Her Redness's School for Exalts
I should never have left
As the small river boat pulled away from the academy it seemed a vision of serenity, framed as it was by the clear winter sky and the soft waves lapping against its hull. Her crew moved with practiced and unrushed ease while the passengers above deck relaxed as they took in the tranquil vista; a welcome distraction from thoughts of their destination.
It was a sharp contrast to the fury clearly clouding Alcyone’s features as she rose from the hold of the ship. The child of Mnemon was not one to wear her emotions so openly, and even for her friends this was something entirely new. Without saying a word she took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the morning light before turning to focus on the campus they were quickly leaving behind.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, events were continuing to spiral out of control. And what had just transpired within the hold was the last straw. When Alcyone had learned that the trip would take a minimum of ten days, she had almost walked away. She was bound to this endeavor through a bargain with the Lady Peleps, but that bargain had been struck to ensure their succession, and if they couldn’t be present during the final week before the election than they had already lost. There were too many with influence working against them for them to win if they lost the ability to fight back. Still, a woman’s life was in danger and the dragonblooded would not so readily turn their backs on one of their own. So Alcyone had been willing to pay that price.
But a moment ago Peleps Hix had revealed his plans for reaching Malfeas: calling an unbound demon of the second circle and hoping they could entice him with booze and women. It was an incredibly dangerous act, and while Alcyone wanted to help Mnemon Toma as much as the others, this was borderline suicidal. Hix had proven himself willing to risk anything and anyone to guarantee his success, and that was a cost that was simply too high when compared with what it was they were trying to accomplish.
Well, to Hell with Hix (literally). He can sail his ship of the damned into the heart of the abyss and die there for all Alcyone cared. She was done with this fools errand. She would have to deal with Peleps Auron, but it was likely not the last blustering matriarch she would have to appease. And it was better than the alternative.
The ship was not large, and with a few steps Alcyone had crossed to the edge of the vessel. But instead of stopping she simply put her foot on the railing there and launched herself into the river.
• • •
It had not taken long to return to her room and a dry set of clothing, but it was a solitary journey, giving her plenty of time to consider what she had just done. And though she completed the trip, each step had been heavier than the last.
Exiting the massive building, Alcyone weighed her options. She had a class starting in thirty minutes, but no one expected her to be there. Still, she needed to get her mind off of Hix and his insane quest. Unfortunately, that still left her with a few minutes to kill, so without much direction she started walking.
The effort provided little respite though from the turmoil of her own thoughts though. For all that Aclyone was convinced that she had done the right thing, that confidence did little to make her feel better since her friends and companions were still likely on that boat and still following that madman into Hell. Last night’s meeting with the anathema was not the first time she had doubted the words of the Immaculate propaganda. But one truth she did believe in was that all of them were stronger together than they could ever be alone. Creation was a very dangerous place, and to survive it one needed trusted allies.
And over the course of the last hour she had abandoned almost all of them.
A part of her insisted that these particular allies could be replaced; that she was still young and had many opportunities ahead of her to forge new bonds. But did those bonds really mean anything if she was so willing to discard them? What Alcyone had done was what was best for her, but was it what was best for them?
Distracted, Alcyone’s left foot caught on a nearby root, sending her to the ground. With reflexes enhanced by one of the hearthstones she wore she caught herself easily. But instead of returning to her feet she rolled into a sitting position and put her back up against the tree that had brought her down. Pulling her legs to her chest, the young woman tried her best to keep the tears locked away, but it was a fight she couldn’t win.
Alcyone was unsure how long she sat beneath that tree, the world around her lost in the guilt she couldn’t push away. But as she heard the familiar voice calling her name, she opened her eyes to her surroundings once again. Seeing Ariko standing there, concern clouding her own features and a torrent of words spilling from her lips, Alcyone found a chance to make amends.
The young sorceress spoke at length, trying to convince Alcyone to return, but it was unnecessary. Reaching out Alcyone took Ariko’s hand in her own.
“It’s okay, I’ll come back. I should never have left.”
What Alcyone didn’t say was that she was going to make a personal bargain with the demon or that she would do whatever it took to prevent Hix from endangering her friends. It was time for her to stop playing the game.