She Who Dreams is the aged and dying Queen of Gift. She is known through the land as a wise and temperate ruler, one always ready to listen to sound advice, and who believes rulership is a duty owed to the people, not a privilege to be enjoyed at their expense.
She Who Dreams knows only too well how easily the people can be betrayed, hurt, controlled, and enslaved. She knows because she once served The Obsidian Queen. Once, She Who Dreams was a Hand, one of a chosen few, trained in the necromantic art of The Soul’s Blood, the darkest, foulest blood magic. Once, She Who Dreams used her art to dominate, to control, to enslave and torment. Once, she reveled in the blood of her victims and the power that blood allowed her to wield. Once, she was the thing parents told their children to fear.
Once. But no longer.
One day, nearly fifty years ago, a dying victim cursed She Who Dreams to experience all the pain she’d ever inflicted. She doubled over as the pain hit her, but this was only the overture to her true torment. Her symphony of suffering began as the thoughts and emotions washed over her, the anguish, not only of her victims, but of their families. She knew dread, terror, loss, grief, anger, hopelessness, and many other things, all while her body was wracked with agony.
She Who Dreams might have died - some say she should have died - had she not stumbled upon an order of monks who took her in and cared for her. Whether they knew who she was or not, She Who Dreams never learned, but they tended her while she relived all the horrors she had visited upon others. Her delirium lasted for weeks until finally she relived the last one. The monks found her that morning, weeping inconsolably in her cell.
This was the end of She Who Dreams, Hand of the Obsidian Queen. The woman who remained when the torment ended needed time to rebuild herself and her life, and the monks offered her that time. She lived with them for a year, learning their ways, tending crops, working the kitchens, the simple life. She lived in peace with the monks, though her past returned to torment her each night. Then, one day, her past returned in a far more visceral manner.
The woman who had once been She Who Dreams looked up from toiling in the fields when she heard the cloister bell. She saw the smoke rising, and cold dread gripped her. She ran, as fast as she could, but she returned too late. The monastery was in flames and the bodies of her friends were everywhere. And the woman who had once been She Who Dreams saw the cause.
She Who Sees, another Hand of The Obsidian Queen, once called sister by the woman who was once She Who Dreams, stood amid the carnage, bathed in the blood of the monks. Around her, a contingent of the Queen’s Peacekeepers put the last of the monks to the sword while She Who Sees cast black flame from her hands, magic fueled by the blood of her victims, black flame potent enough to burn wood and stone, and flesh and bone.
The woman who was once She Who Dreams cried out in anguish and picked up a knife, a simple tool a monk had used for carving only minutes before. Not even recognizing her former sister, She Who Sees laughed at the sight of a woman in simple garb holding a small knife. Such a sight gave She Who Sees great amusement... but her laughter died as she did...
She Who Dreams remembered her training, remembered the call of blood. She would not, could not, fuel the magic with the blood of her friends, or of any other person, ever again. But within her veins was a source more than enough to wreak vengeance, and She Who Dreams availed herself of that source without hesitation. Before her former sister knew it, She Who Dreams opened a deep cut on her own arm, and called out the magic in her own blood. A tendril reached out and pierced the heart of She Who Sees, and she died, surprise on her face.
It was too late to help those who’d cared for She Who Dreams. She cried, this time for the horror she’d witnessed and been unable to prevent. When her tears were done, she took what few items she could recover, and walked away, disappearing into the forest.
Over the next few years, rumors in the region began cropping up about the Lady of the Forest. Some said she was a sorceress, others a spirit, and others the result of minds deprived of sleep or overindulging in drink. But the rumors grew all the same, and all agreed, when someone was in danger in in the forest, the Lady of the Forest might appear to aid them.
Many years later, the Lady of the Forest appeared to help a man, only to be attacked by him. He tried to kill her, hate in his eyes and heart, and the Lady of the Forest knew he recognized her for what she once was. This man... was once a boy who watched as She Who Dreams burned his parents alive with her magic.
Realizing this, She Who Dreams fell to her knees. She offered the man her knife and her throat. He stayed his hand, asking why, and she explained. When she was done, he couldn’t look at her, but he couldn’t kill her either. She Who Dreams pledged herself to the man’s service, pledging her very blood in his name, but never the blood of another. The man held her to her word as he led her and his other companions against the Obsidian Queen.
The war was long, and not worth retelling here. It was blood, and death, and loss. It was triumph and tragedy. It was war. But in the end, the man prevailed. She Who Dreams was by his side, watching as the man killed her former queen in bloody combat. As the Obsidian Queen's blood ran out on the floor beneath her body, She Who Dreams fell once more to her knees, and once again drew out her knife and offered it to the man.
“It is done,” she said to him. “I am the last to wield her dark sorcery. I offer myself to your judgement. Do with me what you will.”
The man threw down the knife and turned away. She Who Dreams only watched as he left. At the door to the Queen’s chambers, he paused. He didn’t look back.
“This is my judgement. No-one understands better than you the horrors my people have lived through. So no-one is more fitting than you to protect them in the future. You will be Queen until the day you die, your duty to protect and guide us. You are responsible to each life in this land, and you will honor that, and them.”
The man left without further word, and settled on his childhood farm. Over the years, he married, and had a family, and worked his farm. He never again raised his sword... but he kept it close, just in case.
Now old and gray, wrinkled and withered, She Who Dreams knows her punishment is nearly at an end. She prays she will find peace on her next turn of the wheel, but she knows even now, she does not deserve it. She calls the man to her side. Never quite forgiven, he has nonetheless been her closest adviser, and the closest thing She Who Dreams has to a friend. She will ask his advice one last time. She will ask him to name her successor.