Nicole was eager for her day to be over. Long hours on her feet and meeting with those who came to see her were rewarding enough, but deep down she craved the silence and isolation of her chambers. They were far from opulent, with few items save her small cot, her desk, a fur to kneel on, and her bookshelf. Smiling to herself as she shut the heavy wooden door behind her and quietly turned the key in the lock, she felt her world melt away. This is always the best part of the day.
Not long ago, she had ventured north, deep into Ironmound territory to get away from her life, if only for a moment. She took a job as a waitress with the Wardens and was asked to help serve drinks during the political meeting that was to be taking place. That dinner was more trouble than it was worth. Quickly it faded from her thoughts. It didn’t matter: the dinner was behind her, and she was home now.
Loosening buckles and lacing, Nicole began to disrobe from her typical attire to her sleeping garments. It always surprised her how soft and comfortable they were. With a few deep breaths she lowered herself to her knees on the fur, her hands folded in front of her. No, she mused. THIS is the best part of the day. Nicole allowed her mind to drift away in prayer, attuning herself to the mana stream and through it, to divinity. Images raced through her head, as if she were dreaming, though none could be explained with words. A presence stopped before her, seeming to engulf her body with itself, and she felt peaceful. She knew this presence well.
Without speaking, the presence addressed her, and she could feel its question in her mind. Yes, she responded. This is me as I am. It felt perverse in a way to make such a claim. Who was she to make that decision? And surely, if that was the truth, the presence was well aware already. She expected a cold silence, like that of a father looking disapprovingly on a misbehaved child. Her head slumped and a lump formed in her throat. The lump only swelled when she felt a warmth embrace her.
“I…I don’t…” She began, confused by the sensation. The presence did not falter and continued to warm her, “Thank you.” It seemed silly to say. “You know why I am afraid. You’ve always known. I’m sorry.” The warmth held, neither receding as she had feared nor advancing as it had. “I don’t want to let you down.”
As her doubts and anxiety built in her mind, she noticed a cold tingling in her fingers and toes. It was as if the warm presence was pulling away. “You’ve given me so much, but I can’t do it.”
The chill spread to her elbows. “It’s been too long; I can’t go back now.”
Her arms felt numb, drained of their vitality. “I’m not as strong as you think I am.”
The cold engulfed her almost entirely, as though she had been naked during a winter storm. “I’m afraid. Please don’t let me do this alone.”
With that, she noticed a sensation. Deep in her core, like a candle nearly exhausted, was a small glimmer of warmth. “You’re still here. Right where you’ve always been.”
The sensation grew once more, though slower than before. That was as clear of an answer as she had ever gotten from the presence: I am never alone.
Nicole knew exactly what she had to do. Just not how or when to do it. Not that she would have much time to think about it right now, as there was a heavy knock on her door. Clearing her throat and settling into her familiar voice, she responded with a simple “Yes?”
She knew the man on the other side of the door as soon as he spoke. They had known each other for quite a while but had been reintroduced outside of Daven’s Reach a few years ago. His words were muffled through the heavy door, so she quickly ushered him inside.
“I said, ‘You’re supposed to give a report.’ People want to know what you’ve been up to. Oh, and you…might want to get dressed.”