"...This question isn't meant for me, is it Good Hunter?"
The Huntress gave a slow, solemn nod to her friend. A tense silence came over the two of them. The Huntress kept her eyes locked with Eve's as she waited for her answer. She knew that, in many ways, asking this of her friend was unfair. Though the Huntress had explained every experience she had in this Waking World to her, it didn't mean she could fully understand the feelings behind the question. The constant doubt, uncertainty, and the harrowing feeling that no matter your decision things will end up the same.
But she needed a second opinion. And Eve was the only one she trusted enough to give her something approaching real guidance. The only one who she could call a real friend at this point.
The Huntress held her breath until Eve finally sighed and continued, "That is...a difficult question to answer. However, I will answer to the best of my abilities, Good Hunter."
"That is all I can ask for, Eve," the Huntress nods.
"Good Hunter, what is it that you regret most from your time in Yharnam?"
The Huntress did not respond. Silence reigned as she considered the question. There were...many things. Many unpleasant things that she was forced to accept; too many to accurately or even justly rank them. "Where should I begin," she softly spoke before turning towards Eve. "Where do you want me to begin?"
Eve took the Huntress's hand and met her gaze. That thousand-yard stare, Eve knew it well. The stare of someone whose seen too much, who knew too much, the same stare that many hunters had, the same stare that Gehrman had.
Time slowed to a crawl as the two stared at each other, waiting for the other to speak.
"There...are many things," the Huntress said as she quickly turned away from her friend, "A myriad of examples I could answer with. But chief among them...is what happened to Father Gascoigne's children. I doubt you ever met them, but surely you knew of them. He must have talked about them to you."
A trembling hand went to the Huntress' forehead as she wiped away some sweat that had gathered on her brow, "I simply wanted to help them. That's why we become hunters, right? To help people, to save them from the big bad beasts," The huntress covered her face before letting out a sad cackle. "The little one couldn't stay in her home alone during the Hunt, and there was no telling when her sister would be back. So I told her...told her to go to the Chapel and...and...she died. Eaten by that damned boar. I killed that Beast over and over and over again...but it always came back...and she didn't."
A silent moment passed before the Huntress continued, "That girl died because of me. And that led to her older sister taking her own life. I...I couldn't lie to her. Her death, like the many others who perished, weighs on my mind. I never allowed it to stop me though. Lamenting and mourning would serve no one, but it is still a great failure that haunts me like the Vilebloods did Alfred."
Eve nodded, "Understood, Good Hunter. Now, tell me, why didn't you go with the child?"
"...Excuse me?" there was a tinge of anger in the Huntress' voice.
"The child you sent to Oedon Chapel. Why did you not accompany her to the Safe Haven?"
"Why would I?" the Huntress spat as she shot from her seat. "I told everyone to go to that Chapel, and they all arrived safe and sound!"
"They weren't children," the Doll responded. "Nor were they living in such a precarious spot when you found them."
The Huntress opened her mouth to retort...then closed it.
Her hands clenched tightly into fists as she tried to think of a response. Her eyes, wide with fury, leered at Eve.
Eve did not mind though, she had come to know that expression well. The look of self-hatred as a dreadful realization washes over someone.
Then the Huntress slumped back down into her chair, her anger giving way to despair.
"Why didn't I go with her?" the Huntress wondered aloud, "It was the Night of The Hunt. I had experienced it myself. There were monsters all the over the city...and I let a young girl go out on her own? Why did I...?"
Eve placed a hand on the Huntress' thigh to get her attention. Only when the Huntress calmed down did she continue, "Let us move on to a closer companion. What of Eileen The Crow? You always informed me of your meetings with her in great detail. What happened to her?"
The Huntress sighed while shaking her head, "She...she died in my arms. Succumbing to wounds she sustained while fighting another Hunter. A blood drunk monster called 'The Bloody Crow Of Cainhurst'. I killed him...but I couldn't save her. She didn't Dream anymore and the Blood did little for her."
"But you had encountered her before then, correct?"
"Yes. Once near the entrance to the sewers, and again after I fought the Father."
"And you didn't think to ask her to accompany you? Nor accompany her?"
"She explicitly told me not to."
"From what you have told me, Eileen also told you to not assist her in her task. Yet you did so regardless."
"What exactly are you getting at Eve?" the Huntress' eyes narrowed at her friend, "What does any of this have to do with my original question?"
"Everything," Eve took the Huntress' hand in both of hers, "For if you continue on unaware of your own flaws, then it matters not which path you follow. They will all end the same as Yharnam. While this may not be your only flaw, it will most certainly be one of the biggest reasons behind your failure."
"And what exactly is this flaw?"
"That you want to help everyone, but refuse to go further than the surface level," Eve was silent for a moment to let her words sink in. Then she continued while squeezing the Huntress' hand, "From what you have told me of your journey there were many people you met in Yharnam. Many of which you wished to save from the Hunt. Yet, you never once mentioned spending more than a few minutes with them. They spoke you, but you hardly spoke to them lest it be through one word answers. You never told me of taking time out of your Hunt to sit down and listen to their problems. Never took the time to be a shoulder to lean on during such a stressful time."
The Doll let another silent moment pass. The Huntress' hand flexed in her grip, but did not pull away. She continued, "You wanted to help others. But you never took the time to know them. Nor did you let them know you. You focused solely on your mission and ending the Hunt. And if you continue like this, then the mistakes you made in Yharnam will simply repeat themselves in this Waking World."
Images of Horace and Gloria flash before the Huntress' eyes as she prepared a rebuttal, "But what of my children? I took them in and I care for them."
"Yes, but are you caring for them now? Or have you left someone else to watch over them, as you always have with others?" the truth behind the Doll's gentle words cut deeper than a knife through the Huntress' back.
She slumped into her chair, locking eyes with her friend as she asked in a wavering tone, "Then, what would you have me do? Truthful your words maybe, but there are so many things I simply can't ignore. I can't pretend to not see the suffering of those who inhabit this world. Not while I have the ability to do alleviate it."
"That is just it, Good Hunter," Eve gently patted the Huntress' hand, "I am not saying you should ignore the plight of those around you. I am saying you should not attempt to help them all. You are but one woman. You cannot help every single person in the world...but you can help those you see in front of you."
The Doll stared up into the woman's tired eyes, "Save those you can, be there for those you love, protect that which is dear to you, but above all else, act on these things. Deliberation is good, unless it prevents you from moving forward. Do not remain passive forever. Carve a path to the future with your own hands. That is my advice to you, Good Hunter."
Silence reigned between the two women as the Huntress mulled what the Doll had said over in her mind. The only sounds in the room were the crackling of a fire that never seemed to die out, and the rocking of the chair the Huntress sat in. Her hand opened and closed in the Doll's palms as seconds turned into minutes, and minutes turned into hours. Eventually, the Huntress responded, "And what of my initial question? You have yet to give me an answer."
"Did I not do just that, Good Hunter?"
The Doll's smile remained as pushed herself up, the Huntress' eyes following her in confusion. She placed a hand on the Huntress' cheek. Her delicate, plastic palms felt cool on the her skin as Eve stared down at her friend. Her next words were filled with the kind of care a mother would show to a crying child, "As I said before, you should carve your own path forward. If the three arrayed in front of you are not to your liking, there is nothing stopping you from making another. Whether it will lead to something better all depends on your actions. And if there is anyone in this world that can accomplish such a thing, it would be you, my dear Selina."
The Huntress felt her heart skip a beat as the Doll spoke her name. All her worries, all her doubts, all the uncertainty, calmed themselves. Clarity slowly but surely made its way through her mind. And as it did, the Doll's words made more and more sense. Eventually, her lips formed into a confident smirk as she stood up from her chair. She placed both her arms around Eve's waist and gently pulled her friend into a hug, "Thank you, Eve. I let my worries and doubts over the war control my thoughts, blinding me to any other choices. Please pardon my foolish behavior."
"It is no trouble, Selina," the Doll returned the hug, "I will always be here whenever you seek guidance. It is the least I can do for you here in this Never-ending Dream."
"You do much more than that, my friend. Believe me," Selina let the conversation wind down before saying, "Can we stay like this for a while longer?"
"As long as you wish, Selina."
She smiled while holding her oldest friend tight, while her mind was already figuring out what her next move would be after returning to Vinvers.
She knew what her path forward would be.
She just needed to build it.
Maggie winced as Sentinel threw her brother to the ground for the fourth time in a row. She carefully shut the door behind her as he hit the grass, walking towards the two as Sentinel stood over the fallen boy. The old mage rolled his shoulder with a grunt, his baggy brown tunic and trousers moving with his limbs, "Good try, lad. Better than yesterday."
"How is getting tossed on my ass again 'better than yesterday'?" Nick groans out while pushing himself up on his elbows, grass stains getting onto his white shirt.
"Cause yesterday I could see five different ways to throw you to the ground. Today I only saw three."
Nick let out a frustrated grown as his sister closed in on the two. He swiftly got to his feet while turning to meet her, "Maggie! You're supposed to be in bed!"
Maggie rolled her eyes at her brother as she stopped moving, the skirt of her light green dress flattening as her momentum slowed, "Not again, Nick."
"No," he stepped forward and grabbed her arm, "Sentinel said it would take another day before all your Mana comes back. Until then you need to rest!"
Maggie shook her brother's hand off and pointed an accusing finger in his face, "Don't start that with me! Who's the one that would always come home with cuts all over his body and act like nothing was wrong?"
Nick flinched, his gaze turning to his bare feet, "That was different."
"Oh? And how is that?"
"Because it wasn't done by Mamono!"
"That doesn't matter, you were bleeding!"
"Both of you need to be quiet!" Sentinel's firm shout immediately silenced the two young adults. The old mage crossed his arms, his eyes glaring daggers at the two. He addressed Maggie first, "Lass, while you've got the right attitude, you still need rest. The last thing any of us want is for you to pass out while you're walking down the stairs."
Nick was quick to agree with the older man, "See?"
"And as for you, lad," Nick flinched at the anger in Sentinel's tone, "Don't go thinking you can order her around just because you're her brother. She's a grown enough to make her own decisions, and doesn't need you being overprotective."
Nick hung his head in shame along with his sister. Having admonished the two siblings, Sentinel stretched his arms out with a pop then asked, "So, what'd you come out here for lass? Need some help cleaning the privy?"
"Oh no, no. I'm trying to find the children. Breakfast is almost ready so I tried calling them while I was in the house, but they didn't answer. I was hoping either of you knew where they were," Maggie said while her head moved back and forth across the manor's backyard.
"Marc and the scamps?" Nick pointed to his left where three childlike figures stood gathered around a wooden stump a good twenty feet away, "They're over there. Horace wanted to show Marcus how many logs he can cut now. Though if you ask me, he only went because of Gloria."
The young man looked left and right then whispered to his sister, "I think our little bro might have gotten his first crush."
Maggie's hands came up to her mouth to hide her lips as they curled into an excited smile. Her eyes sparkled with pride and curiosity as she made her way to the three children. Nick made to follow her, but Sentinel grabbed his shoulder to keep him in place, "Hold on there, Mercer. I ain't done with you yet."
"Oh, come on, Sen," Nick groaned as he turned to the old mage. He jerked a thumb at his sister as she started gathering up the kids, "You heard Mags. Breakfast's almost ready. That means it's time for a break."
"Not while you're my student it doesn't. And it's not Sen, it's Master," Sentinel jerked the young man around to face him, then cracked his neck while rolling his shoulders, "You've hit me twice so far. Make it four , or you're missing breakfast."
Nick's mouth fell open as he started having serious regrets about asking the old man to train him a day ago. He threw up his hands to express his indigence, "Now that's just unreasonable! You can't expect me to train on an empty stomach."
"Sure I can. Cause I'm your opponent. And in a fight you're enemy's not gonna care if you're at your best or not."
"I know that, Se...Master. I've been in my fair share of scrapes."
"Then you shouldn't be complaining. Now, come at me."
Nick rolled his eyes before getting into a stance of his own. The two men stared each other down for a few moment until Nick charged at Sentinel. He instinctively went to grab some dirt from the ground, but was stopped when Sentinel grabbed his shoulder. With a single punch to the chest he knocked the wind from the younger man's lungs. He followed it up by tossing Nick away, the young man hitting the ground four feet from his mentor.
"You've used that trick already! Change your strategy as the battle goes on!" Sentinel shouted as the boy struggled to stand, "If I was a Mamono, you'd be on the ground begging for release with tears in your eyes."
"Fuck off!" Nick ignored the pain in his chest, "That's never gonna happen to me!"
"As if you'll have a choice in the matter if it does! Now stop your yapping and come at me!"
As Sentinel prepared for Nick's next attempt, Maggie walked by with the children in hand. Marcus was holding her right hand, Horace held her left, and Gloria held Horace's free hand. She asked Sentinel, "Should I wait for you two before starting breakfast?"
"Nah," Sentinel answered without looking at the girl, keeping Nick back with one arm, "me and the lad will be in by the time the sun sets, don't worry."
"Kick his butt, bro!" hearing Marcus root for him lit a fire in Nick. The red haired young man grabbed Sentinel's outstretched arm with both hands. With a mighty cry he pulled the older man towards him and launched a front kick to his stomach. While it didn't knock the veteran down it did make him stumble back three steps.
Confidence restored, Nick snapped his finger at Sentinel, "That makes three, Master. I think I'll be able to finish this before lunch rolls around."
"Don't start getting cocky, brat," came Sentinel's retort as he smiled, "Go on, lass."
"Ooookay," Maggie frowned as she prepared to leave, but stopped to look back at Sentinel, "Oh, I almost forgot! Have you seen Blitz and Jet anywhere? I remember seeing them when I woke up today, but not after."
The smile on Sentinel's face died just as quickly as it came. He let out a long sigh while shaking his head, "If you were missing one, I couldn't say. But if it's both of 'em, then there's only one place they could be."
"In a room."
"There you are Cynthia!" Spencer ran towards Selina as she walked down the last stair. She stared at the young mage as he stopped right in front of her. He looked up at her with worry in his eyes, "I just found out this morning! A Demon and Hero were both found dead in town today! The Order wants me and some others to investigate! If you want to come with-"
"That won't be necessary," Selina held up her hand to silence Spencer, "For I am the one who caused their deaths."
"WHAT!?" Spencer's surprised shout was enough to get the attention of the few people who came to the Inn this early in the morning. Curious stares fell upon his back, making the young mage's skin crawl.
With a kind smile beneath her bandana, Selina placed a hand on the young man's shoulder and started leading him out of the Inn. She bid farewell to the owner before speaking to Spencer, "I shall explain on the way. But before that, tell me what happened with Valarie yesterday. Have you finally told her how you feel?"
Disbelief gave way to embarrassment as the mage suddenly gained a lot of interest in his shoes, "Oh, uh, well, no. But I think I made some progress."
"Really? What makes you say that?"
"Well...yesterday we..." Selina's attention was completely focused on Spencer as he recounted what happened between him and Valarie. And as she did, her worries over the world melted away.
As Eve had said. She would protect those she cared for and would be there for them.
And until she returned to Pran, this would be a good start.