Chapter 1: The grey dawn of the last hope
The sea is restless today.
Icy waves lick relentlessly over impassive, mossy stones and as they are thrown around by the ever-shifting current, the small pebbles thrum a never changing rhythm.
Something akin to a heart beat.
But he doesn't listen to it any more, has closed his ears off against waves and wind, ravens and rain – the voices they carry only taunt his dwindling soul.
Thus he simply sits and waits.
What for, he only remembers in dreams, when warmth caresses his skin and a second pulse beats steadily against his own. He always wakes with a strange pressure behind his lids and somehow drops of the ever present sea-water around him seem to have found a way onto his cheeks. He deems this mildly peculiar, but doesn't dwell on it, for the thought quickly dissolves in the salty air that presses against his body.
The concept of tears has been lost on him long ago.
And besides: a lot of strange things occur on this island.
The sea is restless today.
And it has been restless the day before.
Two meaningless nights ago he'd woken to the sound of wood groaning and men screaming, and as he'd darted to the grey, forgotten shore, there'd been a ship in the gruesome grasp of the crashing waves that cut the forsaken land off from the world.
The waters seemed hungry that night, had stamped and screeched as they reached for the boat and the hopes and hearts it carried.
The planks moaned under the strain, splintered and burst, as wave upon wave licked at them, until suddenly a thunder bolt split the sky and the ship was gone.
A chorus of cries arose from the open waters; life-lights refusing to wane, hearts not yet willing to still, and thus the doomed ones yelled for help and swam; clung to lumber and prayed.
The voices faded one by one and in the morning the colourless, bled out beach had been littered with bloodied flotsam; some still shivering in the cold clasp of eternity, some even wandering around – but their eyes were already broken, flesh and limbs devoid of soul yet still struggling on. Where to? What for?
Questions like these soon cease to exist beneath the endless grey sky and the salt that starts nesting in their hair.
Another round of hollows to roam the decaying grounds that even the gods have forsaken.
Now, after two dull sunrises, almost all of the staggering, swaying creatures have ventured from the shivering shore, have disappeared in the all-encompassing mist, to carry on with a quest that might have never been theirs to begin with.
He doesn't mind them, and the blank-eyed figures don't spare him a second glance, for he is a part of the island; as trapped and lost and forgotten as they are, so they have no use for him.
As far as he knows, no one ever has.
Sometimes he likes to think, that he'd once had a quest of his own, a reason to draw breath, a small flame flickering in his chest.
Sometimes he dreams about a ship and a princess and then he almost remembers why he'd ended up here and if his existence ever had meaning.
Maybe whoever's heart beat was ghosting through his dreams might have given him purpose, but then again: what does it matter now?
He lets his eyes stray aimlessly over the sea, knees drawn to his chest, and simply looks out. What for he doesn't know, but an inner voice had called him here ever since the ship sank, and he'd learned quickly to listen to its orders – it had kept him alive so far.
But today as well, nothing unusual meets his tired eyes – only shells littering the shore.
Those of clamps and those of men; a washed up pot-pourri of all the things empty and cast away.
All those things useless and unwanted. Just like himself.
He shakes his head wearily, looks out at the ocean again, when he sees a small speck of colour being carried by the waves.
It's a deep, rich red; the colour of royalty, valour, blood and heart, and after a moment he can define it as the robes of a figure clinging to a log of wood, as it gets flung this way and that by the currents.
With bored eyes he watches the form getting thrown against the sharp, rough rocks that make up the shore-line, and for a second he thinks he can make out wet strands of deep black clinging to pale, pale skin, before the motionless form hits the beach hard.
As he'd expected, it doesn't move; robes floating in the shallow waters, but he's sure that soon enough it will start twitching in undeath.
And indeed, after watching it lie for half an hour, the stiff, battered limbs of the creature start stirring and it starts coughing violently, as it spits water and foam.
Something has him snap out of his bleak revery at the sound and before he knows it, he finds himself already running down the slick steps to the beach.
The hollow vessels never coughed. Why would they? They had no need for breath.
So this hooded, drenched and drowned form hacking miserably on the cold, uncaring shore was yet to die for the first time; was still drawing breath and it was fighting for its life with a vehemence that made something deep in his heart spark.
He staggers over mossy, salt-caked pebbles, even slips a few times and sharp shards break his skin, but he hurries on; suddenly afraid he'll find the figure lifeless and cold and his mind gone a bit further, but when he finally falls to his knees next to the wheezing thing, he can tell, that it is alive.
He reaches for a quivering shoulder and rolls the curious piece of flotsam on its back, thus revealing that it is a man in his twenties, who's gasping for air with wet, gurgling noises flowing over his blueish, panting lips, while wide, clouded eyes search for something familiar to cling to.
He stalls dead in his tracks when locking gaze with the other, for he remembers eyes of this specific colour – a deep, intriguing red – even if the where and when is lost in the nothingness veiling the realm of ceaselessly whispering salt.
But the silent contact only lasts a second, for the heavy, dark lids, fluttering like tiny, black birds, slide shut and the stranger's body goes limp; stuttering breath dying on his parted lips.
He'd seen a handful of nameless men and women whisper their last words into the stale, leaden air of the forgotten shore, some of them clinging to his hands, some of them refusing to let their eyes stray from his face until they finally broke and it had never meant anything to him.
He'd seen the light leave their eyes and heart beats still beneath his fingers, but by the time the first living thing from the outside-world had found its way onto the land beyond the veil of mist, he'd already been too far gone to bring himself to care.
But today every last little voice inside of his head and heart – they're many by now, and they've never agreed on anything – urges him to 'Not let this man die!'
It seems as if something hidden deep down his very core is humming and buzzing erraticly; the sensation alien in its vehemence after such a long plain time of nothingness- and it's only with delay that he can name the emotions welling up in his guts:
It's fear and concern, but also gratitude and... something too soft and warm to belong to a place like this.
The fear, however, is a thing he knows; a thing he recognizes and it's the only one he can actually do something about.
With firm hands he compresses the silent, unmoving chest again and again, until the stranger coughs up an enormous gush of water and opens his eyes once again.
He's blinking rapidly, a soft whine leaving his cracked lips, as he desperately tries to make out his surroundings; confused, frightened and dim, before his darting gaze finds the face hovering above him and the wine-red eyes lighten up in disbelieve while the forcefully restored breath is snatched away once again.
A trembling hand – weak, so incredibly weak, and yet oh so very determined – reaches out to cradle the other's cheek.
The motion is incredulous, almost as if he was certain that the bubble would burst and he'd find himself alone at the salt-covered shore, but the sudden warmth of skin on skin tells both of them that this was as real as anything could get, here in the realm of wraiths and waves.
The stranger still looks at his face; awestruck and unmoving, before he whispers hoarsely:
“Sting?” and his voice is as small and broken as his body; a raw, brittle sound that seems so insignificant as the wind attempts to scatter it in the endless skies.
And yet, the small negligible syllable that is almost drowned by the ceaseless pulse of the shoreline causes something in his heart of hearts to click back into place.
Meaningless and profane as it might be, the short, slurred noise is the stranger's unimaginably precious gift.
It is his name.
And with this realisation the grey veil of oblivion that had clouded his mind for god knows how long thins and rips – it doesn't lift, nor does it dissolve, but there are some holes where only white noise used to dwell and it conjures a handful of memories.
Memories of warm red eyes, an afternoon bathed in golden sun, a dragon made of the fairest light, a strange sensation of belonging and affection – and a name.
So he grabs the shivering, lifeless fingers as gently as he still can, before breathing a tuneless, choked:
The stranger's eyes glow like embers when the faintest of smiles grazes his features, the sight unsettling and wrong, what with the still ashen hue of his skin and the purplish, bloody lips, but Sting sees beyond it.
Takes in the open, overwhelming gentleness in his gaze and simply squeezes his hand, unable to speak, unable to feel or think or touch.
The man, however, only coughs:
“I finally found you!”
Before unconsciousness claims him and his head sinks limply against Sting's hands, soft puffs of air warming his palms.
And even though his flesh is bruised and beaten, the tiny, tired smile clings adamantly to his lips and something inside of Sting's chest comes back to life.
Chapter 2: Embers
A spark in the night, a glitter of gold...
Petrified in beauty and despair, Sting trembles, while his resolve crumbles to specks of shimmering light,
discarded by an impassive wind.
An while his destiny approaches, a small candle flickers and wanes.
Hey there, folks, and welcome back to: "TGA has no idea, whether she's gonna continue this or not..."
But since I'm still being captivated by the game and its melancholic, pensive and morbid atmosphere I couldn't help myselft and had to add another Chapter.
The Bronze Knight is an opponent that appears mostly in the starting area of the game and it just gives you hell, for its attacks are quite far ranged and you have to do some serious damage to take it down...
Which isn't that easy...
The mentioned deity of "Devara" is a goddess of light and recovery, so, even though every sanctuary may heal you up upon entrance, it's still her, who's got the most powerful recovery magic...
Now,that's enough fan-girl rambling... enjoy Chapter II of: "TGA throws her OTP into scenarios, they've got nothing to do with..."
That night Sting dreams once again of warmth and steady breaths wafting over his touch-starved skin and for once the shivers coursing through his body don't stem from the unforgiving cold, but from a strong sensation of completion, affection and trust.
The reminiscence of soft lips trailing over his benumbed face with abandon is still etched into his flesh, while the mere imagination of someone actually reaching out for him, someone willing to caress a filthy piece of cast-away motley such as himself feels alien and wasteful.
And yet he clings to the fading illusion, holds on to the waning dream, until even the last little threads have slipped through his fingers and he is once again left with nothing more but the cold isolation made up from salt-heavy winds and never resting waves.
But tonight the sensation of closeness doesn't wane once that he's woken...
Tonight the feeling of an all-encompassing completion and safety is accompanied by soft puffs of air that ghost over his chilled skin; and the distant heartbeat that had been thrumming against his chest is still there; a steady thud-thump counterbalancing the ceaseless stomping of the sea outside.
For a second he's certain, that finally one of the far-away gods that had turned their backs on the island - forgotten at the edge of this cursed world - has listened to his mirthless, cruel prayers and made his heart stop its fruitless endeavours in his sleep...
And thus he desperately hopes for the the dark womb of intimate, overwhelming gentleness to be, indeed, the afterlife.
That is, before something akin to a raven-feather tickles his cheek and his flickering gaze finds a mop of pitch-back hair nestled against his shoulder.
The stranger – no, he stops himself- no stranger... Rogue...
Someone dear and familiar, someone who had actually ventured out to search for him, someone who had given him back his name and a purpose to draw breath...
Rogue lies curled up against his chest; must have moved closer at some point during the night; maybe in an unconscious pursuit of warmth or maybe because his body remembers something Sting's mind and flesh have long forgotten.
The dark haired man is still unconscious, hasn't woken for hours and his exhausted, hypothermic figure shivers miserably in the draughty cave that Sting calls his sanctuary.
And even though Rogue's laboured breathing had eased and the bleeding cuts littering his flesh had knitted back together, the moment Devara's divine water had trickled past his cracked lips; he is still more dead than alive.
All the while the merciless, icy winds and wraiths of the island keep reaching for the dim, stuttering flame with cold, relentless fingers...
Pressed up against him as he sleeps, Rogue's features seem unstrung, peaceful and so very vulnerable, that something nameless stirs deep down Sting's heart.
Without even thinking, he wraps his arms around the shivering form, and when he almost wants to marvel at how neatly the other's body fit against his chest, a violent flashback races throughout his being, leaving him with tingling lips and the bone-deep sensation of finally coming home etched into his very core.
He presses a small, gentle, probing kiss to the pitch black strands, fastening his hold, while he starts rubbing Rogue's arms fiercely.
But then, however, a small, choked whisper tumbles over the parchment-dry, cracked lips:
“Cold...” and suddenly the shaking body in his arms goes limp; too exhausted to keep on shivering, too weak to stay warm; all the while the pale forehead pressed up against Sting's neck seems to burn up with fever.
Realisation hits him like a rock...
If he didn't find means to keep the broken, lifeless figure warm, he would lose him, as quickly and volatile, as fate had flung him back into his life.
And even without really knowing what exactly this thrumming, albeit invisible, alluring and intimidatingly powerful bond was, that unmistakably tied them together, he jumps to his feet in sudden urgency; despair heavy in his veins and concern grinding deep down in his guts.
He stokes the fire using the last logs he has left - results of tedious, demanding work, where he'd haul every wooden piece of flotsam he could lay his hands on back up the steep, slippery shore, to have it dry in a world of constant mist and rain – and carefully drapes the only thin blanket he calls his own, around Rogue's limp body.
Then he grabs a pouch stuffed to the brim with a random assortment of supplies and what meagre amount of currency he'd managed to loot, before attaching a razor-sharp dagger and a couple of bright red vials, to his waist.
Thusly prepared he heads out into the darkness, urged on by the unbearable need to safe the shivering, flickering life-light back in the sanctuary and with it the last remaining embers of his humanity.
The night curls around him, greedy and eager like a lover, and he melts into its embrace, as he moves with swift, soundless steps, almost a shadow himself, and even though the thought seems oddly wrong to him, he can't shake the feeling of familiarity, as if he'd been shielded by blackness before; once – at a time beyond the veil of oblivion.
There's no moon to lighten his path and in the salt-heavy air hangs a foul stench of moulder and decay, while the steep slope leading away from the shore, towards the withering ruins of a once proud fort seems to be crawling with hollows.
In the pitch black nothingness they're little more than slow, staggering shades, but almost all of them still cling to the blades their hands had wielded, once upon a time, when their flesh had still been warm and thrumming with life.
Now the only thing that courses through their veins is a mindless hunger for hot, salty blood and the urge to protect something that had never even been theirs to begin with.
The creatures usually don't bother with the few living inhabitants of the island; maybe because their beating hearts are almost as dead and tired as the cold, still lumps of rotting flesh hanging in their own ragged rib-cages; but right now Sting isn't only an impassive onlooker, a silent form awaiting the day his body would finally give up struggling and turn to salt.
Tonight, Sting is an intruder in their territory, a predator, driven by a solid purpose and a strong will to live, so his stubbornly thundering pulse seems to lure them in like moths drawn to a flame.
And even though they're many, some heavily armoured, some logging great-swords and battle-axes around, they all fall prey to the small, silvery dagger – its deadly glitter the last thing broken eyes would ever see in their accursed, hollow, not-quite-life, before eternity finally claimed their soulless flesh and death could reap whatever paltry remains had wandered the god-forsaken grounds at the end of the world.
Sting moves through the darkness determined and swift, mindful not to lose his path, for the thick mists could be deceiving;
could lead a careless wanderer to a cliff shrouded in fog or into the fangs of a creature much more dangerous and vile than the pathetic, stumbling undead flotsam loitering the beach.
But he's got to find her.
Of course he's not the only living thing stuck and forgotten in the realm of whispering salt
- there are other's strewn randomly all over the island – each of them crooked and distorted by their fate and the odd powers ruling this lands, and even though most of them aren't specifically hostile against one another, for some reason all of them rather keep to themselves, only help one another out, when something is to gain from the deal.
The withered hag he is currently looking for is one of the oldest prisoners of the isle, and even though her mouth is toothless save for one black stump, her skin wrinkled and discoloured and her hair thinned out, she adamantly claims to be a princess, who had once been sent off by her father to marry a foreign emperor to form an alliance and finally bring peace to their war-ridden lands.
But a storm had seized the ship and she woke between corpses on a beach shrouded in mist.
Sting doesn't know if the story is true, but what does it matter, anyway?
For her this is the life she'd been ripped away from, the memories still left, and he couldn't care less about royalty, origin and birth...
The only thing that matters right now, is that the crazy old witch keeps a flock of sheep, and therefore has woollen blankets and clothing for sale.
It would cost him dearly, he's well aware of that, for not only does Granny demand to be addressed and treated as royalty, she also has the hang of throwing people out of her shag quite volatile and violently, thus he is already prepared to sweet-talk and flatter her as much as he's still capable of.
She really takes an arm and a leg... And all the cajoling doesn't help shit, for the damn hag is a cunning, clever thing and she can smell fear and despair from a mile.
One look at Sting's face is all that it takes for her to know, that she could name just about any price for the thick, sufficiently soft blankets and he'd pay up, for he's impatient and concerned and more agitated than any other visitor in her poor hut has ever been.
Even though she's taken a hefty bite out of his supplies, has gone for the direly concocted health potions, wound dressings and remedies he'd scraped together or crafted himself from scrap, he couldn't be more thankful for the warm fabric now weighing comfortingly heavy on his shoulders.
He'd headed back into the night without a single word of good-bye, and by the time he'd set foot outside of her door, the crone had already turned back to gobbling down her bland, tasteless dinner.
So he wanders the night again, but this time his haste makes him reckless.
This time the scurrying in the darkness doesn't stem from one of the mindless shells wandering the lands, this time the sound of footsteps is accompanied by the ominous clanging of heavy armour and a humongous weapon scraping over the ground.
Sting only recognizes the approaching threat for what it is, when it is almost too late; namely when a ray of starlight suddenly sparks angry red in the blackness beyond, as it meets a polished copper breast plate and the deadly blade of a pike-axe that comes crushing down.
It's only his quick reflexes, that save him in the very last moment from a fatal blow, but the tip still grazes his shoulder and salty, hot blood starts trickling down his arm.
The silhouette slowly emerging from the shadows is humongous, to say the least, and the meagre light from the wide, impassive heavens paints sharp, unforgiving contours onto heavy, brazen plates covering the stomping form from head to toe.
Sting's luck seems to have run out...
He should have known, that whatever sadistic, cruel entity was to rule over this godforsaken rock of unholiness and undeath, wouldn't allow him to intrude into his tainted darkness unpunished, let alone for vain reasons such as compassion and love.
Sting would never remember that in this second he'd called the desperation rising in his chest, the ache, the longing, the unfamiliar, almost eradicated warmth just that; but it is nothing but the truth. Right at this very moment, it is nothing but raging, unrivalled love, that drives him... and this is a feeling the disembodied Master of the island just would not permit.
Thus it had send one of the countless champions at its disposal...
The mindless remains of a once proud knight, now forever trapped inside of his ever walking, ever killing suit of brazen armour...
An armour that had probably dragged him to his watery grave, only to rise from the floods again when wicked, warped magic breathed second life into the cold, impassive metal, to have it at its utter will and command; while the decaying flesh of a once virtuous man was forever entombed within the mindless cage of soulless steel.
Sting had only crossed paths and blades with one of those Bronze Knights once and the encounter had left him with a rough, purplish scar running all across his chest and the almost too realistic sensation of his heartbeat stilling and his body crumbling to dust.
He'd woken in the sanctuary with his wounds dressed and almost healed up, but without a recollection of how, exactly, he'd gotten there.
While - unbeknownst and unnoticed - another part of the memories of his previous life had been snuffed out...
So, knowing fully well, that his puny dagger was no match against an almost impenetrable suit of walking plate armour, he immediately tries to make use of the one advantage he has in this unfair fight...
He darts past the creature with unpredictable agility and speed, a quick roll manoeuvring him out of the reach of the deadly pike, and he's already breathing an inaudible sigh of relief, when suddenly something crushes his shin with a never-known force.
The blonde crashes into the ground hard, black dots dancing in front of his eyes, and the white-hot pain that sears through his leg is sheer unbearable.
The only thing that he manages, is to hoist himself up to stand on unstable, shaking limbs, as he leans heavily against a crumbling wall and watches his oncoming doom with wide, darting eyes.
In this very moment of seemingly endless, mind-robbing fear, a burning, consuming will and need to survive ignites in his blood, surges through his veins and sings in his ears, while a veil of deep, intriguing red descended onto his vision.
And after that everything happens if a flash...
Sting's fumbling fingers find the rough earthen pot fastened to his belt in the same second the heavily stomping figure emerges from the shadows and when he pours the thick, oily liquid onto his dagger, flames erupt around the blade in an all-encompassing, passionate halo of righteous, burning anger.
It's the only chance he has left.
He is well aware, that he can't run any more, what with the splinters of his shin-bone breaking through his skin in cascades of heart-blood and pain, but he also knows, that a weak, flickering candle back at the sanctuary needs him to return, needs him to survive.
He wouldn't have cared, had it not been this very special soul; but feeling Rogue's heart beat against his chest had awakened something, he'd long since deemed dead and buried.
And now, that his own heart had become so much more than a simple muscle pumping blood through his veins, he realizes, that this man must have been the most precious, most beloved thing he had ever called his own in this mist-covered, stolen life beyond the shores of salt.
So, when he can already see the nauseatingly beautiful glistering of the halberd's blade as it rushes towards his head, he flings the vessel with the remaining oil right at his pursuer's head, allowing a small film to build around the hollow, empty slivers it has for eyes, before he pushes himself off the wall with every ounce of strength he has left in his not-injured leg, and drives the flaring blade right into the opening.
The knight shakes him off easily, and when he gets flung against a massive tree, he almost feels his mind fleeing into the black abyss of unconsciousness from the raging, red searing pain that runs through his leg, but then he feels the vibration of something heavy hitting the ground hard traversing throughout his body.
In the next moment, the heavy knight had sunken down to his knee; hands clutching the crown-adorned helmet, as keen, greedy flames wrap around it, and it screeches in agony.
Still down on the cold, uncaring floor, Sting realizes, that this was going to be the only opening, Devara would grant him, so despite the sickening crunch and the bone-deep agony shooting throughout his whole being, he still launches himself forward and buries his dagger once again in the armour's first crack he could get to, only to be thrown off once again.
And this time his head connects forcefully with a crude wall, leaving him with ringing ears and darkness descending upon his broken form.
At least I got to see him once more...
That's the last conscious thought running through his head like the dying spark of a bonfire.
Then there's nothing and Sting lets go.
Chapter 3: In the cold light of mourning
As your skin starts to scratch and wave yesterday's action goodbye....
Forget past indiscretions
And stolen possessions
Staring back from the mirror's a face that you don't recognize...
Placebo, In the cold light of morning
He everyone and welcome back to: TGA has no idea what the heck she's doing with this story...
But since I got some awesome, sweet support, feedback and betaing (Yes, I'm looking at you, "newgt", "dreaming_of_fairies" and "BecauseSin" :-) ) I decided to add yet another chapter.
This one's angsty as fuck, but it gives a first idea of what Sting is truly capable of and what Rogue is to him.
So enjoy pt. 3 of Who the hell even knows "Salt&Sanctuary" ?????
Thanks for reading! Take care,
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sting claws his way out of the oppressive, suffocating darkness surrounding him, and the world almost immediately explodes into searing hot, merciless agony.
Every last fibre of his beaten body seems to be on fire, while his leg is barely more than a throbbing, bloody pulp made of raw flesh and splintered bone, and the sharp twinge coursing through the mauled limb very nearly sends him back into the pitch black void of unconsciousness.
Then, however, he remembers Rogue’s heart-beat fluttering against his chest, Rogue’s feverish forehead pressed up against his neck, Rogue’s weak body shivering in his arms… And all the excruciating, unforgiving pain suddenly gives way to a mind-robbing, all-encompassing fear.
He can’t tell for how long he’d been out cold, but the moon hangs concerningly low and ominously crimson in the night-sky; its dying light bleeding out over the fog-shrouded landscape in cascades of scarlet and black, while a stinging scent of copper and decay stabs his nose with metallic, lifeless cold.
For a short-lived moment of unaltered panic his head snaps up and his dazed eyes dart around, certain to find the Bronze Knight looming over him, the razor-sharp edge of his great-sword the last thing he’d ever see in this accursed, hopeless life of his, but where the creature had sunken to its knees only a copious pile of a fine-grained, white powder remains.
Stings eyes widen at once and his mouth goes dry with anticipation….
If he was to offer this much salt at the altar of Devara’s sanctuary, he’s almost certain, it would be enough to heal both him and Rogue completely, so he scrambles closer arduously to shove the unexpected loot into a well-hidden leather satchel attached to the inner seem of his vest.
He’s already turning away – the pouch now hanging comfortingly heavy from his belt – as a wayward ray of starlight gets caught on shiny metal and when Sting reaches for the small glittering object, his searching fingers retrieve a ring adorned with a crudely cut triangular rune.
Even though it feels cold to the touch and dew covers its surface, there’s an undeniably curious energy humming through the thin silver band, and as soon as it has slipped over Sting’s finger the pain in his leg lessens just enough for him to stagger to his feet.
He downs one of the red vials fastened at his hip – the bitter, coppery taste making him shudder – before tying two straight, sturdy sticks to his injured shin as a makeshift splint.
“Hang in there, Rogue… I’m coming…” he mumbles with a sharp hiss of pain upon putting weight onto the broken limb, but all the agony in this world couldn’t match the despair and ache of losing is other half – once again and this time for good. So Sting bites down onto his lip hard and limps on, even though there are stars dancing in front of his eyes, even though he has to stop twice to throw up.
He needs you.
Sting finally slips through the concealed entrance of his sanctuary and the nearly completely burned down fire confirms that he has been away for much longer than he’d ever anticipated; thus the sudden onslaught of concern and fear immediately steals his breath.
At once he’s thankful that he had the prudence of collecting some firewood on his painstakingly slow way back but right now the fire is the last thing he could care about, for as he reaches out to stoke the dying embers, his hand brushes Rogue’s fingers and the impassive chill carelessly biting his skin has his heart-beat start in panic.
“Rogue?” he whispers quietly, reaches out for his throat with shaking fingers, as he prays for the obvious to be a lie.
But then his quivering fingertips graze the lifeless, pale flesh of Rogue’s neck and they’re met with nothing but stone-cold silence, while his own pulse rages in his ears in a maddening crescendo of:
“Too late! Too late! Too late! Too late!”
A broken, strangled sob leaves his lips then; an elegy for something dear and precious now forever lost and when he pulls Rogue’s unmoving, empty form close, the coldness of his sallow skin seeps right into his very core.
“No… no….” he whispers against the rapidly cooling brow, his voice hoarse and raw with unshed tears, and the sheer unbearable grief eats away at his very heart with ceaseless, precise incisions.
Suddenly all dams are breaking as he cries out in anguish, the still body of the man he used to love clutched to his chest as he laments their cruel fate, all the smiles they would never get the chance to share, the arguments they were never going to have – the future so viciously stolen from them, as Rogue’s life had trickled out of his beautiful heart on a forgotten, cursed island at the end of the world.
He’d died all alone; hurting, freezing, scared- and Sting hadn’t even been by his side as he’d breathed his last breath.
And only the restless winds and waves had guided his soul into to the uncharted territory beyond his reach, leaving behind nothing more than another empty shell of flesh and bone to litter the unholy grounds.
Bile rises in the blonde’s throat as he realizes, that any moment now Rogue’s abandoned form might start stirring in undeath; the once strong, caring and beautiful lively man he’d fallen for reduced to a will-less, staggering hollow, with his gemstone-like eyes broken and dull and neither mind nor memory to call his own.
With horror tightening his chest Sting wonders if he had it in him to drive his sharp, keen dagger right through Rogue’s unmoving heart to deliver him from this accursed state of eternal unrest or if he’d just watch him stumble into the darkness, as his own heart turned to salt.
Would he be able to endure crossing paths with the ever-wandering ghost of his beloved again and again until his mind had withered away and he’d finally given in to the voices calling out to him at the highest point of the cliffs?
Or would he fall prey to Rogue’s slender, quick katana himself, taking the sight of cold, emotionless eyes with him into eternal sleep?
He could imagine worse fates than dying by his lovers hands; but not here.
Not like this. Not when it comes down to either kill or being killed himself.
The realisation brings painfully hot tears to his eyes.
Tears that fall onto milk white, marble still cheeks; but it is only when he presses a last lingering kiss to the unresponsive, blueish lips that their gruesome chill makes him fully understand what exactly it is, that he'd lost.
The raw wail suddenly ripping itself free from his tender throat is a lacrimosa yelled out in unaltered agony and bereavement; a sound so broken, so hurt and accusing, even the gods that had left this isle long, long ago, must have heard it.
Sting’s whole body is on fire; the heart-ache too much to bear after this long years of impassive numbness, and now the grief is racing through his form like an unholy venom; burns him from the inside, as it swallows him whole, and when the heat, the agony, the pressure threatening to rip him apart get almost too intense to withstand any longer, a piercing scream rings throughout the thick, claiming blackness of the cave and a bright, dazzling light of the purest white erupts around him; the pristine shine engulfing both him and Rogue’s still body cradled in his arms.
The sensation is unfittingly soft and soothing, a sweet pulsating warmth flowing throughout his whole form like a gentle summer wind and all at once he feels the pain subsiding.
The frost leaves his bones and his harsh sobs die down until only silent tears fall from his closed eyes, while the fair light embraces them like sunlight in May.
For a moment he wants nothing more than to just fade into this light, leave the hideous, cruel lands that took his beloved from him and follow Rogue into the endless night beyond, but somehow the radiant shine seems to brim with life and won’t allow it.
So he sits in silent shock, his face buried in the shimmering obsidian-black strands, and chokes a wordless, desperate farewell against Rogue’s temple.
The soft light he still feels whirling around them starts taunting him mercilessly all at once, for its warmth has the bloodless skin beneath his lips appear vivid and inviting, and he curses Devara for her cruelty, her scorn, wants to yell his despise into her sanctuary and defile it, when suddenly…
Suddenly the dazzling nimbus is gone without a trace.
Not even a faint afterglow remains and the air becomes heavy with harsh, biting frost once again; the small token of comfort abruptly snatched away by the mirthless, vengeful Master of the island, as it couldn’t allow such an unearthly beautiful tribute to life and love.
But there has been a certain something Sting has sensed in the silvery shower of purest energy, something achingly familiar that has called out to him in a tongue older than time, and now a small, muted voice; buried beneath the aloof linens of forgetfulness; is whispering a prayer in his heart of hearts that his numb lips can’t help but repeat.
His voice rings through the silence all foreign and broken, while a string of words tumbles from his mouth he has no recollection of ever hearing before.
He still mutters them with the reverence of a true believer, lays all his longing, all the grief and heart-ache into each and every syllable of his remorseful elegy - but the thick nothingness still closes in on him - relentlessly and with a silent mock.
So he clutches his already piously folded hands together ever harder, revels in the stinging sensation of his nails carving bloody crescent moons into his flesh, and he’d almost given in to the sudden irresistible need to fist into the red glowing remains of the bonfire to extinguish the agonizing throbbing in his chest. But then an inaudible, gentle voice holds him back…
All at once he finds one tiny spark dancing happily and bright around him- a tiny reminiscence of the dazzling supernova enclosing them earlier- and it swirls playfully around his head, tickles the nape of his neck carefully, before coming to a halt right in front of his eyes; obviously eager to attract his attention.
So when sky blue eyes widen in heart-broken disbelief and reflect its airy shine, the little firefly goes completely still, before it buzzes a last time in determination and then sinks down slowly.
Sting watches it almost mesmerized; his mind suddenly blank and dazed; as it descends directly towards Rogue’s head, the light casting deep shadows over his face.
After what seems like hours played out in the stark interlude of impending blackness and waning light, it touches his brow gently.
Then it vanishes abruptly with a last burst of dazzling radiance that illuminates his features and – for a fleeting moment – has him appear more bright and beautiful than ever, as it tinges his cheeks with a soft, lively blush.
After that it’s gone without a trace and the spell is broken, so Sting lets his lips graze his lover’s forehead one last time, his hand already reaching for the sheath of his dagger, when suddenly gentle puffs of air tickle his skin and he finds that Rogue’s chest is no longer silent…
There’s a heart-beat thrumming stubbornly where stillness dwelled only moments ago and slow, steady breaths ghost over the slightly parted lips.
Sting stares at him, mouth agape, his own breath stolen away in wide-eyed wonder and all at once a fierce trembling takes a hold of him.
Without thinking he presses his forehead to Rogue’s brow, revelling in the soft warmth spreading throughout his body now that his blood is no longer frozen in place, while the ghostly pallor slowly leaves his face.
Before he can do much more than choke out a raw sob, a small noise falls from Rogue’s lips, something between a whimper and a sigh, and then his long, black lashes start fluttering.
Rogue blinks himself back into the present – slowly, arduously – and starts glancing around all searching and confused; before he finally finds Sting and a small jolt runs through his whole body.
Within seconds a smile blooms on his lips… A smile that creeps over his features; nestles in his wine-red eyes and sets them aglow until they flicker and shine like amber.
“You’re really here…” he breathes, voice rough and low from neglect. “I was afraid that I’d only dreamt you…”
He sits up with another small whine, his eyes never straying from Sting’s face, and his expression falters when he takes in the tear-stains glittering on his cheeks and the traces of a bone-deep, unbearable pain still etched into his features.
“Sting? What….” He’s already reaching out when he suddenly stalls dead in his tracks and withdraws his hands to look at them wary and pondering for a moment.
Then his face darkens and he clenches his eyes shut with a weary:
“God fucking dammit…. Again?”
When he turns to Sting once again his eyes have gone soft with sympathy and concern while regret tinges his voice a deeper shade of sad.
“I’m sorry, Sting. Sorry you had to go through this again… You must feel horrible…”
The blond, however, just stares at him without understanding, an eerie hollowness surrounding his exhausted form, and his tune his flat and empty when he inquires:
“What are you talking about? I… What the hell just happened?”
Rogue looks at him strangely, concern worming its way into his expression, as he mutters:
“You had to bring me back just now, didn’t you?”
“Me?” Sting whispers in apparent shock. “I didn’t do anything… I… there was this light… And… and suddenly you… you weren’t breathing and…”
Out of the blue he’s sobbing almost hysterical, voice trembling and hitching as the sickening aftermath of the adrenalin-rush mingles with the sensation of hot relief in his veins.
“Shhh…. It’s alright… I’m right here… it’s fine…” Rogue sooths quietly, as he lets his fingers ghost over the blond’s hand. “Of course you saved me! I mean I can still feel your magic all around us…”
Sting’s jaw drops down in disbelief when he breathes an incredulous: “My… magic? I don’t…”
But suddenly his eyes become distant and unfocused, colour draining from his face, and a flood of pictures surges through his mind.
The white Dragon of ephemeral light.
A warm, soft aura buzzing in his hands.
The feeling of life flowing through him freely, filling him to the brim.
A dazzling, radiant shine traversing through every fibre of his being…
“My magic!” he repeats, this time more certain and full of wonder, before extending a hand and summoning a small blindingly bright orb of purest energy.
For a second it thrums quietly in his palm, then he sends it off with a quick flick of his wrist to have it swirl merrily around them.
Within moments it starts dancing around Rogue’s head exuberantly and bouncing, obviously drawn to him just as much as its Master.
“I completely forgot…” Sting mutters quietly, as he follows the quick sprite with awe in his eyes.
Rogue looks at him softly for a moment, before a shadow of pain flits over his features and he mumbles: “So it’s true then… This island does steal your memories; your previous life.”
He averts his gaze for a moment, grief all at once open and raw on his face, before he swallows hard as he braces himself, and then whispers hesitantly:
“Tell me… Do you remember me?”
For a moment he doesn’t dare to meet Sting’s eyes, afraid he’d find amnestic emptiness and a lack of recognition there, but then the blond caresses his cheek gently as he coaxes him into lifting his gaze and when they look at each other there’s a warm, endless longing written all over his demeanour.
For a moment they remain like this - frozen in time and barely daring to breathe – then Sting leans in without hesitation and brushes his lips against Rogue’s.
For the fraction of a heart-beat the dark haired man doesn’t react, but then he sighs softly and smiles against the other’s skin, before reciprocating the touch.
“You’re what even this place couldn’t take away from me completely…”
Sting whispers gently, never breaking contact, and Rogue breathes in his words, lets them heal his heart, the same way the blond’s light has healed his body, while he carefully deepens the kiss.
Above their heads the small ball of holy magic frolics and flares.
As a short explanation concerning the game:
a) the ring Sting retrieves from the Bronze Knight is a ring that reduces wounding effect (the knights often drop rather rare and useful rings)
b) you can offer salt at an altar of a sanctuary to level (but here you may also pray for healing)
c) Sting is supposed to be a White Mage, which in this game equals a Cleric and aside from Light Magic he has strong healing powers and the ability to revive recently fallen party-members (even though it drains a lot of Mana/stamina)
d) Devara, the Goddess of Holy Light and Life may boost his healing abilities, but contrary to the game, I decided to portray the gods as rather powerless and frail in this fic. You'll see why, later.
Last but not least: The red vials are healing potions but I think you figured that out on your own :-)
Thanks for reading! I'm really grateful for anyone trying to get into this fic, even though it's based on an unknown indie-game such as Salt&Sanctuary...
And I sincerely hope, I managed to convey the hopeless, melancholic atmosphere of decay and oblivion that dominated the whole game to a certain degree...
I'd be incredibly grateful a a little bit of feedback, for I really wanna know, if you guys want me to continued this or not.
But now it's spam over^^
Have a nice day and take care!
Dearest greetings, TGA