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Specter of a Shepherd

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Everything was wrong. From the bleak, fuzzy colors in his peripheral vision, to the stiffness of his ‘friends’, and above all else, those lackluster violet eyes. How Sorey had been fooled in the first place warranted some credit on the dark Seraph’s skill, but her endurance couldn’t keep the facade alive.

No matter how fake everything now appeared, the illusion remained. When things shifted, hardly more than an inch, but nonetheless noticeable, Sorey became convinced this would be like a dream, where death meant waking up.

Sorey’s fingers curled around his sword. How sure of this was he? What were the odds she had created a large scale illusion around him? No, this large of an area, this many components would be impossible for any seraph to maintain.

Effortlessly, he drew his weapon, spun it around and plunged it into his chest.

Screams echoed around him before he felt the smallest sting of pain. He yanked his sword out before he collapsed.

“Sorey what the hell!” Mikleo was at his side. No illusion could ever mimic the sparkle of those eyes, and he couldn’t believe he’d fallen for such a weak imitation.

“Sorry…” Sorey mumbled as he brushed a knuckle against Mikleo’s cheek. Mikleo didn’t meet his gaze, instead fixated on where his hands were. Frantic mutters flew past Mikleo’s lips. His hands never stopping for long, and pushed more and more mana into Sorey, but still the crimson pool around them grew.

“I can’t… it won’t stop.” Mikleo choked. Guilt glossed over his eyes. He’d always taken care of Sorey’s injuries, but now… his senses faded.

“Lailah, please.”

She didn’t need anymore than a glance before placing a hand on Mikleo’s shoulder. Even for a seraph as skilled as she, these wounds were grave.

Mikleo sat back, blood stained his pants all the more. With each breath, Sorey’s chest heaved. Color drained from him with each passing second.

Everyone was allowing it to happen.

No one was even trying.

Mikleo couldn’t take it anymore.

He slumped against Sorey’s chest, arms around Sorey’s neck. Mikleo hadn’t a chance to voice his request before he heard the whispered fragments of his true name, and he melted into Sorey. His mana swelled and rushed to fill the gaps his vessel couldn’t, and Mikleo’s willpower alone held their armatus together.

Their vision was bleak and blurred. What once was a strong, powerful, and commanding heartbeat, was now as quiet as a single raindrop. From here though, Mikleo could tell how severe the injuries were. They gasped together, felt the tears streak down their face, and curled their arms around their torso.

This pain would be unbearable alone, but with Mikleo here, cradling him, it all became a little easier. Sorey’s gratitude floated between their connection. Mikleo started to relax, but there was something deeper, like a thick sludge tainting their mana.

“Sorey… no. Sorey!” Mikleo cried aloud, seizing control of their body. Thank you…Mikleo…

In a single moment, he felt lighter, physically at least, mentally however, Mikleo was screaming, yet not a sound left his lips. Emptiness was all he could feel. As if everything he’d ever had, everything that had made Mikleo himself was gone.

“You idiot… you never needed to…” he bit his lip as he curled into himself.

He’d always known he’d outlive Sorey. He spent every day preparing for the curse of humanity to rip his one and only from him. But this?

His heels dug into the dirt. No, this wasn’t him, this was him . Mikleo brought his trembling hands out, curled and stretched each finger. Tears cascaded down, as he buried his face in his hands. Touch felt foreign. He knew how these fingers felt, but not like this. They lacked that familiar warmth.

Mikleo had never felt colder, never more alone.

“Sorey? Mikleo?” Lailah called out. Mikleo curled even more into himself. No one had noticed. Singular thoughts, no longer in harmony.

“It’s… only me.” He clamped his eyes shut. Every spoken word still had his voice. Mikleo felt every motion of his chest as he sighed.

“Yeah okay guys, now’s not the time for gags.” Rose snapped. That had been enough to bring him to his feet and to finally stare out at the party.

“You seriously think I’d joke about this?” Somewhere behind him, that long ponytail swayed around him. Sorey had always noticed that sensation. Mikleo would always be the one to plant their feet down. Every movement of their arms had always been together.

One by one, everyone exchanged glances with each other before looking back to him. They were waiting. Confused, but waiting. He spun on a heel and clutched an elbow. The sky had never looked so blue to him before. Hesitantly, Mikleo touched a finger over the left side of his chest.

“I… I failed. I couldn’t protect him.” Tears ran anew while he swallowed each heavy sob.

“What exactly do you mean?” Lailah asked. Mikleo thought about facing them, but even though they wouldn’t be looking at him, that only made it harder. Nonetheless, Mikleo took a deep breath and gazed at them past his blurry vision. Momentarily, he wondered how his eyes looked to them.

“My mana is the only thing keeping this here.” He touched his chest once more. “There’s no heartbeat.”

“Woah, woah hold up.” Zaveid waved his hands as he took steps closer to Mikleo. “You’re telling me Sheps isn’t there. That it’s just you Mikky boy?”

“Don’t make me say it. Please.” Mikleo wished he’d been able to say that in his own voice.

“Lailah. That can’t be possible can it?” Edna asked.

“Well I can’t say I’ve ever heard of any occurrences. However, I can assure you that is only Mikleo.”

“Wouldn’t everyone hellionize then?” Rose asked.

“In extreme situations, the Shepherd’s power can be transferred to a Squire.”

Mikleo had heard enough. He understood where Lailah was headed. He only got a few steps before Zaveid caught him by the wrist.

“Hold up there. Where do you think you’re going?”

“I won’t be your liability either.” Mikleo pulled his hand away. He had Sorey’s strength, and his own mana.

“You can’t keep holding him like this!” Rose yelled, but Mikleo was already walking. With a quick wave of his left hand, he’d cloaked himself. Without any pacts between them, he would only be found when he wanted to be.


 

Malevolence often festered deep underground, and often kept ancient ruins unexplored. For a being that was neither pure nor hellion, places like these were a rare solace. Seraphim couldn’t find you and any hellions were mindless.

This particular ruin had become a favorite of Mikleo’s over the years. Exactly how much time had passed, he couldn’t guess anymore. He was grateful that Sorey’s body remained unfazed, and that his memories of Sorey hadn’t faded either.

He made his way down long narrow hallways, now flooded with black water that made traversing them impossible. Unless you could control the flow.

Mikleo had learned each and every hole that water could fill. Even in his sleep he could force the ebb and flow of the water until it was no more than two feet deep, which he simply walked over. At least he used to.

With each passing year, his power grew weaker, the very mana in him lessened. He ignored it at first, but in recent times he couldn’t. While his vessel remained pure, he was generating Malevolence. It manifested in a strange aura around him, and acted like a magnet for even more.

The analytical part of him knew he should finally let go, but it was evident that the moment he stepped outside this body, he would hellionize at best. Beyond that, Mikleo still couldn’t bear the thought of letting go of feeling Sorey like this. Everything in him clung to this, knowing that if he did let go it would be gone forever. That the memories would fade.

He stopped abruptly, one hand bracing against the wall. His breath came in heavy pants. Something deep in his stomach twisted, and a wave of dread flooded him. Warmth boiled in his veins. Heat flashes happened on occasion, but not like this. This was…

“Mikleo…” he jumped. His voice had been the only thing in his ears for decades. As he turned on a heel, he met the sharp gaze of turquoise eyes.

“You shouldn’t be here Lailah.” He snapped. If she was here, had found him, his power truly was weakening.

“We weren’t able to purify Maotelus.” Lailah’s hands came over her stomach and she looked at the water lapping at her ankles. “There’s been too much Malevolence. Zaveid’s been scouring for the strongest sources. And that’s how we found you.” Her words were strange at first. Mikleo brushed them off, not understanding why she was bothering to tell him this or why she had hunted him down.

And then it hit.

“I can’t. I can’t let go of him.” He hadn’t cried since Sorey’s death.

“Grief is difficult. I know you’re worried about hellionizing the moment you leave. That’s why I’m here though.”

“Heh, you really think you can keep me pure? From all of this?” Mikleo motioned around them.

“A lot of time has passed. We all have grown stronger. I’ve been preparing myself to shoulder this burden.” She took a slow step closer to him, and reached a hand out, but Mikleo jerked back.

“Mikleo… I didn’t want to say this, but you do realize you’re keeping him from being reborn?” Lailah’s head and hand sank. Mikleo’s heel clicked against the water and his hair whipped around him. He was a moment away from shouting, and then it all vanished.

Seraphic rebirths were refashioning the very essence of a person, rewriting them into a being of mana. Even a human body held mana, as minor as it may be. If the Great Lords didn’t have access to that mana…

He fell to his knees. Threads inside him snapped one by one. Soon he felt even more empty and alone than ever. Lailah’s hand was on his shoulder, she knelt in front of him, and he collapsed against her chest.

Over a century’s worth of repressed sobs and tears emptied themselves from the deepest parts of his chest. He clung to her as tightly as his remaining strength allowed. Malevolence gnawed at his skin, but there was a glow around them, a white light and a silver flame. He knew what was happening, although he wouldn’t tear his head away from Lailah’s chest. He couldn’t let that be his last memory of Sorey.

Once the lights faded, and his tears had dried up, his fingers laced between Lailah’s as she burned all the Malevolence around them while they exited the ruin.

Mikleo had forgotten how much sunlight felt like Sorey’s fingers on his skin. How much the grass matched his eyes. Every memory of Sorey’s body remained, but when the wind blew by, Mikleo couldn’t remember the sound of Sorey’s laughter.