green had now somehow faded to the shade of dying grass. But Eden saw the true green somewhere deeper and she peered into it intensely, feeling as if she was to be shown her irrevocable fate there.

Arielle looked at her in a complete lack of comprehension. She had seen things in her life, but never such senseless and utter slaughter. No one was spared, no one was safe.

"Why do things like this happen?" the bard asked, her eyebrows furrowed, her voice quiet, "Why does God allow for this?"

"God has nothing to do with it." Eden answered solemnly, shaking her head lightly, "We do it to ourselves."

"But... a benevolent God should protect... God could stop this..."

"This is the thanks we give for free will... In the end, God has little to say if no one listens." Eden replied and sighed heavily, a glimpse of compassion for the bard peering through her grim look, "There's nothing we can do here now."

Arielle said nothing, her horror still etched deep into her eyes. Eden let out a deep breath and raised herself to her feet.

"Let's get out of this forsaken place." she announced, looking down at Arielle.

The warrior extended her hand down to the bard as Arielle looked up. The horror seemed to dull at the kind gesture and a fleeting thought entered the bard's mind that even amidst the carnage they were in, the warrior's sole presence evoked a feeling of safety within her. Arielle gave a small nod, took Eden's hand, and got to her feet.

They mounted their horses and solemnly left the village to whatever fate lay before it. They rode in silence for a long while, the warrior glancing at the bard from time to time from under her brows, observing her expression. Arielle was lost in thought, turning the experience over in her mind, trying to understand the point of it, trying to see the gain in it. And then there was also the feeling of helplessness. Before, they had always somehow arrived in time to do something, influence and change events and usually for the better. But here they were too late. A human stood in the wake of another's actions and realized that there was absolutely nothing that could be done to change it. Yet, despite all of that, within all that chaos and calamity, Arielle noticed that the presence of the warrior calmed her. She somehow felt that even if she found herself in the very center of a whirlwind of war, Eden would keep her grounded, would keep her stable. She wouldn't ever let me fall... would she?

Eden wasn't ever one to be easy upon herself. Though she expected from others exactly what she expected from herself, she soon learned that there was no real sense in expecting much of anything at all from anyone. But her self-expectations remained unchanged. They were practically unreachable, but Eden held fast to them all the same. And so Eden saw herself in the dead Turkish warrior, released from his life with something as dishonorable as a pitchfork. She saw the same senseless bloodshed, the same meaningless existence, the same pitiful end. A great and engaging ideology could be created behind every action, annihilation in the name of something all powerful, all encompassing, eternal. Yet, deep down within, Eden wanted nothing more than a peaceful life. Even if what she did was done in the name of God, she was still the one who had to do it and live with the weight and consequences. In the whirl of battle, in the cyclone of aggression, she would kill if she had to, if there was no other choice, yet in the quiet of solitary nights, the weight of all the judgment she had passed grew sometimes too much to bear. And then there were the things she did that had nothing to do with God, their weight the most tremendous and unyielding. She simply never wanted any of this and struggled to find the larger purpose in it. A purpose would bind it all together, it would make Eden and her fate become a whole. Yet, it remained concealed from her. So she would escape with her tattered sanity to her dream of a little house somewhere amongst the trees of Europe, near the water that always seemed calmed her, amongst the animals that never did her wrong, in the peace of decisions to simply breathe and be.

When the evening finally covered them, they stopped and made camp. Eden arranged some dead logs around in a wide circle, making a fire in the center and letting the horses graze nearby. The two women moved around each other and did their tasks in silence, Eden lost in her guilt, Arielle wandering in her apprehension. They sat and ate slowly, quietly, and each almost seemed to be scared to be the one to break the silence. Arielle raised her head finally and took a breath, but then let it slowly escape when she caught sight of Eden. The warrior was staring into the fire as if it was slowly engulfing her. Arielle peered at her curiously, watching the orange flames flickering in Eden's blue eyes like a dance of fire and ice. The bard thought that if she gazed closely and intensely enough, she could see the dark clouds of the guardian's past racing across her eyes, troubling her deeply, continuing to leave havoc behind. The bard took out her bedroll, placed it on the ground, took off her armor, and lay down to sleep.

"I'll take a look around." Eden said shortly, getting up and walking off outside of the fire's glow.

Eden returned some time later, thinking the bard asleep and sat back down on the log, taking off her armor down to her gambeson. But she made no move to lie down, knowing that she wouldn't sleep. Instead, she stuck her sword into the ground in front of her and leaned against it. She was tired, but her mind was racing, running circles around the raided village that they had seen. Eden could easily see that there was nothing there to take nor was there any good reason for any kind of retaliation. It was simply bloodlust, the power in taking what others couldn't defend, the senseless logic of war, all fed by an unquenchable hate. Eden knew it all too well. What makes me any different from that Saracen?... Nothing...

Arielle had been silently observing the warrior that entire time. Her sturdy frame looked suddenly feeble and fragile. Her shoulders slumped, her hands wrapped around the hilt of her upright sword, propped up on it. She was known as the terror of the desert, but now she looked like a feather falling on her shoulders would break her back. Arielle sighed, got up, and walked over to the warrior.

"It's late." the bard said simply and quietly.

"I know. Go back to sleep." Eden replied gently.

Instead, Arielle braved a decision she suddenly made and sat beside the warrior on the log.

"You're not like them." the bard said after some silence.

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do."

Eden snorted lightly and shook her head.

"Eden," Arielle began, turning towards the warrior, "you... might have been. But no matter what you did in the past, you decided to change, you decided to become someone better than you were. And that's what you have to always remember."

"I don't know if I'm any better." Eden said doubtfully.

"Well, you haven't slit my throat, cut out my tongue, or left me in the desert yet." the bard replied with a little grin and a compassionate twinkle in her eye.

Eden turned to look at her and a sudden, curious hurt appeared in her eyes. She saw a light ray of faith beaming from the young bard; faith in her. And although Eden was almost convinced that all that faith was ridiculously misplaced, she accepted it for that moment.

"I'm sorry for all those things I said to you." Eden confessed abruptly, slightly surprising them both.

"It's alright." Arielle replied after a few moments with a small smile, "I know that you didn't really mean them."

Eden gave a slight, shy smile and ducked her head, unable to receive the warm words nor understand the bard's belief in her. The fire crackled lightly, making shadows dance across the faces of the two women.

"I think that everyday that you chose to be better just turns that choice more into a conviction until one day, you won't even have to think about it anymore. You're not an evil person, Eden..."

Eden said nothing, turning her gaze back to the campfire. In this little span of time and space, she felt something massive jolt. She felt and heard the gears of the world begin to creak and groan as they began to turn in a different direction and the weightlessness of everything that could not be seen begin to shift. She lifted her eyes up into the sky as if someone had just called her name. And with a long, drawn out breath, almost as if she had picked an answer out of the heavens, Eden eyes floated back down to the fire and let the flames dance within them again.

"There was a time I was just like them." Eden admitted quietly.

Arielle said nothing, but held her face turned towards the warrior, somehow knowing that there was something profound in what Eden was now saying.

"There was a time when I just wandered the sands like an abandoned sandstorm. I was... empty... forsaken... Then I joined Karas... He was the only one who was as mad and wild as I was... He quickly saw my abilities... He called me his 'death angel'..."

Eden's gaze fell to the ground beneath her and she laced her fingers together around her sword while shaking her head and Arielle could see a growing tension in her.

"One day I took a poisoned arrow in the shoulder," she continued, "I became very sick... I had strange visions... and even after I got better, I couldn't erase the images from my mind..."

"What did you see?" Arielle finally asked gently.

"Parts of things... Flashes of light, swords, dark forests, sands, wings, crosses and clouds... I can even remember hearing low trumpets and ringing bells. They formed no whole picture... they troubled me. After that I grew more distant and less battle hungry... I kept to myself... Karas began to grow frustrated... and he wanted to go to Antioch, to see... someone; he wanted his war machine back... I had a completely different plan in mind..." Eden recalled, her voice growing quiet at the end.

Arielle drew in a breath as the warrior's voice dissipated. Eden sighed and flicked one hand up in the air and let it drop heavily.

"I was so... angry and... lost. I wanted to lash out, to have my revenge for... everything... And I wanted to punish myself... for all I did... for all that I didn't do..." Eden admitted quietly, her words coming stumbling out in tribulation, "But, in the end, it just never stopped. The rivers of blood, the waves of screams, the mountains of gold... and I just felt even more empty... and I hated myself more for it..."

Arielle took a chance to express what she felt without any words. She gently placed her hand on the warrior's shoulder and was pleased when Eden didn't flinch or push her away. The bard felt a strange significance in that gesture. Where she thought the warrior would brush her off like an annoying fly, Eden's shoulders instead seemed to slump under the weight of the bard's hand. And Eden noticed the same thing too, but it was a pleasant pressure. The load was gentle, almost like a feather resting on her shoulder, yet it also seemed to have the strength to crush her armor, crumpling it up like a little ball of paper with the greatest of ease.

"What is done is done." Arielle stated, "All that matters now is that you never go back there. Never become that desert shadow again."

"I can never be just good... be full of light... like you..." Eden replied, whispering the last words.

"No one is full of only light... but that doesn't mean that you have to be full of dark either. You can control it... balance it."

"But there can always be something that will upset the balance..." Eden mentioned absently.

"I think that remains your choice... Eden, you've changed just from the day that I first saw you. And there is still so much ahead of you. Just think of the person you can still become..." Arielle said adamantly and then her voice dropped and grew hesitant, "If I could choose, I would never want to see that black marauder again... I like the warrior better..."

Eden quickly glanced at her and saw the bard smiling gently at her, full of hope and faith, though Eden had no idea where it came from. A small, honest smile crept over Eden lips, a smile that hadn't appeared there for so long that its sudden appearance shocked the warrior and she abruptly turned and hung her head. And then a wave of emotion began to surge over her as she realized that the smile came from the fact that for the first time in too long of a time, someone was being nice to her and seemed to genuinely and simply like her. Arielle wasn't sitting next to her because she had been ordered to, or was scared, or wanted something. The bard was there for Eden and the warrior couldn't remember the last time someone had done something for her without wanting something, usually much more valuable, in return. Selflessness was something so rare that Eden often caught herself wondering if it even existed at all. And it was such an elemental thing in all that she was taught and all she knew deep down inside her. Yet, it was so inexplicably hard to find beyond all the books, prayers, and preaching that praised it. And now, in the middle of the night, in the Levant, with the sand beneath her and the stars overhead, she had seen it and she was in awe.

"Go on and sleep," Eden mumbled gently, feeling slightly hesitant, "I'm sure you're tired; it's late."

"Well," Arielle answered, after some thought and with an amused look on her face, "I think I like it over here better."

Eden began to fidget, propping her elbows on her knees and hiding her face in her hands, taking a deep breath and blowing it out hard. It made no sense to her. Why now? Why the bard? They'll reach Jerusalem and it'll all be over. Eden didn't know whether to be happy she had found a friend or to be angry that it was given to her only to shortly be taken away. It seemed like such a cruel trick to her. Arielle saw her agitation and although she couldn't understand fully what brought it on, she wondered if she could calm it. She wanted to calm it. She drew in a slightly shaky breath and cautiously slid her hand around the warrior's shoulders. Eden fidgeted under her arm, but not in a way that told the bard to draw back.

They stayed like that for a while, neither knowing what to do next. The bard looked at Eden who was continually staring at the ground and smiled. She rested her chin on the guardian's shoulder and felt Eden's muscles tense abruptly and then slowly relax again.

"So..." Arielle said quietly, half confident and half scared witless, "can you walk through walls?"

Eden let out a loud snort and chuckled, the bard laughed, and the tension immediately disappeared.

Chapter Text

"How much trouble can one person get into?" Eden muttered to herself unhappily, sitting huddled next to Arielle under the waxed canvas as the rain poured relentlessly around them.

"I'm sorry... I was just... It was... I..." Arielle stuttered and then her voice trailed off when she could find no reasonable explanation.

Earlier during the day, when Eden had mentioned something about stopping and eating, but that their supplies were running a little low, Arielle was absolutely set on the idea of hunting something. To Eden's surprise, the bard had decided on fowl hunting since there were so many birds in the area. Secretly, Arielle had wanted to get her own revenge on Eden and show her that she could pluck birds out of the sky with the same ease Eden plucked fish out of the water. The sky had been growing more and more menacing as time dragged on and Eden didn't like it. She tried to hurry the bard along, but Arielle told her to remain patient. The bard managed to shoot down two birds with relative ease and grinned proudly as the warrior acknowledged the achievement quietly. When Eden mentioned that maybe Arielle should get the birds before the jackals that were also around did, the blond shot off into the forested hills. And then she got lost. Eden found her some time later, an impatient scowl on her face, but it was more at the weather than at the breathless bard. Dark clouds had already completely overtaken them and rain began to fall lazily as they made their way out of the hills and back onto the road.

Eden had a faint hope that the storm would die out quickly, but it seemed set on proving her wrong. The guardian suggested several times that they should perhaps stop and wait out the storm, but Arielle would say that she had a good feeling about it, that there was no sense in waiting it out, it would be over soon. That way they ended up spending two hours in the pouring rain, pulling their unconvinced horses behind them, their feet ankle deep in mud. A wind kicked up to add insult to injury, driving the rain into their faces with stinging accuracy and making them very aware of being cold and wet. Eden finally had had enough and having noticed an outcropping in the hills that formed a kind of hood, she turned them all toward it. It was long and deep enough for the horses to find some relief from the weather. Unfortunately, the slanted rain reached the women and Eden took out her waxed canvas, deciding that wet clothes that were inside could dry while wet people could get sick. The two women huddled underneath it both due to lack of space and a feeble attempt to keep warm. Eden was used to extreme conditions and though she was just as wet and cold as the bard, she focused her thoughts on other things. Arielle, on the other hand, sat there pretending she wasn't shaking, yet the rattling of the canvas giving her away. There was no use in changing, their new clothes would quickly get wet and getting a fire going was next to impossible. Eden took off her metal armor and shifted closer to the blond, hoping some of her body heat would reach her. Arielle looked across at her and saw the guardian's sour expression.

"What is it?" the bard asked, trying to force her teeth to stop chattering, "Except for the fact that we practically drowned in the rain because I absolutely had to play Artemis?"

The warrior didn't respond to the try at humor and it made Arielle a little nervous. It meant that the situation was serious, or that the warrior was angry, or both.

"I'm trying to find a way to get us warm." Eden mumbled.

"That's alright," Arielle replied, giving a try at nonchalance, "I've been cold for the last two hours. I can hardly notice it now."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Eden asked with a light bitterness.

"Well, I... I didn't want you to think I was weak or complaining." the bard blurted out.

A short silence fell between them as Eden's eyebrows furrowed over a solemn thought.

"I'm sorry..." Arielle said quietly, "That sounded like you're to blame for this."

"Aren't I?" the guardian replied shortly.

"No. I could have said something about it, but I chose not to."

"Because of me."

"Eden," Arielle sighed lightly, "it's not your fault. I should have said something."

"And I could have noticed." the warrior replied sulkily.

"My goodness," the bard exclaimed in light exasperation, "you can't have eyes around your head and also inside of mine."

"I should have just known better."

"Eden, I'm not a child!"

Eden gave the bard a look that told her that she wasn't a warrior either.

"Listen, I'll probably just have a cold. I'll be a little sick and then I'll be well again. I have a tendency towards colds; I know what they're like."

Eden shot her a look of stern concern.

"Eden, please, stop worrying! I can take care of myself."

"I can see that." the warrior muttered and Arielle exhaled loudly.

"You're acting like I'm 5 years old and you're my nurse." Arielle grumbled.

"I may not be your nurse, but I am responsible for you."

"Are we really going to argue over this?" Arielle asked impatiently.

"Why not? We already are." Eden retorted in the same tone.

An edgy silence fell between them which was quickly filled by the roaring rain.

The day turned to evening and the evening was nearing night and the rain had no intention of letting the women go. They sat huddled together, pressing their backs against the rock wall, hopelessly trying to make themselves smaller. Arielle shivered and Eden willed herself not to, knowing that her shivering would only underline the predicament they were in and frighten the young bard. Eden stared hard at the rain, hating every drop of it and violently searching her mind for a solution. The waxed canvas kept the wind and water out, but they were soaked and Eden knew that staying like that too long would be the death of them both.

Arielle was startled when Eden quickly tossed the canvas aside, got up, and wrapped it tightly around the bard.

"What are you doing?" the blond asked nervously.

"We can't stay here. I'll go see if I can find something better."

"No." Arielle stammered out alarmed, grasping Eden's arm through the canvas, "It's dark... You can't see a thing in all this... You'll get lost."

"I'll be fine."

"Don't leave me." Arielle blurted out suddenly.

Eden heard the strain in the blond's voice and saw the fear in her eyes and it touched a rare soft spot in her. Yet, the urgency to get them to safety was greater.

"I'll be back soon."

Eden tore away from the bard's grip before the blond had a chance to protest or disagree. Arielle followed Eden with wide eyes, watching her quickly disappear into the rain. She pulled the canvas more tightly around herself and quietly began to wish for Eden's immediate return, suddenly feeling very alone and vulnerable. She noticed that the dark seemed darker, the rain colder, the wind more relentless, and the desert vaster and more uninviting without the guardian's presence beside her. It was such a simple yet poignant thing. And as the bard wrapped her arms around her knees and drew them in close to her chest, a strange thought entered her mind. Here in the middle of a place where no one in their right mind would want to be, Arielle probably felt as accepted as she ever had in her life. She had acted childishly, naively, and even irresponsibly, she knew that. Yet, she realized that Eden had never chastised her for it. She would sigh, roll her eyes, even lose her temper somewhat from time to time, but she never criticized or patronized her. Instead the warrior would note the things she did well and the rest she would set upon her own shoulders. It was an earth-shattering thought for the bard who had lived her entire life in the shadow of inadequacy and constant disappointment in her. Yet she swept the thought away quickly under the carpet of her fear. I will never belong... If I make others happy enough then maybe one day I'll be happy too... Maybe...

Arielle was torn out of her thoughts with the sudden appearance of a completely drenched warrior carrying a tired smile.

"Come on," Eden said, a little breathless, "I found something."

The bard got to her feet as Eden turned back around. It was dark now, the rain driving against them hard. Arielle wondered how Eden could see anything at all and tried to follow the barely visible warrior, slipping and sliding in the mud. A shot of fear ran down her spine that she might lose sight of her and she then instinctively reached out and grabbed Eden's hand. At first she felt an uncomfortable and surprised jerk, but as the guardian's hand realized who had grabbed it, it settled and slightly strengthened its grip. They stumbled and slid along, keeping close to the mountain, Arielle letting Eden almost pull her along. The bard noticed that they had probably reached the place Eden was talking about when the sharp rapping of the rain against the canvas finally stopped. She pulled the canvas off her head and looked around only to see a lot of darkness. She noticed the audible dripping from the warrior.

"It's a small cavern. We can make a fire, I hope. I moved the horses to somewhere more sheltered already." Eden stated.

"That's... good..." Arielle managed, not being able to think of anything better to say.

They both turned toward one another and caught each other's gaze at the same time in the very dim light. They didn't know what to say or do so they simply stayed like that and became suddenly acutely aware that they were still holding each other's hand. But their gaze didn't move. Their hands didn't let go. And something passed between them then, amongst the echoes of the water dripping off of the soaked warrior. They both noticed it. They didn't know what it was exactly or how to describe it, but they could feel it there. It moved from their eyes and their breath, settling on the other's skin, soaking in through their blood until it finally embedded itself deep in their bones. Arielle didn't know why she wasn't scared. Eden didn't know why she was.

A sudden, violent fit of shaking coming from the bard threw them back into reality and Eden broke away and wandered into the back of the cavern in search of anything that might burn. She silently thanked God when she found some quite old deadwood and brought some back to the front of the cavern and began making a fire in front of some larger rocks with such practical efficiency that the bard couldn't help but look on in admiration. Soon an orange and yellow glow filled the cavern and just the crackle of the fire made them both feel a little warmer. As soon as Eden saw the fire was well on its way, she grabbed her still rather dry cloak which she had taken out of her saddlebags earlier and held it up in front of the blond.

"Out." Eden ordered.

The bard blinked at her.

"Out of those clothes." Eden explained and then waved the cloak a little, "Put this on until they dry."

Arielle gave a small nod, but still stared at the warrior. Eden sighed and hung her head, driving her gaze into the ground, and pulled the cloak up enough to nearly hide her completely from Arielle's view. Just when Eden thought that she was going to have to raise her voice with impatience, she heard the bard starting to struggle her way out of her armor and clothes. When she felt her take the cloak away, Eden spun around quickly and walked a few paces away, trying to make Arielle feel as comfortable as possible.

"I'm finished." Arielle announced quietly.

Eden turned around slowly and saw the bard standing there, wrapped in her black cloak, holding the middle tightly so that it wouldn't open. Arielle looked so lost and helpless in that moment that the warrior thought that she might have smiled if the situation wasn't so gloomy.

"Sit down." Eden said, pointing the bard to the rocks near the fire.

The bard nodded, shuffled over carefully and sat down, leaning against the rock. Eden scurried about the cavern like the woman of the household. She lay Arielle's clothes out to dry along with her own gambeson which she finally peeled off and other things she had pulled out of their saddlebags. She scowled noticeably at the state of their food and supplies and then let out a loud sigh since nothing could be done about it now. She found a longer tunic that was the driest thing they had between them and changed into it, laying her clothes out to dry too. She took out some herbs from her pouch which was thankfully dry and put some in two cups. Eden then disappeared with their small, iron pot only to return with it full of rainwater and she set it on the fire. When it boiled, she poured the water over the herbs and handed one cup to the bard.

"Drink this. Slowly." Eden said as Arielle took the cup from her.

They sat next to each other and sipped on their tea, the rain now more of a background melody than before. When Arielle had finished her tea, she handed the cup over to Eden.

"I'm sorry that I'm just sitting here like this." she said apologetically, "I talked about taking care of myself and I simply sit here like a little child. I just can't get myself to move somehow."

"Are you still cold?" Eden asked, concern spreading across her face as she noticed that the shivering hadn't subsided.

She touched the bard's cheek lightly and her face turned stern. Arielle was warm to the touch.

"It would be better if you were inside." Eden remarked mostly to herself.

Slightly worried green eyes looked into concerned blue ones and Eden suddenly realized that she was still touching the bard, her hand now traveling over her forehead. Her hand froze. What is going on with me? She pulled it away and turned her head to look out at the pouring rain, debating whether to brave it in order to get Arielle to the nearest town. But the rain was too heavy, it was too dark, and Tyre was too far. She exhaled loudly.

"You wouldn't happen to be able to control the weather, now would you?" Arielle asked, trying to lighten the mood.

"Sometimes it seems I'm not able to do anything at all." Eden replied, turning back to the bard with a small, yet sad smile.

"Hey... That's not true..." Arielle reassured gently, her hand unconsciously floating to the warrior's slumped shoulder, "If not for you, we would probably be underwater by now."

The green eyes turned soft as they peered into the now sad blue ones. Arielle noticed how many different shades those blue eyes could turn. Depending on the warrior's emotions, her eyes looked like ice, the ocean, sapphires, or tears. She wondered what the guardian's eyes looked like when she was happy. She would have liked to one day see her happy.

Eden hung her head, feeling pleasantly uncomfortable under the blond's gaze, put her hands on her knees, and got up while the bard's eyes followed her. She crouched near the fire and began making another round of steeped herbs.

"Drink this," Eden told Arielle, turning towards her on her heels and handing her the ready cup, "then get some sleep. We'll try to make you as warm as possible."

Arielle nodded gratefully, taking the cup and beginning to sip from it gingerly. Eden drank from her own, remaining near the fire, enjoying its heat on her uncovered, cool legs. When Arielle was finished, Eden swept over their damp things, feeling for those which were hopefully dry. She handed the bard her shirt and pants and later put on her own. Exhaustion and fever were beginning to overwhelm Arielle and she didn't really notice how they ended up on relatively soft bedding, lying on their sides beside each other and under some makeshift covers and the waxed canvas which kept out the light wind and kept in some heat.

"Thank you, Eden." Arielle said to the warrior facing her, her eyes growing heavy, "I'll wake up feeling much better tomorrow, you'll see."

Eden replied with a light smile although her gut was telling her something different.

"Sleep well." the warrior murmured.

The bard fell asleep before she could answer.

Yet, Arielle slept fitfully throughout the night, tossing and turning. Eden awoke every now and again and noticed the bard's flushed cheeks and damp forehead. When Arielle would toss the covers aside, Eden would silently wrap them back around her and it went on all night. When dawn began to break, Eden awoke to a sun breaking weakly through a mostly cloudy sky. At least it had stopped raining though the clouds threatened that it could start again at any moment. But she also awoke to a feverish Arielle who had begun to develop a bad cough. Eden was worried, but didn't let it show, not wanting to scare Arielle any more than necessary. She silently decided that she didn't give a care if even Jesus and Lucifer themselves were going to have a duel right in the middle of the road, she had to get them to Tyre as soon as possible.

Eden packed their things quickly and then talked Arielle out of wearing armor and instead into putting on an extra shirt.

"But I'm going to be a little vulnerable without my armor, aren't I?" Arielle tried to argue.

"That's what you have me for, isn't it?" Eden responded, the small smile twitching in the corner of her mouth.

Arielle smiled, sighed, and gave up.

Although Eden rode them hard to Tyre, she stayed as close as possible to the bard, keeping a watchful eye on her at all times. She was slightly relieved that although her cough was getting worse, Arielle had enough strength to keep herself on her horse and maintain their pace.

They reached Tyre in the afternoon and had no time or energy to admire the city and its seemingly countless towers and massive walls colored like the surrounding sands, stretching from the main gate to the harbor on the other side that finally opened into the sea. Eden walked them both into the first tavern they encountered which thankfully turned out to be a rather reasonable one as far as the quality, people, food, and price were concerned. The tavern keeper was a bit of a different story. The two women walked up to the long, wide counter full of plates, mugs, and tall goblets. The tavern keeper was a large, burly woman with long, curly hair showering down her shoulders and with a dress that had a neckline which seemed to be meant to display her very impressive cleavage.

"Are you the keeper?" Eden asked.

"Aye." she answered gruffly, eyeing her with an immediate and evident distaste.

"I'd like a room with two beds, please." Eden announced, trying to sound as friendly as possible.

The keeper kept eyeing Eden harshly and it was already starting to get on the warrior's nerves.

"The two of you?"

"Yes."

"No more of you anywheres?" she asked suspiciously, scanning the tavern quickly.

"No... Two beds for two people. Do you have a room or not?" Eden replied, a growing impatience tainting her voice.

"Well," the keeper said hesitantly, "I might got a room."

"Good." Eden finally answered and started to move to get out some money when the keeper interrupted.

"I run a nice establishment here, see? No fighting and the like, see?"

"That's fine."

"Fine, ey? Well, I know your like, see?" the keeper drawled, leaning over the counter, her immense chest almost spilling out of her dress, "I don't tolerate no trouble, see?"

"Well, you won't get any from us." Eden answered shortly as Arielle, who was standing next to her, coughed.

"What's with that little one?" the keeper asked, jerking her thumb at Arielle.

"She's just a little sick."

"Sick, ey?"

"It's just a cold. I got caught out in the storm yesterday." Arielle added softly.

"Cold or no, I ain't liking the looks of it, see? Hows I know that you don't have a plague or such? I'm running a nice place here and I don't need no people turning up dead on me, see? Don't know where you've been and the like."

"Listen," Eden started, no longer hiding her irritation, "we're travelers so obviously we're tired, hungry, and a general mess. We wouldn't still be standing here if we weren't."

"Travelers?!" the keeper exclaimed, standing up straight and throwing her hands up in the air in amusement, "Ha, that's a good one! Now, you might fit the part, but I can see that little blond tart gets aroun-"

"Shut. Your. Mouth." Eden interrupted, growling through her clamped teeth and leaning forward, "That's my friend you're insulting."

The tavern keeper's amusement disappeared in a heartbeat. She gasped when she saw Eden's countenance turn from general disinterested annoyance to a menacing violent threat in half a breath. The blue eyes turned icy, the lean body became taut with battle readiness, and she seemed to draw all the energy from everything in the tavern and was simply waiting to unleash it with a cruel pleasure. Eden spread her arms wide over the counter, her hands gripping the edge as if she wanted to pull it up and rip it out. And truthfully, probably the only thing that kept Eden from doing just that was a hand she felt rest gently on her shoulder and a nearly silent whisper of her name.

"Look lady," Eden growled, "either you want trouble or you don't. The decision's yours."

"Didn't mean no offense or the like." the tavern keeper said quickly, "I gots a room that'll be to your liking, I'd be guessing. Just like you asked. I... I'll even throw in hot water for no charge. So there's no hard feelings and the like."

"Throw in an apology and you'll have a deal." Eden practically ordered.

"I beg your apologies, miss." the tavern keeper said to Arielle nervously.

"I took no offense. I can understand that you have to maintain the quality of your establishment." Arielle answered sympathetically, giving a small smile.

Eden almost snorted in disbelief and the tavern keeper gave the bard a little look of relief.

"I've been running this... establishment since my husband's passing, bless that poor bastard's soul. Ain't easy for a woman around these parts. Get all sorts around here, noble folks and shifty bastards. Got to keep a handle on things, see? Makes a woman mighty suspicious of everything, see?" the tavern keeper explained.

Arielle gave her a smile and nodded with understanding which got a smile from the keeper in return, revealing a couple back teeth missing.

"Here's your key. Up the stairs, to the right, at the end. Ain't no enemies in this tavern, see? You need anything little one, you just say Berta says it gots to be done." Berta said anxiously and handed the key to Arielle.

"Thank you very much, Berta. You're very kind." the bard responded and the two women turned to go to their room.

Eden gave the keeper an extra glare for good measure and saw her shrink away a little. In the middle of the rather long flight of stairs, another fit of coughing took Arielle and the warrior wrapped her arm around the bard's waist so she wouldn't lose her balance. The more frequent and more severe coughs were beginning to worry Eden, she had never seen a cold develop so fast. She stole a glance at the bard and noticed that she was growing warmer as she was getting paler.

"Come on now," Eden gently encouraged, supporting the blond and helping her up the rest of the stairs, "we're almost there."

When they reached the room and Eden had shut the door behind them, their exhaustion suddenly caught up with them and they both simultaneously slumped onto the same bed. Eden was relieved when she felt that the room was warm and dry. Both women felt their eyes drifting closed.

"Eden?" Arielle whispered, her eyes closed.

"What is it?" Eden replied, her eyes flying open as she sat up and turned to the side, hovering over Arielle.

"Must everyone keep calling me 'little one'?" the bard asked with a slight exasperation that made Eden chuckle a little.

"Well, what do you want to be called?"

"How do people usually address you?"

"Well... most people are usually too scared to address me at all."

"Oh." Arielle said, a little disappointed, but realizing that it was probably true, "Perhaps just remind me that after I get better, my next task is to grow."

Eden gave her a warm smile that the bard didn't see. She got up and began to shift the bard in the bed.

"Alright then... giant one, time for some rest." Eden said, pulling the bard's boots off and the covers over her.

"Rest?" Arielle protested half-heartedly, "It's the middle of the day."

Eden raised a brow and Arielle opened her mouth, but then decided it was useless and closed it. Eden got up and was deciding on what to do next when Arielle interrupted her thoughts.

"You rest too." she murmured.

This time the warrior opened her mouth to protest, but then decided that it wasn't such a bad idea. She was really exhausted and the supplies they needed could be bought later. The warrior walked over to her bed, pulled off her boots, wandered under the covers, and almost immediately fell asleep.

Eden awoke a couple of hours later and saw that the bard was still sleeping. She quietly slipped on her boots and went downstairs to get them something to eat. Berta served the warrior some hearty stew, constantly keeping a guarded eye on Eden which the younger woman tried to ignore. She ate at one of the empty tables, grateful for the relative peace. When she had finished, she ordered some hot broth with vegetables for Arielle and took it back to their room. She opened the door as quietly as possible, feeling the heat of the stew through the trencher in her hand. Open green eyes were waiting for her.

"Where did you go?" Arielle asked gently as Eden shut the door.

"I got you some soup."

"Oh." she remarked somewhat shyly, not wanting to admit that she began to grow frightened when she awoke to a room with a missing guardian, "Thank you."

They stayed in the room for the rest of day. Eden did everything to let Arielle rest as much as possible, either dozing herself or doing other quiet tasks. She took a mental inventory of what they had, what they needed, and what the rain had ruined. She threw out the food that had gone bad and decided that she would need to get more herbs for the bard. In the light of the falling dusk and a single candle she lit upon the table, Eden took out her leather bound journal, a quill and a small ink well from deep within her saddlebag. She was absorbed in writing, the light from the candle quietly flickering, the quill scratching the paper gently.

"I didn't know you keep a journal." Arielle whispered in a rasp, her eyes open again, gazing at Eden from across the room as the warrior shrugged.

"One of my many skills." Eden bantered lightly.

"What do you write down?"

"My thoughts, things that happened... those kind of things."

"So do I."

"I'm sure that your writings are more worthy of paper than mine. You're the bard after all."

"Somehow I doubt that."

They exchanged a smile before Arielle drifted off to sleep again. Eden watched her for a few moments and felt a strange sense of peace begin to spread within her. When she realized it, she shook her head, clearing herself of that feeling. It wasn't for her. It could get her killed.

Arielle slept better than the previous night, but now it actually worried the warrior. Arielle was having a harder and harder time keeping awake and her sleep was growing gradually deeper. Eden awoke a few times during the night and checked on Arielle. The fever didn't want to break, but she took feeble comfort in the fact that it wasn't rising either.

The next day, Eden spent the morning getting breakfast for the bard, making her herbal infusions, and racking her brains for anything she might have overlooked or forgotten that might help her friend. Arielle's overall condition saw no change, but the cough was getting progressively worse and Eden could begin to hear a rattling in the bard's breathing. The guardian decided to leave the blond alone for a short while, while she went to the market to get some necessary things. An apothecary was nearby the market and Eden walked in to ask for his advice. He finally shared his medical knowledge after Eden practically threatened to skin him alive with a dagger. Unfortunately, he didn't tell her anything she didn't already know. The guardian trudged back to the tavern with all of her packets, sacks, and bundles of things.

Arielle looked over at Eden as the warrior walked into their room laden with what seemed to be half the market.

"I'm sure you got an earful from Berta when she saw you." Arielle commented weakly.

"Oh no." Eden replied, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "She seemed to be quite at a loss for arguments today."

"You gave her one of those looks of yours again, didn't you?"

"A look?" Eden answered in feigned innocence.

"Yeah, I thought so." Arielle sighed with a smile as Eden turned to put the bundles on the table, "Then again, I think you scared her enough for the rest of the year yesterday."

Eden simply shrugged. For her it had been a strange, but immediate reflex. She didn't want to cause trouble or commotion, but the tavern keeper had pushed too hard and crossed the line when she offended Arielle. The warrior's response was just a reaction. For Eden, protecting the bard didn't mean just saving her from demons and raiders, but from everything, even in the smallest and seemingly most harmless form. The fact that Arielle was sick only made her more protective. People could say whatever they wanted about her, she was used to it. But no one was going to be unfair or judgmental towards the bard. Eden turned and met Arielle's warm gaze. No one.

Arielle wanted to jump out of bed and hug the uneasy guardian as she recalled the last evening's exchange. There was a part of her that secretly adored the protective guardian. It made her feel a safety and security she noticed that she had never felt before. And until now, she also hadn't noticed how much she needed it. The bard needed the sense of some kind of attachment, some kind of belonging. A smile crossed her face at the thought and the guardian's gaze met hers. Arielle admitted to herself that no one had ever stood up for her like that and it made her feel special. No one.

"Thank you for defending my good name yesterday." Arielle managed to say playfully before she was taken by another fit of coughing.

Eden frowned, leaving the bundles in disarray on the table and walking over to Arielle.

"How are you feeling?" the warrior asked, placing the back of her hand to the bard's forehead and feeling the constant uneasy heat.

"Warm and tired." Arielle answered simply, "A good enough excuse for one of your famous teas?"

"You don't need an excuse." she answered with a light smile, getting up to make her another herbal infusion.

As the day passed into evening, Arielle's state deteriorated. Her temperature kept rising and nothing Eden did seemed to help and the warrior began to grow more and more concerned though she kept it well hidden. She thought of calling over a barber or physician, but knew full well that they would have given the blond the same things she had and calling for a priest was simply out of the question. She sat on the edge of the bed, next the feverish bard, giving her tea, cooling her face and forehead, trying to get her to eat. In the midst of it all, somewhere completely unnoticed, the bard's hand somehow slipped into the warrior's and took refuge there.

When evening turned to night, Arielle began to toss and turn and mumble incoherently in her fever, seeing things that didn't exist, talking to people who weren't there.

"Ssh, quiet now. Get some rest." Eden soothed, her stomach tying itself into about a hundred knots of desperation.

"I want... I want you to... do something for me..." Arielle said weakly, forcing out words in between deep, raspy breaths during a moment of clarity, "I don't... I don't want to... be buried here... Take me home... Please..."

"Hush. Of course you're not going to be buried here because you're still going to live for years, far past me even. You have so many things to still see and do. Concentrate on getting well now." Eden countered, her heart beginning to race anxiously.

"Eden... I'm scared... I'm so scared..." Arielle whispered, her voice breaking.

Eden saw a tear escape the bard's eye and trickle down the side of her face and she felt something inside her snap so hard that it sent a clap of thunder through her brain and caused her to take a deep breath. And a warrior spirit appeared within her, but a different kind than the one she had known for so long. It wasn't made of anger or violence. This warrior was protective and undeterred. This warrior spread her wings and wrapped them around Arielle to keep her safe and had shield and sword drawn to fend off any potential harm. This warrior would fight anything and everything, from demon to angel, from seen to unseen, protecting the bard with everything it had. This warrior belonged to Arielle.

"Don't be scared." Eden whispered with a strain in her voice, gently stroking the bard's cheek and looking straight into her emerald eyes, "I'm right here. I'm right here beside you so there's nothing you need to be frightened of."

Although her eyes cried, each letting a single tear fall, Arielle smiled widely because she believed Eden. Eden read something in those shimmering eyes, a gentle, very shy, but genuine plea and need. She got up, took off her gambeson and boots and carefully climbed into Arielle's bed, slipping in behind her. She propped herself up as comfortably as she could against the bed frame and then pulled the bard up towards her. She wrapped one arm around the blond's waist while the other either slowly brushed away the blond's damp hair from her forehead or ran a soaked, cold cloth over her flushed face and neck.

"I can hear... your heartbeat..." the bard whispered calmly, her head resting on the warrior's chest and she let out a content sigh.

Eden willed her heart with all her might to not betray the true terror she felt. She knew that Arielle was now beyond any help that the warrior could give her and that it was all up to her whether she would see the next sunrise. The thought that the blond wouldn't see it almost made Eden's heart race beyond its limits.

"Sleep now, young bard," Eden soothed, running her fingers through the blond's hair, "I've got you. I'll keep watch. You rest."

"Watching me... like a hawk... " Arielle said, her eyes closing, resting her arm on the warrior's arm that was protectively keeping her from death's cold grasp, their fingers unconsciously slightly intertwining.

"Always." Eden whispered into the bard's hair, determined to have the young woman stay.

And for the first time since she could remember, Eden began to pray for a life. She said all the prayers she knew, made up new ones, and towards the middle of night was begging, pleading, demanding, and threatening every heavenly being she could think of for the blond's recovery. Arielle opened her eyes suddenly for a moment and looked up at Eden and the warrior could see that the bard already had one foot in a different world far beyond them.

"You... I saw you in clouds and stars..." she whispered barely audibly, gazing in feverish wonder, "I wished for you... You came back for me... My knight... My guardian angel..."

And as suddenly as her eyes opened, they now closed, her body falling limp in the grasp of a deep, unconscious sleep.

Eden wanted to scream. Her agony and desperation ran around in circles inside her, finding no release. She tightened her hold on the bard and began to rock her gently. She furiously wished her strength and health to seep through her hands and into Arielle and she locked their fingers together, folding the bard's head under her chin. She sighed deeply and then began to pray one prayer with all her heart; that if death was to visit them that night then Eden should be taken and Arielle spared. It was better that way; it seemed the world would be a darker place without the playful blond, a much darker place. The bard's rattling breathing slowed to a point where Eden didn't know if the current one would be followed by another and she sat in painful anticipation of each.

"Don't you leave me." she whispered into the bard's ear, half a plea and half an order, "Don't you dare leave me."

A labored, ragged breath came in response.

"Please..." the warrior asked with utter abandon.

A single tear escaped the warrior's eyes as she counted breaths throughout the night.

Much later, Eden's eyes had finally decided to overthrow her and closed themselves. Yet, her mind was alert, her whole body ready to react to anything if need be. She was in a strange state of being both awake and at rest, a skill she had perfected during her time as a desert bandit. With the barely rising sun, she felt a warmth on her cheek, a shift in pressure on her chest and she opened her eyes and looked down.

She saw Arielle, her hand lightly pressed to Eden's cheek, looking up at her, with tired but glimmering green eyes and Eden swore that she had never before seen as beautiful a green as she did at that moment. The warrior's heart swelled with the tentative hope that the worst had passed, that this wasn't a cruel dream, that Arielle was going to be fine and it almost choked the unaccustomed woman. They just gazed at each other, Arielle caressing Eden's cheek lightly with her thumb, Eden holding her protectively in her arms, both too tired, hopeful, and content to say anything that might shatter that moment of delicate calm.

Once Eden's mind furiously began to register that it was a new day, and more importantly, the cheerful bard was still with her and that the danger that had teased her heartlessly all night was gone, she began to feel self-conscious. She carefully began to unwrap her arms from around the blond, thinking their protection no longer needed.

"No." the bard in a hushed yet decisive plea, her eyes burning pleasant holes into the warrior's soul.

Eden stopped and then returned her arms to where the bard wanted them. Arielle gave her a faint smile and then rested her head on Eden's chest, sliding her hand down beside, closed her eyes, and fell asleep with a sigh. The moment was so fragile, so quiet and calm, that Eden thought her heart might explode from it. She smiled down at the sleeping blond.

"Never one to rise with the sun, hm?" she whispered into her hair.

Eden was desperately trying to keep everything normal, detached, superficial in her mind. Yet, it was completely useless. Her heart pounded and her soul ached in a pleasant excruciation that the warrior had never experienced before. She wanted to yell in victory and hold the bard so tightly that she probably would have crushed her. She instead used all that power to keep herself calm and focused, continually observing Arielle closely for any changes. After some time, when that intensity of feeling finally began to subside under the warrior's stubborn will, Eden closed her eyes and decided to join Arielle in slumber.


That tall, powerful frame again. Those dark green wings.

"You've kept your promise, Eden. You've done well." she said, a faint smile on her face.

"I keep my word."

"You do." the angel agreed and then slightly knotted her brows in a serious change, "Protect her always. Whether she is ill, angry with you, or even gone, always protect her. With everything you are and from everything there is."

Eden looked at the dark haired angel with a perplexed curiosity. The angel simply smiled faintly again, hung her head, and turned to leave.

"Who are you?" Eden asked.

The angel stopped and turned her head.

"I'm your guardian angel, guardian."

"Then you must have a name as each guardian's angel does."

The angel gave a faint nod, turned back, and walked away without saying another word.


Eden opened her eyes and saw that the sun had already risen to a fuller morning, the rays spilling through the window and resting on the sleeping bard. She watched Arielle's chest move up and down, breathing regularly, the labor growing a little lighter. She gently took one hand and felt the bard's forehead- it was finally cooler.

Arielle's eyes fluttered open to the touch and she took a few moments to remind herself of where she was and what was happening and then looked up at Eden.

"Did I wake you?" Eden asked with a little regret.

"No..." Arielle answered quietly.

"Your fever is going down." Eden said, gently brushing the hair off the bard's forehead, "How are you feeling?"

"Like I just finished plowing 12 leagues of seabed with only one breath." she answered in a whisper and a faint smile and getting a slightly strained chuckle from Eden, "A good enough excuse for one of your famous teas?"

Eden smiled faintly, struggling with a lump rising in her throat and threatening to make its way to the surface. She started to move to get up, but Arielle clutched the front of her shirt with her fist and Eden stopped.

"Did you watch over me all night?" Arielle asked in a somber tone, but Eden's eyes and face betrayed the answer, "Thank you..."

Afraid her heart might actually break, Eden gave the bard a gentle squeeze, carefully untangled herself, and went out under the pretense to get something from downstairs. She almost ran towards the stairs hurriedly and stopped right at the top of them, pressing her forehead and hands against the wall. She gritted her teeth, breathing hard and irregularly through them and squeezed her eyes shut, determined not to let a tear fall. The tension of the terrifying night was finally beginning to lift off of her and the diminishing iron grip of her terror was now letting her muscles shake and heart tremble. She stood there, fighting for control of herself when all she really wanted was to fall to pieces and lie there broken for a little while, giving herself time to let the shock and fear reverberate through her bones and finally sink down into the floor. Yet she forced herself to take several deep breaths, determined not to lose control over herself. Calm down. Focus. If anything, I need to be there for her now. She began to regain her composure, moved away from the wall and smoothed her tunic absently several times before turning on her heel and walking back into the room. Thankfully, the bard had dozed off and didn't notice that Eden had returned empty handed.

Chapter Text

Arielle was bedridden for the next several days. She would simply float between sleeping, coughing, having quiet conversations with Eden and eating. And whatever the bard didn't have the strength to do, the guardian would do it for her. It was when she dropped her spoon into the trencher with a loud sigh and watched Eden take it from her and spoon-feed her the rest, that Arielle noticed a new side that the warrior tried to keep as well hidden as possible. Eden was gentle. The bard marveled over how an otherwise short-tempered and undoubtedly potentially violent woman could be so delicate and patient. Eden didn't complain or lose her temper, she didn't raise her voice or speak coldly. It was so different than what the warrior usually kept on display, yet it fit her so well.

And there was another thing that Arielle noticed- a need to be close. There was something nearly magnetic in Eden, drawing Arielle ever nearer and making her want to stay there. Night or day, sickness or health, safety or harm, Eden always seemed to be there. The bard knew that she had slipped far down into some place outside of consciousness in her sickness; she remembered feeling cold, exhausted, and scared. Yet she was also vaguely aware of a pulsating warmth that enveloped her and never left her. She didn't know what it was, but she approached it cautiously and then embraced it trustingly and let it warm her and bring her slowly back. It seemed to her that the deepest fears and greatest dreams locked far down within her outstretched their arms towards Eden, wanting her to pick them up and tell them it was all going to be fine and there was nothing to be afraid of. There was something beautiful and frightening in it at the same time. It was a wonderful feeling to feel so protected, so cared for. Yet she didn't know why it came from Eden and whether the unpredictable and mysterious woman was a good choice for a friend. There was something that emanated from the guardian, a light that Arielle seemed to see quite clearly. Yet no one else saw it. No one else even believed in it. Perhaps I'm just lonely or homesick? Perhaps it's because she seems so exotic and excitingly foreign? Perhaps. Yet... Yet each night, Arielle found herself lacking the warrior's presence near her again- the strange fusion of violence and distrust that transformed into security and care when it came into contact with the young bard. Arielle's soul called out to Eden across the dark with words she simply would probably never have the courage to say.

Eden was stoic on the surface, but underneath a fierce struggle was taking place. She felt the same strange magnetism. She watched what had started out as a thin thread of humanity begin to braid itself into a thicker and stronger cord of friendship that connected them more firmly and pulled them ever closer. The warrior felt the warmth, the goodness, the light and solace of that cord, but she saw the danger there too. Too many times, that cord had ended up either coiling around her neck in a noose or breaking when she was hanging onto it for dear life. Yet there was a nagging sensation and persistent notion that this cord was different. It felt different, it formed differently and acted differently. But the warrior didn't want to risk it. I wouldn't survive it again...

And there, outside of the thoughts and fears of both the warrior and bard, that connection had plans of its own.

"Here." Eden said shortly, walking over to Arielle and putting a small something into her palm.

The blond opened her hand to reveal a small, wooden, carved angel. The angel's wings were folded, its head slightly bowed, and its hands brought together in prayer. The details were scant, the carving was a rather rough one, but there was something in the simplicity and rawness of it that touched the bard. She turned it around in her hands over and over and the warrior began to think that she didn't like it at all.

"I just thought it might make you feel better since you're stuck here... It's silly, it's alright if you don't like it... It's just-"

"No, I like it a lot!" Arielle protested, turning her gaze to Eden and the warrior saw the appreciation in her forest green eyes, "Thank you... for thinking of me..."

The guardian shrugged weakly, feeling her heart begin to pick up its pace and got up to make some tea before Arielle could do or say anything more. The blond returned her gaze to the tiny angel, smiling at it and stroking its wings absently, something that Eden watched from the corner of her eye with content.


Eden opened the door to their room to find an awake bard half-sitting in the bed with a scowl on her face. The guardian put the packet of herbs she bought on the table and turned toward Arielle who was having a small fit of coughing.

"Is anything wrong?" Eden asked, noticing the blond's dour mood, "Are you feeling worse?"

"I hate being cooped up in here all the time." Arielle complained innocently, "I don't really mind lying around all day, but this ceiling is beginning to drive me mad. If I could at least see the sky, the clouds..."

Eden understood. She herself had a hard time not going stir crazy, but she at least could go out to the market and sometimes snuck in some quick sword training while the blond was sleeping. Arielle's mood recovered much faster than her body did and it took a lot of effort and even more patience to keep the bard in bed resting and not wandering around trying to find something to do. Yet, Eden's tension faded and she became more and more relieved as with each day the color came back to Arielle's skin and the coughs became fewer and far between.

Arielle let out a rough sigh and tossed her hands up into the air and let them fall with a muffled thud onto her covers. Eden, who was now sitting on the edge of the bard's bed, gazed at her sympathetically. And then a thought struck her. Arielle saw a mischievous twinkle appear in the warrior's eye and she scrunched up her nose in pleasant suspicion. Yet, before she could ask what Eden was up to, she found herself being picked up along with her blanket in the strong arms of the guardian.

"What are you doing?!" she cried in surprise.

"Changing the ceiling."

"But it's late, it's dark, I'm heavy, you can't carry me!" the bard listed.

"I know, good, no you're not, yes I can."

"You're insane!" Arielle noted, secretly loving every moment.

"That we both know." Eden answered with a somewhat smug look on her face, "I can put you down if you want."

Arielle debated whether to let her secret happiness become known until she saw an awkward uncertainty begin to shade the guardian's face.

"Well," Arielle replied, her voice dropping to a whisper, "since you already seem to be on your way..."

Eden smiled shyly and pulled the bard a little closer to her chest.

"Put your arms around my neck," Eden said in a low voice and then quickly added, "if you want."

"Let's go." Arielle said simply.

Eden nodded once and moved towards the door when she felt the bard gently wrap her arms around the guardian's neck. Eden was suddenly overcome with a wave of serene warmth as if she was just covered by a padded wave of the sea. Her heart pounded strongly yet calmly and despite the extra weight of the bard, she almost floated down the stairs and out onto the streets of Tyre. They weaved in and out of the dark streets, alleys, and quarters and made their way to the port. The port wasn't that large, just as Tyre itself wasn't large, functioning more as a bastion than a city. It reminded Arielle a little of Eden, seemingly minimal, yet secretly formidable.

Eden found a spot where a few stone steps led down to the water and she placed the bard gently down and then sat down beside her. It was the middle of the night; it was quiet with no one around and the night air was crisp, the night sky clear and full of sparkling stars.

"Are you cold?" Eden asked, seeing the bard pulling her blanket tighter around herself.

"No... It's beautiful here. Thank you." Arielle replied softly.

Eden smiled lightly, a little proud of herself. She noticed then that when the bard was happy, she also felt better. And when the bard was sad, Eden felt miserable. It was a curious thing for her to see the state of one person have such a direct influence over another. It was even more curious that that other person was her. The warm feeling inside her grew when she saw the bard smiling out into the horizon.

"So... maybe you can walk on water?" Arielle asked suddenly, in a playful tone.

"Of course not!" Eden replied in playful exasperation.

"You know, I'm beginning to think that your being a guardian has no advantages."

Eden let out a small chuckle and Arielle turned and looked at her with a grin.

"Well, I do... know things." Eden noted.

"Know things?"

"Yes. It's a little like an extra sense. I just seem to sometimes know that something is serious or wrong, out of place, might end badly... They can be things far from me, forward in time..." Eden explained, looking out over the port.

"Fascinating! That must be wonderful to be able to somehow see something that will happen. I'm sure people just flood over to you asking you for your advice."

"Actually, they don't." Eden replied simply as the bard gave her a confused look, "Most people don't like being told that they're headed for trouble. They want to find out for themselves... My words often fall on deaf ears..."

"Really? That's interesting... So give me an example of when you knew something. Perhaps something you knew and I didn't."

Eden searched her mind and the bard noticed the playfulness suddenly slip from the guardian's face. Arielle knotted her brows, confused over the sudden change in mood of the warrior. After a few moments, her brows relaxed in sudden understanding and she wanted to slap herself in the head with a catapult.

"You knew, didn't you?... When I said I would get better, you didn't say anything. You knew just how sick I really was..." Arielle whispered, gazing at the shadows on Eden's face, concealing her fright, but not her tension as the warrior nodded, "That's unbelievable..."

They both reflected on that day when the bard unknowingly teetered between life and death while Eden hung on to her with all her strength. The intensity of the emotions Eden felt then hadn't faded much for her. Her jaw clenched, her muscles grew tense, and Arielle could almost feel the power radiating off the disturbed guardian.

"You know, it was quite strange," Arielle reflected quietly, "I've never been that sick before. When it got worse... I felt like I was falling... How bad was it?"

Eden's jaw muscles flexed, the strain passing over her face and draining all the hope from her eyes.

"There was a moment... I didn't know..." she started and didn't finish because she neither knew how nor did she want to.

Arielle nodded solemnly and they sat there in the quiet for a while, the faint breeze caressing them both.

"Eden, when I felt I was falling... I also felt something warm catch me... envelope me... keeping me from falling any further..." Arielle said quietly as wonder crossed her face, "That was you, wasn't it?"

"Did you really feel something like that?" Eden asked, looking into the green eyes with a perplexed amazement.

Arielle simply nodded and they gazed at each other for a short time, neither able to fully comprehend what it all exactly meant nor how it really affected them. Yet Eden heard the gears of the world grinding slowly again. She felt that something that was out of position was trying to shift back into place.

"Eden," Arielle finally whispered, her eyes softening as she rested her hand on the guardian's forearm, "I'll owe you kingdoms and lifetimes for the rest of my days."

Eden didn't know what to say or even what to really feel so she laid back on the stones and looked up at the starry sky. Arielle looked at her with a somewhat perplexed expression.

"Do you also see a hawk?" Eden asked, pointing up towards the stars and turning to the bard with a warm smile.

"Oh!..." Arielle said in surprise, lying down on her back beside the guardian, who drew out the shape for her with her finger as a smile spread across the bard's lips, "No, it's definitely an angel..."


Eden would go downstairs at least once a day when Arielle was sleeping and order herself something to eat. Berta constantly eyed her warily, but said nothing and Eden continued to ignore her. In different circumstances, the situation probably would have been comical for the warrior, who would have simply stuffed the tavern keeper up her own chimney and left, but Arielle was in no condition to be moved so Eden simply grit her teeth and bore it. That was until about the fourth day of their stay when Eden was eating alone at the table in the corner as she always did and some commotion began to stir in the middle of the tavern. Eden looked up from her meal, already irritated and saw two men, the ruffian kind that Berta despised most, quite a ways past being drunk. They were roaring with laughter, spilling their ale, knocking things over, and being generally bothersome. Berta stomped over to them impatiently and told them a thing or two and they replied with a thing or two of their own, slapping the frustrated Berta in the rear with such force that she stumbled into the next table and the men exploded in laughter. Berta gave them a scowl and returned and the same thing happened again. Eden saw a pained look in Berta's face the second time and her intension to go back a third time.

Eden abruptly got up, walked over to the table calmly, and stood in front of the troublemakers before Berta reached them. Eden said nothing and just stood there, her fingers leaning against the table.

"You want something?" one of the men said gruffly, glaring up at her with one eye.

"I was eating." Eden said in a low and very level tone.

"So?"

"You interrupted me."

"And so what's it to me? You that hungry? I can give you a mouthful, sweet thing." he jeered, reaching out to pinch her in the rear.

His hand didn't reach its target before Eden suddenly grabbed his head by his hair and slammed his face into the table, picked it back up and flung him backwards.

"Bitch!" his friend cried as he turned his startled gaze towards Eden.

He was just in time to see a back fist hurled in his direction that knocked him straight off his bench. Berta gasped at the little show. Eden then took both fellows by the backs of their tunics and dragged them bewildered to the entrance.

"Didn't your mothers ever teach you that it's impolite to interrupt a lady?" Eden snarled to the men.

The warrior flung them out of the tavern door and they landed with a big thud in the dirt, groaning.

"And I don't recommend coming back here unless you want a mouthful of your own insides." Eden threatened and slammed the door behind her.

The guardian calmly walked back to her meal, dusting her hands off.

"You're right," Eden noted when she passed a stunned Berta, "they are shifty bastards."

Later that evening, Berta knocked on their door and the bard and guardian were offered the tavern's best room, with its own fireplace because of the "damn proper thing" Eden had done. Eden would have argued, but she knew that the fireplace was a good thing for the sick blond and she thanked Berta quietly. Arielle awoke to the commotion as Eden packed and moved their things and finally came around for the bard.

"Would you be interested in a fireplace?" Eden asked, standing over and looking down at the slightly drowsy bard.

"Why? Did they start giving them away all of the sudden?" the bard quipped.

"So to speak."

"Well, you're in luck then. I happen to be very fond of fireplaces." the bard replied, a weak smile crossing her face.

"Well then," Eden said, reaching over and scooping up the bard carefully in her arms, "we should get going... oh immense one."

The bard giggled and rested her head against Eden's shoulder as the guardian carried her to their new room.

Arielle wondered over the warrior's strength. Eden wasn't a large, burly woman. Arielle remembered when she once saw a Germanic woman during some festival at home. The bard recalled thinking the woman looked like an angry, walking castle and was afraid that an encounter with her would end up with broken bones on the bard's side. Eden wasn't at all what one might expect from a warrior when Arielle thought about it; she wasn't very tall, massive, or muscular. She was a rather tall, almost half a head taller than the bard, very fit looking woman. Yet the bard had no idea were her strength really came from. Because of this, the young, lean woman was often grossly underestimated which automatically gave her a large advantage in a fight. A calm, uninterested stance would suddenly explode into a fierce mass of trouble, emanating with a strength and power of unknown origin. She imagined trying to pick up the warrior and the corner of her mouth edged up in a smile as she saw herself probably breaking her back, stumbling over, and dropping an angry warrior on the floor. Yet the corner of her mouth fell when a sobering thought came that if the roles were reversed, the blond wouldn't be able to do the same things the warrior did. She pondered over that on the way down the stairs. She glanced up for a moment, seeing the look of concentration on Eden's face, feeling the security in her arms. She moved her gaze back down and decided then that this wouldn't do. She didn't want to only constantly owe Eden. After all, in the end, dues always need to finally be paid.

When they entered the new room, Eden gave the bard a slow spin around to show it to her. The room was generally larger and everything within it was also larger. Eden had already started a fire in the fireplace and put some blankets on the floor in front of it. It was warm in the room and in Eden's arms and Arielle let out a content sigh, absently placing her hand on the warrior's chest lightly. Eden willed her heart not betray how much she noticed it.

"So," Eden began, taking a deep breath, "I figures that this here room's got your approval and the like. It needs your approval, see?"

Arielle chuckled at the imitation of Berta and Eden felt the blond nod against her shoulder. She moved her over closer to the fireplace, propping her up against the footboard of the bed. Eden made them tea and they sat next to each other, sipping quietly, enjoying the warmth of the room.

"Can I ask you something?" Arielle asked, realizing the tea had a different taste than each one before.

"Hm?"

"Where did you learn all this?" she asked, looking at Eden with interest, "I mean, where did you learn everything about these herbs and what they do and when to use which?"

"I just picked it up here and there." Eden replied with a shrug.

"Eden, it's not exactly something ladies are taught." Arielle noted.

Eden sighed. She glanced out the window. Night settled quietly outside, the fire crackled inside, and the guardian didn't feel the constricting restraints around her soul, keeping everything that meant anything bottled up tightly. There was a crack and so she let a story slip through it.

"When you fight as much as I do... and did... you have to learn. Especially if you lead an army..."

"You lead an army?!" Arielle squeaked, nearly spilling her tea.

"Well... yes." Eden replied with a slight shrug as if they were talking about something as ordinary as boiling water.

Arielle peered at the warrior with peeked interest, her eyes wide, feeling a good story about to be told when Eden took a long breath.

"During the last crusades into the Levant, Queen Eleanor of France decided to take part. She gathered around 300 of her vassals from Aquitaine. She insisted they all be women and further insisted that she go as the leader of her warriors.

"You were in Eleanor of Aquitaine's army?"

"Well, not exactly in it. She needed someone to lead the army. Maintain discipline, give orders, and so on. So I volunteered. And as I was the only woman to do so, I became commander."

"That's... amazing..."

"Not really. In the end, the army did little fighting, the incompetent Louis constantly getting in the way." Eden replied with a quiet growl, "Yet, they had their skirmishes and other... adventures and someone had to know how to put them back together. Like you said, not exactly something ladies are taught..."

Arielle tried to imagine Eden as the commander of Eleanor's army. She had heard the tales that they dressed as Amazons and fought and yelled like men. She pictured the guardian on her black steed, armor glinting in the sunlight, hair streaming in the wind, her sword upraised, letting out a battle cry and then charging the frightened enemy with hundreds of loyal warriors thundering right behind her. It was a romantic picture straight out of heroic stories of knights and dragons.

"Later, especially in the desert," Eden continued absently, "it was more because I didn't want any of my... comrades... to come anywhere near me if I could help it..."

Arielle glanced at Eden and saw a shadow pass over her face as Eden recalled the day she learned that particular lesson.

"What happened?" Arielle asked before she could stop herself.

She held her breath in anticipation of a violent reaction of a line she was sure she had overstepped. A thick, tense silence hung over them.

"My army trusted me. I held their life in my hands. It's a sacred thing almost. In return, I took care of them. I thought it was like that everywhere. But I was young..." Eden recalled slowly, as if she was weighing every word, "Once, out in the desert, I was wounded in the thigh. I needed stitches. One of the men experienced in healing said he would do it. I trusted him..."

Arielle knitted her brows as Eden's voice trailed off. The bard instinctively placed her hand on Eden's arm and felt the muscles there tense for a moment and then relax.

"Oh Eden, did he...?"

"No..." Eden whispered, shaking her head once, "but, he sure did try... I managed to fight him off. I never let anyone near my wounds again."

She hung her head a little and felt the bard give her arm a small squeeze which she rewarded with a gentle smile.


The morning came when they had decided that Arielle was well enough to travel again. Eden insisted that she have a hearty breakfast before going on the road and they made their way down to the tavern before going out on the road. They both sat at Eden's usual table and Berta greeted them warmly.

"See you're up and about again. Glad you're feeling better and the like." Berta stated, bringing them some warmed cider, bread and cheese.

"Thank you, Berta." Arielle replied cheerfully, smiling up at her, "And how are you doing?"

"Oh..." said the visibly stunned tavern keeper, "Well... ain't nobody asked me that in centuries it seems... Well, thank you, miss, I'm doing pretty fine, can't do much complaining, I figure."

They ate breakfast quietly; the tavern was rather empty at that hour in the morning. Arielle was more than happy to be going back on the road, her cheerfulness and excitement plainly visible. Eden was the more stoic one as always, throwing a hidden glance at the bard every once in a while, the memory of the cough not leaving her alone. They were too immersed in their own thoughts to notice a common, traveling pair sit down at the table next to them. Finally the words of their conversation floated over to the bard.

"I'm telling you, Rufus, I think we should take a different road."

"Ah, don't be silly, Alys. Why would you want to do that?"

"Have you gone deaf in your years? You haven't heard the stories? Lord knows you frequent the taverns enough."

"What stories are you talking about? Just come out with it, woman."

"There's a black demon in the deserts, Rufus..." the woman said in a tone of conspiracy, leaning over the table at him.

"A black demon?!" Rufus laughed, "Maybe you've been frequenting the taverns a bit too much yourself, eh?"

"Don't be silly, Rufus. I'm serious. They talk about a black demon warrior. On a horse black as night. Ruthless thing. Killing and plundering like there's no Judgment Day. They say she's on the road to Acre or Damascus. I don't want to be on the same road."

"She?! Oh, this just keeps getting better and better!"

Arielle ate her breakfast with a tighter and tighter throat. She stole glances at Eden from underneath her brows. The guardian maintained her usual stony expression, but the bard knew that the words didn't pass by her unnoticed. Eden ate a piece of bread slowly, her other hand around a goblet of cider. Arielle considered doing something as an angry heat rose in her chest. But she didn't know what.

"It's like talking to the backside of a sheep, it is. Rufus, women demons are the worst sort, everybody knows that. You never heard of Lilith? If you didn't sleep so much in church, you wouldn't be as daft as you are." Alys sighed in exasperation.

"Oh, get off it woman."

Arielle saw a strange and abrupt tension appear on Eden's face at the mention of Lilith. Eden slowly put her bread down, her eyebrows furrowing, her breath quickening a little. The bard now battled between leaning over and telling the couple to shut up or reaching over and putting her hand on Eden's in support.

"Rufus, I'm serious, I am. This one, she tears pilgrims limb from limb!"

"Pilgrims, you say?"

"You see! Even the God fearing aren't safe! They say she drinks the blood of children, you know? A tailor told me that there was a village near the road. Torched and pillaged, the people slaughtered, they were. Eyes scooped out, bodies set ablaze. That black devil did it. Singlehandedly! So tell me again how she can't be a demon, hm?"

"And you seen this?"

"Not me, Rufus. But the tailor said he did. Don't see why a proper Christian would lie to another." Alys commented and then dropped her voice in disdain, "Said he that even those Saracen infidels tried to help, but fled terrified when she turned her bloody blade on them."

"Hm, that ain't a common whore then, is it? But to take a different road, Alys?"

"By Christ's nails, you been listening at all? Now, you may be bored with this life, but I'm not keen on parting with it just yet. She's the bastard child of the Devil himself, I tell you!"

Alys's theatrical slapping of the table drowned out a sudden metal crunch that only Arielle heard. Her eyes darted to Eden and saw the goblet in her hand, now disfigured and crumpled, the cider spilling out in a tiny stream. Eden's eyes were almost burning holes into the table, her knuckles white, the muscles in her forearm tense almost to the point of snapping.

Arielle reached out and placed her hand on Eden's, trying to pry the goblet away from her grasp and finding a surprisingly immense strength that wouldn't let go. She looked at the guardian who continued to stare at the table, the goblet lightly beginning to shake.

"Eden..." Arielle whispered soothingly, wrapping her other hand around the warrior's, no longer prying, but just holding, "Hey... Eden... Let go... It's alright..."

The bard could almost hear the couple's words reeking havoc in Eden's mind and silently cursed them.

"Eden... Eden, look at me... Come on, look at me..."

The near pleading she heard caused Eden to raise her head and look at the bard. Arielle saw two intense seas of blue filled with both angry hurt and deep sadness and she almost lost herself in them. She took a deeper breath and gave the guardian a gentle squeeze.

"It's alright Eden... It's okay..." Arielle tried to convince.

The warrior was teetering on a razor edge of simply getting up and turning the travelers into a meat pie. She felt offended, disgraced, and simply hurt. She could take the heavy burden of the things she had done. Yet the things she hadn't done weren't her weight to bear, but she seemed to be carrying it anyway and Eden didn't understand why. She didn't expect towns to be named in her honor even if she did good deeds for the rest of her lifetime, but this? What was the point of change then? Why try? How could she change anything when the chosen one of God was despised by a follower of that same God? She looked at the bard with her silent question. Don't I carry enough already? Haven't I gone through enough? Arielle thought her heart might break if those eyes peered at her any longer.

"Eden, it's alright. It's fine... There's no one else here, just you and me. Just you and me, alright?" Arielle began to soothe, absently stroking the warrior's hand. "There's no threat here, no enemy... Take a deep breath... There you go... Another... That's right... It's just you and me here..."

Eden's grip slackened and the bard was able to pull the goblet from her hand. Yet once the goblet was gone, she simply took the warrior's hand back in her own. Arielle gently stroked the guardian's hand as her breathing returned to normal and the tension from her body evaporated, the deep seas of her eyes turning back into still, shaded pools.

Eden slowly gathered her anger under control, a worry now creeping in of what the bard might think of her. Does she believe the stories? Absurd question, why wouldn't she? Yet, Arielle didn't. The bard didn't even really know why; Eden told her next to nothing. Yet, there was a voice inside her that told her that the stories were not to be believed and that the true story lay deeper beneath the surface. That was truly the only story the bard was interested in.

As Eden calmed, Arielle's anger grew. There was something that disturbed her to a great deal to see the warrior in such a state. It almost felt as if she had been offended herself. Eden noticed distant lightning begin to roll through the forest green eyes. The guardian gave the blond a sad smile and her hands a gentle squeeze and held it. The grasp told her that there was no reason to get into a dispute or fight over it. This was enough. Arielle understood and the lightning faded away. Once they were both calm, they released each other's hands like it meant nothing much in order to try to cover up how much it really meant.

"Let's get out of here." Arielle said, flashing a smile towards the guardian.

They got up to leave and were halfway towards the door when Arielle suddenly stopped, a decisive look on her face.

"Could you wait for a minute, please?" Arielle said flatly and turned back to the couple when Eden gave her a nod.

She approached their table, her shoulders squared back, her walk determined. Despite the lack of violence or strength in the bard, a spark in her eyes demonstrated that she was serious and her solid stance made her seem to almost loom over the traveling pair.

"This is as suitable for drinking as you are for calling yourself a Christian." Arielle spat, tossing the deformed goblet between the surprised couple.

Before they could say anything, she turned on her heel and stormed off to the other end of the tavern. Despite her anger, Eden didn't fail to notice the small, warm chuckle that stayed in her throat at the sight of the irritated blond and her emotional defense of the guardian.

They moved to say goodbye to Berta right before they left.

"Ah, so you're going then, are you? Well, God speed to the both of you. And you stay out of trouble, little one, see?"

"Oh, Berta. There's no need to worry about that at all." Arielle commented, putting her hand lightly on the warrior's shoulder and getting a small shrug from Eden.

"Yes, well, you can never be too careful around shifty bastards, see? Can be real shifty and the like, see?" Berta persisted.

"I'll- we'll be careful, Berta, thank you. I'll be sure to tell everyone of your wonderful hospitality."

"Oh... well... thank you miss." Berta said, a slight blush rising in her cheeks, "If you're ever around in Tyre again, you look up ol' Berta, see? Will always got a room for you, see?"

"Of course!" Arielle said, giving the tavern keeper a radiant smile that she couldn't help but return.

Berta's gaze then turned to Eden who was standing there with as much expression on her face as the tavern walls. Eden gave Berta a solemn nod, expressing all she needed to in it and Berta returned it.

"God speed, friends." Berta said and waved her hand once as the two women left the tavern.

They walked out and went to their horses. They checked and adjusted their saddles, bags, and equipment. They mounted their horses and turned towards the main gates of Tyre.

"I guess that makes us tied for coming to each other's defense." Eden said to Arielle quietly, staring down at one of the reins she began to play with awkwardly.

"Yes, I guess it does." Arielle answered with a wide smile, again reading into what Eden had really wanted to say.

Chapter Text

"Eden, look!" the bard cried out cheerfully and blew on the head of a dandelion.

The little white seeds flew upwards and floated around, dancing on the slight breeze. Arielle watched them with a big grin. And Eden watched the happy bard, eyes full of awe and it brought a smile to her face. There was a weight that had been lifted from the guardian's shoulders and as she watched the bard's childlike gaze follow the drifting dandelion seeds, Eden finally felt a lightness return to her own breathing. They traveled slowly, stopping regularly to give Arielle enough rest. Now only the occasional stray cough was all that was left of the sickness that had scared Eden so much. She would never admit how frightened she really was then. And she would never admit how much she envied the bard's innocent wonder now. She stood, her arms folded across her chest, unable to do anything else but... smile.

Arielle practically beamed with happiness. She was happy to finally be well, to be outside, to be on the road again. She was so ecstatic that she almost had a hard time keeping still on her horse, which Xanthus would ask her to do every once in a while with a loud snort and whinny. Every time they stopped for a break on their first day back on the road, the bard would jump off her saddle and go running off through the field, amongst the trees or shrubs, or even just across the dusty ground. Eden would watch the bard running gleefully, her arms outstretched like a bird soaring through the sky, her laughter filling the air and the holes in Eden's spirit. 'Eden, I'm flying!' she would cry out in a joy Eden had almost thought no longer existed in the world. And the guardian would say nothing, but would look on so proud, so content, so...

The bard broke her thoughts when she ran up to Eden with another dandelion in her hand.

"Now it's your turn." Arielle announced cheerfully and slightly breathlessly.

Eden gave a small scowl at the idea.

"Oh, please, Eden. You can't be so serious and gloomy all the time. No one's watching..." she coaxed, waggling her eyebrows.

Eden raised one of her eyebrows.

"What's the point?"

"Does there always have to be one? Just make a wish!"

The warrior remained unmoved and the bard could see that this time her cause was lost.

"Oh, you're no fun sometimes." Arielle complained and gave out a big huff.

Dandelion seeds flew forward and covered the warrior. The bard stared in shock for a moment at the glowering warrior dressed in a dandelion blanket. But the shock disappeared and Arielle clutched her mouth with both hands, but the laugh found its way out anyway. After that, Arielle found it nearly impossible to control her laughter and it rang out through the air as she clutched her sides and nearly doubled over. Eden raised her eyebrow again and put her hands on her hips.

"Oh, so you think this is funny, hm?" Eden said in a lower tone than usual, picking off one seed that was tickling her nose.

Arielle darted her innocent gaze back to Eden, laughing through her closed mouth, yet her eyes betraying an appearing doubt that the warrior may be angry with her.

"Well, I guess there's nothing else to do but... get my revenge." Eden hissed in a feigned threat, the twinkling in her eyes giving her away.

Arielle squealed merrily, jumped up, and turned to run when she saw Eden lunge at her in an attempt to catch her. Eden knew she could outrun Arielle easily, but let the bard keep ahead of her for a while. Eden steered them into a small field of dandelions. They ran through it, kicking up the white heads left and right, the seeds shooting up into the sky and covering the two women from head to toe. Arielle gave out joyful cries, like a little child with a pocket full of honey covered figs in the middle of a fantastic summer day's festival as Eden continually playfully threatened that she was going to catch the blond. When the whole field of dandelions seemed to have already found its way onto their clothes, Eden finally caught up with the tiring bard, grabbed her from behind in her strong arms, and picked her up. Arielle squealed almost breathlessly, halfheartedly trying to break free and Eden let them safely tumble back onto the ground amongst the disturbed dandelions. Eden loosened her arms and the bard rolled off of her and onto her side, propping her head up on her hand.

"Eden... I think... I think you may have just had... fun." Arielle announced.

Eden knotted her brows and scowled at her hands as she lifted them in front of her face, turning them several times. She then put her hands down and turned to the bard with a look of confusion.

"And I didn't burst into flames? How curious..." Eden stated in theatrical shock.

Arielle laughed and poked the guardian gently in the shoulder.

"Oh, Eden, what am I going to do with you?"

Eden's spirit seemed to bask in the moment. She noticed the smell of the earth, the dandelions, and that indescribable, beautiful scent that was simply Arielle. The sun shone on Arielle as if it was meant to shine only on her, highlighting her blond hair and turning it into gold, warming her skin and brightening her smile. The seeds tickled her skin like the bard's giggles tickled her worn soul. Eden felt so... at ease. Let me stay here. In this moment. With you.

Eden gave Arielle a smile and then turned her gaze up into the clouds.

"That looks like a mace to me." she said simply, pointing up into the sky.

"That one? I see an apple tree." Arielle noted happily after lying down on her back and shifting a little closer to Eden so their shoulders touched.

"An apple tree? Huh..."

"That one to your left looks exactly like a fish."

"A fish? I see a spearhead."

"Well, you would. Eden, look, it has a tail at the end and everything. How is that a spearhead?" Arielle playfully countered with a sigh.

"I'll have you know that I've seen some very decorative spearheads." Eden noted lightly.

"Eh... Oh, what about that one? The one that looks like a fishing rod."

"That's a good one."

"Eden... did we just agree on the shape of a cloud?" Arielle asked in slight surprise.

"Well, no. Because if I squint, I can see a pike."

"I'm going to go mad someday." Arielle bantered, letting her hand fall softly over her eyes.

Eden let out a soft chuckle. An easy silence covered them. They listened to the quiet and their own breathing. And unknowingly they were thinking the same thing- how something so unbelievably ordinary like a warm, sunny, quiet day could be so rich in itself and bring such... happiness? Eden almost wanted to laugh at the thought. Is it at all possible that I could be in any way happy? She turned her face a little to look at the bard, somewhat surprised when she saw the bard do the exact same. They looked at each other with a calm they weren't aware was theirs and with an understanding of something they still knew nothing of.

Eden sighed lightly and turned her gaze back up into the clouds. She remembered that Jerusalem was not all that far off and chastised herself for growing attached to the bard. They would enter the Holy City, part ways, and that would be that. No, I can't be happy.

"I think we need to get moving." Eden said flatly and didn't notice Arielle's face fall slightly.

"I know... It's just... If... Right, let's go then." the blond sighed and started to get up.

Eden observed Arielle as they both rose, dusting themselves off from the seeds as they cleared the field. She felt a strange hint of sadness and longing in Arielle and wondered what its source was. Arielle glanced quickly over her shoulder at the field and then turned back to their horses.

"Hey," Eden said suddenly, stopping and looking straight at Arielle, "these aren't the last dandelions we'll ever see."

Arielle smiled and nodded, trying to appreciate the comment. What the bard didn't say was that the dwindling distance to Jerusalem was giving way to a growing apprehension over what would happen after they reached the city. She had planned to reach Jerusalem and then return home. But her pilgrimage had turned into something so much more than that and far beyond what she could have imagined. And now she found that she didn't really want it to end. Rather naively she clung to the idea that if they never reached Jerusalem, then their adventures would never have to end. Most importantly, she didn't want to leave Eden behind. Being with Eden had made her realize how truly lonely she had been before. And she didn't want to return to that. It was one of many things that Arielle began to notice she didn't want to return to.


Arielle kept her personal promise. Once they were back on the road, the bard took every opportunity she could to learn some weaponry skill or work on her agility and strength. Arielle's sudden intense interest in her physical condition first struck the guardian as a little strange, but she helped the bard with drills and exercises anyway. Arielle took it seriously and never complained of something being too difficult or of being sore, but just grit her teeth with a determination that could almost match the warrior's. And Eden didn't say anything, but she saw it and was proud of the young bard.

When the bard was practicing her defensive sword moves, Eden would usually train along with her, inserting calm instruction when and where needed. Eden was still reluctant to spar, but did it when the bard asked with less complaint and fewer excuses. And after a few times, Arielle got carried away with herself.

"You know, I'm really beginning to feel stronger." Arielle told the warrior confidently after putting her sword down.

"Good."

"But it's difficult for me to judge, you know? I have nothing to compare myself to... Would you... maybe... wrestle with me?"

Eden nearly dropped her sword.

"What?! Are you mad?!" Eden cried out, looking at the bard as if she had just grown horns.

The green eyes flickered with a slightly menacing stubborn determination that Eden knew meant trouble. Big trouble.

"It's just wrestling." Arielle said as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

"Absolutely not. I am not wrestling with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you could get hurt."

"You don't hurt me during our sparring. Why would this be any different?"

"Because it's not at sword's length anymore... there's no room to escape..."

Arielle sighed and tried to attack from a different side.

"Alright, well then could you at least show me some moves. You know, if someone grabs me so that I can try to break loose."

Eden eyed Arielle warily. The request seemed fair, but the warrior couldn't quiet a voice in the back of her head telling her that it was a bad idea.

"I really don't think that's necessary." Eden stated.

"Of course it's necessary. Remember the raider that tried to walk off with me or that Turkish warrior who attacked me?"

Eden winced internally at the memories. She stared at the ground, trying to find a way out of the situation.

"It's not because you're scared, is it?" the bard asked, a slight tease in her voice.

That was Arielle's first mistake. Eden lifted her head and stared unemotionally at her.

"I am not scared. I just don't think that it's a good idea." she explained coolly, her nerves beginning to send off sparks within her at the comment.

"Come on, Eden, what's the worst that can happen? I'll go easy on you." Arielle continued to recklessly banter.

"Fine."

Eden dropped her weapons and quickly stripped herself of her armor as the slightly stunned bard realized that she had gotten her way and did the same, an excited smile crossing her face. Eden knew better, but there were a few things that she just couldn't stand and teasing her was one of them. Eden approached Arielle and stood in front of her, taking a few deep breaths, trying to keep herself under control. She first started with some explanation, calculating that the time would dissipate her anger. Then they wrestled a little, Eden showing her different moves. Arielle tried hard to pin the warrior down while Eden tried hard not to break the bard in two. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Eden did in fact notice the growing strength of the bard, the firmer and some even larger muscles straining under her grip. Yet, in the end, it was always the blond who ended up on her back in the dust.

"You are getting stronger." Eden told Arielle, dusting off her hands when they had finally finished practicing.

"Yes, well, not nearly enough to defeat you." Arielle complained somewhat, trying to loosen her tight shoulders.

"One day, Arielle..."

Eden gave her a faint grin and then turned around, walking back to where she had left her weapons and armor. A severely mischievous grin crossed Arielle's face and she paced up quietly behind the warrior and then lunged at her back with a yell. And that was the blond's second mistake.

Eden suddenly turned around, grabbing the bard in mid air and flipping her over her shoulder and pinning her to the ground with a loud thud, knocking the wind out of the blond and kicking up dust around them.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Eden snarled at the stunned younger woman, her fists clenched full of the bard's shirt, "You want to be killed?!"

"I'm, I'm, I'm sorry... I just..." Arielle stammered and then gave up.

"Don't ever do that again. I hate it when people sneak up behind me. Do you understand me?"

Arielle only nodded. Eden sighed with disgust, let the bard go somewhat roughly, got up, and stomped off towards her things. Arielle lay on the ground a little while longer, trying to catch her breath and collect her thoughts. She began to realize how far she had overstepped Eden's tentative boundaries. She wanted to throw herself under a cart for her foolishness. Putting herself in danger was one thing, but she also realized what the warrior would have felt if she had indeed done her harm. Your father was right, you are nothing more than a childish fool, Arielle of Avignon...

Arielle finally got up, dusted herself off, and padded over to pick up her things and go back to the horses. Eden was already there, stroking Arion's muzzle.

"Eden, I'm-"

"Not now. I don't want to talk about it." Eden snapped.

"Eden, please-"

"Not. Now." Eden repeated impatiently and after seeing the hurt confusion in the bard's eyes, softened her tone, "Just not now, please..."

"Alright." the bard conceded.

It was a few hours later when they had stopped in the shade of an olive tree to eat that Eden finally spoke.

"I don't like it when someone sneaks up on me from behind. Whatever happens next is simply a reaction. Usually an uncontrollable and very violent one. That's why it's dangerous... even for you. And that's why I stomped off... to calm down... Otherwise..." Eden explained quietly.

"Eden, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't, how could you?" Eden admitted and then grew quieter, "Once... some time ago, someone attacked me from behind. He lifted me up, strangling me with his arm around my neck. I remembered the fear... and helplessness I felt. And I can feel it to this day..."

"Well, I'm sure you quickly taught that man a lesson." Arielle said, trying to lighten the mood.

"Actually, no. I just bit his arm and he let me go... I was just a child then." Eden said softly, staring off into the horizon, "And the man was my father..."

Arielle didn't know what to say.


As they neared Acre, the two women noticed a rider coming towards them. Arielle automatically grew tense, but saw that Eden didn't stop or even slow down after having noticed him. The rider's black tunic bearing a large white cross identified him as a Knight Hospitaller. Arielle grew excited, she had never met a real Hospitaller and the stories about them varied though never as much as those about Templars. Eden and the Hospitaller continued on their way, headed straight for each other as if they hadn't noticed each other's presence at all. They only finally stopped when they ended up face to face, blocking each other's way.

"Well, well, well," Eden drawled, leaning her forearms on the pommel of her saddle, "what do we have here? Looks like a Hospitaller stray."

"Looks more like a renegade blocking a Hospitaller's path." the knight replied.

The Hospitaller sat straight, holding the reins lazily in his hands. Arielle noticed the daunting presence of the knight. He was armed in chainmail from head to foot, his black tunic fastened by a tunic belt and then wrapped by a thicker sword belt. He wore a cape identical to his tunic and a shield in the same colors hung from is back. The black color and rawness of his dress, Arielle mused, made him look more like a knight of death than a kindhearted Christian warrior.

"Oh forgive me, I must have missed the sign that stated that this road belongs to you."

"It's right here." the knight replied, pointing to the cross on his tunic.

"So you think you're awfully smart, don't you?" Eden said, dismounting abruptly and stomping towards him as he did the same.

"And you think you're so frightening, hm?"

They stood in each other's faces threateningly and Arielle nervously reached for her bow.

"You'll never change." Eden spat.

"Neither will you." the Hospitaller spat back.

"I wouldn't want it any other way." Eden admitted, suddenly softening.

"Neither would I." the Hospitaller replied, a wide smile crossing his lips.

They let out a laugh and threw themselves into a long, strong hug while Arielle stared at them, completely dumbfounded.

"I knew you would come." Eden said softly.

"I knew you needed me to. Plus, I have to take care of some things in Acre anyway so it was on my way." he replied.

"Ehem!" Arielle let out, clearing her throat loudly.

They turned around, both smiling at the glaring blond.

"Arielle, this is my good friend Lawrence. He was the one I wanted to see in Jerusalem. It seems Jerusalem came to us." Eden introduced warmly as Arielle dismounted.

Arielle gazed at Lawrence. His eyes were an incredible sky blue that bordered on light gray. His hair was short, blown into a fitting disarray by the desert winds, and was only slightly darker than the sands surrounding them. He had a lean, muscular build and was a little taller than Eden which made him about a head taller than Arielle. Yet, what was amazing about him was the warmth that emanated from him. His sword and armor gave every indication that he was a serious and seasoned warrior, yet the tranquility that radiated from him gave Arielle the impression that he wouldn't even harm a breeze. There was something indescribably gentle in his movements, a friendly smile on his face nearly permanently, a warm tone in his soft voice. And his eyes seemed to say that they had seen every affliction man could know, understood them, and took pity.

"I'm very pleased to meet you Arielle." Lawrence said, shaking her hand and bowing slightly, almost making Arielle blush like a little girl, "I've heard much about you."

Arielle gave him a confused glance and Eden gave him a look like she wanted to boil him in oil as a blush began to warm her face.

"But if I may say something," Lawrence added quickly, seeing his blunder and releasing Arielle's hand, "please don't make the mistake of greeting everyone of a military order like this."

"Well, I'm pleased to meet your acquaintance." Arielle stated, curtsying in a manner that betrayed her more privileged upbringing.

"Don't we all generally know each other?" Eden grumbled, rolling her eyes at all the formalities, "I'm beginning to feel a little underdressed for the occasion."

Lawrence and Arielle let out a somewhat nervous chuckle which cleared the tension a little.

"So you say that Eden isn't as friendly towards all Christian warriors like towards you?" Arielle asked, the corner of her mouth rising mischievously.

"Definitely not." Lawrence chuckled, "Though not for lack of other Christian warriors trying. And some of them do try ever so hard."

"Let me guess- Garrett?" Eden asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Who else?" he sighed, lifting his hands with a shrug, "He... asked about you."

"I'm sure he did." Eden snorted.

Lawrence let out a small chuckle and smiled while Arielle eyed the guardian somewhat suspiciously.

"Come," he said, grabbing the reins of his horse and turning back towards Acre, motioning for them to do the same, "tell me of Antioch."


"Thank you for coming, Lawrence." Eden said.

"Oh, Eden, you know I couldn't have done differently." Lawrence replied gently.

"Still..."

They walked at a leisurely pace alongside each other through the quieter evening streets of Acre, enjoying the pleasant weather. Relatively safe within the practically impenetrable fortifications of the city, they had both left their metal armor behind. Lawrence hooked his hands on his sword belt while Eden carried hers locked behind her back.

"I felt the pain... I felt a great fear..." Lawrence mentioned quietly.

"Yes..." Eden sighed and absently scanned the rooftops of the buildings in front of her, "Arielle was very ill... very ill..."

"Well, I'm glad that she's well again. She seems to be very nice... very special." he said with a smile.

"Yes..."

To the both of them it almost seemed as if they had never been apart when it had, in fact, been months if not years since she had really talked to him. Eden couldn't remember exactly how long, some of the times of her life remained an ugly blur to her. It was a special bond they both knew they shared; they always seemed to be together no matter how far off, no matter how far gone.

"Eden, you were right to call for me." Lawrence stated with a heavy sigh.

"What have you seen?" Eden asked, concern tightening her voice.

"Not much. And probably not anything that you haven't seen yourself. But there is something amiss. Dark clouds gather on the horizon and there is something foul in the air. Something is awakening and seems to be coming for us."

"A demon?"

"Probably. And it seems that it has some special sight for Arielle." Lawrence explained as Eden turned and looked at him with solemn concern, "She appeared in a vision, shrouded in darkness until there was no more of her. And a battlefield covered in fallen knights, Hospitallers, Templars, and others..."

"Who is this demon?"

"I don't know." he admitted and then turned to Eden, putting his hands on her shoulders, "Don't worry. Be vigilant as you always are and we will know soon enough. And I won't be far behind."

"As usual." Eden added with a faint smile.

"As usual." Lawrence repeated with a grin.


"Remember when we would do this when we were children?" Lawrence asked, pulling a few apricots neatly in half and taking out the seed.

"Yes..." Eden answered and then turned to Arielle who was sitting beside her, "We used to climb up to the rooftop of a building next to the armorer back at home."

"We would sit there for hours listening to the armorer working. We loved that clanging of metal, the roar of the forge." Lawrence added.

"Didn't anyone come looking for you?" Arielle asked, picking at a pomegranate.

"The building was abandoned and everyone was convinced it housed evil spirits. No one would dare search up there."

"That seems nice..." Arielle mused, "I always wished for that kind of escape when I was a child. But it seemed that there was no place to runaway to on my father's lands... nowhere to hide..."

Arielle looked up when she noticed the silence that fell. Eden studied her with intense blue eyes and Lawrence looked at her in sympathy.

"So what brings you here to Acre, Lawrence?" Arielle asked quickly, desperate for a change of subject.

"I have some business with the Templars."

"I've heard many stories about the Knights Templar. I don't think I've actually met one in real life."

"Well, they're a specific type... Not too bloodthirsty, but not too saintly." Lawrence chuckled, "You'll have your fill of them in Jerusalem."

"Do you know any Templars?" Arielle asked Eden, her eyes widening in curiosity.

"Oh, all too well..." Eden replied, rolling her eyes as Lawrence snickered quietly.

Arielle gave her a confused look and then shrugged her shoulders, seeing that the warrior didn't seem to want to elaborate.

"Here, you look a little thin to me." Lawrence mentioned, handing Eden a piece of mutton from the food he brought.

"Huh, well, if you traveled with this bottomless pit here, you'd be too." Eden quipped, biting into the meat.

"Hey! It's not like I eat you out of house and home!" Arielle protested until she saw that some mutton still remained and pointed at it sheepishly, "Can I have some too?"

The warrior and Hospitaller looked at Arielle and all three burst into laughter. They divided the rest of the food and ate quietly, the two women happy to eat something different than what they had on the road.

"I'll go check on Arion for a minute. Please don't get into any trouble before I get back." Eden said, getting up and dusting herself off.

A few moments of quiet fell between them after the guardian left and Arielle studied the Hospitaller with curiosity.

"You two seem to be quite close." Arielle ventured with intrigue, "How long have you known her?"

"Oh, quite a while. We grew up together. Our roads diverged when we became adolescents. Yet, I guess our paths never fully separated, despite everything."

"She seems very... fond of you."

Lawrence chuckled softly and looked at the bard.

"Eden's like a sister to me." Lawrence said warmly, "She is family as if she was of my own flesh and blood."

Arielle leaned back against the chimney and sighed.

"It's strange," the bard mused, "I have a sister of true flesh and blood and I don't think that we're as close as you and Eden are. That trust and comfort you both seem to share... it's something to be envied..."

Lawrence studied the bard. Her shoulders slumped when she released a heavy sigh and he noticed a faint sadness blanket her eyes.

"Well, it was a lifetime of hard work. And continues to be." he admitted gently.

"Yes, I can imagine that you're probably the only one in this world that she really trusts." she noted, not fully hiding her misgiving at the statement.

Lawrence popped a dried date into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a while.

"It's not you that she doesn't trust, Arielle." he explained slowly, "It's herself. She knows she's dangerous, she has the potential to easily take a life. She also knows all too well what it's like to lose something dear... It's all because her love and trust are as strong as her anger can be. That's why she just doesn't let herself even think about it. In the end, she's a warrior and dying is much easier when there is no one to leave behind."

Arielle knotted her brows over the interesting revelation. She had never thought of any type of love in that way. Everyone in the world seemed to be frantically searching for love, never thinking that they would have to bear the loss of it. Eden, on the other hand, decided that if she didn't want to ever lose love, then she couldn't ever find it to begin with. She felt a heavy sadness in her heart for the warrior who was faced with this decision between the lesser of two completely heartless evils. Is that why you're so angry, Eden? Is that why you are so inapproachable and locked away? Is that why you so stubbornly hide the beauty I see in you?... Does anyone else see it? And would you ever show it? How much of you is you and how much is just your armor protecting you from the world?

"To be honest, she scares me a little." the bard admitted quietly.

"Oh, well, she scares most people." Lawrence acknowledged, chuckling lightly. "It's a shame too, she's no one to be feared."

"I'm sorry, are we talking about the same person?" the bard asked with light sarcasm.

"Let me rephrase that. She's no one to be feared by those she holds dear. She is very loyal and protective."

The bard looked at Lawrence with a quizzical expression that he couldn't help but notice.

"Is she really?"

"Oh yes. You know, even when she was a desert raider and she roamed these lands, she never hurt me. What's more, she never let harm be done to me. And I knew that. She gave me her word, her promise and that's probably the holiest thing for her, the only thing she never went back upon. Even under the power of the greatest demons, she kept her word."

Arielle let the new picture of her friend appear in front of her eyes. Yet, she realized it wasn't an entirely new picture, but more of an image that was slowly shifting into focus.

"I see her often, balancing on that thin edge where it only takes an idle breath to push her over into the darkness. I'm always scared she'll make that fall."

"But she doesn't, does she?" Lawrence noticed.

Arielle said nothing, peering at the knight with interest.

"Arielle, you've probably chosen the most complicated person on the earth to befriend; she's a walking contradiction. Most of the things that she pretends annoy her, she actually loves. Like me, for example." Lawrence explained, adding a small wink and then becoming more serious again, "The things she loves, she loves more than she lets on. She veils herself in secrecy, but yearns to have a person to tell everything to. She laughs when she hurts, is quiet when she bleeds. She doesn't believe in the things she would give her sword arm to believe in. She follows a path she hardly trusts at all. It breaks a good man's heart, you know? She'll push you away when all she wants is to be held. And if you need to be held, she'll hold you even if it kills her..."

The bard recalled the times when Eden held her. The warrior would lock her protective arms around the bard without a single word or complaint. The same woman who did not like to be touched would allow herself to be practically blanketed by the blond. Arielle absorbed the description of a person whom she had thought she only imagined was there. Eden kept everything so well hidden that sometimes the bard gave up on dragging things out into the open for fear that maybe they didn't exist at all.

She observed Lawrence as he dug a few extra dates from his pocket and chewed on them slowly. He seemed to be the complete opposite of Eden. He was so open, kind, and appeared to be at a great peace. Here they had just met and he was talking to her like he would to a friend whom he had known for years. And yet he seemed to understand Eden so well and they were like family to each other. And he must have been someone dear to Eden, the bard mused, to be able to speak so freely of the warrior without the slightest fear of getting his head hacked off. The blond felt an inexplicable pang of jealousy go through her. Here she was, admitting out loud that Eden frightened her and then she felt envious of the close ties between the warriors.

"Don't feel jealous. You will know more than I do soon enough." Lawrence told the bard with a warm smile.

Arielle saw a strange light flicker in the Hospitaller's eyes and her own widened in such surprise that she didn't fully register what he said.

"How did you... You read... You know my thoughts?..." Arielle stammered out in bewilderment.

"Oh, were you thinking about that?" Lawrence asked, feigning innocence.

"Yes... How did you do that?"

"Because he's a guardian too." Eden replied, appearing behind the bard and walking back to her spot next to her and sitting down, "More specifically, he's a seer."

"A seer?"

"I have visions... in dreams, in prayer, or even just out of the blue. I can also sometimes read thoughts. Or at least the loud ones. In other words, we seers are the philosophers and thinkers in the family, gifted with a much-seeing eye. " Lawrence explained slightly theatrically.

"And a particularly interesting sense of humor from the looks of it." Eden added sarcastically and then turned to Arielle, "So whatever he read, you must have been thinking quite loudly. What was it?"

Arielle opened her mouth, but no words came out and instead a blush began to appear in her cheeks.

"You know, Eden is nearly impossible to read." Lawrence noted, trying to save the bard from the question, "There are ways to block the mindreading abilities of guardians... or demons for that matter. I can teach you some if you'd like."

Arielle nodded energetically and Lawrence smiled. Eden surveyed them both with a slightly suspicious look, but decided not to press the matter any further. Lawrence leaned against one chimney while the women leaned against the other, all of them full and content to have a little quiet time.

Lawrence secretly studied the young bard. He had only needed a few moments with Arielle to understand the strange yet strong attachment Eden had to her. She was a pretty, young woman, but there was something much more beyond that. He felt a warm, authentic empathy for others, a great need to help someone beyond herself radiate from her. He sensed a light hidden within her, embedded deeply, holding what he judged to be a power beyond any he had seen before. But he saw it lay dormant. Or perhaps it was just awaking, seeming to stir in Eden's presence. He found it curious that these two women happened to stumble upon one another in the middle of some desert and began to slowly dig things out from each other, tirelessly pulling up to the surface those things that they had both spent so much time burying.

He remembered the intense pain he had felt when Eden summoned him. She was one of very few outside the seers that had both learned of and mastered the ability to summon others through a mental link. She had summoned Lawrence over and over as Arielle lay near death in her arms and now he understood where that raw desperation had come from. When Arielle recovered, she had notified him that the danger was over, but he had decided to investigate what had terrified Eden that much to summon him anyway. It was unlike the warrior and it scared him. Yet, for him, it was enough to look into the bard's eyes.

And then Arielle suddenly jolted upright.

"Lawrence, you said the mindreading abilities of guardians, right?" she asked almost in a panic.

"Yes... Why..."

Lawrence saw the blood slowly drain from Arielle's face as her eyes moved slightly in Eden's direction. And then Lawrence understood.

"Not all guardians can see the same. Eden has..." he explained and then suddenly stopped, glancing at the warrior.

Eden gave a barely noticeable nod and Lawrence turned back to the blond.

"Eden has a general sense of thoughts and energies around her, sometimes she has visions, especially in dreams. To be truthful, her sense is much stronger than in other warriors. Some don't possess it at all. But she doesn't possess the same abilities I do."

Arielle visibly calmed and slowly relaxed back against the chimney.

"So I can see you must have been thinking only good thoughts of me." Eden commented sarcastically with one eyebrow up.

"No, it's not that... I.. It's just... My thoughts are private, that's all." Arielle argued, still a little flustered.

They sat around quietly for a while, watching the sun slowly lower itself in the sky turning the white light slowly into gold. Arielle began to realize how much there was in the world that she had no idea even existed. Here she was on an idle roof in Acre sitting in the company of two guardians who were her friends. Her eyes drifted to the sky with a single thought that suddenly entered her mind- that maybe there was much more to life than she thought. That the world was not just what she saw, but actually had several different layers, each different but all together comprising a complete whole. And that's when the seed was sown. A seed of light and faith that settled in the core of her being and finally took root.

"How about we get down from here?" Lawrence asked the two women.

"Well, I don't know. What am I thinking?" Arielle challenged, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

"Oh, young bard, it doesn't work that way." Lawrence said with a chuckle, "You see, I can't hear or see everything in your head. Only the more important things. Especially those things tied to great or powerful emotions. So, I don't know what Eden wants to eat for supper, but if she fell in love with me, I would probably know."

"Are you serious?" Eden growled slightly, tossing the knight a displeased look.

"I needed an example!" Lawrence said in his defense and raised his hands with a shrug.

Eden only rolled her eyes and raised herself to her feet and Arielle followed her. The bard was then strangely struck by the sight of the warrior. Eden stood out against the light of the ending day. The sun covered her in a golden aura and Arielle couldn't help but notice that the sacral tone that that light seemed to give Eden did her a great justice. The rays highlighted the features of her face and body; the power of her muscles and the delicacy of her quiet stare intertwined together in the glow. It was almost as if the light lit up all that was good in her for all and God to see. She is... stunning in this light... and beautiful.

"I heard that." Lawrence said, his arms folded across his chest and with a large grin on his face.

Arielle shot him a flustered look as a blush began to creep into her cheeks.

"Can someone please tell me what's going on?" Eden asked in exasperation, placing her hands on her hips.

"Can we please get off this roof?!" Arielle asked in even greater exasperation and quickly walked to the roof edge and down the ladder, leaving a confused Eden and chuckling Lawrence behind.


"Lawrence seems to be a very nice man." Arielle noted.

"Yes, he is." Eden replied, not taking her eyes off the journal she was writing in.

"Do you... like him?"

Eden took a slow, deep breath, put her quill down, and leaned back in her chair. The bard was looking at her from across their room at the inn, sitting on the bed, her back against the wall and the covers over her raised knees, holding a cup of steaming cider.

"Why do you ask?"

"I was just wondering."

Eden crossed her arms and kept her eyes on the bard, patiently waiting for what she knew was going to come next. The bard kept quiet for about a minute until she couldn't take it anymore.

"Oh, Eden, don't tell me that you don't see it. He's a warrior, tall, somewhat sandy, and handsome. The two of you are perfect for each other!" Arielle explained with excitement.

Eden's only response was a slight snort and raised brow.

"Eden, you can't tell me that you don't find him... appealing."

"Yes, he is handsome if that's what you mean." Eden shrugged.

"Well then what's the problem? He obviously likes you!"

"Arielle," Eden started with a deep sigh and uncrossing her arms, "I like Lawrence very much. But he's like a brother to me, he's the closest to family I have now."

Arielle's excitement dissipated into a more solemn seriousness at the admission. She studied the warrior closely.

"That's exactly what Lawrence said." Arielle admitted quietly.

"Hmpf... Really, I can't leave that guy alone for two minutes without having him start talking about me." Eden noted, shaking her head slightly, "What else did he say about me?"

"Only good things. Nothing much that I didn't already know." the bard said with a small smile.

"He rarely says bad things about others. Unlike me..." the warrior mused and then shifted in her chair a little, folding her arms over her chest again, "I've known him since I can remember; we grew up together. We had the same... predisposition. He was the only one I could share that with, talk to about. He didn't make me feel like an outcast... And I did the same for him."

"But you both are still so different."

"Yes... Well, our lives took different roads... I don't think I've ever met a person who knows Lawrence and didn't like him. Why he still hangs around me is a mystery to me sometimes..." Eden told the bard and then a smile appeared in the corner of her mouth, "So, I'm sorry, Arielle. No romance here..."

Arielle rolled her eyes, caught red-handed, and stared into her cider.

"Didn't you ever think of having a family of your own?" Arielle asked quietly after a few moments.

"Maybe... once... but not anymore."

"You don't want a husband? Children?"

"I gave up on the idea."

"Why? What happened?"

"I simply gave up on everything..."

Arielle sensed that it wasn't something to push so she said nothing more.

"And you?" Eden asked after a moment.

"Well, yes I think I would like to have a family... It's the natural way, I guess... My parents-"

"What do you want?" Eden interjected.

Arielle opened her mouth, but then closed it, realizing that she really didn't know. Truthfully, no one had ever bothered to ask her. And she had never really thought about it since she had never been offered any alternative. Arielle found it hard to admit to herself that there was something in her travels and adventures with Eden that was drawing her in, tempting her to leave behind the world and life she thought she knew and was meant for. Yet despite its excitement, this new life also evoked fear within her; the fear of the unknown and unchartered. Arielle chewed her lower lip in thought, now aware that she was caught between both worlds and was too excited to choose the one she came from, but also too timid to choose the one standing before her.

Chapter Text

"It's a shame that you can't ride with us to Jerusalem." Eden said to Lawrence.

They strolled through the Templar Quarter of Acre, a quieter part of the city, passing St. Anne's Covenant on the way to the Templar Castle.

"Well, I don't know what your plans are, but I won't be long and perhaps we can meet in the Holy City again?" Lawrence suggested.

"Perhaps..."

Lawrence glanced at the warrior who was consumed in thought.

"Are you troubled by the same sense of foreboding as I am?" he finally asked.

"It's strange, but no... But I do feel a slow, yet great shift in things. I can't explain it... It's neither a good nor bad feeling... It's like something's slowly sliding into place or some kind of balance is being restored... Strange how different it is from your feeling."

"I don't know if it's all that different. I seem to have simply focused on one particular aspect." the Hospitaller concluded.

"Do you think the Templars will help?"

"I don't know. I wanted to speak to the guardians and knights here before I do the same in Jerusalem. I don't want to raise any premature alarms. I'll see what the seers have to say."

"What about Tyre or Jaffa?"

"From what I know there are no guardians in Jaffa right now. Tyre's simply too far... I need to be here just in case..."

"Maybe send a runner?" Eden suggested.

"Perhaps... I'll see what I unearth here." Lawrence said and then stopped in front of the Templar gate.

He smiled at her warmly and their gaze said the things that they would have had a hard time putting into words. Lawrence outstretched his arms and Eden smiled.

"Some things never change, do they?" she noted.

"Fortunately."

Eden gave him a playfully suspicious look and then took a step forward. They hugged, each worried about the other and neither saying a word about it, knowing that they would be there for each other if anything happened. Lawrence regretted that they didn't have more time together. Though Eden trusted the Hospitaller, he knew that she needed time to grow accustomed and comfortable to begin to reveal what lay deeper within her. But he contented himself with the fact that both she and the bard were alive and safe.

"Keep an eye on your saddlebags or else that hungry, young bard of yours will eat you out of horse and parcel." Lawrence quipped, releasing Eden as she chuckled.

"I will. You take care of yourself Lawrence and return safely to Jerusalem."

"Of course. I've taken up the flute, something I'm going to have to live to show you." he admitted cheerfully.

"Then it's something I'm going to have to live to hear." Eden replied.

They smiled at each other and Eden raised her right hand in a goodbye. She turned around and began to make her way away from the castle when she heard Lawrence call her name, making her turn back towards him.

"Be careful." he said simply, but in a tone that was heavy with things she probably didn't want to know and that weighed on his mind.

"As usual." she answered, smiled, and then turned back around and walked away.

"That's what I'm afraid of." Lawrence whispered to himself.


Right before they were going to head out of Acre, Arielle had adamantly insisted on running back to the market by herself to get something she needed for her writing. The warrior gave her a small scowl, but then shrugged her shoulders and told her to go on ahead and that she would wait for her with the horses. Arielle ran off before Eden had a chance to change her mind.

In truth, Arielle wanted to buy something else. She had never really thanked Eden for all the care and attention the warrior had given her when she was sick. And she found that words didn't suffice anymore. One day while walking through the city with Lawrence and Eden, a silver clasp caught her eye in one of the market stalls and she somehow instantly knew that it would be perfect. She was happy to return and find it still there almost as if it was waiting for her and she bought it immediately. She gazed at the hawk shaped clasp, lightly running her finger over the piercing eyes, outspread wings, and ready talons of the bird. That was how Arielle remembered the guardian from the days she was sick, hovering over her with attention, ready to swoop down on any danger and tear it limb from limb. The bard smiled to herself as she realized how lucky she was to have such a friend.

Arielle tucked the clasp safely away into her satchel and was about to return to Eden when she felt a strong hand grab her shoulder.

"I recommend parting with your little, silver trinket and not making a scene." she heard a man roughly hiss into her ear.

Arielle was suddenly gripped with fear. Her first thought jumped to Eden, but she was too far to even hear her scream. Her next thought ran to her bow, which was hanging off her saddle and her sword also wasn't an option since the thief was holding her right arm. The bard began to panic, her heart racing, her breath quickening. Something in the thief sent a shiver down her spine and paralyzed her thoughts. She debated whether to start a ruckus and break away in the chaos.

"I wouldn't think of starting any commotion, little maiden," the bard heard in that low, cold hiss, "unless you'd like me to decorate the market with your insides. So how about the trinket, hm?"

Arielle gave a single, weak nod, strangely struck dumb with fear and reached for her satchel. She stopped when she suddenly saw Eden walking towards her quickly from the corner of her eye.

"I think it would be wise if you left the lady alone." Arielle and the thief heard from behind them.

They both turned around, shifting their gaze that fell upon a dark haired nobleman.

"It would be wiser if you left me to my business, Frank." the thief spat.

"It's 'my lord'." the nobleman snarled.

He grabbed the thief's arm and stared straight into his eyes. The thief suddenly turned very pale and began to tremble as if the life was being sucked right out of him. The bard looked on in a mix of horror and fear.

"Ye-e-e-e-e-s-s-s, m-y-y-y-y, l-o-o-o-or-d-d-d-d." the thief stammered out, unable to control his sudden shaking.

The nobleman smiled coldly and then roughly withdrew his hand from the thief's arm. The thief still stood there, trembling, his blank eyes locked onto the dark ones of the nobleman.

"Go. Now. Before I have to teach you a painful lesson." the nobleman growled straight into the face of the thief.

The thief's eyes grew wide and he lurched backwards and nearly fell over. He regained his balance and hysterically stumbled off as if he had just seen Satan himself. Arielle found the thief's behavior puzzling, but was torn from her musings when she felt Eden's hand on her shoulder.

"Are you alright?" she asked with knotted brows and one hand on the hilt of her sword.

Before the blond had a chance to answer, the nobleman gently took her arm and turned her around towards him.

"How are you, young maiden? Did the ruffian hurt you?" he asked, his voice quiet and calm.

"Oh, I'm fine. Thank you for your help." Arielle replied.

"Dorian Paymon at your service, fair maiden." he answered, bowing gallantly, taking Arielle's hand, and planting a gentle kiss on it.

"I am Arielle of Avignon and I thank you for your service, my lord." Arielle answered in turn and curtsied.

"No, to you, my dear maiden, I am simply Dorian." he said, a smile crossing his face as he looked into her eyes.

He was... mesmerizing. His long, dark, crimson red tunic stood out from his black leggings, shoes, and cloak. His clothes, cloak, and tunic belt all had a lavish, silver embroidered border finish. A long dagger in a sheath decorated with jewels hung on his left. His cloak was held by a peculiar, gold clasp depicting a young man in a crown riding a camel. His clothes alone asked for respect. Yet, his stance and air demanded it. His eyes were dark and his hair was even darker. He had it combed mostly to the back. His face was young and soft, but the nicely trimmed beard he wore gave it a touch of harshness and masculinity. He carried himself confidently and Arielle would have said he was arrogant if he hadn't been so nice. Arielle found herself to be taken with the man as she never before had been.

The warrior clearing her throat brought her out of her admiration.

"We should go if we want to leave today." Eden said.

"Oh, dear me, are you in a hurry? I'm ever so sorry, I didn't mean to keep you." Dorian said to Arielle.

"Oh, no, you're not keeping us." Arielle replied and then stretched out her hand and placed it on the warrior's wrist, "This is my friend and traveling companion, Eden."

"Charmed." Dorian shot, scanning the warrior quickly from head to foot with a grimace and obvious disapproval.

"Likewise." Eden muttered, already deciding that she didn't like him.

"My fair maiden, it was a dreadful thing that happened to you. I don't believe it to be the best idea to now travel outside the city walls where only Lord knows what kind of horrors lie in wait." Dorian said to Arielle, turning his soft glance back to her.

"Well, I can take quite adequate care of myself if you must know." Arielle replied, slightly annoyed.

"You misunderstand, fair dame!" Dorian reasoned in surprise, "I'm well aware that you are no feeble woman. I only scared the thief off quickly, but you were the one who would not faint nor succumb. I only mean that after such an incident, it would be good to take some food and rest. I'm sure you'll agree that the dangers of the road are easier to meet with a clear mind and full stomach, no?"

"Ah, yes, well it seems that you do have a valid point. I guess it wouldn't do any harm if we stayed a little longer. Eden?" Arielle said and then turned to the warrior.

Eden saw something new flicker in those forest green eyes, yet knew the glimmer itself all too well.

"No harm." Eden said simply.

"Splendid!" Dorian cried and offered his arm to Arielle which she accepted as they began walking, "My dear lady, I shall show a place you likely haven't visited, but that has the greatest cider in all of the Levant! Did you like cider?"

"Yes, very much."

"How wonderful, so do I. It may be slightly strange, I know, for a nobleman to not take great pleasure in fine wines. Yet, I'll tell you in secret that there is nothing that I cherish more than some warm cider and a good book."

"Preferably near the fireplace on a gray evening."

"My dear maiden, something tells me that we have quite a number of things in common. And to think that we had the pleasure to meet in the middle of this desert. What a pleasant surprise, is it not?"

"Yes," Arielle said with a growing smile, "it seems quite pleasant indeed."

The pair made their way through the narrow streets, chatting up a storm about books and such while the unamused warrior followed quietly behind, completely ignored.

The bard forgot to ask how the warrior knew she had been in trouble.


"You've been quiet. Is everything all right?" the bard asked Eden.

"I'm fine." Eden grumbled.

They finally had a moment to themselves when Dorian trotted off to 'see about his entourage as it was a taxing journey they were unaccustomed to'. The guardian didn't know exactly how it happened, but the noble had wormed his way into traveling with them to Jerusalem. Eden wanted to go plunge into a moat for the way those green eyes seemed to make her agree to anything. But she unfortunately saw her delight in Dorian's attentions and she didn't want to take that away from the bard. No matter how unhappy it made her.

And Dorian seemed to be a master at whatever it was he was doing. Since leaving Acre, he and the bard spent nearly every minute in pleasant conversation, chatting about nearly every possible subject. Eden was a victim of their discussions, their words often floating over to her no matter how much she really didn't want to hear them. She grit her teeth with every coincidental thing that they had in common, mentally knocking the noble's head against a tree and praying for Arielle to not believe in his stories. The warrior noticed the slithery grace with which he painted himself a man that Arielle had always been looking for. He enjoyed literature and dreamed of one day having the largest library in the Holy Roman Empire. He was well versed in poetry and philosophy, but also took an interest in the sciences. He was an avid Christian, claiming to spend nearly every free moment he might have in church or praying on his knees for the redemption of humanity. His local priest was a good friend of his and his confessor and was the one who Dorian would run to when he needed advice. That was the one time Eden had made the mistake of interrupting.

"For whose word can be closer to the truth and worth more than that of the ordained?" he asked theatrically.

"Perhaps your conscience?" Eden replied.

The pair looked at her in surprise as if they had long forgotten that she was even there.

"Excuse me?" Dorian asked in annoyance.

"Your conscience can be closer to the truth."

"How absurd! Man is a weak creature! We cannot trust ourselves."

"If we can't trust ourselves because man is weak then why would we trust the word of another man?"

"This borders on blasphemy." Dorian hissed, beginning to tremble in anger, "There is a difference between a priest and someone... like you."

"I should hope so." Eden retorted, deflecting the remark, "It is said that the spirit of God dwells within our conscience. So if we listen to it closely, we'll have the truest, worthiest word of all. And it would be from God and not passed through the additional interpretation of someone else."

"Heresy! Infidel!" Dorian yelled so loudly that his horse reared in fright.

"Dorian, calm down. She's no heretic." Arielle said, finally joining in the exchange.

"Only in respect for you will I not give this heathen a thrashing. Vagabonds do not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."

Eden drew a breath to reply, but Arielle turned to her in a quiet plea.

"Eden, please..."

Eden glanced at the blond and shrugged her shoulders lightly, trotting off to the side, leaving the fuming noble with a distrustful glare.

Eden wanted to chuckle at the memory of the noble's red, furious face. But she only shook her head. His words to Arielle later gave way to gentle caresses, touches, and endearment that made Eden strangely uncomfortable. The warrior secretly longed to feel the same charge she felt when they were being followed by Karas. It would have been enough of a reason to boil and quarter the ridiculous noble regardless of what Arielle thought. But Eden felt no charge. Perhaps my role is done? Perhaps this road has come to an end? It's such a shame...

"Is it Dorian?" the bard asked her a while later, looking at her in interest, "I know I didn't really ask for your opinion before telling him that it would be fine for him to join us. If it makes you uncomfortable or-"

"It's fine. Don't worry about it." Eden cut off, not wanting to discuss it.

"He really is delightful, Eden, just give him a chance. He's very learned and eloquent. You might even learn something."

Eden shot the blond a glare of offended surprise.

"Oh, I... I don't think I meant that... It's just that he's so intelligent and pious; he's seen so much of the world. He wants to teach and show me so much..."

Arielle saw the growing hurt fill those blue eyes pinned on her.

"This is somehow not coming out the way I want it to." Arielle sighed in confused defeat.

"Maybe it's coming out exactly the way you want it to." Eden declared, her piercing glare making the bard begin to feel uncomfortable.

Arielle opened her mouth, but she wasn't sure what to say so decided to say nothing at all.

"Just give him a chance. Maybe it won't be so bad." Arielle said quietly after a few moments of tense silence.

"I don't like him."

"Oh, Eden, you've known him for five minutes. You don't even have a reason to not like him yet."

"Yes, well, something tells me he's going to supply me with a whole basketload of reasons soon."

"Why do you do that? Why must you constantly see only the bad side in everyone?" Arielle asked, slightly annoyed.

"I don't see the bad side in you."

"Yes, you do. You think I'm not capable of judging Dorian's character myself." Arielle accused, her private inhibitions coming to the surface.

"Why go through the trouble of painfully finding out something that I can tell you right now?"

"Because it's my life and my decision. And you can't tell me what to do."

"I'm not telling you what to do. I'm your friend... I'm advising you... There is something very wrong with that pretend noble."

"Well, I didn't ask for your advice." the bard snapped, herself unsure why.

"I know... I just thought... It was for you... Never mind." Eden said and spurred her horse, separating herself from the bard.

Arielle wanted to call after her, regretting what she had said, but she only sighed heavily and hung her head. It had been a reaction. Her entire life seemed to be a string of things she should and shouldn't do, lavishly ladled onto her soft shoulders by her parents and sometimes even by her sister. She couldn't remember ever making a decision herself and was chastised for every opinion she had ever dared to call her own. Deep down Arielle knew that Eden was only trying to protect her though the bard couldn't understand exactly what from. And that evoked a retaliating reaction from the blond on the slightest sound of negativity. To Arielle what was more important than the possible trouble Dorian might be was the fact that she wanted to decide for herself. No matter the price.


Eden wasn't sure what exactly woke her up. Her eyes flew open and scanned the campsite quickly, registering a slumbering bard and a missing nobleman. She sensed something wasn't right; the dark seemed too dark and the air seemed charged with evil. She grabbed her sword just as a band of dark bandits attacked the camp.

Eden jumped up and took the group of six head on. The fire was slight and Eden had to rely on all her senses to fight off the menacing shadows. She shouted to Arielle to get up, which the bard did in a frightened stupor, grabbing her sword and stumbling in the dark to the warrior. Eden grabbed her by the arm with one hand as she plunged her sword through the leg of one of the attackers with the other.

"Back to me." Eden ordered.

Arielle nodded, the sleep now completely driven out of her and stood with her short sword ready, back to back with the warrior. Eden was calmer feeling the warmth and movement of the bard behind her and she focused her attentions on the black attackers, her moves a complete reaction to the things she sensed around her.

Yet the fight seemed to end as soon as it began and as the dust settled, Eden noticed that things were completely out of place. It kept her alert, her every fiber ready for another onslaught lurking in the night. She felt the light weight of Arielle's hand on her arm, the sound of her frightened breathing and found calm in her presence and the knowledge that she was fine. Her own breathing slowed along with her heart as she tried to understand what happened.

"Who were they?" Arielle asked quietly, looking at the black bodies littering the ground.

"I don't know..."

In truth Eden had a suspicion, but simply hoped it wasn't so. But nothing else explained the fact that bandits had attacked in the pitch black dark, that they made nearly no sound when they moved, and that Dorian was conveniently missing.

"Oh, you're safe! Thank the Lord Almighty in Heaven!" Dorian exclaimed, as he returned into the dying light of the fire.

"And where were you?" Eden spat, instinctively moving closer to the bard and shielding her from him.

"I heard a noise and went to investigate. Then I was attacked by one of those bandits. I had a hard time, but managed to send him to a well deserved grave." Dorian explained and then raised a cone shaped helmet to the light, "Those bastard Saracens..."

"Well, I guess that solves that mystery. But why would they attack us in the middle of the night?" Arielle wondered.

"What would it matter to the filthy infidels? A dead Christian is worth the same whether at night or during the day, is he not? There is a reason why chivalry was not invented here, you know." Dorian explained.

"Not even 'heathen Saracens' can see in the dark." Eden retorted, "And we only have that helmet of yours to identify them as Saracens. Something here doesn't make sense..."

Dorian let the helmet drop onto one of the bodies and grasped Arielle's hands in his own.

"What is most important is that you are safe and unharmed. There wasn't moment when I didn't fear for your safety."

Eden's first reaction was to stomp over to the flowery-worded noble and pound him into the ground. But she watched as the young bard was taken with him and his silky words, shying away with a girlish grin on her face as Dorian smiled at her. So instead Eden just shook her head and quietly returned to her bedroll, aware that she probably wouldn't get any more sleep that night. Dorian called over a few servants who pulled the bodies away.

"Come, go back to sleep, fair maiden while I praise God Almighty for His protection over you." Dorian encouraged, leading Arielle back to her bedroll and then walking back to his own, "Fear not for I shall keep vigil."

There was something in that statement that bothered Arielle, but it was soon forgotten under Dorian's steady, adoring gaze.

In the last hours of the night, Eden's ears picked up the sound of Dorian getting up from his bedroll and walking off. Her suspiciousness peaked, Eden rose and crossed to the other side of the camp silently, waiting at the edge of the shadows for the noble to return. She heard him far off, speaking in a strange tongue that she didn't understand nor had ever even heard.

"Out for a midnight stroll?" Eden drawled once his outline came back into view.

"Oh my, my, my, aren't you the suspicious one?" he chuckled.

"Look," Eden said sharply, "I don't know what game you're trying to play, but I suggest you move along and go play it somewhere else."

Dorian gave out a large yawn. Eden took a step closer to him, her hand automatically grabbing the hilt of her sword.

"Ah, ah, ah, there toy warrior. Swords usually lead to violence and when that happens, there's no telling who might get hurt." he warned tauntingly, his eyes shifting to the sleeping bard.

"I'll tell Arielle that you're not the person you pretend to be."

"I really don't think that you will say much at all." he chuckled quietly, "Actually, I don't think that you are in any position to threaten me, Eden de Sancti of Florentia."

Eden's eyes grew wider at the sound of her family name which she knew she had never told anyone other than Lawrence.

"Ah yes, surprised, aren't we? Oh, yes, I know all about you, you daughter of sin and scandal. Did you really think that you could escape your past? Did you think that you can become someone else? You are nothing more than a filthy, pathetic bandit dressed in knight's clothing."

"Do I know you?"

"No, but you will. So if I were in your position, I would be more concerned with what I might say to Arielle and not the other way around."

"I swear by all the beings in Heaven that if you hurt Arielle-"

Eden suddenly found a dagger under her chin and two dark eyes glaring at her lethally.

"Do not threaten me again or I will carve your precious little bard into so many pieces that even the archangels won't be able to put her back together." he snarled viciously and then took a step back and changed to a calm, low tone, "Relax and enjoy the performance. Your role will come up soon enough... So, do we have an understanding?"

"You're vile and depraved. The very sight of you makes me sick." Eden hissed through her teeth.

"Oh, from threats to compliments. It seems that we shall get along after all." he replied cheerfully.

He sheathed his dagger with an evil grin on his face and casually returned to his bedroll, lying down, very satisfied with himself. He left Eden standing in the night with concern weighing on her mind and her heart sinking.


The bard awoke at dawn to the sight of the warrior sitting next to the fire in her shirt. Her red gambeson was on her knees as Eden sewed up a tear in one of the sleeves. Arielle noticed a bandage roughly wound around the guardian's upper arm. She got up and quietly ambled over to Eden.

"Why didn't you tell me you were wounded?" Arielle asked with some concern.

"I didn't notice, you didn't ask." the warrior replied, keeping her attention on her work.

Arielle knotted her brows slightly at the somewhat bristly warrior. She turned her gaze to the bandage, seeing a crimson spot standing out in the middle of the layers of white.

"Maybe I'll rewrap that for you... You've bled through." Arielle suggested.

"It's fine."

The bard was taken aback a little and frowned at the warrior.

"What is it, Eden? Why won't you let me take care of this?" she asked in genuine confusion.

Eden stopped sewing and looked at the bard. And there were those green eyes and that innocent gaze that seemed so deep that Eden was convinced she could get lost in it if she dove in. Those were the eyes that couldn't believe in any inherent evil in people. Those were the eyes that believed in more than Eden had ever seen. Those were the eyes that Eden had pledged to protect. Eden had promised.

"Arielle," she started, lowering her voice and leaning in, "something is wrong in all of this."

"I would agree," Dorian chimed in abruptly, appearing from behind Arielle and placing his hands on her shoulders, near her neck, "Sitting in only a mere shirt at dawn?... It's almost as if one wanted to catch their... death."

The emphasis on the last word and Dorian's cold stare told Eden that she was standing precariously close to a threat that Dorian was more than willing to act upon.

"Perhaps one of your servants would be able to mend Eden's gambeson. They are so skilled." Arielle suggested, turning and looking up at him.

"Ah, you know that your wish is my command, my fair one, yet I'm afraid my entourage is used to more... delicate things. I would worry that they might handle her garment incorrectly. I'm sure she has the best knowledge and experience in this matter and over the fine skills of my servants." Dorian explained.

Arielle turned back to Eden, who had already hung her head back over her gambeson, hiding the concerned defeat on her face.

"Speaking of which," Dorian added hurriedly, pulling the bard to her feet, "come, let me show you some of their incredible needlework."


Eden found herself almost grateful that Jerusalem was near. If she had thought the nobleman's arrogance was bad, his near drowning in self pity was almost too much for the warrior. He spent hours and leagues complimenting the bard on anything from her riding abilities to her worldly views to then turn and lament that he wasn't lucky enough to have the same. He was especially so when it came to faith. They spent the entire trip from Acre to Jerusalem speaking of faith in almost every possible way. Eden had silently observed a strange pattern in which Dorian would make a comment or observation and in the end Arielle would express her own views and understanding that he would automatically gladly accept. Eden nearly wanted to cut her own arm off to have something to fling at the noble when he finally declared that he believed Arielle to truly be a saint and that he was convinced that she had saved his soul 'from the morbid fate in the demonic fires of the abyss'. Eden would have gladly sent him there without even asking, but she kept her silence, almost crushing her teeth and jaw in doing so.

Arielle found herself more and more taken with the noble and started to quickly see him as something more than a mere traveling companion. He seemed to be everything she had ever wanted, almost as if someone had pulled the ideal out of her mind and set it before her. It was almost too good to be true, but she was too happy and excited to notice. He seemed to adore her beauty, her youthfulness, and fell head over heels with her stories. Eden would sometimes enter her mind, but was always pushed back with heavy barrages of denial. I was only a traveling companion, she was my escort. I probably annoyed her more than anything... I was always causing trouble, making a mess of things... What would she want with a pathetic little creature like me? This might be my chance, a chance to be normal, to fit in... I can be like everyone else... and I won't be different any longer, I won't be shunned and pointed at... and everyone shall be pleased with me... and I'll be happy and accepted... Right? But one thing she couldn't fool herself into thinking was that Eden would be absolutely fine without her. Quite the opposite, she wondered what would happen if she left Eden behind.

Above all else, Arielle was proudest that she had such an impact on Dorian. He seemed to hang on her words, soaking up her ideas and thoughts, a situation she absolutely wasn't used to. He never criticized her and almost never even discussed anything with her; he was always convinced the minute she spoke her mind and adopted the ideas as his own. Especially when it came to God and the Holy Roman Church which were so close to the bard's heart. Eden always debated it with her, sometimes even coldly and it hurt the blond. Yet Dorian hungrily took in her views by the handful and then claimed that the light he was beginning to see shined from her. She didn't know what to say; she had never thought that she could make that much of an influence. And then he sadly spoke of his family, regrettably riddled with sins of all kinds and what a weight it was on his heart since it seemed to him that all was lost. The blond comforted him as much as she could and began to think of how she could now save more than just him. And she let herself drown, intoxicated in that feeling.

"Eden," Arielle said to Eden, moving beside her when Dorian had trotted to the back to give his servants instructions, "have you ever thought about what you're going to do after reaching Jerusalem?"

Eden had wished for any other subject but that one now. She heard the sadness in the bard's voice, she felt in sadness in her own heart.

"Well, I don't know... now..." she tried diplomatically, "What about you?"

"I don't know... I just don't know..." Arielle answered, her voice trailing off.

"I was... I was thinking of perhaps going to Kerak for a while. Perhaps see some old friends if they're still there..."

"Kerak? The fortifications?"

"Kerak is a mighty castle, the likes of which you have never seen. Rectangular towers, vaulted galleries, archer positions, a deep moat... It's as magnificent as it is unconquerable." Eden described, sweeping her hand across the land.

A smile crossed the bard's face as she imagined what it must look like and a great desire to see it suddenly began to take her.

"Come and see it with me." Eden said before she could stop the words.

She maintained a steady gaze on the bard and watched all the different emotions race across her face, imagining that they were probably quite similar to all the ones she was feeling at the moment. Eden was trying to stake her claim to the bard in one of the very few ways she could. If she tried, she knew she could probably scare or threaten Arielle into agreeing, but the guardian wanted it to be her decision. Finally, Arielle broke away from her gaze.

"I don't know, Eden... I just don't know..." she replied quietly.

"Arielle, please..." Eden said with strain, "something is wrong in all of this... Have you noticed how everything is so perfect? How he evades me?"

"Eden, please, not now."

Eden gave a faint nod and hung her head, turning away from Arielle. Dorian trotted up, taking his place beside the blond.

"Behold, my blossom," he declared as if he had just conquered Jerusalem, "the Holy City awaits us with open arms."

In the light of the rising sun, the Holy City stood proudly before them. They rode through the main gates, Dorian and Arielle beside each other and Eden a little ways behind. Once she passed under the grand arch of the main gate, Eden realized that of all the scenarios she had imagined, this one never entered her mind and it made her feel more alone than she would have thought possible.

Chapter Text

Xena: "This is not your fault. This is not your fault. It's mine for setting you on a path you were never meant to walk."

Gabrielle: "Any path is okay, Xena, as long as it's with you."


Jerusalem was all that Arielle could ever imagine and so much more. She soaked in the vibrant city like a sponge. She marveled at the place where such diverse faiths gathered to worship according to their holy customs and histories. It stood proudly against the backdrop of the blue sky as if it itself knew that it was special amongst the other cities of the known world.

The thick, massive defensive walls along with the countless towers made the city seem unconquerable and it convinced Arielle even more that it must have been divine providence that led the Crusaders to breech its defenses and tear it away from the Muslims' grasp about half a century ago. It remained a jewel that all rulers, Christian and Muslim alike, hungered for, but the city itself didn't seem to notice that lingering tension. It was regal; it overflowed with great and splendid buildings and architecture, colorful, bustling markets that contrasted with the sandy colored walls lining the large maze of streets, and exotic peoples, animals, and plants that the blond had never seen before. It seemed to her that all the roads of the world met at a crossroads there in Jerusalem.

Eden, on the other hand, felt very alone. The blond didn't know that the guardian had also never seen Jerusalem before. Even as Zauba'a, Eden had made herself a solemn promise that she would never enter the Holy City as such a person. Eden had wanted to discover, admire, and feel the welcome of the city together with Arielle. Instead, the guardian felt horribly out of place.

Dorian did his best to steal Arielle away from the guardian under the most various of pretenses: to show her a church, to buy her a trinket, or even have her smell a flower. He showered her with gifts from shoes and dresses to rings and necklaces. But his grandest achievement was showing off the grand house that he lived in. It had an elegant arched entrance in the eastern style that already announced that the owner was an influential citizen or at least had enough money to be. It was a large dwelling with a spacious hall and stairs that started in the middle and then split to either side to the higher floor. The rooms that faced out onto an inner courtyard had quaint, stone balconies, while those that faced out onto the street had narrow, covered, wooden balconies decorated with hanging plants. The impressionable bard was shown one thing after another until she thought that her imagination might explode; she was absolutely swept away.

Eden watched it all happen right in front of her with her sharp eyes. But what pained the guardian the most was not that the bard was drifting further and further away, but the fact that Eden couldn't do anything about it. She had saved her from demons, storms, falls, sicknesses, and a vast range of different enemies, but this time, Eden could only look on helplessly. She tried to tell herself that maybe it was all better this way, that keeping quiet meant sparing the bard's life, that maybe she would find a way to pull the young blond out of trouble still. But something deep inside her remained unconvinced, arguing instead that there was something very wrong going on.

Arielle spent most of her days with Dorian and would come back in the evenings to the room she and Eden were staying in at a nice tavern in a quieter quarter of the city. The evenings were uneasy, both women trying to stay away from the subject of the nobleman. They both hated the awkwardness between them, but neither knew what to do with it so they just let it be. One evening, Arielle announced that Dorian had invited the both of them to supper. Eden was surprised and was about to decline when she saw that innocent look in the bard's eyes; the eyes she could never seem to say no to. So Eden agreed grumpily and Arielle rewarded her with a smile.

Eden didn't even need a minute to severely regret agreeing to the meal. Dorian showed Eden around his home while Arielle followed closely behind and he then introduced the warrior to his family, each person more condescending than the other. His father was rude and arrogant and his mother resembled a pompous, walking jewelry collection. The rest was a strange gathering of aunts, uncles, and cousins that had all conveniently found themselves in the same place at the same time with the same hostility towards the guardian. Eden had the strong impression that he wasn't even trying to be nice or get her to like him for Arielle's sake, but just the opposite. And the supper itself only confirmed her suspicions. They all talked of either topics that Eden had nothing to say about or would express an opinion that Eden always seemed to strongly disagree with. The family also picked up conversations with Arielle that they evidently had before and Eden was kept out of them. Generally, the warrior was either ridiculed, interrupted, or completely ignored. And though the guardian had the indescribable urge to thrash them all with the large dinner table until it turned into a pile of splinters, she gnashed her teeth instead and stayed quiet for the sake of Arielle. Yet, the bard was so concentrated and busy with fitting in and getting everyone to like her, that she didn't notice just how badly Eden was being treated.

After what seemed a grueling eternity, the supper was finally over and the two women could take their leave. They said their goodbyes and were down the middle of the stairs when Arielle abruptly stopped.

"I'm... I'm staying." she stated shortly.

Eden whirled around.

"What do you mean you're staying?" she asked in surprise.

"I want to stay here."

"What? Why?"

"They're a noble family, Eden. I think I could help them in all kinds of ways." the bard explained and Eden couldn't help but scoff, "Eden, you don't know them."

"And neither do you really... You've only heard what they tell you. They aren't who they make themselves out to be. It's an opinion you can even hear in the streets."

"Well, I don't care. People always talk." the bard said with annoyance.

"You're serious about this, aren't you?" Eden asked with disbelief and knotted her brows.

"They're not a perfect family, no," the blond tried to explain, "but they want to change. They want to find God. I can help them. I can save them just like I did with Dorian."

"You can't save them." the guardian contradicted vehemently, shooting forward and grabbing the bard's shoulders. "They're far darker than you think. They'll drag you under much faster than you could ever bring them to the surface."

Arielle abruptly grew annoyed and brushed off the warrior's grasp.

"You never thought much of me, have you?"

"What? This isn't about my opinion of you. This is about the trouble you're walking straight into."

"Well, I know what I'm doing and I can take care of myself."

"Arielle-"

"No, Eden! I am staying here!"

The shout from the bard surprised the warrior somewhat and caused a few seconds of silence between them.

"And what about me?" the warrior asked almost shyly.

"What about you?" the bard asked a little roughly and some part of her was just as shocked and pained with that question as Eden was.

A faint echo of that same question asked once in the middle of a desert ran through the warrior's head. I guess that serves me right.

"What about me?" she repeated, an anger that sensed betrayal beginning to taint her voice.

"Well, you don't have to stay. You can continue your journey."

"I was traveling with you."

"Well, I want to stay. You can travel without me. You don't need me."

"You're wrong..." the warrior admitted painfully and there was something at that moment that wanted more than anything to leap out of the blond's heart and embrace the guardian, yet she sighed instead, keeping it down forcibly.

"I want to stay here and help these people. Maybe... maybe I'm just tired of wandering here and there, watching people die and suffer. I want to find peace. I want to belong to someone... to something. I... want to have a home and a family." Arielle explained absently.

The warrior heard the words and grabbed hold of the hilt of her sword with both hands as if to support herself. The words became warriors, her worst enemies and they charged at her in full armor and with full force and Eden was helpless against them. In the end, the guardian was defeated by a few sentences. She had thought that they were friends, that they were bound to each other in some inexplicable way. She believed that they had found some kind of comfort within each other, being able to trust, care for and rely on each other. In that there was a sense of purpose and belonging. And it was true that they moved a lot, but it was the bard who wanted to travel and see the world in her life quest. And death and destruction wasn't all they saw because amidst all the darkness there was also good, light, and truth to be seen. Even Eden had begun to see it, but now all that turned out to be a fantastical lie. She had started to give her heart to her friend only to have it tossed back in her face. There was no point in trying to explain to Arielle things that should have been evident.

"Well," Eden said, finally composing something sensible in her raging thoughts, "I didn't know you were so miserable."

"Eden-"

"Don't." the warrior interrupted, raising her hand and the bard could see the warm blue in her eyes begin to freeze over into ice and her face turn serious.

The warrior stood up straight and faced the bard with a warrior's countenance.

"Listen to me because I will say this once and only once. These people are not who they claim to be. You won't save them because they aren't looking to be saved. And you have a choice now. Leave here and find your happiness elsewhere because it's not here, Arielle. Or stay... and bring misery upon us both."

"Are you telling me this as a friend or guardian?" Arielle asked, cocking an eyebrow and crossing her arms in front of her chest, yet somehow feeling a little nervous.

"A guardian. It seems we weren't the friends I thought we were." the warrior returned, her tone laced with hurt, noticing another new ring on the bard's finger.

"Eden... you don't know the future. You may have some visions, but that doesn't mean you know everything."

Eden's shoulders slumped and her defiant countenance was gone and now she simply looked like a defeated deserter. The bard now even doubted and belittled her guardianship. There was nothing left to take away from Eden.

"Of course... Well then, I hope you're happy. I wish the best for you... and Dorian." the guardian said quietly, looking at the floor and turned to leave.

"It's not like that-"

"Don't you dare insult my intelligence!" Eden suddenly roared in her heartache, spinning back around and facing the bard. "Say what you want, believe what you will. Think that you've found your garden, that you're doing what is right when in truth you're just running away and being played for the fool. You can fill yourself with your pathetic excuses, but don't you dare feed them to me because frankly they make me sick."

The words and tone hit a chord in Arielle. She suddenly heard her father, her mother, her sister, friends of family, and everyone else that had ever seen something wrong with her. The words burned in her ears and in her gut, drudging up all the pent up frustration she had felt over the years. Eden had now become just like everyone else, the bard heard an enemy in her. Why can't I just belong to someplace? To someone? Why can't I just have what everyone else wants and has and be happy? They were the same questions she always asked her confessor, the only one who had never thought her strange. Why, Eden, have you turned against me? Please, just not you...

A tired irony found its way between them. They both had spent their lives being different no matter how hard they tried to escape it. And despite their different natures and histories, they were inherently the same. Fate shook its head when at the time they needed each other, they decided to push each other away.

"Well I am sick of you! I am sick of you knowing everything, I'm sick of you telling me what to do!" Arielle began to scream and she lost control of herself and her irrational feelings found their way to the surface, obscuring her friend Eden and presenting a foe with many different, ugly heads. "I want to decide for myself, I want to know what's right! I want to stand up for myself! I want to love and be loved! I am sick of you suffocating me and protecting me! I never asked you to! I don't need someone pretending to be God! I want to be my own person, kind and caring! All your constant fighting and darkness, it's like being in hell. You criticize Dorian, but I would never end up like you!"

A smack was heard when Arielle slapped Eden across the face with her hand as hard as she could. A thin line of blood appeared on the warrior's cheek caused by the ring Arielle had on. Eden only slowly turned her head to look back at Arielle, but betrayed no emotion. The bard was breathing hard and slowly began to realize both what she had said and done. Her anger disappeared quickly and confusion set in.

"Oh Eden, I'm-" she started quietly and moved to touch the warrior, but Eden raised her hand silently. They stood there in that stance, neither moving and neither knowing what to say. After a few moments, the guardian slowly lowered her hand. She silently opened her satchel and took out another small, carved, wooden angel. Do I... Did I ever really know you... my young bard?

"They were a pair... of friends..." she whispered roughly, betraying a great pain as she placed the angel in Arielle's hand, "Goodbye Arielle."

She lowered her head, turned, and walked towards the door.

"Eden. Eden! Please don't leave like this!" Arielle begged, but it fell on deaf ears and she was left alone with the deafening echo of Eden closing the door behind her.

Arielle glanced down at the angel in her palm. This one had its wings slightly outstretched and was holding a sword with a very solemn look on its face. Arielle suddenly wanted to cry.


"You know, my sweet," Dorian said to Arielle, "I am so lucky to have met you."

They were strolling through the inner courtyard that belonged to Dorian's manor. The bard's arm was linked through the nobleman's as they slowly made their way along the stone paths laid out amongst the flowers and bushes that he had there. It was a nice evening and quiet. The bard had realized how quiet she and everything else had become ever since Eden left. Dorian noticed the blond's more pensive mood, but never asked about it. Arielle herself had tried to raise the matter a few times, desperate to have someone close to talk to, but Dorian somehow always managed to quickly change the subject. So the bard simply turned her loss around over and over in the lonely corners of her heart. The nights were the worst, where the bard would torment herself with decisions and indecisions. Her rational mind argued that she now had everything that every maiden would gut a cow for. Yet her heart would tell her that she wasn't at all as happy as her logic told her she should be. She had someone beside her, yet she couldn't stop feeling incredibly lonely and hollow. And even now, her hand in his, she felt nothing similar to what she once felt when she held the hand of a warrior in a dark cave in the torrential rain.

But Arielle had made a decision and decided to keep with it. She thought that God had put Dorian on her path and that the two of them had met for a reason. She believed that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing and that she would find favor through it from Dorian to her parents and up to God Himself.

"Tell me truly," Dorian said slowly, stopping to gaze so deep into Arielle's eyes it almost made her uncomfortable, "would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

"What? Me?!" Arielle answered, absolutely stunned.

"You must see that I am completely and wholeheartedly taken with you. If I did not know any better, I would think you a sorceress, you have forever taken both my heart and soul. Please, be my wife and make me the happiest man in the world." he purred, sliding down to one knee, taking both her hands in his and looking up at her.

Arielle was utterly stunned and couldn't get a single word out. Arielle always thought that she wanted to get married but as she grew older, her appetite for adventure grew larger. What she had now with Dorian reminded her a little of all the childhood pretend weddings that she played along with her sister. The bard remembered the day before her sister's wedding, when Thea told her that it had almost all been different from what they had both imagined as little girls, but that that was just life. It was that day that Arielle solemnly realized that her childhood dreams would forever remain with the little girl she had been. Now, Arielle was an adult and her dreams changed along with her. She felt something within her pulling and pushing her down some path that she didn't yet see. And she felt that she had finally begun to listen to that voice when she traveled to the Holy Lands. She met Dorian, but somehow she didn't feel that he was the destination she was meant to reach. But then again, maybe that was just the way life was.

She glanced down at Dorian, dazed and confused. There was one thing that struck her as surprising. She had always thought she would be happy. More than happy, she thought she would be elated. She imagined herself jumping in joy and her heart bursting with happiness and thinking that nothing in the world would ever make her happier than that moment. And when the moment finally did come, she felt... nervous. A faint voice deep within her rebelled, begging and pleading for her to take a breath and a step back, repeating Eden's words- 'Something here isn't right...'. But when she looked into Dorian's steady gaze, she felt herself slipping down a muddy slope and into the center of his eyes. She couldn't control it, it was almost like she was being pulled in by an unseen force. And seeing no other way out, she just let herself slide, hoping for the best as she always did and hearing the faint voice shout in despair.

"Of course..." Arielle whispered.

"Thanks be to the Lord for having heard my prayers." Dorian answered, standing and embracing Arielle fiercely with a grin on his face, "I've never been happier."

Arielle hung on to those words and held him closely. She waited for something similar to fill her heart and spill out through her mouth.

"Dorian... I'm so... This is... wonderful..."

Arielle baffled herself a little with her lack of eloquence in a moment that demanded it, but she wrote it off as nervousness.

"It must be even more than wonderful if the beautiful bard has found herself at a loss of words, no?" Dorian underlined.

Arielle simply nodded and smiled. Yes, it must be...

"Oh, my sweet," he purred into her ear in a slightly different tone, "you are mine now."

The statement sent a slight chill down the bard's spine, but not for the reason she expected.


When Arielle asked if they were going to announce the news to Dorian's family, the nobleman answered that it could wait for some reasons she didn't quite understand. But her mind was taken off the subject when he took her by the arm and led her down to the end of the corridor and let her into one of the great bedrooms with a balcony.

"This will be your personal bedchamber." Dorian announced with a big grin and then snapped his fingers and a young man ran in, "And this will be your personal steward, Aldric."

"At your service, my lady." Aldric said, bowing as if on cue.

Arielle looked at Aldric and couldn't decide whether she was looking at a man or a boy. He had the most youthful face that Arielle had ever seen, his dark, brown hair falling gently into his eyes. Yet there was something in his stance that went beyond his lean figure and betrayed that he had seen his fair share in life and that he was not one to ever back down. There was something in his stance that almost reminded her of a certain warrior...

"Aldric is at your beck and call, my dearest. Now, I have some affairs to attend to so I will leave you for now." Dorian said, kissed Arielle's cheek, and quickly took his leave.

Aldric and Arielle were left by themselves in the bedchamber. She noticed how a certain warmth and kindness began to radiate from him the moment Dorian was gone, his walnut brown eyes becoming much softer. She never had anything other than a wetnurse before and had no idea what to expect from him.

"You must forgive me," Arielle said, taking a chance with innocent truth, "but I've never had a steward before."

"I am at your service, my lady." he replied warmly.

He stood tall with his hands behind his back, patiently waiting for her orders. Arielle took a deep breath and looked around. The room was larger and more lavishly decorated than most that she had seen. The bed was large with a dark, sturdy frame and posts that held thin silk curtains around it. A small, wooden table stood next to the bed and on it there was a vase with flowers that Arielle had never seen before. The windows were also large, letting in the sunlight during the day. There was a table and a wooden chair with a padded seat. A large closet stood opposite the bed and through the opened door, she could see new dresses waiting for her in it. Arielle was convinced that her family would have been delighted; her mother would faint from the splendor, her father would puff up with pride and her sister would be horribly jealous. But Arielle didn't feel any of those things.

"How do you like this chamber?" she asked Aldric, turning back to him.

"Very much. It's my lord's finest."

"Yes... Perhaps... I could move to a different room? One a little less... decadent?"

"I'm afraid not, my lady. My lord's orders were quite specific. You are to have the finest things available."

"Your lord? Aren't you my steward?"

"Naturally, my lady. Nevertheless, my lord is the head of this manor. His command is the law for everyone here."

The statement hit Arielle blindly. She had never seemed to realize that blatant and painfully obvious truth. She was so fixed on separating herself from her parents and old life that she failed to notice that she was not becoming free, but simply changing hands. What Aldric said sounded more like she had agreed to move to a prison instead of becoming a happy wife of a nobleman.


Eden knew that Lawrence had returned to Jerusalem. And she knew where to meet him. Just like he knew.

Lawrence didn't need to be told that something troubled the warrior; he saw it after his meeting with the Templars in Acre and then felt it when he came in sight of Jerusalem. He felt such sympathy towards the constantly battling wounded warrior. He clenched his jaw in disapproval of the fate she was constantly being served. It was too much for anyone, warrior or not.

When Eden raised her head to greet the approaching Hospitaller, he could plainly see a deep, troubled hurt in her eyes. It pained him to no end. He outstretched his arms for a hug, a gesture the warrior always scoffed at, but secretly enjoyed. They embraced and then pulled away, looking at each other warmly.

"The Templars left you in one piece I see." Eden remarked sarcastically.

"A fact they'll probably regret sooner than later." Lawrence returned in the same tone.

They chuckled lightly and then turned and strolled off leisurely in the same direction, side by side.

"Did you find anything out?" Eden asked, looking at the ground ahead of her.

"I did. But it doesn't make things any easier to understand unfortunately."

Eden turned her eyes up to the knight and knotted her brows.

"There was one seer there who said that he too felt a dark force approaching, looming overhead. Something from deeper within Hell. Something more numerous than one demon..." Lawrence explained slowly, "And then the Templars told me that scouts returning from Jaffa had noticed separate bands of mercenaries traveling towards Jerusalem."

"Do you think the two are related?"

"I don't know... None of these things seem to form a whole... Why are mercenaries on their way here? And who were they hired by? And who is this demon that we can sense, but still seems to lie dormant?... I don't understand it."

"If it is all connected, then it almost seems as if the demon was... waiting..." Eden thought out loud.

"But for what?"

Eden looked up at the sparse clouds in the sky, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She suddenly longed for the innocent and naive oneness she had once felt with God at the very beginning, but had lost in anger and hurt so long ago. Tell me... Tell me what I need to know... Show me what I need to see... She felt something was terribly out of place, but didn't know where or who and what to do with it. Her relationship with God was strained at best, yet Eden couldn't find it in her heart to think that everything that had happened since that memorable day in the desert was simply a cruel joke. The guardian and Arielle had both ended up in Jerusalem together so far outside their individual plans. There had to be a reason or plan to it, but Eden couldn't see it. Normally, she would have simply brushed off the bard, stormed out of the manor and have been half way up the coast by now, yet something within her kept her planted in Jerusalem. So Eden stayed with no plan and no idea why and only a faint premonition that there was still something that needed to come to pass. It was frustrating, like being on the verge of a discovery, like having the perfect word on the tip of your tongue. Eden knew that she could do nothing more now than wait patiently, a virtue that she definitely didn't possess.

"Eden... I know... Arielle..." Lawrence said, breaking through Eden's thoughts and trying to find the right words.

"If you know then, please, let's not talk about it."

"Alright." he replied solemnly, knowing full well that the less the warrior said, the more she actually hurt so he tried to change the subject a little, "So will you be staying here long?"

"Perhaps for a little while..." Eden answered simply, "Maybe there's a tavern or inn you could recommend?"

"Well, come to think of it, you are actually in luck today."

Eden turned and gave him a quizzical look.

"I happen to know of a quaint, though perhaps slightly drafty, room available in a murky, little corner that might be quite to your liking. The tenants might all be of one company, but they mostly keep to themselves." he announced.

A tiny grin crossed Eden's lips.

"Murky sounds just perfect."

They turned towards the Hospital of St. John and Lawrence grew sad with the emanating hurt that even Eden's stoic presence couldn't hide.

Chapter Text

Never in their wildest dreams would the bard and the warrior have thought that they would end up in Jerusalem together, Eden mused, as she was taking one of the walks that was becoming a habit for her. She couldn't sleep at night, plagued by troubling images and a heavy heart. She slept only when she was able to tire herself to exhaustion, but today was not one of those days. So she wandered around the cloister quietly, soaking in the cool night. If someone had told her that she was to befriend a young, talkative, wide-eyed, blond bard, Eden probably would have fallen off her bench with laughter and then given the person a nice black eye for good measure. But what was done was done and it didn't matter whether Eden understood it or not, she felt the effects anyway. It's so strange, she thought, how we all do things thinking that we have power over them, that it's us making the decision, it's us laying down the path. Rarely do we notice we actually end up on the roads we never had considered taking in the first place. But it didn't seem to matter anymore she thought with a sigh and wrapped her arms around herself. Arielle had chosen her path and Eden had to find hers anew.

But roads have the tendency of going in their own preconceived directions, not minding their travelers at all.


It didn't take much time after Arielle's acceptance of his marriage proposal for the gallant and gentle Dorian to show a completely different side towards Arielle. His tone and manner were less enraptured and more irritated. Their long conversations grew successively shorter, gruffer, and bland. The bard felt like she had suddenly become a star that fell out of the sky and lost its appeal and sparkle, lying pathetically on the ground simply waiting to be ingloriously trampled underfoot. Her armor and weapons had been locked away in a chest and her clothes changed to the dresses, shoes, cloaks, and jewelery of upstanding maidens. Her daily tasks were reduced only to those that were deemed proper for a woman such as herself such needlework, reading, music, and looking pretty. Arielle began to realize that she didn't even leave the manor anymore, having everything done by the various servants. She felt a dismalness spread within her as each passing day took the vision of her and Dorian having adventures further and and further away.

The bard noticed the change in her betrothed on one night in particular. They were eating a nice supper in the main dining hall. Dorian had invited some other nobles and they were laughing and drinking the night away. Arielle felt somewhat out of place and uncomfortable amongst the group of men as it became more and more apparent that she was being collectively ignored and that she was only there as an accessory. The more freely the wine flowed, the less sophisticated the conversation became, dropping to the level of tavern stories and humor. One of the nobles who was sitting next to the bard, began to edge more and more closely to her, whispering or yelling improper jokes or remarks in her ear. When his hands began to wander, Arielle finally decided to stand and politely take her leave. Yet before she could go, she felt Dorian's strong hand on her wrist.

"You are mistaken," he practically hissed lowly, glaring at her with his dark eyes, "you will leave when I give you permission to leave."

"But, Dorian-"

"Sit." he ordered in a threatening tone.

She slowly sat back down, he released her wrist, and his face resumed its joviality when he returned to his conversation. Arielle sat through the rest of night at the table obediently, trying to ignore the condescending remarks she was subject to and the fact that Dorian even joined in on them. She also tried to ignore the stubborn, returning thought that these so-called noblemen would have all been lying black and blue in a pigsty by now if Eden had been there.

Another thing that had caught Arielle's attention was how Aldric seemed to keep by her side a little too often and a little too long and she began to wonder whether he was really supposed to be her steward or more like a spy on her. Wherever she went, Aldric wasn't far behind, whether he was asked to be or not and always with a faint but warm smile on his face. The afternoon after the dinner she had already had enough and Aldric's ever present footsteps echoing behind her jarred her a lot more than usual and she finally found herself on nerve's edge with the young man.

"Must you follow me around everywhere?!" she finally cried out in exasperation at the young man.

"I'm your steward, my lady." he replied calmly, his facial expression unperturbed.

"But must you be like my shadow?! Are you here to help me or spy on me?!"

Aldric said nothing, but linked his hands behind him, cocked his head a little to the side, and simply looked at the blond. Realizing the steward wasn't going to say anything, Arielle sighed loudly and stomped off towards her chambers, Aldric right behind her. When she reached her door, she opened it forcibly and wanted to slam it shut behind her. Yet, the nimble arm of the steward kept the door from slamming right on him and he squeezed his way inside.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Arielle cried at him.

Aldric paid her no heed, promptly walked up the window, opened it, and in one solid gesture yanked the frame from its hinges. Arielle gasped and took a step back.

"Come here, my lady." he said in a calm, even voice and seeing the sudden fright in her eyes added, "Please. Don't be afraid."

Arielle eyed him warily, but seeing no menace in his eyes, voice, or behavior, she slowly walked across the room to where he standing.

"My lady, you are in grave danger." he stated simply.

"What?"

"You can't stay here, my lady. It's not safe."

"Not safe? What are you talking about, Aldric? I'm perfectly safe here." Arielle countered.

Aldric sighed and looked at her closely. She noticed an innocent warmth spreading within his eyes.

"Do you trust me, my lady?" he asked, his tone a little quieter and friendlier.

Arielle looked at him, remembering the same words from a different place and person and finally nodded once. He took a step forward and lowered his voice to a whisper.

"You are not like the others."

"Others?"

"There is something good within you, my lady." he continued, ignoring her question, "This house... the people here are not what they appear to be."

"Aldric, what are you talking about?"

"You were right to suspect me as you did. There's an evil that lurks about this house, a shadow that follows the lord... There was a reason you were brought here, my lady. None of this is coincidence... You don't deserve this."

"Deserve what?"

"What is going on here?" Dorian's voice boomed from the doorway making Arielle jump.

"My lord," Aldric answered, turning towards the nobleman with a stoic expression and tone, "The lady complained of a broken window hinge and I came to repair it. When evening comes, the lady could catch a chill otherwise."

Dorian looked at them with suspicion, but decided to not press it any further when he saw that the hinge was truly broken.

"Come with me." he ordered the steward, turned on his heel, and stalked off.

The steward and the bard looked at each other for a moment, a new understanding forming between them.


Arielle sat in her chair at her table over her open journal and stared out the window into the darkness. The bard noticed that she somehow felt at one with it, she felt its emptiness. She sighed heavily.

In her eyes, Arielle wasn't beautiful, witty, or anything much in particular- she was painfully mediocre. She seemed to be nothing and no one more than her father's daughter. And even in that, she always seemed to be overlooked. Her father's wealth and position, although substantial, could always be trumped by someone else's. In the end, Arielle felt like she was being auctioned off by her family like a prize painting that no one wanted to look at. And her father made sure that Arielle knew that her failure in securing a good marriage was somehow her fault. She didn't have to be interested in stories and adventures, she didn't have to be so... different. That's why Dorian's proposal seemed like such a dream. It was exactly what anyone had ever wanted from her, it was everything she was expected to do. A shaky breath escaped her as the drowning, defiant, little spirit deep within her let out a rebel yell.

"Is it that bad?" Arielle heard from behind her and turned towards the voice in startled surprise.

"What... Who are you?" she stammered to the figure beside her.

A strange being surrounded in a faint light approached her and stood next to the table and gazed at her. A young, blond angel with crimson armor and dark green wings. With a determined face. With a fierce step. With a warm glow.

"I'm happy we could finally meet." the angel said, a serious yet warm smile crossing her face.

"Who are you? Are you... are you an angel?" Arielle asked in wonder.

"I am. I am your guardian angel, in fact."

"Mine?"

The angel nodded once.

"I... I didn't even think I had a guardian angel."

"I don't see why not. Especially you."

"Especially me?"

The angel studied her closely, her eyes narrowing slightly.

"Yes... You seem in need of a friend." the angel noted.

A light shadow floated over Arielle's face and she hung her head, staring at the floor.

"What is it that troubles you?" the angel asked, her gaze unmoving.

"Everything..." the bard whispered after a few moments of silence, "Why can't things be simple?..."

The angel chuckled warmly.

"All of Heaven is filled with complaints to God about why things have to be so difficult. But maybe it's not always the things that are complicated, but you who complicates them?

"How can I complicate anything," Arielle replied with knotted brows, "if it is God who set things before me?"

"Do you really think that all you encounter in this life is set before you by God?... Your decision to marry Dorian was your own, not God's."

"I asked for a husband and family."

"No, Arielle, you didn't." the angel countered, shaking her head, "Ever since you were little, you asked for love. The fact that of all the people you met, you saw that love in Dorian is your own doing."

"Even so, isn't love supposed to be found in a husband?"

"You're not listening." the angel asserted gently, "You asked for love. When God sends you that love, it doesn't have to be in the way you imagine it or want it to be. It will be given according to God's will and your plan and purpose."

The bard opened her mouth and then closed it, realizing that she really didn't know what to say.

"It's the decisions you make that form who you are." the angel continued.

Who am I then?  A daughter? A woman? A betrothed maiden? A bard? A Christian? A traveler? Am I all those things put together? Or am I none of those things at all?...

Arielle wrinkled her brows in deep thought and then let out a long breath when she came to no conclusion. The angel crossed her arms over her chest.

"Of all the things you listed, why didn't you mention being a friend?"

"If I was a friend to anyone then I wouldn't be in need of one now." Arielle pointed out.

"A valid point... if it was true."

Arielle looked at her with incomprehension.

"You still have a friend, Arielle..."

"No... I ruined it, discarding it like the morning slop..."

"Do you regret it?"

"What difference does it make? There is nothing I can do to change what happened." the bard answered, hanging her head.

"But you can change what will happen."

Arielle looked up at the angel whose gaze was intense yet very gentle at the same time.

"She is not the woman I thought I knew..." Arielle protested feebly.

"She is every part the woman you thought she was." the angel countered, "Arielle, you know well the power of words. They can make or break a person, yet everyone from the village idiot to the king can use them. Pay mind who speaks the words and not just to the words themselves."

Arielle furrowed her brows in deep thought, the angel's words sinking into her. But a nagging, little black voice within her kept raising its ugly head and repeating that there was nothing left to save.

"What's the use?... Eden would never forgive me... She probably hates me..."

"Well then maybe she is even more of the person than you thought she is."

"Angel, please, tell me what to do!" Arielle said desperately.

The blond angel only silently shook her head.

"Didn't you want to prove yourself and make your own decisions? Besides, you have a free will. I can advise you, but I won't tell you what to do. But I can tell you one thing. It's easy to make a decision. The difficult part is foreseeing the consequences... and living with them."

Arielle peered deep into the fantastic green-gold eyes of the angel.

"Be wary protector..." the angel said, slowly walking back to where she had come from and disappearing, "Words are the tool of man, to be used for good or evil."

"But how do I know?"

"Everyone can teach us a lesson. A warrior shows us the power of actions. The bard demonstrates that truth is found in the heart..."

"Wait! Don't go yet!" Arielle cried to the angel, but the angel had vanished.

A moment later the door flew open and Aldric peered inside nervously.

"My lady? Is everything alright?"

"Yes... Yes, Aldric..." she answered in a daze.

"I heard shouts from your chamber..."

"No... it's fine... Aldric... would you come in?"

"My lady?"

"Just for a moment."

Aldric entered the room and closed the door behind him quietly and waited somewhat nervously, wringing the edges of his tunic lightly with his hands.

"Aldric..." Arielle said quietly, slowing turning her eyes to him, "would you think me insane if I asked you if you believed in angels?"

"Well, no, no, my lady, not at all." he stammered, a little shocked with the strange question being asked in the middle of the night.

"Do you think angels are real?"

"I do, my lady. Why do you ask?"

"I guess sometimes I think myself insane." Arielle sighed heavily and sat on the edge of her bed.

"It's sometimes difficult to believe in the things we have faith in." Aldric said, hanging his head somewhat shyly, "Let me tell you a story about angels... if I may, my lady."

Aldric looked at the bard from under his brows, unsure of her response. She looked at him with interest and gave him a single nod after which he raised his head again and started out ahead of him.

"My lady..." Aldric started, trying to find the right words and then deciding to simply tell the story, "I lived in a small village not very far from Acre. One day, we were attacked by desert raiders. It was generally a bloody time of war and chaos... Many of the villagers were at home still, the sun had just began to rise... The raiders burned everything... and everyone inside..."

"I'm so sorry..." Arielle said, getting up and placing her hand gently on his shoulder.

"Only my mother and I were at home. She desperately tried to find somewhere to hide me... She told me to be good... and then she ran into the other room when part of the burning hovel collapsed on her..." he continued, sucking in a breath at the tragic memory, "I noticed Eden just when she looked at me, like she sensed I was there... She broke away from the bandits and galloped towards me and then ran into the burning hovel, scooped me up, and carried me out through the back. She walked a ways, then let me down, and crouched in front of me. She gave me all the food she had with her and a knife. She then drew a map in the sand of where I was to go. She told me to go to Acre... and to be good... And then she was gone..."

Arielle felt a tear roll down her cheek at the end of Aldric's tale. He turned his solemn gaze to Arielle.

"So you see, my lady, God works in mysterious ways. She was in the band that destroyed my home and family... but, in the end, instead of easily taking my life, she saved it, risking her own... That's the way I see it... And that's the closest I know of angels..."


Eden's stay with the Hospitallers was a quiet one. They weren't overly fond of the warrior; her acceptance was always a little more cordial amongst the more battle-oriented Templars. Nevertheless, they grudgingly accepted and tolerated her presence primarily for Lawrence's sake. He was very respected amongst the order and they decided that if Eden was Lawrence's good friend, then she couldn't be all evil. They knew she was a guardian, but approached the subject suspiciously since they suspected that she might have lost God's favor after all the things she had done as the desert death angel. Eden kept out of their way, not wanting to disturb or aggravate anyone unnecessarily, staying in a separate house with the rest of the sisters.

Eden mostly spent her time alone or with Lawrence. And there was also Helen. Helen was one of the several Hospitaller women living in the Hospitaller quarters. Lawrence had led Eden down to the kitchen one day and there they stumbled upon Helen who was vigorously stirring stew in a large cauldron over the fire.

"If Helen's making stew, then it will be the finest stew you've ever tasted." Lawrence said to Eden.

"Oh, Lawrence, you always know what to say to this old bag of bones." Helen replied with a slight blush on her face.

Eden looked at the woman. Helen was taller, stouter, and slightly older than the guardian, yet nothing near an old bag of bones. She had a calm and very happy presence around her, her voice warm and cheerful.

"Helen, this is my good friend Eden." Lawrence introduced.

"Oh! Oh..." Helen said, turning and recognizing Eden and then noticing her warrior dress, "Are you a Templar or something? I don't think I've heard of you."

"Excuse me?" Eden asked as her left eyebrow shot upwards in surprise while Lawrence did his best to stifle a laugh.

"Oh, don't mind me. I never seem to know the most important people or things. I guess it's part of working in the kitchen most of the day. Do you like the kitchen?"

Eden's other eyebrow shot up and she gazed in confused surprise at the Hospitaller woman. Helen was looking at her with wide, curiously innocent eyes that were expecting an answer. And soon Eden learned that Helen was always expecting an answer.

"The kitchen?" Eden barely repeated and Lawrence found a chair and sat down, snickering into his sleeve.

"Oh, I guess I have a certain soft spot for it, you see. There's always plenty to do and it's warm. Outside of the rush before mealtimes, it can even sometimes be quite comfortably quiet. Have you worked in a kitchen before?... Oh, silly me, of course you haven't. I can't imagine peeling potatoes with that blade, no... Oh, but then you must have great adventures if you're not stuck in the kitchen like me. You probably even know how to use that sword you have, right? Oh, and maybe you know how to ride a horse? Have you had many adventures? My husband is off on one right now most likely. Do you have a husband?"

Eden's hands unconsciously roamed around in back of her until they felt a sturdy table and she grabbed it and slowly sat down on the edge of it. Eden could safely say that she had never met anyone who had asked so many questions in so short a time. She slumped under Helen's wave and let out a faint moan of perplexed distress and her ears picked up Lawrence as he laughed almost soundlessly. Helen's eyes peered at the warrior in that constant anticipation of hers, blinking every so often innocently. Eden opened her mouth slightly, but no words dared venture out.

"Oh dear me," Helen said in sudden shock, brushing the front of her dress vigorously, "I've been rambling again, haven't I? Oh, I'm ever so sorry. All this talk centered around me and you're the new one here. Have you come to join the Hospitallers perhaps? That would be a grand thing; I would have someone to talk to. Maybe I could show you around? And get you a proper dress. I think you'll fit in quite nicely, don't you?"

"No." Eden replied bluntly, almost unable to take any more questions.

"Oh." Helen replied with some disappointment, but regaining her cheerfulness rather quickly, "Well, I can understand it would be a rather large change compared to what you might be used to. But everyone seems to find their place quite quickly; there's something here for everyone. What would you be interested in doing? Cooking? Cleaning? Caring for the sick? Of course, all of us pray. Do you pray often?"

Eden's mouth opened and closed faintly with words she wasn't able to say under the deluge. Lawrence finally stood, quite pleased with himself and walked up to Eden's side and to the rescue.

"Helen, Eden will be staying with us for a while as my guest. I somehow doubt she will join our Order, although maybe, after some time, she'll change her mind..."

"Oh, that would be lovely!" Helen squeaked, clasping her hands with delight, "Forgive my forwardness, but I believe we would make very good friends. We get along so well already, wouldn't you agree?... Oh dear me, the stew!"

Helen fluttered over to the stew while Lawrence led the still stunned warrior out of the kitchen. When the heavy kitchen door closed behind them, Eden let out a big sigh.

"So what do you think of Helen? Delightful, isn't she?" Lawrence asked, not hiding an amused grin.

"I don't think I've ever been asked so many questions in my entire life. Is she human?"

"Oh, Eden, be nice. She's a very kind person and good listener."

"Probably only when she's unconscious." Eden mumbled.

Helen was friendly, but maybe a little too friendly for Eden's taste. That kind of open kindness made the suspicious warrior even more suspicious and made her wonder if the given person wasn't perhaps up to something. Helen seemed to have no limits as to questions and topics of conversation while for Eden nearly everything was off limits except for the weather. I know someone who Helen would have really loved to meet.


It was Lawrence who came and told Eden about Arielle and Dorian's wedding announcement. There was no reaction on the warrior's face to the news, but he knew how much it hurt when he saw Eden discretely lean against the stone wall. She pressed the back of her head against the cool stone as Arielle's claim that 'it's not like that' began to echo in her head. Oh, Arielle... Leave me, never speak to me again, hate me even, but why would you marry Dorian? Please, don't...

Eden had said nothing and after a few moments, simply pushed off of the wall and walked away. Lawrence saw nothing of her for the rest of the day. He wanted to support her, but he also didn't want to crowd her, something that Eden found quite irritating. It was a pain she had to go over in her own mind and heart before she would even consider talking about it at all. It was the middle of the night in the middle of the cloister that turned out to be Eden's time to talk.

"I had a feeling I might find you here." Lawrence said warmly, emerging from the shadows, "Some things never change."

He remembered when they were still children and Eden would worry about or think about things, she would often not be able to sleep, roaming the fields in the moonlight not far from his house. He would sometimes join her and they would talk. Sometimes they would keep silent.

"I'm becoming predictable." Eden replied.

"Not necessarily a bad thing." he noted, stopping next to her and leaning against the stone wall.

"Where did I go wrong, Lawrence?" Eden asked quietly after some time, gazing out into the night, "I started to think that maybe... maybe I got a second chance... a way to change things... And now... I was foolish I guess..."

"They say 'ask and you shall be answered'. Though it rarely is the answer we want."

"Well, I'm a little tired of asking and being completely ignored."

"Well, if you don't ask at all, then why would you be surprised no one listens?"

Eden gave him an almost offended look.

"God isn't going to run after you asking if there's anything He can do for you, Eden. But He is watching what you do with the things you've been given."

Eden turned her gaze back across the cloister and chewed on the inside of her lip in thought, her heart and mind hacking away at themselves in their never-ending battles within the guardian.

"You know, I really hate it when you get all philosophical in the middle of the night." Eden finally answered with a slightly defeated sigh.

"Oh, really? Why?" he asked with a warm chuckle.

"Because it's when you actually make some sense. What's worse, you're usually right."

"Oh, an Achilles' heel if I ever saw one."

Eden nodded lightly and some time of silence feel upon them again.

"As boastful as it may sound, it's hard being the strongest person you know." the guardian said.

"Well, you can always lean on me, you know that." the Hospitaller said quietly, reaching his hand out, wrapping it around the warrior's shoulders and pulling her in gently.

"What happens if you can't carry my weight?" she murmured, leaning against him and wrapping her arm around his back.

"Well, that's why I'm leaning against the wall." he whispered, a smile stretching across his face.

Eden snorted lightly and they enjoyed the quiet night for a while.

"Eden, forgive me for this," Lawrence started quietly and cautiously, "but... I just don't know if she is worth your pain... I can't see anything after this."

"I know only two things," Eden started after a few moments, "the first is that this is where the road leads. And that, in the end, I don't matter."

Lawrence hung his head a little and rested it against Eden's.

"We all matter." he whispered.

Eden patted his back, but said nothing. She felt something pulling at her, like an invisible hand of fate that was pushing her down the road she was to go. She didn't think about it or debate over it; it was stronger than she was. So, having nothing else to do and nowhere else to go and very little strength to battle against God again, she decided to simply let everything run its course.

"I could-" Lawrence started.

"What was done, shall be done." Eden said very quietly.

Lawrence had learned that Eden's short philosophical statements never meant any good, especially for her, and he tightened his embrace.


Dorian planned the celebration of the announcement of their intent to marry with all the pomp and splendor he could come up with. He sent messengers to all the people of position, wealth, and title that he could think of with invitations to the gathering. Cooks, servants, and even the manor's guards were running back and forth getting everything ready, cleaning, arranging, decorating.

The bard felt uncomfortable with the display. It seemed to her that it was all more of a manifestation of his influence in the city than of his love for Arielle. No one asked her for her ideas or suggestions; she was simply left to observe the preparations. After a few hours, Dorian found her and told her what the celebration was supposed to look like. He listed the people invited, the planned entertainment, the order of meals. The longest of his instructions concerned Arielle- how she was to dress, behave, and what she was supposed to say. The bard looked at him as if she didn't quite understand what he meant by giving her a list of orders and not once asking what she thought or wanted. She took a deep breath and somewhat reluctantly decided to take a stand on one point.

"The challenge... could we perhaps do without it?" Arielle asked timidly.

Dorian glared at her and Arielle swallowed hard.

"We? It's not a challenge against us, but against me. So I'll decide if you don't mind."

"But Dorian, why can't it be a pleasant celebration?"

"What's so unpleasant about it?"

"The violence is unnecessary."

"The only thing unnecessary at the moment," Dorian began to growl, leaning into Arielle's face, "is your opinion, which I don't remember asking for. Just abide by my instructions and everything will be fine. Don't and... well, the challenge will probably be the least of your worries. Understand?"

Arielle nodded silently and took a step back as Dorian smirked coldly and turned to leave.

Arielle plodded off to her chambers where she spent the rest of the day pretending that none of it was really happening and that she was simply looking at everything childishly. She was an adult and life wasn't a story. She tried to convince herself that she could still be happy in the end, she just needed to keep faith.

Aldric had come by to announce that the celebrations would start soon and had her clothes brought in. They had never been able to finish their previous conversation; Dorian and his guards seemed to be keeping much better track of both of their whereabouts since that day. The blond sighed heavily and began to change. As she laced her dark blue dress, she realized how much she really didn't want to attend her own celebration. She simply didn't feel like celebrating. But something within her nudged her forward, telling her that she should go. Faith.

Once dressed in everything she was sent, Arielle left her chambers and made her way to the stairs. There Dorian was waiting for her and she could see a rather numerous crowd had already gathered in the entrance hall. Their dress and air told Arielle that there was no one there who was in any way beneath Dorian. The bard saw rich fabrics, intricate designs, exotic accessories, but not a single friendly face. It definitely was, she mused, her father's kind of crowd.

"Why not relax, my dearest, and enjoy the celebration. They are, after all, celebrating your good fortune." Dorian smirked after he let Arielle come to him.

"If they only knew what fortune I truly have." Arielle said in a quiet bitterness.

"Ah, a sentiment that everyone finds themselves saying at least once in their life. I guess this is your time." he quipped, deflecting the comment.

"Please, Dorian, please don't have a duel in my name." the bard nearly pleaded, "I would never ask for violence. It goes against everything I believe in."

"You can't seem to understand," Dorian replied, taking Arielle's hands in his strong ones and squeezing them more than was necessary, "that you are in no position to tell me what to do. Nor does it interest me. You will be my wife, not the other way around. And the faster you learn that little lesson, the less painful it will be."

Arielle clamped her jaw as his fingers dug into her palms. He gave her a self-satisfied grin and menacing glare and then turned to the crowd with a smile.

"As my family tradition demands, on this night, on the eve of my marriage, I challenge anyone who deems me unworthy of this maiden to a duel. Pray, who will defy me?!" he shouted and the crowd cheered.

Arielle felt lost and alone. She was in a manor full of people who would never stand up for her even if she was being held at the point of Dorian's sword. It made her feel more trapped than she ever had felt and it was demeaning and shaming. She wanted to be free and soar and now she had her wings clipped and was being treated like a prize in some half-rate competition. The idea infuriated a part of her, but her heavy heart only sighed in defeat, knowing that she had foolishly brought in on herself. She saw no way out anyway.

"Just as I presumed. There are no-" Dorian started arrogantly, turning to the sad bard, but then stopped and turned back to the crowd.

A silent, dark gray knight had appeared from out of the crowd and stood in the middle of the hall, fully armed, sword drawn, patiently waiting.

"Do you challenge me, strange knight?" Dorian asked in surprise.

The knight nodded.

"What is your name?"

No answer.

"You say nothing, you have no markings or banner. And you expect me to duel with you? And for her?" Dorian asked mockingly and the knight saw the bard's face drop at the mention of her.

The knight still said nothing, but pointed at Dorian with raised sword. Then the captivated crowd watched the sword being swung and thrust in all kinds of directions only to end up pointed at Dorian again.

"No one will mock me in my own home!" Dorian roared and snapped for his squire and servants who busily readied and suited him.

Once he was ready, he put on his helmet and stood across from the gray knight. They saluted each other and began to duel furiously, but it was rather easy to see that Dorian was no match for the gray knight. The manor filled with the gasps of ladies, cheers of men, and the sharp clangs of the two swords. Dorian finally ended up on the floor, on his back, the gray knight's sword at his throat and a mailed foot on his chest. Dorian raised his hands in concession and after what seemed like a moment's hesitation, the knight backed off. From the beginning, Arielle wondered who the knight was that had fought so well and who would want to risk humiliation or even their life for her. When the dark gray knight turned around and started putting the sword back in its plain sheath, Dorian got to his feet quickly and angrily dusted off his hands.

"Seize him!" Dorian cried and all the guards in the vicinity threw themselves on the knight.

The gray knight didn't resist much, covered in a swarm of angry guards and was pushed and dragged into Dorian's presence.

"Now we will see who was foolish enough to challenge me." he said and roughly pulled the helmet off, gasping with the rest of the astonished crowd.

"You mean who defeated you in a fair fight." Eden said, staring at him coldly, a sarcastic grin on her face.

Arielle felt her heart stop and soar at the same time, her stomach dropping and her legs beginning to shake. She placed her hand against on the stone railing to support herself for fear of fainting.

"You..." Dorian snarled viciously, "You really thought you could win?"

"You really thought that you could just take her?"

"And now what?" Dorian cried with laughter, throwing his arms into the air, "You're not strolling out of her with her on your arm. Are you going to pummel me with your bare fists now? Is that your great plan?"

The crowd rippled with arrogant snorts, but the warrior's face betrayed no emotion.

"Oh no, Dorian. You're much too delicate for that." Eden drawled.

A small murmur of chuckles now rolled through the crowd and Dorian grew red with fury. He took two large steps towards the warrior and backhanded her in the face.

"You vagabond! You alley scum! I have a very grand plan for you, you reckless wench." he snarled and then leaned in and hissed into her ear, "I was hoping you would come, you pathetic slop."

"I know, you thick-witted bastard." Eden hissed in reply.

Dorian took a couple of steps back and motioned for the guards to take her away. He turned on his heel and returned his attention to his guests and began to usher them all into the dining hall, laughing the whole situation off. In the meantime, Arielle had made her way down the stairs and through the crowd to where Eden was. When Dorian had already walked off and the guards began to pull Eden away, the bard broke away from the crowd and told the main guard to stop.

"My lady?" he asked in gruff confusion.

Arielle ignored him and instead let her gaze rest on the guardian who couldn't seem to look at her. There was a tempest of emotions raging through her heart and chest, making it hard to think and breathe. She couldn't believe Eden was there, that she had come back, that she had fought... all for the bard.

"Eden..." she whispered in fear that what she was saying wasn't true, wanting to raise her hand and stroke the warrior's cheek to prove she was real, "did you... come back... for... for me?..."

There was too much to say. There was too much to explain. And there was the fact that she might not live to prove any of it. So Eden only raised her eyes to met the bard's. Her gaze told the bard all the words that the warrior couldn't say and Arielle could feel a lump rising in her throat as she began to see the answer to her question. The guards finally grew impatient and grabbed Eden roughly, pulling her away and down the corridor before Arielle could do or say anything more. The bard watched the warrior growing distant and wondered for a moment why Eden wasn't struggling or putting up a fight. She could have easily taken down everyone in that manor. Why are you going so willingly?...

Arielle stood like a pillar, her feet frozen to the floor, watching Eden finally fade from view. She felt so empty that she could almost swear that her heartbeat echoed in the hollow confines of her chest. And even after the guardian had disappeared, she still stood there almost as if she was waiting for Eden to come back.

"Where are they taking her?" Arielle asked quietly, feeling her steward standing behind her.

"To the dungeons. My lord has his own..." Aldric answered just as quietly.

A heavy silence hung over them.

"I'm... I'm very sorry, my lady." Aldric whispered.

"So am I." she whispered back.


"Come, my sweet," Dorian coaxed with feigned care, "tell us all a story."

He led the bard by the hand to the middle of the dining hall, in front of the tables where she could be heard and seen by everyone. She faced the Marshall and Chaplain of Jerusalem and the king's brother. Arielle curtsied and they all gave a faint, single nod of recognition. She gave the whole room a slightly nervous scan and noticed that most of the looks she was getting were at the utmost neutral. She swallowed hard. She flipped through the stories in her mind only to notice with increasing anxiety that not a single story came to mind. Not a single suitable story, that is.

Before the dinner began, Dorian had told that he would want her to perform so that she could show that she had at least something near a talent other than having fair hair. But he had warned with a hiss in her ear that she wasn't to talk about anything that had to do with Eden. A slightly throbbing bruise on her upper arm reminded her of that warning. There was the story of the jinn, the torrential rain, the gray guardian, the fight with the Turks, and all the Zauba'a tales. There was also the story of running through dandelions, racing along the shore, learning to swim, and being pulled from Death's grasp. A heaviness filled Arielle's heart and she realized something that horrified her to the core. Eden was gone and she had taken her stories, her real, true stories with her.

"Go on, dear," Dorian persisted, barely holding his temper, "Our distinguished guests are waiting and you seem to think that this celebration is going to last forever."

A few murmured chuckles arose among the guests. Arielle swallowed a lump in her throat, took a breath, and began to tell a story. She told it despite not feeling it at all, despite her friend being held somewhere under the floor against her will, despite wanting to run away as far as she possibly could. She caught the dark vengeance in Dorian's eyes when she recounted the night the supposed Saracens attacked them in the desert. But the menace faded when he realized that Arielle had eliminated Eden from the story and made Dorian the brave hero. He gave her a cold grin. I'm sorry, Eden...

Chapter Text

"I know you are unhappy, my dearest," Dorian said to Arielle, standing in her doorway, "but believe me that what I did had to be done."

Arielle said nothing. Eden had been taken away three days ago. Arielle wasn't allowed to see her nor did she know how she was doing or even what exactly she was being held for. All she had been told was that there would be a trial.

Dorian suddenly sighed and stepped into the bard's chambers and dropped heavily into a chair opposite the bed Arielle was sitting on.

"I know that that woman was your friend. Perhaps I could tell you my grievances against her and you will see your friend for who she really is. Maybe then you'll know what a waste it is to spill any tear over her."

Arielle looked at the nobleman with interest which he took as a good moment to begin his story. He folded his hands and rested his elbows on his knees, taking a deep breath.

"I come from Venetia. My father was a rich merchant. He had a large fleet and traded with various regions in both Europe and the Levant. My mother was a beautiful and fair woman, the envy of half the republic. My older brother, a kind and quiet man, was already learning our father's trade. Despite the superficiality of how it sounds, we really were a happy family and my parents loved each other very much... I met Eden and her father one day. He had come to the port city to teach Eden in the ways of his trade though how a woman can be a prosperous merchant is beyond me. Nevertheless, though their stay was short, it was quite... intense."

Arielle knotted her brows at him and he smiled and shook his head at her.

"Eden destroyed my family. We were all together and happy and then your friend appeared and sent it all to hell."

"How did she do that?" the bard asked with startled surprise.

"Her father was a charming, but conniving bastard and his daughter takes much after him in that respect. He seduced my mother whom he had met when my father asked Eden and her father over for dinner one evening. My mother grew distraught with guilt and shame. Soon she grew weaker, paler, and finally died with bastard child. My father was devastated and grew reserved and gloomy. He would lock himself in his study for days on end, never leaving or talking to a soul. One afternoon, my brother found him hanging from a rope in that study. We couldn't stay in that house with so many painful memories, so we decided to settle somewhere else and start over. Yet, one morning I awoke to find my brother gone and a simple note left behind. He had left to become a warrior in some lands far to the north. My brother... a warrior... when he had never held a sword in his hands. I never heard from him again; I don't even know if he is alive. I took what I could of my inheritance and came here and started anew and alone. But I never forgot my family. With each death, I swore more solemnly that I would find the De Santi that destroyed my family... But fate is sometimes cruel and took Eden's father away from me before I had the opportunity to fufill my promise. But Eden is left. And Eden will pay the price."

Arielle looked at him in something between compassion and apprehension. She could understand that he would feel great bitterness and pain over the loss of his family, but she didn't quite feel that Eden should be blamed. And Dorian saw that in her face.

"You really don't see it, do you, you innocent thing? I didn't either, but I certainly do now. She is a snake like the one that tempted Eve and brought the downfall of man. Her father was no great mind or courageous soul. I remember all the sweet evils she would constantly whisper into his ear and that he would take heed of and act upon. My opinion of her aside, she is no idiot. And you know the piercing gaze I speak of, pinning her prey in place just before she strikes. No one receives even half of the dark reputation she carries by being kind and honorable. No, she is far from those things."

Dorian looked straight into Arielle's eyes and locked her gaze with his.

"She must pay for her crimes, Arielle." he stated in a low, slow voice that sounded as if Death was passing judgment, "I know it hurts you, but she hurt me too. She must be punished so that I may finally stop carrying this ugly cross on my shoulders, so that I may finally find peace in this life. I only want my lungs to breathe and my soul to fly one day. But that day will never come if Eden continues to walk the earth as if she was far from any sin."

And then something appeared in the bard again, that strange conviction that everyone should be happy, even if at her expense. It was the lesson that her father had drove into her with screams and her mother with tears and it was the only lesson she had ever known. It fused with her simplistic black and white view on life that she cultivated in her sheltered existence. Yes, Eden had done much for her, but the warrior had also done much against others and sins were meant to be punished and only good deeds rewarded. This was going to be her good deed for Dorian.

Arielle walked over to the crumpled nobleman and kneeled next to him, placing her hand gently on his arm. She thought that his experience must have been awful for him to turn the usually confident and brash noble into the defeated man sitting slumped in her chair.

"I understand." she said quietly.

"I knew you would." he replied, looking up at her.

He pulled her into an embrace. Arielle had longed for his arms, he had been so cold and distant since his proposal, but now the bard thought she knew why. He wrapped his arms around her. She felt something like never before- she felt like she had been wrapped in ice. She had thought she would feel warm, protected, and happy. Instead she felt like she was dying, the life slowly draining from her. It was something so very different from Eden's embrace. He thankfully broke away quickly, gave her a chaste kiss on the lips, said he had affairs to attend to, and left Arielle alone in her chambers. She looked out through the doorway and listened to his fading footsteps with a slight shiver traveling up and down her spine. I would be afraid to fall asleep in those arms for fear that I should never wake up again.


There was a great noise in the trial hall that stood quite near Dorian's manor. Rows of benches were situated on either side of the walls and filled with men and women of several different statures, families, and occupations, but all in a gossiping frenzy. At one end of the room at the top of a few small steps, there was a massive table and chairs set up where the council awaited for the prisoner. There were two men of the clergy, one representative of Venetia and a representative of Jerusalem. And in the middle of it all waited a space for the prisoner. Arielle couldn't shake the feeling that those who stood there before the council never left as free men.

The bard was sitting amongst the crowd. Dorian had wanted her there against all of her wishes, stating that a wife was to support her husband in his difficulties. When she wouldn't agree, he simply grabbed her by the arm and dragged her there by force. Dorian sat up straight, quite proud of himself, leaning over every once in a while to exchange remarks or comments with the surrounding onlookers. Arielle only wished she could invisible for that day.

The noise died down to almost a complete silence when the heavy side door creaked open and a restrained woman was escorted in by two guards. The enormous hall which could probably fit three times as many people as there were there now suddenly became stuffy and claustrophobic to Arielle. They led Eden to her place in front of the council's table and then took several paces to either side. All of Eden's armor was gone and she stood only in her black pants and boots and sandy tunic. Despite the heavy chains and shackles around her ankles and wrists, Eden stood with the same air she always did- the determined warrior who would not bow to anyone. And somewhere deep down in her heart, Arielle felt a prick of pride in the guardian.

The council member from the Kingdom of Jerusalem stood and raised his hand, demanding silence.

"I am Chancellor Randolf. I preside here in the stead of King Baldwin III of Jerusalem." he announced to everyone present, "We are gathered here in the case of Eden of Florentia, daughter of the De Santi family, who is accused of conspiracy against the Paymon family, namely murder. Furthermore, she is accused of being a demon, acts against innocent Christians and the Holy Mother Church, and of spreading heresy. Lastly, she is accused of countless crimes against the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, namely raiding, pillaging, and murder. Do you understand the charges being put forth against you?"

"I do." Eden answered in a low, calm voice.

"And how do you plead?"

"I never plead."

A shocked gasp rippled through the room at the answer and the Chancellor gave an offended look at the warrior who retained her stoic mask. He raised his hands into the air and called for silence and then slowly sat back down, glaring at Eden with disgust and contempt.

The guardian looked at her judges all coldly staring at her with a verdict already in mind. Eden knew that she had next to no chance of leaving the trial as an innocent woman and escaping death by flame. But she also knew what Dorian was really after and she kept herself focused on that thought. She knew that the trial shouldn't have been public, that she should have been given the chance to repent, that she should have been given time to arrange some sort of defense. But it was not about Dorian punishing her, he wanted to humiliate her and publicly destroy her so that even if she was by some miracle found innocent, she would want to die of shame and ridicule anyway. Eden decided to at least make it easier on herself and let the old feeling of loss and emptiness slowly creep up within her like a rising tide. It had not been all that long ago that her life had meant nothing to her anymore, but before she fulfilled her resolution, Arielle appeared and stood in her way. But now...

The bishop now stood. He was a tall and rather magnificently adorned man with a large belly and he discretely leaned on his crozier when standing.

"You are accused of heresy and speaking false evils against Holy Mother Church. One of Jerusalem's most upstanding citizens as well as several other witnesses can attest to this fact. What say you?"

Eden glared at him in all his pomp and glory.

"You can try me for my crimes against this kingdom. But none other than God may judge me for any crimes against Him."

The bishop ignored the murmur of the crowd.

"Maiden, you do realize that I have the holy right to judge you in the name of the Lord?"

"Your Excellency, you gave that holy right to yourself."

The bishop looked at her with offended, wide eyes and his face grew red in anger.

"If you have nothing to say apart from blasphemy, then maybe others will say it for you." he spat.

The bishop sat and began to read a long list of testimonies given by a great variety of people, both clergy and laymen that demonstrated Eden's wickedness. They claimed that Eden was a demon, a shape shifter, a witch. Eden ransacked and stole from churches, called on the death of clergy, defiled the Eucharist, and had on more than one occasion affronted the cross, claiming that there was no God. Somewhere in the middle of the testimonies, even Eden's conversation with Dorian in the desert about the true word of God appeared, causing Eden to shake her head slightly and Arielle to frown. The accusations seemed to drip from the bishop's lips like honey, so pleased he seemed to be burying Eden word by word. A long while later, the bishop finally finished and placed the list down.

"These Christians have given account of your blasphemous deeds under holy oath and the knowing eye of the Church. What say you now?"

"Nothing."

"So you refer to the judgment of the Church for all you have said and done?"

"I refer to God's judgment."

"Do you not serve the Church?"

"I serve God."

"Are they not the same?"

"No."

A loud gasp circled the hall mixed with a few cries of 'Blasphemy!', 'Heretic!', and 'Witch!'

The bishop unconsciously smiled, licked his lips, and looked at the rest of the council members in turn. He couldn't believe his good luck, it almost seemed that Eden was doing everything humanly possible to tie herself to the stake and light it. The council members returned similar smiles and looked back at the guardian with cruel amusement.

Yet Arielle also noticed a curious figure amongst the council judges. One of the clergy was an elderly priest, dressed in a plain, brown, hooded robe, tied across the middle with a thick, white string. He sat quietly, scrupulously observing all of the proceedings. He had said nothing, but had also exchanged no glances with the rest of the members. He seemed transfixed on the warrior, gazing at her for long periods as he rested his chin on his folded hands and seemed to lose himself deep in thought. Arielle wondered if this was some clever plot or if Eden actually had a friend amongst the judges.

The priest abruptly stood and raised his hand to silence the crowd. Everyone, including the council members, looked at him with curious surprise as if they had only then noticed he was even there.

"Do you consider yourself a Christian?" he asked Eden in a calm, objective tone.

"I do."

"Were you baptized?"

"I was."

"And do you consider yourself a part of the Church?"

"I am a part of the Church as much as it is a part of me."

"But you will not refer to the Church."

"I answered that already."

The priest sighed, knotted his brows and moved away from the large table and slowly made his way towards Eden. The guardian eyed him nervously, not knowing what he wanted, but having a deep, internal feeling that he wanted to help. The council members watched the two of them closely.

"It is your soul on trial now more than anything else." the priest explained calmly, "The sick man cannot go to the physician to ask to be healed since he is bedridden. So instead of asking for referral, perhaps the Church should take pity over it's own sick child."

Nearly everyone looked at him in confusion, most of all Eden. The priest now stood in front of the warrior, his arms crossed over his chest and hidden in his large sleeves.

"Do not refer to the Church now if you so feel. Yet the sickness must be cured, the soul redeemed. We summon you and beseech you to take heed of his Excellency the bishop and my own words and believe that the counsel that we give you is for the salvation of your soul. What is done cannot be undone, but the fate of your eternal soul rests in your hands now. If you consider yourself a Christian then why add to the ranks of Satan and be damned forever when you can simply repent and find peace in the Lord? All you need to do is confess before the Church that you have gravely sinned."

Eden felt moved by his speech. There was a warmth in the priest's face and a pleading in his words. But she knew that mere words wouldn't help her now.

"No."

"Repent!" the priest cried and flung himself on the warrior, grabbing her by the shoulders.

The whole hall burst into an uproar, so much so that no one really noticed the pair's exchange amongst the noise and agitation.

"What are you doing?" the priest whispered in her ear, "Forgo your stubborn pride."

"I'm not driven by selfishness." Eden whispered back and the priest knotted his brows.

"I am trying to save you." he implored.

"I can't be saved."

He pulled away and looked into the eyes of a woman who already felt Death's cold breath on her neck. Eden's eyes dashed to the side and the priest subtly followed them, settling his gaze on the nervous bard. He then saw Dorian's cold eyes meet his own and watched as the noble drew an arm around the blond's shoulders, pulling her closer to him with a savage grin on his face. The priest sighed heavily in understanding and turned back to Eden, his eyes sad.

"I'm sorry." he whispered.

"Don't be. You were a friend." she replied and hearing the crowd quiet down, raised her voice to complete the show, "Whatever may happen to me, may it be the Lord's doing!"

The priest retreated back to his seat, his shoulders slumped and his face defeated. He stood behind the table and looked at Eden.

"If you refuse to submit to the counsel of the Church," he said wearily, as if he had suddenly aged 20 years, "then there is nothing more I can do for you."

"Pray for me, Father." Eden said quietly, more out of compassion for the priest than her own desire.

"Prayer is reserved for those who need it, wish it, and benefit from it." the bishop interjected arrogantly, "As you refuse the help of the Church, so it will now refuse you."

The priest swiveled to look at the bishop with petrified astonishment. He moved to say something, but then decided against it. He now understood what Eden meant about not being able to be saved. And he also realized that he seemed to be the only one that was not impatiently waiting to turn Eden into ashes.

"Take her away." the Chancellor ordered and then slowly walked out of the room and hissed when passing the priest, "I'd be much more careful, old priest."

The two guards walked up to Eden and gruffly took her by the arms and began to lead her back to her cell. Eden scanned the crowd in search of the bard. She spotted her and seeing that Dorian had left Arielle's side, Eden broke away quickly and rattled up to the blond.

"Arielle, you have to get out of here. You're in grave danger." Eden said quickly.

"What danger?" asked the bard, looking at her questioningly.

"There's evil here, I can sense it. A demon..."

"A demon?"

"Please believe me." Eden urged, continually trying to shrug off the guards that had come back for her.

"Believe you? How could I if you haven't told me the truth?"

"I never lied to you." Eden stated proudly, "I just kept things in the shadows where I thought they belonged."

"Dorian told me what you and your father did to his family... Tell me, are you guilty of all these crimes?" Arielle asked in a desperate desire to make everything simple and finally go away.

"Ask yourself that question." Eden replied quietly, the hurt of the question obvious on her face.

Before either had a chance to say anything more, the guards finally grabbed Eden roughly and pushed her out of the hall, spitting curses at her along the way.


Eden heard Dorian storming into the dungeon before she saw him. He barked at the guard to open the door and stomped in while the guard lit a torch inside Eden's cell and promptly left. Eden had played this situation over and over in her mind, analyzing the best way to approach the arrogant noble in order to get the information she needed. She couldn't help but chuckle to herself when she remembered her conversation with Gabriel. Since I'm so good at sinning, then I might as well put that to good use.

"Oh, I must admit you are a clever one." Dorian hissed furiously, pacing the cell, "I saw you. You played your hand ever so well. As my intentions of marriage have been made public, it would be difficult to get rid of my sweet, little wife-to-be now..."

"Oh, did I ruin your plans? I'm so sorry." Eden retorted sarcastically.

"There's nothing to be sorry for, you conniving, little whore." Dorian snarled, stopping and glaring straight into her face, "because there is absolutely no difficulty in getting rid of you."

"Haven't I heard that before." Eden said with a roll of her eyes.

"Do you think that this all some sort of a game? I have forces you couldn't dream of."

"Forces, you say? Well, then, I can assure you that if I had my armor on, I'd be shaking in it right now."

"Silence!" he roared angrily and backhanded the warrior who nevertheless stood her ground, "I have legions that will stretch farther than you will ever see!"

"Sounds lovely," Eden continued to quip, intentionally getting on the noble's proud nerves, "especially when I see your little wife-to-be leading them all. I have to admit, Arielle does look rather good in armor."

Eden saw the absolute hate he had for her in his eyes. He was nearly foaming at the mouth in rabid disgust and he clenched and unclenched his fists unconsciously.

"Arielle?! Why in the world would that pathetic blond be anywhere near me or my forces?! I want nothing to do with that dim-witted basket of giddiness. It was you I was after and she was the best way to you." he hissed.

"It's alright. I understand that you're just jealous that she would make a better commander than you."

"How could she?! She's a pitiful woman!"

"Exactly. Hurts, doesn't it?"

Dorian yelled and punched Eden in the stomach, making her double over.

"A little sensitive, aren't we?" she coughed out.

Eden sighed internally. And so her plan had worked. She had suspected that he was really after her all along, but had to make sure. And now his blinding hate for her would turn his attention away from the bard and give the blond her chance to escape unharmed. Now she only needed someone to help Arielle get away before Dorian concocted some evil ideas against her too, but she began to think that the priest might be just the person she was looking for. And that was all Eden had come back to do.

"I want to watch you burn and hear you scream until you turn into nothing more than a pile of ashes! And then I will gather them and throw them to the four winds so that you never find peace nor your God!" Dorian howled, his face red with anger.

Eden gave him no other response than a stoic expression. And that expression remained when Dorian called for three guards to enter the cell and all of them began to beat her at the noble's command. Then her expression turned to that of pain and also resilience to not utter a sound of agony. And from the minute the clubs began to hit her to the moment the men finally left her a bloodied and battered mass on the floor, Eden thought of nothing else than Arielle. If I am to die now, may at least one moment of my pathetic existence finally be worth something.

When they were gone, all that was left was the echo of Eden's ragged breathing. And there in that corner, in the middle of a horrid night, Eden clasped her trembling hands together.

"De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine. (From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.)" she whispered and closed her eyes, exhausted.

Arielle tossed and turned in her sleep that night, dreaming she was locked in a cage and being prodded from the outside by laughing men with spears. She awoke before dawn, strangely frightened and with a fever.


The second day of questioning came and the whole hall broke into a frenzy when the accused was called forward and Eden was dragged in by two guards. She hung almost limply between them, hanging off of their arms, her legs hardly moving fast enough. When they stopped in front of the council, one of the guards roughly flung her down.

"Kneel, canis (dog)." he growled at her.

But Eden used all her strength to get off of her knees and stand.

"I kneel before no one but God." she announced shakily yet proudly, teetering on her trembling legs, half hunched over.

"What is the meaning of this?!" the priest cried out.

He rose from his seat and quickly made his way to Eden. He put his arms around her, supporting her and she leaned against him somewhat, hardly able to support her own weight.

"Bring her a chair!" the priest ordered.

The people in the crowd looked around at each other, each hoping that the other would do something. Finally, a young page made his way through the crowd with a chair. He placed it in back of Eden when the bishop stood.

"This woman is accused of heinous crimes against this kingdom and our Lord Savior. She deserves no gentle treatment."

"Christ ate with vagabonds and prostitutes. He was crucified with murderers and thieves." the priest deflected, turning to look at the bishop while helping Eden sit down, "Didn't our Lord say 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'? Where is the error in simple Christian compassion?"

"This woman is a heretic!" the bishop countered fiercely.

"That has yet to be proven." the priest replied.

The bishop glared at him with fervent displeasure, scowled, and sat back down as the priest returned his attention to the guardian. She sat slumped in the chair, leaning on the arm rest. Her whole body ached and she wanted nothing more than to lie down and perhaps never get up again, but she was determined to brave the trial as best she could. The priest wanted to check how she was and began to think about how to postpone the trial for at least a day.

"Go." Eden whispered as she was reading his thoughts.

"Someone must tend to you." he countered.

"Save yourself." Eden ordered in a shaky murmur and seeing the priest's pleading look added, "Please."

The priest sighed heavily and hung his head. He slowly, yet unwillingly turned away from Eden and returned to his spot at the council's table. He folded his hands and, unable to look at Eden, rested his forehead against his knuckles and began to silently pray.

The Venetian stood and raised his hand in a request for silence.

"Eden of Florentia, you have been accused of grievous wrongdoings towards the Paymon family." he explained in a rich accent, "Yet due to the private nature of the given crimes and in an attempt to protect the good name of Paymon, yesterday evening your crimes were made known to you and you were questioned and gave testimony in the presence of two citizens of Venetia including myself and also the accuser, Dorian Paymon. Your testimony was noted and shall be made known to this council before sentence on you is passed. Venetia has no further qualms against you in this trial."

Eden said nothing and the Venetian sat back down. Then Chancellor Randolf stood and began his questioning of Eden in the name of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

"Do you admit to raiding, pillaging and murdering innocents in desert villages and towns as well as pilgrim trains, escorted or not?" he thundered in the hall, reading from a paper.

"I admit to raiding and pillaging, but I killed no innocents." Eden answered as strongly as she could.

"Why do I think you're lying?" he chuckled with contempt.

"Honestly, I don't care what you think." Eden spat out weakly.

"Well, you should. You'll go straight to Hell for your crimes and lack of repentance."

"Well then why do I think I'll find you burning down there along with me for this farce?"

"You insolent, blasphemous-"

"Do not say something that might be deemed... beneath you, Chancellor." the priest suddenly interrupted, raising his head.

The Chancellor glared at the priest, huffed loudly, and then returned his attention to Eden.

"We have testimony to you murdering Christians at the request of Saracens."

"That would mean those witnesses were there with the Saracens and so are as guilty as I presumably am."

"We have testimony to you murdering innocent men and women as well as armed men posing no threat." the Chancellor continued, his voice becoming angrier as the warrior deflected his questions, "You killed Templars and Hospitallers who were defending pilgrim or merchant trains in the name of the Lord. There is also testimony of you killing children-"

"I have never killed a child!" Eden howled in pained anger and then slumped in the exertion it took and breathed heavily as her cry echoed through the hall.

"That's only what you say and your word doesn't seem to be worth much."

"Words, noble Chancellor, are rarely ever worth much."

A mumbled shock spread about the hall again. Randolf waited until it quieted down.

"Are you the one who fought under the banner of the warlord Karas?"

"Karas didn't have a banner."

"But you did fight under his command, isn't that true?"

"I fought alongside him." Eden admitted unwillingly.

Randolf took a deep breath and folded his arms over his chest, letting the silence fall and the tension in the hall rise.

"Are you the one who was called Zauba'a by desert dwellers and infidels and known as the Black Watcher in the West?" he asked loudly with a vicious smile and when Eden was quiet he added, "Answer the question!"

"I was... once." she admitted quietly.

A large wave of shock ran through the hall and the warrior made the painful realization that her past would now tangibly follow her wherever she went and to the end of her days. Death suddenly seemed a much more peaceful option.

"You were given the right to speak for yourself and admit your wrongs. Now may others speak of what they saw." the Chancellor announced haughtily.

Randolf motioned to the guards standing by the doors and one by one, witnesses attesting to Eden's heresies trickled into the hall to give their testimony and then quickly leave. They seemed to stream in from far and wide as if it was a great festival they came for. They swore on the Bible that Eden did all the things she was accused of and more. Eden said nothing about either the truths or untruths that were said about her. She tried to block out the verbal and physical pain by letting her mind wander to daydreams of walking through forests of dark green, soft moss underneath and babbling rivers close by. The birds sang and the trees swayed in the wind and the sun filtered through them, leaving dancing shadows on the ground. And Eden simply walked and walked and walked, knowing that it wasn't true what Arielle had once said- she wouldn't have been chasing a rabbit with her sword, but she would be lying on the soft moss, peaceful and content, looking up at the sky and guessing the shapes of the clouds.

Arielle's fever had kept her away from the trial, a thing that Dorian was secretly grateful for. Yet, the havoc her fever and stomach were reeking on her made her uneasy and she finally threw the covers back and got up. She dressed with shaking hands and walked to the hall alongside Aldric. When he arrived with breakfast on a tray, the steward had told her that witnesses to Eden's killing would be called forth that day. What made Arielle get up was the fact that Aldric had asked to testify with his story and was denied.

Before reaching the hall, Arielle could already see a long string of people coming and going from the proceedings. She wondered where all these people came from and how all of the deeds they were supposedly witness to could be done by Eden alone. 'Something isn't right in all of this.' echoed in Arielle's mind. And the suspicions came true when she suddenly saw Alys appear. Without a single thought, the bard suddenly hid behind a large column, waiting for Alys to pass by.

"Aye, I tell you," Alys was saying to another woman walking beside her, "I got five gold pieces just to say I seen it all with my own eyes, swear it on the Bible, and then scram. Five gold pieces!"

"The same as me! 'Twas just tavern talk I heard." the woman said, "I ain't seen a thing at all!"

"I ain't really seen nothing either! But five gold pieces from that Paymon fellow! 'Tis my lucky day!"

The bard felt her stomach sink precariously as a helpless anger rose within her, seeing more and more clearly that the trial was a farce. She grew pale enough for Aldric to notice and absolutely insist on Arielle returning to her chambers. She was too sick to her stomach to argue and the steward accompanied her back.


The bard's fever lifted around the same time Eden's proceedings had ended for the day and she was taken back down to the dungeon. Arielle paced back and forth, her mind turning more than her stomach, both letting her know that there was something inherently wrong. She grew frustrated over the fact that no matter how much she thought, debated, and analyzed, she couldn't find the culprit though her heart kept screaming that there was one. But there was one person who would know.

At first, Aldric didn't want to hear of Arielle visiting Eden. It was against Dorian's wishes and if anyone caught either one of them, they would be the next to stand trial. He also had heard of Eden's beating, but had said nothing to the blond, wanting to spare her the pain. But Arielle was adamant and seeing the genuine anxiety and pleading in her eyes, Aldric finally gave in. Fortunately, no one knew the manor like Aldric did and he knew off a secret corridor that actually led from the trial hall to Dorian's dungeon. He thought for a while about how to slip them in and out without detection. He finally came up with a plan and the two slunk off and down to the dungeons, avoiding the guards' posts that Aldric knew so well.

"My lady, I must warn you." the steward started as he led Arielle down the steps to the dungeon with a torch in his hand.

"I've seen a dungeon before." Arielle snapped slightly.

They were both nervous, Arielle so much so that she had trouble descending the slightly damp, stone stairs.

"No, it's not that, my lady." Aldric said, stopping before the turn that lead to Eden's separate cell and turning to face her, "It's Eden. She was a little... handled."

"Handled?"

Aldric only swallowed and nodded. Arielle's face tensed and she didn't want to ask any more questions, but only to see the guardian immediately. Aldric saw how upset and uneasy she was and said no more, swiftly leading her around the corner and to Eden's cell. He opened the door and walked in, placing the torch in its hold on the wall.

The faint light illuminated a dismal picture. A lump of human lay crumpled in the corner of the cell, her head leaning against the wall, her wrists and ankles laden in iron shackles. Eden was covered in welts, cuts, bruises, blood, and dirt; she looked like a figure from hell. Arielle's knees gave out at the sight and she was face to face with the guardian though there was very little of Eden that still resembled a human face. One eye was black and blue and swollen shut, the other had a cut on the eyebrow and was caked in blood. Her lip was cut in two places. Her hair, covered in dirt and blood and matted with the damp of the cell, clung to her head. Arielle gazed at her and amongst all that havoc and hurt on her face, she found the small, pink mark she had left when she slapped her. She felt like a dagger had just pierced her heart and took a sharp breath.

"My lady, are you alright?" Aldric asked in concern and was relieved when the bard nodded, "The sight is terrible..."

The bard held out her hand to lightly touch the mark, yet at the nearing warmth Eden's eyes suddenly snapped open and were looking at the bard with fear and suspicion.

"Ssh." Arielle whispered nearly breathlessly.

Eden didn't move or speak almost as if she was petrified and they simply looked at each other with heavy, armed gazes, each trying to guess the other's intentions.

Arielle tried to touch the mark again and this time Eden finally moved herself back in distrust, a faint moan escaping from her throat at the pain moving caused her. It was almost like the bard was meeting the warrior for the first time again. No, no, no, please no. Arielle remembered how she had struggled to at least get the warrior to stop darting her eyes away and flinching with every gaze or touch the bard gave her. And now it all seemed to have vanished as if nothing had ever passed between them. The realization settled heavily on the bard's shoulders; she had turned her back on all that she herself had tried to drag out into the light. Are you lost to me now? Are you gone forever?

But the bard wouldn't turn away now because there was something in her that the warrior had pulled out from beneath. The blond didn't break her gaze, trying to show her something that the warrior was trying to see; the someone Eden had once known. Arielle tried again and again Eden shirked away. Arielle wanted to resign to defeat. She wanted to get up and leave. She wanted to escape, to run away from all the pain, the burden, the guilt. But she didn't move this time. Her mind tried to pull her up and away, but her heart stood firm, beating almost wildly in its effort, pushing her hand out.

Arielle reached out one more time and this time Eden made no movement and the tips of the blond's fingers grazed the mark. The bard smiled a sad smile, stroking the mark lightly, needing to touch Eden, comfort her, help her. Eden looked into Arielle's eyes and saw that deep forest green that she thought she would never see again. Arielle's hand moved further and cupped the guardian's cheek in her hand and Eden let out a defeated whimper like a broken child and it brought Arielle's heart to the verge of shattering. Eden heard two tears fall to the stone floor, their echoes rolling over her ears like the distant whispers of a promise.

"Don't cry." the guardian stammered out in a weak, raspy whisper that seemed so unlike the strong woman Arielle knew.

Arielle tried to smile, but it cracked when a sob finally broke through.

"Oh, my dear Lord, what have I done?" she asked in a pleading tone full of guilt, "I wanted... I just thought... If maybe I could... My goodness... God, my selfishness has broken my friend... my only friend... Eden, I won't even ask you to forgive me because I know you won't. If it was only my failing, my cross... but my blindness will now lead to your death... Oh my God, Eden, I'm so sorry..."

Arielle began to cry into her own hands, shaking her head at her mistake. Neither said a word until Arielle heard the shackles shift and she looked up at Eden, catching the warrior's gaze.

"No need." Eden rasped, like so many times before.

"Oh, Eden," Arielle whispered softly, her voice cracking, "How many times are you going to kill yourself for me?"

Eden said nothing, but the bard caught a brief flash in her eyes that told her that as many times as needs be.

Arielle leaned in and was so close to the warrior's ear that their cheeks almost touched. The bard could almost feel the hurt radiating from the warrior's body and she could smell the blood and dirt on her broken skin.

"I won't leave you here." the blond whispered almost silently, but the words made Eden suck in a painful breath.

Arielle arose and motioned for Aldric to follow her. They felt hurriedly and made their way down the long corridor quietly when a shadow suddenly appeared before them.

"My lady?"

They both stood still in surprise and Arielle almost forgot how to breathe. Aldric finally took a bold step forward and thrust his torch into the face of the shadow and Arielle saw the face of the priest appear.

"Father?" the bard asked in wonder.

"My lady, you are just the person I was looking for."


The next day, the council called forth Eden to finally pass judgment on her. Arielle sat tensely, nervously wringing her hands in her lap. Dorian sat next to her and placed his hand on hers and it made her jump.

"I am so glad you could be here to witness this day. Be proud, my little blossom. You've given the greatest gift you'll ever give your husband." he hissed coldly in her ear, giving her a few gentle pats.

Arielle said nothing and only watched the pompous look start to drain from Dorian's face as they continued to wait for Eden's arrival. After several minutes, one of the guards finally entered the hall and announced that the prisoner was gone.

The whole hall was thrown into a frenzy. The council members demanded an explanation and wondered what to do next, Dorian grew first pale and then red with fury and the crowd began to leave in a hurry, afraid that Eden might be among them and intent on bloodthirsty revenge. Dorian snarled at Arielle to go to her chambers, which she automatically did, giving a surprised gasp at the events and then letting the havoc ensue without her. She rushed to her chambers, opened and closed the door, and leaned against it, breathing heavily.

"My lady."

"Aldric? What are you still doing here?" Arielle said in surprise, "You have to leave."

"No." Aldric countered, "I'm your personal steward and it's my duty to stay."

"If they find out-"

"They'll find out much quicker if I ran now." he argued and then took a deep breath, "Eden told me to protect you, my lady. And I have no intention of doing anything different."

When she heard Eden's name and realized that the guardian hadn't stopped thinking of the bard's safety and despite everything still watched over her, Arielle felt a large lump rise in her throat and she threw her arms around the steward. Aldric caught her in a completely stunned confusion.

"My... My lady?" he stuttered.

"Aldric... I'm scared." she whispered.

"My lady..." Aldric said in a gentle tone, searching for the words, "I don't know what to say... It will all work out, you'll see... Eden would never leave you here to a wicked fate, my lady... And if all else fails... remember you still have me and my sword."

Arielle pulled away from the steward and smiled at him warmly.

"You will make a gallant warrior some day, Aldric."

He hung his head shyly as a blush crept up his neck and over his face.

Yet, the morning turned to afternoon and then to evening and all was relatively normal. No guards came pounding on the door, no enraged Dorian came in. The bard and steward went about their duties, but kept an open ear out and an attentive eye open. Aldric had heard that the search had proved fruitless and that the council had no intention of waiting around and departed to their other duties much to the dismay of both Dorian and the bishop. But where the council and trial guards had given up, Dorian was determined to have his revenge and took his personal guard with him in search of Eden.

Aldric was escorting Arielle up the stairs and down the corridor to her chambers when Dorian and his steward suddenly appeared and the noble shouted out the blond's name. They both turned around holding their breath and watched Dorian stomp over to them. He told Aldric to leave which he did immediately, silently praying that the noble did no harm to the bard.

"You must have thought I was a fool." Dorian snarled, grabbing Arielle around the neck, "You must have thought you were exceptionally clever, you conniving wench."

Arielle tried to tear herself from his grasp, but he was too strong and he only dug his fingers into her throat more. He stretched out his free, left hand to his steward who handed him a large piece of fabric.

"But, tell me now, who gets to drink the honey, busy little bee?" he growled and then shoved the fabric in Arielle's face.

The bard looked at it and slowly began to recognize it. It was a cloak. It was Eden's cloak. It was Eden's torn, bloody cloak.

The blond suddenly forgot about the hand choking her and her trembling fingers unconsciously ran over the cloak, feeling out the tears and violent slashes made in it, watching the still moist blood stain her fingertips.

"No..." she whispered frailly, "You didn't..."

Arielle began to shake as Dorian's smile widened and he let go of her. She looked straight at him.

"Where is she? Where is she?!" she said in a wild mixture of fear and anger.

"Probably at the fiery gates of the Hell she was going to anyway. I wanted to see her burn. But you decided to let me kill her instead. Needless to say, I am ever so grateful, my dear bride."

Arielle's eyes widened in horror as the words sunk in. She felt her legs grow soft and she slowly slid down to her knees in complete disbelief. Hadn't I tried to save her? Hadn't I tried to right my wrongs? Was I too late?... Tears formed in her eyes and rolled silently down her face, falling to the floor in a rhythm of remorse.

"Oh my sweet," Dorian drawled coldly, looking down on her, "do not despair. You gave your future husband more than he could have ever wished for. It is the greatest proof of your love. And I hope you never forget it."

The words struck Arielle's heart like a spike of cold iron and she found it hard to breathe. The echo of Dorian's laughter as he walked away rattled her bones. The stillness she suddenly felt chilled her soul.

After a while, Arielle slowly gathered up the cloak, walked quietly back to her room, and sat down in the darkest corner of it. She held the cloak, turning it over and over again absently in her hands. She remembered being wrapped up in it when they were caught in the rain. She remembered when Eden had bought it and how they argued over the color, she remembered how Eden had looked in it, so majestic, so... Tears welled up in the bard's eyes and she buried her face in the cloak.

"You once said that I had nothing to be frightened of because you were beside me... I am so frightened now..." she lamented into the fabric.

And there in that corner, in the middle of an empty night, Arielle clutched the cloak with all her might as she felt her heart finally crack.

 

Chapter Text

Despite having informed Arielle of Eden's death, Dorian stomped about his residence in a vengeful frustration, his anger not dissipating. Arielle watched in her sorrow as his anger actually grew and turned into a blind fury that even a demon would be envious of. The nobleman had somehow learned that it was most likely a Hospitaller that had helped Eden escape and he had surprisingly decided to confront the Order about it. Dorian called for an audience with the Grand Master who refused to involve himself in a petty, personal affair. Dorian ended up meeting with a small chosen group of Hospitaller knights, one of whom was Lawrence. The noble spewed and spluttered his grievances with such rage that one of the knights almost thought him insane. Dorian demanded that the supposed culprit within the Order be handed over to him so that he could stand trial. The Hospitallers heard him out, but refused to fulfill his unfounded demands and asked him to leave in peace. Dorian left shouting curses and vowing to destroy the entire Order if he had to. While the other knights laughed the nobleman off, Lawrence sensed a half-crazed, yet quite real threat in him and he went to see the Grand Master with his suspicion.

It was a tense time in the Order. There was an unusual growing activity of bandits and mercenaries near Jerusalem. The Templars that had first noticed it and monitored it until the bandit numbers began to grow worryingly high. They finally let the Hospitallers know and both Orders were kept on alert. The closer the bands came to Jerusalem, the more nervous the Orders became. The bands would roam one way to only turn around and go another, keeping the Orders unable to figure out who the bands were exactly, who they fought under, and why they were there in the first place.

Both the unusual, potentially hostile activity outside Jerusalem and the fact that the enraged Dorian had his own forces at his disposal made the Grand Master decide for Lawrence to alert the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the King of Jerusalem. He also ordered that no knight Hospitaller walk around the city without weapons and that brother knights should walk with an escort in case Dorian decided to make good on his threat in a more underhanded manner.

After Lawrence had alerted the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the king, he himself was suddenly paid a visit back at his quarters by a certain quite specific Templar knight of fiery blond hair and slate gray eyes.

"Lawrence! It's always great to see you!" the Templar said, approaching the Hospitaller and extending his hand.

"Always a pleasure, Garrett." Lawrence replied, gripping his hand and shaking it firmly.

The two knights smiled at each other, however, they both knew it was all partly superficial. Garrett was nearly everything that Lawrence was not: short tempered, aggressive, stubborn, somewhat egocentric, judgmental, and proud. Lawrence had to admit that Garrett was a fearless knight and talented swordsman and commander, but he was almost ill at times of peace. Yet, the thing that stood in between them most was Garrett's interest in Eden. Lawrence thought he was infatuated with her, Garrett thought he was in love with her, and Eden thought that he was completely crazy. Garrett had tried for what seemed like forever to win over Eden, each time with greater or lesser success. And although Lawrence never gave any demonstration of romantic interest in Eden, Garrett still remained intensely suspicious of him and jealous.

"So to what do I owe the pleasure?" Lawrence asked, folding his arms over his chest.

"Oh, I just heard the latest news..." Garrett responded offhandedly, "though I really don't know why Dorian is threatening you when really he should be the one looking over his shoulder."

The Templar rolled his eyes and let out a bored sigh at the slightly confused expression on Lawrence's face.

"He and that bride of his betrayed a guardian. And not just any guardian, but Eden. That can't just go unpunished, surely you see that... And if you don't see that, then I'll just make sure they're brought to justice myself." Garrett explained, ending with a shrug.

"I think you have more pressing matters than that."

"Oh, those bandit movements outside the city? Yes, it's a slight annoyance, isn't it?" the Templar replied, waggling his hand as if they were talking about chasing butterflies, "But no need to worry. We'll be there."

"What a relief."

Garrett's eyes darted up to the Hospitaller and a sly grin crossed his face at the sarcasm.

"You know," he said slowly, "I would think that you would take more of an interest in bringing to justice the one who hurt your... friend."

"My interest is no interest of yours." the Hospitaller replied calmly.

"Oh, you always get so hostile around me." Garrett noted, pretending to feel offended.

"Imagine that."

"I'm beginning to think, my dear friend," Garrett drawled as he slowly walked up to Lawrence arrogantly, "that you might be jealous."

"I think, my dear friend," Lawrence answered with a smile, "that you might have me confused with someone else. Namely, you."

"Lawrence, you break my heart, you truly do." the Templar said, putting a hand over his chest, feigning pain, "It makes me almost think that we're not really friends."

"It seems you think too much." Lawrence replied, getting tired of the silly game of intimidation, "Something I would hardly ever accuse you of."

"Aren't you the clever little one?" the Templar snarled, losing his bantering mood abruptly, "I will bring that pig shit and his bride to justice, with or without you."

"First concentrate on the bandits." the Hospitaller offered, keeping his composure, "I think that they're connected."

"Really?" Garrett said, taking a step back and having his mood suddenly change again. "Well, that's interesting."

"They started to appear when Eden got here. They grew in number and rode closer when she was imprisoned. And now..."

"Well... it seems that you may have a point... as much as I hate to admit it."

"If I'm right, it might end up that you'll be able to take Dorian on in battle."

"Well why didn't you just say so in the beginning?!" Garrett cried cheerfully, slapping Lawrence on the shoulder, "I wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world!"

"We probably won't have to wait long. Dorian's nearly gone insane with anger."

"Fantastic!" Garrett said with a wide grin and started to make his way out, "I'm going to go spread the good news! See you on the battlefield, dear boy!"

Garrett was out the door and Lawrence leaned against the table. Like every time they met, Lawrence remembered all the reasons he had never liked the Templar. He also wondered how Eden could ever talk to him for longer than half a minute without lopping his head off. It was a thing he would probably never understand. The Hospitaller was worried about the Templar's involvement. Garrett had no idea that Arielle and Eden had been friends and would not take it lightly. His stubbornness would make him pursue the bard until she was punished as he saw fit. And you could accuse Eden of a lot of things, but leaving her friends behind was never one of them. Lawrence let out a long breath. Oh, I sense trouble...


Ever since Dorian had given her the bloodied, black cloak, Arielle hadn't been the same. Any sign of cheerfulness in the bard disappeared. She ate very little and said even less. The bard's nights tortured her with reoccurring nightmares. She saw Eden in her cell, beaten severely, crawling on her knees toward the bard, pleading for her to save her as blood spewed out of her wounds and from under her torn cloak. The blond would awaken with a cry in the night, trembling, her limbs cold as ice but her forehead hot and damp. And after each nightmare she would lie back down, stare at the ceiling and begin to cry until she fell asleep with tears cascading from her eyes until the nightmare returned and she woke again. And every night was the same. She knew there was only one thing that would make the nightmares go away, but that one thing was gone.

Aldric watched the bard gradually disappear as if she was turning into a shadow of herself. It was like someone had doused the flame within her and a dark shroud began to envelope her and pull her away from the colorful and living. The steward tried with all his might to keep the hope alive within her, but the bard would have none of it, determined on hanging herself on her guilt.

Rather surprisingly for Aldric and Arielle, Dorian didn't seem to suspect them of planning Eden's escape. The nobleman knew that they probably had something to do with it, but never that they had actually planned the entire thing. Nevertheless, he was so absorbed by his rage that he had almost forgotten about their existence entirely. The marriage had been postponed to an unknown time in the future for which Arielle secretly thanked every saint she could remember. The bard had even begun to fall into a gray routine of being ignored when Dorian stormed into her chambers one day.

"If I couldn't watch Eden burn, then I will watch the whole world drown in flame!" he shouted with such fury that it made Arielle jump up from her table.

"You killed her. Eden's dead." the bard noted coldly to the pacing nobleman, "What else could you possibly want?"

"I want to see the flames and the fire. I want to smell the smoke." he hissed, approaching the bard and grabbing her by her shoulders, "And you will raze everything to the ground with me. First the Hospitallers. Then the Templars. And anyone else that dares stand in my way."

"You've gone mad."

"Do you think that you are free here? Do you think that they will only want my head for the warrior's death, hm? Oh no, my sweet, they are going to post your empty little head on a spike as well."

His words, actions, and touch sent frigid shivers down her back. Arielle didn't want to go with him, she didn't want anything to do with it. She tried to stop his madness the only way she knew how and implored him to the point that she dropped to her knees, grabbed both his hands in her own, and begged him not to start any wars or battles. He glared at her with utter disgust.

"You pathetic, sniveling tramp!" Dorian shouted, slapping Arielle so violently that she fell back, "You will do as I say because you have nothing else left!"

"You're evil!" Arielle finally screamed, holding the side of her face.

"Have you just noticed that now, you worthless idiot?" he snarled into her face, grabbing her tightly by the back of her hair and shaking her, "You will do as I say, my little whore of a bride, or I will carve you up into pieces and throw you to the dogs to chew up and spit out."

Dorian crouched near the blond, pulled out his dagger, and pushed it menacingly against the bard's chin until a thin line of blood appeared. She saw the wild look in his eyes and it frightened her. Yet, it also just didn't seem to matter anymore.

"I've already died." she said in a whisper.

"Then I'll gladly kill you all over again." he growled.

He quickly got up, put his boot in the bard's face, and kicked her away with such force that she slid across the floor and hit the side of her head on the wall. The nobleman spun on his heel and stomped off, leaving the bard lying there. Aldric soon appeared and knelt down next to the bleeding blond.

"I'll kill him someday, my lady." he growled, wiping away the blood with a handkerchief.

"No," Arielle said quietly, holding her head, "I deserve this. All of it..."

The unfortunate reality of her betrothed's words sunk deep into her heart, making it pound in agony. She had run out of options, there was nowhere to go, there was no one left to save her. She began to think that the only real choice left to her was to either continue to struggle and be miserable in the process or simply succumb. She didn't see the point in fighting for anything anymore. And she began to think that maybe, in the end, she deserved her present fate; she had, after all, killed her friend. Sins are meant to be punished and only good deeds are rewarded.

Later throughout the night, she observed as Dorian's commanders came in and out of his study. She sensed war beginning to stir and Death dusting off his midnight cloak and she was completely helpless. In her desperation and dread, she walked across her chambers, grabbed a large pin from her table, and carved a cross into the wall. She then fell to her knees. Yet, instead of praying, she simply stared at the cross as if she didn't know what it really meant to her anymore. It was only a few steps away from her, yet to Arielle it felt like a thousand leagues. She felt empty, cold, and alone.

"Oh, God," she whispered in a quivering voice, "why have you forsaken me?"

The only answer in the silence was the falling of Arielle's own tears. And as her eyes looked up at the symbol etched hurriedly into the wall, she felt a bleakness creep up her spine from the floor. It burned with a frigid heat, filled her with hollowness, and embraced her with an iron grasp.

"You abandoned me..."

It was like black silk flowing through her veins. It was a crazed chaos that drew everything into itself. It was a tense, insatiable power.

"So I'll abandon You..."

It was hate.

Oh, is this what priests warn against and sinners bask in? Ah, yes, I can feel its power... Take me, take me and make me yours since I'm no longer anyone else's...
Arielle slowly got to her feet and walked over to her balcony, looking out onto the courtyard. She gripped the stone railing tightly. She wanted to crush it in her bare hands, she wanted to break the entire building into hundreds of pieces. She wanted to leave everything in shards just like she was. A voice within her screamed for attention and hung on for dear life as the black ooze flowed through her body and slowly flooded the halls of her usually radiant soul. It just didn't matter anymore. She had tried and failed. She had wanted to choose for herself and had made a fatal mistake. She had wanted everything and had lost all she had. She had disgraced the things she believed in and become a laughing stock of her own conscience. So what was the point if there was nothing and no one left to fight for, if there was no one left to apologize to, if there was no one left to forgive her? She gripped the railing more tightly. I could just jump like the coward that I am...

Aldric shouted the bard's name and she turned around somewhat unwillingly.

"My lady, you are wanted downstairs." the steward said with concern and when he saw that she didn't react, he added, "The lord is adamant about it."

The blond gave him a solemn smile, knowing that it meant that if she didn't go downstairs of her own will, she would be violently dragged down. Though the distraught bard toyed with the idea of letting the fuming noble come up for her and beat her senseless and out of her misery, she decided against it. A battle with the Hospitallers meant that there was a chance that Lawrence might be there. She would find him, tell him she was sorry, ask for at least his forgiveness. After that, she didn't give a rusty coin what happened to her.

"Alright." she replied softly.

Aldric fell into step right behind her and had a strange feeling that Arielle had no intention of ever coming back. Little did he know that neither of them would return.


Dorian went through with his mad threat. He gathered his men during the night and when morning came, a neat force stood outside the walls of Jerusalem. The nobleman demanded the Hospitallers meet him on the battlefield or else he would destroy the city. He brought catapults to the forefront of his line for a moment to show that he was serious. The Hospitallers decided to answer his challenge instead of risking the city to the whims of the crazed noble. Dorian was given the message and trotted happily to the back of his lines, anxiously waiting for his chance to destroy every knight that carried a white cross that he could find.

Lawrence had taken a small force of Hospitallers around the eastern side of the city, up to the top of the Mount of Olives. Though it was a strategic vantage point that overlooked the entire city, the dense groves of olive trees that covered the mountain made it next to impossible to launch an attack from there. After having scanned the area and assessing the situation, the knights carefully made their way through the groves and down the mountain to join the engaged forces from the other side. Lawrence brought up the rear and one by one the knights made their way to the base of the mountain and regrouped to prepare a solid charge. They had formed into line formation and heard the command to advance when a young man suddenly appeared from amongst the trees and blocked Lawrence's path and unknowingly, the Hospitallers left Lawrence behind.

"Oh, the great guardian seer!" the young man cried out with amusement, "To what do I owe this great annoyance?"

"What is your business here?" Lawrence demanded.

"What? No 'hello'? No 'how are you, it's lovely to see you'? I'm almost hurt." the man taunted, "But then again, I understand your rudeness. Your kind has fallen on hard times, hasn't it?"

The man took a haughty look around.

"Yes, we are evidently missing a certain guardian." he said with a sneer.

The sneer on the man's face grew wider and colder as he reached behind his cloak, pulled out a golden crown, placed it on top of his head, and then folded his arms proudly.

"Paimon?" Lawrence asked, half disbelief as the demon revealed his identity.

"My, you're an observant one." the demon huffed, looking at the Hospitaller from under his brows, "Ah... it's dawning on you now, isn't it? Just like the nobleman's last name. Didn't think I'd be that clever, did you guardian?"

"Well no, I didn't think you'd be that stupid." Lawrence replied, unimpressed.

The smile disappeared from Paimon's face as he drew his sword.

The demon was a young one and what he had in energy and tenacity, he lacked in experience and focus. Paimon and Lawrence dueled with all their might, the demon's attacks growing so vicious that Lawrence found himself on the defensive more often than he would have liked. He almost wished that Eden was there, knowing that she would have dispatched the demon with greater ease, but there was no use in thinking about that. But what Lawrence lacked in aggression, he made up for in patience. He let the demon drain his strength and energy in arrogant show and misjudged attacks until he felt that he finally had the upper hand. The battle outside Jerusalem seemed to be swaying in Paymon's favor much to the evil delight of the nobleman when Lawrence began to tip the scales in his private battle. His strikes and swings seemed to grow stronger for the tiring demon. The Hospitaller exerted pressure on the demon, constantly keeping him engaged in battle, feeling Paimon weakening under the strain.

"You're more of a challenge than I thought." the demon admitted, breaking away only to find Lawrence's sword swinging for him again, "If you weren't so disgustingly saintly, I would ask you to lead my army."

"I wouldn't stomach it."

"Then perhaps without a stomach?" the demon quipped.

Paimon suddenly spun around, dropped to one knee, and slammed the pommel of his sword with all his might into Lawrence's stomach, sending to Hospitaller sprawling down on his back. The demon rose, walked up haughtily to the knight, and put one foot on the blade of his sword.

"It doesn't pay to underestimate a good warrior, now does it?" Paimon asked, sneering at the knight and raising his sword to his neck.

Lawrence took a deep breath and used all his strength to suddenly pull his sword from under Paimon's feet, sending the unprepared demon flying backwards. Paimon hit the ground with a loud thud and a few moments later he saw the Hospitaller looming over him with his blade at the demon's neck.

"You're right, it doesn't." Lawrence answered.

Before Lawrence could run the demon through, a chilling horn blew in the distance and Paimon scrambled to his feet faster than Lawrence could react.

"Maybe some other time, no?" Paimon shouted in jovial rage, running off into the distance.

When Paimon diasppeared from view, Lawrence turned his head to the battle outside the city walls. It had evidently now turned in favor of the Hospitallers and the knight watched as some of Dorian's units simply turned around and retreated as if they had suddenly realized that they had taken a wrong turn and had to go back. Though victory was within evident reach, the whole thing worried the Hospitaller- it all seemed much too easy.


From atop his horse, Dorian could see that the battle was being lost and he gnashed his teeth in rage. He shouted out chaotic commands to anyone he found within hearing distance and his troops ran all over the field under orders that were either suicidal or contradicted themselves. At first, the dust that the warriors kicked up choked the men and made it hard to see. Now dark clouds had gathered over them and it began to steadily rain, clearing the air of dust, but quickly turning the churned ground into sticky mud.

An older man with a strangely large and ugly head rode up and stopped next to Dorian.

"What is this?!" Dorian shouted, "This wasn't how it was supposed to end!"

"Even demons can make the mistake of being too arrogant." the man retorted calmly, "Come with me and I'll pull you out of the mess your blind frenzy has gotten you into."

Dorian glanced at the man, to the battlefield, and then back to the man. He pulled up on the reins and turned his horse around to follow the man. Dorian took a moment to turn to look at Arielle, who was still holding the position he posted her as if she was never going to move from there.

"At least I destroyed her." Dorian muttered and then turned back to follow the man.


The land of sparse brush and stones between the mountain and the city walls was littered with bodies and weapons, discarded or lost, holes in the ground left by horses, banners both dirtied and bloodied. And a thick, choking dust now being pulled down by the rain crawled across this spectacle of human carnage in a morbid dance for the fallen. The tide had already clearly turned in favor of the Hospitallers as unit after unit of Dorian's forces was either hacked to pieces or broke and fled. Arielle scanned the battlefield and to her all seemed lost. The dark heavens seemed to share her view, sending rain down to wash away the shame of it all. Word spread down the line that Dorian had fled and now it was every man for himself. Arielle felt nothing; she wasn't afraid of Dorian, she wasn't afraid to be left there alone. But she wondered what she would do now, seeing all the death and destruction that had come about because of her foolishness and selfishness. Especially Eden's death.

She unconsciously pulled out another arrow from her quiver, one like probably a hundred others that she had already sent sailing into the air. She nocked it and turned her gaze out onto the battle. A fluttering black cloak in the distance caught her eye. It reminded her of a thing that had meant something to her. It reminded her of something she once had and foolishly destroyed. It reminded her of something that could have been. Arielle hated it. I know that cloak...

Arielle saw the cloaked swordsman fighting with a bannerman, the banner nearly covering the dueling warriors. Her arrows were never meant for anyone, to the bard there was nothing there to gain or win, but only a loss of self. Yet the mere presence of the cloak infuriated her. She pulled back on the string. It's so familiar...

The arrow left the bow and sailed through the air unaware of Arielle's growing doubt. And time slowed down for the blond who was watching its flight closely. The two warriors struggled, the banner flapping angrily in the scuffle. The arrow began its descent. A blade suddenly came out of the back of the bannerman. Then the bannerman took a step and fell to the ground. The arrow continued its fall. The banner dropped along with its carrier. That cloak...It can't be!

Arielle saw a memory suddenly become real when she saw a deep red cloak fringe. The arrow met its mark like her arrows always did. The bard watched as someone, who looked hauntingly like Eden clutched her shoulder in pain and sank to her knees.

"It can't be..." Arielle whispered.

Arielle dropped her bow and now moved in a complete daze of something she was unable to comprehend. How could Eden be in the middle of this battle if she was already dead? Or was she? Arielle's pace quickened as she walked straight towards the warrior completely oblivious to the battle around her. Her every sense screamed that that was Eden wounded on the battlefield, but her mind continued to argue that Eden was already gone. Nevertheless, her legs picked up speed, her arms pumping, her heart pounding. The closer she got, the more she began to realize that she had been lied to again. And this lie had been the most hideous one of them all.

Arielle finally reached Eden and stared at her in astounded surprise.

"My God, this can't be." Arielle whispered chokingly, "He said you were dead... He showed me your bloodied cloak..."

Eden caught her gaze, looking up at her weakly.

"Is that really you?" Eden murmured, half in surprise to see the bard again and half in shock at how the bard looked like a shadow of her former self.

"Oh, good God, what have I done? What have I done?!... Eden?!" Arielle was practically shouting in terrible realization, staring at the arrow in Eden's shoulder.

"It is you..." Eden whispered absently with relief.

The blond dropped to her knees in front of Eden and pulled her into an embrace without thinking. Eden at first did nothing and the bard suddenly realized what she had done and waited for Eden to push her away and tell her to leave. But that moment never came. Arielle pulled her shaking hand through the warrior's wet and dirtied raven hair. There were so many words she wanted to say, but she didn't say a single one, afraid one word might break the spell they were under.

Despite all the harm and pain that had passed between them, their arms somehow wrapped around each other in a need for assurance and in a defiance against anyone that might try to separate them again. They breathed in gasps of astonishment and disbelief and nearly suffocated themselves in locked embraces, their eyes wide, their hands carefully roaming head, hair, shoulders, and back making sure again and again that this was not a hoax or figment of imagination. And when their hands assured them of their physical presence, their emotions broke loose and the bard choked on sobs dictated by the pounding of their racing hearts. Arielle buried her face, contorting in a simultaneous pain and joy, in the warrior's neck and Eden rested her cheek on the bard's head. Nothing else existed in those few moments when the two reunited through the warmth of their forgiveness and the breaths that they covered each other in.

Eden felt Arielle's heart pounding against her chest, but she felt strangely calm. Despite everything, the words, the torture, the ridicule, and even the arrow wound, she felt strangely peaceful and in place. And that fact alone scared Eden more than all the battle around her ever could. In the end, Eden was in the mud and rain, exhausted, and with an arrow in her shoulder and she was... content. And despite her wounds and exhaustion and her wish to simply fall asleep right then and there, she somehow felt that everything that had happened, had actually happened in order to lead up to this point. Arielle gently pulled away and looked at the warrior with a tear-stained face. Eden gave the bard a ghost of a smile as she slowly dropped to the ground on her left side.

"Dear God, how could I do this to you?!" the bard whispered in agony as she bent over Eden, brushing the hair from the guardian's forehead.

"Well, you did warn me once... that you never miss..." the guardian quipped to the bard's large surprise.

Arielle was stunned. She felt so many emotions and all at once and for a moment she was afraid that she might go mad. But that one comment, that one fragment of friendliness was enough for the light in her to grab hold and begin to climb out from under the avalanche of disgust and contempt that she felt for herself. It seemed that there, amongst the death and ruin that the bard was convinced that she had brought about, Eden didn't hate her. And it was more than she could have hoped for and the most overwhelming thing of all.

"I thought you were dead... He said you were and I believed him... I believed it..." Arielle choked out, shaking her head in guilty sorrow.

"No..." Eden answered, not really knowing what to say, "your plan went well."

Arielle smiled weakly and then swept the battlefield with her tired eyes.

"There is no God here." she said flatly, staring out into the distance, "There is no truth, no justice, no love. And I... I'm a pathetic fraud... And you, Eden..." she said, turning to the warrior, "A guardian. My friend... What have I done to you?"

Arielle knotted her brows as if she couldn't understand what was going on around her. Eden looked up at her in concern. The dark words and tone that the bard used somehow frightened the warrior who saw something painfully familiar in them.

"My arrow lies buried in you, when it and all the others here should lie buried in me." Arielle noted with a resigned will in her voice.

"No. Stop it. Just stop it." Eden demanded, grasping the bard's arm.

The warrior heard the discarded life in the bard's voice and it was something that Arielle, despite everything, really didn't deserve. Eden knew better than anyone that in the end, new wounds never made the old ones disappear and that once someone had given up, there seemed to be a never-ending string of possibilities to punish one's self and never be satisfied. Arielle would lose her light, her curiosity of life, her hope. The guardian didn't want the bard to ever travel down that road.

"Listen to me, Arielle." Eden continued, bringing her hand up to the bard's cheek, "I'm not your judge, I'm your friend... Everyone makes their mistakes and so have we, but this battle is not your fault... You were just a convenience, not an evil... So stop this. Enough."

The bard looked at Eden as if she didn't believe her. Her hate wanted her to think that this was all a trick, it was all only what she wanted to hear. But the light within her began to grow louder and stronger, screaming at the top of its lungs that this was real. And Eden could see the realization dawn in those dark green eyes that became watery.

"I am so sorry, Eden... Can you forgive your friend for what she did?... I could have listened..."

"I forgive you... I could have protected you better..." Eden replied, revealing her own doubts.

"No," the bard said sternly, "you did nothing wrong. It was my fault. I was wrong."

"It's over now." Eden whispered.

The words seemed to be a final decision that took all that had happened and finally locked it up in the chest of the past. Now they had found each other again and their friendship was being returned to them to reclaim, to rebuild, and to rejoice in. The bard looked down at the guardian with eyes full of admiring appreciation. As long as she is alive, then You haven't abandoned me.

Armed with only a faint hope, the bard pulled the warrior up to rest on her knees and then leaned over her and drew her close in fistfuls with such intensity that it would leave bruises on Eden's arms. But the warrior didn't mind; that the bard was there was all that was important and she held the blond as tightly as she could with her good arm. And the fact that Arielle had belittled that affection before, an affection so rare she had now come to see, almost made her heart break. Here, in the middle of a battlefield, amongst men still relentlessly hacking away at each other, she felt loved, protected, and cared for by the reserved and concerned warrior. She slowly realized that nothing bad ever seemed to happen to her in Eden's arms.

A straggling spearman pulled the friends from their moment, shouting to Arielle to run because all was lost.

"Where is... Where is Dor-" Eden started.

"No... No more..." Arielle calmed, placing one hand on Eden's good shoulder.

Eden looked up into the bard's calm and gentle, yet hurt and frightened green eyes. She noticed the bruises and marks on Arielle's face and neck and felt a hot anger rise within her.

"What happened to you?" the guardian whispered.

Arielle only smiled sadly and Eden immediately understood.

"I'll tear him apart-" Eden sputtered, trying to get up in a wave of rage.

"No..." Arielle countered, keeping Eden down, "You're staying right here... He'll be my demon, not yours."

A stray arrow flew close over the bard's head and made the bard's mind switch gears.

"I need to get you out of here." Arielle said.

The bard pushed back all the hundreds of emotions she seemed to be feeling and scanned the battlefield and racked her brain for a plan. The only realistic one that came to her mind was also the one she hated the most.

"Leave me here. Go find Lawrence." Eden said, reading her mind and making the decision for her.

"No, I'm not leaving you here." Arielle protested.

"Go."

"No."

"Arielle," Eden reasoned, "you have to find help. Go find Lawrence. I'll lean against that tree. I can pretend I'm dead."

"Don't even pretend it." the bard challenged.

"I haven't died of an arrow yet," Eden said attempting to calm the blond down, "and I'm not planning to now."

The bard knew that Eden was right. She was in absolutely no shape to pull, drag, or carry the warrior more than three steps in any direction. And she made a mental note of it as another thing to hate herself for. She finally nodded in hesitant agreement and helped the warrior drag herself over to the nearby tree. When she had somehow situated herself as comfortably as possible, the bard dashed off in search of Lawrence.

Although the arrow shaft was sturdy and kept the warrior from bleeding out, it was still painful and Eden felt a tired haziness begin to creep into her head and she shook it angrily from time to time, letting the cold rain run down her back, determined to stay conscious. She pushed and shoved all her senses to the very edge of their ability, her mind and her muscle working together to keep each other present. Only when she saw Arielle return with Lawrence, did she finally let up on herself, letting Lawrence pull her onto the hasty litter he had brought. The Hospitaller carried it from the front and Arielle absolutely insisted that she help and she carried it from the back.

Eden let her body go, relaxing the ready tension in it and pooling all her resources to keep her mind awake. She watched the bard through half-closed eyes, the present strain and past hardship on her face so evident that Eden felt like hopping off the litter and finding the nobleman to turn him into manure. Only when their eyes sometimes met, did the bard's strain vanish for a moment as if by magic.

They carried Eden back to the city and to the Hospital of St. John to the Hospitaller physician. He asked them to leave, but Arielle insisted on staying and he didn't have time to argue. The bard watched him pull the arrow out and cauterize the wound, gritting her teeth when Eden did, amazed that the guardian hardly made a sound. He dressed the wound quickly and then ran off to the several other patients the battle kept dragging in. Arielle settled down next to the warrior and took her by the hand.

"Sleep now." she said softly.

Eden wanted to stay awake, but the exhaustion and pain were too much and overthrew her. And just as Eden closed her eyes, the two women were both wondering whether the bard would be there when she awoke. Eden wondered if she would perhaps return to Dorian. Arielle wondered if she wasn't going to be taken away in shackles by Dorian, the Templars, the Hospitallers, or perhaps even Satan himself.

Chapter Text

Eden awoke early at dawn. Force of habit had her rise from bed quickly, but the pain in her shoulder caused her to lie back down. She took a deep breath and moved all her limbs carefully, judging the state she was in. She was relatively pleased, noting that her nearly paralyzing exhaustion was gone and only her lightly throbbing shoulder wound remained. Whether her high tolerance of pain was learned or natural, she didn't know, but she had an uncanny ability to force pain to the edges of her consciousness.

Eden pulled herself up a little in the bed and looked around, thankful that the curtain hanging from overhead was drawn back. The Hospital of St. John was a large hall, perforated with long, slender, stone columns that unfolded into arches underneath the ceiling. Lawrence had found her a bed somewhat in the corner of the hall so that she wasn't completely surrounded by other patients. It was relatively quiet now, so early in the morning, but the warrior could see that the battle had taken its toll- a little more than half of the simple beds were occupied with patients with a variety of wounds from head to foot.

Eden's attention was caught by a movement between the beds. She watched as the figure moved a little closer and she saw a tired, scrawny dog limping around. He seemed to be in a desperate search for food and when he turned sideways Eden could see that he was missing a hind leg. He sniffed the floor around the occupied beds and raised his head to catch Eden looking at him. He stopped and cocked his head, interested. The warrior instinctively lowered her hand to the floor as if she had something to eat for him. He cocked his head to the other side, blinked, and slowly began to trot up to her. Eden felt an instinctive bond with all animals and natural things. They were the only things that never killed just for killing's sake. And they knew nothing of revenge, greed, lies, cheating, jealously, and betrayal that took so much from people all too often. The dog was close when a sister passed by, noticed it, and shooed it away, the dog cowering away quickly. Eden frowned and put her hand back on her stomach. Two other Hospitaller sisters shuffled about close to Eden, checking on patients, giving water, redressing wounds.

"Sister," Eden asked quietly, "have you seen a blond maiden? The one who brought me in?"

"Oh, young lady," said the sister warmly, "I'm not sure whom you speak of, so many have wandered in and out recently... But I can say that there was a little, blond maiden who sat here for quite a while... A Templar came for her."

"A Templar?" Eden asked in surprise.

"Yes. A Templar came late at night and escorted her out of the hospital."

A loud moan from a man nearby with a bandage around his head drew the sister's attention and she walked over to him. Eden rested her head and looked at the ceiling and tried to think why a Templar would come for Arielle, feeling a strange alarm grow within her.


It was a confusing and tense time for Arielle. Lawrence had said little to her, but she reasoned that the battlefield isn't the best place for a conversation. Yet there was something different in him, his cheerful warmth was replaced with reserve. The bard wanted to talk to him and to Eden, yet there hadn't been any time and she doubted that she could find anything sensible to say. Lawrence had left at the physician's request and had not come back and Arielle wondered if it was because of her. She spent the entire time by Eden's side, but it didn't calm her much. She remembered the relief with which Eden had greeted her on the battlefield, but began to think that perhaps it was all dictated by a rush of emotion. Maybe now, when it was safe and quiet and the warrior had time to think, she would begin to see the bard for the disloyal and pathetic person she was. Arielle simply waited for Eden to wake up and send her home. Or for someone else to do it.

So when the Templar came for her later that night, she was somewhat frightened though not particularly surprised. He was civil and respectful and Arielle left with him sadly, but without a word of protest or waking the warrior. Bad deeds are meant to be punished and she wanted to take her punishment willingly, not causing any more trouble than she already had. She saw it as a path where all the signs were telling her to go back home.

The very quiet Templar took Arielle back to the House of the Templars that was situated right next to the Palace of the King of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. The rather large building was made of the same sandy stone as most others in the city. The main arch was flanked by three slightly smaller arches to either side, the architecture not having changed since the Templars chose to take the Al-Aqsa mosque and convert it to their headquarters. The bard and Templar entered and Arielle saw a group of different knights waiting around a large table that was placed in the middle of the spacious room. As Arielle approached, she turned her head to admire the different paintings of religious scenes that hung on the walls as if in proud display of the power guiding the Order. Arielle turned back to the knights and she found herself face to face with Garrett.

Garrett was a powerful figure among the Templars. Half of the Order respected him and his skill and the other half was scared half to death of his near madness. He was a tall and strong man with chiseled arms, wide shoulders, and a strong jaw, emanating a great energy of force and might and the bard imagined that if a God of War existed, he would look exactly like Garrett. His gray eyes matched his scarce compassion and his short, fiery blond hair all in disarray mirrored the hint of chaos and rebellion within him. Yet, though he resembled a human pillar, he moved with a dynamic grace and speed, his white cloak with red cross fluttering behind him as if possessed. He also held power in his sizable wealth, being the baron of Franconia as well as the lord of two minor castles in the Levant. He had the ability to make or break anyone he wanted... and he knew it.

"I welcome you to the House of the Order of the Temple." Garrett said to the bard, his voice low and rich with a hint of rumbling in it, "Do you know why you are here?"

"No. But I assume you will tell me." Arielle answered calmly.

"You have, my dear lady," Garrett explained as he abruptly turned from the bard and walked to the farther head of the table, "committed a crime... against a guardian."

"And what crime would that be?" Arielle ventured, swallowing, realizing that the whole situation was more serious than she had thought.

"Really, maiden?" Garrett scoffed, folding his muscular arms over his chest, "are we really going to play this game?"

"I'm not playing any game."

Arielle saw in the Templar's expression that he had no intention of being understanding or considerate and she began to feel a small shiver run up her spine. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lawrence emerge from the group and stand off to the side of the Templar.

"You almost lead to the death of a guardian and you dare to be impertinent?" Garrett asked, his voice rising abruptly and filling with anger and his eyes narrowing.

"Garrett, wait..." Lawrence interrupted, pleading the blond's case to everyone, "Arielle didn't seek Eden's harm... It was Eden who had decided to help Arielle, knowing well what the consequences were. I was there when she made the decision. And it was Arielle who had planned and helped with Eden's escape from Dorian. Eden told me this the day she returned... They aren't enemies... but friends."

"What? This is Eden's friend?" Garrett asked in disgusted surprise, pointing at the bard, "This... woman?"

"She is. And Eden holds no ill will towards her... Just let her go."

"How can we be certain of her intentions?" Garrett argued, getting over his surprise, "Maybe she's here to eavesdrop on us and then relay it back to Dorian?"

Some of the Templars nodded slightly at the valid suspicion and shifted their eyes towards the bard who was feeling more and more uncomfortable. Lawrence sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair.

"If she was still with Dorian then do you think that he would simply let her be taken here? You found her at Eden's side, not Dorian's..." Lawrence argued, "Garrett, Eden holds no grievance. This is ridiculous."

"Is it?" Garrett challenged, turning towards the Hospitaller, "Is it really? She was supposed to be Dorian's wife. To add to that, she almost cost Eden her life! Or am I wrong?... No, I'm not wrong, am I?... That maiden betrayed a guardian, something for which there is a very high price to pay."

"What does imprisoning her change?"

"Imprisonment?" Garrett almost chuckled, "You and I know very well what the punishment is for betraying or purposefully endangering a guardian..."

The two men both looked at the bard who had been staring at the floor. She looked up at them and immediately understood what punishment Garrett was speaking of. The Templar approached her slowly, giving her a menacing stare that she fidgeted under. His eyes showed her no mercy and she swallowed hard, her heart beginning to pound.

"She is Eden's friend." one of the Templars reminded meekly, "Shouldn't Eden at least be here as a witness?"

"Yes, but Eden wouldn't be... objective..." Garrett returned quickly, gritting his teeth and keeping his glare on Arielle whose stomach was turning into a ball of knots, "and it is our divine duty to fight in the name of our Lord against any and all evil found on this earth... And this... maiden... looks like that kind of evil."

"Garrett," Lawrence warned, "Eden is alive and so a trial can't be started without her invocation. It's forbidden..."

"I told you I would bring her to justice with or without you..." the Templar growled at him.

Garrett was no longer listening to anything, enveloped in his hunger for his own idea of God's order and justice. Garrett wrapped his hand around Arielle's throat and the bard felt an icy pang of fear shoot through her middle. It reminded her of the Turk, the dark jinn, and Dorian and her entire body revolted against the onslaught of bitter memories. Eden!

"Audi me: timorem Domini te docebo (Listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord.). You will pay for your transgressions, little one." he growled in a low and vicious tone.

"Please..." Arielle murmured, barely able to speak in her fear.

"There is nothing that you could possibly ask for that I would grant." he replied, tightening his hold.

With his other hand, he pulled out his dagger and brought it to the bard's neck.

"Deus, quis similis erit tibi? ne taceas, neque compescaris Deus: Quoniam ecce inimici tui sonuerunt: et qui oderunt te, extulerunt caput. Super populum tuum malignaverunt consilium: et cogitaverunt adversus sanctos tuos.(God, who is like you? Do not be silent, neither be still, oh God! Because, behold, your enemies are enraged and your foes rear their heads against your people! They forged a secret in their craftiness and counseled against your Holy Ones.)" he recited in a voice that seemed to carry the power to change things.

"Garrett, stop! You can't pass judgment!" Lawrence tried to interrupt, but a few Templars loyal to Garrett blocked his path and held him back.

"Silence!" the Templar roared.

With a quick flick of his powerful wrist, Garrett turned the bard around and pressed her back against his chest with one hand right under her chin and the other pressing the dagger to her neck. Arielle's heart began to hammer with such a panicked ferocity that she was afraid it would break through her bones and skin.

"Deus meus pone illos ut rotam: et sicut stipulam ante faciem venti.(Make them like tumble-weed, my God, like chaff before the wind.)" Garrett continued with an almost wild look in his eye, "Sicut ignis, qui comburit silvam: et sicut flamma comburens montes: Ita persequeris illos in tempestate tua: et in ira tua turbabis eos. (As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.)"

"Garrett, for the love of God, cease!" Lawrence yelled, struggling with the Templars.

"Imple facies eorum ignominia: et quærent nomen tuum, Domine. Erubescant, et conturbentur in sæculum sæculi: et confundantur, et pereant. Et cognoscant quia nomen tibi Dominus: tu solus Altissimus in omni terra. (Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.)"

"No!" Arielle cried, feeling the blade starting to dig in.

The door flew open and there stood a very angry guardian. Eden scanned the room and quickly found Garrett and saw his hold on Arielle. Her gaze fixed on him, she turned in his direction and stomped towards him with a look of menacing intent. It seemed that everyone in the room held their breaths, smart enough to not try to get in her way. Garrett absently loosened his hold as Eden approached and Arielle pulled herself free and took a few steps back. Eden's determined footsteps echoed through the hall until a whack was heard as Eden punched Garrett in the mouth.

The Templar fell back onto the ground, holding the side of his face and gazed at Eden with some astonishment. Eden's gaze shifted to Arielle.

"Are you alright?" she asked very quietly.

Arielle only nodded, but Eden saw the tears and fright in her green eyes, her entire body trembling, the thin line of blood trickling down her throat. Eden turned back to Garrett who had stood back up.

"Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra? (Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and on the earth?)" Eden demanded forcefully, burning holes into the Templar with her glare.

The Templar raised his hand to the corner of his mouth and drew his fingers away to see the tips lightly stained with blood. He looked at her half in question and half in a temper on the edge of control.

"Don't ever touch her again." she stated shortly.

"Eden, you don't understand. She's-"

"No, you don't understand!" Eden shouted as she suddenly grabbed him by his tunic and shoved him against the wall, "I'm warning you, Garrett. I swear that if you ever touch her again, I'll turn you into a messy pulp as red as that cross you wear."

Garrett said nothing, trying to show the guardian he wasn't scared. But he was scared and Eden wasn't impressed.

"Do you understand me?!" Eden shouted, shaking the Templar.

Garrett swallowed and nodded once. Eden gave a tiny, feral grin and roughly let go of him.

"Let it be clear that Arielle is my friend and my guest wherever I go. What is done to her is done to me. Is that understood?" she declared loudly to everyone, but still glowering at Garrett.

"Eden, they have every right to question-" Arielle whispered, barely glancing at Eden from under her brows.

Eden swirled around abruptly and glared at the bard, about to yell. But instead, the guardian was dumbfounded by how similar the current situation was to the one in which they had met. It struck the warrior so suddenly that her anger was quickly replaced by the gravity of a cruel reminder of what she had lost in the bard. A quiet anguish filled her eyes, turning ice to sea. Arielle wrung her hands nearly to the point of breaking to keep from throwing herself around the warrior's neck, wanting to tell her she was sorry, wanting to tell her that she would fix it all and that it would be alright. The look in her eyes right now would be the most grievous punishment I could think of.

Eden swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and her eyes froze again before spinning back around.

"Is that understood?" she repeated in a growl at Garrett through her clenched teeth.

"Of course." Garrett forced.

"Good."

Eden spun on her heel and stormed out the door. Quietly, slowly, and awkwardly, Arielle followed her. Once outside and away from the scrutinizing stare of the knights, Eden stopped and tried to catch her breath. Arielle looked at her and noticed her damp forehead, her working chest, and a spot of blood on her tunic that seemed to be growing larger. The bard instinctively took a step forward and then two larger ones when she saw Eden beginning to lose her balance. Arielle caught Eden in her arms and held on to her securely as Eden tried to stand upright again.

"Eden, you should be lying down. And your shoulder... We need to get you back to the hospital." Arielle said quietly.

Eden nodded faintly, her head spinning too much to argue. Lawrence appeared and silently trotted up to help. The three of them returned to the hospital, the Hospitaller and bard leading the guardian back to her bed. After Eden finally lay down, Lawrence took a deep breath and let it out slowly, running his hands through his hair slowly.

"I have to go and get this under control." he noted tiredly and then turned his eyes to Arielle, "Stay here. And for the love of God, could you both please stay out of trouble."

The women said nothing and Lawrence promptly left. Eden glanced over at the bard and saw her dejected look.

"Ignore him. He gets like that sometimes."

Arielle gave her a smile so weak that it hardly had a chance to appear on her face. She wanted to talk to Eden about everything; she wanted to explain, reason, and justify. She felt a layer of tension between them like a wall someone had built overnight, but she didn't know how to surmount it. She had lost her stories somewhere along the way and now she found that she seemed to have lost words altogether. Eden felt the uneasiness too, but didn't know what to do or whether she should do anything at all. On the one hand, the bard's decisions were her own, but on the other hand, Eden couldn't shake the feeling that none of them were what she had really wanted. The bard appeared to be only a small spark that happened to fall into a vat full of oil.

Eden remembered the pain the bard had caused her, but she also noticed the great danger she had put herself in orchestrating the warrior's escape. Not long after Arielle had left her cell, Aldric and the priest Albert had come for the guardian. They had wrapped her in a large cloth and began to carry her out of the dungeon. The guard that night was a new, young recruit and stopped them. There was one prisoner in that dungeon who had leprosy and Aldric claimed that they were carrying his dead body out. Afraid to be anywhere near a leper, the guard told them to be on their way. They took the back gate out where a horse stood waiting, unwrapped Eden, and Aldric pulled her onto his saddle and took her to the hospital, leaving her with Lawrence. While Eden was recovering, the priest had come once to see her and leave her a strange message. Aldric also came back a few days later with some things from Dorian's manor, most importantly Eden's sword and dagger, realizing they were no ordinary weapons. He left hurriedly promising to see her and Arielle again as soon as he could. It was, she mused, quite a plan and she didn't think that she would have been able to come up with a better one. In the end, Arielle had kept her promise to not leave Eden to die.

"I'm sorry about Garrett... Did... did he hurt you?" Eden asked softly.

Arielle simply shook her head quietly.

"Eden... How did you... how did you know where I was?" the bard finally asked.

"I felt... an indescribable fear within me... Then I heard you call my name... So I answered..."

"You heard me? How could you?... I only thought it..." the bard said in wonder.

"I don't know..." Eden admitted in a partial truth.


The next day, Eden was feeling better and being naturally restless, she decided to do a little roaming around. Of course, this didn't escape Arielle's attention. The bard argued that it didn't seem like such a good idea to go walking around Jerusalem wounded. Eden argued that she was hit with an arrow and not launched from a catapult. Eden had lingered around in bed the entire day like a good patient, but simply had to finally leave the hospital, which had become suddenly stuffy and constricting, for at least a little while. The bard reluctantly agreed.

The two women walked out onto the streets of Jerusalem. The sun had just set, leaving a fading sky to the rule of the evening. The air was pleasant and the daily bustle of the city had quieted down to a gentle murmur. Eden agreed that they would walk to the end of the street and then return to the hospital, a distance enough to stretch her legs. They strolled down the street, the tension in both of them evident for more than one reason.

Eden realized that the battle hadn't really been won. The Hospitallers had defeated Dorian's forces before the Templars intervened. She had nearly knocked over the physician who was wrapping up her wound when he told her of the battle and she charged out. She found the Templars in place, told them not to attack, and then flew into battle herself. And although Dorian's forces were crushed, Eden knew that it had all been just too simple. It bothered her that Paimon ran off in his duel with Lawrence and that Dorian was nowhere to be found. As far as Eden was concerned, as long as Dorian was alive then Arielle was in danger. And she knew that Arielle sensed that too. She saw the thin lines of tension spreading across her once naively happy face and that worried Eden most of all.

Arielle stole a glance at the warrior who was looking off into the distance, lost in thought. The cuts and bruises that she received in her cell were fading away, but still evident enough to pose an ugly reminder of what the guardian had gone through. The bard cringed at the thought. She had a hard time understanding how things had come to this; it was never something that she had wanted. After discovering Eden was still alive, Arielle couldn't find it in herself to leave the guardian's side even for a moment. Eden suspected that the bard kept close to her because she was afraid of Dorian's retribution or any of the military orders in Jerusalem, but the guardian didn't know that Arielle also couldn't seem to finally believe that Eden was still actually alive and that the bard never wanted to go through the thought of Eden dying again.

Both women noticed the scars, pain, and tension in each other's faces in stolen glances and wanted to tell each other that somehow it would be all right in the end. Yet neither knew how to put it into sensible words.

"It's a nice evening..." Arielle said, a little startled that she had actually said something, "Remember in..."

Arielle let the words fade away into the air, clamping her jaw in self-criticism at bringing back memories that she didn't know if Eden wanted to remember. She smoothed down her dark blue dress in nervousness. She shot a glance to see Eden still looking out ahead and it only made the bard more nervous. She opened her mouth to let out a flood of profuse apologies.

"Yes, I remember." Eden replied before Arielle let out a sound, "It was a nice evening."

Arielle closed her mouth slowly and turned her head towards the guardian to see her looking at her with a strange mixture of reserve and warmth. A youthful smile crept across the bard's face and she then ducked her head, afraid she might blush. Eden chuckled almost soundlessly.

"What is that pendant?" Eden asked, noticing it on the bard's dress, near her neckline.

"Ah, it's a daffodil... It's my favorite flower... One of the few trinkets I took with me from home..." Arielle explained.

"It suits you." Eden said simply and ahead of her again.

"You look good in that brown." Arielle noted after a while.

"You think so?" Eden asked, lightly stretching out the dark brown tunic that Lawrence had lent her.

"Yes. You could even think of wearing it more often." Arielle added lightly.

"Oh, I don't know... I look like a giant pile of dung."

"What?!" Arielle snorted loudly, "No you don't."

"Yes, well, still, remember that it's black that brings out my feminine side."

"How could I forget?"

They reached the end of the street and simultaneously turned around and started back.

"You know..." Arielle started again in a quiet, thoughtful voice laced with a bit of apprehension, "there are a lot of things that I never forgot... though it might have seemed so..."

Eden rested her eyes on an either overzealous or rather slow merchant still putting away his wares and closing his little store on the corner of the darkening street.

"I know..." Eden replied quietly.

They both noticed that the ease of each other's company still appeared to be there despite everything that happened. And that fact gave both of them hope. Arielle hoped that maybe Eden would forgive her. Eden hoped that maybe Arielle wouldn't leave.

"So how much longer is Lawrence going to insist that you stay at the hospital?" Arielle asked, looking at Eden with a slightly mischievous tone.

Eden stopped next to the merchant who had ducked inside for a moment. She turned to Arielle with a raised eyebrow which made a grin appear in the corner of the bard's mouth. But then Eden looked over the bard's shoulder and her eyebrows knotted. Arielle noticed the change in expression and turned to look in the direction Eden was looking.

Both women saw a dark, mounted horseman turned in their direction, waiting at the next corner. Eden noticed the sudden silence, the lack of people where there were several a moment ago, the abrupt chill.

"Oh damn..." she whispered.

Eden turned in the opposite direction to see another horseman and when she turned to look down towards the hospital, there was a third. With the three silent, menacing horseman and the end of the street in back of them, the women were boxed in with no route of escape. Eden cursed herself for leaving the hospital without a single weapon. She felt Arielle's hand suddenly and instinctively wrap around her own in fear and faith. Eden gave her hand a small squeeze and pulled her a little closer to her; she wasn't going anywhere without the bard. She made a mental note to find Dorian, hack him to pieces, and personally take him to Hell in a little bag tied with a fat, pink ribbon.

"Well, come on boys!" Eden yelled impatiently, "I don't have all day to be killed!"

The riders spurred into action, all three coming at them at the same time.

"Trust me?" Eden asked.

"Yes." Arielle whispered.

Eden bounded over to the merchant's store and quickly tore down the cloth awning and the wooden pole supporting it. She rushed back and the women stood close to each other. Thankfully, the riders didn't ride evenly and one approached earlier than the others. Eden flung the cloth in his direction. The awning covered the horse's head, blocking his view, and causing him to rear in fright and throw his rider back into a pile of barrels standing along the street. In complete focus, Eden turned to the next rider. She bounded forward a few steps, only to abruptly stop, brace herself, and hold up the pole. The rider collided with it with such force that the pole broke in two as the rider broke his ribs and was thrown backwards off his horse. Eden turned to see the last rider closing in quickly, swinging a large club over his head. And she saw that she had run out of options.

Time slowed down for the warrior as she took the broken pole and ran as fast as she could towards the bard who was taking tentative steps back away from the encroaching rider. Eden saw the rider raising the club over his head, the rising arm beginning its deadly swing. In a last attempt to do something, Eden crouched low on her knees, skidding to a halt. Right before reaching a complete stop, she tossed the pole right under the horse's hoof and then, using the rest of her momentum, turned around and simply grabbed hold of the startled bard tightly. Eden used the rest of her strength to jump up and forward into the air. She had foreseen that she wouldn't make it in time and was now desperately trying to lessen the blow. The horse stumbled on the pole, but not fast enough to save the women from the descending club. It crashed into Eden's back with such force that it knocked the wind out of her and propelled them forward. The horse finally slipped, sending the rider over its head and down onto the street with a thud. Eden and Arielle sailed into the air and the bard could feel the warrior twist and strain her muscles to somehow spin them around. Just as Arielle was wondering why, they collided with the wall of a building on the corner of the street.

Arielle heard a sickening thud, crack, cry of pain, dragging, and then silence. It took a few breaths for Arielle to finally open her eyes and figure out what happened.

"Eden?" she asked quietly.

Eden said nothing, her hands falling away slowly as Arielle shifted.

"Eden?" the bard repeated with more concern.

Still nothing. Arielle wiggled her way out of the guardian's now loose grip and kneeled next to her. Eden's eyes were closed, her breathing level, but slow. Arielle's eyes drifted over the unresponsive warrior until they reached her face. She tilted her head slightly and saw in the dim light the unmistakable bright, red blood ever so slowly trickling out of her ears and nose. For a moment, Arielle froze, thinking that perhaps Eden lay dead before her. But she shook the thought violently from her mind and took a deep breath. Now Eden needs me. She leaned over, gently grabbing Eden's shoulders.

"Eden? Eden? Can you hear me?" she asked, her voice trembling and her hands absently squeezing the warrior, "Listen, you're going to be alright. You're hurt, but you'll be fine..."

After a few minutes, Eden felt the scared pressure on her shoulders and willed her eyes to open. They fluttered open and closed as Eden battled with herself and the painfully loud ringing in her ears. She opened her mouth, but couldn't form a single word or catch a solid breath. She tried to get up, but couldn't coordinate her muscles. She caught glimpses of Arielle and saw her saying things to her.

"Eden, can you get up? Can you walk?... Good God, Eden, say something..." Arielle tried, but continued to get no response from the warrior.

In a moment of fright and determination, Arielle decided to at least try to be a quarter of the hero she had always wanted to be. She looked straight into Eden's eyes, cupped her face with her hands and brushed it a few times with her thumbs to calm the warrior down. The bard then ducked a little, pulling the warrior's arm around her neck and holding it in place while taking her other hand and wrapping it around Eden's waist. She pulled the both of them up with all her strength and Eden did everything in her power to stand on her own, fighting off the pain. They made their way for the hospital which was thankfully close, Eden half stumbling and half being dragged. Her mouth continued to move, trying to say something and breathe normally.

"I'll get you to the hospital, Eden," Arielle said through her gritting teeth, "We're almost there."

They finally reached the hospital and two sisters ran up to the bard to help. They managed to get Eden to her bed and one sister ran to get a physician after Arielle told them what had happened. Eden noticed the Hospitallers collecting around her and looked around frantically for the bard who crouched down next to her side. She pinned her gaze to the blond. She wanted to tell her that every bone in her body seemed to hurt. She wanted to tell her to bring her some water. She watched them all saying things around her. Arielle... I can't hear anything...

"My goodness," the physician sighed loudly, rushing over to Eden, "does this woman have a death wish?!"

Arielle felt her heart fall at the words. The helplessness she saw in those pained blue eyes haunted her to the core. This is my fault...

"Step aside, maiden." the physician said roughly and pushed Arielle away from Eden's bedside.

The physician tried to pull Eden's tunic up and turn her over to see her back, but Eden began to struggle, letting strange, disjointed sounds out of her throat. She didn't know what was going on, she couldn't hear a thing, and Arielle was gone from view. The physician called for some monks to help keep her down. When they approached, Eden only grew wilder. Eden thrashed around as the monks tried to hold her and the physician tried to tend to her; she acted much like a wounded animal. She was hurt and bewildered, surrounded by silent men who kept tugging at her. She couldn't hear the outside world, but everything in her head was screaming all at the same time and Eden thought that she was going to lose her mind. She wanted the incredible noise to stop, everyone to step away, and have someone explain to her what was going on. Finally, a determined and irritated bard pushed her way through the crowd to Eden.

"No! Get back! Don't touch her!" she cried, protectively covering the guardian's body with her arms, "She doesn't like being touched by strangers."

The monks looked at each other, but slowly took a few steps back. They watched Arielle turn to Eden who had her bewildered gaze locked on her and instinctively began to stroke the warrior's hair, telling her calming words the guardian couldn't hear, but seemed to respond to anyway. Eden stopped yelling, stopped thrashing about, and slowly her breathing calmed and she relaxed.

"Tell me what to do." the bard told the physician.

"This isn't a place for a woman-"

"Tell me what to do." the bard repeated, her tone indicating that this wasn't a discussion and a flash in her eyes telling him that she wasn't going to ask nicely again.

He thought to argue, but then let out a long breath. He gave her precise instructions which the bard carried out so well that he had to admit that he was impressed, but had no intention of letting the blond know it. The guardian's back was already covered in a gigantic bruise from the hits she took, but had saved herself from broken bones. And their was no telling what other internal damage she had received. The physician did some more precise tests, all the while keeping Arielle near. When he finished, he muttered that he had never seen such a battered warrior before, which was the last thing Arielle wanted to hear. He bandaged Eden's head and made her lay on her side and said that all they could do now was wait.

It became eerily quiet when the monks and sisters left, leaving the bard and guardian alone. Arielle sat next to Eden on a chair, holding her hand and stroking her cheek from time to time. The guardian was calmer, but her darting eyes betrayed her bewilderment. It made the bard's heart contort painfully. Why does it always have to be this way? Why does everything I do seem to bring you suffering?... I never wanted you to suffer... Never...

Somewhere in the night, they both finally fell into a troubled sleep.


The next day wasn't like the bard imagined. She wanted to believe that Eden would wake up all better, tearing off her bandage and muttering what a bastard Dorian was. The physician had come around dawn and unwrapped the bandages to reveal that the bleeding had indeed stopped and there didn't seem to be any swelling of the head. Pleased, he later checked the warrior's reflexes and other motor skills and found them all in order. Eden experienced a little dizziness when she stood up, but other than that and an extremely bruised and sore back, Eden seemed to be in good condition. But the warrior still couldn't hear a sound. The physician examined her head and ears from every angle and even called in a colleague to do the same and they both came to the same conclusion- they had no idea what was causing her deafness. They shrugged their shoulders and simply said that it was all in God's hands now.

Eden watched the physicians as they shook their heads grimly and walked away. She felt that something was very wrong, but was hoping that it was just her relentlessness towards herself obscuring her view. Yet a glance at the bard, who stood there looking at her as if she had just been defeated by a thousand armies told her that she was unfortunately right. The warrior's gaze longed for some kind of an answer and it prompted the bard find some paper and a quill which she borrowed from one of the monks and returned to Eden's bedside.

[You've lost your hearing. They don't really know why.] she wrote and handed the paper to Eden.

[When will my hearing return?] Eden scribbled back.

[They don't know.]

[Will it return at all?]

[They don't know.]

As the guardian read the words a couple of times, Arielle felt her pain and worry. Eden sighed and ran her hands through her hair slowly. She glanced at the bard and then back at the paper and shook her head.

[Go.]

Arielle looked up from the paper with a confused look on her face as Eden turned and laid down, back to the blond. Arielle's first reaction was to do something, to comfort the guardian, but she decided against it. It began to make sense to the bard as she saw her greatest fear become real. Eden blamed Arielle for her condition as much as she herself did. She had run out of chances and apologies and this time the warrior wouldn't find it in her heart to forgive her. She evidently didn't want to have anything to do with the bard. Arielle swallowed the large lump in her throat and took a shaking breath.

"I'll stay here until you fall asleep. And then I'll go like you asked." she whispered.


It was all too much for Arielle. She had met Eden in the desert, befriended her, then left with Dorian, then thought she had lost her to find her again only to now have her gravely injured. She began to think that she was nothing more than a bad omen looming over the warrior and constantly getting her into the most complicated and painful of trouble. She wrapped her arms around her raised knees and rested her head against the wall she was sitting against. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky, letting some of the heat of the day fade away. Arielle mused about all the things that had happened to her since that day in the desert and began to wonder whether she was simply being selfish in her attachment to the guardian. She loved the adventures and the guardian's company, but wasn't it peace and stability that she had always wanted? The bard let out a deep breath and shook her head. She had looked for exactly that in Dorian and that almost made her mad and Eden pay with her life. She remembered the blond angel's words; perhaps she was looking at it all wrong. But no matter what side or angle she looked at it, Arielle simply couldn't see the road, the signs, the answer she needed.

Her inhibitions and lack of confidence ran to the forefront of her mind. Following Eden around was fine until something happened. And something always seemed to happen around the bard. Could she ever do anything for Eden? Could she ever protect her, take care of her, support her just like the warrior had done for her so many times? She wanted more than anything to say 'yes', but the word stuck in her throat. Perhaps, in reality, I'm just a burden and nothing more. That made the most sense to her. I am nothing more than a burden...

Lawrence saw her sitting outside the hospital, walked up to her, and then leaned against the wall next to her. They remained in an unstrained silence for a while.

"I'm afraid that if you don't already hate me, then you soon will." Arielle finally said, looking out in front of her as if transfixed.

"I've never hated anyone in my life." Lawrence replied simply, turning to look at her.

"Then you will learn." she replied with a foreboding in her voice that worried the Hospitaller.

"Why?"

Arielle began to tremble and fight with the tears that were filling her eyes. She opened and closed her mouth a few times while struggling to shove words out of her throat that didn't want to go.

"I'm leaving." she admitted in a cracking whisper.

"Leaving?" Lawrence asked in evident surprise, "Now?"

"I just can't do anything... I just can't do this anymore..." Arielle said hurriedly.

Lawrence closed his eyes for moment, wishing the words away with all his might. He kept his irritation under control, frustrated with the two friends who simply couldn't or didn't want to see how much they meant to each other.

"And what about Eden?"

"Eden... is a warrior... she's God's chosen... Her life is determined by fighting for anyone or anything she chooses... She is so strong... I can't say any of that about myself... She doesn't need me..."

Lawrence observed her quietly and took a deep breath.

"So you want to leave the warrior with nothing more to fight for? And now?"

"I'm not the only thing in this world."

"No, but you are one of the more precious things to her in this world."

Arielle shook her head, a few tears falling, not wanting to believe the words that she so much liked to hear.

"I only bring her pain and loss... If it wasn't for me she would be able to hear now... I should go so that she can recover in peace... It's better this way..."

"She might not ever recover."

"She will!" the bard challenged sharply, looking up at Lawrence who looked at her with a knowing gaze.

"Faith is a powerful thing," he said slowly and clearly, "So powerful, in fact, that not believing in God simply makes Him cease to exist. So think what faith in one's self can do... And it's much easier to believe in yourself when someones already does."

"Faith in others got me where I am now..." the bard answered dejectedly, slipping into self-remorse, "If I stay maybe Eden will one day turn on me too..."

Lawrence took a deep, irritated breath.

"You know, I think I'm lucky to be able to call myself Eden's friend." he finally said angrily.

Arielle rose, along with some strange flame within her and faced Lawrence.

"Lawrence, she told me to go... She didn't ask me to stay..."

"Why does Eden always have to be the hero? Are you that focused on yourself and your own pain?"

The statement stung Arielle so deeply that she flinched. She had always wanted to be heroic, but never knew how. And she couldn't see how staying without being asked to was heroic.

"I've seen the darkest side of her; the one that most people have seen." Lawrence said sternly, an anger burning in the back of his eyes that Arielle was half afraid of and half jealous of, pointing a finger at the bard's chest, "But I've also seen the more hidden, better side to her- her trust, loyalty, and care. And I can tell you one thing- she would have loved you more than you'll know."


Eden awoke after a little time to find the bard no longer there. She picked up the paper that was left on the covers and stared at the 'go' she had written. Eden's shoulders slumped. She felt completely useless. What worth was a warrior who couldn't hear? She felt like a failure. For Eden it was a double-edged sword. She was unable to protect the bard in her current state, that was obvious. And they couldn't remain friends if Eden couldn't protect her because the warrior's reputation and enemies would follow her wherever she went, automatically putting the bard in danger. But what was even worse was that she had lost everything in this life, only her sword remained. Now even that was taken from her and she was left alone, helpless, and naked to the world. If I can't protect her, then what use am I to her? She's better off this way.

Eden closed her eyes and fell into the deep, silent cavern that her mind had become since the accident.

'We never give up.' a faint yet familiar voice said from out of the darkness.

'Angel?'

'Don't you dare give up.'

'I am incapacitated for Heaven's sake! What do you want from me?'

'To keep fighting. It's what we do.'

'How? For what?'

'What about Arielle?'

'What can I do for Arielle now? Nothing!... She's better off without me...'

'You promised...' the angel reminded after some time, 'and you've never broken your word.'

Eden opened her eyes and realized that that was the last thing she still had, the only thing that hadn't been taken from her and that she still had control and power over. She got up and despite her dizziness, began to search for the bard. Her wounded pride had made her turn the bard away so she wouldn't look at her as feeble or defenseless. She had to find Arielle and tell her that she didn't want for her to go forever. She would come up with a solution to everything. She would keep her word. I have to live to protect her... or die trying.

She stumbled out of the hospital and looked down the street where she caught sight of Arielle and Lawrence talking, the Hospitaller pointing at the bard which he only did when angry. After a few moments, the pair noticed Eden off in the distance. The warrior looked at the blond and tried to convey her message through eyes of apologetic confusion. Arielle saw Eden teetering slightly where she would always stand proud. She saw a man leaving the hospital brush against her where she wouldn't have ever let anyone that near. She saw the apples fall from the bundle of a passing woman and Eden noticed them only when they hit her feet. Arielle saw a friend she had destroyed. This is all my fault and I hate myself for it. And Arielle turned and ran, leaving a shouting Lawrence and a confused Eden behind.


Arielle decided to simply go back home; her pilgrimage was over. She went back to her room and realized with a heavy heart that she had nothing to pack. After the battle outside the gates of Jerusalem, Lawrence had found her a very inexpensive room at a nearby inn that was run by a friend of his. She looked around the room. All she had left were her personal belongings. There was nothing left of her armor, her bow or sword, nearly nothing to remind her of what she had seen and done. It almost seemed like her adventures with Eden had never happened and it made the bard feel empty. Why?

"Do you really think this is the best way?" she heard a voice from behind, "The only way?"

The bard swiveled around to see a familiar figure.

"Angel..."

"It seems to me you're a stubborn learner." the blond angel noted gently.

"No..." Arielle countered quietly, "I finally understand. I have to go. I have to stop hurting her... and everyone."

"Well, then that just shows that you don't understand a thing."

"Isn't taking my curse away from her right?" Arielle questioned.

"You really think that leaving her completely behind is the best thing?"

"Yes..."

"Then why is your heart so heavy?"

Arielle said nothing, but hung her head.

"You have a good heart, Arielle," the angel explained, "a very good one. It's seen so many evil and hateful things and yet hasn't changed in its longing for love and kindness. Follow it. It will show you the way."

"I don't know the way. I'm lost... I'm weak..."

"Strength is not only shown in force, Arielle. The greatest strength in shown in heart."

"No... I was tested and I failed the test... so dearly... I should bear the consequences..."

"Or perhaps this is all a test," the angel suggested, "to help you chose what you really want and who you really are."

"Why would God test me with such evil?" Arielle asked with a hurt look, "And bring such evil to others?"

"God doesn't send evil. You encounter evil everyday on your path. It's what you do in that encounter that is your test... and that's what God is watching..."

The angel left Arielle staring in her direction long after she had disappeared.


Lawrence helped Eden back to the hospital. She laid down on her side towards Lawrence and he sat on the edge of her bed. He gently caressed her shoulder, furiously thinking of ways to help Eden and even more ways to smack the bard upside the head and back to her senses.

[Why?] he read on a paper thrust into his lap by the warrior.

It was a simple, one-worded question that was much too profound for anyone to answer and take the hurt away.

Lawrence decided to try anything on his friends' behalf. It wasn't because he thought that Arielle deserved it, it was more to try to save the one thing left for Eden and that was dearer to her than she would ever admit. He picked up the quill and replied.

[She is scared.]

Eden looked at the words, sighed and answered, sliding the paper over to Lawrence.

[Isn't everyone?]

[Some let that fear rule them. I tried. I'm sorry.]

Eden read the words and looked up at the Hospitaller to meet his solemn gaze with her own filled with a knowing sadness that this is the way things always seem to turn out. He was angry at the bard's self pity and complete lack of gratitude. Eden simply felt foolish that she had thought she saw something greater and brighter in the bard, but still struggling with an unrelenting feeling that she wasn't wrong about her.

[Lawrence, don't you know by now that I was born to do great things that no one will ever notice or remember?]

He read the words and then looked at Eden with a great hurt for his good friend. And looking back at him was a face that held a light smile of helplessness and eyes that held the stare of a person who had silently accepted that this day was their last on earth.


Eden left the hospital the next day and went to stay with the Hospitaller sisters again. Lawrence came to check on her everyday, worried about Eden. Her state showed no change and Eden was very withdrawn. It was hard enough on the warrior to sit through the days without her sword, never knowing if she would ever pick it up again. She felt empty. And when she was no longer strong and formidable, but wounded and weaker, Arielle suddenly vanished. Eden felt lost.

After a few days, Eden had realized that her state was more than likely permanent and if it was, then she was completely useless. She paced up and down her room one night, unable to sleep, and decided that her guardianship had come to a very unexpected end. With a tight throat, a cracking heart, and watery eyes, she took her armor and weapons and put them away in a large chest at the bottom of the wooden closet she had. She locked it, turned around, and laid down on her bed, crying herself soundlessly to sleep.

Lawrence had asked Helen to take care of her and she had agreed, feeling indescribably sorry for the guardian's predicament. Eden simply nodded at Lawrence's suggestion without a sign of objection and silently made her way to the kitchen to assist Helen in cutting vegetables or stirring soups or stews. Helen would prattle away though Eden didn't hear a single word and Lawrence would have found it all amusing if it wasn't so regrettable. One day, a dog wandered into the kitchen while the Hospitaller was there and he moved to scare him off.

"No!" Helen called, seeing him and the dog, "That dog is a friend, Lawrence."

"Friend?" he asked stunned, turning to the sister.

"Yes, quite. Eden has taken him in and cares for him. The poor thing has been wandering around here looking for a scrap to eat. You've haven't noticed him around? I wouldn't think that Eden would like this dog. The poor thing is without a leg, you see? Well, he's Eden's dog now; they seem to get along so well. What do you think? I think it's wonderful." Helen explained while cutting some potatoes.

Lawrence simply watched as the dog avoided him and trotted up to Eden. When the warrior felt him brush against her leg, she crouched down and smiled at the dog, scratching it behind the ears and giving it a scrap of something to eat. The dog snapped it up and then licked Eden's hand in great appreciation and the warrior grinned at him. The Hospitaller was amazed to see such care and consideration shown to the disfigured animal and it made him smile. Perhaps the wounded always understand each other better.

Outside the kitchen door left ajar, the bard silently watched it all.


Almost a week after the attack, Arielle walked slowly and quietly up to the single room in the corner of the cloister where Eden was staying. She saw the window had been left open. She tried the door and surprisingly feeling it give way, took a couple of tentative steps inside.

The bard had come to say goodbye. She had gone over and over it in her mind and there was no reason that she could think of that anyone in their right mind would want to her to stay. Not only did she have nothing to offer, she only constantly kept dragging them into trouble. Arielle had had her pilgrimage and adventures and now should thank God for her experiences and opportunities and go back home. Arielle caught sight of the warrior lying on the bed, sleeping lightly in the light of the rising sun.

Eden looked so peaceful, so beautiful, so... fragile that it weighed on the bard's already heavy heart so much that she felt it practically fall to her feet. I don't want to go, I really don't want to. But I just don't see any other way... A gust of the gentle breeze blew through the open window and drew the bard's attention to an open journal that the breeze was flipping through. Arielle absently reached out and put her hand on the journal to still the pages. The breeze subsided and the blond withdrew her hand to see a short fragment of neatly written text in front of her.

[I look up from fields of paper lies and want to torch the earth as I gaze at her fading sight... whispering come back.]

Arielle read it over and over and over as if she couldn't comprehend what she was reading. She glanced at the still sleeping warrior and then back at the page and then through the window. And the sudden, single tear that fell from her eye led to an explosion in her mind. She would have never thought that the warrior was capable of verse. She would have never thought many things about the warrior. And there, in the middle of that room, Arielle suddenly felt ridiculously foolish. The words were about her. Eden had just did what the blond thought she would never do- Eden had asked her to stay.

Something finally snapped so loudly in Arielle's head, that it sent a shiver through the world. Not only had Eden asked her to stay, but she had done so in the bard's own language. And Arielle suddenly noticed that she had actually been wrong about so many things for such a long time. And she thought that maybe, if a woman could wield a sword, if a human could battle demons, and if a bandit could show compassion then maybe, just maybe she herself could be a friend, a confidant, a protector. Protector?...

Flooded with the emotions that she had tried to control and stifle for so long now, she found herself walking up to the sleeping warrior. She didn't know what to say or what to do, but she did know that she just had to be near. A strange tingle of the bard's close presence woke the warrior and she froze when her pale blue eyes met mossy green ones. The eyes she could never say no to. The eyes she thought that she would never see again.

They stood frozen for a while, caught in each other's gazes. Then Arielle took a deep breath and moved slowly forward towards the warrior who also took a breath and unconsciously pressed her back to the headboard of the bed. The bard saw the multitude of sad questions in the guardian's eyes and it cut her so deep that she shifted her gaze to the floor when she stood next to Eden. She fiddled with her fingers and her jaw moved, opening slightly about a hundred times to say the things she couldn't find the words for. Eden knotted her brows, trying to understand what the bard was doing there and what she wanted. She finally decided to be the braver one and put them both out of their misery and picked up a piece of paper that was lying on the table beside her bed. She scribbled a single word down and handed it to Arielle.

[Going?]

Arielle read it and thought her heart might explode. A lump rose in her throat and tears threatened to spill from her eyes. She let out a long sigh, took the quill, answered, put the quill down and reread her answer. She looked up from the parchment and saw the warrior's intense, apprehensive yet kind gaze. She saw its hope and anticipation. But one tear spilled over its rim when she saw that, despite everything, there was no judgment in Eden's eyes. As the tear landed and splashed against the floor, Arielle felt her defenses and excuses topple like castles of sand and she tossed the paper forward and threw herself in utter abandon at the warrior. She was caught in a surprised, yet strong grasp and Arielle cried and cried into Eden's shoulder. Eden anxiously reached for the parchment, picked it up and read it.

[Staying.]

Arielle felt a deep breath escape the warrior. Then the embrace tightened and the tension evaporated and turned into a little of the comfort that had begun to share before Dorian. Arielle felt that feeling of acceptance and protection return and it made her happy since she had been so scared that it had been lost forever. that joy escaped her in a smile that crept across her face. Eden could feel the smile on her skin through her tunic and felt a warmth in her rekindle.

"I'm so sorry, Eden." Arielle whispered straight into the warrior's ear, huddling closer into the protective arms, "Will you ever forgive me?"

A small jolt went through Eden when she thought she had very faintly heard the bard.

"Arielle..." Eden answered so quietly that Arielle could have missed it.

But the bard heard it. And she cried to the sound of her name in the most beautiful voice she knew.

 

Chapter Text

Eden's hearing began to return very slowly but surely. In the beginning, her hearing started to come back in strange, short spasms that she sometimes barely had time to notice. With time, the warrior lapsed in between periods of her perfect hearing to adequate hearing to a wide range of buzzing, ringing, and high pitched shrills that nearly drove Eden mad. Lawrence noticed that in this state the noises of the city made Eden agitated and her nerves were always on edge. When her hearing would suddenly deafen and then return again, Eden would be bombarded by the hundreds of sounds of the city and it made her jump. Lawrence decided that it would be better if the warrior had somewhere much quieter to recover before she accidentally did herself or someone else harm.

Lawrence knew of a rough dwelling in a woodland around an hour's ride away from the city. He had slept there for a night once shortly after he had arrived in Jerusalem and needed a quiet place to think. He thought the spot would be perfect for his two friends. He decided to escort the two women to the woodland and neither argued. Arielle rode with the Hospitaller since Xanthus was yet to be found and the journey, though short and uneventful, was covered in an awkward silence between them all. They reached the edges of the woodland and rode casually down the narrow path that wandered between the oak trees and wild, tangled brush. They passed two streams and rode up a small hill to the secluded spot. The stone dwelling was in somewhat worse condition than he had remembered as they dismounted and looked around. There was a nice, cool spring only a few steps away and the rising mountainside from one side and a few trees around kept the area in a relatively cool shade. They walked into the hovel which was dusty, rickety, and looked like it hadn't been lived in since the times of Christ. But the thatch roofing was in good shape as were the walls and Lawrence walked out finding it satisfactory.

Eden was still looking around when Lawrence was untying his saddlebags. He placed them up against the wall, returned, and mounted his horse. Arielle walked up to him.

"It should be peaceful here; hardly anyone knows of this place." Lawrence said dryly, "Nevertheless, always be careful. There's a dagger in the saddlebag for you too."

"Lawrence," Arielle said slowly, looking up at him intently, "why are you helping me?"

"Because I want to prove myself wrong." he replied quietly and then raised one hand in parting, turned around, and trotted off.

The fact that they were by themselves and could finally spend some time to talk seemed to have exactly the opposite effect on the friends. They spent the entire day unpacking and making the dwelling more livable, cooking, gathering some water and wood, and so on without saying one word more than was necessary. Arielle didn't know what to say and Eden didn't know how to respond and so they tiptoed around the mountain between them, foolishly hoping that by some miracle it might go away by itself.

After a day of busying themselves with even the smallest and most trivial of tasks, they ate a light supper in silence and decided to go to sleep. There was only one wide bed, but when Arielle wanted to raise the subject with Eden, the warrior just trudged over to the long bench by the wall and began to prepare it. Arielle hung her head and climbed into the bed slowly, not wanting to risk an argument.

As Arielle fell into a fitful sleep, Eden lay awake, the constant buzzing in her head not letting her relax. So she stared up at the thatch above and began to wonder how long her state would last and how much longer she would have to stand it. Would it get better or was this annoying state of in-betweenness permanent? Her soul meandered off to a darker place, the black valley that it never really seemed to enter nor ever fully leave. What kept her on this earth with such stubbornness? And for what purpose? If her life was to be in the service of others and God, then how could she help anyone in her state? Eden simply couldn't see the purpose or meaning in her deafness.

The warrior closed her eyes under the strain of her conviction that she would never hear well again. It was torture for her. From the depths of the darkness that she was letting herself sink into, a light appeared and began to spread until it almost burned her eyelids. Her eyes flew open and a figure stood at the foot on the bench, surrounded by light and glory.

"Michael..."

The archangel was, Eden thought, the most beautiful, glorious, and formidable of all the angels. He stood both daunting and gentle, dressed in gleaming, golden armor, carrying a sword made of saintly fire. His eyes were made of flame as his hair seemed to be. A wise understanding emanated from him like from all the angels, but his powerful stance reminded that he was God's greatest warrior. He stood very quietly, hardly making any movement, patiently observing the guardian.

"Michael, you come for the dying..." Eden whispered.

The archangel said nothing, his eyes staring at Eden and right through her, knowing her thoughts, heart, and pain.

"Please... take me away..." Eden continued and saw Michael narrow his eyes at the words, "Take me with you..."

"Why?" Michael asked in a quiet, but powerful, rich voice.

"I don't want to be here anymore... Please have mercy upon me..."

"You know that I cannot do that." Michael answered simply.

"Please..." Eden begged with a trembling voice, a solitary tear rolling down her cheek, "if you are merciful, then please kill me... I've lost everything and I have nothing more to give... Everything I touch seems to leave me eventually..."

"It isn't mercy to grant a request simply because it is asked." answered the archangel as if unmoved.

"Then take me from this life in a lack of mercy," Eden argued, "I don't care if I die, but this?... This torment?... Haven't I suffered enough or is this an example of God's benevolence?"

"And Arielle?" Michael asked, tilting his head slightly towards the bard, "Is she your torment?"

"No..." Eden replied, shaking her head slowly, "but I can't protect her like I should."

"You can protect her as only you can."

"Which means not at all."

"Which means more than anyone else." the archangel concluded, "Qui ignoratis quid erit in crastino. (Consider that you do not know what will be tomorrow.)"

Eden knotted her brows at Michael, not knowing exactly what he meant by the words. Yet as she opened her mouth to ask him, Michael disappeared and left the room dark again. Eden thought over what tomorrow might bring and saw nothing special in the day. A rather loud whimper from Arielle caused Eden to turn her gaze towards her and a strange thought struck her- perhaps tomorrow didn't necessarily have to be a day.


The morning brought nothing new for the two women. Both seemed to awaken more tired than the day before and they somehow made and ate breakfast without hardly saying a word or even recognizing each other's presence. It was too much for the usually warm and friendly blond to bear and she decided to walk off through the oaks, mumbling something about looking for another spring. The guardian simply watched her go.

There was a quiet anger in Eden that she kept a death grip on, afraid that if it bubbled to the surface, it might destroy their friendship once and for all. She felt used, betrayed, and mad at herself that she seemed to be taking everything lying down. She wondered if Arielle knew exactly what damage she had done and what danger she had simply leapt into. It was true what Garrett had said, betraying a guardian was severely punishable; she could have just left the bard to what she rightfully deserved...

Eden sighed heavily and shook her head. None of that was really right or true. She remembered when she had felt a fierce jolt in her center, the lightest incomprehensible whisper in her head, the sudden, short-lived burning of her arm and she knew that Arielle was in trouble. She thought nothing of her own safety; she only knew she had to get to the bard as quickly as possible. It was like an unnamed force was pulling her there, telling her that the blond was her charge and by her side was the place Eden was supposed to be. The one thing Eden had learned over the years was that it often turned out that God's will, at least in the beginning, hardly ever matched her own. But the entire part of her life that she had spent rebelling against everything brought her absolutely nothing in return except a long string of regrets and a very nasty reputation. The warrior ran a hand through her hair and rested it on the back of her neck. She was a warrior, but this battle based on concession and forgiveness was one that she simply didn't know if she could win. Nevertheless, she found her feet moving forward in search of the bard. Whether she was to win or lose, she was never one to back down from a fight.

Arielle meandered through the trees. Her shoulders were slumped under the invisible pressure of her guilt and mistakes and she began to think that this was what Atlas must have felt like. She sometimes thought that if Eden knew how much she really hated herself now, then perhaps she would see that is was practically impossible to add to it. She felt like the world's most pathetic dunce. She had wanted to be her own woman so much that instead of choosing for herself, she simply did the opposite of what Eden had advised. Yet, in the end, she had consented to the decision that everyone who had never really cared about her had made. She almost hated her entire family for it and all the persistent, choking lessons they had forced down her throat. She wanted to throw herself on a sword every time she thought of the voice within her that screamed that she was going down the wrong path, but she had managed to strangle silent. Why hadn't she listened? And if she didn't listen to herself then why would she expect Eden to listen to her? The bard was simply waiting for the moment when Eden would tell her to go home. She dreaded it and just the thought made a chill go down her spine. Because one thing Eden didn't know was that despite everything, there was a part of Arielle that had never let go of Eden, had never said goodbye and had never forgotten. She had made a mistake, yes, but once she realized that, she only continued in her mistake in the conviction that Eden would now want nothing to do with her anyway. The blond ran both her hands through her hair in frustration and let them drop down to her sides. And while she made her way up to a spring that flowed into a stream not far off and perched herself on a large rock to sit and think, Arielle prayed for a chance to let Eden see that she might be foolish, but she wasn't the monster the dark-haired woman probably thought she was.

It wasn't long before Eden found her and sat down near the bard on a fallen tree stump. They sat there in silence for what seemed to be a century, staring out ahead of themselves, lost in their own thoughts, fears, and inhibitions.

"If I told you I'm sorry, it wouldn't be enough, would it?" Arielle said, finally breaking the silence.

"I know you're sorry," Eden sighed, "but my memory is a different thing."

"Let me help you try to forget..."

"I..." Eden said, hanging her head and shaking it, "I just don't... understand..."

Arielle sighed heavily and her shoulders slumped. On the one hand, it wasn't fair for her to expect Eden to understand when she herself barely did, but the bard knew she had to try.

"Do you know what it's like to have what's expected of you hammered into your head so hard and long that you forget that you ever wanted anything?" Arielle explained, the bitterness of her life seeping through her words, "To be constantly beneath the scrutinizing gazes of those who should be closest to you? To be judged and valued not on the basis of the person you are, but on how well you are able to fulfill commands? I wasn't born to be happy, Eden, I was born to make others happy."

"I know what it's like to have judgments see far past who you really are." Eden replied, "But I also know what it's like to fight for what you want."

"Fight for what I want?" Arielle scoffed with a cynicism that didn't match the bard and startled Eden, "I was convinced that that was exactly what I was doing. Until the numbing day when I realized that it wasn't at all what I wanted, but what was wanted of me... And even then I continued to struggle. I spent hours everyday trying to convince myself that this was the way things were supposed to be. Nevertheless, there was a voice in the back of my head that would not succumb to the talents of the best of bards, let alone me... but I was never taught to fight but to follow."

"Then why did you leave in the end?"

"Because," Arielle replied in a quivering voice, looking over at the warrior, "when I saw you in that cell... you looked at me... the way you always looked at me... and there I saw the better path..."

"I am no path to anyone..." Eden commented, shaking her head sadly.

"That I don't know," Arielle added, "but who's to say that it's not a path we walk together?"

Eden remained silent and Arielle hung her head in defeat. She slid off the rock and walked back to the dwelling, leaving the guardian alone with her thoughts. Eden stared out into the distance and thought about all the roads she had taken. Once, she had thought she had reached the end of her road when Arielle suddenly bounded in at the last moment. Then a second surrender appeared and again the bard appeared. Their paths had turned into one before Arielle decided to split them again. Again a bitterness began to rise within her asking how the bard could have treated her so after all she had done. How many times did the warrior save her? But after a long, deep breath, the warrior noticed that the bard had saved her too. It wasn't as spectacular or visible, but it was a rescue all the same. It's easy, the guardian mused, to judge another's actions while being oblivious to one's own. Wasn't there even a lesson about seeing the speck in someone else's eye while forgetting the beam in one's own? And in the end, Eden knew best what it was like to make mistakes, to be judged hastily, and to live with the guilt of it all. The guardian kicked a rock. Give me a sign, a fire in the dark.


The day was a warm one and Eden looked at Arielle, sitting on the same rock as the day before, engulfed in the bright light of the sun. She looked both beautiful and... troubled. The heaviness of her being in comparison to the lightness and cheerfulness that the bard was always full of caught the guardian's attention. Eden let out a deep sigh. Even from afar, she saw the weight of her experience weighing on the bard's small shoulders. Eden had lived through an ordeal, but the bard was going through her own. Am I so caught up in my own pain that I'll abandon her now? And Eden suddenly remembered the bard's look when Eden had begun her drunken rant in Tripoli. Although faced with a potentially violent warrior quite visibly on the brink of self control, Arielle stood her ground. She could have chosen to run off with the comfort of twenty perfect excuses, but instead chose to put herself straight in the dangerous path of a toppling warrior. And in the end, she had caught Eden without being crushed in the process. Only the damaged can really understand the broken.

Eden had left the bard to her musings and walked amongst the trees, content with the quiet she found there. She wandered amongst the trees and brush and along a small stream, enjoying the babbling of the water. She thought about lots of things. She thought about her friendship with Arielle, she wondered what Lawrence would say and how jealous Garrett would be. She wondered where she was to go and what she was to do now and wished that she could tear herself away from it all for just a moment and see her brother and sister and ask them how they were. No matter, she mused, she would learn it all in due time.

When the warrior returned, Arielle hadn't moved from her spot. Catching sight of Eden, the blond slid off the rock and joined her, consciously making sure to kept a distance between them so as not to irritate the warrior. It pained the bard that they had lost nearly all their closeness, the playful quips and banter; Eden didn't even smile at her anymore. How much she missed all that.

"One conversation doesn't change much, does it?" Arielle said mostly to herself and after several moments of Eden's silence added, "Would a hundred? Because if they did I would have them all with you right now."

The battle between Eden's heart and mind grew more and more violent. The bard's words filled the holes left within the guardian with the ease of truthful purpose, which bothered her more than if she knew that Arielle was lying. Would it be a weakness to succumb to the sweetness of the words? Would it be shameful to surrender so quickly? Wasn't the path of a warrior to fight even if that fight turned out to be against Arielle?

Arielle reached out and gently touched the guardian's shoulder. They both knew that her first reaction would be a short-lived tension, but they observed what Eden would do next. Through the sheer will of an overactive mind, the tension in her muscles beneath the blond's touch remained and Arielle slowly withdrew her hand.

"Tell me, what can I do?" the bard asked in quiet desperation, her shoulders slumped and her eyes solemn.

"Nothing." Eden answered almost inaudibly. Hold me and erase our hurt.

Arielle felt as if a spear had been thrust right through her middle, the pain between them so thick that they could build castle walls from it. If there had been the smallest possible thing, anything at all to hold on to, Arielle would have clung onto it for dear life. Yet, instead of slowly swimming to shore, she had the feeling that they were only drifting further and further apart.

"When Dorian... when he told me you were gone..." Arielle said with a cracking voice and stopping in her tracks, "my world fell apart... I sank into a corner and cried over your cloak... wanting you to come back... I never felt as lonely as I did that day..."

Two warm tears fell unabashedly from the bard's lashes and down her cheeks. Eden clenched her teeth as her heart pounded with the blond's hurt.

"I never wanted you to leave..." the blond whispered.

"I never left you..." the warrior whispered back.

"I know..." Arielle acknowledged with a single, small nod, "but I still seem to have lost you."

"I'll always protect you."

"I was afraid you were going to say that."

Saddened with the realization that there seemed to be nothing more left between them, Arielle walked off with heavy, aimless steps, leaving a very torn Eden behind. After a few minutes, something in Eden collapsed in a somewhat fearful exasperation and the guardian found herself quickly catching up to the bard.

"Eden, I am so sorry that I can't even put it into words..." Arielle choked out desperately, whirling around to face the warrior, balling her hands in front of her into fists, her eyes turning glassy.

"I know." Eden answered simply, also feeling the strain.

They stood there for a while in silence, neither knowing what to do with themselves.

"You know what?" the bard admitted with some frustration, "I sometimes wish that you would just shout and curse at me."

"What?"

"I don't know which is worse, your anger or your silence."

Eden said nothing, dropping her gaze to the ground and making the bard shake her head.

"Please, just yell at me."

"Why should I?" the warrior replied, her irritation growing at the seeming nonsense.

"Because at least I would know that you feel something!" the blond cried out in a sudden anger, "Don't you feel anything at all?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then why won't you show it?!"

"What for?"

"To let me know!"

"What do you want?! You want me to cry every other time I see you like you do?!" Eden snapped, her voice raised in her own anger.

The comment stung the bard a little, but she was too angry to dwell upon it.

"Yes, I cry!" the bard shouted, "I cry because I'm sad! And I'm shouting because I'm angry! And I can sit my entire evenings worrying away because I'm frightened and lost! And I'm frustrated with you!"

"With me?! What have I done to you?!"

"You are like a fortress! And I try and I dig and I hammer away, but you won't for the life of you show me anything within you."

"What's the point if you'll just leave?!"

"I left because I had a stupid idea in my head. But I stayed gone because I didn't think you cared!"

"That's ridiculous!" Eden said, trying to walk away from the argument that began to make her feel uneasy and the shouting that was hurting her ears.

"See?! The moment it gets uncomfortable, you start to walk away! The magnificent Eden, a legend no one will ever know!"

"What do you want me to do?!" Eden shouted, whirling around and throwing her hands up into the air, "Lose control?! Yell about pain, sadness, and regret?!"

"Yes! Tell me all those things!"

"No!"

"Why not?!"

"Because I'm afraid!" Eden roared without restraint.

A ringing quiet suddenly surrounded them when the shouting ended and the two women looked at each other in a strange wonder and surprise.

"Afraid?" Arielle whispered, slightly stunned.

Eden stood torn between walking away to protect her heart and staying to let Arielle see it. But the words had already escaped her mouth and walking off now would only be running away, a thing she never did.

"That I'm not a story you want to hear... And that if I bare my soul, it'll make a mess we can't clean up..." Eden continued slowly and in a quieter tone, "I do care... I always did... I thought you didn't... I wanted you to have your freedom..."

"Of course I cared..." the bard said, almost hurt, but then remembering hitting Eden, "though I guess I didn't really show it."

"Neither of us did, it seems." Eden awkwardly admitted.

Arielle took a small step forward and raised her eyes to meet the guardian's, taking a deep breath.

"Eden... I was lost and very confused... you know that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you, don't you?" Arielle said, a plea to understand flooding her green eyes.

"I know..." Eden admitted with a defeated sigh, "I just... you could have trusted me..."

"I didn't know who to believe... Understand, that even if it was all lies, Dorian shared more about himself with me than you ever did..."

The truth of statement made Eden's jaw clamp and the muscles there pulse.

"It's just... I..."

"You don't trust me." Arielle offered.

"I want to Arielle... I really do... I just don't seem to know how..."

"Try." Arielle offered, raising her hand and resting it on the warrior's arm.

Eden flinched from the touch.

"Is my touch that dreadful?' Arielle asked, her hurt evident.

"No..." Eden answered slowly, half regretting her move, "it just leaves me wondering... when you'll leave again..."

"Tell me how I can make this right..." the bard pleaded.

Eden didn't say anything, looking at a point far off over the bard's shoulder. If Arielle did what Eden wanted her to then wouldn't that simply be following instructions? What would change then? Wouldn't she just leave again the moment she got new instructions? No, Arielle would have to respond to her question herself and Eden would have to risk that she might never find the answer.

"I simply can't, Arielle," Eden said, hanging her head and staring at the ground, "I can protect you... if you want. I'll always protect you... but I can't be your friend."

It was just too hard. Eden was a warrior and she thought with a warrior's mind. She never went into battle unarmed and not suited, knowing that it would lead to her quick and bloody death. She knew friendship was not war, but it did hold the possibility of defeat, loss, and pain, a fact she knew much too well. Her heart fought against her brain, furiously pounding to gain the guardian's attention, but Eden wouldn't have it. She couldn't risk it again. She could have the best armor on the outside, but inside she was broken and frail. She didn't know how to put the pieces back together again and couldn't have them being thrown even farther apart.

As Eden turned around and began to walk away, Arielle could clearly see, sense, and understand that something important, something almost sacral was leaving her and being lost. It was something that she simply knew and it frightened her to her core, awakening something within her.

"No." Arielle said with such unyielding force that it made Eden stop and turn around.

"I don't want you to protect me... I don't want you to serve me and I don't want to owe you..." she said with a fierce determination that flashed in her green eyes like distant lightning, "I want us to protect each other, care for each other, and see things together. I want you to stand beside me and I want to stand beside you... if you'll let me."

"How do I know you won't leave again?"

"You don't... But I don't know if you won't leave either."

Eden opened her mouth to protest, but closed it. She had not all that long ago been Zauba'a, the desert's death angel. Arielle had trusted her then not knowing anything about her and despite the violence Eden possessed and sometimes threatened her with. The warrior had pulled her into a world far above the blond's head and instead of running off, Arielle entrusted herself to the guardian who, especially in the beginning, did rather little to make her want to stay.

"We've both changed." the bard noted as if reading the guardian's thoughts.

Eden looked deep into the green eyes that always memorized her so mysteriously. She saw the truth of the statement there. Eden saw the difference in her, the change, the experience, the pain. Arielle was still the young, warm, cheerful bard, but there was now something more- the older, wiser, more thoughtful woman. And Eden realized then that she also was still the reserved, distrustful, and angry warrior, but she couldn't ignore a warmth, compassion, and protectiveness that began to creep out through the cracks the bard left in her walls. How did all this happen? They were the most unlikely of pairs, but seemed to work and fit so well together without them even knowing it. Eden couldn't say a word, her heart and mind grappling with each other fiercely.

"Eden," Arielle said softly, taking two steps forward, triggering a pounding of the warrior's heart, "I don't want to owe you kingdoms and lifetimes from a castle corner in Avignon... I'd like to perhaps see some of those kingdoms and live some of those lives... with you."

It was times like these where Arielle's skill with words shone like a full moon on a desert night and it tugged at Eden's heart so hard that she almost thought she might be pulled to the ground.

"Aren't you the bard?" Eden commented gently.

Eden took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. She then began to slowly take a couple of steps backwards, away from the bard. Arielle could feel her heart falling like a wingless bird from the heavens and her entire body constricted in the sense that all was lost. Eden pulled back in an attempt to distance herself from all the light and warmth she felt from Arielle. But with each step, she instead felt the cord that kept them together grow tighter and pull Eden back to the blond. The warrior finally stopped. I can't... I simply can't... Eden looked at the blond who looked back with the eyes of a soul on the verge of shattering. She was still much the woman she had carried out of the desert. But there was also something both knowing and sad in her now. It was in the childish plumpness that she had lost in her cheeks, in the way she stood as if ready for a scuffle, and in the very thin lines that drew themselves across her forehead after hours and hours of worrying, thinking, and regret. Forgive me, Arielle, but I simply can't... go... Eden slowly outstretched her hand towards the blond.

Arielle looked at her in a mixture of excitement and disbelief. She was so shocked that at first she thought she was imagining things. Eden waited patiently. She looked absolutely magnificent, the setting sun outlining her in fire, an embodiment of power and compassion, the likes of which the bard would have had trouble simply imagining. One of the most feared and misunderstood warriors of the Christian world was holding out her hand to her. The warrior had cast down her sword and shield and decided to take a leap of faith, standing uneasily and almost shyly, waiting for the bard to bless or curse her. A smile crossed the blond's face as her heart swelled and skipped a beat simultaneously. She started to walk towards Eden and she knew that she was finally returning to the path meant for her. She gently slid her hand into the warrior's and for the first time in weeks, both felt something finally go right.

"You know my being a guardian and my past will put you in danger?" Eden asked after a while, lightly swinging their locked hands.

"You know my being myself will get you into a lot of trouble?" Arielle replied with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

Eden chuckled and shook her head.

"Come on," the warrior said, breaking away and starting towards the dwelling, "Are you hungry?"

"Does a Templar love a fight?" the bard replied.

As they strolled back, Arielle didn't feel that the wall between them had crumbled. Yet she did see a wide crack beginning to appear and she smiled at the thought and felt more than fortunate.


The tension had shattered between them, yet the distance remained. They both knew it would take time, though neither knew how much. After a small argument over the bed and that they should take turns sleeping in it to be fair, Eden finally agreed with a slight growl and Arielle took the bench for the night. Arielle lay awake, staring through the rough window across from her as Eden managed to fall asleep before the whining in ear returned.

Eden awoke quietly in the middle of the night to an unknown sound, to find Arielle lying beside her, awake and upset. The bard was looking at her, teary-eyed and with one hand on the warrior's cheek. The moonlight streaming through the window set aglow the bard's damp forehead and underlined the blond's heavy breaths. Eden's brows crumpled in confusion.

"Arielle?" she asked softly.

There was a part of the bard that wanted to pull away in embarrassment and a part of the warrior that wanted to flinch away in distrust. But Arielle's hopeful part was brighter and Eden's protective part was stronger. And they gazed into each other's eyes on the blade's edge between compliant loss and dangerous surrender.

"Hold me..." Arielle whispered with great strain, "Please..."

Eden's heart seemed to implode at the plea and she felt a jolting force run through her muscles. Yet, it was dangerous letting the bard in that close, that near, showing that much care. It would be so incredibly simple to just push the bard away and burden her with consequences and guilt and dust her own hands off. But now it was Arielle lying there exposed and unguarded, giving herself up to whatever decision the warrior might make. Whoever is a friend loves at all times. And a brother is proved by distress. And her defenses finally collapsed and crumbled as Eden realized that the bard's plea was probably the most innocent thing that she had ever heard.

Gently, Eden shifted closer to the bard and wrapped her protective arms around her. And just as tentatively, Arielle curled close to the warrior, settling into the embrace and resting her head on the guardian's shoulder, under her chin. Arielle wrapped her arm around the warrior's middle and grabbed a fistful of her nightshirt and held on like she was afraid she might be dragged off by a monster lurking under the bed. Eden could feel the blond's pounding heart against her chest.

"What's wrong?" the warrior finally asked in a concerned whisper.

"I... I have these nightmares... I... You..." Arielle sputtered out almost breathlessly as if she had a mountain on her chest.

Eden drew her arms more tightly around the disturbed bard, lightly stroking the her back.

"I'm here..." Eden simply said, making a guess to what those nightmare might involve, "Are you alright?"

There was something in Eden's voice, in her touch, in her very presence that Arielle would never be able to explain or show, but that calmed and reassured her like nothing else. The strain and anxiety in her body began to disappear.

"I am now." the bard answered calmly.

And soon the warrior felt the bard's breathing steady and deepen as she slipped off to dream just like bards should. And Eden smiled as her own eyes slid closed.

Eden awoke shortly before dawn. Though she had slept only a few hours, it had been the longest she had been able to sleep since the accident. She sighed in satisfaction and a small movement drew her attention away from the ceiling. She looked down and noticed the sleeping bard lying next to her closely, her arm wrapped around the warrior. Although Eden's first reaction was one of stunned embarrassment and a desire to push the bard away, the feeling quickly faded and instead a warm feeling spread over the warrior. She watched the sleeping bard for a few moments, seeing her more content and at peace than ever before in her deep, rhythmic breathing and the innocence on her face. It struck Eden as ironic at this young, cheerful bard would find solace in an angry, shattered warrior everyone considered a demon. What stunned her more was that the said warrior found such peace near the delightful bard. Eden smiled and decided to let Arielle be, closed her eyes, and let herself fall asleep again.

Almost two hours later, Eden awoke to find the sun streaming lightly through the window and the bard still wrapped around her. An almost silent chuckle escaped the guardian at the sight. A shift in the blond made Eden immediately go still, half not wanting to wake her friend and half afraid of what would happen when Arielle noticed them like this. But, in the end, since Eden didn't have the heart to either wake Arielle or pull away from her, she simply rested her own arm on the bard's.

Eden was perplexed that she came up with the very idea. She should be pulling away, frowning and angry at the probably false and treacherous closeness the bard was allowing herself. But Eden actually seemed to be doing everything to keep that closeness as long as possible. She was completely awestruck when she placed her arm on top of Arielle's and felt the reaction. A fire spread over her skin from her shoulder to her fingertips and then sank into her bones. Her arm tensed suddenly as if filled with a power she could hardly control. Eden lifted and flexed her slightly trembling right arm, turning it in the air and marveling over what was happening to her. She felt the fire run along a line to the center of her chest and then dig deeper down into the core of her being. Eden took a few deep breaths and clenched her fist. After a few moments, the rigidness in her arm began to relax and the fire die down. She watched her arm as she rested it on Arielle's again and felt the fire flame up again, but then quickly die back down to just a pulsating warmth and a tingling in her fingers. She remembered that she had felt something similar when being threatened by Karas, but now the feeling was much stronger. Eden took a deep breath and let it out, the strain finally gone and she wondered what it might be.

The warrior was torn from her thoughts by an awakening bard. Arielle shifted a little this way and that, smacking her lips once, and trying to get her tired eyes to open. Noticing that she was quite comfortable, she nestled closer into her warm pillow... that was moving... and had a heartbeat. Her green eyes slowly opened as her mind desperately tried to think off its sleep and Arielle looked into two, light blue pools watching her calmly. Eden saw the consternation spread over the bard's face as she began to realize where she was and what she was doing.

"Good morning." Eden said with a light smile, trying to make the bard comfortable, but nervous herself that she might run off with a squeal.

"Good morning." Arielle replied, her own smile now replacing her initial awkwardness, "I must have... I'm sorry-"

"It's alright." Eden cut her off gently, "Did you sleep well?"

"Very." Arielle answered shyly, "And you?"

"Very." Eden said with a bit of a grin.

And they both noticed how incredibly fast walls can come toppling down.


Arielle noticed that for the first time she could remember, they were walking calmly, slowly. There was nothing to run from that day, nothing to run frantically to. It was just them.

They sat at the edge of the spring, submerging their legs in the cool water. That morning they had decided that they had stayed away long enough and would return to Jerusalem. They rested there in the quiet, drinking some stewed herbs and eating from the food that they had placed on a leather pouch between them. Eden stole glances at the bard, the crackling fire behind them throwing dancing light on the tense, solemn look on her face.

"Is there something wrong?" Eden ventured quietly, keeping her eyes up front and gently stirring the water with her foot.

"Hm?... Oh, no... I was... I was just thinking..." the bard answered, torn from her thoughts.

"Anything in particular?"

Arielle looked up and saw the warrior now looking at her, knowing full well that something was wrong, but not wanting to interfere. And though fearful of the warrior's reaction and preparing for sermons of reproach, the bard decided to trust Eden.

"It's.. It's just that I'm wondering what to do... in Jerusalem..." she stuttered out with difficulty, "I have no real place there and it seems like everyone in the city wants my life..."

Eden let out a breath she didn't know she was holding, subconsciously expecting something that she would again not be able to do anything about. But this problem, she thought almost proudly, was exactly what she was meant for.

"The Orders aren't out to get you... It was just Garrett and you don't need to worry about him too much." Eden answered, picking up an apricot, "Dorian... well, he'll probably always want his revenge on you..."

"Is it always going to be like this for me? Murderers on every corner?"

"No..." Eden said, shaking her head slowly and then looking straight at the bard, "He'll get tired of running into me every single time."

A smile crept across the bard's face and found a reflection on Eden's.

"Eden...," the bard started hesitantly, "what did Garrett want with me?..."

"Garrett... is a long story..."

"We can make it a long evening..."

"Alright." Eden drawled and shifted a little into a more comfortable position, "Garrett has been more or less an annoyance ever since we met... He... He takes an interest in me... he's a stubborn one."

"It's no wonder he was so angry with me then..." Arielle commented in a tone that Eden thought slightly strange.

"We... We tried... There are things in him that appeal to the darker things in me..." Eden admitted and noticed how both of them became a little uneasy, "but in the end... I felt like I was drowning in the deep of night..."

Arielle looked up at the guardian with an unreadable look that later followed with a faint smile.

"But it's not that simple." Eden continued, feeling more comfortable again, "Garrett's obsession with me is one thing. What drives him more is his rage over being not being like me."

"He's angry because he's... not a guardian?"

"Furious." Eden replied with a nod, "He sees it as the greatest injustice in the history of Christianity. That's why he reacted so violently."

"But why? I think you should be able to care of yourself and your own without his help."

"He thinks that he might be able to service his way into favor. He can't accept that it's God's choice and you're chosen from birth. He refuses to listen and now we have a arrogant pain in the rear." Eden explained with a sigh.

"Well that certainly explains a few things."

"Arielle," Eden said in a slightly more serious tone, turning to the blond, "never underestimate that man. Please, try to stay away from him and if you're ever around him, don't aggravate him. He's unpredictable and he really has something against you."

"That's putting it a little mildly," the bard replied lightly, but then noticed the worry in Eden's eyes, "but alright, I'll be careful."

"I'll turn that overstuffed bastard into horse feed if he ever touches you again." Eden muttered mostly to herself, turning back to gaze at the horizon.

Arielle couldn't hide the smile that appeared on her face after hearing the grumbling words of the very protective warrior. She took another sip of the stewed herbs and noticed the quiet, the calm, and comfort that she felt in that place and next to that warrior and realized that even in their best moment, she had never felt anything close to this with Dorian.

"Arielle..." Eden stuttered out as if she knew what Arielle was thinking, "I'm... I'm sorry... about Dorian..."

"Don't be." Arielle said shortly, her expression turning gloomy.

"I saw... I saw... the scars..."

For a moment, the bard wanted to crawl into herself and hide away. But she let the comfort she felt next to her friend wash some of the anguish away.

"He..." the blond started, wrapping her arms around herself, "He was cold... and cruel... and mad..."

Eden clenched her jaw at those few words and started to regret a hundred times over that she hadn't torn the noble to shreds with her bare hands.

"Did he..." Eden started, but found herself unable to finish the question.

"He suddenly became so cruel, Eden..." Arielle whispered as if she was slipping outside herself, drawing her knees up to her chest, "He was so different in the beginning, but when I agreed to marry him... his words and touches began to hurt... It was like he wanted to destroy me in the most painful way possible... but he damaged my heart and soul much more than my skin."

She could hear the long breath that Eden let out in relief.

"I... I see him in my dreams... Standing over you..." Arielle tried to say until her voice cracked.

"They're just bad dreams." Eden tried to soothe, putting her hand on the bard's arm.

"It was real," Arielle countered, shaking her head, her eyes becoming glassy, "They're so real..."

Seeing the bard on the verge of breaking, Eden reached out and pulled her towards her. Feeling the warrior's warmth, Arielle leaned into her.

"You knew what a demon he was, didn't you?... That's why you came back for me... Thank you for coming back... "Arielle whispered in the warrior's shoulder.

"I would never do differently..."

"You were right Eden... I brought misery on us both... I almost lost you..."

"I'm here." Eden said, putting her hand under the bard's chin and forcing her to look at her, "You're here. And that's all that matters now."

Arielle nodded and Eden let the blond rest against her again. Eden was amazed to realize how the dark memories no longer evoked such raw emotions, the black being held at bay by the light of their bond. Like the North Star burning brightly in the night sky, the two women used as their guide back home, Eden having received her second chance at life and Arielle at true friendship.

"So," Arielle whispered, looking up at the warrior with a impish glint in her eye, "can you walk on water?"

Eden chuckled and ruffled the bard's hair.


The friends returned to a Jerusalem that was astir with the scent of war. About an hour after their return, Lawrence had found Eden and pulled her into a Hospitaller strategy meeting, leaving a bewildered Arielle with Helen. Eden learned that Dorian's forces along with the roaming bands of bandits and mercenaries had all joined together and were now marching as a large force towards the fortress Mirabel near the village of Majdal Yaba. The castle defended the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem so its capitulation was completely out of the question. Although Mirabel could withhold a moderate siege, all the Orders decided to chase down the force quickly, either engaging them in the desert or outside Mirabel. Warriors were already massing; the Templars were ready and Jerusalem's knights as well as the Hospitallers were almost assembled.

After the meeting, Eden quickly returned to her Hospitaller room where Lawrence had left her armor. He didn't ask whether Eden would join them, knowing that she would probably slap him for the mere suggestion that she wouldn't. Eden found her armor and began to dress when an excited Helen brought along a nervous Arielle.

"Where are you going?" Arielle asked anxiously, "You're not going to Mirabel, are you?"

"How did you know?" Eden asked and then stole a glance at Helen's sheepish grin and she knew.

"Please don't. Your hearing just returned..."

"I have to... Will you help me with this?"

Arielle didn't like the idea of fitting Eden for killing, but then she realized that it also was the only way she could help the warrior and make sure that she was safe. She nodded and helped Eden dress in her full chainmail armor.

"I don't want to be dressing you for death." Arielle said sternly, grabbing Eden by her chainmail shirt.

"Arielle," Eden said gently, grabbing the bard's shoulders, "I have to go. Please understand... Dorian's there."

"Then I'm going with you." Arielle immediately replied with a spark in her eyes.

"No. Stay here."

"Eden, I want to go with you."

"Arielle, listen to me. Stay here where it's safe. Dorian and his forces will stop at nothing to capture you. You'll be safe here, the Hospitallers will watch over you."

"But-"

"You're in no condition to fight." Eden explained, buckling her sword belt and then adjusting the shoulder strap of her shield.

"And you are?"

"I'm a warrior, Arielle... It's what I do..."

"Eden..." Arielle whispered in a trembling voice.

"Think of me... and I won't be far..." Eden offered, giving a sad smile.

Eden turned on her heel and out towards her waiting horse, afraid that she might soon lose her iron composure. Arielle stood there alone in the room for a few seconds before running out after the warrior. Eden had already mounted her horse when Arielle came running up to her.

"Take this." the blond demanded, raising her hand and forcing a small, cloth packet into Eden's palm and then wrapping her fingers around it, "I... I imagined this a little differently... Open it later..."

"What is this for?" Eden asked softly.

"So that you come back."

Eden looked down warmly at the bard who kept pulling furiously at her heart and she suddenly realized how much she actually wanted to make that promise.

"Be careful." Eden replied with a sad smile.

"Life is ironic..." Arielle told Eden after a deep breath, "This whole time you've been wary because I left... And now I'm the one afraid that you'll leave and never return..."

Eden was afraid she would shatter right then and there. Instead, she gazed at the bard, trying to memorize her every feature and then nudged her horse away and in the direction of the knights. After a couple of steps, the guardian halted and turned around.

"Arielle," Eden called out softly to the watching bard, "I never told you it was good to be able to hear your voice again."

Arielle smiled widely, quickly wiping away a stray tear. Eden turned back to the knights when Arielle noticed Lawrence passing her.

"Lawrence, you have to stop this!" Arielle cried, grabbing his arm, "Eden can't go into battle in her state! She'll be killed!"

"Don't you think I know that?!" Lawrence countered, breaking her hold.

He turned to look at Arielle to see a reflection of the same foreboding that he felt. He sighed deeply. The bard's innocent faith beamed from her; there were so many things she hadn't seen, so many things she didn't know.

"Listen to me." Lawrence said in a calmer tone, taking a gentle hold of her shoulders, "If there was a different way then I would be the first to take it. But the amount and activity of different dark forces here have grown ever since they learned that Eden had... weakened... They're trying to take advantage of the situation..."

"But Eden can't-"

"Eden has to. We stand to lose much more than just a castle or some dusty plot of land if Eden doesn't fight... It could open the very gates of Hell itself..."

"Then let me go too. I could-"

"No. You'll just get yourself killed and Eden would... never forgive me for that."

"Lawrence, please..." Arielle whispered, her voice and face strained.

"Stay here, Arielle, where it's safe."

"I don't want to be safe."

"Then just stay here because Eden asked you to." Lawrence tried to reason though he sympathized with her more than she knew, "I'll watch over her. I'll keep her as safe as I can... I promise."

Seeing that her fight was lost, she decided to put all her faith in him. She pulled him into a hug which he warmly returned.

"Bring her back, Lawrence." the bard said into his shoulder.

The Hospitaller said nothing, not wanting to make a promise the he could very likely never be able to keep.