Promises

It was sometimes a difficult thing to keep her promises.

She didn’t make many to other people, but she made plenty to herself…which was just as important, but without the witnesses and social pressures, were reliant on her to be the promiser, the promised, and the arbiter.

Her own personal codes – the things that were important to the integrity of her own self image – were at times also alien to the people around here…and sometimes to herself.

She had vowed to never marry; to never engage in sexual relations. And at the time she made this promise, it made perfect sense. It still did, she told herself.

The kiss with Corbin. If had been her first and her last. Fourteen and overcome with the wants and passions of love.

She had felt out of control. Like she wanted to spend every moment with him – waking and not. She was hungry for him in desperate ways that were all-encompassing where he was nearly all she thought about.

It was infatuation and it was all so new.

And all her guards were let down, and she hadn’t been attentive to the sermons at Convocation. Her heart hadn’t been in her prayers. Her thoughts had been full of lust and selfishness.

And it was shortly thereafter that the…atrocity…of what happened to Miette had occurred.

It should make a difference that Miette was resting peacefully now, and that the Rocheaux tomb had been cleansed. And it did. Miette had told her she was forgiven. And she believed her.

But…

But the guilt had always been so heavy that its residual mass still lingered. It was like wearing a tight piece of jewelry or corset for so long that even if the item was removed, the body still remembered its shape.

She could never undo what had been done – she could only keep moving forward and trying to be better.

And in the terrible aftermath of her crimes, in the days that followed the blood and stains and sleepwalking, she turned over in her mind every single thing she could have done differently.

At first, she had tried to find an explanation for the signs of violence that she had woken up to – anything that would explain that it had nothing to do with her.

She had been hunting. She had tried to defend Miette. Maybe she had been wounded in a way that had closed up? A really terrible nosebleed.

And then when logic intruded onto her thoughts, and she was left with the conclusion that she must have somehow harmed Miette…then the sickening guilt, the loathing, and the backtracking into what she could have done differently started.

She could never afford to be distracted again. She was a person that demons, spirits, and Malefic could influence and infect. She was not safe.

And so she would never love – not in that way. She promised herself.

And then, one day, god wiling, she would take the vow of the Nuranihim officially. Then it would be a promise to god, and not just to herself.

That was the plan. And she had stuck to it.

At this point in her life, age 31, she was past the point that most married, and soon the danger would be past. She would age, and everyone around her…even Corbin…would pair off. And she could remain, steadfast and devout…laying Malefic to rest in eternal penance.

The Sanctum had never turned up, but she had taken on the cloth all the same – different vow, and different rites, but needed all the same.

She might never be able to rely on god to bear witness to her oath and keep her promise.

So she had to tread carefully – because if she let herself down, others would surely follow.

Isabel’s Workshop

The heat that lingered outside was more oppressive in Isabel’s small workshop.

No, her father’s workshop.

She still couldn’t really think of it as her workshop. His presence was still everywhere here, even if he no longer tinkered, polished, or hammered in this space. She could no longer remember all of the causes of the various scorch marks, missing table chunks, and oil stains, but many of them had been there since she was a small girl. They were reminders of the lessons she had been taught here. The minor injuries and lectures. She sometimes caught herself whistling the same tunes while she worked that he always had- as though the sounds in the air were just as much a permanent part of the space as the walls. It was like there were certain things that needed to be done just so; almost like the elements of ritual in a sacred space.

Nowadays, he and her mother rested their swollen joints, looked out the front door, and spoke of the past. She hoped that the cushions, boots, and various comfort items that the community had banded together to obtain for them had made their last several months more enjoyable – at the very least less painful.

She idly wished she could have obtained what they needed by herself, but her talents had never been particularly marketable, and she had no taste for business dealings. And that was really the whole theme of how she ended up making such a mess of things when her parents could no longer support themselves. The people here…her people…they gave without any expectations. They reached out their hands to her and steadied her when she stumbled again and again. She didn’t know how to repay all of the debts she seemed to accrue – both of coin and of goodwill.

She frowned, and brushed some of her untameable hair out of her face, relying on the sweat to keep it momentarily in place. Her kerchief veil was never of any help at all.

Someday, mama and papa would be gone. God willing, someday she would reach their age. And who would take care of her when the time came?

Her dear friends? She hoped that they would all be happily married with families of their own. She hoped they would be bogged down with only the simple worries of a comfortable life, and that these questions of hunger, want, and morality would have already long ago been answered. Would she continue to be a burden in that bright future?

She was full of a gnawing, nervous energy.

She had been so immersed in her burials and duties as a priestess that she had not actually *built* anything in some time.

She always seemed to be running from one mutilated corpse to the next, and it made it difficult to even make the things specifically requested of her – let alone having the time to experiment and improve on her designs.

She mused on how much time a person actually has in their life. It’s an unknown quantity and a finite surprise. But ultimately there are only so many hours; so many minutes allotted to a person to do what they believe they need to do.

She tightened her clamps and glared down at her quite lethal spike trap. How could she ever have thought it was a good idea to try to sell or trade something like this? No one was actually using this sort of thing for animals. All she could do now was pull them and try to modify so as not to have wasted the time spent developing them.

Perhaps she should break off or file down most of the spikes, but leave a few that could have a soporific applied to them. They would wound, but they would not kill.

Sighing, she thought back on all the times she had lectured Alphonse about his sinful alchemical preparations, and now here she was thinking of the ways in which she could use some of them.

She asked herself for the thousand thousandth time if she was a hypocrite. Was her recent stand during Convocation regarding the nature of sin just a self-serving argument?

She thought of Lysenna, of Little Hugo, Granny Jo…Corbin…and all the rest.

No. No, they were human and a divine reflection of god. They were her friends and they all were trying to do the right thing even if they disagreed on what that was. The Testimonium had it wrong. She knew it. The true sin was that of Discord – of turning away from one another; hurtful divisions.

Now, the trick was trying to strengthen the faith of the community so that the rest of the sins were not questioned.

She blinked. What an odd thought. The rest of the sins made perfect sense to her.

Just changing one thing does not invalidate the whole.

She looked down at the trap in front of her, and got down to the work of modifying it.