“A letter?” repeated Necronim as he reached up to catch the rolled up missive Kwaaku tossed towards him.
“From Aunt Caren,” answered the centaur with a nod. He then shifted carefully around in the hut, avoiding a few scattered things on the floor, and settled with one of his back legs slightly cocked. “The courier said that she had urged him to ride hard to deliver it.”
Frowning, Necronim looked down at the letter and slowly curled his fingers around it. It wasn’t like Caren to write when she was off serving as an advisor to the King of Ashan for a certain period of the year. The fact that she had and had told the courier to ride hard to deliver it to him at the clan’s summer and fall camp told volumes as to how important the letter was.
That alone sent a shiver down his spine.
Setting aside his own leather armor that he’d been working on patching up, Necronim untied the string that had been wrapped around the missive and carefully unrolled it. Caren’s neat, broad strokes stared back at him, proving it was truly her and not some imposter.
As he scanned the letter, he reached a set of sentences that made his hands start to shake.
Two members of the Order of KondaSuon recently brought a young woman to Vesta to face further questioning and possible trial. I’m not entirely certain of the charges but I do know they traveled from the town of Sothan in the Low Lands and that she possessed a blade she shouldn’t have. The blade of a Guildsman. Necronim, my friend, I pray to the spirits that this is not the girl who aided you and Kwaaku those years past but I fear it might be.
“Oh gods have mercy,” breathed Necronim, closing his eyes. He wildly hoped that he hadn’t read those words but when he reopened his eyes they were still there, staring accusingly up at him.
I killed her.
“Nec?” queried Kwaaku and he looked up to find his friend frowning at him, the brown fur above his working eye crinkled visibly. “What’s wrong?”
It took a long moment for his jaw and throat to start to work and the first words he tried to speak came out as little more than a gasp of air. As the centaur made to move towards him, Necronim held up a warding hand and managed to breathe, “It’s her, Kwaa. The girl.”
“Kalya? What…what did Aunt Caren send?”
He just shook his head and held the letter up, unable to say anymore without utterly breaking down himself. As Kwaaku took the letter, Necronim forced himself to settle his hands on his knees and to not grip them with all of his strength.
I failed her. I owed her and I doomed her by my own hand.
“You gave her your Guild dagger?” gasped Kwaaku after a moment. “When I insisted she have a weapon to go home?”
“It was the best for her,” he answered quietly. “I wasn’t thinking of what it was, merely that it had the best balance of anything I had on me at the time and was short enough for easy use. Gods, I didn’t even realize exactly what I had done until we were already halfway home.”
He’d honestly very seriously considered turning around to go back for the blade back then. It had been a final ‘gift’ from his mentor, Corrik, when he’d been locked up awaiting execution. The man had given it with the intention of him using it to kill himself he knew but back then he had been little ready to die so it had come with him during his escape. Almost absently, Necronim moved his right hand to cover the band of leather that was tied securely around his left wrist as his thoughts drifted back to the past.
Then he shook himself and looked up at Kwaaku. “I as good as killed her, Kwaa. It’s half treason to have a Guild blade without being a member. They’re supposed to stay with whoever they were given to, even buried with them. That’s part of Ashan law.”
“You didn’t remember.”
“I should have!”
The centaur sighed then frowned before asking, “Nec, where would they hold her? If she’s in Vesta?”
Brow furrowing, Necronim answered, “The Deeps under Sykashil, same as any who break the law and are brought to the capital. Why?” As he looked directly at his friend, he noticed that Kwaaku’s single eye was focused on the hand resting on top of his wrist and exploded, “No!”
Flinging up his hands, Kwaaku exclaimed, “You want to save her, right?”
“I can’t save her by willingly walking back into the place that killed me!”
“The Deeps didn’t kill you, Nec, bandits did.”
Snarling, Necronim spat, “You damn well know what I meant.” Kwaaku and his aunt were one of the few beings who knew most of his entire sordid past and the man he’d been had died in the Deeps as sure as anything. Even if he hadn’t been killed after his escape and had made it somewhere to start over, he wouldn’t have been him. Otherwise they would have just found him and made sure to actually kill him and not let him get away.
Kwaaku just looked at him expectantly before he sighed and stated, “You can’t avoid facing the past forever, Saran.”
The name seemed to make the moment freeze and Necronim could almost feel it roll over him, bringing a chill in its wake. It was almost a foreign thing now, that name, his name, but it made everything all that much sharper. The fear and the guilt, already strong, were suddenly almost overwhelming and he found himself reaching down to claw at the woven rug underneath him in an attempt to find something to hold onto.
His friend was right, he knew that all too well. There were so many things he hadn’t faced in the past fifty years that he should have dealt with but had been too afraid too. Caren had been telling him that he needed to face his past for years but he’d never taken her seriously.
No, no, that wasn’t right.
He’d taken her seriously. He had just been too afraid to actually do it.
Despite the fact that he didn’t need to breathe, Necronim inhaled shakily as he finally managed to lift his eyes to look at Kwaaku. “Get out,” he growled.
“Get. Out,” repeated Necronim, slowly drawing each word out as he fought the urge to scream them. For an absurdly long seeming moment the centaur just stood there watching him then he nodded and left with a murmured apology. As soon as the hide door of the hut swung, he lifted his hands to bury them in his hair, unable to keep the terrible mournful keen that had been building up in his chest from coming out. The exposed bone of his fingers dug into his skin but the pain didn’t matter.
What mattered was that he had killed that girl and he didn’t have the guts to do something about it.