Lucas had hoped, a naïve hope he now realized, that the council would be straightforward in their dealings with him.  He had foolishly pictured that the group of elves he now hated would remain honest, he had imagined them kidnapping his family only because it was necessary. But the deception now apparently rampent in the group proved to him that they weren't only doing what was necessary. They were taking advantage of him in every way possible.  The North was getting greedy, and Lucas was starting to wonder if the council had already know about his decimation of the South. He wondered if Amana had survived through pure luck, or if he possessed some enormous skill that equaled or surpassed Lucas's own.

He could still remember the day he first stood before the council. He had asked for Hobien and Amana. That woman, she said that Amana was a nobody, that he wasn't important. Had they been planning on Lucas choosing the elf. Was that why he had been the one in the recruitment center, why he had acted the way he did. They must have known the kind of man Lucas admired, must have remembered from his Academy days. Lucas gripped the knife as he stared at the infuriatingly unruffled elf standing just feet away.

Who was pretending to be  counsel member? Who didn't belong on that table of nine. Faces flashed through his mind, then settled on Hoffman. A teacher who never indicated that he was on the counsel, someone who knew Lucas. But no one advertised their position on the counsel, and it didn't make sense for a counsel member to give away their own plan.

"Who are you really? Surely you wouldn't be on the counsel if you're stupid enough to give away your own plan." 

Amana laughed and looked away for a moment, then he seemed to remember the drawn knife and turned his gaze back to Lucas. A flicker of fear passed through the once steady gaze.

"And here I hoped you were hesitating out of fear. Gods, they said you were a brute. Didn't say you were smart."

Growling Lucas shifted into a ready stance, "I asked you a question."

Amana's feet shifted backwards, but they stopped quickly as the bough they both stood on started to sway. "They told you that you were being watched didn't they? Did you honestly think they would send you into the field without supervision."

"They had Trisha! They had Hope! What possible danger of my defection could there be?!?"

"Well, you are a killer Lucas. You have the demon's heart, a symbol that kills any bearers that are not worthy. Yet here you are, alive and seemingly unchanged despite years of having the symbol. You see Lucas, we aren't idiots. Those of us who knew of your mark knew that X was a sham. Though we have been curious as to how you managed to summon Istrali."

"Who knows of the mark?" Lucas asked quietly, a hand creeping up to clutch his chest.

"A select few." Amana replied with a smirk.

Lucas wrestled with his rising bloodlust as he saw the smug face before him. Rather than pummel it to a bloody pulp he decided to continue questioning the elf, and though he'd never admit it he was worried by the nominal showings of fear the second elf was showing in the face of an armed murderer only feet away.

"So, those who knew of the mark knew that I had been the killer. Why did you take me back to the Academy then?"

Amana shrugged, "Well, we had to wait a while for the effects to show up. What better place to watch than the Academy? Besides we had been curious as to how the mark would affect someone so we needed to find someone who could watch you long term. In short, you needed to make a friend."

Possibilities began running through Lucas's mind, "a friend," who had been his friend. Who was willing to accept him? Who had he accepted in return? In the beginning he had turned all away, memories of murder and betrayal had still been fresh in his mind. Hoffman had been kind, and more recently the field supervisor. But it couldn't be him as that was only a short while ago. Hoffman on the other hand, Hoffman who sat on the counsel.

"Was it Hoffman?"

Scoffing Amana shook his head in mock despair. "Really Lucas, I thought you were smart. How often had you seen Hoffman in the last year? When did you see him when you were working the fields?"

"I saw no one from the Academy while I was earning an honest living!"

Cocking his head Amana looked down at Lucas, as if he was some sort of curious creature to be examined. "Didn't you?"

Breathing heavily Lucas tried to picture the faces of his fellow field workers, but he couldn't match any of them with faces at the Academy.

"Damn you!"

"Tut tut Lucas, you shouldn't speak like that to your superiors. Anyway, you have a journey to prepare for. You see, if you ever want to see your precious wife and daughter again you will win the war."

"My wife. She was part of the Academy. But she loves me, she would never spy on me for you. And she left, she left the Academy. She wouldn't it isn't her." Lucas muttered to himself as Trisha was brought up, he was sure that she loved him. Why else would she have stayed after he confessed.

Realizing that his knife was dropping Lucas looked up to see consternation in the eyes of Amana. It was so shocking that he let his hands fall to his sides. That guilt was enough to convince him, under all the bluster Amana had just put on he was still the gentil elf that first guided Hobien through the form so long ago. This elf had been fighting great distress to complete some form of duty, and as Lucas tried to see through to his soul he knew that Amana valued duty more than anything.

Betrayal, it followed him everywhere. Like some sort of plague that he couldn't cure himself of. What was so unworthy about him, he wondered, that caused everyone to toss him aside as if he were nothing. His parents had left him in the woods when he was a child, his village had sequestered him and eventually thrown him out, his best friend did nothing to prevent that expulsion, his companion in his quest against the South had only been there to watch him. And his first and only love had never felt for him.

Something wet hit his cheek so Lucas looked up to see if it was raining. Bright sunlight filtered through the green leaves. A trembling hand reached up and brushed a tear off his cheek. Throat clenching Lucas knew he was about to break down, and he couldn't do it with Amana here. Without a word Lucas stepped to the side and dropped out of the tree, then he was running.

"Lucas wait! It's not your wife!"

He could hear the deception in the half-hearted attempt to appease him. But Amana was too late, and he knew it. As feet pounded through the grass a second pair joined them and Amana was chasing Lucas across the field. Emotions and magical bonds broke alike as Lucas tried to escape. He could remember opening the door, opening it to dust coated furniture. Nothing had been disturbed, no evidence of a fight. Trisha had been one of the best Guardians before she left, and she was aware of the danger. They wouldn't have caught her unawares. She would have fought them, she would have left a message for Lucas, she would have if she had not betrayed him.



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