When I was younger, I decided I wanted to save the world from evil.
It was the afternoon I had found my favorite of the barn cats, or what was left of her, out in the woods. Gremlins leave messy kills, and their nests are never far from where they leave their food. So, armed with a pitchfork, I tracked the little monsters to the copse of dead trees they inhabited.
When Eldon and Harry found me wandering among the trees hours later, I was dazed and bloodied, but I had killed them all. I'd had my first taste of power, of victory, and of vengeance. I felt I had found my calling, my destiny. I could make a difference. I could protect all the things I loved.
I was twelve years old.
Looking back, I can see echoes of that incident and its effect on me in all I have done through my life. Demon slaying seemed a natural career path, because most of the demonic host are the purest personification of evil that exists. At least that's what I thought, before I found out that there are some people out there who make things like Beholders look like angels, and some demons would gladly call you friend, and give their life for yours.
While that realization woke me up to the fact that evil can't be defined in the simple terms of my childhood, it didn't change my deep-seated desire to make evil go away. I found that I could kill evil people just as easily as evil demons. It wasn't what you were, but upon what you did that I based my judgement. I felt I was on the path of righteousness (and still do, to be honest), and felt no guilt in how much satisfaction I got in handing out my own personal death sentences to those who I felt had crossed the line. It became almost a game, and I was making my own rules. I loved it for the thrill of the kill, the power of knowing there was almost no one who could take me down. I forgot that it was supposed to be about life, not about death.
While I still don't feel guilt about the life I've led, I realize I don't feel that much satisfaction anymore, either. Not after all that has happened in Amber.
I'm just not the same person anymore.
It's like I've taken a step to the left of my life - still me, but not whom I always thought I was. I won't say I'm older and wiser. Maybe tempered, or maybe just tired. I can look over and see where I thought I was supposed to be going, but that path is already faded and dim. I can't get back onto that road that led me here. I find that I don't want to, either. I can't clearly see my destination now, but that doesn't fill me with unease, like it used to (well, not completely, anyway). Maybe I haven't stepped onto a different path, but just back onto the one I started upon as a little girl who just wanted to save the world, not make it her own. Am I really a different person, or have I just found who I had been all along?
Until now, tonight, I've felt like I've been watching events play out from a distance, like I used to watch Matthias through the mirror. So much has happened, so fast, that I don't think I ever really grasped just what was happening to me.
The people weren't the only ones who needed the formality of a ceremony to make it truly real.
For once I was glad of the dull, solid ache in my leg, as it allowed me to bow gracefully out of the festivities. I retreated to a table at the outer edge of the bonfire's light, close enough that it wouldn't seem I was avoiding everyone, but far enough that I had some space to ponder my newfound personal revelations without the constant interruption by merrily drunken well-wishers. I needed some time to come to terms with the responsibility I had accepted.
Then my other two problems showed up.
That's a bit harsh, but I'm at a loss about how to handle this. I genuinely like Matthias and Luke, and count them both as friends. Honestly, I have to admit I'm attracted to them both, for different reasons, but like I told Matthias, I'm just not any good at relationships. For once in my life, I'd like to have something that is more than a string of one-night stands with some guy I hardly know. I'm not looking for happily ever after here, just something solid and real, and I don't know either of them well enough to make any moves in that direction. I don't even know how to make moves in that direction.
As they sat down on either side of me, I think I cringed, but either they didn't notice, or didn't let on they noticed. After a bit of careful conversation, I began to relax again. Even I have to admit there's something sweet and amusing about all this, in light of all the gloom and doom of trying to fix a broken kingdom.
At the very least it gives everyone else something to laugh about.
Neither Luke nor Matthias seemed to be demanding I make some sort of decision right then, so I was pondering the stupidity of bringing all this up in conversation with them when Stark appeared. She looked radiant, and for the first time since I'd met her, calm and relaxed. She laughed, a bright happy sound as she encouraged us to sample something Harmony had made. I was the last, and most reluctant to take the flask, though as I took a sip of the cool liquid, I wanted to laugh with her, just for the joy of the sound, and because I wasn't alone.
It was late, and the party was beginning to slow. People were wandering back from the fields. I felt the weight of their lives and happiness, but it didn't crush me, not like I'd thought it would. They trusted me, and I trusted myself. While I'm not sure of much beyond that, it's a start. Maybe it was the power of whatever Stark had conjured up with her ritual, or Harmony's elixir, but I knew I had done the right thing in coming here, in making Amber and her people my future.
I examined the signet in the faint glow of the fire's light and the lucidity of Harmony's magic. Neither were enough for me to make out the details of the ring's design, but tonight wasn't about details, anyway. It was about the encompassing spirit of renewal, and of hope for the future, both my own, and Amber's. Not how we would get there, but just that we would, somehow. Tomorrow would be soon enough for worrying about hows and whys.
For tonight, I was comfortable with taking it on faith.