“Yes. No! I’m not interested in your bloody damned gift, I want to know more about…” The golden glow from Redwulf flared brightly once more, cutting Terin off mid-sentence. Terin felt the familiar pain in his head return with stunning force, like being struck by a sharp spike directly to the forehead. The pain had fled when he heard that the Bleeding Bear had been found, and he’d dared hope it was gone for good.
Against his will, he slumped forward slightly, and clutched at his head as if he could grab the imagined spike and claw it out.
He raised the other hand frantically to Bala’duin, trying to wave him to silence for a moment as he came to grips with the sudden pain. For a few moments, he was lost to the pain, unaware of what happened around him. The only thing Terin could focus on was the pain in his skull that came close to unmanning him.
No! There’s no time to be weak, not when it’s all in my head. Damn it, it’s only pain, it’s not real, and I will not give in to it. I cannot waste this chance!
Terin forced his head up again, pushing past the pain to focus on the eyes of Bala’duin. The intense golden glare hurt to look into, but he stayed locked on the eyes of the loremaster. He wanted to grab Redwulf by the arms and shake him to get the answers he desperately needed, but he forced his body to stillness.
“That’s the second time you’ve hinted about passing on, as if you know, not just think but know what will happen once you’re dead. I’ll not move one step further until I get a straight answer. Do you know where the soul goes when we die? What really happens? I wasn’t there when they needed me. I’ve had to deal with that, but it’s the not knowing that’s tearing me apart. Will I ever see Milia and Alise again? If you really know, then for the love of Tyr, tell me!”
The spirit of Bala’duin still shone through Redwulfs eyes, but they seemed suddenly sad, hesitant. Terin’s hopes instantly died half-born within him. I knew it. I knew it was too easy to expect a simple answer, damn him!
“Baron, if I could tell you what you wanted to know, I would, I promise you. I know why you need to know. I know. The truth is, nobody that I have read of, nobody that I have spoken with or watched has ever revealed any sign of truly knowing what happens to a mortal soul after the body has died. Nobody, Terin, not god or spirit or man. Do you understand me?”
“The soul is real, it exists, you know that much, you can touch your own in the centering so you believe in it. Now listen when I tell you that everything that has ever been done with the soul was accomplished while the soul was still bound to the living. Everything. Once a person dies, unless the soul was bound or severed before the body’s death, the soul is freed and gone. Just gone, beyond any means of finding or touching, ever again. Past that point no power that I know of can bring a soul back, hold it or chain it.”
“I don’t know if you will ever see your family again, Terin. I’m sorry, but I don’t have that answer. I don’t even know if a soul travels to some other realm and continues on as a new form of life or awareness, or if it is immediately reborn in flesh again elsewhere in this world. I don’t know if there is a place of judgment for the souls of the dead, or who would be that final judge if there is one”
“All I can offer you is hope, Baron. I can tell you as truth that the people you loved lived on after they died, and they went somewhere else, somewhere beyond the reach of any pain of this world. At least you know that they did not suffer a final death. All you can do is hold on to that, and take comfort in knowing that they do live on.”
None of this was what Terin wanted to hear, but somehow, it did help. It helped to think of Milia in some other place, holding close to Alise and teaching her of the things that she did not have the time or chance to learn while she lived. I hope you both are somewhere full of light, and love. Somewhere that you can’t see the things I’ve done to avenge you since you’ve gone.
In his heart, Terin knew that Bala’duin had been right before when he said that Terin had lost his faith in Tyr. He didn’t believe anymore, not in his heart. He hoped, but he did not believe. When he was being honest with himself, he thought that Tyr might have been real once in ages long past, and he may have done great things, but if so he was dead or gone now. Terin no longer believed that Tyr watched over the souls of the living and the dead, but it didn’t change how he lived his life. He still believed in the central message of the teachings of Tyr; to defend those that could not defend themselves, to train the defenseless to stand for themselves, and to step aside when the strong were determined to follow their own path. That was enough for him.
As much as he believed in the mission of the Order, his lack of trust in any afterlife involving Tyr had left a massive hollow pit in his heart whenever his thoughts turned to his family. Just thinking of them caused his stomach to drop, forced him to think of something, anything else just to get a grip and find his center again.
Terin stood, lost in thought. The pain was still there, but maybe just knowing that they lived on in some way could be enough. He felt a little lighter in some way he couldn’t yet explain to himself. The pain was still in his skull, stronger than it had ever been, but something within him had changed.
Is this what hope feels like?
Redwulf cleared his throat, breaking through Terin’s reverie. “I have heard the words, but I still do not understand, Baron. I’ve seen stronger, faster, deadlier men than you in the court of the Duke of the Sun, all vying for favor. Why would the loremaster choose you for such a desperate task?”
Terin looked up blankly at this, before he grasped the fact that it wasn’t the rich, rolling voice of Bala’duin, but the weaker breathy voice of Redwulf himself that spoke. The golden glow was all but gone, with only a small glimmer showing from the palm of his upraised paw.
Bala’duin is gone? What have I done? What blessed chances have I squandered in my selfishness?
It took a few moments for the question to penetrate his distress, his life since learning of the loss of his family still fresh in his thoughts.
“He didn’t want the best or the brightest, Redwulf. He didn’t seek the fastest or the strongest. He wanted a man that he knew would do what had to be done to see things through to the end.”
Terin turned and walked the few paces to the door before stopping to look back. “I have a question for you, Redwulf. What was it like, when your mind was touched by Malvoris? What did you learn of the man’s heart?”
Redwulf dropped his gaze, but not before Terin could see his eyes had returned to their natural hazel shades. “Want, Baron. Malvoris is an empty hole, and nothing can fill him up. He wants everything. Respect. Power. Control. Love. Those things, and the chattel that come with them, wealth, and servants, titles and land. He craves all the outward signs of power. He’s filled with a hunger for these things he cannot satisfy. He is filled with want… and hate, as well. When he looks on another, he sees a thief, holding the things he wants, things that should belong to him. He hates them for it, for having what he does not. Touching his mind was like bathing in a nest of vipers, Baron, cold and cruel and deadly at a whim. Why? What do you plan to do?”
Terin stared at Redwulf until the great furry beast raised his eyes to Terin once more. “I’m not going to do anything to him, for now. Not yet. He is sworn to serve the Duke, not to me. I’ll not be the one to speak poison of another, and I trust Arneghast’s judgment.”
He turned aside to face the door, gathering his strength. Having the pain to deal with once again was somehow worse after thinking it had gone.
“Just the same, this would be a bad night for Malvoris to turn snake on me. I’m not feeling in a forgiving mood.” He pushed the door open, stepping through and out into the hall.
Terin waited there with the door open as the last of the golden glow finally faded and died behind him. He expected… he didn’t know what to expect.
Will Malvoris leap out of his room and demand to know what just happened? Did he find a way to listen to any of that after all? Or does he sit there in the dark, cowering, having reached out for knowledge and felt a power greater than his? Does he sit there afraid for his life? He is wise if he does. Very wise.