Burn the Past, Walk from the Ashes

Kendall leaves the cave quickly, returning to the faint illumination of the rocky tunnel outside before any other ghosts decided to come inquiring. He had no interest in talking with someone else's mistakes; he had plenty of his own to deal with. Once in the roughly circular antechamber, he leans against the rough wall for a momentary rest only to find himself sliding downward as his legs give out.

The descent doesn't take long, and he barely has time to even realize it's happening before he lands abruptly on the rocky floor in an undignified sprawl. There he sits, dazed and stuck, lacking the strength to rise. So instead, he pulls his knees up against his chest so he can rest his forehead against them, and just breathes.

Duty, responsibility, tasks and errands. Those things, and a temporary taste of madness, were what had propelled him onward after the devastating confrontation with his father. Now, though… now he was done. Now the path lay open before him, wide and clear, with no obstructions. But this path led to something so monumental and so terrifying, his mind could barely contain even the concept of what he was about to do.

He had seen Lord Serpent before. Once, from a great distance and for barely a heartbeat. So fleeting and so faint, the only reason he knew for sure what he had seen had been the rush of awe and dread and panic that raced through his body. Even now, Cycles later, the memory of that brief glimpse — that fleeting and miniscule brush with ultimate Power — was enough to raise a cold sweat on the back of his neck and a shiver he can barely suppress.

How could he hope to stand before the Serpent? How could he hope to face and withstand such Power head on and survive? And, even if he did survive, what lay beyond? The results of such a meeting were completely unknowable. There was no way to project a possible future.

No reassurance could make this easier. Sure, he might not even see Lord Serpent. Sure, the Abyss was vast — vast, trackless, and Timeless. None knew how Lord Serpent could even survive within it, and Kendall certainly didn't care. But even if his chances of actually speaking to Lord Serpent are negligible, the only other alternative is death. And, he realized deep within, he had answered Margot’s question with truth: he did not desire death. No, not after coming this far.

He had already survived a painful and unforgiving childhood, followed by a turbulent and withering adolescence. He had survived countless disappointments and humiliations here in his own House, banishment to Amber, the Veil, the bite of Lady Louella's cursed sword, and bringing about the death of his first child. The journey back had not been without its own hardships, and once returned, he had ultimately been forced to find the will to survive his own brother's hatred and the sword that had nearly ended him.

Yet no matter the merits of these many trials, he knew they were a mere carnival sideshow compared to what lay before him.

And so he sits in the dimness with his forehead pressed to his knees, while fear's strangling embrace tightened about his chest and choked off his breath. Fear of the ultimate challenge that lay before him. A challenge not even his father had faced, nor his father's father. A challenge he could find no strength to meet much less survive. Not as he had been. Not as he was now. No matter what awaited him, he would no longer be Kendallarithan of House Chanicut, scapegrace second son of Duke Ulrich. Forging ahead would require him to become someone and something completely different.

Change and the unknown. The future hangs like a black veil before him, impenetrable and almost more frightening than death itself. Deep within, his heart sits cold and empty; a heart that had been crushed and squeezed dry of all that had once been poured into it: love of his House, his father and mother, respect and joy, promise, belief, conviction, hope. Realization slowly awakens within him that he needed to find some path — some identity, some meaning, some thread to cling to — as he took these last, few steps from the old and into the future.

And though the ties to his House were stretched to the breaking point, he still came from a long line of strength and purpose and one thing did remain: he still would be someone who kept promises and fulfilled obligations. Duty rested on these things, on strength and honor. Even if his duty now lay solely with himself, his words bound him to this fate and tied him to the obligation to go to the Abyss.

Possibly, he would meet and be measured by Lord Serpent. Probably, he would meet death instead. In either case, however, he would see this onus through to the end. His words would be true, and he would finish what he started. Not for his father, or his mother, his siblings, or even for Margot. For himself, and for whatever he might find beyond the dark veil that hid his future.

Clinging to this last remaining thread of his identity, he presses his hands against the wall behind him and uses it to climb back to his feet. His hand clinks and scrapes against the wall, and a quick glance reveals that he still held the little bone knife. He had forgotten all about it. He knew from past experience this knife could not cut flesh or bruise bone. The ch'ela could cut only the spirit, severing the bonds that existed between the living and the dead. But a sudden idea makes him close his eyes and listen not with his ears, but with his very soul. He reaches with a sort of questing dread to find that which tie him to his former self, a self that was now dead.

All around, a gentle and mournful music arose in his mind, its notes sounding along the threads that wound around him like a loose tapestry. Constantly being woven, unraveled, broken, spun, and woven again into a thousand different colors and images, the threads of a life were ever in motion. With eyes shut and otherworldly senses open, he can feel rather than see the thread that ties him to Kendallarithan of House Chanicut, Second Son of Duke Ulrich. The thread is dim and frayed; it has seen much wear in the recent past. Lifting the ch'ela with a surprisingly steady hand, the Lord takes hold of the thread with gentle mental fingers, and before he can pause to second guess himself, he makes one more, decisive cut.

Pain. A razor's cut to the spirit, not of the body. He gasps in surprise at the sudden bite as the knife severs the thread of his old self, but then stands silent and stoic as it falls away. It drifts into the nothingness where all the dead went, taking with it his name and ties to the life he left behind. A life that had ended when he had stood before his father and declared his intention to see the Serpent, and which lay buried in the rubble of the floor collapsed by his father's terrible lie.

He breathes deeply to steady himself before opening his eyes. Outwardly, nothing had changed, yet inwardly he felt light. This was not the freedom he had envisioned, and yet it had given him what he wanted. He returns the knife to the shelf where it would wait for the next one to come to lay another ghost. Right now, he had an obligation to fulfill, and a future to meet. Straightening his robes about him, he turns his steps toward the tunnel that led back into the ways of Chanicut, his former home.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
One Last Choice

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