Gazing into an earthpulse is about as mind shattering as finding a shrine dedicated to him at the bottom of the spirit-crest, carved right into the rock in the image of a human man. He supposes the lines are supposed to be thunder, for this is the angriest mountain and he didn’t arise from it as much as it arose in him. Edna finds him meditating on it, contemplating the new found feeling of weight and meaning in his gut. What does it mean to feel this?
Edna meditates on it and says, half cloying and half resigned, “They’ve been organizing these for the past three summers -- a pilgrimage for their warriors.”
“You, my little sister taking an interest in human affairs?”
She rolled her eyes and tossed the ball of clay she’d been spinning into bowls for the past hour at his head. He caught it easily. “No. But I think some of them can see us,” she finishes uneasily. “It’s weird. It’s like...” years ago when our backyard was the earth and not a single spindly mountain peak.
Eizen nods in affirmative. Better to be transparent than translucent, so no one assumes something of you you’re not. Like someone with a blessing, for example.
He wants to desecrate it to keep them away but doesn’t. In another hundred years, it’ll be a relic, and then he’ll care about it, too.
The dragon is an anomaly and not to be toyed with. Eizen watches it from far away, the hard rigid spikes of it’s back and the round heavy belly in purple-red-blue scales that flash at him when it moves. The animosity it carries flows straight to his heart and makes it ache, because it’s familiar: the seraph that came before his sister, dressed in a gold top and long black billowy pants who had about as much strength as a mountain mouse. It’s him, he knows, the one who left for somewhere else.
And now he’s returned as something much more fearsome. Change is just supposed to be metaphorical. Maybe only for humans. Maybe he doesn’t know enough.
“Eizen, stop staring. What if it spots us?”
And he doesn’t have an answer. The default on his tongue is run -- but he forgets that for her audacity Edna barely reaches his waistline. And there’s the earthpulses, but even with the miles between the dragon and himself -- which isn’t far for a beast with wings like that -- at least on two feet they could go anywhere. Anywhere is a big world.
“It’s domain is getting stronger. We should leave sooner rather than later,” he says instead. Edna doesn’t look impressed, but he packs up their shared belongings all the same. It’s not much.
“You don’t want to fight it? Test you mettle?” she teases, but the possibility of death (for her -- not him) is infinitely more frightening than actual death -- how he distinguishes between the two is sliver thin and he’ll admonish her later for it -- her hair in his hand when he agitatedly squashes her ponytail against her skull lets enough concern show that she lets the subject die peacefully.
The trek from one mountain to another is broken by the roaring canyon beneath them, and the continental divide where one mountain range ends and another begins. Trees here -- spotty rocks, craggy hills and tough shrubs dot the other side. The juniper reeks, but at night the stone warms his back and it’s not too terrible. It’s just learning, again, the shape of his whole world.
The water is both their enemy, and neither will mention that he lets her sit on his shoulders when he finally, bone weary, is forced to wade through it.
Edna’s fingers card through the water and it sparkles like the polished cord of silver hanging around her neck. It’s achingly beautiful.
Aifread is fearless.
Eizen first registers him as stupid, then is forced to promptly reassess when he swings monkey-like into his space and tells him to come down from his stupid nest of sail cloth, ropes, and abominable hoards of small earthenware pots he’d found, not stolen (the glasses are borrowed from the first mate, yes, he intends to return them later).
He picks one up between two fingers, the one that happens to be Eizen’s favorite and the one he wanted to send home first. Maybe it’s a good thing that Aifread handles it and not him. His hands can’t seem to still themselves and he’s already broken two just for the want of them. He’d found them buried off shore of the last place their ship had desperately anchored to -- a storm at sea for three days leaves a man wanting for a bit of sleep -- and infused them with mana so they wouldn’t be bothered.
Not that it mattered anyway. No human had so easily sought him out. It was like getting scolded.
“Heh, impressive glazing. Suppose malakhim like you who can live forever can have more of an appreciation for this stuff than me.” Aifread turns the little tan cup with two fingers, but it’s an idle motion. He’s more interested in the hunter than the treasure.
Eizen considers answering, it’s a really good field to get into if you intend to travel, and promptly bites out, “It’s not stuff,” huffily, eyes wanting to roll back in his head so he could critically examine the content of his own brain -- was it even working right now?
Aifread pokes his chest, which is brave. “You’re weird. Why don’t you stop hiding and come down? Some of the crew can see you, at least -- the rest can learn. We got a new port at the last stop and I saved some for you -- you’re not one of those half-baked seraphim that don’t eat or drink, right?”
Eizen considers. “Not generally. Don’t need it.”
“A yes would have sufficed. C’mon, then.”
It was a half-lie. He and Edna shared the bitter fruits that grew on the brushes at the frost line, but not much; he tried to leave the rest for the birds.
Aifread just made him feel like he had something to prove. He could be human, too.
A long lived malak not need think about those he leaves behind because living has always been a war of attrition.
So when the coin of Dhaos finally begins to crack, much like the two-headed Asgard coin Kurogane forged that shattered in his palm like the demon god himself was breaking free, it’s not a surprise, and he doesn’t feel sad. His resources have ran thin. And like the rain eroding the shores where the Van Eltia used to dock a hundred years ago, pieces of himself erode and schlep off into the murky haze of history.
He takes the moment to consider, thumb stroking the long line that ran halfway through.
How long ago since his departure? How many years since Eleanor’s funeral? How far have his feet wandered for search of a ship? There are none left and he doesn’t know how to get home. The land has changed and the seasons and the days of the year run into each other so quickly he cannot tell when night comes and the days begin.
But the story is clear in his mind: Velvet broke the frozen world and the Empyreans continued their assault in her absence. It’s justice, divine wrath, maybe; it’s what the humans teach in their little wooden classrooms but Eizen is mostly interested in the past. There is no future as of now. He has been completely displaced.
The Empryeans don’t apologize for the continued destruction of the world. But Eizen has to because he can’t get home.
So the earth will continue to up heave and rearrange itself, one city roaring upward or drowning like the next, the ocean will flood inland and the mountains will break off into the clouds, lightning will burn the forests down and no compass will tell him where he needs to go.
Despite his ragged boots as testimony to every path he’s walked, his throat spasms and constricts when he wonders for too long what could have been, what may be. There are things he would do over again. He’d do them better.
He wouldn’t leave anyone alone.
He doesn’t mean to be difficult, but his nature is contradictory. Malakhim are the sort of benign parasites of paradise, and Eizen thinks he might die if that’s all there is to it.
“--We’ll think of it as my revenge. When we team up after this lord of calamity, I mean. Two birds, one stone, yeah?” Zaveid still hates him, certainly. How could he not see their shared curse all around? Eizen could pick it apart with his fingers, all the silver threads that made this spider’s web. He was clinging to one, angry over spilled milk. It could be anyone. It could be you. It could be me. He doesn’t mention it.
“It’s going to be a while, still. I have a lot left I want to do.”
Zaveid swirls his drink without looking up. “Then start with what’s most important. Slim the list down. We don't have a lot of time. What are you after, anyway?”
Eizen frowns. “History.”
Zaveid’s snort is as colorful as the rest of him. “Leave it alone, man. Let sleeping dogs lie. Let someone else carry that burden. I just want to forget.”
Malakhim were never meant to be curse givers. So what feeds him? The hate that swirls around like a soupy air? That’s ripe, absolutely. The whole world could not be more clear about how it would like to see him disappear.
It’s just that. He doesn’t want his sister to bear witness to it. The evil in the world has stained him and he has no right to be close or want to see her. He couldn’t be a shackle for anyone but himself. The regrets he thought he'd never have mysteriously pile up. The irony doesn't slip past him, but it hardly matters.
Zaveid’s going to set him free someday. He has to start looking toward the future.
s i x
He rubs the bone weary crush from the back of his hands and between the flooding of the land and the crawl of the mountains, Eizen feels two feet tall and thinks he knows what purpose that shrine of so long ago was appointed for.
No more dogs to evade no more bushes to beat around he has to trust that for the name Zaveid was given that it’s as honest to god as the words he spit out, biting, on the day he killed the dragon --
He thinks he would have liked to have gone home, once or twice. But what sort of adventurer dies in their bed? This is better, mostly. He can feel the way his teeth don’t match up in his mouth anymore, the way his senses fade in and out like the tug and pull of the sea. His magic is more magnificent. It trails around him like a miasma, his own heroic cape. In time, he’ll burst from his skin and there won’t be anything of Eizen left. Not even the suggestion of a malak, nothing at all.
Zaveid and the Shepherd brought him news of the demon's whereabouts -- in the same place where all evil spawns. A calamity, a transformation -- a holy blade no longer, just another light on its way out. His companions would be proud to see his unfaltering steps. It's his turn to make amends for everything gone wrong in the world.
Do you see me coming to your sacred ground, Velvet? Are you and Laphicet happy in the abyss your mentor made?
--But he misses his sister and thinks of her often. It’s the only feeling he’s never abandoned. He signs his name in the dark, characters disorderly on damp, stained paper. His hands shake as he folds the letter smaller and smaller and for a moment he feels so estranged from her he can't breathe. Does Edna know? Does she? Is it too late for her to know that he would have returned a hundred times over, just to be with her? Did he write enough? Was his distance enough to transform her, too?
This is where you flip the coin to heads, Eizen. Remember. You can’t go home again.
He better keep walking. It’s a long way up to Artorius’ Throne.