Well, I've declared my NaNoWriMo a dismal failure, and that means I'm back to idly pulling together random bits of Exalted fanfiction.
*pauses for cheers*
It's been a while, so you may want to refresh your memory before continuing.
Consciousness returned slowly, surrounded by the pounding sensation of her head as a thousand demons assaulted it with tiny drums. Her first thought was that she had overslept. Her second was that she was not lying on silk sheets, but on rough straw. Alina opened her eyes a crack, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
As far as she could tell, she was in a barn loft. Below her, sheep and aurochs were curled in stalls, presumably for the night. Through a slit in the wall, she could see the full moon shining, and the stars glittered. She turned her head slightly, pushing back the nausea that accompanied even that movement. "Where am I?"
"Wrong question." The voice was bass, solemn, and slightly annoyed. Alina turned to see her master's master sitting, legs crossed, his armour glinting in the moonlight, regarding her without expression. He had cleaned himself off, and only a few shallow scratches bore testament to the battle that he had only recently been in. Memory returned in a rush, and Alina narrowed her eyes.
"Why did you hit me?!"
"Closer." He shook his head. "But still not the correct question to ask."
"Yes, it is!" Alina reached out, vaulting to her feet. Immediately, she regretted it, as a wave of pain rose up in her, and she nearly staggered. Determination alone kept her from immediately collapsing again, as she called her chakram to her hands. "I had just helped you, and you pummeled me. Why?" She glared fiercely at the large man, who simply watched her gravely.
"Why, indeed?" Lodaris did not bother to stand, keeping his hands resting on his knees. "What am I, girl?"
"You're my master's sifu." Her voice was hard.
"Too specific. What am I?"
Alina frowned, confusion finally starting to overcome her anger. "You're a rogue Immaculate."
"Correct." He met her eyes, locked his gaze with hers. "What were my supposed crimes?"
"Consorting with rogue gods." She frowned. "I don't see what this..."
"What do Immaculates think of the Anathema?"
Alina's rage began to fade as she looked away. "We're supposed to be demons."
"Correct again." Lodaris smiled grimly. "Now, for the question that you should have asked to begin this discussion. Not why did I attack you, but why did you not defend yourself?"
The anger flared back to life. "Because I'd just helped you! I didn't think you would -"
"Why not?" A hint of anger entered Lodaris's voice in return. "I was not condemned for crimes relating to your kind. You are an adept of the Air Dragon Style, which means that defense and evasion are critical. You know the Air Dragon's Sight, because it is the foundation of your techniques. Yet you did not take the most basic of precautions against an attack by someone that you knew should hate you on principle. Now, ask yourself again. Why did you not defend yourself?"
Alina paused. She blinked once, as his words penetrated. After a moment, she spoke, her voice soft. "You hit me to see if I would stop you?"
"I hit you because I had already seen that you would not." Lodaris's voice grew calm again, with the faintest hint of sorrow. "You may feel that you threw your life away by rescuing me, girl, but that is no reason to do it in truth."
"That's not much of an excuse." Alina sat herself down more carefully than she had stood. "It really hurt."
"Then perhaps you will remember your defenses in the future. Had I been another, the blow might not have merely stunned you." Lodaris looked out at the sky. "If you watched other monks training, you know that pain is sometimes the most effective teacher."
"It'll teach me not to turn my back on you." The words were barely more than a whisper, but they won a grim smile from Lodaris.
"Good. Trust is a gift that should not be given freely." Lodaris unhooked his legs, leaning back against a wall. "Still, if I had wanted you dead, I had the oppurtunity while you were unconscious. As it stands, we are clear from pursuit, and you must decide what your next course of action is to be."
"My next..." Alina sank back against the hay, filled with despair as the enormity of her situation slowly set in. She had no home, no friends. Citrios wasn't there for her anymore, and she was a known Anathema now. She didn't even speak Seatongue, let alone know anything about the West. How was she going to survive out here? Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, and she looked at the floor. "I don't know."
"I suspected that." Nodding, Lodaris lay back, reaching out to grab a nearby roll of canvas and pushing it under his head. "Well, then. Tomorrow we can begin moving southwards, and perhaps you'll think of something along the way."
Alina nodded, and then paused. "We?"
"Hmph." Lodaris closed his eyes firmly. "I'm not about to let some chit of a girl wander off and get herself killed, Anathema or no. Unless you plan on sneaking away in the night, I will remain with you for the time being."
Alina considered the larger man, sorting through conflicting emotions. Finally, she sighed. She didn't know what to think about Lodaris, but it was a relief to have someone who knew what she was - a pressure she hadn't even recognized was gone. And despite her secretiveness, she had lived her life as Citrios's slave - she hadn't been truly alone ever before, and she didn't have the first idea about what to do with herself. "Tomorrow, then. Goodnight." She turned over, and closed her eyes.
Across the barn, Lodaris opened one eye and watched the younger Exalt for a moment, with a sad smile. He then closed them, letting his thoughts find the peace of meditation on the road to sleep. My atonement begins tonight. Goodnight, child.
And if the moon and stars looking down on the pair were amused by the incongruity of it, the old Immaculate and the young Solar, they were wise enough to keep their laughter to themselves.