Leafiara (prime)/Tales/Purity and Clarity
Original Story: Ivastaen 14, 5121
Leafiara sighed as the morning light filtered into the room, stirring her aching body out of its needed rest. She pressed her forearm over her tightly shut eyelids as she tried in vain to reclaim sleep. Her exhaustion surprised her anew each day; sure, it hadn't quite been a full week since she'd been cutting down Amos' forces all night, but they'd hardly scratched her in the entire protracted battle--and she'd been through so many tougher clashes, yet her muscles had never been sore for days afterward. She'd always bounced back.
Evii in all her earnest sweetness had tried to massage out the pain, but it was no good. Leafi was sure that Soliere in her professional masseuse expertise couldn't have done a thing either--nor even the unique form of her betrothed Eyona.
"I'm too young for this," she mumbled. "What's wrong with me?"
"As you used to sing," came a quiet and monotonous voice, its gender indiscernible, "'It's a matter of spirit and will.' Yours have faltered, and so in turn does your body."
"Been a while," whispered Leafi, not moving to rise. "What do you want, Echo, and why now?"
"Your first crossroads in just as long a while," came Echo's hollow voice. "I am here to guide you through the feelings you cannot sort yourself."
Leafi groaned. "Fine, impart your 'wisdom' and let's get this over with." She lowered her arm, pushed off her blankets, sat up, and opened her eyes to behold the latest incarnation of what she could only presume was a specter. Or perhaps it was more like the bleakwalker, or perhaps it was even what she'd begun to believe Mother was: some fragment of a soul given form.
Leafiara had surmised that if Mother was an entity possessing Casiphia or simply a doppelganger, then she had likely manifested from overuse of the Rone gauntlets. As for this "Echo" haunting Leafi herself, it had likely manifested after Crux had helped her and others expel lingering energy that clung to them from visits to the shadow valence.
It appeared before her this time as a militia recruit in a striped cloth mask, and its androgynous figure could be described more as gliding than walking as it approached her bedside. Leafi shook her head tiredly and nudged herself backward, leaning against her headboard and smoothing out her nightgown.
"Your body recovered quickly because you urged it on with a need to recover quickly," said Echo, "but now you have lost part of your core: the will to take up arms. Your spells fail you because your spirit is out of harmony and your blades whirl on muscle memory alone."
"Yeah," said Leafi, shrugging. "Tell me why already."
"You reveled in the untainted nature of fights to the death. No agendas but one, no angles but one, no considerations but one: that simple matter of survival. The battlefield was your escape--a place where your intentions and your enemies' had purity and clarity rarely found in civil society. Now, however, as outside eyes watch you fight, you see how often they mistake what you do and why you do it."
Echo hover-paced around the bed, one side to the next, its masked face unwavering in its fixation on Leafiara no matter how the rest of its body maneuvered. "Perceptions and assumptions color every observer. At times they form beliefs in concordance with the truth, but when they instead fabricate skewed realities, you feel burdened with complicity for crafting the visible circumstances from which their self-imposed delusions are born."
The figure halted in its gliding and turned its back to the half-sylvan. "Expressed more simply, you have become a liar without ever telling a lie. Others believe in the heroes who drove off the Knave, and consider you one of them, yet you believe nothing was resolved. To continue taking to the battlefield will perpetuate a mistaken notion and betray your idealization of the truth, but to turn away from the battlefield will result in more corpses and betray your mission to save lives. Neither outcome will you accept, so you now drift torn by contradictory tides."
Leafi stared at the sheets beneath her feet, pulling her legs up and hugging them close to her chest. "I feel like that's only the beginning of my problems," she said.
"It is. You are also considering whether it means anything to be correct, to be honest, to be brave. All three you could be, then an angry marshal tosses your thoughts on the floor, and it pains you further to believe he knew his lover's secret all along--"
"Forget all of that; it does hurt, but it's also the least of my worries. What do I do next? How do I move forward?"
"I deliver your deepest thoughts, articulating what you cannot and reminding you of what you have considered in passing and forgotten, but wholly new answers I will never have for you. Those must come from you or your friends."
A long silence hung heavy in the room until at last Leafiara shook her head. "Then go away; you're neither."