Author/Artist: Becca Stareyes
Theme: 5 stages of life: death
Author's Notes: Set shortly after Sethra Lavode, and spoilers for that. Mentions of canonical character death.
Perhaps it was the nature of his death, but Aerich found the lose of consciousness not particularly frightening. Sad, though; it was not comforting to die realizing one had regrets and one would never have the chance to correct them. He could not have even asked Khaavren and Pel to convey his feelings to Tazendra, as she had died minutes before him, in a fashion that Aerich imagined, would have been exactly what she would have chosen.
That was some comfort.
He returned to consciousness at the foot of Deathgate Falls. Despite being half submersed in the waters, he didn't feel wet or chilled… or much of anything. Also fortunately, the broken neck that lead to his death was no longer impeding his movement. He struggled to his feet and surveyed the mists and waters at the base of the falls, searching for the shore and the start of the Paths of the Dead. He could see the remains of those bodies brought to the falls, preserved from decay by some aspect of this place. If he searched, he was certain he would find his own; his friends would have done that much. He wasn't in particular interested in that.
Someone was standing on the shore already, surveying the area for some sign that Aerich was taught would lead through the Paths. She turned, and Aerich felt his heart leap into his throat; it was Tazendra. She looked as she had when he saw her last, save for the lack of her death-wounds removing a good chunk of her torso. She also had a sword, her sword, either because Khaavren and Pel would never have sent her to the Paths unarmed or because being a warrior was so much a part of her soul that it could not imagine her walking with side bare.
Her face lifted into a smile so large that Aerich suspected it was infectious and he was grinning back. "Ah, Aerich, my friend!" Tazendra strode back into the shallows and embraced him, and, if Aerich was uncertain as to how two dead souls could embrace in the Paths of the Dead -- or even why they two, of all those that died that day, had found one another -- he was not inclined to gainsay the gods. Instead he held her back, until they released one another.
"After your death, Sethra Lavode located the cave and was able to seal the rift to the Jenoine," Aerich informed her. "Piro was the one who finally killed Grita."
Tazendra nodded. "Then she was only able to have half her revenge, and at cost of her life. And, well, it did give me a chance that I might not have ever had, to test myself against a Jenoine." Aerich suspected that, even if Tazendra was reborn with no memory of her previous life, she would still feel pride from that accomplishment.
"It was well played, my dear. But, come, why were you standing here? Surely you were not waiting for me?"
"In fact, I was attempting to locate the entrance to the Paths, as I was taught in childhood," Tazendra said. "I believe I have found it."
Aerich was taught that each of the Noble Houses had its own routes through the Paths of the Dead passed down from parent to child. And, in truth, the stand of thorns Tazendra pointed out looked nothing like what the entrance should look like, from his own youthful instruction. He was certain he could find his own path.
But he didn't wish to leave Tazendra's side after their reunion. Duty had kept him away in life, and he wondered if it would be so in death. "I wonder…"
"Well, I have always admired that about you. What do you wonder?"
"If it would be possible for me to accompany you on your path?"
"How, accompany me?" Tazendra looked faintly surprised. "Surely you were taught the way by the House of the Lyorn."
"I do as well as you know what you were taught by the Dzur," Aerich answered, hoping that the disruption in Tazendra's childhood didn't disrupt her lessons. "But, if there are multiple paths to the Halls of Judgement, then it may follow that it does not matter which path is taken as long as it is correct."
Tazendra nodded. "That may be true! But you will half to follow my instructions. And stand ready to engage in some play of your sword."
Aerich shrugged; of course any path designed to test the mettle of the Dzur would be dangerous, and the Lyorn's path was hardly safe. "In life, I have always valued fighting by your side; in death, I would welcome the same."
"Then, if you will follow me." She offered him her free hand, and he took it.
"I would like nothing better." On an impulse, one that would surprise his friends, he bowed his head and briefly touched his lips to he back of her hand.
On his death, he was no longer her liege-lord and she his vassal. He didn't even know if the Houses carried in their genes mattered any more: if he was only as much of a Lyorn and she as much of a Dzur as they thought they were. He was no philosopher. What he did know was that this gesture eased some part of the regret he'd carried at death. Here they were simply Tema-known-as-Aerich and Tazendra.
He'd thought he'd seen Tazendra's eyebrows dart up, but by the time he rose to meet her gaze, she was giving him a half-lidded look that was rather more than she'd ever dared to do before. "Well." she said, her voice warm, and her grin wide. "That was unexpected. I nearly think I approve."
Aerich gave her a slight nod, smiling back. "Then, let us walk together and see what comes of this decision."