I barely notice it as my body hits the rocky surface beneath me, the pain from the impact a trifle sting compared to the pain that has engulfed my very soul. A burning, searing sensation, tearing at what little sanity I have managed to retain over the past year, overwhelming my senses until nothing is left but a swirling mass of pain. The pain of my body.
The pain of my soul.
Of my defeat.
I remember the wind...tiny daggers cutting at my skin, my clothes, drawing ribbons of scarlet and staining the sapphire robe a crimson red. And interspersed between the wind and the pain, I remember the fiery, red flames. It burned me, the winds and the flames. Tore me apart, tossing me like a ragged doll, helpless against its destructive onslaught.
And then I fell. Fell from battle; fell from rank.
I am no longer a Master Magician.
The realisation hit me harder than any blow I had ever felt previous. To know that I have lost, that I have failed...and the knowledge that I am unable to change that outcome. I want to scream, but my lips are parched. I want to cry, but no tears escape. I want to do something to release myself from this pain of realisation, but I cannot. I am helpless.
The word rings incessantly within my mind, taunting me with the undeniable truth. That I had lost, and that my other would now return home to a grand welcome from my people...and that I couldn't. I will never see my home now, not even as I draw laboured breath after laboured breath, wishing it with all my heart. I will never see it anymore.
My vision blurs -- whether it is from unwelcomed tears or from the pain, I do not know -- as images of my homeland, with its magnificent structures and its cold, indifferent beauty, shift within my mind's eye. I will never walk within the halls of the academy; I will never whisper prayers at the alter of the church; I will never browse the library's treasure trove of knowledge...and all because I was helpless, because I was weak.
The Magic Kingdom is no place for the weak.
The words of my professors ring clearly in my mind. Was that why...was that why I had always been so obsessed with power? That, if I was weak, I would have no home to go back to, no one to turn to?
I realise from my travels, that one had to be strong to live anywhere, but it is even more so with us mages of the Magic Kingdom. Every day we are reminded of how large our responsibility is, never mind that no one has ever bothered to truly explain it before. And every day we are taught the importance of power, never mind that none of us had ever seen the need to have such command of strength at our fingertips.
We were inquisitive, but we never questioned. Speaking up had never been an encouraged trait by the professors, especially in the academy. Some never even bothered to be inquisitive; they simply accepted. To them, things simply existed and there was no need for questioning. Power is important, simply because it has always been important. No one bothers to dispute this fact, and the precious few that tried were dealt with accordingly.
My mind is wandering again.
I hate it when that happens, a hate embedded into me by my mentors. I still remember their constant lectures -- I must never let my mind wander; there is never time for idle thoughts. But now...now I have all the time in the world.
With a strange sense of nostalgia I realise that my home and the Mystic domain of Facinaturu aren't that different in terms of mentality. We have a leader, so do they; and the residents of both realms follow that leader to the letter, their loyalty total and complete. Perhaps...perhaps that is why I never questioned their orders, not even their latest ones. It just isn't in our mentality to question orders. I simply followed, blindly and without actually seeing, or knowing, what I was doing. Just following. Like the puppet follows the strings of the puppeteer. Like the dog follows the orders of its master.
I...a puppet. A dog. With no mind or conscience of its own.
If my body had the strength to spare, I would have screamed, if only to let out the indignation of being compared to such lowly things. The fact that it rang with truth only made it more unbearable. As it stood, the tears simply rolled down my cheeks lazily, forming little damp spots on the ground, mixing well with my blood. I don't bother to stop the flow. I don't want to.
I shudder as the cold wind of the mountains caress my face, my entire body, chilling as it came in contact with the tears and the blood. It was so cold now, so much colder than before. Why did I not notice it before?
I feel myself panicking. Death was coming; He was near. And His icy hands are touching me, just barely, but enough for me to know that He is here, to claim me for Himself.
Yet, even as I try to relieve myself of His chilling touch, my mind mercilessly draws on illusionary claws that stretched out to engulf me, body and soul. A shiver of fear runs down my spine, a chill much like the one brought about by the mountain winds.
I am scared. I am cold. So very cold...
Suddenly, I wish more than ever that the heat from before had remained. I would give anything to be rid of this cold draft that has enveloped my entire being, even if I had to bear its searing pain once more. Anything was better than dying a cold, lonely death up in the mountains. I had always imagined my death to be a dignified one -- dying in a battlefield, dying while on duty.
The irony struck me hard; I was in a battlefield, I was on duty. But there was nothing dignified about this death. Because the only thing people will come to remember is that I had died while fighting my brother. And that I had lost. Something akin to bile rises in my throat; it tasted bitter and disgusting -- just like the thought of being remembered as a failure sounded to me.
Failure. I hated that word so much. Always had, ever since then.
I suck in a painful breath, but it is getting so much harder to breathe now. Why was this taking so long? Shouldn't I be dead by now? Or did fate see it necessary to put me through this moment of tortured helplessness, idly placing me between both life and death? My eyes are heavy, yet I cannot sleep. My breath is laboured, yet I continue breathing, if only to fulfil the human instinct of survival. I want to die, quickly and painlessly, but I am afraid of death.
Such is my situation. I wonder if the Kylin had felt this way when I defeated it as well. Its mournful song plays continuously within my mind -- whether I'm awake. Whether I'm asleep. As if in vengeance for what I did to its master. Some part of me wants to feel guilt, it really does...but my pride, my denial doesn't allow me to see the truth.
No, I didn't kill the Kylin. I didn't kill anyone. I simply fulfilled my duty.
Yet I continue to hear the faint traces of its melody, soft and sad...and it never ends, continuing in an endless, limitless loop. I wait for it to end, just as I wait for my end.
But it never does. Just as the song refuses to stop, my body refuses to die, and while my mind slowly deteriorates, it continues to live as well.
Why? Why?! I'm supposed to be dead; this torture has gone on for too long! I want to die...to be shrouded in blessed unconsciousness, to be free of this pain. But I cannot. It seems that I am so helpless, so much of a failure, that I can't even die properly.
I would have laughed, if my lungs weren't filling with blood.
The chill has become a thousand times worse, so I try to recollect the heat from before, trying so hard to remember even the slightest bit of warmth. It would all be an illusion, really. There is no warmth anymore -- the fire from before has already evaporated into nothingness, cast away by the cold winds. But even if it is an illusion...just a mere illusion...I think it is worth it. If only for a second of warmth.
My vision continues to fade, but not entirely. I'm getting tired of this state. My body is in a limbo -- not dying, but not living either. Almost as if it is waiting for someone to pull the switch that will end everything, but until then, continues to stay within the boundaries of life.
But even with my poor vision, I see him coming closer, leaping nimbly from rock to rock, silver hair flying free, caressed by the winds and shining under the full moon's light. He lands near me, his dirtied, bloodied boots coming into view. I sense him, rather than see him, running closer to me, probably to take stock of all the damage he'd done.
I imagine the shock on his face, his messy hair flying wildly in the rapid winds. I haven't seen him for a long time...not that I ever needed to. Every day, when I look into the mirror, I see his face staring back at me, reminding me of what I had to do. And yet, even when I know his features like the back of my hand, I will never truly know him for the person that he is. What little I have managed to find out, I found out through our mutual acquaintances.
It is just so sad, when one thinks about it.
Was that...a gasp? I don't know -- considering my poor hearing, it could have been just the winds for all I knew. Or just my imagination.
I feel his arms around my body, gently lifting me in the hope that he wouldn't hurt me more than he already has, and my head rests heavily upon his robe. With grim amusement I realise that the colour of our robes aren't that different anymore. Gen always did say I was too grim for my own good.
He whispers incoherent words into my ear, arms cradling me and banishing the cold almost immediately. Did he know? Did he know the chilling cold I was feeling right now? He seemed to, almost instinctively holding me tighter as I shiver in his arms.
Yes, the cold was receding, helpless against his fiery spirit. I close my eyes, content to remain in this newly acquired warmth. It felt...nice. It felt nice to be warm, to be held like this. I can't remember a time when anybody had ever held me like this...
Gods, am I still crying? I thought I would have stopped by now...It is as if a dam had exploded when I let myself cry earlier -- and now I can't stop it no matter how I try.
These tears...they are mine, but they are his as well. He is crying; I can feel the little droplets against my skin, mixing with mine. But they didn't stay there for long -- his hand lifted to wipe the tears from my cheeks, his fingers shaking yet his touch remaining gentle and firm. It is something that I will remember forever. The gentle touch of my brother, someone I had never really known, never had the chance to know.
I almost regret it as my consciousness starts slipping from my grasp.
Strange, isn't it? I can be so fickle sometimes; in the beginning I was practically begging for a quick death, but now that it is finally continuing that which it started, I find myself wanting to prolong this rare moment of tenderness.
I smile through my tears, a slight twitch of my lips. I don't know if it is a smile of sadness, or one of relief.
I have found the switch, but somehow I wish I hadn't.
Because now I will really die, and after this, I will never see my brother again. I think he knows that my end is near as well, for his grip tightens tremendously, as if he is afraid of letting me go. He whispers in my ear again, murmuring two words over and over like a mantra, as if with just wishing it, I wouldn't have to die.
"Don't go...don't go..."
I suppose he has never heard the truth: that wishes never come true, no matter how much you want it to.
My strength, or what little that remained, is disappearing, flowing out of me like a river. I see its invisible wisps flowing into my brother, encircling him slowly, gathering within him. He doesn't seem to notice. My mind is puzzled; could I be imagining things? Are illusions the effect of dying? His change of mantra brings me out of my reverie.
"Don't go...please, don't leave me..."
I wish I didn't have to die, either...but I have never believed in wishes.
Still, in my hopelessness, I pray to the gods to give me some time...just a little more time...just a little longer...
Let me live, here in his arms, for just a little bit longer...
It is said that those who near death will see the truth; that must be what the blinding clarity I see so suddenly is. It doesn't make sense, but then again, neither of our lives has ever made much sense. I try to tell him what I see, but it is too much to say in a dying breath. Nevertheless, I continue to try. I must succeed. I must!
For if I fail this one, last task, surely I am doomed to be a failure until my death.
My eyes are heavy; my breath draws close. But no, I have to say something...have to let him know...
...please, just a while longer...
"Home..." I whisper, my voice raspy and foreign to my ears. His eyes widen at my first word after the battle, but he listens. He doesn't shush me, and for that, I am grateful. I continue.
"I am always...with you, Rouge...always..."
It's getting harder to talk. My lips feel clammy, heavy like the rest of my body. I wonder how he is able to still hold on to me, given his weakened state.
"So let's go home. I--I want to go back...back home."
But then I realise that he wouldn't let go even if the rocky ground beneath us gave way. He is like that, my brother. Even I could tell, after just a few minutes of contact.
The song has started to recede; I can feel it leaving a whispery trail in my mind.
"Please..." I need him to promise me. Promise me that we'll go home, if only just one last time.
The song is ending.
I feel him nod, murmuring a quiet "yes", and I in turn murmur my gratitude. And the switch is struck. My body loses all remaining strength it once had, shuddering from the sudden loss of energy. My vision darkens, my eyes weaken, my breathing ceases...
...but I feel his arms around me, his kiss on my brow, and I know everything will be okay.
Everything will be okay.
Because there are some things, some feelings, which you just don't question.
Because they simply exist.