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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Chapter Text

The Shepherd who rescued Maotelus had an interesting plan.

Every seraph these days knew the tale of the boy Shepherd purifying Maotelus in his sleep. Since Edna apparently traveled with this “Sorey,” Eizen expected to meet him whenever the boy finished purifying the Lord. But he didn’t expect to hear his next plan was to save Velvet. Sorey got the idea because Maotelus kept telling him old stories about her as they slept.

When Edna clued him in, Eizen was taken aback. Why the hell would someone who didn’t even know Velvet try to rescue her? And why only now, centuries after she sealed herself to save the world and Maotelus both, did the topic come up? Maotelus was the only one alive other than Eizen who still cared, and neither of them made much of a move to rescue her.

A foolish but intriguing plan.

When he met Sorey for himself, it was pretty clear the boy didn’t need nor cared for a reason. He just wanted to save her, he told Eizen. Just a random act of kindness. Just an injustice in the world he wanted to correct.

A foolish and infuriating plan.

“...I didn’t think you were still this naive, Maotelus,” Eizen told him point blank. “Centuries spent with him or not, did this kid really talk you into such a stupid idea so easily?”

Sorey was confused. Clearly he expected a more positive response. “What do you mean stupid...? I mean yeah it’s risky, but it’s worth trying—”

“You’re going straight into territory you know nothing about, boy. I’ll spell it out for you: Velvet sealing herself away was her own choice. She knew full well what she was doing when she sacrificed herself. She had no intention of living on, and even if she wanted to she was going to die anyway. Yet she found one last use for herself.”

“Hey, hold it!” Sorey yelled. “She was only going to die because the original plan was to kill Innominat, right? ...Maotelus told me. We’re planning to make a new seal for him. We can still save her!”

Eizen glowered at him. “It was atonement for her time as a Lord of Calamity, but also her ‘last act of selfishness.’ It was her way to make the best of her fate. And if you two really want to make her happy,” he switched his glare to Maotelus. “You need to respect her wishes.”

“...When I was still Shepherd...” Sorey started. Eizen looked back at him. “When I was still Shepherd, one thing I learned is that ‘sometimes death is the only salvation.’ That’s what you’re trying to say here, right? That she doesn’t need any more saving?”

Eizen nodded in response.

“But...” Sorey continued. “It feels so wrong this time. This time, I know I can’t just ignore Velvet. When I was Shepherd and trying to learn that lesson, looking back, I took it too far. I almost killed you for the same reason you don’t want to save Velvet, you know... I still don’t know what came over me to tell Zaveid not to do it, but I’m glad I did, because that let Rose save you later. And...” he took a deep breath. “And I still don’t like sacrifices. I never will. So I think we should try again.”

“Did you not hear me, kid? Even if it was possible, she said she didn’t want it.”

Sorey shook his head. “I won’t believe that. If she doesn’t want to be alive anymore, even now that she can live, then I’ll hear it once she’s back!”

Eizen opened his mouth to shout.

A soft, booming voice silenced him. “I understand where you’re coming from, Eizen.” 

After a startled moment, Eizen closed his eyes. Maotelus gazed at him evenly; he was a huge, draconic-looking creature, and his pure white scales lit up everything around him. Once you noticed him, you noticed him. But he was only startling, not a threat. Eizen clicked his tongue, and opened his eyes to face him.

The great dragon continued. “You think Velvet’s chosen her ‘creed’ and you don’t want to interfere with that, right? But...” Maotelus looked down at Eizen. “I don’t care what she might or might not want anymore.” He leaned in when Eizen opened his mouth to retort. “I want to see Velvet again, and after centuries of just serving other people... After giving up everything for her legacy, even the old form I once took... I think I can try and take her back.” An angry fire lit in his slitted, draconic eyes. “It’s my turn to be selfish, Eizen.”

Eizen matched Maotelus with a fire of his own. “Do you want Innominat to enslave the world because we couldn’t respect Velvet’s last wish?” he growled.

Maotelus shook his head. “The fate of the world isn’t what you’re most worried about in the end, is it?” He took a deep breath, and his expression calmed. “Well... to be honest, I feel the same. I’m worried about hurting Velvet too. I understand the risks. But that’s all the more reason I’m going to do my best to save her.

“Sorey and I have both worked to overturn history,” he continued. “I brought purification to this world. Sorey saved me when everyone thought I’d lose myself to malevolence. And even when I couldn’t save you when you turned into a dragon, Shepherd Rose did it instead... Because Sorey found a way to let her do it. You know how hard it is to talk down Zaveid.

"And if we do fail...” he said, his voice rumbling like distant thunder. “I won’t allow Innominat to do anything to this world I’ve protected for so long.”

Eizen grit his teeth. 

“Do what you want,” he declared. “Just don’t get me involved; you know full well what happens when you bring a Reaper on board.”

And so, Eizen left the Throne and Camlaan’s ruins behind. At least he could say he tried to talk them out of it. The foreboding anxiety in his gut continued to accumulate, but she was out of his hands now. All he could do was go back to his usual way of life and hope those boys didn’t screw anything up.

He allowed himself one last look at the Throne. ‘Maotelus says he understands the risks, huh...’ he thought.

Just a few moments later, Edna found him.

“Refused their offer, did you?” she asked, umbrella twirling behind her.

“I did.” Eizen hooked his thumbs in his belt, eyeing his sister. “I take it you’re going with them?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I know there’s no talking you into this but... Whatever happens, I won’t let those morons hurt her.”

“Then shouldn’t you try to talk them down too?”

Edna bit her lip. “You really think she wants to be up there with that crazy Lord?”

“You too, huh... I told Sorey this, but you didn’t know her, okay?”

“Who cares? I’m not a saint like those two bozos.” she shook her head. “Just because I don’t know for sure doesn’t mean I care. I see my big brother wallowing over losing his old Lord of Calamity, and I’m gonna bring her back to him.”

He responded with silence.

Edna sighed, but her expression never changed. “Like I said, I won’t let them hurt her. That’s what you’re really worried about anyway. I’m working with them for one purpose, and it’s to put a smile on my dear big brother’s face.”

The same exact things Maotelus said, despite her different goals.

She walked away. He let her.

Eizen wasn’t a fool. Despite his creed’s claims, sometimes people really didn’t know what they really wanted in life. And if Velvet herself weren’t cornered into making the choice, would she had chosen that same fate?

But believing her fate was for the best was how he’d keep himself sane now that she was back in the picture. He rubbed his temples, and set back on the road.

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, losing Velvet hit Eizen hard. Her sacrifice was predictable, he knew how she saw life without her brother and with blood-stained hands. But the aftermath was a grieving process he overcame only some fifty years later, only fully realized it even was grieving later. It was unusual and frustrating for the Reaper to be hurt so badly by just one more number added to his body count.

But more than anything, both Maotelus and Edna struck his biggest fear right on the head:

Losing her to an eternal sleep was one thing, but if she was meddled with in just the wrong way she wouldn’t even be able to dream anymore.

He shook his head. He was no coward. He’d let the boys and Edna have their fun just for a gamble. If Velvet came back, she could do as she wished with her second chance. He would rather ignore than support their reckless actions.

Eizen took out his coin. But before he could flip the coin, his eye fell on the skull side and he remembered why he even had that habit. He sighed and pocketed it; he was in no mood to stare death in the face that day. Not that day.

 


 

 “...I’m sorry, Eizen.”

Around a decade after she first left on the journey, Edna came back to tell him that.

Eizen wasn’t even facing her when she did. It was seemingly blurted out after a quiet greeting and brief pleasantries. He turned. “Did you realize I was right?” He worded it just vaguely enough so he didn’t have to ask for the worst-case scenario.

“I came to tell you that...” Edna shrunk back. “Our mission failed. Innominat... consumed Velvet before we could fully break the seal.” 

Shock flashed through Eizen’s body as his heart crashed and burned. He tried to keep a straight face, fought back against the horror with all his might, but some shock still got through. Keeping stoic was hard when hopes he didn’t even know he had were dashed so brutally.

“...So she’s dead for real now,” he muttered.

Edna nodded stiffly. “We still managed to seal him, so that should be the end of it. But...” She turned away from him. “That’s all I had to say. Nothing else of importance.” Her voice shook. “Figured I’d get to you and tell you what happened before either of the boys tried to sugar coat it for you. As you said, they’re both way too nice.”

Silence. She took a deep breath.

“...I’m sorry I couldn’t give you Velvet back.” Tears welled up in her eyes. She refused to look at him. “It’s not like me to put stock in miracles. But... I just wanted to do the same for you that Rose did for me. And I just ended up killing her instead, even though you warned me and—”

“Edna. Look at me.”

She turned to him, saying nothing more. She was clearly trying to hide her tears, but he wasn’t fooled.

Eizen gently looked into his sister’s eyes. “Don’t apologize. You knew what you were doing, you went through with it, and you understood the consequences.” He walked closer, then pulled her into a hug. “That’s all I need to forgive you.”

Edna hiccupped into his chest and started sobbing openly; Eizen’s words and his hug was the release she needed before she could let go. Eizen responded by patting her on the back.

“...I meant what I said ten years ago,” he continued. “This whole plan was a fool’s errand. I still think you went against Velvet’s wishes. But Edna... I don’t want you shouldering all the blame for this. Those boys would have tried even if you didn’t.” He squeezed her tighter. “I’m in no place to be angry with you when in the end I didn’t stop anyone from trying to save Velvet either.”

Edna was still crying, but after Eizen said his piece she tried to compose herself again. A few long seconds passed by. She didn’t even attempt to speak until she caught her breath again. Eventually, she released herself from his hug.

“...Because you wanted her back too, right?” Edna observed. “There’s no way you’d let me off the hook so easily if you didn’t have cards in this too.”

Eizen sighed. “This is one thing you’re not going to let me off the hook for, isn’t it?”

“Nope,” she quipped, sniffling.

This startled a laugh out of her big brother. He didn’t dare stifle it. “Then... Aye. I did want to see Velvet again.”

“I knew it.” Edna smirked through her tears. “I said the same kind of things about you when Sorey wanted to save you all those centuries ago. ‘You can’t save him’ this, ‘don’t even bother’ that... I know a liar when I see one, especially when he’s my older brother.”

Point blank candor. Eizen could only be impressed. “You sure do.” He sighed, chest heavy. His voice shook just as Edna’s had earlier. “While I’m being honest with you... Maybe Maotelus was the one who knew Velvet best in the end. I don’t have any room to talk.” 

“Hey. You’re crying now too, wimp.” Edna rolled her eyes, still smiling, and pulled her brother back into another hug. “No matter who was ‘right’ about her, I’m sure she’s having far better dreams now that she’s not attached to that creepy other Lord.” She patted his back just as he had hers.

He held her close, smirking through his own tears as they started running down his cheeks. “You sure have guts, calling the Reaper a wimp.”

Chapter Text

Eizen didn’t have the heart to push Edna away when she insisted they stay together for the next several days. Though her motive was pity, and he was no stranger to loss (to which she’d say “quit the tough boy act”), he knew she needed the support. Edna may not have known Velvet, but knowing what she did to her–and by proxy to her brother–no doubt put a burden on her as well.

“Palmiers again? Your lack of imagination is legendary, Eizen.”

A puzzled Eizen raised his eyebrow at her. “Are they not your favorite anymore?”

“Nope. They’re nasty little pastries, the devil’s confectionary. So listen closely: I’m going to ask you to make me something completely new and different instead. You ready?”

“Aye.”

“I want you to make me... cinnamon palmiers.”

He blinked. “That’s all?”

Edna groaned. “You sure are slow on the uptake, huh? I was messing with you... But I guess we don’t usually make the cinnamon type, so you know what? I want those today after all.”

“Got it,” Eizen said. “Stay on guard; hellions aren’t particularly common around these parts, but knowing me that could change any minute.”

“Sure, dad ,” Edna chided. “Safe travels yourself.”

He laughed, and waved to her as he set off to the human town to get ingredients.

A few days had passed since Edna came back to him. The news about Velvet, though expected, continued to fester at the back of his mind. At first, Eizen was frustrated his old wounds got dug up so easily by what he expected he’d hear anyway, but he was already numb again. He found plenty to do with his life before her death, and he’d continue living on without her as well.

He had Edna. He had himself. He had the ever changing world at his hands to explore. What else did he need?

“Careful if you’re heading that way. Some tough hellions made their nest near town a few days ago.”

The woman’s crisp but rough voice came from behind Eizen. Turning, he saw a white haired wind seraph leaning against a tree. She must have escaped his notice as he passed her because he was so deep in thought, he surmised.

“I’ll be fine, but thanks for the heads u—”

That wasn’t just any wind seraph. Her hair nearly reached the floor, tied back in a loose braid with a red wrap at the end. Thick, shiny hair you could just about hide in, slightly messy yet well cared for. Her tresses shifted from white to rich green ombre, typical of wind seraphim. She wore an ivory cloak that hung low on bare shoulders, framing a tight green dress that showed off her midriff, thighs, and curves. Gilded stockings ran up her legs with silver armored boots to her knees and a matching sword brace on her arm. The designs on her clothes were simple but striking, as if it brought more attention to her with its understatement.

The woman was tall, reaching just a few centimeters over Eizen’s shoulders. And she definitely noticed he was gawking at her. “Do you have something to say?” she finally asked him.

He didn’t care though. Because when he saw that cold, amber-eyed glare, he knew exactly why he was so enchanted by her.

“Velvet...” Eizen didn’t quite know how he’d greet her again, especially since she clearly didn’t remember him. He was prepared for that; most seraphim born from humans didn’t retain their previous life’s memories. But he knew he couldn’t just let her slip away again. Not that quickly.

“Hm. Found an old friend already,” she said. “Odd you would be a seraph, though. Humans can’t see them, right? I know I was once—”

“You weren’t human,” Eizen quickly replied. “Or well, the Velvet I knew... wasn’t... Sorry. I must have mistaken you for someone else.”

Velvet shot him a look that screamed “bullshit.” Somehow, her keeping it to herself was even louder than saying it. 

“Look,” he said, his throat tight, “once a seraph is reborn from a human, they lose their memories. You don’t need to concern yourself with me. Besides, I doubt the past you would care to revisit old accomplices—”

“If you’re trying to run away from me,” Velvet growled, “maybe don’t drop big hints like ‘you weren’t human’ and ‘accomplices.’ If I was a hellion like you’re implying, of course I’d want to hear about that. This is all news to me.”

So much for not letting her slip away quickly; facing her again was tougher than he thought.

“That’s not—”

“Hey.” A new voice spoke from behind them. It seemed Edna followed him after all. Did she know? “Is this any way to greet your old friend, Eizen?”

Silence from both of them.

“...If I’d known this is how you’d react, I never would have tried to bring Velvet back to life for you.”

Velvet blinked. “You brought me back to life? How...?”

“It’s a long story,” Edna said. “But one I’m willing to tell. I tried to bring you back to life as a gift for my big brother over here because he wanted to see your beautiful, scowling face alive and well again.”

“S-see my—”

“Don’t mislead her like that, Edna,” Eizen hissed. He prayed that Velvet wouldn’t notice him blush; he already knew his sister did. “How do I put this... We were close comrades, but not to the level Edna–my sister here–is suggesting. I had many other friends from then, but you were the only one we could revive from that time. So that’s why no one else was chosen.”

Velvet looked doubtful, but didn’t press the issue. “I see. ...Clearly not close enough for you to want to rebuild anything with me, though.”

“You have the wrong idea, Velvet. I just— I didn’t know how to—” He stopped to compose himself. “...You caught me off guard.”

“I figured. Well, if you were an accomplice of evil, I can only hope you aren’t as much of a coward normally.”

Eizen sighed.

“Tell me the story,” Velvet said. “Tell me all there is to know about my past life, and maybe, just maybe I’ll let you off the hook.”

“Yeah, do that.” Edna approached her, hand tight around her parasol. “Come with us, o breezy one. We’re going to take you to Maotelus; he can tell you the story when we get there.” She gestured to the path behind them. “He won’t hurt you, trust us.”

Velvet rolled her eyes and smiled. “I can’t say I ‘trust’ you, but I’ll humor you for now. ...Where is this ‘Maotelus,’ though?”

“It’s a good half day’s walk, so it’ll be a pain in the butt getting there. But annoying hikes are a small price to pay for learning the truth.” Edna started back down the path to the nearby village, Eizen at her side. Velvet followed behind.

‘She’s weirdly optimistic...’ he mused. ‘Is this what happens when you free her mind from the shackles of her past?’

He immediately noticed that Velvet kept her distance behind the siblings. Either they were walking too fast for her, or she had no interest in talking right away despite her earlier declaration. He took the chance to, with a hushed voice, scold Edna for what she said earlier.

“Don’t try to feed her any more wrong ideas,” Eizen implored. “You saw how angry she was.”

His sister shrugged. “Yeah? Whose fault is that?”

“That’s not the point here,” he groaned. “The point is that you’re going to give her a very different image of our relationship than what it was actually like—”

“I can’t help that earth is weak to wind. Sort out your own feelings, lover boy.”

Eizen gawked at her. She only smirked in response.

“So I was right,” she sneered triumphantly. “There’s no use deceiving a little sister who can read you like a book, Eizen.”

 


 

“Velvet’s alive?!”

When the group got to the Throne, Lailah happened to be visiting as well. As Maotelus’ close confidant, she was well aware of his history with Velvet, and if she was trying to conceal her excitement at all she failed miserably.

Eizen clicked his teeth. Reuniting with the reborn Velvet had exhausted him enough. Relaying the tale exhausted him more. “Like I said, she’s a seraph now, but good as alive again,” Eizen clarified. “Anyway, once she and Edna catch up we’d all like an audience with Maotelus. Where is he?”

“But how curious...” Lailah thought out loud. “I wonder why she would be wind? It’s unthinkable that a Lord of Calamity would be reborn as such a stereotypically nurturing element. ...Oh, what am I saying? I know plenty of wind seraphim who are rough around the edges, yet deep down adhere to every single one of those stereotypes!”

“Hey.” Velvet approached her. She and Edna caught up without Lailah even realizing. “Is he available for an audience or not?”

“I suppose if I think about it, her elemental assignment does align with how Maotelus described her... My! Isn’t this something!”

HEY! ” Velvet screamed loud enough to make Lailah jump. “Is Maotelus available to speak with this ‘rough around the edges wind seraph’ or not?!”

“Oh, goodness! I’m so sorry, that was quite rude of me. Yes, I’m sure he’d love to talk with you, Velvet. Right this way.”

Lailah led her, Edna, and Eizen up the stairs. The stairs were just as long as Eizen remembered them, though not long enough for him to consider worth complaining about (Edna behind him loudly disagreed). Lailah tried to make conversation with Velvet on the way up, but pleasantries were the last thing on her mind. Velvet’s expression was taut; the intense anticipation he glimpsed ages ago before they fought Innominat. It didn’t surprise Eizen that her long overdue meeting with Maotelus–Laphicet–would stir similar feelings.

They reached the top before he even realized it.

Maotelus was curled up for a nap when they reached him. Eizen looked over his draconic form; it was a good thing Velvet no longer had her old memories, or else she would have had a heart attack on the spot seeing Laphicet like that. Instead, she looked at Maotelus just as calmly as Eizen did. A puzzled look crossed her face.

“...So I last knew this dragon when he was a young child...” she murmured. “I suppose I was told that once a seraph turns into a dragon, they no longer look anything like they once did.”

Lailah chuckled. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say Maotelus is a dragon. More like—”

“Ah,” Edna interrupted. “Looks like our sleepypants Lord is up.”

Eizen turned his attention back to Maotelus. The Lord was indeed raising his head slowly, his eyes fluttering open. He noticed Lailah first.

“Oh. Welcome back, Lailah. You’re here awful early; I thought you weren’t supposed to take the new Shepherd to see me until sundown?”

‘So they found a new Shepherd,’ Eizen thought. Sorey forfeited his position as previous Shepherd soon after speaking with him that decade ago; after some thought, he determined his true desires lay in exploring the world, learning new things, having adventures. He did his time under the burden of the Shepherd’s cloak. Saving Velvet was to be his last dedicated favor; the world was in no immediate danger anyway.

“Yes, well... I have someone else I’d like you to meet first.” Lailah took a deep breath, and gestured at Velvet. “Or rather, someone for you to meet again.”

Maotelus’ eyes shot wide open. “V-V-Velvet?!” His jaw dropped agape, a comical expression for such an otherwise intimidating, dragon-like creature. Even from the ground, looking high up at the Lord and his small, narrow eyes, he looked as though he just saw a ghost. “But how?!” How did you come back?!” 

Eizen hadn’t seen the Lord this emotional for centuries. His behavior more resembled how he was as a normal malak child. Maotelus more than anyone should have known he wouldn’t get an answer to the “how;” that’s just how human to seraph reincarnation worked. No one ever knew “how.”

Velvet stared back at him for a long few seconds. She said nothing. Her observing expression was twisted in even deeper thought than when he was asleep.

“Velvet...? Um... Are you okay?” Maotelus leaned in, concerned.

“...Yeah. I’m fine,” Velvet finally responded. “It’s just... I’m trying to see if I can remember you. Eizen and his sister told me about you, but since I’m a seraph now... Even now that I’m here, I can’t remember anything.”

A sad look crossed Maotelus’ face. “I see... Well... Don’t worry about it too much, okay? That’s normal, and they probably told you I looked far different when you last saw me, right?” Velvet nodded in response, and he continued. “You don’t have to even stay if you don’t want...”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Velvet declared. “You still remember me, right? That’s what’s important.” She smiled. Just seeing that even and patient smile made Eizen’s heart twitch. “But, if you want to help... Why don’t you tell me more about what I was like?”

“What you were like?”

Velvet nodded. “Those two left all the details for you. I know who you are, but who were you to me? And I to you? I want to hear about it from you.”

Maotelus smiled and nodded. “...You’re the first person I ever remember meeting, and the one who put me on the path to who I am today.”

With that, he told his story, Velvet’s story, their story. About how Maotelus, once known as Laphicet, was enslaved since birth for ten years before meeting her. The story of how she saved him on a whim. At first he was a tool to her as well, and then a replacement for her dead little brother, but as time went on she became a genuine older sister figure to him.

She was scary, said and did things that frightened him, and he never quite understood her back then. But he knew she was kind, and more than anything he wanted her to be happy. Velvet watched him curiously as tears welled up in his great dragon eyes. She had granted him that chance to live, and he wanted to give her the same.

“...I see,” Velvet said. “That’s a lot to take in, but I can see how important I was to you.” She smiled. “I don’t plan to go anywhere, so I don’t mind living on for you.”

The Lord cocked his head. “Are you sure?” 

She nodded. “I don’t know why I’m back, and it’s true a Lord of Calamity has no right rising from the dead. But if I didn’t live on, that would just be running from the past. I’m still here, so we’re all just going to have to deal with it.” She cast a furtive glance at Eizen. Still mad at him, was she? Not that he could blame her.

“Velvet...” Maotelus looked aside. “...Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Like I said, I don’t even know who you are. I was told you were a little kid, but all I see here is a centuries old dragon.”

He laughed, tears welling in his eyes again. “Yeah... But you won’t treat me like a kid because of it, right?”

“No promises if you keep crying like that,” Velvet said.

Finished with Maotelus for now, she turned to Lailah. “Take me to meet this Shepherd of yours when you have the chance. I’d like to have a word with them.”

Lailah’s hand went to her mouth. “Are you thinking of becoming my Sub-Lord...?”

Velvet nodded. “I don’t have anything better to do.”

Eizen raised an eyebrow. “Dedicate yourself to protecting the world because you have nothing better to do? As the Lord of Calamity?”

She shrugged in response. “Sometimes you just get that bored. If I could remember my time as one, I’m sure it’d be different. But I can’t even remember who that Artorius was anymore.” She sighed. “Not even Artorius. It’s funny... To hear taking revenge on him was once my reason for living, and now I don’t even remember how it all went down.”

“I doubt you’re ‘just bored,’” Eizen replied. “Whether you have nothing to do or not, you wouldn’t sign on so easily unless you had something else in mind.”

Velvet laughed. “Right on target, Eizen. I already have my next goal: I’m going to get my memories back, and working under an old friend is the perfect first lead. Good or evil, huge commitment or small commitment, I don’t care what it is that I have to do. I don’t care about any grudges I may have against Shepherds. I just know I can’t ignore who I once was.”

“Velvet...” Maotelus said again.

“I’m sure you’d prefer I don’t go with anything evil,” Velvet said, turning to the Lord, “But I’ll have to decide along the road how much I care.”

Edna twirled her parasol, the normin swaying with it. “You’re a lot more impulsive than I took you for, Lord of Calamity.”

“I’m not,” Velvet clarified. “I’m meeting the Shepherd first, then I'll assess them first before becoming a Sub-Lord or whatever. Again, I’m considering it only because I have nothing to lose.” She then turned to Eizen, eyes looking him up and down with scrutiny. “Want to come with?”

Eizen allowed himself one last, long look in those amber eyes, then shook his head. “Sorry, I’ll have to pass,” he replied. “I have ‘better things’ to do myself.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll just have to chase you down some other time, then. For now, I’ll have someone who actually wants me.”

“Hey—” he started.

“It’s not like this is goodbye,” she said. “You can always come with anyway, you know.”

He didn’t respond. A silent refusal.

“If you’d like to meet the Shepherd,” Lailah interjected to address Velvet. “I should take you with me right away. By the time we get back to town, she should be done with her business.”

“So she’s a woman, is she...” Velvet mused. “Sure. I’ll go with you; you’re coming back here later anyway, right?”

“That’s right. Oh, but,” Lailah added. “She’s only fifteen, so she’s more of ‘a girl.’”

“Hiring children to take on the future of the world?” Velvet asked with a smirk. “Doesn’t sound too pure to me.”

Lailah looked to the ground. “Sometimes that’s all we can do...”

“Well, that’s none of my business. Let’s get going, Prime Lord.”

The two descended the stairs of Artorius’ Throne. Eizen watched as Velvet’s hair trailed behind her, eventually disappearing like the wind as she stepped down out of sight.

“She really is a lot dumber than I thought,” Edna remarked. “I wonder if she understands what it means to carry the burden of a Lord of Calamity.”

“There’s no way she does. Not anymore, the way she’s acting and smiling. But... understanding the burden is exactly what she’s after,” Eizen said. “Leave her to it. A human reborn as a seraph always retains their feelings, even if they rarely retain their memories. She still knows what she wants.”

Maotelus closed his eyes in thought. “Yeah... That’s all we can do right now.”

Velvet was still serious and grumpy, but her lost memories were exchanged for a new streak of naivety. Dealing with her memories, her regrets, and above all her immense trauma was not going to be easy. No one could fully prepare oneself for hell they had yet to intimately know.

But she did retain her sheer determination. And that was enough to put the odds of her handling it well in her favor.

Chapter Text

Velvet gave her approval of the new Shepherd that night, and left at once with her and Lailah.

Eizen would be lying if he said he wasn’t worried about Velvet. Edna only had it half right; even as the Lord of Calamity, she was always extremely impulsive. But she was never stupid. Signing onto something as big as becoming Lailah’s Sub-Lord was still something the old Velvet would have put far more thought into. Or more likely, flat out refused unless it somehow helped her get closer to her revenge.

Erase all of Velvet’s memories though, and maybe this new goal of ‘not running away from the past’ was just as important to her as revenge against Artorius once was? He couldn’t say for sure; he only knew Velvet the seraph for a day before she left his life again.

Not that he should demand her place be with him. Velvet Crowe was still Velvet Crowe, albeit now a bit more naive. She would be fine in the end, right? A Reaper had no need to concern himself so much with whether she was doing the “smart” thing or not when he never did the same himself, right?

About a month later, he found himself in some human city’s antique shop. If there was one thing that never faded with time, it was his fascination with the world’s history. Although at this point in his long life, it was surreal to realize just how much of that “ancient history” he’d lived through.

“Told you,” a woman’s voice once more said behind Eizen, bringing him out of his focus on the antique choker necklace before him. 

He slowly turned around. It was Velvet again. Somehow the way she carried herself was different now. A light tilt of the head showed ease, while still mildly intimidating. She looked at him with a friendly dare in her eyes, a small secret that intrigued him. “Told me what?” Eizen asked.

“I told you that it wasn’t goodbye,” she said. “How are those ‘better things’ of yours going, Reaper?”

“...Did you track me down?”

She rolled her eyes. “Not very polite to answer a question with another question, is it?” she replied. “...Well, good news for you: I’m not tracking you down for my own sake. The Shepherd sent me after you.”

Eizen raised an eyebrow. “The Shepherd? What the hell would she want from me?”

Velvet took a deep breath. “I should start by letting you know she’s insane. Absolutely insane.” She paused. “And, well... this Shepherd heard about your curse, and decided she wants it at her side.”

“Wha–”

“One day I brought you and the Reaper’s Curse up, and right then and there she decided she wants to play with death,” Velvet explained. “She thinks your curse would be a useful lightning rod in helping us sniff out malevolence.”

“Tell the kid she’s insane, just like you told me. I create misfortune, not attract it,” Eizen said.

Velvet laughed, a sound Eizen was not ready for. “I tell her as much least three times a day. And I told her that last part too... But she says as long as you’re alive, you’ll be somewhere else creating the misfortune anyway.”

“Keeping the Reaper where she can watch him?” Eizen asked. “She really is nuts.”

Velvet shrugged. “I think she just doesn’t care what happens. She’s a thrill seeker, and she does always complain that our adventures are in a boring spot.” She smirked. “Personally, I think she’d be a good match for you.”

Eizen raised an eyebrow. The way Velvet was describing her Shepherd, she sounded a lot like Aifread. Suddenly, the thought of turning into some do-gooder sounded promising to the outlaw. But he wasn’t as naive as Velvet; he needed to think on it some.

“...Alright. Bring her to me,” he declared. “I’ll assess her just as you did.”

She smiled in response. “That was easier than I expected. Are you sure you’re not the one with the death wish here?”

He shrugged. “Not really. I’m like her, I just don’t care what happens. If I’m lucky about anything, it would be my talent for somehow surviving this many centuries.”

“Works for me,” Velvet replied with a shrug. She stepped closer to him and reached to pick a piece of dirt of his lapel, dusting her hand off on his shoulder. Amber eyes flashed at him. “As long as I get my next stepping stone to my memories.”

Eizen arched his brow, minding how close she was to him now. “So that’s what you need me for.”

She laughed yet again, and stepped back from him. It eased some of the tension in Eizen’s heart. “I may be using you as a tool,” she avoided his eyes as she spoke, “but remember the ends I’m trying to achieve. You were my trusted companion once, right?”

“Aye. But what are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying I want that companionship back. If that makes me as insane as my Shepherd, then so be it.”

Oh . So that was her true prime concern in the end. Eizen’s jaw ran slightly slack at the realization.

Velvet ignored his dumbstruck expression. “You and Maotelus are the only ones still alive at this point,” she continued. “And from the start, I knew both of you would be the key to unlocking my memories. ...Want to hear why?” Eizen nodded.

She paused for a good few seconds before continuing. “It’s because... I still have my feelings for both of you.” A gentle tone overtook her voice as she opened up.

“Your... feelings, huh...”

“That’s right.” She looked back at his eyes, taking in his reaction. “...You sound oddly surprised, though. Didn’t you figure it out earlier? Why else would I be reading into you so well?”

“No. No, I knew from the start,” Eizen said. “But, well... I took the opposite route you did: I’ve been thinking on this way more than I should.”

Even when he stopped talking, Velvet stayed silent. He took her stare as encouragement to go on.

“As far as you knew, you spent no time without me at all. But me... For me, it’s been centuries. I’ve lived well over a thousand years with the weight of you being as good as dead. I dealt with the grief, I accepted that you were gone, and now... And now, you’re back. And I didn’t know how to deal with you, so I... ran so I didn’t have to.”

Velvet nodded.

“I’ve figured it out now though,” he declared. “I’ll go with you regardless of how I feel about that Shepherd. If it’s an alliance with the Reaper you want once more, then you’ll have me after all. As you said about yourself, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose.’”

She laughed again. It was music to Eizen’s ears. “So you don’t have anything better to do after all. Guess that answers my earlier question.” Velvet began to leave the shop and gestured for Eizen to follow. “Alright, let’s go tell our Shepherd the good news.”

“Aye.” He stepped to follow her, but halted. “One second, actually.”

Velvet cocked an eyebrow at him. “Second thoughts, Eizen? That’s unlike you.”

Eizen returned to the display from earlier, he found the choker again. He did think Velvet’s neck was oddly bare, not that he minded the look of her. The amber stone and twin silver chain was priced at an amount far more than the gald he carried, but invisibility was a luxury in a time like this. With deft hands, he slipped the choker from its display and brought it to Velvet.

Velvet looked at it for a long moment. Her eyes betrayed nothing. “What’s this...?” she asked softly.

“Call me nostalgic,” Eizen said, “but perhaps I’m too used to how you looked back then versus now. You wore something like this once before. I just thought something like this would suit you.”

Velvet looked up into his face, her lips parted just a sliver. Then those lips curled into a smirk. “I did hear you were once a pirate,” she teased. Then she turned and pulled back what hair she could to show the nape of her pale neck. “Put it on me, then. The Shepherd won’t be happy if we linger too long shoplifting.”

 


 

Eizen’s observation that the Shepherd sounded like Aifread wasn’t far off the mark. She was far younger, but her imagination, devil-may-care attitude, and passion for life reminded Eizen just why he liked humans so much.

The adventures she dragged the two through helped ease the awkwardness of two former friends. But even though Eizen was ultimately happy Velvet slowly started to accept him again, something always felt wrong to him about being near her... The stoic seraph would too often stare into the distance. Her fingers stroked the amber pendant at her throat, but when Eizen would start to ask what’s wrong, she’d deny anything and walk straight past him.

Two months into their journey, on a night they stopped to rest in between towns, Eizen noticed Velvet fidgeting in her sleep. More than just fidgeting; she was writhing, as though she was in pain . . They were the only ones in the tent–there were two tents and the Shepherd and Lailah shared the other–so it was on him to make sure she was alright.

Eizen hurriedly kneeled next to her. “Velvet, wake up!”

“Why... he was my only... La... why did you...”

“Hey, wake up! Velvet!” He shook her.

Velvet twitched awake and lunged at Eizen, her left arm grabbing for him. In her sleep she misjudged the distance, falling to the side after failing to reach him.

“...Eizen...” She slowly rose from the ground, mumbling. Her white hair was wild with bedhead, falling all over her face. She was still half asleep but aware enough of her surroundings to realize no threats were present.

He looked at Velvet, his scowl deep with worry. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine...” she said, sitting back on the futon and brushing the hair out of her face. “Nightmares are routine for me; I’m just not used to being woken up during them.”

‘Nightmares were something she struggled with as a hellion too...’ Eizen recalled. “I see.” He sat back from his prior kneeling position. “Velvet, you know seraphim don’t need to sleep, right? You don’t need to deal with nightmares anymore if you don’t want to.”

“I’m fine having nightmares,” Velvet replied. “In fact, I welcome them; it’s the only time I feel truly connected to my past. At first I thought they were just trying to convince me I remembered things I didn’t, but as time goes on I think... I think the memories I see here may actually be mine. Like I said: I’m not going to run from who I once was.”

“I’m sure there’s a better way to remember your past than subjecting yourself to constant nightmares,” Eizen said. “You don’t have to keep it up tonight if you don’t want to.”

Velvet rolled her eyes at the other seraph. “Stop fretting. It’s not like they’re all nightmares; sometimes I have normal dreams, too.” Her expression relaxed as she recounted them. “Sometimes I get to see Laphi before he died. I still wake up mourning a little brother I can’t remember anymore, but I get to see him in a more positive light. I remember all the overly complex books he’d read, all the prickleboars I hunted for us, all the time we spent together... It feels real then, and even a little real once I’m awake too.

“And it’s not always about Laphi either,” she continued. “Especially lately. My dreams have spread out more, so sometimes... I remember you and the rest of our crew.” She smiled. “One time I caught myself getting angry just thinking about Magilou, and I think that was one of the first times I realized there was more to my dreams than just dreaming.”

They both laughed.

“If you don’t want me to keep dwelling on the past, though...” she said, rising to a kneeling position on her futon to meet Eizen’s eyes. “Why don’t we start focusing on the future?”

“That’s a good– Wha...?” He was cut off by Velvet raising her hand to his cheek. Her cold fingers on his warm face sent a shiver through his body, cutting into his composure. “Velvet, w-what are you doing...?!”

“I like that shade of red on you.” She smirked, and a blush of her own slowly spread across her own face. She stroked his cheek with her thumb, an up and down motion. “I’m just pursuing what I want for my future. If you won’t have me, that’s one thing. But whether it’s something the old Velvet wanted or something that I discovered for myself... You’re one thing I know I want right now.”

“Velvet...”

She took his right hand in her left. The soft skin against his calloused hand was a sharp, sudden reminder that her left hand was no longer as he knew it. No bandages in sight, not even any scars. Just the soft, gentle hand of a wind seraph.

Something snapped in Eizen. He grabbed Velvet in that moment, pulled her close, and pressed her mouth against his. A rough, desperate kiss that she struggled to return. But gods, did she try. And in that moment, one of his biggest regrets from all those centuries ago vanished. He not only had Velvet back, but now had her just for himself.

They pulled apart, breathing heavy. Velvet’s familiar amber eyes, with a strong, far more unfamiliar light in them, stared back at him closer than he had ever seen them.

Yuyelasu Duwodusi,” she declared.

Eizen took a sharp breath. “Your true name, huh…?”

“That’s the first thing you share with a new lover, right?” Velvet said, voice low and breathless. She squeezed his hand, then let it go. “It means ‘Velvet the Devoted.’ A tribute to my single-mindedness, and now a tribute to you, should you have me.”

Eizen smirked. “After all that, I’d hope you’d realize I will be having you.” He paused, preparing to say his own true name. “Ufemew Wexub."

Velvet nodded. “Eizen the Explorer. Sounds about right.”

“Aye. Getting a hang on the Ancient Tongue already, are you? I’ll gladly explore that new future you’re so devoted to with you.”

Before Velvet could respond, or even before she could roll her eyes at his wordplay, Eizen shoved her into the futon. She gasped at the impact, prompting a devilish smirk from him. He crawled over to straddle her, removing her choker carefully.

“Mind if I take my turn now?” Eizen placed her choker carefully to the futon’s side, and leaned into her ear. “I have some more centuries old regrets to make peace with,” he whispered.

Velvet blushed, glanced aside, then gazed back into Eizen’s eyes as he drew back his head. The amber pendant shone, like her eyes, in the room’s dim light. “I’m more than fine with that…” she wrapped her arms around him, preparing to pull him back down. “Just, don’t be surprised if your little curse drags a certain nosy Shepherd or Prime Lord into our tent midway.”

Before he could respond, she yanked him back down into another, even more passionate kiss. He was more than happy to take the fall.