Stupid, stupid, stupid!
The giantess slumped over on the hard terrain in horror as she watched her captain fight through Gilfrost’s crystal ball. The group of knights were screaming amongst each other, some saying silent prayers, other’s crying in disbelief. The sound of Gilthunder’s desperate pleads to be sent back to where their captain, Meliodas, was facing the Ten Commandments alone falling on deaf ears.
Stupid! She chastised herself relentlessly. If only she had been stronger, if only she had been braver, wiser. If only she hadn’t run off on her own… then maybe none of this would have had to happen.
Through the crystal ball Meliodas struggled to keep his ground, being battered by a female demon, taking direct blows from their magic. Please, Goddesses… just make it stop!
Griamore recoiled when Dreyfus approached the beaten Meliodas, Hendrickson soon at the child’s side. Her captain’s eyes were fierce, his scared treasure, Lostvaynne, held firmly in his mouth, his broken arms limp at his side – yet he continued to hold his ground. Griamore shivered in Hendrickson’s grip when his father spoke, his voice cold as he informed Meliodas that appealing to Dreyfus’ spirit would do him no good.
‘That’s not my father.” Griamore said through bitter tears, Hendrickson embracing the boy through his own streaking sobs. The two stiffened when Dreyfus rose his blade, his magical ability, Pierce, making point blank contact with Meliodas.
The air around the knights was heavy, the sound of frenzied cries permeated the air – yet hardly anything seemed to register for Diane. She felt numb, her entire body frozen to the spot, the tears falling involuntarily.
Meliodas stood his ground despite the many wounds that marked his skin, the unmistakable blue-yellow bruises from broken and shattered bones welled up around his ribs and arms.
He jerked, grabbing hold of his sword despite the state of his arms, the world lighting up in an otherworldly glow. The knights all knew what was happening, they had seen it once before in their fight against Hendrickson. Revenge counter.
It was all over. They had won.
The magic dissipated, a large man had stopped the attack with a single hand.
The sound of her captain’s cries of pain pierced through Diane’s heart with more force than any mortal blow. The world around her grew cold, her ears were ringing, the wails echoing in her head and making her dizzy. She was faintly aware of Ban being transported to Meliodas, barely noticed the shocked gasps from Elizabeth or the pleading shouts from the other knights. Yet, she was acutely aware of the crying Griamore and Hendrickson.
Specifically Hendrickson. For what did he shed tears for? For the small boy in his arms who had lost his father to a demon? For their captain who lay dead in a pool of his own coagulating blood, seven swords piercing through him? Or did he weep to keep up appearances, to not rouse any suspicions towards his true feelings.
He had been the cause of this. He had been behind the new generations, he had been the one to revive the demon’s that had just killed their captain. He had no right to mourn, much less be in their presence.
Elizabeth was teleported out as soon as the commandments fled the battle scene. Diane didn’t pay much attention to her friend, her eyes fiercely locked on Hendrickson, on the man truly responsible Meliodas’ death. The shock from the fight, her conflicting emotions, all of them fed into her burning rage towards the man.
She would never forgive him for as long as she lived. Of this, she was sure.
The seven deadly sins had disbanded, its members going their separate ways. Diane was no exception, having spent the weeks after Meliodas was slain in battle, wandering aimlessly across Britannia.
King would occasionally find her, traveling alongside her for a while before leaving again. He always found her, no matter how far she ran or how hard she tried to hide. Perhaps Diane was just bad at hiding… She was pretty hard to miss.
She spent her alone time training. She pushed herself everyday beyond her limits, and then went beyond even that. She had torn ligaments all over, her hand’s had calloused over from gripping Gideon. When she wasn’t practicing combat she was honing her magical ability. She would dance through clearings and paths, breathing in the crisp morning air as she reached inwards, connecting with the very earth around her.
She had hated herself for not being more useful against the Ten Commandments. She should have been able to do more, to save the people she cares about. That had been why she joined the Seven Deadly Sins in the first place, wasn’t it?
She absentmindedly traced the serpent tattoo on her upper thigh. The red ink slightly raised the skin, just enough to feel but not see. She traced the scales, the teeth of the servant. She had failed. Not just Matrona, Diane thought bitterly, but her captain, her country. The sting of it all still pierced every nerve in her body, making her go numb.
She would not fail again.
Diane reached a clearing. She had heard from King about some special training they had done while she was away with Matrona. He had said that the training had quickly raised all of their power levels -something Diane was desperate for at the moment.
The tree’s around her seemed to curve and bend into whimsical forms. The grass was littered with small wildflowers, their sweet scent hovering on the breeze. A large stone structure lay to the east, rolling hills beyond it going on endlessly.
Diane approached the stone, popping one of Merlin’s tablets into her mouth and shrinking down to the size of an average human. She pulled out her clothes, dressing quickly and stashing her things off to the side. She approached the structure, squaring her shoulders and pressing her strength outwards.
The stone answered her silent call, the expanse of hills behind her rippling away like a mirage and giving way to a cobblestone pathway leading towards a large mountain.
She hopped across the steppingstones, crossing the stream effortlessly. She closed her eyes, taking in the smells and the energies of the earth around her as she had trained herself to do. Nature seemed to be vibrating, every living thing around her thriving. Wildlife lazily went about their day, their bellies full from the abundance of food. The sun warmed Diane’s exposed skin and she couldn’t help but feel contented herself.
Two younger looking girls came to greet the giantess, breaking Diane from her concentration.
“Ahh, the Serpent sin of Envy, Diane.” The blond girl said, “It’s been a long time.”
“S-sorry,” Diane fiddled with her hair, covering her face. “I have a really bad memory.”
“Of course.” The blond one continued, the darker haired girl seemingly content to watch the exchange rather than involve herself. “I’m Jenna, the talkative one is my sister, Zaneri. We’re the head of the Druids.”
“I heard from the other sins that they had come here for training.” Diane cut straight to the point, “I would like to take part in it, if it’s okay with you.”
Jenna smirked, lowering her head knowingly. “Of course. Though, we usually like to do things in pairs.”
Diane’s heart sank. She was alone, so would she not be able to train here after all?
“But…” Jenna continued, “Luckily for you we have someone else here looking to take part in the trials.”
Without saying a word Zaneri stepped away from her sister, her long white robes swishing behind her hypnotically. Diane would have never guessed the two druids to be sisters were she not told. Jenna was fire and passion, her spirit burning in her eyes. Her personality was easily read, a hard headed go-getter – while Zaneri was cool mystery, her eyes placid and seemingly uncaring. Diane was sure she was a good person deep down, but she had a frigid edge to her that screamed ‘Keep your distance.’
Zaneri returned moments later, a tall man striding behind her. His eyes were downcast, his hands clenched at his sides as he walked with the grace of a holy knight. His stark white hair sent a shiver down Diane’s spine; and when he raised his head to lock eyes with her she struggled to keep down her rage.
“You.” Diane spat out, venom laced in her tone. Hendrickson kept his gaze firm against her own deadly glare. His face was soft, his eyes darkened from sleepless nights and stress. His cheeks seemed hollower than when she had seen him last, his frame lanky, his clothes baggy from his reduced muscle.
“Oh,” Jenna grinned with a morbid curiosity, “Do you two know each other?”
Hendrickson did not reply. “Yes.” Diane grit her teeth, “We do.”
“Well, I certainly hope there’s no bad blood between you.” Jenna continued teasingly. “Because you’ll be entering the trials together.”
“Absolutely not.” The giantess snapped, not once taking her eyes off of the former grand holy knight.
“Then you can’t enter the trials.” Jenna threw her arms up, waving at Diane as she began to walk away. “But if you insist, then there’s nothing we can do to help you.”
Diane could feel her nails dig into her palms, the sweet pain jolting her senses enough to call after the druid. “Wait!”
Jenna stopped, turning to glance at the giantess from over her shoulder. Diane swallowed hard, physically swallowing her pride. Her petty grudge could be dealt with later, but for now she needed to get stronger – even if the way to get there was… unpleasant
“I… I’ll go. With Hendrickson… I’ll do it.”
Jenna nodded towards Zaneri, who once again took off to an unknown location. “Perfect!” Jenna exclaimed, her face lighting up. “Hendy, you already know what to do. Mind waiting at the entrance for us?”
“Of course.” Hendrickson said his first words since his appearance. The sound of his voice rose Diane’s blood pressure several points and she had to bite her tongue to hold in the bile that rose in her throat.
Just as Hendrickson left, Zaneri returned holding something. Diane inspected the objects that the druid presented to her wordlessly. A cotton outfit, similar to the one Jenna was wearing, though hers was a deep red.
“We prefer to go into the trial with as minimal as possible.” Jenna explained as Diane folded the clothes over her arms. “You can wear these, but nothing else.”
Diane sighed as she pulled off the clothes Merlin had made her and slipping into the white cotton garb. Once she was dressed Jenna handed her a stick and they were on their way to the trial. Diane could only hope she wouldn’t have to be stuck here for too long with him.
Diane rolled to her left, her arm skinning against a jagged rock and sending a sharp shot of pain through her. Hendrickson stood his ground, glancing over to Diane and shouting something about if she was okay.
Diane didn’t have a chance to reply when the dragon in front of them took the chance to swipe at Hendrickson. He parried, his stick weapon creaking in distress from the strain. Diane rose to her feet and lunged at the creature, landing a solid hit to its left temple.
The dragon was sent crashing into the cave wall, its body going limp as it faded away and back into its crystal. The cave was bathed in white, signaling the end of their trial.
Diane brushed herself off, wincing at the sting in her arm. Hendrickson, seeming to notice her pain, approached her from behind.
“Are you okay?” He asked, his voice laced in concern. Diane jumped from the sudden closeness, her blood boiling from his presence.
They had already gone through two trials - including the one they had just completed – and Diane wasn’t even close to feeling satisfied. She would run the trials until she dropped if she had to.
Anything to become stronger. To protect the ones important to her.
“You’re bleeding.” Hendrickson brought her out of her thoughts. She looked down at her arm to see that she was, in fact, bleeding. Her blood was running down her arm in intertwining streams, steady drops of crimson dripping from her fingers.
“It’s fine.” She spat, “just a scratch. I’ve had worse.”
“Still,” Hendrickson gripped at her wrist, her blood spreading between his bare fingers. “You should get it looked at. I can heal you.”
“No offense,” Diane shook her arm from his grip, her blood splatting against the stone of the cave floor some feet ahead of her, “but so can Zaneri and Jenna.”
Hendrickson stilled, his body tensing as Diane began to walk out of the cave.
“I understand why you don’t trust me.” His voice was low, sorrowful. “I wouldn’t trust myself either after what I did.”
“Good, so we’re in agreement with each other.” Diane said sarcastically, “now let’s get on to the next trial.”
“You don’t have to believe me,” He continued, “but I wasn’t in control. That demon, Fraudin’s power was making me do those things…”
Diane spun around, stepping up to the holy knight and eyeing him down as if he were a pest, something she could stomp out without a second thought. “You expect me to believe that you released the Ten Commandments because you were possessed? Human’s really are weak if they can’t even fight that off.”
“I didn’t –“
“Meliodas died because of your actions.” Diane’s voice was steady, anger seeping into every syllable she spoke. She was aware she was crying, the familiar burn of fresh tear’s and the dampness on her face only feeding her erratic emotions. “I won’t just forgive you because you say you were compelled or otherwise.”
“I guess you could say it’s my sin.” Hendrickson gazed at the pool of blood that was gathering on the ground between them.
“You don’t know anything about sins.” The stick Diane had been holding in her right hand began to creak from the force of her grip. Hendrickson gulped but stood his ground.
“You’re right.” He spoke solemnly, his gaze still falling on to the space between them and Diane’s dripping blood that was now mixing with her tears.
“But of all the regrets I have, the fact that I couldn’t save my country, but most of all my friend, will be a burden I shall carry until the end of my days.”
Diane stepped back, his words reaching her guarded heart. She had been in his shoes once before, after Matrona had died due to her folly. (Of course, she knew now that Matrona survived the encounter, but the feeling of her helplessness still lingered.)
She sighed deeply, the sound echoing against the narrow cave walls. “If I promise to let it go this time can we please get out of here and start the next trial?”
Zaneri made quick work of Diane’s wound, her skin stitching back together under her gentle touch and magic. Hendrickson seemed to keep watch over the giantess as she was being healed, his eye’s holding a hint of something Diane couldn’t quite place.
When the two made their way back into the cave, the vast array of colourful and oddly shaped goddess crystals floating around them, Diane couldn’t help but notice a distinct shift in the holy knight.
She poked at a goddess crystal, the pink gem floating away gently. “Which one should we go for this time?”
Hendrickson inspected the amber’s thoughtfully, his face set. He reached out for a prism shaped amber, grabbing the gem carefully. “That’s the first time you asked me.” He remarked as he released the crystal, watching as it rose slowly overhead.
“Well, I figured I picked the last two. It’s only fair.”
Hendrickson gripped a small, green gem. He looked towards Diane as if asking permission. She gave a small nod, signalling her approval – though she honestly didn’t care which one he ended up picking.
He crushed the stone, blinding light radiating out from his palm. They both shielded their eyes from the harsh light, blinking rapidly to readjust their eyes to the darkness of the cave.
Diane scanned the cave. Each of the crystals contained a monster of some form or another – the last thing she needed was for a sneak attack at her rear. She strained her ears for any sound the creature may be making, Hendrickson falling into position at her side.
A stone rolled across the ground to their right. Both of their heads craned to the source of the sound. The creature was shrouded in darkness, though it was undeniable that it was there.
Both Diane and Hendrickson held their ground, waiting for the enemy to reveal themselves. The seasoned warriors knowing better than to jump into action before being able to size up the opponent.
“Show yourself!” Hendrickson shouted. His voice echoed across the expanse of the cave until it faded away into nothing. Within moments movement could be seen from within the shadows.
They braced themselves, each assuming a readied stance. The creature slowly exited the shadows, its form becoming increasingly visible.
“M-Matrona?!” Diane gasped once the body stepped fully into the meagre light of the cave. “What are you doing here?”
Diane dropped her guard, running to the woman. “Diane, wait!” Hendrickson called after her, “This could be a trap!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Diane chided as she bounced next to the woman.
“Diane…” Matrona’s voice, clear as day said.
“Yes?” Diane answered, Hendrickson lowered his stance, readying for a surprise attack.
Matrona rose her head, blood beginning to flow from her nose, mouth and eyes. She cried out in pain, dropping to the ground and rolling in a pool of her own blood. “Why Diane! Why!”
Diane recoiled back, shocked panic plastered on her face. Her eyes darted around rapidly as she watched Matrona writhe in pain.
“Diane! This is all your fault!”
“No!” Diane screamed, falling to her knees and gripping at her head.
“Diane!” Hendrickson called out, “It’s an illusion! Don’t fall for it!”
Diane kept low, her pupils dilated in fear at the sight before her, Hendrickson’s words falling upon deaf ears. He readied his weapon and charged at the woman, a smooth kick to the temple knocking it unconscious.
Diane yelled something inaudible, lunging forward to grab at Matrona. The woman, now unconscious, started to twist and bend in morbid, inhumane ways – revealing the sickly form of a hide-and-seek imp. The world around them faded to white.
The two left the cave, their trial having been completed after the imp’s true form was revealed. Diane decided to call it in for the day and had retreated to the stream.
Hendrickson moved to join the giantess, an offering of dried fruit and meats at the ready.
He sat down beside her, placing the food on a wooden plate between the two of them. Diane was staring into the rushing stream, her face stoic, eyes distant.
“That woman must have been very important to you.” Hendrickson remarked in an attempt to clear the air.
“Matrona.” Diane said after a time. “Her name was – is – Matrona.”
The two returned to silence, nothing but the sound of the running stream filling the void between them. Diane sighed, taking hold of a chunk of dried meat and tearing into it greedily.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” She began between chews, “but this is between us. If I find out you’ve told anyone, I’ll kill you.”
Hendrickson gulped and nodded. He had no doubt she would go through on her word.
Diane sighed. “When I was little, well, not little little, but a child, I wasn’t really accepted in the Giant tribe. I hated fighting. That was like, a cardinal sin for the other giants. I was out-casted for most of my childhood. That was, until I met Matrona.
Matrona was a warrior amongst warriors in the tribe. By all right’s she should have shunned me like the others, but she took me under her wing. I really envied her.”
Diane paused, as if checking to see if Hendrickson was still listening before continuing. “Well, one day we were attacked by a group of humans. I did nothing but hide and cry as Matrona faced them alone. In the end there were too many of them, and they overpowered her. I watched her die in my arms. I was completely helpless.”
Hendrickson grabbed a handful of dried fruits, plopping one in his mouth and chewing thoughtfully as Diane finished her tale. “You know, I was raised amongst the druids.” Hendrickson began as he finished his berries.
“No, I didn’t know that.” Diane answered as she took a handful of fruit for herself.
“I was. Males in the druid tribe are set to work, while the women take on roles of priestesses. I was set to work in the graveyards from a very young age.”
“That’s awful.” Diane shivered at the thought of spending a night alone in a graveyard.
“It was.” Hendrickson chuckled. “I hated every second of it. I had to watch over dead bodies night after night. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but I couldn’t stop thinking that a body would raise from the dead and attack me.
Because of this I was shunned from the druids, seen as ungrateful for being given a post and duty. Eventually, I was exiled from the tribe.”
“And then you met Dreyfus…” Diane finished for him. Her heart ached for the man. They had shared such similar pasts, yet their paths had taken such drastically different turns.
“Then I met Dreyfus. He was like a brother to me, a true family who accepted me for who I was. And yet, I couldn’t do anything to protect him from Fraudin. He continues to suffer, even now. And yet, I can’t do anything to save him.”
Diane placed her hand over his tenderly. He gazed up at her, the beginning of tears staining the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry for lashing out at you earlier.” Diane said, barely over a whisper. “If I had known I wouldn’t have been so harsh.”
Hendrickson smiled warmly. “I don’t fault you for your words. I already told you I would have been suspicious of myself if the roles were reversed.”
The two stayed like that, both watching the passing of the stream, their hands overlapped. The two unlikely partners having shared a common past helped the tension – not just between each other, but within themselves.
“I promise, the sins will do everything we can to save Dreyfus.”
Hendrickson closed his eyes, smiling at the tender words from the giantess who had been at his throat just hours before.