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Noman's eyes snapped open. The mage with the unnaturally blue eyes stared back at him, her hands slipping away from his temples. "There," she said. "Its done."

For a moment confusion clouded Noman's thoughts. The return of long buried memories made it hard to think, hard to know when or where he was. At last his mind settled. "You call that helping?" he growled, aware that the blinding pain he'd first experienced had settled into a throbbing ache behind his eyeballs. 

"You're welcome," the mage said dryly.

"Fuck you," Noman spat. "Don't pretend like you're doing me some kind of favor screwing with my head. And what was the point of that, anyway? You think I'm going to be grateful you dredged all that up? You think it's going to make us friends? Because let me tell you, the moment I'm able to move again I'm going to rip you gods damned throat out."

"For a man that's helpless you're awfully brazen with your threats of violence. I have to say, it doesn't make me particularly inclined to let you go." She studied him intently as she spoke, eyes scrutinizing every aspect of his face. "But then, perhaps you don't want me to let you go." When Noman remained stubbornly silent she smiled a little and took a couple of steps back from him. "My name is Esme," she said. "What's yours?"

"What," he asked acidly, "You didn't pick that up while you were messing with my head?"

"I healed your mind," Esme said, "Nothing else. Though I can start pulling things directly out of your thoughts, if you prefer."

"Noman," he said darkly. "My name is Noman. There, does that make us friends now?" he asked with no small amount of sarcasm.

"Of course not," she replied evenly. "But it's a start." 

"A start? A start for what?" Noman demanded. "What do you think is going to happen here? You realize I came here to kill you people," he pointed out. "That sort of rules out any sort of friendly relationship, don't you think?"

"We both serve the gods," Esme said. 

"I don't think my god likes yours very much," Noman told her. "Hence the killing."

Esme sighed, and Noman got the impression it was more a sigh of disappointment than frustration. "Noman, why do you insist-"

"Because it's what she wants!" Noman yelled at her, cutting her off. " It's what I am! And if you're a so called champion like I am you should know I don't have a gods damned choice! So stop the act!" he raged, frustration and anger welling up like a volcano. "Stop acting like I can do anything but what I was sent here to do, Esme. This isn't some saga where the champions of the gods are shining examples to the rest of the world. It's not all bunnies and sunshine, it's dirty and it's bloody and it's horrible, and I am going to kill you. I don't have a choice!

Esme looked shocked as he finished his rant. "Noman," she started, visibly searching for something to say. "You do have a choice," she told him at last. "Of course you have a choice."

"No," he said, and the absurdity of it all made him laugh. "No, I really don't. But even if I did, what makes you think I'd choose your god?" 

"I don't expect you to," she said. "Choosing neither is still a choice. For all their power the gods gave us the ability to choose our own path. They can set us on a course. It's up to us whether or not we follow it. I've undone what she did to your mind. Where you go from here is up to you."

"If you let me go," Noman warned, "I'll kill you."

"You could certainly try," she responded. "Just remember... you do have a choice." She raised a hand and Noman crumpled unceremoniously to the floor. He heard the room explode into violence around him and pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He looked up, searching for Esme, but the mage was gone. He watched the shadows attack their opponents with blind malice. Newly recovered memories surfaced again, superimposing the battle in the fog over the battle in the room. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Every shout, ever cry of pain rang in his ears. 

Noman wasn't sure he actually had any choice at all. There was, of course, only one way to find out. He turned and ran from the battle, back through the hallway that would lead back to the stairs. He recognized the symbols on the walls now. They were the runic symbols for the gods, names written in a language older than any other. He hit the stairs and kept going, taking them two at a time until he burst out into the hallway. Just like before the halls were suspiciously empty. He didn't stop to dwell on it. He went out through the broken door at the servant's entrance, past the body of the dead guard, through the open gate and out into the street. He stopped on the other side and looked back over his shoulder at the estate. No shadows followed him, no guards pursued. He kept waiting for the voice to say something, or to feel compelled to go back to the battle. Instead there was nothing. He stood in the middle of the street, letting that soak in.

"Airea?" He said at length, looking up at the night sky. "I quit." His actions no doubt spoke for themselves, but it felt good to say the words out loud. "Find yourself another fucking champion." He waited a second or two and heard no reply. "So," he said to himself, "Now what?"

The End

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