Innocence
Or: When Evil is not
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It was not turning out to be a good night for anyone except, perhaps, Hatch, who was sleeping the deep sleep of the innocent on her camp mat. She'd almost persuaded us to pitch real tents before Es reminded us that we needed to cannibalize them for patch-work on our clothing. The spare cloth had been burned in our last battle when Endeca used its satchel as a holder for her alchemist's fire.

The newest edition to our group was some manner of experimental construct - a clockwork man, ticking and clicking near us. I didn't like him. I still don't - too cold. Too unreal. Dedicated to his god, certainly, and capable of great feats of prowess in battle thanks to his faith. But his heart beat to a wizard's march, not to Mother Nature's. He was staring at Hatch, glass eyes unblinking.

She killed three innocents with that maneuver.

"I know," I said wearily. "She usually does. I was happy at merely three, to be honest. May they rest with the Goddess until rebirth comes."

She has done this before?

"Often, Pendulum. Very often. She doesn't mean to. Hatch doesn't even know what she's doing, half the time. I don't even know what she's doing half the time. Thank the Lord of Might that she hasn't had an episode in weeks. The last one leveled an entire village. Two hundred lives, gone in less than ten seconds, and there's Hatch, blinking at the ashes and proposing to make mud pies the moment she finds a riverbed that isn't dry and scorched."

Hatch turned in her sleep and moaned pathetically, and I had to resist the urge to touch her shoulder and try to comfort her. Touching Endeca while she was sleeping provoked episodes.

She is sleeping, druid. Why do we not kill her and spare the innocent lives she would claim?

I gave Pendulum a good, hard look and spoke quietly, perhaps more harshly than I had intended to.

"Pendulum, you see before you a rare being. An innocent. A real innocent. Not a naive mortal waiting to have the veil torn from her eyes. Innocence isn't like that, really. It's forged from horror, and pain, and desperation, and the bright, fierce, hope that tomorrow will bring something different. Something better. I don't know what happened to Hatch, but she doesn't deserve worse. She needs help, crusader. Not murder."

Surely the same can be said of the residents of that village?

"Would your god damn them solely for having been murdered, crusader?"

"I'm not going back!"

I was at Hatch's side in an instant as she bolted upright, making shushing noises and speaking softly in Elvish. I didn't quite understand her dialect, but mine was evidently comprehensible to her, for her panicked breathing slowed down, then settled back into sleep.

"Pendulum, my people do not sleep naturally. Endeca has gone through much pain and training to violate our physiology in such a manner, and the only reason for her to do so would be to escape her past. To forsake her being entirely. Something happened to her, four years ago, that has completely redefined her, to the point where the girl she was before does not exist. That girl is dead. But do the gods know that? And should we really leave the choice to them?"

The gods are righteous.

I looked at Hatch's face, troubled in sleep as it never was when she woke.

"Are they?"