Chapter Ten
A Child For Balance

It was dark outside. That is what she always remembered, the darkness and what the darkness brought. Somewhere out there was an infinite number of things that lurked in the darkness of Nosgoth, and not just vampires either. No, for there was also illness and sickness, Plague.

Malady had come. With outstretched fingers she had embraced those unlucky. She had scavenged throughout the town, looking and searching, taking the young, the old and those that were weak. Some of them had died on the streets. That was one image that remained strong within her mind. She had watched them, and watched as their bodies were carted off elsewhere to be burnt.

Regardless, the Plague had not lasted long for it had been weak. Everyone spoke of how 'lucky' they were for such a blessing, everyone except a child watching over the last lingering breaths of her parents.

A small child sat by the bedside of those dying, her mother and her father. She had been here since the beginning, forever watching, forever knowing that she would also be there for the end. Around her was a gathering of some people, all of them speaking of 'hope', whatever 'hope' was. This child was not afraid to shy away from the truth; they did not have to lie to her. They did not have to pity her, and smother her with their falsehoods. In secret she yearned for the coldness of reality if not only to embrace the truth. She knew and understood what was happening better then any of them. No one could stop the procession of Death.

The child slid down from her chair and walked to the window. Those who watched over her parents did not see her leave; they were too caught up in their own emotions. The room was dark and dingy, and even the light that shone from the candles seemed grubby. Regardless, the atmosphere was no longer suffocating as it had been when Malady had first struck. Instead it was now cold, almost icy, and everyone stood there with their arms folded, trying to keep warm, apart from the child.

She stood straight and rigid – though on tiptoe, her hands lightly touching the ledge of the window, her fingertips resting in the dirt and dust of many days where cleaning had been neglected when the whispers of death had been apparent. The house had once been well looked after; it had been a place of warmth and cheerful days that were now but shadows of what felt like nothing more then a dream.

When the child was left alone to her thoughts there were moments when she was not sure what to think or how to feel. Her humanity, the sorrow she felt, the natural weakness of sadness, was challenged by the cold and harsh reality of knowing that this was what had to be. It was the side of acceptance that normally took control.

Here were her parents taking their last breath, and yet… Yet she was divided unevenly between the sorrow and a more distant yet dominant understanding. An understanding that she found hard at first to… understand. In the end she did understand, and she came to learn that the sorrow she felt was due to the reason that she could not mourn them.

Cold was this element that clung to her. It made her feel bitter. It told her that this was how things were meant to be, that this is what was meant to happen.

…For Balance…

This was how the last days and nights passed. But this was not how it ended. Many do not see the end, but she did. She saw the end. She saw it as she looked out of the window. She saw as it walked up the street and to their house, completely unnoticed. She heard it as it opened the door, although she knew she was not meant to, for no one was meant to hear or see Death.

And up the stairs it came, unfaltering in its pace, and she saw and heard it.

It was the site of seeing what she did that pushed the rational thinker within her away. The older child she had always seemed was lost in moments to the natural balance of who she truly was. She became the child who she was meant to be, but five, if that, in age.

In the defensiveness of the situation she moved towards the doorway, looking upon those two still figures in their bed as she did so. How ominous this scene, two seemingly empty shells, wrapped in blankets. Those who had once been her parents now only resembled the dying. Around them were the figures that seemed just as lifeless, simply empty silhouettes.

She stood by the door and opened it, scowling at the darkly clad figure that had just come up the stairs. Those in the room thought the child had opened it for ventilation, to allow some fresher air into the room. True, the air in the room was already cold but it was far from fresh. Instead the coldness seemed almost stale. Though that was soon to change.

"You may not enter here," she had stated. A tiny child, a small figure compared to that of the ominous shadow that now loomed over her.

The figure had found a command within the child's voice that had almost made him go no further, almost. She had certainly made him halt within his task, to stop within his pace. With a smile he acknowledged Balance and silently told her that he was rightfully doing what was his to do and that in this act she need not worry as Balance was being upheld. Despite the consequences, the child did not, or more accurately – would not, understand. And the figure she faced acknowledged her young and bewildered mind that battled with the representation of Balance that lay deep inside of her.

"You cannot come any closer. I permit you not to enter."
He knew that whilst she stood where she did and allowed him not to enter then he would not be able to. Dear Balance, innocent child, how confused she was.

"Ariel. Come child, step aside, you alone know how this must be, for Balance," said the figure. His voice was like the remnants of dust, laced throughout with cobwebs, age old vocals suspended symbiotically in time.

"Ariel." There was a voice from within the room. One of the five figures that had gathered around the two dying figures called to the child in the doorway. "Ariel, do not linger in the doorway." The voice was weary and soon the figure that had spoken forgot the child once more and returned to her place next to her mistress's bedside.

The child glanced at her mother's servant and at the others before frowning. Did they not see the man who had just entered their house without permission, come up the stairs and was now trying to get into the room?

There was a pause that embraced the stillness of the room and the quietness of the setting. Gradually the child's gaze was lowered, she bowed her head submissively. The will of not permitting this figure to enter the room slowly faded from her. With empty eyes she regarded the scene. If there was to be any desperation for this moment then it remained to be within her. A slight pinprick of a desperate thought rested upon her shoulders and for the first time she took notice of the coldness within the room.

They did not see this figure, did they? If they did then they took very little notice of him. Perhaps he was not really there; maybe he only existed within her mind. Maybe this was madness. Maybe this was the asset of grief, her way of mourning, this aloof aspect of insanity.

She felt a hand rest upon her shoulder and through that touch so it felt as if she had plunged into the depths of frigid, cold water. The feeling that seized her was glacial, and it numbed all senses. She knew that from Death's touch she should have been afraid, she should have been terrified, and although she was frightened all other emotion was washed away. It was strange how the coldness of such a touch brought no dreadful or awful emotion, but instead a certain calmness.

One of the servants shifted within his stance, shuddering and rubbing his hands together in hope of keeping warm. The child glanced at them and then turned back to the figure who raised one skeletal finger to his lips and bayed her quiet.

She knew what he was going to do, why he was here. If he was just an element of a madness that was consuming her, then obviously madness enjoyed tormenting her. But she remained quiet and moved to one side thus allowing the figure entrance.

This was right, there had to be an element of balance and this was but a small part of what made balance complete. And she knew that no matter what, even at such a young age, and even if it meant loosing those she loved… there had to be balance. This was her sacrifice.

She left that house with those thoughts residing inside her. She left without hesitation, there was nothing left here for her now, and so fled with the assets of reality echoing around her.

She had asked for the harshness of this, she had asked for the truth… Yet now that it had been given to her she was ashamed with herself over the fact that she could not face it. How was she expected to? It is not a question that entered her mind but instead my own. As I listened to Ariel relay her weary tale to me I found myself questioning her thoughts. Why did she punish herself so? Why was she so ashamed that she had fled the scene, knowing that behind her the threads of life that had been woven together to create the tapestry of her parents lives had been broken. That the books that their lives had been written in had been closed, closed forever. She was a child that is all. A child that was to face the responsibilities that even an adult would find hard to handle.

But I could not pity Ariel. I am not sure why, perhaps it was the bitterness within myself. Maybe it was the thoughts of 'if I had to suffer then so does everyone else'. But I repeat, I am not sure why pity was far from me. All I can say is in honest truth that I lost the essence of pity a long time ago. I left it behind when I fled my father's house, and I have never been able to find it again. But then, I have never searched for it and it has been too frightened to search for me.

They did not see her leave the room; they did not hear her hurried footfalls echoing throughout the corridor and down the stairs, and they did not see or hear her tears.

The night was cold, the streets empty, the sky clouded over and threatening snow. All the elements bound themselves together and redoubled the overall essence of the remoteness that resided within her. There was this emptiness in the pit of her stomach, a vortex that swallowed all her emotion. Her tears had disappeared but now she felt nauseated, and through the lack of emotion and through acceptance that Balance helped her to understand – she felt less then human.

As she made her way through the streets she considered this. She should cry, she should mourn, it is what everyone else did, and it is whatever one else was doing. But she knew that she was not 'everyone else'.

Time passed as time often does. She did not know how long she had wondered the streets for, only that by now the snow was beginning to fall and that as she sat upon the floor she heard someone call her name.

It surprised her to see him standing there, she had not expected him to come and look for her – or had she? Her first meeting with him was very much like my own, Ariel thought that Death had come for her.

"So this is how it ends," she said not moving from the place that she sat, perhaps the cold had frozen her to the cold cobblestones. "I die in the streets having just fled from the truth, reality and what must be…" The child paused and examined her hands with an expression of sadness. Her voice was distant, aloof, not how a child's should be at all.

"I know this must be, they tell me that it is for Balance."

"Do you know who you are, Ariel?" said the icon of Death, speaking for the first time in meeting her upon the empty streets of a town.

"How do you know my name," she said, now looking up at him, trying to see if she could see any face within the hood that was drawn up and over it. "I know not of you?"
"I know of everyone." He stood not far from her now. "Though we have never met before you know of me as I know of you."
"How so?"

Once again he asked her the same question as before, the same question he had asked me upon the night I had met him. "Do you know who you are?"

There was silence and both of them allowed it to settle like the snow that fell around them. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chest, and he watched her, watched the expression of her face as the realisation struck, her eyes growing wide.

"I have always known," she stated truthfully, plainly and blankly. He had not had to say anything, she had already known the truth, she had always known. All emotion was now gone from her voice; this was the girl I had first met, the distant, mystic child.

The figure knelt next to her. "Known?" he asked.
"You are the Guardian to the Pillar of Death… They say that you are called Mortanius."
He nodded slowly and replied, "And you are Ariel, the Guardian to the Pillar of Balance."
"Yes," she replied. "We have been waiting for someone to come. Have we been lost for long?"
"A couple of years, but what matters now, Ariel, is that you have been found."

He stood up and began to walk away knowing full well that the child of Balance, without hesitation, would follow.

That night, after the Circle's council, after Mortanius departure to Vasserbünde in search of the Guardian of the Mind, I lay within my chambers. I stared at the ceiling, Ariel's words running throughout my mind, her voice sounding haunted.

"It was the plague," she had said to begin her story, and I had been so certain that she had left due to her father.

"No Azimuth," Balance had said in retort to my thoughts, as if automatically knowing the thoughts that coiled poisonously around my mind. Maybe I had allowed some emotion to escape through my eyes.

"It was not like that. I do not remember much about my family, but I know that when they were alive I could never want for anything."
"I was found wondering the streets by Death. I had seen him take my parents and had fled."

I imagined Ariel's story deep within my mind, I recalled her words, allowing them to drift in their dreamy particles through my mind. The setting of her tale I imagined to be a home that had always been a welcoming and joyful place. Nevertheless, in Ariel's story the essence of 'joy' was now far away, an element that was nothing more then a long forgotten memory.

"Were you?" I had brought a hand to my face to indicate her disfigurement.
"Born like this?" Ariel laughed and then shook her head. "No, for some reason I was not. It was only until I was accepted by the Pillars that this…" She held a hand to her face as if the disfigurement was burning her. "…was shown…"

That was it. That was where our conversation had ended and she had walked off. I watched her leave the room seeing her in a new light and now with a new understanding, and also knowing that still I did not pity her.

At some point in the night I must have drifted off into sleep. I dreamt that I stood in a vast hall. It was dark but I could make some things out like the fact that around me where beautiful, elegant candleholders, seven in total, all surrounding me.

As I looked around I took notice of beautiful stained glass windows that adorned the walls. These, I noticed, were not the windows of the stronghold, for they did not depict any 'angelic' Sarafan. And this hall was not any present within the stronghold either.

My observation of the hall continued and soon I became aware that the candleholders were not the only things that circled me. Great shadows loomed close by, but I was not afraid, I knew them and they would not harm me.

The third eye shot open, and just as I was to look and acknowledge those who kept me company, those who I would see no longer as shadows, I woke up.

I am not sure how long I slept for only that when I awoke I was cold, my blankets having fallen upon the floor, and annoyed at being awoken. Without thought I reached down to pick up my blankets off the floor.

And that is when the screaming began.