Leafiara (prime)/Tales/Shadows of the Past
Original Story: Lumnea 11, 5120
Leafiara let out a sigh of relief as several more strands of shadow energy flew away from her, semi-opaque black ribbons twisting and turning through the air until they thinned and dispersed.
It had been nearly two weeks since Pukk had managed to convince her to enter the valence, and she felt confident that she'd gotten rid of almost all of the lingering energy and her daily purges would pay off. Grasping and utilizing the procedure Cruxophim had used two and a half years with the bone pillars had been easy enough.
Release the energy after drawing it out. Draw it out by focusing on dark thoughts.
And to where did her dark thoughts go?
To Chaston Griffin, who saw her half-blood as an aberration? To Dennet Kestrel, who viewed her as a leading candidate for soul replacement? To Octaven, who acted like she had never attacked the Landing and would probably be out for blood again soon enough? To Grishom Stone, who most everyone saw as the strongest of the town's enemies? To Barnom Slim, who had been revived by the most recent attacks?
No. The likes of them could kill her, perhaps, but never shake her core--not truly.
No. They were dead and gone, and good riddance, and neither would cross her thoughts again unless she glimpsed a siegery miniature in her locker.
Did her dark thoughts go to Breshon "Blundering" Caulfield?
He had hosted Praxopius, Cayde, and Vlashandra in his outpost, oblivious to every one of their plots and having invited two of them himself. He had sealed away Dennet's golems instead of destroying them, allowing Grishom Stone to reclaim them--and that wouldn't have been so bad, and not resulted in his attack on the Wyrdeep, if he'd just listened to Leafiara, Madmountan, Zosopage, Balley, Goldstr, and the others saying he should have taken Grishom's deal.
All of this Leafiara could write off, for she was no consequentialist. She could even write off his tepid response to the Vaalorian outpost; he lacked authority. She couldn't stand Breshon for entirely other reasons...
But her dark thoughts didn't go to him, because he was still an external problem. So was Stephos DeArchon.
What of Vlashandra? She now joined Malluch Burdos and Cyph Kestrel as the latest in the procession of town problems who had been walking a fine line before jumping off it. Leafiara was them, or they were her, after they'd only taken one or two more steps on a different path.
She should have helped Malluch escape.
Most of his crusade was just; in fact, even more of it was just than she knew at the time, since she'd been too blind to see the truth of Rysus' version of the Rooks. Malluch hadn't done everything right--Marijka's death and the threats to Crux came to mind, but Leafiara never spared a single thought for that embezzling town clerk Ysharra had often brought up--but his destruction of a slaver ship alone was worth the tradeoff. And no one was perfect, after all.
She'd betrayed him. And for what?
To prove to the Landing that she could accomplish something, like Vlashandra trying to prove herself to Barnom Slim. One sacrificed innocents and the other sacrificed a hero. One wasn't able to show her face until she got the job done, so she had gone along with having it altered. One wasn't able to show her face because she'd gotten the job done, so she had avoided town for a month.
A difference of degree, not kind. The parallels left her reeling. Small solace that at least she hadn't fallen far enough to become a liar like her.
Marijka had said that what separated Leafiara from a vigilante like Malluch was that she would have stopped to question her actions. Maybe that was true; maybe she couldn't have found it within herself to carry on an extended campaign like he did, nor a briefer one like Vlashandra did.
But it took only one moment of rage for Cyph to slaughter Carenos' daughters. It took only one moment of weakness for Leafiara to help capture Malluch.
Malluch himself had attributed his capture to Stormyrain and seemed to ignore the others' involvement. Sensible enough; the captain had led that ritual, after all. Stormyrain had believed she was doing the right thing, so she was justified--but Leafiara had betrayed Malluch and herself. The people cheered it, and she didn't know why. Maybe one day she'd do something they wouldn't cheer, and she wouldn't know why then either.
It could all catch up to her. She could picture the third Rone waiting for the right time to strike, like Carenos stalking Cyph. This Rone hadn't been seen in town often; maybe she too was away acquiring some doses of Long Suffering. And if she came to deliver, what would Leafiara do? She couldn't say; she knew only what she wouldn't do. She wouldn't call the town guards nor any friends.
But in case that day never came, in case she continued living, in case everyone continued their generosity toward her, in case she continued surviving battle after battle, trips to the Bleaklands, trips to the shadow realm...
She couldn't give up. She had to resist the cycle, the spiral, the descent.
At least three of her fiancees--Lyrna, Eyona, and Saranja--would be appalled if she ever fell. When she'd wanted to assassinate Dennet without evidence, her adoptive brother Chaoswynd and her friend Khylynnia had advised against it. Severine didn't want to see her eliminate anyone in her way. Surely Elphieya wouldn't be happy with it. She had no idea what Crux would think, but even he had warned about paths one couldn't turn back from. Shinann would probably scorn her if she turned, cutting ties like with Hapenlok, so there'd be no place for her return to the militia after her term or terms were over.
No path forward involved letting herself slip.
So Leafiara's darkest thoughts were devoted to the lying filth who called herself Vlashandra. A wretch with neither pride nor honor--even dark honor--to her name, deserving of only contempt and hatred. Hatred by necessity, hatred by mandate. Hate her. Hate her, and don't let go of that. Hate her, and don't ever become her. Hate her, or else she would become her.