Chapter 7: Cooling embers of a sputtering flame

“We failed. We lost.”

These were the words that echoed through Renatus’ mind as he sat in his chambers, the lit candle bearing the seal of Mithriel allowing him to read his Testimonium. Once again, he found himself seeking to understand its mysteries, its lessons. Hours he had studied it in his isolation, but in that he had sought insight into the rituals of his Covenant. Now, he studied it with a different focus, trying to remember the message that the Ordo Croix man had shared with him and Ulvgard so many months ago.

“Benalus died for nothing.”

Were these the words spoken by a man in deepest despair and pain or by a man who knew a terrible truth that had been lost to time? The man had fought over six hundred years ago, before the formation of the Throne, before the formation of the Church, in the era of the Witchkings, but his words, they implied that he was there when Benalus had been slain by the foul sorcerers of old. Risen by foul rituals of the Lazarines, removed from his rest, the man now suffered again. Renatus’ heart ached for the man, feeling the violation that had been done to him in his own Meaning. He wanted to bring the man peace, but could he? He’d failed twice so far, his words and attempts to reach out and counsel falling on deaf ears, as arrows upon a fortress wall.

“The Testimonium is wrong.”

‘What do you know, my brother? What is it that I cannot see or understand that burdens you so?’ Renatus wondered as he turned the pages carefully, reading and re-reading every passage. Not for the first time, he cursed himself for his lack of finer education in the ways and histories of his Knighthood and Covenant. He saw the irony of his situation. In his attempts long ago to glean the truths of the Benalian faith in his turn from Aa’boran, he had sought long and hard, but now he wondered if he had stopped short. Should have kept going, sought longer and harder still? Now he raced to try to make up for lost time, and he could feel it was a race he was losing.

“I am alone. I will die.”

Remembering these words…their resonance struck Renatus like a hammer blow, and his study of the Testimonium slowed as his introspection grew. He had felt isolated since he’d come to Stragosa two winters back, and reflecting, it had not changed much. The number of Templar had dwindled, and though they were now reinforced by Tadeo and Sif, he felt more alone than ever. The Diocese had grown in the number of priests who stood ready to spread the light of Benalus, but Renatus felt as if that light did not touch him now.

Since his revival on the Miracle…he hadn’t felt the same fire in his soul that he had before. The memory of the Miracle reminded him of the fire that had coursed through his veins, that had seemed to burn on for an eternity before allowing him to breathe again. There had been flares of the spark within him his Forum, most strongly when he had spoken with Alonso and they had talked for long hours on the matters of Meaning and Purpose.

The cold of the room pressed in upon him, and he could not help the shiver. Not for the first time he wished he could return to Sha’ra. The mountain foothills of his home in Evren, the streams of snowmelt, the days spent reading the tongue of his people over a plate of dried fruit and delicate sweetbreads. The memories brought tears to his eyes and he had to close his Testimonium and try to control his breathing as the faces of his mother and father paraded before his mind’s eye. The sense of loss deepened as he reflected on that which had lost long ago. He tried to fight the feeling, calling on remembered conversations with Karsten, Adeodatus, Sanguine, Ansel, Aretaeus, Xyandriel, Lysander, Astrid, Azzam, Tu’luk, and Sif.

It didn’t help, and instead, it grew worse as he reflected on his life in the last year; attacked by Kaurlites, forced into isolation by a Commander who now longer held station in the region, slain by something he knew not, and brought back to serve and bury the dead of war while trying to stave off suicide, and his reward for this long suffering and sacrifice was to find no peace with a fire threatening to engulf his mind night after night with the screaming voices of the slain tormenting him in his dreams.

The tears flowed, his heart throbbed in pain, and he choked out the sobs as the emotions boiled over and he could not control them any longer. He recalled the lesson with Azzam, on how difficult it was to test one’s faith and grow it, and it was in moments of such turmoil that would allow a man to try to re-forge himself. He drew forth the gift that Azzam had given him, the golden letters reciting an important phrase, and he tried to rebuild his walls, but it was not enough. He brought forth the gift from Alexandria, the portrait of his love far away in Stragosa, and realized immediately the mistake it was, and the tears flowed anew. He knew in his heart the thing that he lacked, the thing he needed, the thing that had been taken from him all those years ago, and he wept for its lack. He offered a silent prayer to God, pleading for the strength to carry on. Without it, he doubted he could.

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