(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Nessix was written by Katika Schneider.)
Even the most persistent badgering had failed to get information out of Mathias, and Nessix Teradhel had become relatively skilled at that art. She’d known about this interview for weeks now, but the only solid information she managed to obtain was to show up in the place she felt most content at 10 o’clock. Such a measurement of time meant nothing to her, so Nessix had already spent the morning pacing the lush banks of the Great Spring. Her fingers tapped an inconsistent rhythm on her thighs as she peered around her, pressing her lips together in anxious anticipation.
Kelly observed Nessix from a distance before approaching, and she smiled, wondering if Nessix really knew what it meant to be interviewed by her.
Finally, she drew near and cleared her throat. “Most people are nervous about meeting me–if they know they’re going to meet me, but it appears you’re rather excited. That’s unusual, but I’ll take it.” She smiled. “I’m Kelly Blanchard. You must be General Nessix Teradhel. I trust you are well today?” She raised her brows.
A smile lit Nessix’s face and no amount of her excitement kept a tiny, inner part of her from feeling a little bit put-off. Another human? So that was why Mathias had been so quiet. She breathed in a sigh through her nose. Maybe, if she was lucky, not all humans were the same. “I am well today,” she answered. “And yourself?”
“I’m fantastic!” Kelly grinned. “I get to pester you, so that’s just great.” She winked. “I trust you didn’t bother Mathias too about this meeting did you?” Even as she asked this, Kelly had to smile because she knew the answer and that was fine.
Nessix pulled her shoulders an inch further back and regarded Kelly more carefully. She’d always assumed that knowing things he shouldn’t was a trait exclusive to Mathias, but it seemed as though all humans had a knack for it. She swallowed her reservations and tried to mask them behind a self-assured smile.
“I asked Sagewind for information, but he was unusually closed-lipped. His purpose here is to keep me informed on the unknown.”
“Ah,” Kelly nodded. “I specifically asked him not to mention anything to you about it, and I’m glad he kept his word. It shows he is quite a man of his word. Shall we walk?” Kelly gestured to the path ahead along the bank then began walking with Nessix at her side . “So, tell me, do you trust Mathias?” She raised her brows as she cast Nessix a glance.
That was a loaded question to Nes, and one which she wasn’t quite comfortable even discussing with herself. “He’s seen me through too many dangers for me not to trust him.” She chewed a couple of quick bites on the inside of her cheek and eyed Kelly speculatively. “You’re not going to be talking to Brant, are you?”
Kelly shrugged. “Maybe. Why? Is there something I should know?” She looked once more at Nessix.
Her eyes lifted away from Kelly’s. “Brant doesn’t have much use for Sagewind.”
“What do you mean by that?” Kelly narrowed her eyes.”
“They don’t really meet eye to eye.” Her nose wrinkled in her consideration. “Brant’s protective of me, he has been since we were kids. Mathias showed up at the same time the demons did, and we all—well, me and Brant both—figured that they were somehow connected. It’s a thought Brant hasn’t been able to let go of and something he’s done his best to keep in my mind.”
“Wait a second…” Kelly halted in their walk to give Nessix a good look. “You think Mathias is in league with the demons or working with them or something like that? Do you think he’s behind the demon attack in a roundabout way and is hoping to lead you astray or something?”
Nessix blanched at the accusation and shrugged nonchalantly. “At one time, yeah, it was a very real possibility.” Her brows furrowed as she tried to wrap her mind around how to best explain the ridiculous thought that had once been so strong in her mind. “I mean, it made sense at the time. Elidae had no demons. Even Grandfather’s study only has a few books mentioning them. The only evidence we’ve ever seen was from the murals in the cave temple.” She pointed vaguely behind them. “Sagewind showed up, tossed around his ridiculous title, and when I actually went to read up about him, he was connected to demons in the past. Why wouldn’t he be now?”
She shook her head with a grumble of discontent. “Not a whole lot makes sense right now, and I doubt it will until the demons are gone.”
Kelly was still trying to process everything she just said. “Okay…so….you think Mathias brought the demons here? Or that he’s responsible in some way?” Looking at it from that point of view, it made sense, but Kelly had interviewed Mathias, so she knew him—unless he had lied to her, in which case she would have another very serious conversation with him another time.
Still though, Kelly returned to the topic at hand. “And now that you’ve worked with him for sometime, do you still suspect that of him? That he’s somehow to blame for the demon attacks or something?”
Nessix looked at the ground and began to walk ahead again. “Unless he’s a better actor than Veed…No.” Her final answer was definitive. “I don’t think he wants the demons here any more than I do.” The corners of her mouth lifted into a smile.
Kelly lengthened her strides to catch up with Nessix, and she decided to be blunt. “You have feelings for Mathias.” That wasn’t a question but an observation.
Her heels dug into the ground, halting her progress immediately and she spun to face Kelly briskly. “That is ridiculous!” The short clip of the laugh that followed didn’t do much to verify the validity of her words.
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.” Kelly stared her straight in the face. “And I can tell. I’m good at reading people–and being honest.” Kelly smirked.
Nessix stood straight and felt an annoying burn simmering behind the entirety of her face. “You can read people all you want,” she said. “But even if I had feelings for him, even if that was possible, it wouldn’t matter. I don’t have time for that sort of thing.” She cleared her throat and walked ahead, this time with a more rigid stride.
Kelly watched her go. “No–you don’t have time. You’re the leader of an army facing a league of demons. You’re inexperienced, and whether or not you’d admit it, you’re insecure, and you’re afraid. Mathias is one with knowledge and experience, and if anything you’re drawn to that even though you deny it.” Kelly marched up beside Nessix, took a step ahead of her, spun around so she was in front of her and stopped her. “You think you’re the only one who’s been in your position? You’re not. I’ve spoken with many people in similar situations as you. Some managed to be true to their feelings alongside the fighting because there is a strength drawn from the heart even though it hurts sometimes. But others…others are like you and are too afraid because you don’t want to get hurt. Am I right?” Kelly tilted her head to a side as she folded her arms. “Be honest with me. I will tell no one what was said here, so you can trust me. This will probably be your own chance to ever say what you’ve always wanted to say but never had the chance.”
A hint of fear flickered to life in Nes’s eyes. Fear because Kelly could read her. Fear because Kelly was right! Nessix knew she was lost and she knew she couldn’t handle this war on her own, and while the temperamental side of her was kicking and screaming about how stupid Kelly’s judgment was, that side had shriveled into a small enough beast that Nessix could smother its influence with the heel of her boot. Mathias had told her from the start that she could trust him, too, just like Kelly was telling her now. It had taken her painful months to come to terms with that for him, and she wasn’t sure if she had it in her to hold out in that regard much longer.
“I am not afraid of dying,” she said. “I’ve already been taken down once in this war, and if I was afraid of that possibility, I’d have handed things over to Sagewind or Veed then and gone to hide with the civilians. I just-” Her face twisted in her frustration as pride and stubbornness battled with her desire to freely vent her fears to someone without an agenda. “I’ve been running without guidance for close to eleven years now, and now that I have it, I’m afraid to use it. But if I don’t, it won’t be just me that pays for it.”
Kelly nodded as she listened to all this. It made sense. She motioned for Nessix to resume walking with her. “You’re afraid of dying. I once knew someone like that—it cost him his life, and one thing a great king once told him was, ‘if you live in fear of dying, you will never live a day of your life’.” Kelly glimpsed at Nes. “You will die—today, tomorrow, a hundreds in the future, I don’t know when. but it will happen…unless you have a god or a goddess bring you back to life with immortality in the case of Mathias…but still, he died too.” She paused walking as a thought came over her. “You know, you should ask Mathias about his experience dying. Since he actually experienced it, he may be able to ease your fear on that regret.” Kelly fixed her gaze on Nes once more. “Would you consider doing that?”
Nessix glowered at Kelly’s insight and superior knowledge of the goings on around them. “I’ve talked to him about his goddess before, and it’s just not something I’m interested in. Besides, all he’d do is try to twist it into some sort of lesson that I really don’t want to hear.”
“I’m not talking about his goddess.” Kelly gave her a stern look. “I’m talking about his experience dying. I’m sure he won’t want to talk about it, so you’d have to pry it out of him, but it’d be an interesting lesson and experience for both of you. He may come to realize something about experiencing death, and you may come to realize something about death that isn’t so fearful. You see, Nes, this isn’t just about you. You should know that because of all your responsibilities.” And Kelly suspected Nes was well aware that life wasn’t centered on her, but sometimes she acted as though it did.
An air of challenge floated between the two of them and Nes’s eyes grew stern. “First, there is nothing more important than my people. They are why I live the life I have. Second, there is nothing that isn’t about Etha when it comes to Sagewind.” She contorted her voice into a mocking tone. ” ‘If you’d pray to Etha this!’ and ‘The Great Mother that!’ If I were to bring up anything about his life, you can bet it would default straight back to that goddess.”
Kelly just looked her in the eye. “Really?” She raised her brows. “Because he didn’t do that to me when I brought up the topic to him. Sure, i’m not you, and maybe he’s trying to help you regain belief in your god, so there is a difference between me and you, but I believe you will be surprised if you tried.” Then she tilted her head once more, making another observation. “Are you really that afraid to speak with him of his death? Or are you simply tired of him speaking of Etha?”
“I would talk to him about his death without a problem. It’s a fact of the life he’s lived.” She glanced away. “And I can’t fault him for his devotion to Etha, but it’s just not something that’s right for me. If he would just accept that, I think we’d be able to get along much better.”
“Because you’ve been abandoned by your god, am I right?”
Nessix pursed her lips and ran her tongue over her teeth. Eyes pointedly directed away from Kelly, she took a step forward again.
Kelly saw the reaction and knew she hit a sore point, but she wasn’t about to let it go. “It is, isn’t it? Inwan left you, and you’ve never been able to understand or accept that? Have you?”
“Yes, he left,” she said sharply. “But it is not my place to question that.”
“It might not be your place, but you still question it, don’t you?” Kelly raised her brows.
Nessix stopped again, pinched her eyes shut and tapped her teeth together in agitation as she thought over an answer. “To let myself question it would be blasphemous. And Inwan is coming back.” She frowned. “I will not disgrace myself in his eyes enough to begin doubting him now.”
“Uhhum….” Kelly nodded. She didn’t know enough about Inwan and how the whole concept of gods and goddesses worked in this world, but she could respect it. “Very well, let’s discuss something else—your father. I know he’s passed, but what do you remember of him?”
She swallowed away the remnants of her current dilemma and a sad smile crossed her face. Her eyes grew distant with a melancholy bliss. “He was an amazing man,” she murmured. “Tall and strong and kind. When I think of what it means to be a general, he’s who I aspire to be.” Her smile broadened at how silly the words sounded. “Everything I knew up until recently, I had gained from him, and I so badly want to make him proud.”
Kelly smiled as they resumed a more comfortable, relaxed pace of walking. “I’m sure you do. I’m sure you make him proud as well. I’m also sure you make him do a palmface,” she demonstrated it and went on, “on occasion, but I’m sure he is very proud of you.” Kelly smiled at her. “What is your favorite memory—or two—of him?”
Nessix smiled and raised her eyes with recollection. “There are so many memories of him…” She sighed and tried to fish out the most tangible of them. “When I was tiny, he and Veed—back when he still gave half a damn – used to stage missions for me when things were quiet. We’d go out camping, just the two of us, and hunt out monsters—“ she couldn’t help but laugh at the irony, given how Veed ended up today. “It was such a fun game back then, but it taught me so much…how to hunt, how to cook, how to coordinate tactics.” She glanced at Kelly with a sheepish smile. “I suppose it doesn’t sound like the most endearing memory to someone outside my life, but Father and I didn’t once come back from those ‘raids’ unsuccessful.”
As she listened to the memories, Kelly smiled. “That sounds delightful.” She nodded. “Now, Veed—you mentioned him once before. Who is he?”
A disgruntled groan rumbled in Nes’s throat and she twisted her mouth slowly. “He’s…he’s complicated.” Her lips curled between her teeth and released in a quick pop. “Well before I was born, he and my father met, something to do with a hunting accident? They apparently hit it off from the start and Veed served as my father’s commander and my uncle of sorts up until his death.” Her gaze dwindled toward the ground. “Veed has a very important part in my past and no doubt Elidae’s future, but after Father died, he said he couldn’t stand living in the fortress any longer and asked permission to leave. At the time, I had even less of an idea of what I was doing than I do now, and I allowed him to shoulder some of my new burdens, which turned into a massive power grab. He’s now declared himself a general in his own right and governs the southern side of the island.” A dissatisfied sigh left her.
“Ah I see. That…that’s quite unfortunate. I’m sorry.” Kelly paused, considering her next question before finally voicing it, “And how did your father die?”
The reserve breath that hadn’t been forced out prior wheezed from Nes’s lungs. She blinked and looked resolutely ahead. “We were told his heart gave out.” She clenched her teeth a couple of times before elaborating. “I found him alone in the war chamber.” Kelly likely deserved a more thorough answer, but that was all Nes had in her.
Kelly narrowed her eyes. “That doesn’t sound right. He was a warrior, and must have been a fit man. Hearts don’t just give out for no reason. That’s very suspicious. Have you had any suspects? Who found him? Who alerted you?”
“That’s what I said, but I mean, I have limited knowledge of medical conditions, so who am I to question the surgeon?” Her eyes misted over at the sudden thought of how things might have been different if Mathias would have shown up then instead of now. She shook her head. What was in the past was done. “We were supposed to be meeting for a discussion on how to handle the recent minotaur raids in the northern forests, and Father always got to the war chamber early to review his maps. I got there first, Veed arrived shortly after. I’m not sure who all showed up after that.”
She looked over at Kelly, gauging her trustworthiness with great scrutiny. Swallowing her doubts, having stayed quiet about these suspicions for so long, she murmured, “Let’s just say…as the years have passed, there’s several reasons why I’ve quit completely trusting Veed.”
Kelly nodded. “I don’t blame you at all. Do you think he had a hand in killing your father—even in a roundabout way?”
“I don’t know.” Her words sounded miserable and tired. “I was so distraught, still am, to be honest, that I can’t tell what all is real and what I fabricated. Could I have been looking for answers so hard that I made them seem real? It’s a very real possibility. I just wanted someone to blame, someone that wasn’t my father, and I latched on to Veed.” Her expression fell. “Believe me, if I had an answer, one that I knew beyond a doubt, I’d be shouting it from the battlements.”
As Kelly listened to this, she was struck by irony of something that literally just happened this morning with her dealing with unanswered questions of her past. “Nessix, we don’t have much time left, and that’s unfortunate. However, let me tell you this–you may never get answers to all those questions, to what really happened. If that’s the case, you must move on, find new allies, fight your wars, and be strong—although part of being strong is knowing when you are weak and acknowledging that. Because sometimes…sometimes you do get the answers years later when you’re not expecting it, and it brings up things you thought you’d forgotten and accepted, and that is almost harder than never knowing. Trust me, I know.” Kelly nodded slowly then sighed as she glimpsed around, taking in their surroundings. “Unfortunately, as I said, it is about time for me to go. Do me a favor though, please?” She paused trying to determine how to word her request. “Be respectful forward Mathias and listen to him. Don’t let your envy of his connection to Etha get in the way. Go ahead—be blunt with him, he can handle it, but don’t hide behind your pride. You don’t know everything, and you know what? That is fine. You can’t be strong always—and that’s perfectly reasonable. You’re going to make mistakes—that’s unfortunate, but that’s life. If you can accept this with grace and move on, you will find this war and this life will be easier for you.”
Nessix soaked this in and came to a firm realization. All humans were the same. This, however, was not Kelly’s fault. “We all do the best with what we’re given in life,” she said. “I can’t promise you anything, but for the sake of my people, I would bleed dry.”
She thought over how exciting she’d anticipated this concept of being interviewed to be and couldn’t help but smirk. “I appreciate your concerns and what you’ve put on the table,” she said. “But if your time here is through, do not let me keep you.”
“Maybe I’ll be able to come back another time and check on you.” Kelly gave her a reassuring smile. “You have a hard future ahead of you, but you will burn bright in that future with the right guidance. Know that you are not alone.” With that, Kelly bowed her head then walked ahead of Nessix several paces before she vanished from this world altogether.
Katinka Schneider’s story ‘Devotion’ is the first in the series of ‘The Afflicted Sage: Tale of the Fallen’ is now available online. Follow her on social media for more updates: