Sometimes you’re given a choice. It’s the choice between life and death. It’s the choice between success and failure. It’s the choice between servitude and freedom. It’s the choice between wealth and poverty. Sometimes that choice is easy and sometimes that choice is hard. And sometimes—just sometimes—that choice is not really a choice. Sometimes, it’s someone else doing the choosing.
Chatter floated on a cool, humid breeze that filtered from the lake and through the bar, bringing with it the smells of hooch and sweat. A burst of laughter mingled with shuffling footsteps and the clink of glasses—the sounds of men and women enjoying themselves.
Alexa remained where she was in the back corner of the room, shielded by the thin layer of cloth that served as a door between the main bar and a more private area. She stared at the glass in her hand, leaning back on the cushions of the makeshift couch slightly as she watched the swirling eddies within the amber liquid—how they turned and spun as she rotated her glass. They captured her attention, drawing it away from what was happening around her. I was so naïve. Alexa lifted the glass of liquid and tilted her head back. She took a long swallow, feeling fire race down her throat and settle in her core. I was so stupid.
A woman sat next to her, short, reddish-brown hair cropped short. A shield rested on the ground next to her, though her armor was still strapped to her body. She watched Alexa passively, non-judging. Better than drinking alone, I suppose. Alexa took another swallow, tasting fruit and something more sour on the back of her tongue. She understands you sometimes need a moment to wallow in self-pity. Alexa shifted her weight slightly, feeling the world tip around her momentarily. Her fingers felt tingly, her face flushed. The colors of the cloth draped across the windows of the back room seemed, at once, both too bright and too dull. And sometimes, you just need to get piss drunk.
She turned her head to look at the woman, eyes struggling to focus on her, “Hey, Bastion.”
The woman raised one eyebrow as she responded, “Yeah?”
“Have you ever…” Alexa paused for a moment as she spoke. Keep it vague. She watched Bastion’s face, how her eyes watched her intently. She felt a faint chill, realizing what she’d been about to say. Then she continued, changing tact slightly, “Have you ever looked back on your life and realized there was a moment where everything could have been completely altered? Where there were two roads, and the one you picked set you on a path that you’re now hurtling down?”
Bastion looked at her for a moment longer and then turned her gaze away. For a moment, her face turned serious—contemplative, “Yeah.” She paused for a moment and took a sip of her own drink; then she continued.
“It was back when I first met Oddfellow…you know Oddfellow, right? Well he really set me on the path I’m now on. He introduced me to the Light of Hedon—and he showed me things I wouldn’t normally have seen.” She turned to look at Alexa again, tilting her head back as polished off the drink. She swallowed, “Don’t know if you know this, but I’m colorblind. Like what you know as ‘red’ or ‘green’ doesn’t really register with me. So he once took me out and showed me the stars—and I saw it the way he saw it. I saw that they all had different colors.”
Bastion paused, taking the empty glass from Alexa’s hand as she leaned over toward a nearby table. She grabbed a jug and carefully refilled it and handed it back to Alexa before filling her own, “I guess that you can say that Oddfellow is the reason I am where I am.”
Alexa nodded, taking a sip of her drink. The alcohol didn’t really taste like anything anymore. It was more of a constant burn—a faint aftertaste that settled in the back of her throat. A nice story. It’s probably good that he set her down the path that she’s on. She does good things for this town—taken advantage of too much, though. Alexa smiled wryly, spinning the glass between her fingers again. The worst part is, you can’t be mad at anyone but yourself, Alexa—not really. You walked into it eyes wide open.
But I still hate being manipulated.
Alexa glanced up from her drink, speaking slowly as she reminded herself to enunciate every word, “So that was your moment. But what if you realized that a moment like that…that set you down the path you’re on…what if you realized that it was artificially created? That someone created a scenario to create trust and then offered you a hand…and you took it because of it? And that’s why you are where you are?”
Drunk as she was, Alexa still caught the faint look of surprise that crossed Bastion’s face—a look that quickly turned thoughtful, “I’d probably be upset—maybe angry.”
Alexa nodded as she turned toward her drink again, feeling a smile curl her lips, “You know what I realized today, Bastion? You know why I’m getting drunk? I realized that’s exactly what happened to me.”
Choices make us, define us. They’re what turn us into the people we are today. And if those choices are manipulated, how can you ever say you were in control in the first place? The answer is simple: you can’t.