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The silence beyond the wall frightened many in Inn’sth. There was an uncanny quality to it, as if something so vast that it could swallow up all of the horizon should make sound, like the every swirling waters of a great sea or the endless rustling of leaves and branches along the canopy of a virgin forest. But the Broken Plains appeared dead, devoid even of the slightest breeze that might blow up the dust out of the deep trench-like crevices that could be seen from where she stood atop the wall. Her head turned slowly, from left to right, and her golden eyes swept the visage of the land beyond -- listening for something, but hearing nothing. She could understand how it was frightening, but to Gabriela it seemed beautiful.


It hadn’t been long after their arrival that Gabriela had sought to explore. Much to her surprise, Roen had allowed her endeavors -- probably because he was so busy with his own. Not only had they brought a number of Orisian citizens, all displaced after the horrors that had befallen Ceyana, but also desperately needed supplies. It was with a mixture of science and magic that she had been allowed to witness how hundreds of crates of fresh fruit, vegetables, and freshly butchered meat had been washed and flash-frozen. Patia had grain to offer as well as lumber and stone, but Orisia brought a splash of needed color. Preserves had also been brought -- jams, honey, and just about anything that could be pickled, and finally, ungodly amounts of wine. It was good that they bring an offering of food when they were also bringing more mouths to feed.


She knew well enough about her low standing as a vampyre, and had been delicately and undelicately warned by her own guardsmen on how she should and should not behave. Of course, the Black Queen of Orisia did not need a lesson in cultural etiquette, but she accepted it nonetheless. Both Roen and her cousin, Raphael, had gone to great lengths to protect her from the reality of Terrenus and it’s Gaian religion, but they could never do away with the simple reality of it all. She had eyes to read and a mind to perceive how she had always been treated, even when among supposed friends in these foreign lands.


She was unnatural to these people -- she was a sin against the natural order of things.


A long and thoughtful sigh passed her lips as she leaned forward, catching herself on the wooden edge of the wall, tilting her body into the structure as she crumbled under the release of pressure that came from no longer being watched. Well, she suspected no one was watching her here. She had asked, as graciously as she could manage, if she could go up on the wall and see what lay beyond. It was with reluctance that she was allowed -- that and a few bottles of wine. It wasn’t a bribe, she assured them, just a show of gratitude for the excellent job they were doing, a gift that they would receive regardless of whether or not she was allowed to climb up the wooden ladder to some quiet section of the wall. And now she was there, not far from one of the gatehouses, which glowed warmly in the darkening dusk with both light and laughter.


She smiled a little as the smell of wine and warm human breath brushed her senses, just a passing perfume in the evening air. She really did believe those guards deserved it. The dire state of it all, of this place, of the situation at hand -- this was a hard job, a hard place to be. She felt for her own people, for those poor, broken souls who had lost everything save the will to live, even if it was in a mindless sort of way, working away what little remained of themselves. She understood the devastation of this particular type of trauma. There was nothing anyone could do or say to persuade them. After seeing what they saw, these people needed to learn to live for something -- but not in Orisia, never again in Orisia.


That stung.


More people that she had failed -- more people she had manage to break.


Against the warm wood, sun-baked during the day, Gabriela coiled her fingers and with her glass-like fingernails, left deep grooves in the rail. With a frown she examined the damage after lifting her hands and dropping them to her side. She had left her mark upon the wall, though she had never intended to do so. Deeply disappointed with herself, she wrapped her coat a little tighter around her perfectly arranged outfit and began to walk away from the scene of the crime, away from the gatehouse, and further along the wall.

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Her approach would have been heard from far away; the armour she donned not being the most silent of types, and certainly no match for a vampyre’s hearing. The lone figure on the wall stood out against the rugged environment - pristine, proper, meticulously arranged. She held an uncanny amount of beauty and grace, like a person stepped out from a painting; strangely unreal. Videntia looked out at the Broken Plains, a sight that seemed to fascinate the guest so. ‘Stone ocean’, she had once heard a mercenary refer to the plains. It was an apt moniker, for all they could see from here was waves upon waves of rock that stretched towards the horizon. Instead of the beauty that Gabriela saw, Videntia saw desolation, decay and death.

“Lady Du’Grace,” she saluted with a bow and a hand over her chest. “It is an honour to meet you. My name is Videntia.” The female paladin wore her brown hair in a bun, and her sword hung at her hip. Videntia had a pretty, if severe, face, and if she had lived another life, it was likely that she would have been married, with children running at her feet. The reality of the situation made Gabriela’s femininity appear all the more stark, the glow from her recent motherhood all the more striking.

“I apologize for interrupting your thoughts,” Videntia said. The Queen had asked to visit the wall alone, but they should not leave anyone to wander by themselves for long, not in Yh’mi. Especially not after Fidelitas had made a scene berating the guards for allowing Gabriela free reign. But beyond the racism that Fidelitas showed, there was some truth in the danger of allowing any guest to go unescorted. They could be attacked by the creatures beyond, or by Twistlings disguised as one of the new arrivals to the encampment. Beyond that, there was also the possibility that anyone could be corrupted by Yh’mi’s influence. Remissio’s betrayal still throbbed like a fresh wound, a year after it had happened. That day, the sight of the army approaching was terrible, but none was more heart-wrenching than seeing their own brethren at the head of the army, still wearing his armour, with the white handprint still splashed across his chest. He had tried to scratch it out, but he couldn’t deny his past.

Those were the memories that Videntia saw as she looked out. “You’re standing on the section of the wall that has just been repaired,” she said, easing her position and copying Gabriela’s pose. “It took a long while, because we didn’t have enough manpower. Between building the wall and battling the vile creatures that tried to come through, we could hardly take a breather. So we’re grateful for the assistance of your people, my lady. It is going to be hard living here, with constant danger, but I heard that your people came willingly.” She paused, thinking of her next words. No doubt they had been warned of the nasty conditions here, but hearing and visiting was nothing like living in Inns’th in a constant state of alert. It wore people down both physically and mentally, made them weak. “We will try our best to protect them, but I have to be honest. There will be deaths. It takes tremendous willpower to stay here.” It wasn’t that she hoped to chase them away, but she wanted the Black Queen to really understand what she was putting her people through.

Her piece was said, and she turned to less grave matters. She looked at Gabriela, with a small measure of curiosity. “Pardon my ignorance, but I was under the impression that any sunlight is harmful to your kind? You don’t seem to be wearing any sort of.. protection.” The evening sun had lit up Gabriela’s face in a red glow, but the vampyress showed no sign of distress.

Edited by jaistlyn

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Under her breath, Gabriela cursed. She could hear the clamor of armor, a loud and annoying thing given the absolutely wonderful isolation, peace, and quiet she had been enjoying just moments before. The great sea of sand and stone that lay beyond the wall felt like a picture perfect reflection of what she felt inside, a land of desolation, of natural ruin, of death as she believed it should be -- serene, quiet, and vast. But it wasn’t simply that Gabriela was anti-social, she wasn’t annoyed at the prospect of company only just because she was rude or stuck up. Roen had given her no peace since they began this small campaign of diplomacy. From meetings to parties, and everything in between, and every other moment taken up by the devil’s insatiable hunger for her company, the Black Queen of Orisia had simply known no peace. Even Philippe’s small wails of hunger, cold, or any other sort of distress, had begun to wear on her, and she found herself accepting more and more of the help afforded to her by the impressive staff that Roen had conjured. 


This however, was not the time to be unpleasant or to resent a complete stranger for what probably amounted to very necessary company. These lands were strange and dangerous, and having someone who knew what was going on, or more importantly, what could go on -- was not the sort of favor she should turn her nose up at. 


“Lady Du’Grace. It is an honour to meet you. My name is Videntia.”


“Well met, Lady Videntia,” Gabriela replied, turning her body to better face the oncoming knight. 


They stood at quite opposite ends of the political spectrum, but only in regards to appearances. It was clear to see that Videntia held sway and was a noble figure among her people, in character if not in bloodline. Though Gabriela was dressed in a more utilitarian fashion with her slacks, blouse, and vest, and the heavy coat that hung by her shoulders, there were feminine touches to her that could not be denied, and which were sorely missing from the militaristic Videntia. 


“I apologize for interrupting your thoughts…”


“I was devoid of any thoughts worth retaining. Your company is much preferred, my lady,” she smiled, as warm and kindly as she could muster. The woman’s white handprint denoted her as one faithful to a faith that would never accept a vampyre as anything other than a monster. She couldn’t begin to understand why her and Roen’s aid had been accepted, but it had but that certainly didn’t mean the people of Yi’mi had to accommodate them. She took this for what it was, a tremendous show of tolerance and a golden opportunity to breech and correct misconceptions. 


“You’re standing on the section of the wall that has just been repaired. It took a long while, because we didn’t have enough manpower. Between building the wall and battling the vile creatures that tired to come through, we could hardly take a breather. So we’re grateful for the assistance of your people, my lady. It is going to be hard living here, with constant danger, but I heard that your people came willingly.”


They had both turned to regard the brown-gold desolation beyond the wall. Once more, Gabriela’s hands were upon the wooden wall, feeling the fleeing warmth from its surface. Her golden eyes narrowed on some distant sight and her lips pressed into a line. Gabriela was beautiful, and she was feminine, and she was many other pretty words that women should be called -- but she was more like Videntia than perhaps the woman could ever imagine. Severity was her natural, resting pulse, and her face comfortably fit the expression. 


“We will try our best to protect them, but I have to be honest. There will be deaths. It takes tremendous willpower to stay here.”


“They’re not my people anymore, Lady Videntia. This is a small and unique kindness that they have accepted from me after what happened to them. They want a new home. More specifically, I believe they want a place to die. I’ve brought you a badly traumatized group. They’ve lost everything in Ceyana -- but not to war, or famine, or enemies that could be named. Their home was obliterated, and I cannot give them an answer as to why. It simply ceased to exist when another country fell upon them,” she looked at Videntia watching for a reaction, for anything that might give way what the woman was thinking. She waited a moment before returning her golden gaze outward, “Yes, that’s right. The gods saw fit to bury their homes under the weight of another country, fallen from the sky. And they have renounced me -- their faith, their love -- because I embraced those who came and took the place of those they loved. There are hardly any bones for them to mourn over, and simply too many dead to name. They’ve come to die, and I suspect if what you say is true, then they will find what they seek while serving you. Broken, they are broken and a little mad, and they seek out purpose now, an enemy to fight, a darkness to defeat...and then, I believe...I believe they will rest. Regardless, I would very much appreciate it if you kept them safe, to the best of your abilities. In case they change their mind. In case they ever want to come back home. ”


A heavy silence followed, a pregnant and ugly thing. Gabriela was grateful when the woman, tickled by curiosity, asked about a vampyre’s resistance to the sun. 


“You are not wrong. The sunlight is lethal to my people. But with age comes strength, and there are very unique ways in which my people can use their strengths. I, myself, am far too young to be able to withstand the light of day, but I have been granted a taste of ancient blood, and have learned that through meditation, I can fixate the majority of my regenerative abilities into healing, near immediately, the damage the sun causes me.”


Gabriela smiled, like a parent might to a child. The knight seemed perplexed.


“A demonstration perhaps?”


The Black Queen held out her hand, pulling back the heavy wool fabric of her coat and revealing a pale, and lovely hand. It started with wisps of smoke, black swirls that rose into the air between them and dissipated, until they were replaced by the long licking flames of fire. The top of Gabriela’s hand was burning, blistering in an ugly display of destruction. But the flames seemed contained to the top of her knuckles and the length of the back of her hand, down to the top of her wrist. She managed this just for a few seconds before hissing through clenched teeth and dropping her hand away.


“That is what I feel -- constantly, when I walk in sunlight. Every part of me burning. But I can heal it, nearly as quickly as it begins, and without giving away what’s happening.”


Once more she lifted her hand. There was no sign of the flames, of the blisters, not even the black char of burnt flesh. Her hand was pristine, and lovely as it had been before. 


“It’s a neat little trick, isn’t it?”

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What had she expected of Gabriela? Someone cold, distant perhaps? Vicious, merciless? Videntia tried to keep an open mind, but she was a fallible human after all. Gabriela tried to give a convincing smile, but Videntia wasn’t quite persuaded. However, when the paladin heard the genuine pain in the queen’s voice, her expression softened. Everywhere, there were people suffering. Yh’mi was but one threat to the world, one which the White Hand believed could be eliminated. That belief was empowering, and she knew exactly what Gabriela meant. Better to die for something that you believed in, than to live a powerless, empty life. It was why the White Hand had banded together under Chastity’s leadership in the first place. There were no true words that she could use to console Gabriela right now. 

Videntia was glad when the vampyre took no offence at her ignorant question. She looked at the hand that Gabriela held up, then winced when it smoked and burned, as if the vampyre’s skin was paper and sunlight was flame. The seeming fragility was negated when Gabriela held up her hand again with nary a trace of burns, like she had just performed a magic trick. A chill went down Videntia’s spine, both for Gabriela’s willingness to show her vulnerability, and for her display of healing prowess. A wooden stake to the heart, went the folklore, though Videntia was now convinced that it wouldn’t kill a living vampyre.

“You feel it... constantly? That sounds.. hard. There must be allure in the sun for you to withstand such torture to stand here.” Videntia looked towards the waning sun. “It is beautiful, isn’t it? Our wish is for the sun to shine brightly over these lands, with grasses and flowers and trees growing, with deers prancing, and children’s laughter weaving through. If that is not possible here, then we will at least safeguard the rest of Terrenus from the darkness of Yh’mi. It tried to break through once. It will try to do so again and again.”

The paladin pointed towards the middle of the rocky plains, to a hill that would soon by swallowed by the shadows of the encroaching night - at least to her eyes. “That hill is what we have dubbed the ‘Furthest Point’. It used to be as far as we could go, but with better understanding of the creatures of the land now, we have ventured further, even into the Unknown Territories.” For that, she pointed at the black volcanic mountains in the distance.

“The Furthest Point would be a good place to set up an outpost, because it offers a vantage point over the whole plains. We have tried, but failed to take it multiple times. Now, with the unity of the Terran nations, we have the confidence to try again. From there, it would be easier for us to venture into the Whitewoods-“ she pointed to the left, where thick white mist obscured most of the landscape, except for the crowns of the tallest trees, “-and the Spires.” The Spires were to their right, impossibly thin and straight structures that reached up towards the skies. It was obvious that these were not organic structures, but how they were built was a mystery. Once in a while, a new spire appeared overnight, without anyone witnessing its moment of appearance or construction. The creature Lun’silth lived in the forests at the Spires’ base, and it was a dangerous sentient psychic creature who could brainwash people to its own desires. That was how Remissio, one of the White Hand’s own paladins, was corrupted and turned against them. Videntia mentioned nothing about it, the memory of their loss too raw to recount to a stranger.

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“...There must be allure in the sun for you to withstand such torture to stand here. It is beautiful, isn’t it? Our wish is for the sun to shine brightly over these lands, with grasses and flowers and trees growing, with deer prancing, and children’s laughter weaving through. If that is not possible here, then we will at least safeguard the rest of Terrenus from the darkness of Yh’mi. It tried to break through once. It will try to do so again and again.”


A sense of dread settled in the pit of Gabriela’s stomach. She didn't understand this sensation -- where it came from, or why it had fluttered to her here and now -- but it added a filter of color through which she saw the lands beyond the wall. There was beauty out in that wasteland of cracked, dry earth and scorched sand-stone spires. She wanted to turn to Videntia and propose that there was a reason for the existence of this place, even if it was full of darkness and cruelty. But it was beyond presumptuous of her to believe she somehow knew better about this world than those who lived and died along its border. So instead, Gabriela pushed the feeling away, even though she felt a kinship to the desolation beyond that no one wanted to see spread. 




Without a purpose that anyone could understand.


Her small shoulders sunk low and she drew closer to the wall’s edge. 


“That hill is what we have dubbed the ‘Furthest Point’. It use to be as far as we could go, but with a better understanding of the creatures of the and now, we have ventured further, even into the Unknown Territories.”


Gabriela glanced back at Videntia and followed the point of her finger. She saw the distant obsidian peaks that rose along the neon-orange horizon. From here, and with her eyesight, she could see the gleam of the dying sun against the glass-like black stone of the volcanic mountains. The good knight went on with her description of the lands, and the Black Queen committed it all to memory. She was enchanted with this strange world, and found allure in the careful and almost awe-like wonder with which Videntia spoke of it all. 


“Clearly, when one looks across these lands -- one sees magic and power, but the way you speak about it,” Gabriela paused, biting down on her thick, bottom lip as she gathered her thoughts, “--the way you speak about it provides a warning that I do not think a wise person would ignore. Can you tell me what types of dangers exist beyond the wall? We don’t get much news of Terrenus back where I am from, much less from a place on the edge of the world like Yh’mi. What do your men and women encounter that makes these lands so dangerous?”


Golden eyes shifted, although they did so unwillingly -- now that so many of the landmarks she had been admiring were given names, she longed to study them all the more, even if it was just with her sight. But it was rude to speak without regarding one’s conversational partner, and so she set her summerset eyes back on Videntia.


The sun was beginning to dip low, and the orange horizon was beginning to turn purple. 


“Of what nature is the darkness that you and your people wish to defeat?”

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The uncertainty that the queen carried was interpreted by Volentia as nervousness about the vast unknowable landscape sprawled before them. The expression in Gabriela’s eyes was so human, it made the vampyre feel less foreign, and more familiar. Videntia took a small inhale of breath as she briefly pondered the implications. From what she understood from Gaia’s teachings, the cycle of life was sacred. They believed that if this cycle was disrupted, chaos and instability of life would ensue, and that was why they were so abhorrent towards Unnaturals, who held onto their unlife and refused to let their souls cycle back to Gaia. Videntia knew that vampyres were born, not made, and they were technically living souls with long lives. However, they create unnaturals as part of their very nature, and so they were only tolerated by Gaians to various degrees. Perhaps an extreme persecution was unfair. 

Her thoughts were pulled back towards Yh’mi when Gabriela asked about the nature of the darkness. Volentia had a tale to tell.

“Do you know the story about the Eater-of-Stars?” Videntia asked, then continued when Gabriela showed no recognition to the name. “In ancient times, there existed a portal deep within Yh’mi that was a door to the Outside - not outside Terrenus, but outside Valucre itself. Malignant beings frequently entered through the portal, each one with their own nefarious plans for power or influence.“

“A man called Galan the White rallied warriors and people under his banner, and constructed this very wall that we are standing on.” She let the knowledge of that sink in.

“It protected Terrenus for a long time. But people grew complacent. They forgot about the dangers beyond the walls. One day, the Eater-of-Stars came through the portal. It was the devourer of worlds, and its hunger brought it to Valucre, a planet teeming with life. It was as cunning as it was powerful, and it spread false rumours about Galan the White, convincing the people that the paladin had been harbouring treasures inside his fortress, and that the darkness beyond Yh’mi was a lie conjured to keep prying eyes away.”

“Good men turned greedy, and arms were raised against Galan and his warriors at the border of the wall. Refusing to fight their own people, Galan’s supporters were cut down by the hundreds. In the chaos, the Eater-of-Stars descended upon all of them. It sent forth skittering monsters, while the Eater’s own vast black body blocked out the sun, and its tentacles dripped venom and scorn onto its enemies below. The armies of the nobles fled, and only Galan and a small number of paladins remained to fight the creatures of the dark. It was an overwhelmingly one-sided battle. With his final strength, Galan charged straight towards the Eater, while his warriors paved the path for him with their blood. He sacrificed his life to crush the Eater’s heart with his hands.”

“The Eater’s defeat caused a cataclysm to befall Yh’mi, burying the portal and decaying the land. The remnants of the Eater’s army never really left, and they lie in wait beneath broken stone and dead forests, until the day when the Eater will rise again.”

Videntia turned to regard Gabriela, severity in her stance. “And we believe the day is near. One could argue that this is nothing but folklore, but nothing else explains the existence of this Wall. Pieces of ancient writing found within Yh’mi also corroborates various parts of the story. At least, we had access to them until our translator went missing three years ago. She just disappeared, vanished mysteriously, leaving her unfinished work behind. It didn’t seem like she left of her own accord.” She pursed her lips. It was possible that Sophia had sneaked off without telling anyone, but she was passionate about her work, and it was more likely that she had been taken away.

“If the Eater rises, it is not just Terrenus which will be under threat; the whole of Valucre will be in danger.” She looked at Gabriela closely to judge if she believed her words. Many people thought the White Hand foolish to hold faith in folklore that must have been warped and transformed over time, but Videntia held the conviction that it was safer to assume the worst case scenario. If, in their investigations, Yh’mi turned out to be something tamer, no others would be happier than the paladins themselves.

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Was there any greater pleasure than hearing about the history of a place? Gabriela stood there, her eyes settled intently upon Videntia as she told the story of the Eater-of-Stars and the man who crushed it’s heart and banished it’s army under the crust of the earth, Galan the White. It was a tragic story of course, a brave man who ended up sacrificing everything from a group of undeserving people. The villain was predictable in his hunger for power, and the hero in his willingness to die -- and the story, ended up simply being unsatisfying. As always there was much lacking in regards to motive, and while she wanted to voice these concerns, she could not help but fear the severity of Videntia’s judgment. Being a vampyre, Gabriela knew she was already toeing a fine line, and she found herself to be rather fond of the paladian -- she didn’t want to give the woman cause for distrust. 


And yet…


She looked out into the waste lands and thought of what slumbered below the ground. 


“My people are beloved of a curious deity. We call him Tenebre -- or Father Darkness. He was drawn to us, my species, for our inability to exist in the light. The kinship seems obvious enough,” she shrugged and smiled a little. She decided not to share the fact that she in particular was chosen by Tenebre, and was above all others, his favored child. Their relationship was strained, and she wasn’t sure what it meant to be his child anymore. “He told me a story once, an interesting story…”


Gabriela licked her lips and set her hands upon the edge of the wall. She rested her weight on the palms of her hands and leaned forward. The breeze picked up and upon it she caught the distant smell of wild flowers, of exotic, wet dirt, and of blood -- not human, not of any animal she knew. It was a savage perfume, lovely, but utterly wild. 


“In the beginning, when all that existed was Darkness and the Creatores -- think of every and any creation story you’ve ever heard-- and they spent all their time creating, they didn’t do a very good job of it. And unfortunately, their standards of beauty and worthiness were unachievable. They sought to create creatures not in their own image, but rather creatures who were absolute replicas of themselves, and when they found these poor creatures to be lacking in some way or another -- they did away with them. Now, according to Tenebre, this was a time before death, and so these creatures did not die. They were simply tossed into his abysmal realm, newborn creations that were discarded by their creators. Darkness took them in, he had no other option, they had no where else to go -- but he was never never intended to nurture anything.”


She paused and thought of Tenebre now. He truly was not intended for nurturing, and she suddenly felt a pang of guilt for expending so much more than what he was clearly capable of offering. 


“I’ve seen these creatures. Monsters by any measure of the mortal imagination. They exist in a state of confusion within the abyss -- uncertain of their purpose, unaware of how long they have lived or how long they will live. They are pitiful creatures, and I believe they deserve our sympathy if not our help. But they can be very dangerous and tremendously destructive. From time to time, I’ve seen them break from the abysmal realm and into our world.”


The Black Queen sighed soft and low, “it never works out.” 

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“Some things.. are beyond our control,” Videntia said gently. She sensed a pain in Gabriela, a story of trying but barely holding things together. She had a hunch that Gabriela was telling her things she had been keeping away from people around her. That a queen would show such vulnerability to a stranger was humbling, but it also endeared her to Videntia. What Gabriela was hinting at did not get lost on the paladin. Had she said it to someone else, she might have been escorted out of Inns’th immediately. But in a way, Videntia knew exactly what she meant.

“Sometimes we need to know our limits. We try our best to push past it, but we have to accept that some things are beyond our power. From there, we have to make a decision. What do we most want to protect and preserve? For some, it’s family. For others, it’s career. Sometimes it’s an ideology. For us, it’s to safeguard a future. To fight for what we believe in, some things have to be sacrificed, no matter how painful it may be.” Her tone turned pensive. “Maybe we’re more aware of our own limits, when we have such short lifespans.” The paladin did not know what plagued Gabriela, but hopefully this would give her something to think about at least. The vampyre might be nigh-immortal, but yet, surely, she had her limits as well.

“We seek to understand Yh’mi. We are building the fort in order to support our ventures further into the land. We want to cleanse it, but that does not necessarily mean a massacre of everything. The land is impure, surely you can feel that too in the very air. These are not just.. wild animals. Yh’mi hungers for everything wholesome, and exists to twist them into something unrecognizable. If we are able to fully understand it one day and.. reverse what has been done, then that would be for the best. But if they seek to destroy us...” Videntia’s hand balled into a fist. “...then we have no choice but to destroy them first.” Surely Gabriela could empathize with that, as the ruler of a nation.

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