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Solace Woods: Solace Glade

Though the Solace Woods and deep as they spread across the stretch of the Forest District's untouched terrain, there are places even within that orchestra of life where one can find respite and peace. The area known as the Solace Glade is one of them.
Though relatively close to the Lomasa Road to the south, the world of politics and civilization is still hidden behind a vast wall of shardwood, river oak, and maple; the boundary of timber flanking this curious clearing on all sides, cutting one off from the Empire beyond the kingdom of nature within.
The glade itself is a peaceful place dominated by short, downy grasses, bursts of tiny colorful flowers, and a small rocky lagoon to the east of the dell that gurgles with crystal water. A blackened path of earth in the middle of the clearing marks the location of a frequently used site for camp fires, and it is no doubt that location which many Knights spend their time here.
It is around that campsite that one soon understands why this location is special, for circles around that patch of dark earth stand eight statues at equidistance lengths from each other. One of those statues depicts Emperor Talus Kahar II, shield in hand, with sword pointing towards the ground at his feet.
The other seven depict what one might assume to be some of the very first Captains of the Emperor's Blades, their armor ornate, beautiful, and from an utterly different period of time. Though their armor is different, and through they are are nameless as they are silent, their devotion to the Empire and her People is no less apparently upon their weather-worn features.
It is a terribly cold and frigid late evening, descending toward dusk. A steady gentle breeze stirs over the land.

Light gathers before it fades, here in the solace glade. It gathers specifically about the form of an armored woman, kneeling with head bowed and her hands on her knees, wrapped in a dark blue cloak, even as it fades from the surrounding world. There is no movement, save for the faint rusltings of the gentlest breeze, as the sun nears the time of setting.

There is one movement. A shadow, in the shadow if the Emperor's visage, a cloak of battered leather flaring as the greying freelander-mage, far out of his bounds here, in the glade, rests fond fingers on the statue's pedestal, moving toward the earstwhile Knight from the wood. "s' no other place like this, nae anywhere 'n Fastheld. From one side o' th' aegis t' th' other." Speculative, oddly warm, his words drift like leaves on still air, with a soft sigh. "s' nae many folk what come here - nae without good reason."

Ailith rises to her feet, hands raised but drawing no weapon - perhaps because she bears none to draw. "You defy the Law and Light by coming here," she says flatly. "Your own reasons had best be very good indeed."

"Law." The mage looks up at the Emperor. "I hae seen three other folk come through 'ere. Dukes, two o' 'em were. One were jus' a man - nae e'en a nobleman. E'ery last one were 'ere 'cause th' hae reason t' be - mostly askin' about Law. But Light? No, I donnae defy th' Light. m' here mos'ly 'cause I try t' serve 't - an' these folk do a lot t' remind me o' what Light is."

"You did not answer my question, mage," Ailith replies flatly, maintaining a ready stance for unarmed combat, or a summoning of Light. "You are no Duke to treat the Law as a game or a toy. Law under Light is the foundation of order; I will not stand for it to be casually denied if it is within my power to stop it."

"If I meant y' harm, y' woul' be harmed already - woul' ye be so quick t' fight, 'n a place meant fer sommat else." He looks to her, curiously wry. "An' so quick t' be angry - s' that what a Knight is t' ye? Righteous, b' right?"

"I was raised and trained to combat the Shadow, and so I shall do until the day I die," Ailith answers, still watching Kael steadily. "Give me a good reason not to arrest you as my first act, for well I know that regardless of what a Knight is, it is the Shadow's way to cloud the truth and smudge the line between right and wrong."

"Aye, 'tis." Kael turns back to the statue, then - "But a man 's what 'e choses to be, standin' in th' twilight between. What wi' ye do 's a Knight, Lady? Wi' ye be a Scourge as th' used to? A champion o' folk, a light in th' dark... o' wi' ye be one 's they became, sommat t' dread comin', whether th' Shadow spoke t' ye o' nae?" Again, a touch on the pedestal. "o' wi' ye make 't mean sommat more still?"

"I am a Scourge of the Shadow," says Ailith proudly. "The Church erred in its final years, burning where it needed not. The Light is my blade and the Light is my shield; if the Light will not protect me then I do not deserve to be protected. If the Light does you no harm then you do not merit punishment, but if you defy the law then the law will have its own reply. Make of that what you will. A third and final time I ask you - for what reason do you defy the law and leave your alloted place?"

Kael looks back to her. "B'cause m' place is t' ask questions - 's much 's yer place, 't seems, 's t' avoid 'em." He seems oddly dissapointed, inclining his head. "Th' light 's nae just weapon 'n armor, Lady. S' got t' be more 'n that, o' it changes, b'comes hate. An' th' is no Light 'n hate. In this place - I hae nothin' t' answer for - but ye do. An' ye must - b'cause what y' are becomin' ye get t' choose. An' 'n that, there 's nothin' wrong wi' questions."

"I answered them," Ailith replies simply. "Whether you can hear them is not my concern. There is a mythic appropriateness to the position you adopt, blind as you appear to be to the consequences of standing within it. I loathe the Shadow. If I loathed you I would already have attacked, but a mage outside of Northreach, unbidden, coming here and asking questions in the dusk - I would be a fool to accept blindly that your intentions are benign."

Kael chuckles. "Y' woul' be more a fool t' assume otherwise."

He ... sighs, and moves to the next statue over. "When I were little - half yer size, e'en - I wanted more 'n anythin' t' be a Scourge. I think most o' us littles did - th' way th' shone, 'n what th' stood for, what 't meant - 't fired our hearts. W' dreamed o' standin' against shadowbeasts 'n facin' down mages 'n .. well. w' played at 't. m' sure y' saw." Speculative, thoughtful - he goes on - "W' listened t' old stories o' Horsemen 'n Scourges 'n - " He looks up at the Captain, there. "Now, th' got a chance t' be what th' were - but those what hae stood up so far... th' first 's no care. Th' ring, th' cloak, 's all 'e saw, all 'e wanted. Th' second? Th' second lives th' code, more 'n 'e lets on - but 'es alone, an' so much keeps 'm from doin' what coul' be, makin' it what 't coul' be. Yer th' third. Th' best chance yet fer it bein' more 'n it is - bein' what 't coul' be. But wi' ye? M' nae sure - b'cause s' more 'n law. Law serves th' people what need 't - wi' ye?"

"That depends upon a question predicated in treason," Ailith points out. "The Light is greater than Emperor or Regent. The Light is greater than any Duke or Duchess. Yet I have seen a mage Ducal Knight flout the law for a personal whim and in the name of code and law abandon his people. I have seen a Knight use this investiture for personal political gain rather than the benefit of the Empire. I will tell you, mage who defies the law, that the Regent and the Duchies are above the law - but the Empire is above them, and the Light above the Empire. Think on that. And know that the Shadow need not display claws or fangs to corrupt, no rotted wings or tendrils of darkness to ensnare. That you do not attack me with a force I can identify does not mean you have not come to stand as opponent." She pauses, shrugs, and adds, "Or advocate."

"Ah. S' a word folk like t' throw around a lot, as o' late." Kael shakes his head, looking back. "Y' kin consider me whate'er y' choose t' consider me - but y' send me t' th' constable, Lady - y' best go t' East Leg, too. Y' got a lot o' work ahead." He pauses.

"but that 's a different question. One that cuts t' Light, aye - an' how 't shines." More quietly - "I jus' hope y' hear - an' know 't fastheld needs ye - if y' kin be th' impossible. If y' kin be more 'n what y' were, an' what y' are now. Th' Shadow closes 'ts fist 'round th' Empire, Lady. An' s' those o' us that hae fought 't, tooth 'n nail - but w' are losin' - e'eryday 't goes darker. But nothin' 's as 't seems - an' nothin' y' see 's true now 's quite 's simple as y' ken."

Ailith shakes her head. "The truth is simple," she says. "The Shadow makes it complex to your eyes, gives you doubt in all the shades of gray. That you choose a paler shade of gray does not mean you have chosen Light. There is no shadow, in the Light. No gray. That is the great beauty of it."

"But yer still man, Lady. Jus' as 's no shadow 'n Light - there 's no Light 'n Shadow. That I am man - 't gives m' hope I am nae lost - jus' as 't shoul' make ye wary that y' are blinded by th' radiance y' see so close. Th' Church were close t' th' light, 'till 't lost 's vision." Kael pulls his cloak about him. "Maybe yer th' one. Wi' see. I hope y' are."

"Where you doubt, shine Light," Ailith replies simply. "Shine Light, and more Light, and when the shadows in the question are all driven back, the answer will be clear enough."

"all I got 's hope." He moves toward the rear of the statue - "i hope 't serves."

"A faint and fragile light," Ailith replies, finally relaxing somewhat. Or at least seeming to. "But on occasion it can lead one to a bonfire. Go in good faith, and do not let me see you beyond your alloted boundaries again, mage. The Watch will be looking for you."

A low, sad laugh. "Th' wi' nae find me."

In the space of but a mere heartbeat, and amidst the sound of buzzing hornets, Kael utterly vanishes from sight.