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First Rain

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Five centuries after the Age of Chaos, soft rain falls over Camlann.

In the ancient cycle of water, mountain is the earthly zenith-- the highest place from which things flows downwards, blessing soaking deep into dirt and roots of living things. In the past few centuries, as the world below rises and falls, Camlann and the mountain it roots itself in becomes and is the origin of purity: a point of pilgrimage, a house of peace-- a lighthouse stretching on to the depths of the night, guiding lost souls home, softly, softly.

Rain falls upon Camlann. A hundred thousand blades of grass and new leaves and budding flowers bounce at the soft impacts, almost as if to a beat, all bowing in awe to the ancient rite of creation. Like a hundred thousand little sparkles, they welcome the new life forming in the cradle of a lost home.

Mikleo always liked rain.

Sorey did, too, though he didn't particularly like how some of the others wouldn't let them play outside because of all the mud. Rain here always left the fields fresh and slippery-- the sort of things that were fun only when experienced barefoot, with only his undershirt and shorts. It felt like Elysia was renewed-- it felt like imperfections time brought was being healed, washed away as steadily as the water trickled through the grass, carving a path in the soft dirt. The spring felt especially refreshing when they washed off the mud, dirty even to the root of their hair, and the world was brighter as they tackled each other into the water, Mikleo not even kicking him for accidentally electrocuting him again.

He kicked him when Sorey tickled him underwater, though.

“I could’ve drowned,” he said, spitting out water from his mouth, and Sorey laughed as he leaned in close, kissing his cheek in apology.

Other days, rain fell at dusk. Elysia always felt especially melancholic at dusk-- purples toyed with the shadow, coaxing it into pale darkness, but with nature and everyone else blocked out, rainy nights became a cage. Hearth flickered steadily, like the sound of breathing and crinkling of pages being flipped, but real warmth was found in the cocoon of blankets and limbs, and comfort in hushed, excited voices.

They reread the Celestial records often, lit up by lamp—always beside Sorey, of course. Sometimes they took other books. Sometimes they read children’s books, with its bright, faded illustrations; sometimes they read more books on archeology, on culture, on anthropology and astronomy and novels about the great and about the mundane and about knowledge, weakness, strength. They shared a plate of pancakes—or cake, if that was what Mikleo made earlier in the day. Mikleo was usually aware of when he got too sleepy to continue, but sometimes, he was out like light and Sorey let him sleep with his head on his lap, content to read over his face.

“G’night, Sorey,” he’d mumble into the fabric bunched up on Sorey’s stomach and Sorey pulled up the blanket up to his shoulder. Mikleo, thanks to his dislike of fire, relied a lot on blankets to keep himself warm—it had been the case when they were infants, and it was the case now. Still, when Mikleo wasn’t being infuriating by arguing with him or hitting him with a pillow for no discernable reason, Sorey was more than willing to do these little things. They’d do the same for each other.

“Sweet dreams, Mikleo.”

Sorey was a seraph of lightning-- he liked rain and found the mother of his essence in the flashing bright lights within thunderstorms. Still, he found home mostly here.

As though a fever has just broken, time that has come to a pause resumes again.

Maotelus's blessing returns in trickles, like rivulets of water entering the ground to dwell within the springs deep underneath. Purification, when it happens naturally, is like dust in sunlight—along the gentle breeze they blink, floating upwards. Idyllic nature becomes sleepy. Shepherds, though many, now, find peace in the places they go. Seraphim, in the many places they might be, gaze expectantly towards the beam, which pulsates still, the tip of which dissolving in the clouds.

At the heart of Glenwood, heartbeats resonate again. Mikleo who for so long has become an abstract concept finds a form again, though it still finds itself joining the raindrops and washes away with the occasional flood. A great white tail curls, keeping the water close, and the ethereal blue essence throbs, stills, sleeps.

Below the elevated throne, an earth seraph with a flowering wisteria tree for a vessel looks up. She has spent the past few centuries clearing the effects of time upon the stones, brushing away the decay of fallen leaves and petals, and will continue to do so until such thing is no longer needed. The domain she resides in is humbling; what she feels, however, is the swelling of love, thrumming under her skin as she sits on a branch, fingers tracing the raised skin of the tree.

She has waited, and will continue to wait.

It is not time yet, however. He is water, he is rain, he is dew and mist and waves but if he leaves now, he will be washed away. Maotelus tells him that, and Mikleo finds only the susurrus of feelings, and replies with a hum. It echoes within their shared light. Wide white wings cover him, extending like the canopy of the holy tree, and their awareness dims again. It is not time yet.

Journey found them and soon enough, Sorey found them washed and rushed downriver and straight into Ladylake, before its grand gates and grand bridge and grand crown of a city, tranquil like a queen upon the waters.

They found Alisha and they found fate: Mikleo, with both fear and determination and belief, drew the Sacred Blade and offered his hand to the flame. His soul trembled in shimmers; still, he accepted her.

Lailah was the great heart of fire that guided moths and men, and with that heart she became their guidance. With care they carried on-- with care they headed out, to Marlind, to Glaivend Basin, to Pendrago. Water followed the ancient cycle-- what came from the mountain returned to the mountain. With care they returned to Camlann, and the beginning became a new beginning.

The creation of a vessel goes in a process not unlike the dripping of water upon the stones of a cave: time carves out a place for another child of the essences, in the womb of earth, with water to foster it, and flames to ignite it, and winds to move it. In another mountain, an earth seraph looks at the light and thins her mouth, though her eyes soften. A wind seraph feels the slightest bit of movement, a tiny shift of a finger, and grins.

"Does he usually oversleep this long?" Edna asks Sorey when she finally joins Lailah and the others in a Sub Lord pact, voice not quite flat.

Sorey laughs, and the sound is soft from distraction-- six centuries, and he finds himself still staring at the light. He had lived the best he could, with its stumbles and silences and rise and fall. Lightning, being not of the original elements, had been mostly a catastrophe in the eyes of men-- these days, they're a source of power that drives forward idyllic living, adding yet another gear to the intricate workings of Life. He was thanked three centuries ago for helping power the first train. Sometimes, these days, he gets elbowed for accidentally getting too excited and putting the lights out.

Either way, he couldn’t sense the bloom of life as others seemed to be able to.

"Humph." Edna turns and opens her umbrella again. "Fine, don't answer me."

Lailah giggles, and the sound flickers light like a candle flame. "He's just distracted."

“Do you really think he’ll be back soon?” Sorey finally asks, eyes bright as he turns back to them. Lailah’s smile fades into something gentler, fingers intertwined, and Edna closes her umbrella to tap the earth. Eyes closing, she purses her lips.

“Don’t know if soon is really the word here,” Edna says. “But he’s reforming again.”

“And the blessing of Maotelus is returning now,” Lailah adds. “It worked.”

Sorey’s head snaps to her as she said Maotelus, and she giggles. There’s a light to her figure, now, and he can’t tell if it’s somehow part of Maotelus’s power or just her restored radiance, but he doesn’t care either way. Her happiness is contagious.

“Yes. I no longer have a need for an oath to wield the flames of purification.”

As his gaze returns to the mountain of his home, Sorey feels something growing and filling up his chest. It’s like being choked. He doesn’t know what words can lessen the pressure—can make it go, but he feels happy. It’s been so long and he tries to be happy, tries to find joy, but everything pales to Now. He just feels so, so damn happy.

“Great. He has turned into a puppy.” Edna’s monotone even finds itself less scathing, and she rolls her eyes to compensate.

When Deana, the Shepherd, returns from the bakery she entered half an hour ago, she laughs when he nestles himself in her mind. Lailah twirls and Edna snorts, and Deana grins as she distributes the hot cappuccino buns to her friends. “Sheesh—sure are happy, aren’t you? What happened?”

He doesn’t say, but he doesn’t need to—it’s like the whole world is alight, and birds sing clear and loud.

 Lastonbell echoed the bells at night-- though they didn't chime, it was in the air: intoxicated adults stumble out of pubs and houses as dogs bark at the lively outside, energized by the change of atmosphere. Families finally met eye-to-eye over the dinner table.  Sorey found Mikleo in the park, leaning against the stone railing, eyes on the sky.

Night was clear as day. Without clouds, stars formed inky sweet trail in the dark, a guiding creek in the forest of the evening. Especially bright pinpricks of white were stones in the water-- steady, they let the faded luminescence pass by them, weaving to the march of time. Sorey could link them with his eyes, with a string-- they held their positions as though watching history unfold with bated breath, and couldn't tear their eyes away.

"Look at all those stars," Sorey said, leaning his back against the railings, settling next to Mikleo.

"They're beautiful tonight," Mikleo admitted.

"I forgot who said it. That there are as many emotions as there are stars in the sky." A pause. Above, though, both wisps of clouds and time continued moving, dimming and accentuating the twinkling lights. “I can totally see that.”

Mikleo smiled, and the pale night softened the edges of it. “A metaphor for how each emotion sparkles in its own way, huh? Must’ve been a romantic who came up with that one.”

Sorey chuckled.

Mikleo spoke up again after a moment of silence. “You know—they’ve also said that some stars, you can’t see. But just because they’re not visible within our field of vision, doesn’t mean they’re not shining, still.”

Like tranquil ponds, his eyes reflected the ones that shone the brightest. They never needed words-- like lightning tucked inside a storm, they were a package. Sorey shuffled closer until their shoulders bump against each other, and stayed there. There would soon be a time when even stars would fail to shine—it would be a long, cloudy night, but they both went this far for the sun.

"And turns out there are a lot of stars you just can't see from Elysia,” Sorey said, soft.

“But the ones you can’t see are always the ones that take your breath away when you finally are able to, don’t they? Just like when Alisha first heard Lailah speak. When she first saw you.”

Sorey grinned. “Your face was incredible.”

Mikleo jabbed him in the stomach, fingers wiggling just a bit, and Sorey poked back, laughing. Still, the moment receded, and Mikleo’s eyes returned to the skies. “At that moment, I felt real hope that our dream might actually come true, one day. That humans and seraphim could live together, just like we did.”

If thoughts could soar high with dreams, it could do the same with worry. Tension. Apologies. There was distance in Mikleo’s eyes, and Sorey only gently nudged him.

“Even then, though, you had to—“ He stopped.

A hand clasped his left shoulder, and Mikleo moved to his right. Each of his footstep was clear, clearer than the words he spoke prior to all this, and Sorey wondered if this was all meant to be. “You had to shut off all of your senses. And…”

“Yeah,” Mikleo answered. “If I become a temporary vessel for Maotelus and shut off all my senses, I might be able to do that for the entirety of Glenwood. And if it works—if it works, then the Squire ought to be able to wield the Shepherd’s powers, even if her natural ability isn’t quite up to par.”

“Which would mean that the Squire can do what you usually would have to do,” Sorey added. “And finding Squires is an arguably easier and more constructive approach than waiting for another Shepherd to appear.”

Twenty years, after all. And prior to that, who knows how long it had been? One hundred and eighty? One hundred and sixty, seventy? There was some logic to that. Sorey could see it.

Then again, he was Sorey the Affirmer.

“I know the implications,” Mikleo said. “But so long as I don’t forget, my dreams will live on.”

“All right.”

There was another thing that Sorey read in the books. There was a record of a star that shone so bright it was visible even in daylight, and outshone the moon on a good night. Cultures around the world documented it, calling it many names—the Guest of the Sky, the Visitor, Maotelus’ star—

It shone only a few days, before winking out of sight.

Sorey couldn’t help but feel like that was what Mikleo would be, now; centuries would stretch on and on, and he would have occupied a total of seventeen years of his long future. History hadn’t forgotten it, wouldn’t have forgotten him—but people would. Sorey had always been glad that Mikleo found himself within the company of humans, because he was not a star to be hidden, but.

Mikleo had promised he wouldn’t forget. Even though the brightest star in the sky would wink out, he would still be here.

In the sky.

“And, well—“ And now a chain bracelet with a milky blue stone hung from Mikleo’s hand, in front of him, “—I thought this would be… nice. For a vessel, I mean. Lailah said it would be okay, if only temporarily.”

It didn’t have the same sort of mystery and history and nostalgia his circlet and its gem had, but that’s okay. That circlet was part of Mikleo, as much as the feather clasp of his Shepherd’s cloak was part of them together, him holding Mikleo and his duty together. As much as their weapons were the results of their passion, now channeled to their shared dream. This gem wasn’t supposed to be a replacement. This was just a star, blinking in his place.

 Seven centuries has passed, now. In the last a hundred and sixty years, Sorey has taken it upon himself to truly explore the ruins again. It has been an activity he partook in on and off, weaving periods where he serves a Shepherd in between those sessions, and he’s ready to start again. There are many Shepherds at one time, now—Lailah returns to Nimue often to form Shepherd pacts. She can freely talk, now, but the puns haven’t receded, hadn’t in centuries. Morgrim does the same, in Pendrago. Sorey finds himself filling books after books after books with quick, flowing handwriting—passions renewed, he dedicates them to Mikleo, as always. Five hundred years old books get rewritten. Dust-thickened home is cleaned by busy Elysian hands, and Kyme smiles, sensing the water welcome a new presence into the cycle.

Within the light, an ancient voice echoes.

Wake up, my child. In the fragments of Mikleo’s mind, the voice is splintered into two—one is a deep rumble, and the other makes him think of hazy tobacco smoke and lightning. Your friends have waited for long.

Okay, he says, and his voice ripples in their consciousness.

The light becomes a dragon. Mikleo wakes up, nameless, and rises from the pool of water he has been lying in. The greatness peers down on him with kind eyes, and he finds himself being helped up by a tail, then a snout, and then the arms of a woman. When he looks up, she smiles. Staring at her face feels like staring at a mirror, and he doesn’t know why. She smells like flowers—all sorts of them, all familiar. It hangs in the air like the dust that shines under the rare few rays of sunlight, and he lets her hug him before helping him stand straighter.

“Let me cut your hair before you go,” she says, the first words he’s heard beyond the dragon, and he doesn’t ask how she knows he has to go. His hair is pale and extends further than even his own height, and it’s heavy with water. The snip snip of her scissors lulls him into closing his eyes, and he wonders why he sees mostly green.

 Three things happened in the span of a Moment: Sorey and Mikleo armatized, electricity running down their spine like the icy white noise in their shared head, and they shot the arrow at Gramps. Mikleo fired four spirits, all of whom had carved their places in his heart and left it gouged. Mikleo pushed Rose onto the other platform and killed Heldalf.

 Three things happened in the span of a Moment: Hyland attacked, leaving everything into shades of red. Michael rushed to Heldalf, and Rolance knights fled. Him throwing Mikleo just barely over the fire, into the safety of Muse’s arms.

 The beginning became the beginning, and the ancient cycle of water starts again.

Water flows downwards.

Three things happen in the span of a Moment: The search for the one with the bright shocks of lightning. Him reaching out for the blue gem, something echoing faintly in his blank page memories. The floor falling under his feet.

Everything after is a new beginning.