Talion sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily. Beneath her was a floor of clouds, the edges of which disappeared in a bank of fog that surrounded her. She yawned, long and lazily, arms stretching to her sides and behind her back.
“Oh. I’m dreaming. I wasn’t sure I could do that anymore.” She hopped to her feet, finding solid ground beneath her. As she took a single step forward, a lone figure burst through fog, walking toward her.
“Who’s there?” she called suspiciously.
The approaching woman was dressed in a grey, flowing robe, arcane symbols embroidered in white and black around the sleeves and lapel. She also wore a thin smile. “No names. As you shall one day find, names are things of power. And to call them, especially here, would draw unwanted attention.”
Talion shivered. “Well then, what do you want?”
The woman turned, waving her hands. An ornate table rose from the cloud floor, accompanied by two heavily stuffed chairs. She gestured for Talion to take a seat, putting herself in the other. She sighed as she leaned back.
“Long have I wandered the Shadowfell, ever searching for a conduit through which to reach you.”
Talion’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“To remind you of a promise made. Perhaps the only promise you shall ever make.”
Talion paled. “Y-you’re from,” she paused. “From her. What does she want of me?”
“Be at ease. Though you are correct in that your promise was made with my own mistress, she is not the one who spurned your soul’s peaceful passage.”
The woman smiled benignly.
“Ah, yes. No names.” Talion scowled. “Well then. What was this promise I made? When did I make it?”
The woman’s eyes tilted upward, her lips moving silently. She stood up suddenly, causing Talion to start. She strode a few paces from the table. “My word. Has it only been ten years? Scarcely a decade has passed since that day, but for you… for you, it has been as lifetimes.” The woman turned back, and Talion could see her eyes were wet with tears. “I am so sorry. Sorry for all that you have lost. Sorrier still for all that you will lose.”
Talion made to speak, but the mage raised her hands, causing trees to erupt from the clouds below them. Grassy hills followed, and then they were standing in a small summer glade. Before them, a child stood at a tiny outdoor shrine. A handful of ghostly figures stood behind her, but all eyes were on the little girl. Her hands were at her sides, small feet planted solidly. She began to recite in a high, clear voice.
“I am of shadow. Without the light, I am nothing. Without the darkness, I am nothing. Though fate shall find each of us in time, I go to find mine and face it, head-on and unafraid. I bow to none.” As she completed her verse, the two nearest apparitions closed on her, one’s arms wrapping around her, the other’s hand ruffling her long, straight hair. She beamed up at them.
The tranquil moment was a bubble suddenly burst. The heat of flames engulfed them, ears filling with the sounds of battle, of screams, their senses awash with the rusty smell of blood and terror.
“No!” Just as suddenly, the scene swept away at the mage’s firm touch, and they stood again in the clouds. Her eyes were again wet. “I am sorry to deny you, for that too is yours. But not now. Not yet.”
Talion tried to clear her head. “So my promise was to… to she who brought me back, after all?”
The mage smiled. “That one is hardly unique in claiming the domain of shadow. But no, though my own mistress induced your promise, you did not make it to her, either. The promise was made to yourself.”
“I’m not sure I understand. What then did I promise?”
“That you are beholden to no one. Answer to no one. Trust no one.”
Talion grinned wryly. “Including you?”
At this, the mage smiled. “That’s my girl.”
As she felt herself about to smile back, an interrupting thought faded it. “And what of my companions?”
“Travel with whoever you wish. Fight alongside whoever you wish. Fight against whoever you wish. But let the choice be yours. Yours and no other. For when you wake—” she paused to glance around the roiling dreamscape, “when you truly wake. Yours will be a power unchained.”
“But the Ra—” a firm glare stopped her. “She brought me back. To avenge what happened to me and to those who cared for me. Do I not owe her for that much at least?”
“You may rest assured that for whatever purposes she brought you back, they were her own and not yours. It is possible she is your friend… but probably not. It is possible she is your enemy… but again, probably not. And even were it true this moment, what about the next? Probably not.”
“But what if she should… what if she rescinds it, then? If she undoes what she has done?”
“Her power is over death, but not the dead. She made her choice, and did not seek your permission before doing so. Though it will be to your advantage that you have returned, one can hardly call it a gift, and even if it were, it is deeply unoriginal: that was not even the first time she has turned you away from death’s gate.”
Without warning, a heavy, rumbling roar engulfed them. Far in the distance rose a tumbling black wall. It grew quickly, pouring over everything, a tidal wave of nightmare.
“They have found you. Our time is done.” The mage took a hesitant step toward her. “Remember your promise.”
Talion nodded. “I bow to none.”
The mage took another step, her arms folding around Talion’s lithe form, but before they could touch, she vanished into nothingness.
Talion stood a moment more, then turned toward the onslaught. Her fullblade appeared in one hand, the other bristled with daggers. She sneered, and spat one word.
And with that, she dashed forward to face her enemy, head-on and unafraid.