Author’s Note: Hello, and happy Halloween. Have a sorta-spooky short that takes place between One Way and The Door Closes. ;)
I feel weird.
Sometimes I hold a book like a child. Sometimes I wonder why I have never gotten used to my own appearance. I wonder why I can’t socialize. Why nothing worked out for me.
Sometimes I stare down at my hands, wondering where I went wrong.
I feel awkward and out of place. I hide in the corners, reading to get away from it. I go outside to try the exact same thing.
But when I see Cerulean's face -- it all comes crashing back.
I'm still getting used to company. Awkwardly. Days turn into chores. I lie awake at night, longer than even Rubia, though she doesn't know it. And sometimes I'm not awake, but my thoughts are, and they chase me throughout my maddest nightmares. They force me to remember that I couldn't save Dromiay, but she had to save us all.
Dromiay’s company was mercy to me. I had someone to myself. Someone sincere. Somebody else who hadn't really found her place in her world, making me realize it was okay if I hadn't really found my own.
And then she was gone, long before I could begin to know and understand her. I cling to my memories of her. Her gracious smile, her rebellious indignity, her own awkward mannerisms. She was spoiled but came to realize what her upbringing was doing to her. She grew up indoctrinated, but somewhere along the way, a crack ran down the mold. She got sick of it and broke free.
I wish there had been a mold for me to break free of. I would have turned out still unique, but sane and normal like… like I wasn’t. Instead, I turned out formless and disturbing. A freak. A monster. A thing I couldn’t stand living as for a long, long time.
I lived for screams once. Yet when I got to know the voices, my most cherished memories turned into ones I was ashamed of. My crowning moments turned into ones of terror. Fear of myself.
I remember that horrible, horrible feeling I used to get deep in my stomach. That sinking feeling that something was wrong but that I had no hope of turning around and I might as well carry my corrupt dreams to fruition.
I ignored that feeling for over a year.
I carried forth, roaming the forests alone. I descended into the houses of those who had been taken away by Hunters and stood in their empty footprints, a living shadow where there should have been nothing left but calm and unforgiving silence. I lived in a void, speaking to few, stalking an unlucky fewer, and plotting against a very unfortunate one. My own brother.
I had books. I had spells and artifacts. I had the resolve to find my own magic, enhance it, and then seek more of it. I was able to delve into Cerulean's mind from far away. I found my heritage and planned to exploit it for power. I realized I could seal away Cerulean's life to immortalize my own.
I sought out my kin. I begin to anguish, bringing it all to fruition, and then I soared so briefly – so magnificently – before everything went wrong.
I lost. Their pieces lined up just right. They had the cards and so the cavalry came to chase me away. Thankfully.
I did damage on the way out. It wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t immortality.
I suddenly ran through the woods, chased for the first time. I never was noticed by Hunters, despite my bright skin and tall figure, but I was pursued by a dust pixy – a servant of the Creator herself. I remember those times more clearly than anything I had experienced up to that point. Late nights. Long days. Nothing but cold rain and difficult paths as I roamed the open woods. Once my kingdom, now my prison. I traveled in circles and circles and circles, no longer caring to realize any destination. All I could do was run.
I was still alone. But now I was aware of the monster I had been. It turned into one more thing to run from.
For the first time in my life I was ashamed.
That began my recovery. I say recovery. But I guess that isn’t the right word. The illness completely left my body, but it left me rattled and weak. I was better than my corrupt self, but it didn’t compare to my early days, those of innocence. I considered turning myself in. But is a caged, closed soul any better than one dying for repentance out in the wild? I struggled with it daily.
Evre caught up to me. But as fate would have it, I just barely slipped through her hands… and into those of Rubia, Faith and an empty Cerulean. I found myself getting to know the people I had been a nightmare most to. They accepted me – at first for the moment, but eventually for life.
In a way I felt Dromiay redeemed me. She was the one who got to know me.
And she was the one who left me.
I’m a shell without her. I thought that, with her around, I could be someone genuinely good. Morally strong. And I was right. Because without her, I am once again nothing.
I rise from my corner and lower the book I had stared blankly at for the past hour. I will leave. And nobody will notice me. I am a nothing—a pest –a wandering shell, doomed because of the long life of another. I don my admiral jacket and leave.
Thick rain drizzles down, icy and cruel. I trudge out into the calm, dark forest, with its bold ferns, slanting tree trunks, and perpetually clouded sky. I come to a vast clearing, where the grey sky stretches cleanly forever, and the ground is barren but for scraggly bushes and oil leaks from Hunter ships. I clench a fist. This place reminds me too much of myself.
I glance down at my hands. These hands once longed for baseless revenge. Now they wish only for cleansing.
I huff angrily. I know I am forgiven. I am cleansed. But there’s something more I want and I can’t figure out what it is. For the first time ever I feel safe. Not dangerous. But I want more than this.
I turn at the sound of the voice, wincing at first – but then easing up in reluctant relief. Rubia stands at the edge of the clearing, a covered basket nestled in the crook of her wing, shawl wrapped lopsided about her shoulders.
I cast my gaze up to the sky as I approach her. Rubia watches, face soft and easygoing with patience. Finally, I stop, and hang my head.
“Why are you upset?”
“I don’t know,” I utter, weakly. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I am, I don’t know how to behave, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to—“
Rubia’s pupils abruptly dilate. “Heads up. Don’t look now. Hunter just across the clearing.” She grabs my arm, looping her other wing entirely through the handle of her basket.
She whispers, “Run.”
The word sends a jolt of confusion up my spine. And then a furrow down my brow. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to. I’ve never had to. I’ve always doubted I ever will. But then I freeze in terror as I lock eyes not with Rubia, but with the orange-clad Hunter across the clearing. He blinks alertly, ears twitching forward – he wears no helmet. “Amadeus!” Rubia hisses, yanking my arm. I stumble after her.
The chase has begun.
As I run, I feel terror welling in my heart, panic wracking my mind. Rubia, now falling close behind me, remains collected. She has surely been through this hundreds of times. And I’ve been through it… never.
Why am I noticed now?
Rubia abruptly veers to one side, grabs my sleeve and pulls. I fall backwards with her, brambles sticking into my wings, an echo of a gasp slipping from my throat.
I crash against hard ground, and glance up to see we are shrouded in darkness by a raised sea of brambles. Rubia pulls the brambles shut over us and covers my mouth. She stares far upwards for several moments, gaze upon the canopy.
She finally casts me a glare.
“Get it together.”
“Yes ma’am,” I squeak.
Rubia purses her lips uncomfortably. “You should learn to run, and learn to dodge. That is how to stay free, Amadeus. I don’t know why you haven’t had to do it until now, but you need to learn.”
Rubia softens. “Now. Tell me more of what this is all about.”
I sit down, crossing my legs, and sigh deeply.
“I don’t know what’s left of me.”
“I felt so corrupt and wrong for my entire life, almost without ever noticing it. Every day was another painful, terrifying adventure deeper into shadows that never felt right. I’m glad all that is gone from my world, but… now there’s nothing left.”
Rubia’s expression deepens with worry. “Amadeus…” She reaches out to me. A crash of thunder comes from overhead.
I jerk back. “Don’t touch me!”
Rubia winces. I feel pain – guilt, even – at seeing her regress. And slowly, apologetically, I undo it. I hug her.
I’m done running from the good.
She pats me on the back a few times. I begin to tremble. “I can start anew. But I don’t know where.”
“You do have something left. You love books and the rain. You have your own experience from Benjai’s world, different than from the experiences of the rest of us. You have your own personality, own self – own life. You aren’t a blank slate. You can build on who you are now.”
“Okay… Thank you.” I get to my feet. Rubia is soft, but also tough. I think I needed both.
The thunder comes again, but it is welcome. As the rain hits me, hard, soaking my feathers and sloshing down my skin, I feel renewed. Rubia cracks a smile, shivering, pulling her shawl close about herself again. And as she leads the way back out into the rain, I ask,
“You don’t want to lose me, do you?”
“No. I don’t want you to be lost.
Rubia goes on.
“Maybe you’ll travel. Maybe you’ll change. Maybe you’ll go to places where people are lost. But you don’t have to be lost.”
“I was lost for most of my life.”
“Yeah? Me too. I thought that the only paths in life were to hone myself. Turns out I was wrong. While those paths were very good journeys, I shouldn’t have made them a lifestyle. When you chase yourself off too many ways, others will never find you. And when I tried to chase others… it was late. They treated me as an outcast.”
Rubia always struck me as perfect. Confident. Social. In Benjai’s glass forest, Rubia was the first one who noticed me. Not the first to see me, but the first to understand that I was there. She was the one to realize I was a person somewhere down inside. That I needed help. Not the dark glory I once sought, but gentle attention. She gave me that feeling that I wasn’t alone, even before Dromiay did.
“I’ve turned it around.” She takes a deep breath. “But only just. And only after some divine intervention. I’ve found a different sort of company than the one I strived for. I am happy, but I want things to be different for you. You have all the time in the world to turn this around. You can live a better life.”
“…Not without Dromiay.”
“Why not? How could I possibly just leave her behind like she never existed?”
“Not like she never existed. Like she doesn’t exist anymore outside of our memories, and whatever unreachable utopia her soul has gone to.”
In sadness and in anger, I hang my head. “But she redeemed me. Without her, I’ll… I’ll just become what I used to be. A shell that was never full. I’m hopeless.”
“No, you’re not.” Rubia shakes my shoulder. “Dromiay helped you redeem YOURSELF.”
The wind howls above us, an even more torrential rain breaking. I stare up at the sky, sobbing, my tears mixing with the rain on my face until I can’t tell which is which. My mind feels clammy, hurt and suddenly opening up again as I recall the blows I’ve taken from Rubia just now. And the Creator before her, back when she accepted me as a son, even though I was unwanted.
And Cerulean, that day he offered to shake my hand but I refused, and tried to go through with my plan.
And Faith, as she shivered out on the tundra and nearly redeemed me by words alone, though we dared not to touch each other.
They forced me to realize my corruption. And they stayed by my side to heal me of it. Dromiay had performed the final cleansing blow. But her death didn’t mean I had to reverse the changes she made in me. In fact, she’d want quite the opposite.
Rubia’s fierce gaze turns away from the rising storm and back to me. “Enough of this, Amadeus. You’re going to come home. Because it IS home, and it IS YOURS.”
She’s right. It does feel like my home. I come to the overwhelming realization that I am not a pitiable artifact, but somebody who can exist with others. I’m not a leftover. I’m not a ghost.
Rubia leans in to me. “I will help you find hobbies. I will make you make friends. I will teach you to run, because that Hunter saw you. I will make you eat something – honestly, half your problems wouldn’t have happened if you had a few good bowls of soup as a kid.”
“Will those help me become…” I trail off, searching for what I mean to say. And then, suddenly: “Like you. I want to be like you.”
“What? No. I want you to be a person better than me. Somebody with the world at their feet, and not nearly as many years wasted.”
“Better than you? How? You’re kind. You’re clever. You’ve mastered an actual art – not like I mastered my dark magic. I could never be—“
“Why not? You have more time and help than I did.”
“I can’t imagine you needing help.”
“Amadeus, I needed more help than you can imagine.”
Of all Cerulean’s connections that I’d known about from the start, Rubia was the one person whose secrets I never sought for myself. She seemed resolved. She seemed shallow. She seemed to be Cerulean’s caretaker. Nothing more. Yet she’s surprised me the most. She’s helped me the most.
And now, she’s peeling back the outer layer – the serpentine voice, the nurturing demeanor, the sly but warm remarks on life – and showing me that she’s been through every little thing I have.
“Promise me you never define yourself by just one thing ever again. Not magic, not Dromiay, not a lack of Dromiay. You don’t have to stay up late at night. You don’t have to become somebody by proving yourself. That’s not what it is to be human. Humanity won’t happen until you move on from this.” Rubia stares deep into my eyes. “You can move on. You can be human.”
“I… I will be.” My own voice suddenly sounds grounded in reality. It feels awkward and thick. But it’s like it’s finally my own. “Yeah, I think I can do that.”
Rubia suddenly takes off her shawl and flings it towards me. I flinch as it flies over my face, spitting a little of it out of my mouth as Rubia grabs it and adjusts the corners.
“You’re coming home.”