A Natural's Choice
|"Akadia," Marcus announced, his broad shoulders filling the doorway.|
"The most recent Initiate? So soon?" Lionel kept to his task, the barely audible scratch of quill on parchment only interrupted when his quill tip visited the inkwell.
"Her progress has been swift." Marcus wandered over to the window. "She is a Natural."
A pause in the scratching. "You are certain?"
"I have little doubt, but I could be wrong."
"The last time that happened was over a thousand years ago." Lionel carefully cleaned the quill. Fine sand pattered on parchment. "Let's be about it then."
Lionel stood, turning towards Marcus. His colleague's troubled visage reflected the scene outside. "About equal wouldn't you say?" Lionel indicated the figures approaching the house.
Marcus shrugged. "Hard to call. More dark than light."
"Their kind is always the first to arrive. Have faith."
"It's not me who needs it."
"You can't stop me." Akadia's chin lifted a notch. She had almost made it off the estate grounds.
Marcus and Lionel stood silent.
"You chose me," came the accusation, "and now you question my methods?"
"Remember your oath."
"How can I forget?" Akadia raised a scarred palm. "In this hand you placed your trust."
"It is not us that you would betray."
"Who then? Him?" She scoffed. "He takes no mind to their suffering. His judgement does nothing to save them. Mine would."
"By ending the violence before it occurs!" Her fingers curled into a fist, holding her scar.
"How can something end," Marcus began.
"That hasn't yet started," Lionel finished.
"Listen to them!" Akadia spun around throwing baleful glances at the black clad figures that had slunk in from the shadows to surround them. They hovered, beckoning, mocking, enticing. "They chortle knowing that evil is about to be done." The soft, low growl of an animal preparing to attack sounded in her throat. It cut off abruptly.
Figures in white had appeared behind the ones in black. They stood silent, watching. One caught her attention. Akadia stilled and met its gaze.
"I'm right," Akadia implored, voice cracking. "You didn't have to die. It might have been you I could have spared." A mask concealed the figure's face, but not the sadness of their stare.
"Where were you going?" Lionel asked softly.
Akadia held the figure's gaze a moment longer before returning hers to Lionel. "When?"
"Do not trifle with us, Initiate," Marcus snapped. Akadia flinched ever so slightly.
"You should know where," Akadia muttered. "I saw the evil of that person's thoughts. I heard it repeating in my mind. They will kill... soon." She glanced around with an expression of building frustration and panic. "You need to let me go. I must stop them!"
"That is not the task set before you," Lionel gently reminded her.
"The task?" Akadia's tortured shout reverberated off the walls. "The souls I am tasked with retrieving are battered and broken. They cower in fear of further pain and tremble at the thought of any touch. What comfort do I bring them to tell them their life has ended, not of their own accord and far earlier than any of them would have planned." She spat the words from her mouth, the taste of them nauseating her. "I do not rescue them from evil. I do not avenge their death."
Akadia had taken to pacing feverishly back and forth in the small space she was afforded. Her robe whipped about her with each turn, as she clenched and unclenched her fists.
"You are the light in their ocean of darkness, the beacon that calls them home." Lionel gave the profound explanation as if it were simple truth, his hands spread before him.
"They shouldn't have to come home, not yet. They should be given their full measure. It should not be taken from them!" Akadia fumed, stopping to stand utterly still. The house still stood around her, but it felt as if her feet were poised on the edge of a precipice, one that yawned down into the depths of Hell.
Akadia let her head fall back, eyes closed. The noise and movement around her faded. Inside, she seethed with writhing emotions, her desire to break free from this inquisition building until she felt she might burst. With the last shred of what felt like her very existence, she cast forth a silent cry for help. It was both a desperate plea and a forthright demand.
Incrementally, like the first light misting of a cooling rain, a feeling of peace began to pervade her senses. It skittered across her skin, raising goosebumps, and washed away the acrid taste that had been making her nauseous. Her muscles eased and when she opened her eyes, the dark figures became less substantial, turning to smoke that flowed down to disappear between the cracks in the floorboards.
The white clad figures grew more and more transparent, disappearing into a soft light that came from nowhere and everywhere all at once. The last one to go was the one that had been her focus. The sadness in their gaze was gone, replaced by conviction. A slow nod to her was their last action before they were gone entirely.
"I would have killed him," Akadia's countenance was contemplative as she considered the ramifications of her earlier plan. "Had you not stopped me, I would have killed that man."
"Perhaps," Marcus allowed. He approached and gave her shoulder a brief squeeze. "But I doubt it."
"I had murder in my mind," she said, her matter-of-fact tone contradicting the severity of her admission.
"But not in your heart or soul," Lionel said with a distinct note of pride, clapping her other shoulder with his hand, in his own measure of congratulations. "Marcus is practically never wrong." He smiled at his colleague.
"Then, you knew I wouldn't kill him? You knew this is how it would turn out?" Her brow knit in consternation. "Is that a skill I will gain?"
"Not a skill, more like intuition. You have progressed in your role faster than any Initiate we have ever guided. It is very likely residual purpose from your previous existence." Marcus motioned for her to follow him. She climbed the staircase with Lionel following behind her.
"I don't remember..." her voice dwindled. "Why don't I remember?"
"You will, in time." Lionel reassured her.
"That man, the one that has the evil thoughts, he's not quite human, is he?"
"For now, his humanity is still intact. Your role in this will be to ensure it remains that way." Marcus led them down a long hallway. "Before any evil is committed, extract the demon, spare the human."
"Save the innocents," Akadia whispered. She looked over her shoulder at Lionel, awe, and gratitude in her eyes. He smiled. "Had I killed him... before he killed anyone..." She shuddered, knowing the possible fate she had almost chosen.
"Free will is," Lionel paused, considering his next words, "interesting to behold. That man made choices that opened himself up to the demon that is squatting inside him, but it is that same free will that allows him to hold back the monster's bidding. For now, at least. If he falters before you can help him, the last vestiges of his humanity will cease to exist."
They came to a stop before an open door. Inside the room, there was a clawfoot tub. As with the rest of the house, everything was in disrepair. Marcus waved a hand towards the room.
"Ritual, transformation. Enter and you will be guided on how to proceed. We will be waiting downstairs." He and Lionel turned to go. Her question stopped them.
"You won't go with me?" She had thought her trial complete.
"Your feet found the path, now let them lead you to your destination," Lionel advised.
"Humans are not the only beings granted free will. When you chose not to run from us and go kill that man, you listened with your heart and searched with your soul. You made a choice to remain and seek your answer. Though you received one, it must still be your choice what to do with it." Marcus captured and held her gaze, his own resolve steadying her nerves. "Rise or fall, it is up to you."
Akadia took a deep breath and nodded. "One more question."
"Of course," Lionel said. Marcus simply watched her.
Looking over her shoulder and down her back, Akadia turned to look at them again.
"Do the feathers itch?"