A Promise to Help

Denam and Catiua stood at the outskirts of Balmamusa, and Denam set aside his shovel. Those who had returned to the town in the wake of the massacre had asked that the cemetery be kept at a respectful distance: neither too far to visit nor too close to awaken their wounds every morn. Much of the work had already been done on the cemetery itself, but five thousand graves were not easy to lay.

"I'm glad you came, sister," Denam said, gingerly wiping the sweat from his brow. "The work goes much faster with two pairs of hands. It is good you are here."

"Of course I am," Catiua replied from her seat on a tree stump, a prim frown on her face. "As the princess, and as one here on that day, I could do naught else. Besides… I relish the time that I can still spend with you."

Denam laughed. "Of course, but you needn't fret so much over my departure. Sir Lanselot has recovered, and I mean to speak with him about my trip to Xenobia."

"Really? I suppose I should thank him then. For his service, and for keeping you here just a little longer."

Denam's smile lingered for a time, but then faded. He looked lost in thought.

"Much has gone right for us, but for Vyce… the best we could do was lay him to rest in Golyat."


It was an unpleasant memory for the two of them, fighting a host of undead raised and ready to march on Almorica — a host that included Vyce.

"I wonder, sister… what if I had been but two days faster? What if I had been able to keep my promise to help him?"

Denam looked to the sky, and Catiua followed his gaze.

The evening light dyed the castle grounds orange, a ruddy and dying color appropriate for the occasion. An abuna stood before a restrained man, beaten by the weather and by hand, as Bakram soldiers looked on indifferently.

"…and death shall redeem thee of thy worldly sins, even as it washes clean thine eternal soul." The abuna's voice droned, and among all present only he fully listened to his own words.

The man shouted, struggling as much as he could with both arms held and legs mired in a layer of tar.

"Let me go! Please! Don't kill me!" he shouted.

"Kneel, child. Pray to the Great Father."

"Kneel? What have I done? Why are you doing this!?"

"Great Father Philaha. Forgive the sins of this, your child."

The guards holding the man down now hurled him up towards the gallows, where a noose waited.

"Please, no! Call Brantyn - he'll tell you! I did as he ordered, no more! Please, I don't want to die!" The man's screams were hysterical, piercingly loud, and yet, by all the crowd, unheard.

"Denam!" Vyce cried, as the men around him forced him to look to the sky — and towards the noose in front of it.

A blade passed inches by his face, cutting the rope tying the noose to the gallows cleanly in two. Then it cut through the burliest of the guards holding him, and Vyce stumbled to his feet.

Denam stood, sword raised, at the execution site, surrounded by his most loyal troops. The Bakram civilians nearby scattered, the abuna among them, while the soldiers raised their own weapons in abject alarm — and a touch of fear. Not a single scout had reported even a small group's passage through Iorumza, yet the colors of the Resistance now shone in the sunset, right outside of Heim proper.

A fierce battle raged, with blades and arrows and spells swinging and flying. In the chaos Vyce took a pair of knives from a fallen warrior's boots, and he defended himself with what little energy he had. As Denam ran past him to aid a Resistance magus, Vyce gutted a Bakram knight, then collapsed where he stood. In less than a minute after, the fighting was over — and the Resistance was utterly victorious.

Denam ran over to Vyce, still lying on the ground, who spoke quietly to him.

"…You'll regret this, you know. Saving me… you'll regret it, Denam."

Denam closed his eyes, and reflected on what to say next. When he opened them, a glint of resolve shone within them.

"I refuse to believe that you mean that, Vyce," Denam said. "As I did before. This is not about our friendship, but about you. You are a better man than one who would turn his blade on all who approach him."

Vyce lifted his head from the ground and coughed out flecks of dirt. With a rasp in his voice, he spoke. "Denam… why? Why could *I* not be the one to help *you*? Why does this damnable world toy with me so!?"

"I will not let you leave, Vyce," Denam told him. "But you will not be prisoner — not mine nor anyone's. I want you to choose what you do next: you may remain in Phidoch, or you may fight alongside us. And if, after this war is over, you truly would take my life, you may have it."

Vyce stood, and faced Denam eye-to-eye.

"There," Vyce said, planting his shovel in the dirt some feet from the graves. "That's all I can do right now."

The three of them stood at the outskirts of Balmamusa under the shade of a large tree, and noon had long past, but their labour continued. They had filled a dozen graves each at that point, if not more, but there was yet work to do.

"Really now?" Catiua asked. "You've all that muscle, yet here *I* am still digging."

"Leave off, Catiua," Vyce snorted. "I've had scarce over a week to recover. If this were a month hence, I'd do the work of ten of you."

Denam laughed, but set his own shovel aside. "Come now, sister. You cannot expect all men to do the work of a princess."

"True," Catiua said, a tiny smile blossoming across her face, "but I had hoped to see you two at least try."

Again Denam laughed, and this time Vyce joined him.

"Do you hear her, Denam?" Vyce asked. "She'd have us shovel into suppertime."

Denam shook his head and turned to his sisters, hands held out in an appeasing gesture. "I will cook for us tonight, sister — and I'll be starting now."

Vyce walked over to Denam and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "No, you won't. I won't have you deny me the chance to do better than when we lived in Golyat."

Denam grinned but assented, as Vyce elbowed past him towards the cabin where they'd stayed that morning.

As Vyce went inside and closed the door behind him, the two siblings glanced at each other.

"He recovers better than he says," Catiua said. "He has the vigour of the man who attacked us in an open field, though thankfully much less of the bearing."

"Perhaps," Denam admitted. "But I would have him choose the path of his recovery. As would he."