“Will you listen to my story? Of these thousand years that I have watched over this land … and the long tale of the journey my comrades and I took so long ago.”
Maotelus’ words brighten Sorey’s eyes. Their life has not yet been lost, proof that this is not the end, even if he will not walk on this land for an unknown amount of time.
His smile is wide, bearing white teeth, his face radiating happiness. The sign that his pure heart remains despite all that has happened, despite that it is his very sword which is planted through Heldalf’s body. It remains utterly untainted.
“Thank you,” he says. His hands reach for Maotelus’ face, white scales smooth against his palms, as his glistening eyes close.
It feels like he is floating. A lightweight sensation where all of the pain in his body, built up from their battle, has vanished. It isn’t known for sure if Heaven exists. And Sorey knows he is asleep, not dead, meaning that this cannot be it. But it is the closest comparison he can give to this slumber.
Who knows when his eyes open? But at last they do. His eyes adjust to the clean brightness in front of him. Stretches of grass, a bright blue sky, trees bustling with newly grown leaves – he has never seen this place before in his life, yet it feels like he belongs here.
As he steps forward and his eyes are fully adjusted, he makes out a figure standing several feet away, much smaller than himself. He makes his way towards them. They don robes of white, a blue collar blowing gently in the wind, blonde hair tipped with silver doing the same.
And Sorey somehow knows exactly who they are.
The figure turns, a young boy’s face greeting Sorey. He gives the other a smile.
“So you’re finally awake. Well … awake here, anyway.”
“What is this place?” Sorey asks. He is now standing by the child. It turns out they are on the edge of a cliff, with faint blue water drifting in front of them. “Is this real?”
“I was dreaming, and now you’re here. So maybe this is our dreams coming together.” Maotelus turns to Sorey again, his smile returning. “You knew who I was.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I could just tell. Although I didn’t expect you to look like …”
“A child?” He laughs. “Yeah, I can imagine that was a surprise. This is the form I took before I became one of the Five Lords.”
“You had another form before you became that?”
Maotelus nods. “Yes. I was called Laphicet back then. So uh – it’s up to you what you want to call me. I was nicknamed Phi too, so …”
“Phi, huh?” Sorey’s hand goes to his chin, before he grins. “If you had a nickname for that name, could you maybe have one for Maotelus too? Mao, maybe?”
“Mao?” He crosses his arms. “I’m over a thousand-years-old yet I’m still being treated like a child.”
“O-Oh, sorry! It’s just that you … you know … You really do look like one.”
A small pout forms on Maotelus’ face. Sorey has to hold in a laugh, feeling disbelief that this Lord, the one he has admired all of his life, is giving him that expression. But then a smile is given to him instead.
“This feels familiar, for one of my old comrades is the one who named me back then. But I suppose … Yes, okay. You can call me Mao.”
Sorey grins back. “All right! Oh, and your comrades … You told me you wanted to tell me about them. I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Ah, yes. That was a century ago now.”
“A – a century?!”
Mao nods, his eyes drifting out to the landscape before them momentarily. “Time moves differently here. It feels like none at all passes, almost like it is in fact drifting by slowly, yet in reality it is actually going by quicker in the real world.”
“I see … Good job I joined you now then, so we could have chance to speak.”
“Yes, I agree.” Mao sits down on the grass, his robes spreading out around him. A pale hand pats the ground next to him. “Come on, then. I’ve been watching over the world for a thousand years, you know. You kind of want some more personal company after a while.”
“A thousand years, huh?” Sorey questions as he sits down next to Mao. “Must have gotten lonely.”
“I suppose at first. But watching over everyone is a different kind of company. It feels like you’re never truly alone, because you have people all around you, all the time. Although you can definitely feel lonely despite not being alone. That’s why I’m glad you’re here.”
Sorey smiles, leaning back on his hands as he thinks back to Mao’s previous words. “You mentioned that a comrade is the one who had named you. Who was that, and why did they name you?”
“Ah, that was Velvet. Seraphim were once known as malakim, you see. We were kept in captivity by the humans. I was only known as ‘Number Two’, referring to me being the second malak tethered to the exorcist who used me. Velvet named me after they, well, kind of stole me from them.”
“If you were imprisoned, I guess – uh – you were kind of grateful to have been taken?”
“Oh, yes.” Mao’s legs kick out, moving in time with each other. “I got to see the world thanks to that. And I learned that malaks were treated awfully in that time. Our conscience and personalities were sealed to be the perfect blank tool for exorcists. If I hadn’t been freed, I would have never become myself.”
“That’s awful,” says Sorey, his eyebrows furrowing. “Not you being released, I mean. But the way you guys were treated in the past. I never realised that. I only knew about you living in harmony.”
He imagines what it would have been like, living in the past with his friends. Imagining that neither have their same personalities – no personalities at all, for that matter. He can guess that this seal also restricted any likes and dislikes.
The thought makes him feel more grateful than ever to have the opportunities he’d had, as well as a determination to have his dreams be fulfilled, without it returning to this awful part of history.
“That’s okay. Things have changed, and it seems like the Shepherd has changed into something far better than what we had to face.” Mao brings his legs back to himself, seeming amused. “It’s quite funny, actually. I’m sitting with the current Shepherd, yet in my life before being Maotelus, I was facing the Shepherd with the Lord of Calamity.”
Sorey blinks at him. “Seriously? I – what? Man, all this is gonna give me a headache … One which lasts all the time I’m asleep.”
Mao laughs, his arms wrapping around his stomach. “See? It’s funny, isn’t it? But the Shepherd, Artorius, was the one who imprisoned us malakim and wanted to strip everyone of free will. Velvet, the Lord of Calamity, was seeking revenge for her brother, and killing him was the step to doing that. Only … Well, that turned out differently than expected to. But we got there.”
“Is Velvet still alive? I mean, if she was the Lord of Calamity and beat a Shepherd, then …” Sorey’s words drift off as he sees Mao’s face fall.
“Technically, depending on how you look at it. She … She had to sleep with the previous fifth Lord. Not like you’re doing with me now, to purify the land. She’ll be with Innominat for eternity.”
“I’m sorry, Mao,” says Sorey, although Mao shakes his head.
“No, it’s okay. It was her choice, and I think she wanted to do that, after all she had done. Besides, Innominat took the body of her sacrificed brother. So really, she managed to be reunited with him after all, and killed Artorius for a bigger reason than revenge, when you think about it. And I of course became Maotelus. We all had a role to play.”
Silence falls for a moment. Not necessarily because there are no words to say, but rather because it seems appropriate to be so. A silent respect for Velvet, a moment to reminisce over their own roles. They’ve each had to face difficult choices and find their answer. Whether it be more instantaneous like Mao, or something which takes longer, in Velvet and Sorey’s cases.
Despite their differences and how Velvet and Sorey are opposites, they are still two sides of the same coin. And the choices all three had to make are what writes out the future. They are what brought Sorey and Mao here together.
“What about the others in your party?” Sorey finds himself asking eventually, curious about the other comrades he knows likely existed, yet knows nothing about.
“We were a group of outcasts, really.” An amused grin has appeared on Mao’s face. “Let’s see … We had the Lord of Calamity, a daemon – uh, those were what hellions used to be called – and an exorcist, a witch, or at least, that’s what she called herself. A pirate malak too, and then me, an escaped one.”
“That’s one unique party, all right,” Sorey comments, laughing. “I thought mine was strange enough having an assassin and Shepherd be together.”
“Right? Velvet was … Well, she seemed very cold, and likely was for a great deal of time. But I think her personality from when she was human always stayed in her deep down. The daemon was called Rokurou. He had a lot of spirit and came along with us because he wanted to beat his brother. He really helped me find myself and taught me a lot – he was strangely friendly at times for a daemon, actually …
“Then the exorcist was Eleanor. She was actually technically a prisoner and was spying on us for the Abbey – the organisation that Artorius ruled over. But she saw how cruel they were, and decided to face against them with us, by her own choice. She was also like another big sister to me alongside Velvet, but uh, Velvet got a bit jealous I think. The witch was Magilou. I don’t even know how to describe her because it felt like Velvet tolerated her most of the time. But she was strong in her own way, and it wouldn’t have felt the same without her around.”
“When you have a group of friends like that, everyone matters. I think that even one person being gone makes a huge difference.” Sorey’s heart aches as his words remind him of Dezel, how cruel the death had been on them. But he shakes his head mentally. “You mentioned a pirate malak, too?”
“Oh. Yeah, that was …”
Mao’s face is crestfallen all of a sudden. Sorey watches this change with uncertainty, wondering if like Dezel, this party had lost a beloved comrade too.
But Sorey understands completely as soon as Mao says, “That was Eizen.”
His eyes widen a little from this. Of course, he knows that Eizen wouldn’t have always been a dragon. At one point, he would have lived as a regular seraph. But Edna had never said a huge amount about her brother. She had never been pushed too much to speak about him, because they knew how traumatising it had been for her to have lost Eizen.
Yet fate has brought a comrade of Eizen to Sorey. Someone who had known him before his cruel transformation.
“I know that you had to kill him,” Mao continues. “I granted the power of purification to the world, yet even so, it still cannot purify a dragon. So I understand. And I think that Eizen would have wanted you to kill him, before he hurt anyone else. He had terrible luck back before he was a dragon, calling it the ‘Reaper’s Curse’. He and Edna were separated because of that. So he would have been grateful to be stopped as a dragon, before he could hurt her again.”
A smile, even if upset, manages to return to Sorey’s face. “Thank you, Mao,” he says. “I knew what had to have been done about Eizen, so I’ve never regretted it. But even so, it’s comforting to hear you say that.”
“Of course. I’m just glad that I was able to travel with Eizen before he turned into a dragon. He taught me a lot too, that I was in charge of the wheel and my own creed.”
“What do you mean by that?” Sorey asks.
“Eizen was a free malak. He had a strong hatred for those trying to steal the will of others, and had always took control of his own life. He taught me to do the same for myself.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” A gentle smile, also filled with grief, appears on Sorey’s face. “I would have loved to have met him. He and Zaveid … They knew each other, didn’t they?”
Mao nods. “Oh, yes. We encountered Zaveid a few times on our travels. He was a little different back then for sure. He and Eizen fought a lot, too. But they had chemistry, and I bet they didn’t dislike each other really. I think they got on well in the end.”
“They must have done, if Zaveid looked over Edna all this time, and wanted to make sure Eizen met his desired end,” says Sorey.
“Yes, exactly. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? How our paths have intertwined this way? And there is still so much to tell you about my journey, and I would love to hear more about your own comrades as well.”
“We have centuries together,” Sorey says brightly. “More than enough time to talk about all that.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Mao responds.
And with those words, they begin to talk about their respective journeys. The emotions they felt, their struggles, the good and the bad alike. Learning more about the other, finding their similarities and differences, all that brings them together but also makes them unique.
In a peaceful and serene world, where their powers save the world and cleanse it of its malevolence, they continue to share exactly why they have fought for so long.
Laughter fills the air as Mao’s arms grasp around his stomach. He tries to catch his breath as he says, “Provincial lard? How did you even manage to say that?”
Sorey holds up his hands, almost in defence. “I don’t know! I was listening to what they were trying to get me to say, and my brain said ‘lord’, but it just didn’t come out. I’m a terrible liar, I guess.”
“That’s because you seem like you’re a very straightforward, honest person,” says Mao. “But still, it’s very much funny. And did Sergei ever learn that you and Rose weren’t married?”
“I don’t think he ever did. We never had the heart to say the truth.”
“Oh dear. He must have given such emotional condolences to her when you fell asleep.”
“I’ve never thought about that,” says Sorey, grinning. Although this falters when he realises another fact about Rose. Though he is not sure how much time has passed precisely, Rose certainly cannot be alive right now. She is only human unlike their other comrades. Her, Alisha and Sergei alike have already been deceased for at least decades.
This must show on his face, for Mao gently says, “Life is a cycle. Your old friends would have been reborn, their family lines continuing if they had children, and their accomplishments and dreams will live on also. That is the same for both your human comrades and mine.”
Sorey smiles, this smile reaching the green eyes so similar to how Eleanor’s had been back then. “You’re right. Thank you, Mao. But anyway … I told you about an awkward situation that we had trying to get into Rolance. Got any similar stories to make this an equivalent exchange?”
“Oh, yes,” Mao says immediately. “We had trouble like this too. But Magilou actually turned out to be very creative. She ended up acting like we’re a band of magicians called Magilou’s Menagerie, and –” Mao giggles, “– she got Velvet to impersonate a dove. She never got to live it down after that.”
Sorey bursts out laughing also. “From what I’ve heard about Velvet, that was probably very out of character for her.”
“For sure. I suppose it makes you feel a little better about being a ‘provincial lard’.”
“Oh yeah, I think I’m over the trauma now.”
Both laugh again before this fades into silence. Positive memories fill them to the brim just as much as the negative, and even after talking for some time, there are still many which linger. It seems impossible to know where to start.
For now, Sorey asks, “How long has it been now?”
“I’m not sure of the precise amount of years, but I believe about three-hundred.”
“That long, huh?” Sorey’s eyes drift out onto the landscape in front of them. “I’m wondering what they’re doing right now. Zaveid, Lailah and Edna – they’ve all been alive for some time already, so I think it’s probably not as strange to them. But Mikleo …”
“Your childhood friend, right?” questions Mao. “Yes, he was only eighteen when the two of you parted. Very young for a seraph. I imagine that he’s getting used to the time by now, though.”
“I wonder if he’s forgotten anything. Maybe about me. I mean, centuries compared to eighteen years –”
“That doesn’t matter,” says Mao. “Not if those years spent with you were cherished dearly. Before I was reincarnated as a malak, I was only an unborn child. I lived for just a few years, which were all a blur, before I met Velvet. I’ve been alive for over a thousand years now, yet I still remember that short period with my friends like it was yesterday. I’m sure he thinks about you everyday.”
Sorey smiles, scratching the back of his head. “Now I feel guilty again over leaving him. But thank you, Mao. As much as I’m enjoying learning about you, I’m looking forward to finally reuniting with him. Everyone else as well.”
“I’m sure they are as well. And one day, you’ll find them again. I’m sure of it.”
“That’s right. And if possible, you’ll have to meet them as well! I’m sure they’d adore you, plus it’s kind of cool that I’m spending all these centuries with the Maotelus.” He pauses for a moment. “I’m sure Velvet thinks of you as well, by the way. It sounds like she loved you a lot. And even if you can’t meet again, I’m sure that love will always be there, so long as you both never forget it.”
“Thank you, Sorey,” Mao says, smiling back. “I agree. I’ll always remember my comrades, the ones who saved me, no matter what. I’ll never forget our travels together.”
Sorey finds himself relating to these words. His journey had been a difficult one, full of heartbreak and misery, but it wasn’t void of happiness either. It had also been the best time of his life. He wasn’t a typical hero, only doing things because they are ‘good’. He followed his own path, his own beliefs and dreams, allowing those to lead him into doing what he wanted, what would stop his dreams from being tainted.
He is being reminded of that resolve, of how much he truly appreciates the opportunities he has been given, by being here with Mao.
“Away from all that emotional stuff,” he ends up saying. “I’m sure you mentioned one of these years that you enjoy books and history …”
Mao perks up, his eyes alone confirming Sorey’s words. “I’m glad it was you who saved me. Who else would spend centuries accepting a long discussion about history?”
History has never seemed to mean more to Sorey, now that he realises that the very history he has always adored was once the reality of this incredible boy to the side of him.