The word was just a whisper, yet the confusion and disbelief in his voice made it seem louder. He stared at her, unable to comprehend what she had said. Her eyes met his - to his surprise, they held no sorrow, no regret, no shame. His eyes traveled down to the oval stone embedded just below her collarbone. Something swirled lazily in its purple depths. He repressed a shudder of revulsion, and quickly looked away.
“Why?” he asked again, his voice stronger this time. She closed her eyes, a look of pain on her face, and did not answer. He watched as she raised her hand almost unconsciously to the stone, and he fought another wave of nausea as the swirling in the stone quickened. Was it his imagination, or did he see it behind her, its pupil-less eyes fixed on her face, its hands reaching out to touch her? He heard her take a sharp breath, and her hand snapped closed before she touched the stone. The swirling returned to its former state.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, as though measuring something. Then she turned to the window and looked out, gripping the long red drapes in one hand. He stood there for a moment, watching the woman he had loved – that he still loved, if he was being honest – as she looked out at the horizon. He had loved her enough to consider breaking every vow he’d sworn. In the end, he had chosen to remain true to his bond, and it was she who had decided to take the other path, leaving him and all that she knew behind. He had understood her reasons, then, for they were very nearly his own. Now, ten years later, she had reappeared, having made another decision. And this time he did not understand at all.
“Answer me!” he yelled, suddenly angry. “No one chooses this! No one asks for that stone to be set! No one offers to host a parasite! NO ONE CHOOSES TO BEAR A LICH!” he screamed at her, fists clenched at his side.
Her hand tightened on the drape, but she did not turn around. “I did,” she said simply.
The anger left him as quickly as it had come. His hands unclenched and hung useless at his side and his shoulders sagged. He felt broken. “Why?” he asked again, desperate.
She was quiet for a moment, her hand gripping the curtain tightly. She raised her other hand, and this time she did touch the stone. The lich flickered into view, standing beside her, arms crossed. It saw him looking at it, and grinned slyly, enjoying his anger and discomfort. He kept his eyes on it defiantly, though the sight of it filled him with fear and revulsion. The lich grinned more widely in response to his show of bravery and its lips twitched in laughter. It turned and looked at the woman, still smiling. She looked back at it, obviously unafraid. After a moment, she dropped her hand and the lich disappeared, leaving the two of them alone again.
“Why?” she said at last, her voice steady. “For love, of course.” Then she turned and walked out of the room without so much as a glance in his direction. Her boots echoed as she walked briskly down the hall.
He assumed she meant the love they had shared. Had she taken on the stone as a way to show him how much she had been hurt? Was it some twisted form of suicide? Was it her revenge on him, so that when it killed her, he would look at her face and know that it was his fault? If her intention had been to make him feel guilty, she was successful – he spent the rest of the day and most of the night in meditation, searching for a way to forgive himself for things he’d thought he’d risen above.
It was morning before he realized that she may not have been talking about him at all.
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