She'd had her venthyr name long enough that her old name—her living name—felt foreign when it came across her mind or when she saw it on her sinstone. It still felt strange to think that she had atoned for all that she had done, that she could ever atone for all that she did.
When she died—when Harriet died—she had already accepted that there was no saving her soul. How strange it was to come to Revendreth, to be told that they believed she could be redeemed. It had been a long, hard road, one she had fought against at first with all her might.
That she had been saved, to her, meant that anyone could be. It had been with that in mind that she had requested to become a venthyr, and she had known exactly where she wanted to be in the scheme of things.
Now, she led others through their atonement. She took each soul beneath her as a sacred charge.
She would save every single one of them that could be saved and see them redeemed as she had been.
And she would not rest until it was done.
She had lost one soul, so far.
It still stung, to think that someone could be given this second chance and refuse.
Perhaps it was because of that continued sting that the Harvester of Pride had decided to invite her to one of Sire Denathrius' decadent parties.
He had said something about unwinding, and not being completely overwhelmed by their sacred task.
The Accuser now sat in a corner, arms crossed, wondering just how long she needed to stay at this miserable waste of time before she could return to her duties. This waste of time was not helping her. Helping others through their atonement would make that sting lessen, not this.
Just as she wondered if she could slip away without offending her superior, a venthyr happened to walk past her. She paused when she saw the Accuser, head tilting at the sight of one hiding in the shadows.
The Accuser knew of her, knew that she was the sharpest mind in all of Revendreth, possibly all the Shadowlands. She knew that she was the Harvester of Avarice and that she maintained watch over the Catacombs Ward. It was when a soul had spent enough time in the crypts that they were sent to the Halls of Atonement.
The Accuser had never met her directly, but had gathered souls in her presence once or twice.
She was a lovely venthyr, tall and beautiful and dedicated to her craft.
Someone to look up to.
And now she was standing in front of the Accuser, appraising her with a curious look.
When the Accuser realized that she was just standing there, she offered a quick bow to the Harvester. No sooner had she risen, a hand was offered to her.
"Would you care to dance?"
The Accuser stared at the hand in front of her, blinking. Then, she looked up at the Curator, trying not to frown too deeply. The idea that the Curator would allow herself to get swept up in this meaningless, foppish…
It was a disappointment.
"No, thank you."
With a nod of acceptance, the Curator withdrew her hand. Rather than leave, however, she turned so that she was standing beside the Accuser, surveying the party as though trying to see who the Accuser might be watching. Or hiding from.
"Not much to do over here."
The Accuser floundered for what to say. She didn't want to offend the Harvester, but she didn't see a point in lying, either. "My priorities lie elsewhere."
"At the Halls of Atonement."
With a blink, the Accuser looked at the Curator to find that she was watching her with interest. "Yes."
"My brother speaks well of you."
The Accuser shifted her weight, that sting of having lost a soul weighing in her mind at the compliment. She did not deserve praise. That only led to pride, and she had had hers expunged.
"He says that, compared to others, you've saved more souls than most in the time you've had." The Curator said. Her voice was a bit higher than most, but it had a pretty ring to it.
If only she weren't so focused on stirring pride in the Accuser.
"I do my duty."
"If you don't rest, you will burn yourself out," the Curator replied, motioning to the party. "We noticed that happening with everyone. Even the Master. Focusing completely on sin and never having a moment to catch one's breath…it overwhelms. That is what these are for."
The Accuser paused this time to look over the people dancing and the food tables in the distance, piled high with fancy treats and anima wines. "I might understand if everything wasn't so…much. We don't need these temptations to draw us back to our sins."
At that, the Curator laughed. "I hadn't considered that it would be so hard on the redeemed. Perhaps I should point that out to the Master."
The Accuser abruptly looked at the Curator, surprised. For the first time, it occurred to her that the original venthyr had been made by their Master, and that they had not been redeemed sinners. The Curator, Prince Renathal, the Stonewright, her current superior…
She could see how dealing with sin day in and day out might be overwhelming, as the Curator had said. It seemed a cruel fate to be thrust upon those who had not committed atrocities in life.
"You know you have atoned, yes?" The Curator's head was cocked, her gaze steadily regarding the Accuser. "You are allowed to rest, as well."
With a shiver that she couldn't hold back, the Accuser abruptly gathered her skirts and gave her a quick curtsy. "I should get back to my charges."
The Accuser found herself in another corner at another soiree. She glowered more openly now, having been to far too many of these indulgent displays. She had hoped that one of the benefits of rising through the ranks would mean that she could avoid these events and instead focus more on her work, but alas, the Master seemed amused by the Accuser's complete disdain for the richer aspects of venthyr culture. The more she tried to get out of attending such events, the more she was invited to, sometimes by the Master himself.
Worse, the Curator seemed to have made it her personal mission to find her at each and every one—all two dozen that she had been to so far.
Without fail, no matter where she hid at these events, the Curator would show up, hand offered, smile in place, and that same question on her lips. "Care to dance?"
Today was no different.
She didn't even have to look to her side to know when the Curator showed up. She could feel her presence, a familiar tug at her side, a body filling the emptiness.
"The least you could do is have a drink."
With a sigh, the Accuser took the offered glass and held it in front of her as the Curator took a sip from her own flute.
"I hear things are going well at the Halls." When the Accuser's gaze finally slid over to the Curator, she offered a brilliant smile. "Your methods are quite impressive."
"They're the same as they've always been."
"They are not," the Curator insisted. "I would know."
Sighing again, the Accuser settled in for a conversation. "I just don't give up on them."
"As commendable as that is, I should hope that is not truly the only difference," the Curator replied.
And with that, suddenly they were talking about something the Accuser actually wanted to talk about. Their conversation wound through the practices in the Halls, past and present, and how they tied in with the practices in the Catacombs. At that point, the Accuser knew the overall practices that took place in each ward, but it was nice to hear someone else talk about the intricacies of their work with the same passion that she felt.
Without meaning to, the Accuser stayed long after the time she'd intended to, talking with the Curator about the workings of Revendreth.
It wasn't until the Master announced his departure that the two of them realized just how late it had gotten.
With a short laugh, the Curator inspected the emptying dance floor and then peered at the Accuser with a mischievous smile. "I don't suppose you'd like to end the evening with a dance?"
Despite her attempts, the Accuser couldn't make her scowl keep against the smile that wanted to take its place. "I've no time for such things."
"A pity," the Curator replied, letting out a sigh. "I'm going to fall out of practice waiting on you, you know."
As the Curator dismissed herself, the Accuser realized for the first time that she hadn't seen the Curator dance with anyone else in all the time they'd been at the same parties.
The Accuser's mouth was a thin line as she stood in a better lit corner than she would have liked. The few foolish enough to bother her had already made their rounds, and now she was comfortably standing on her own, with a few other ritualists who didn't want to be there hovering at an appropriate distance.
As the newly appointed Harvester of Pride, it would be her job to attend these ridiculous engagements from now until the end of the Shadowlands—or until she was removed by the Master.
Neither were going to come anytime soon, however, and thus the Accuser's fate was sealed.
She swirled the anima in her glass as she watched the room. Prince Renathal was on the far side, entertaining a few of the nobles with stories that would no doubt make the Accuser roll her eyes. The Fearstalker was with him, and from the looks of her animated actions, they were discussing one of the more recent hunts.
The Stonewright stood on a balcony, flanked by her children, bored. When she noticed the Accuser's attention, she offered a small nod. She would be taking her leave in a few minutes, no doubt—she was another who lacked interest in the parties that their Master so adored.
The Countess was seated near the Master, discussing something quietly, while the current Harvester of Envy scowled at a table she was at, ignoring the fawning nobles around her to instead glare jealously at the Countess. She wouldn't last very long as a Harvester, and the Accuser had to wonder why she had been promoted at all. Likely, this was one of the Master's latest jokes.
More and more, the Accuser noticed how the Master seemed to be more malicious than compassionate, that the greatest sin in Revendreth was the lie of the Master's benevolence. She would never say anything, of course. Rather, she could see it in the eyes of all of the Harvesters who served any length of time beneath him. They knew that he was not the great savior he claimed to be, and they took up the slack to make sure that Revendreth did not lack.
As the Accuser let her gaze wander the room again, she had to fight back her growing irritation.
For some reason, this party was more insufferable than usual. It wasn't the first one she'd been to as a Harvester, but something about this party was… off.
She scanned the room again, trying to figure out just what was so much worse than usual.
The Accuser was mid-sip when she heard an all too familiar phrase.
"Would you like to dance?"
The rejection was on the tip of her tongue when she realized that she was not the one who had been asked. Turning her head, she found one of her ritualists hesitating. The venthyr gave the Accuser a glance and then looked back to the one in front of her and shook her head. "No, thank you."
As the other venthyr retreated, the Accuser appraised her ritualist carefully. "You know you need not stand here as I do."
The ritualist looked a little lost and floundered for an answer.
"It is hard to deal with sin endlessly, and you have atoned for yours already. Allow yourself a reprieve," the Accuser said, finding herself talking as though she were the Curator. "Go on."
With those simple words, the ritualist ducked into a quick bow and went after the one who had invited her to dance. Slowly, one by one, the rest of her followers left her as well, finding their ways to the dance floor and food table and the crowd that was gleefully listening to whatever debate the Prince and Fearstalker had fallen into.
The Accuser stood there a moment, by herself, her usual frown in place.
How long had it been since she had actually had to be alone at one of these events? Had she ever been?
Her mind was filled with conversations between her and the Curator, of those damned requests to dance that had become somewhat of a ritual at these engagements and turned into something so much more enjoyable. The discussions, the debates, the confidences that had come of those proffered hands.
Master help her, but the Accuser missed her.
Her mind more focused, she scanned the room again, brow pinching when she realized that the Curator was nowhere in sight.
Though…it wasn't as though she could see the whole of the party from where she stood, could she?
Beginning a slow pace, she walked the length of the room, scanning the different nooks and crevices that might offer a hiding place for someone tired of the event. While she found more than a few venthyr who seemed more than a little terrified to have earned her attention, the Curator was nowhere to be found.
The Accuser wandered onto the balconies and through the adjacent gardens, ignoring the few private moments that she came across, along with the blathering apologies from the venthyr who were showing so much shame for finding dark, quiet places to better know one another.
The longer her search dragged on, the stronger a curling terror in her gut became.
Surely, the Curator hadn't been…replaced?
The Master could be cruel, but he would not dismiss one of his first children when she did such a spectacular job. No one came close to being as efficient at their tasks, as dedicated to their charges as the Curator.
No one could ever replace her.
The Accuser had decided to go to the Master himself and ask where the Curator was when she rounded a corner and finally found her.
The Curator was just arriving, it seemed. She stood in the foyer, telling a few of her people to mingle and enjoy themselves, much as the Accuser had to her own.
Her words were much kinder than the Accuser's had been, and her followers were much more relaxed.
The Curator noticed the Accuser almost immediately and made no effort to hide how she walked straight over to her. "I hope there's been no fuss about our late arrival. We had a rather unexpected encounter in the crypts and…"
As she spoke, it was as though she were merely picking up a conversation that had been set aside moments before instead of the truth that they hadn't talked in several days. The building turmoil in the Accuser's gut snuffed itself out like a doused flame.
The Curator was halfway through a story about a sinstone amalgamation tearing into a crypt when she paused, head tilting in the way that the Accuser was so fond of. "What is it?"
The Accuser was at a loss for words. The idea that her world had become so focused on the Curator, that she could be so overwhelmed by the venthyr's absence, had taken her by surprise. In the past, she would have chastised herself for letting herself become so involved in something outside of her work, outside of saving the souls of the damned.
However, she had overcome her own sins, hadn't she? She was allowed to move on from what she had done in the past. She was allowed to be happy, as were all who had atoned.
For a moment, they stood there, staring at one another, the sounds of the party beyond falling away to nothing.
Then, finally, without thinking, the Accuser offered the Curator her hand. "Would you like to dance?"
The Curator's eyes widened dramatically as she stared back at the Accuser.
Just as the idea that this was foolish crossed the Accuser's mind, the Curator grabbed her hand before she could withdraw it.
"You know, when I first met you, I thought you were just too shy to dance," the Curator said, attention focused on their hands. "That's why I kept asking at first."
The Accuser squeezed her gently, taken aback by the sudden admission. Before the conversation could turn awkward, she grasped for anything to say in response. "That might excuse the first dozen or so requests, I suppose."
It sounded more like a chastise than anything, and the Accuser wanted to kick herself.
"Well, after that, it was just such a nice way to start the conversation," the Curator admitted, laughing faintly, nervous. "I hope it wasn't too much of a bother."
"It absolutely was," the Accuser replied, usual frown in place. As the Curator's humor faded, the Accuser pulled her closer, one hand on the Curator's hip. "But it was an utter disappointment when I didn't hear it tonight."
A mischievous glint in the Curator's eye sparkled, and she adjusted her grip on the Accuser's hand. "Well, we can't have that, can we?"
The Curator whirled her around a bit faster than she should have, and the Accuser nearly lost her footing, though she couldn't mind. After all, she was with her favorite person in all of Revendreth and beyond.
The music could just barely be heard where they were, and by the time they were stepping along to the beat, both of them were smiling.
"You know, for someone who doesn't dance, you know the steps quite well," the Curator offered, pausing to dip the Accuser. "I heard a rumor that you practice when you're alone. I've always wondered who that was for, since you were never interested in dancing with me."
The Accuser fought back the flush of anima that bloomed in her cheeks. Someone had caught her? When? "It occurred to me that one day you might not take no for an answer."
The Curator scoffed. "Like anyone could make you do something you didn't want to do." Then, more quietly, she added, "I know I certainly wouldn't."
Ignoring the fact that she never wanted to attend any of the gatherings that had brought them together, the Accuser just laughed. It was a strange feeling to do so, but the look of elation on the Curator's face when she did made the Accuser promise herself to allow laughter to be more common, even if it was just between them.
Anything to make the Curator smile.
Even dancing the occasional night away at these miserable parties.
Not that they were so miserable anymore.
No, as much as she thought of them as decadent wastes, she hadn't minded going to them in a long time. And she had a feeling that she wouldn't mind them much in the future either.
Because for the first time her future held something more than just paying forward the second chance that had been given to her.
For the first time, she was allowing herself to truly enjoy it.
There was no way she couldn't. She would enjoy every moment with the Curator.
Every single dance.