Mara's heart beat a slow rhythm in her ears, echoing his voice. She drew her sword, and held it high over the head of her offender. He had a name once, and she had known it. But now he was nothing.
"Face the light, traitor," she whispered, skillfully bringing the weapon home.
The air burned with death, smelling of blood and wasted time. She turned away, remembering to wipe her sword off on the grass. His final words, God, she could still hear them.
In five minutes he had changed more than in the twelve years she'd known him. Twelve years. And all he said, after everything, was, "Meaningless." All she'd ever done, for all she believed in was. . .meaningless? Betrayer.
The death didn't bother her. Well, not really. It was just that word, that one damnable word. And what if he was right?
No, that didn't matter. Justice, Truth, Integrity. They were law. What that dead traitor said didn't matter. Even if he had been her friend. They were all that had meaning.
Without those three laws, where would the world be? Everyone was happy and peaceful now, after all those years. She would give her life to protect the future.. It was more important than her old friend; she must give the lives of others. But it hurt. It shouldn't hurt; he had betrayed them, and their future, with that word. The others wouldn't blame her. If they had been here they would have done the same.
She walked back to the Others. She crossed the ancient bridge; it was the only way back to civilization. The Others rushed out to meet her, filled with questions, voices tearing through the night. And they asked where he was.
"I killed him," she answered, standing tall before them. Mara explained, her voice low and emotionless. "He betrayed us. Let his name no longer be spoken here," her words were ritual.
"Or anywhere," they droned. They understood, accepted. People betrayed, and their names were forgotten. It was inevitable, though upsetting, of course.
Mara felt a bit odd. She had expected that those words, given by the others, would relieve her pain. But somehow it made this feeling worse. It would almost have been better if they hadn't believed her, struck her down where she stood, like she had done to him.
Justice. All that holds us together. She had delivered it swiftly, as anyone would and should. Without justice, what was there? People could steal and kill without a second thought. That part of her that wouldn't let go pushed itself in again. She had killed, without justice being given to her. Her logical mind pushed back. His crime was worse, one for which murder could be forgiven.
Integrity. Without justice, our own sense of right keeps us from wrong, traitorous acts. That was what she had been told, always. Even if there was no threat of reprisal, one should always do right. Every child knew this. But who decided what was right? That one was easy. Those before them had figured out what was wrong; all their descendents had to do was prevent the wrong from happening. But who figured it out. . .
Truth. The third rule of a peaceful society. Perhaps the most important. A person had to know, and love the truth. Always tell the truth. But what if he was right, what if it was nothing? Then, he hadn't been lying, or unjust or without integrity. If those words meant nothing, how could he have. . .
It hurt, these thoughts. She shouldn't have them.
She made her way back to the body of her friend, carrying a shovel. He had always seemed so wise.
Mara stared down at him for a few minutes, then began to bury him. She probably shouldn't, but it didn't matter. All that counted were Truth, Justice, and Integrity. Every child knows it. And right now, what felt right and just was to bury him.
She had already forgotten his name, and no one else would remember it anyway, so she wrote "Meaningless" in the dirt over his grave. The next rain would wash the word away, and these thoughts with it.
Her heart began to beat with the rhythm of the world, the wind whispered it into her ears. She would have struck the wind down where it stood, if that was possible. Instead, she sat next to his grave, remembering:
"Mara, how do you feel about the way things are? Are you happy?" he had asked her.
"I am content," she had responded, smiling, "and peaceful."
He had smiled back, "But wouldn't you like to be happy? Or at least go in search of it?"
Mara had laughed, then, "Why? I have everything I need. Food, clothes, a home, a job. More importantly, I have Truth, Integrity, and Justice. Every child dreams of what I have."
His eyes had hardened then, and it made her uncomfortable, "Truth, Justice, Integrity? Fine, good words. Full of promises for the future. But what do they give us, teach us, if we never ask for them? What are they?"
"Why," Mara had exclaimed, "They are everything!"
But he had only shaken his head, "Meaningless," he had said. Such an idea.
Her eyes had grown cold, and she stood, drawing her sword. She whispered her words of ritual, and murdered him.
Mara drew her sword again, examining it. There was still a trace of blood on the edge. Once again, she stood.
The sword fell to the ground, mutely. It fell across that word, blocking it from her eyes.
But that symbolic action drove it all the deeper into her memory. His name came to her mind once again, clearly, before fading away again. Names, and words, meant nothing.
Truth, Justice, Integrity. Traitor, Betrayer, Offender. They all said the same thing to her. Nothing.
And she, without realizing it, became all those ideas.
"If a single word can kill you, and another save you, both mean nothing. So," she sighed, "perhaps these things exist only if we don't speak of them."
And so Mara picked up her sword, dusted it off, and placed it back into its sheath. She turned and walked away from Truth, Justice, and Integrity. And comfort, and peace, and shelter. The only way she could find them was by leaving them behind.