Shackles and Compassion

I felt immense relief when I finally fell into my trance. I hurried towards the stone, the one with mirror-like sheen I had left my ‘original’ me in. I reached out towards it, but then, before my fingers could touch the surface, I abruptly stopped.
  I pondered, lowering my hand.
  He -I- was still there, staring me from inside the stone, worried, puzzled, almost anxious look on his face. It had made me pause my movement: the pain, the fear I saw reflected from my own eyes made me feel uneasy. I stared at the stone, tilting my head a little. I was sure I wanted to go back into what I knew: My male self, the body I had been born into, the one I had grown accustomed to during the years. I loved it. It felt like my second skin, my one and only.
  But. My look had been the same as those years ago, as anxious and distraught like back then in the middle of the forest, when I had had to leave Taelras behind. The same fear I had seen in the pale eyes of that poor boy who had shot his comrade with a crossbow bolt in the flash of my previous life -or, perhaps better to put it; my previous death.
  This time I had to make a difference. Like he had done. He hadn’t run away, but stayed and fought, protecting his family and his home from the enemy. From the menace.
  I took few steps back, turning around. My eyes wandered in the nearby rocks, until I spotted the white crystal. I slowly walked towards it, letting my fingers caress its cold side, until I sat down, resting my back against its cold yet somehow oddly comforting surface.
She had been talking about shackles. How she, as a Goddess, had made this place a sanctuary and not a prison. It resonated with me. This was a sanctuary my soul had battled for earlier, so that everyone could live here, free and unharmed. And now there were so many who wore shackles, so many who were wounded either physically or mentally that it made this place look like a prison camp. Ilphie, Malageth, Professor Shadowblade, The Venerated matron who had offered us a place to stay in her palace among many, many others… They had all suffered and were still suffering. They would need freedom.

I repeated in my mind the vision Eilistraee had given me earlier. Even in the highest heights of the Shadowblade Palace, behind that tightly closed gate, there was this shadow of a woman. Alone, above everyone else, but so horribly alone it made my heart ache. Only a monster would do such things I had heard she had committed; those deeds I had seen traces of everywhere around here. But no child was born a monster. A soul can be twisted, distorted, but truly, I wanted to think that even she wouldn’t have been a bad person to begin with. I don’t know what made me so sure to say that she had suffered a lot and, in a way, was still suffering. The stench of necrotic wounds or old, dried up blood, perhaps. I had seen people similar to her. Those strong people, broken and disfigured, but their mind -for whatever reason- was so stubborn they would never give up. Something a little similar I had seen with Malageth. He was not beyond redemption and I liked to thing that she, Matron Shadowblade, wouldn’t be either. Or at least I wouldn’t rest until I would have at least tried to help her.
  I had done terrible things in my youth. I could only imagine how I would have turned out if I had not woken from that all-consuming rage. Perhaps I would have turned out just the same as her, my heart frozen and my views distorted? Perhaps she had battled on for so long, alone, fear and anger ruling over her heart that it had made her incomprehensible and unreachable to others? They were all scared of her, or they harbored such distaste towards her that I doubted there would be anyone living in these cities who would have felt compassion towards her. Compassion, which was one of the main aspects Eilistraee had offered to me from the start. Perhaps compassion could help to take away those chains, to ease her pain and simultaneously the pain of all others around her. Perhaps I could offer her something no one else could.

But to take away shackles, one needed to have the key for them. And, to be able to take off someone else’s shackles, it was easier if you could get your own hands free first. I looked at my hands -so slim, smaller, more delicate than I had gotten used to. ‘Dainty’, Ilphie had said. ‘Cute’, she had squealed in joy. But I didn’t want to be cute. It wasn’t… very husband-y thing to be. But true enough, my hands were dainty. Long, slim fingers, which looked almost fragile. They resembled my mum’s, although she had never held a sword. It was not, as my dear wife-to-be had pointed out, that I wouldn’t have been comfortable in my body. True, this female form was so different from my original male one that it made headache and caused me anxiety. Yet, when I stopped to think about it, I almost forgot it was somehow different.

Gender is a social construct. Sex is a biological one. I was in between those two. But apart from some people, I had been given options to freely choose from and change between them. This was a tool and I knew it was important, otherwise Eilistraee wouldn’t have bestowed this gift to me. It was like a tool -a different pen- I couldn’t use. No, not that I couldn’t have written with it, but it felt weird and unfamiliar and the text was barely legible.
I felt a bit stupid now. I had poured my frustration on Ilphie, like an unruly child who doesn’t know how to shape a magical blade out of shadows; a spell he had just been introduced to. Of course, silly Kerymis. Stupid old oaf: you can’t expect to excel in what you are doing on your first try! You are no miracle child, Kerymis, no. You’re a professor, a professor who should know much better that one can only attain true knowledge by studying and practicing, not by just willing himself to be better. You need to be more forgiving to yourself. One step at the time. One step.

I took a deep breath.

Let’s be logical here. We need to make good use of this tool; it was given to us for a reason, and in case we truly need to use it, it would be better we would know how to, correct? So, when I was using this feature, I would need to feel comfortable and confident first. What bothered me the most were the clothes. I had always been a bit picky about them; not the way they looked, necessarily, but they needed to fit in the right way and be of right kind of fabric; wool tended to itch horribly, some other fabrics were too sleek and I felt uncomfortable; it was annoying to all the time trying to adjust my clothes.

Maybe you were trying to take a step too big, Kerymis Donaevel? Why did you think that jumping into a different body would be as easy as changing clothes? And then, to wear garments you had never worn before, clothes you had no idea of how to put on in the first place… Maybe I had been too ambitious again. It had been our first time, after all. And you sillily forgot that you’ve never been a fan of formal wear and expensive clothes; and what did you buy? A pretty dress meant to just look pretty. You’ve always preferred functionality and quality above all. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, Kerymis. You are still you, as Ilphie had said. Your preferences would still be the same, wouldn’t they? So let’s wear something that would make us feel good in our body, something familiar and comfortable, screw what the others would think about that; you will raise an eyebrow or two just by existing, so what would it matter if everyone would stare? That they would do anyway. So, let’s get comfortable in our dual body; it would be a start, wouldn’t it?

  I pondered quietly, before standing up -in my green dress. I liked the color, but it was still too unfamiliar. The cut of the dress, the way the fabric felt on my skin… I would get used to it, I promised to myself. But first, I would need some other clothes that I would feel good and relaxed in, something easier to start with. For that, I would need Ilphie’s help. I didn’t feel comfortable to be exposed in such vulnerable way before anyone else here in the Underdark. Maybe a shopping trip would make up for my behavior earlier?

This, Kerymis Donaevel, is not your battle with your own body. You do this for those who need you and they might need you to be in this different looking body. We won’t know yet, but it was better to be prepared for that. We would learn how to write with this pen. It doesn’t need to be pretty and we won’t need to forget our original good pen, but it never hurt to have more options. Preparing, like in the army… This was just my spell rod; you always hoped you would never need to use it, but it would suck if you’d need it that one time when you had forgotten it home.

  That I had learned the hard way. I had made up my mind. This time I wouldn’t be running away. I would be like they had been, like Taelras and the drow man of my previous life. I would stand there to protect the ones who were important to me. I would make this place safe for everyone; the sanctuary Eilistraee had meant it to be.


Kerymis Donaevel decided to try the option Goddess Eilistraee had offered him: to change his form between man and female body. To his own surprise, it proved out to be a lot more difficult to swallow than he had thought. Being a woman was at least as confusing to him as it was to everyone he interacted with that day. Feeling very insecure and anxious about himself, he couldn't correctly explain his feelings and problem with the new body to Ilphinidia Pridescar and he took her words badly.
Later, after sulking for a while he fell into trance, relieved to get back to his original male body. Yet, he couldn't shake the feeling of cowardice from his mind and he began to reflect more deeply on everything that had been going on, understanding that this was not his personal battle against the social norms, but just another tool in his use so he could use it to battle for the sake of others. He understood he had been too demanding on himself and surprisingly acknowledged that he, too, was just a beginner in this, despite his ripe age of over 400 years. First lock in his own shackles had been at least partially opened by the acknowledgement of one's own limits; It was hardest to have compassion towards himself, as Kerymis tends to have higher standards for himself than for others and it sometimes ends up backfiring...


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