The Verdant Passage

Whom to Trust (Part 1)

The chill of the night air of the desert had seeped into Zaidah’s bones, only aided by the sweat that drenched her body. Still paramount in her mind was the nightmare of that evening and the confusion over Huar and his possible… what? Betrayal? Megalomania? She wouldn’t know until she heard his words, but could she trust his words? So many had lied to her… and because she wanted to, because she wanted the world to be a place where people could be believed… she had believed.

But now the stakes were higher. Now she had no idea when or where a Sorcerer-Queen might take over her body and use it to her own ends. She had no idea if the man who had asked her to be his Queen could, in fact, be trusted and she was beginning to think the answer was no.

As if all this were not enough, Sil had left… again. He claimed it was, in part, to keep the girls safe but she could not help but wonder and she could not help feeling like the world had just become a more dangerous place without him.

Her dreams had left her reeling, not knowing where to turn, not knowing whom to trust. The telepath had been lucid for a good bit of time now but feared what might happen if the unthinkable turned out to be true. She needed advice and she needed it from someone who never trusted anyone.

The snores of her companions echoed in her ears and her eyes turned to their sleeping forms. She didn’t know if she could trust his words either, in fact she was fairly certain that she couldn’t, but she needed to hear them all the same. Zaidah took a deep breath to steel herself and then crept over to Tlaloc’s sleeping form. She gently reached out and shook his foot, jumping back… just in case.

His foot twitched and he grumbled, but before he actually opened his eyes Zaidah felt a wave of psionic energy pass over and through her. Her emotions changed and confusion and fear were replaced by anger and indignation, then confusion reigned once more. Was this Tlaloc’s power? To affect the emotions of those around him? Sensing the change suddenly made her aware of all the times she had felt herself more persuasive, more emboldened by his presence. How foolish that she hadn’t noticed the psionic nature of his gifts until now.

She had little time to analyze the experience though as he sat up and grumbled at her. “What is it? Is something going on?”

She opened and closed her mouth a few times. “I… um… I… just-”

He arched an eyebrow and she could tell that he was aware of her distress. He even seemed to be somewhat sympathetic to it. Was this just one more act? Was he still masking his true rage and hatred underneath? The last time they had a tete a tete she saw that side of him and it had haunted her. And yet, he was her companion. He had saved her life countless times and seemed genuinely concerned for her welfare.

“You obviously have a lot on your mind. C’mon mindbender, let’s warm up some broy.”

Once they had a fire going and warm broy in hand, the self-styled Templar of Aramis sat in silence, apparently waiting patiently for Zaidah to begin.

She looked down into her cup, wrapping her fingers around the outside to soak in the warmth of it. Then she took a deep breath and began. “I am afraid of what will happen when we reach the Jade Tower and I don’t know what I’m going to do if…” She shook her head unwilling to finish. “I know I’m the only one who holds any love for Huar, but he helped me find myself again. My mind had healed much by the time he entered it, but… those two years, what felt like two years, cleared away the rest of the cobwebs. …What if that was all a ruse though? How will I be able to tell when the time comes whether I can trust his words or not? I don’t know if I want to know the truth. But I don’t want to end up like Inocles Vas either. I don’t want to put the lives of my friends, my family and my cause in danger because I don’t want to see what is right in front of my face…”

Tlaloc nodded, but stayed silent for a long moment, staring at the stars in the night sky.

No, Zaidah realized, He’s looking at the spaces in between the stars.

“I understand what you describe,” he began, “the feeling that your choices have left you weak and exposed.” He took a long drink before continuing. “It would be advantageous to turn what seems to be a weakness into a strength. If you are feeling conflicted, then I surmise that Huar may be experiencing something similar. Perhaps we can exploit your previous relationship to attain what we are seeking. In fact, as a recognized companion to the Heirophant, you may have considerable untapped influence in the Tower.”

Zaidah blinked. She shouldn’t have been surprised. She didn’t know why she was surprised, this was Tlaloc she was speaking with. His perspective, so different from her own, was the reason she had sought him out to begin with. “Let me see if I understand you correctly. Rather than be exploited you are suggesting I be open to the possibility of being the exploiter, become the deceiver rather than be deceived?” She shook her head a little and gazed down into her cup. “I did that for Koras. I did it well. I don’t know if I can do that this time…”

“Perhaps not,” Tlaloc replied. The ex-moon priest looked hard at her now. “I believe that you are too burdened by past experiences to fully utilize the advantageous position in which you find yourself. Koras abused your gifts. From what I understand, he wielded you as if you were a powerful weapon. I would not presume to do the same.”

The half-elf sighed, and gave Zaidah a defeated look. “I cannot command you to follow orders, the way I used to command the slaves of Draj. Nor would I wish to manipulate you into playing a role in some scheme I might concoct. I simply ask that you unleash the full scope of your considerable power and intellect upon the problems before us. But if you allow your past experiences to hinder your capabilities…”

Tlaloc let the thought hang in the air. Perhaps he had actually run out of things to say. He returned his gaze to the night sky, this time focusing on the twin moons of Athas.

“We still have a little bit of time,” whispered Tlaloc, before emptying his cup. “But it’s running out.”

The smooth desert sand showed more emotion than she did, her face giving no hint to the churning of the thoughts inside her head. The telepath was silent as she stared into the flames of the crackling fire and then she cracked the barest hint of a smile. You would not command me because you know it would have exactly the opposite effect from the one you want, she thought, but all she said was, “Thank you. You have been very helpful. I will think on what you have said.”

She rose and turned to go but suddenly stopped herself. “Tlaloc? There was one other thing I wanted to ask you.” Her face was still as expressive as stone, her tone belying the urgency of the question. “Have you forgiven me for my intrusion into your mind?”

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