"How bad is it?" asked the elf who was currently calling himself Ruin.
"It is... I'd like to tell you that it varies, and that is true. But among those who come to us, the lesser elves and even those with obvious human blood, it varies from those who left as a precaution to those who escaped from imprisonment and torture. I have not seen many of those, but if their stories are true then it is not because most don't receive such treatment. It's only that most don't escape it. The word from the capital is... horrific." Werendril looked away, eyes squeezed tight; Ruin thought he might be fighting back tears.
Ruin nodded slowly. He wished he could be surprised by such cruelty, but the cruelty was no accident. Indeed, it seemed to be the goal of much of what the Humans did. "I hoped it would be otherwise."
Werendril shook his head. "No." He looked back at Ruin for a long moment, weighing him.
Then he said: "Killing comes easy to you. I never understood that about you, but I knew it was true."
Ruin considered that. He'd never really thought about it; he'd just done it when he needed to. Easy or hard seemed beside the point, which probably meant that Werendril was right.
His cousin read the answer from Ruin's face; he nodded. "I understand it now," he said miserably. "When I first took my oaths, I just wanted to help people. I wanted to protect; I wanted to heal. Even with practice weapons, they had to drill me over and over to truly strike, to make my blades connect. The trainers despaired of me, said if I ever got into battle a half-trained Orc could finish me off -- because it would actually be trying to kill me."
Ruin nodded. He could almost imagine what that might be like, but then his first combat had been against humans and had happened in a haze of red. It was only later that he'd really begun training, and by then the lesson was deep in his nerves and muscles: power and direction, direction and power. All the power in the world was no good if you couldn't connect with it, and all the technique in the world was wasted if you couldn't deliver damage. "How many?" he asked.
Werendril knew exactly what he meant by the question. "Only three, so far." He offered a bitter grin. "But you would be proud of me, cousin: I struck, and I struck to kill, and each of them fell. And each time, I held to my honor."
"Then I am proud of you, O my cousin." Ruin put a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "I'm no diviner, but I think in the days to come we will need both the will to fight and the strength to hold to our honor."
Werendril was silent for a long moment; then he reached over and placed a hand on Ruin's shoulder. "Thank you, cousin. That... felt more like an absolution than I've received from anyone in the Order so far."