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“You... need to talk to me?” Val said a little guardedly.
“Yes Valende. You have a decision to make which will affect the course of your future life. Would you prefer to discuss this here, or in private?”
The priestess paused, and paused some more. “I don’t think we should split up,” Rani volunteered. “It’s been non-trivial for me to locate people in here... the more we stick together, the easier it’ll be for me to get us out of here.”
“I--suppose we’d best stay here then,” she said quietly.
“This could get ugly Valende.” Shilree held two fingers up in warning. “It is about the Madness... what you did during the Madness.” Val turned a ghastly color. “You do have the right to a private hearing if you want.”
Valende didn’t say anything, and Vas eventually cleared his throat. “Well, if it’s about the Madness,” he said, “I was with her at the time and already know the whole story; and I can vouch for it that no one in this room will hold against us what we did under the influence of Bane, sister.”
“I think I can safely vouch for that too,” murmured Khyrisse.
“I used to use vouchers for school lunch,” Marty offered.
“We won’t think badly of you,” Skitch promised.
“Really,” said Rani. “I mean, it is called the Madness, you know, not the Weekend of Admirable Decision-Making.”
“And as your family and friends,” Vas continued, “we would not wish you to face your trials alone if we could stand by you instead.”
He said it with his usual loyal determination, but the sadness in his large blue eyes was unmistakable. Valende felt a pang, and wished she had been there to support him in his time of need. She sighed, and swept the loose strands of hair out of her face. It’s not as if Mina were here, or Vickie, even Ebreth; I couldn’t have handpicked five friends less likely to be judgmental of me than these. And at some level, Val supposed she didn’t really want to face anything alone right now. “Very well,” she said. “Here I stay.”
Shilree nodded. “Have you told them yet what you and your brother did during those four days Val?” she asked. “Not with each other I mean... no offense but I really do not want to hear about that. What you did with the townspeople lost in the woods.”
“I told Jack,” she whispered. Shilree waited for a few minutes, but Val didn’t volunteer any more.
“I’ll handle this,” Vas finally said. “I was as responsible as she. We slew them,” he said, looking at Khyrisse. “I don’t remember how many; ten or fifteen. They fled into the wood we had claimed, and we tracked and killed them, almost as if we were sports hunters. It was a very terrible thing. One of them was a girl no older than twelve.” Valende shut her eyes. “My sister had cast a spell she hoped would protect us from the effects of the Schism Tine, but obviously, it didn’t work very well. What I don’t understand--” He turned back to Shilree. “--is why people continue to bring these matters up. Obviously, they were foul and perverted crimes, but just as obviously, they were the fault of the foul and perverted Weird Sister. Do you really mean to blame us for them? That hardly seems just.”
“Blame means very little to us in here Vas,” said Shilree, or the Sidhe that looked like Shilree. “We are not interested in histories, but in hearts. The fact that you shot down innocent villagers in a Bane-induced frenzy is not interesting to us. After all many mortals did such things in the Madness. It is the racism underlying that crime I intend to ask about.”
Val put her face down into her hands.
“What are you talking about?” demanded Vas. “Yes, we killed a dozen or more unarmed humans that weekend, but it was all the work of that damnable Schism Tine. We have never done anything of the sort before or since.”
“I know that Vas,” Shilree sighed. “Neither of you are murderers at heart. What you don’t know, and we do, is how the Schism Tine actually works. It is after all a fairy artifact if you recall. One can take the same soul, the same personality, and twist it to good or to evil. An impulsive person could be struck by the Tine and became two people: one impulsive hero who jumped to help those in need before thinking about the consequences, and one impulsive villain who violently attacked anyone who insulted him. An empathetic person could become a kindly friend who talked everyone in town through their problems and a vicious psychological manipulator. In this case, because of the way it was applied, those of you on Ataniel temporarily became your worst selves. Naturally this affected stronger personalities more strongly.”
“Naturally,” Vas said impatiently.
“Think about it Vas,” Shilree sighed. “You are adventurers. If you kill enemies in acceptable contexts in your real life, then of course your evil incarnations will murder innocent people. That is no surprise. But evil people will not explicitly seek out and slaughter people of another race unless there is racism in their hearts.”
“Well, you’re wrong,” Vas declared loudly. “Because it was my bow that struck most of our victims down... and I swear by all that is holy there is no racism in my heart.”
“No,” Shilree said quietly. “There is not. Only the willingness to kill, and the tendency to follow your sister’s lead. Whose idea was it to hunt down the humans Vas?” They all looked at her, reflexively. “And in what terms did she phrase it?”
Valende suddenly wished she was in the company of Mina, Vickie, and Ebreth after all; anyone whose opinion of her didn’t mean so much.
“Cat got your tongue?” Shilree said. “Valende?”
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