"I think....that-that...I'm going to..." she stuttered as her heart skipped a beat, "...kill my brother."
He nodded very matter of factly. "I think that's a good idea," he said quietly, then added, "And I am going to help you."
Shalee Lianne, ex-Praetorian, entered into the confessional booth of St Alms Cathedral. As she pushed the sliding screen open, ambient light filtered through the filigree lattice and cast a kalediscope of shadows across her face.
She knelt and started to whisper, "Forgive me of my sins."
A familiar voice responded. "Shalee?"
"Yes..." She frowned, realizing who was on the opposite side of the confessional.
"What are you doing here?"
"Trying to confess...why are you still here, Micah? You're no priest."
"Funny story really. It is suprising the amount of intel one can gleam from the confessional booths."
"Ha ha. Now would you please send in someone else?"
He waved a dismissive hand, "Whatever for? I can talk to God just as well as anyone else. Come on, out with it. What has you so worked up?"
She hesitated. He wasn't a priest, but an Imperial Agent who had been assigned the Michael Priboj case. Somewhere along the way the pair had become friends, despite being on opposite sides. She had confided to him before, but this was different.
"Really Micah, I need a real priest."
He sighed in response. "Shalee, theres nothing a 'real' priest can do for you that I cannot. So tell me. What's wrong?"
She was silent for a moment, then confessed, "I'm going...to kill someone. Premeditated."
Confussion laced his voice, "How do you mean?" She was a capsuleer for the Amarrian Empire, she killed every day in the name of God. What made this different, he wondered.
His question was met with silence, and after a few seconds, he heard the curtain being pulled back. He chased after her, dashing up the aisle.
"Shalee? Wait." He caught up with her as she exited the church, grabbing her by the arm, "Wait, please? Shalee, what's wrong? Talk to me."
She scowled at him, clearly frustrated.
His gaze slid down her, taking in her disheveled hair and wrinkled clothing. Her face was ashen, marred by bluish smudges beneath her eyes. Obviously she wasn't sleeping well. And her usual Praetorian uniform was replaced by a general militia one. His brow cocked up questionally.
"What happened with PIE?" Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris, an Amarrian corporation loyal to the Empire, one of the leaders of the faction war against the Minmatar. She had served under their colors for nine months, working her way up to Lieutenant and one of the head recruitment officers.
"I quit," she said in a small, dull voice.
"I had to."
"Why is this any of your business?"
"Because I care. Because theres something obviously wrong and you need to get it off your chest. So tell me."
"I don't know where to begin."
"Just start talking, I'll figure it out."
"I...I don't know. One minute I'm a Praetorian and the next I'm resigning my commission. One minute I'm with Raphael and the next he is gone. One minute I know who I am and the next..." She shook her head as all of the frustration of the last few days came pouring out. "I know nothing at all."
He merely listened.
"I tried so very hard to do the right thing, to be the right kind of Praetorian. I don't know." She hesitated as she tried to place her jumbled thoughts into some kind of order. "I wanted to matter. I wanted to make a difference, but it seemed the harder I tried..." She exhaled a breath, "I just wanted, needed...needed to make a difference. To serve God, to somehow make up for all the things I have done."
He lead her over to a bench in the garden beside the Cathedral and sat, motioning for her to continue.
"It was easy to forget what I was...am. Am? I don't know anymore. At what point do I stop being her?"
"The girl you don't know, the real me."
"Tell me about her."
"I was...twelve? Twelve, I think, when I first killed someone."
She stared at him, waiting for some kind of response, repulsion, disgust. Anything. And when he said nothing, she continued.
"My Father was a blooder and so were my brothers. I think they tried to protect me from it but I found out...and once I did, I was a part of it. I tried not to be but...they knew how to break a person."
He sat silent, letting her finish.
"Eventually I ran away. I dropped my real last name and thought they would never be able to find me." She shrugged, "I guess that was foolish huh."
"Anyhow. My past has caught up with me. Hadrien..my brother. He is here. On Amarr. He found me." She went very still as she fell silent, staring off at nothing in particular.
"I thought I'd never see him again...hoped I wouldn't. I blocked it all out. Tried not to think about it, and after a while...I did forget. After so much time, I started to believe I was Shalee Lianne, capsuleer for the Empire. God fearing Amarrian, someone respectable...decent. Someone who could make a difference, someone who could matter."
"But now...he's back. And he is here to remind me that I am an imposter. That I am nothing that I pretend to be, that the past is always there hiding in the shadows." Her hands were trembling as she quickly swiped away a tear. "He threatened to expose me to PIE...so I left." She exhaled a shakey breath, "I beat him to it, but he wont stop. He will ruin me until he has me again."
"What did he do to you...?"
Misery flashed across her face as she remembered...
Her entire body ached. She'd been chained to the wall for days until she had lost count. Consciousness came in spells. Blurrying images of macabre scenes, rituals she was forced to watch. She tried to look away, not to see, not to hear. But it was impossible not to know what was happening.
Eventually her hysteria faded into a dull acceptance. She was trapped in a nightmare she couldn't wake up from. She was hungry, thirsty, tired, and sore.
They had left her in her own filth, waiting for her to break. And after so many days she did.
Hadrien, the eldest brother, gently unshackled her and carried her away from it.
Almost gallently he had carried her into the main house and into her rooms. Servants were summoned, a bath was drawn and food was prepared. She was bathed and fed and he held her while she cried. Eventually she drifted off into a fitfull sleep and he stayed, arms curled around her, whispering words to soothe her.
The next night he guided her through her first blood ritual. He stood behind her and held her upright, kept his hands wrapped around hers, guiding her movements, instructing in a soft, loving voice.
Blood was everywhere. Drenching her robes, splattered across her skin, staining her hands. The last thing she remembered before passing out was the cold dead gaze of her victim.
She awoke to the sound of Hadrien whispering to her.
She glanced around the room. Her room. It had been a place of safety her entire life, a place she'd retreat to after so many trivial things had upset her throughout her young life. Problems with boys or servants or overbearing tutors. It was a safe haven, a place where no demons or monsters could enter.
In that moment she realized that the monsters of fairy tales were nothing to compared to the monster that she had become.
She held out her blood slicked hands and stared at them, trembling as hysteria started to bubble up again.
She was the monster, she was the one to be afraid of. She was the thing that would kill you in the middle of the night, a creature to fear.
Her eyes glazed over as she saw her reflection in the mirror above her dresser. The white robes she'd left in were stained red. Her pale arms were splattered and her face and mouth was smeared with it. She could still taste it.
She wanted to be sick, she wanted to scream, to faint, to die. To escape the nightmare of what she was.
But he wouldn't let her. He held her to him, rocking her, soothing her. His hands were brushing across her damp tangled hair. His mouth was against her ear, whispering how she'd been such a brave girl.
He whispered words of love, adoration, and how he was going to take care of her like he always had.
His mouth was against her ear, whispering, and then he was kissing her.
She stared absently at the mirror, watching as it happened, dully observing, as if it were happening to someone else.
She blinked out of her reverie and looked at Micah. The breeze ruffled her hair as it blew through the gardens of St Alms.
"Sorry. I was just thinking." She forced a smile to her mouth.
"Will you tell me about it?" He offered, though he already had a good idea of what she had endured.
Her gaze slanted to him, "I don't know....no. I'm tired of thinking about it. I just want the nightmare to be over and I know that it wont be until he is dead."
He nodded without judgement. "What will you do now?"
"I don't know yet. I'm staying at the Paradiso til I figure it out. The owner is a friend of mine, so I'm safe enough there." She brushed a strand of hair from her face as she sat there, silent for a moment, then said, "When he found me, we were at the Basilica. I...I didn't say anything. Nobody knew, but they knew something was wrong. They could tell he upset me. Afterwards, some of them offered to 'take care' of him." She almost smiled at the sentiment. It was strange to her how she had come under the protection of some of the most notorious criminals in New Eden.
"Anyhow, I need to go. There are some things I still need to take care of."
"Actually, no. I need to get in touch with Koronakesh...Invelious of DIA is missing...and I think I'm the only one who knows whats happened to him..."