Part 4 – For Whom Shall Rage Mourn?
Many creatures grieve for many reasons, or thus I have learned. The anger is the greatest, perhaps the only part I truly understand; that which set me against Glenn, standing in the wake of his sorrow long after it had replaced mine. Rage is a daemon quick to invade and slow to flee, a vengeful virus contaminating and adopting each fiber of the heart. It cursed and consumed the Masamune, spreading from what remained of the owner’s soul, and it would have taken me the rest of the way to the reaper’s call, always so close since that day. Yet when the moon does come, and Rage moves to fields more ripe, what remains?
“Behold.” I languidly stretched an arm toward the waters below the cape, standing straight and stiff; my bones and whatever they concealed felt as if rigor mortis had set in from anticipation of what was to come. The man-frog stood behind me, armed, with two of his companions – Marle, the long haired girl with a pendant so like Schala’s, and Lucca, with her strange armor and eye augmentations. The Black Wind still whispered painfully, most of all from him, yet it no longer burned.
“Everything's at the bottom of the sea,” I continued. “Gone is the magical kingdom of Zeal, and all the dreams and ambitions of its people.” I trembled, feeling the leftover rage resonate between myself and the man-frog. “I once lived there . . . but I was another person then . . .”
Flashes of everything that had happened in that other life played across my mind once more. Schala’s identity, having surfaced completely again in the waking world after I was cast back into this land, drove me with renewed vigor and countless years of painful, cheated feelings to believe that she was still somewhere in the fourth and fifth dimension.
I hated these youths, hated them for their power to cheat time that I did not possess, and most of all I hated them for robbing me from my vengeance against Lavos; I hated them black, yet somehow, I didn't. For Schala had grown fond of them in the short time their paths had crossed, and I had witnessed them confront Lavos openly. I did not understand how my feelings could walk two opposing paths at the same moment. I'd had poor instruction in the complexities of the heart for most of my life. Only Schala might have explained it to me, and all that stopped me from throwing myself into that glorious death by combat was the thought of finding her. She would want me to carry on in this mortal coil, despite what I had become, just as she had refused to give up on “Mother” after Lavos had destroyed her soul.
Schala would mourn. Not even in the mind's eye could I watch her mourn.
“So! Thou art . . . thou art that filthy urchin!” The man-frog rudely twisted my thoughts.
I was slow to answer, but somehow I found myself speaking my open mind. “ . . . Ever since Lavos's time portal stranded me in the Middle Ages . . . I have waited to even this score . . . you interrupted me just when I had summoned Lavos to my castle . . .
How ironic that, having been drawn into yet another portal, I would end up in this age.
Being from the future, my knowledge of the past enabled me to convince the Queen that I was a mighty oracle. But no history book could have ever prepared me for what happened here. Unimaginable is the power of Lavos. Anyone who dares to oppose it . . . meets certain doom.”
My anger then surged, as I thought of their initial interference. Fools like these had called me a monster for as long as I could remember. Animals like these had spread gross rumors that I was using Schala for my own purposes, that I had no relation to the royal family because I was so different from her. Then, they dare prevent me from claiming my revenge, the only gift I had remaining. I sneered, knowing exactly what I should have told them, and how different it was from what I indulged myself in saying. “At this rate, you too, will meet a hideous fate. Just like that poor fool, Chrono!
“You dare to insult him?!” The frog answered, his voice cracking in a ridiculous manner.
“He's history! Play with fire and you get burned.” I thought of my own words from over twenty years ago, mouthing them silently to these very same idiots. “One Among you will shortly perish.”
“Magus! Hold thy tongue!”
“You wish to fight me?” I snapped, the rage stronger at that moment than it had been in a long time, stronger than I sometimes thought it would ever grow again in my rare peaceful moments.
And then, I entered a waking, walking dream; the rare kind that Doreen talked about as happening to those especially in touch with their own powers. One moment I was aware, very much feeling the biting elements and their subtle reminder that the world was physical, and the next I felt each of those subtleties shift into their ethereal approximations.
“Stand back.” The man-frog spoke with quiet anger.
“I never imagined we would settle our score in this dusty old era.” I heard myself answer. “Come, let us finish this charade!”
The battle happened quickly, and from the first swing I felt my weakness, a weakness that splintered in my heart from all that had transpired and repeated itself through my fingers as I watched, as helpless as the boy I had been. It proved my undoing, and I felt the life draining even as my scythe dropped from my trembling fingers.
“Cyrus, I hath avenged thee!” I heard, dimly.
Amazingly, I felt my own anger draining with my life; instead I felt sorrow that Schala would mourn, sorrow that I would not carry forward for her, that she might already be crying somewhere dark and cold, a place she deserved far less than I. At the same time, I felt a release in knowing that I would reunite with her, had she indeed crossed over. At that moment, as I watched the events of my life travel backward in time, memories of the gurus joined them. I thought of a small, white egg I remembered the old man Gaspar carrying, as well as Schala’s explanation of its purpose. I then knew how I might have saved her, and what I owed my opponents for their defeat of me and their willingness to absorb my cause, to finish what I had attempted and failed. “Defeat me, and you will break the curse on Frog. If . . . you want . . . to bring Chrono back . . . find Gaspar, th . . . the Guru of Time . . .”
My eyes shifted, and the dream was over. I had just asked Glenn, the man-frog, if he wished to fight me.
“Vanquishing thee will neither return Chrono nor Cyrus.” The creature answered, before turning with the young females and heading away. Out of habit I found my mind telling me to let them walk, to wish them a fair riddance to their ugliest hereafter, yet I knew the waking dream had meaning that I couldn't ignore. My anger toward these children, which had evaporated, remained as much a memory as my old life.
“Wait.” I found myself calling to them, realizing for the first time how our paths had crossed so often, for a very obvious reason.
“May your stupidity teach you a slower, more painful lesson than it taught your friend,” I rehearsed one last time in my mind. “I'll come with you,” I found myself saying instead.
“Treachery!” Croaked back at me in response.
For the first time, I answered fire with something other than more fire. “You know, there just might be a way to bring him back.”
The Remains of the Night
“So . . . you're going to search for Schala?” Marle asked from behind me as I headed toward the shimmering portal, though I was too preoccupied to answer a question that was hardly a question; I preferred to skip the slushy farewells and answer her and the rest of them with deed, knowing our paths would one day cross again. Though they were still weak, certainly weaker than I, it grieves me to admit they had a potential I had not anticipated; without their help, I might not . . . that is, it might have taken me longer to defeat Lavos.
Watching Lavos die had quelled hatred that had embedded itself so deeply into my roots that, almost immediately, I turned inward to see what, if anything, was left. The void I encountered frightened me, at least in the form of that mental shadow that we substitute for real emotion when we're afraid we should feel something we don't. Such a void told me that my faith was ebbing, if not completely dissolved. I began to doubt not only that I would ever find my sister, but also that she hadn't been more than a muse, a phantom memory. Perhaps my early life as a human was no more than that.
I wandered, if only to honor my earlier self, the one who still believed Schala was waiting. I walked among villages, farms, fields, keeping mostly in the shadow of my cloak as I studied these humans, hardly believing I had once been one of them. I suppose if a frog were to see itself as a tadpole . . . well, never mind. Once my heart leapt when I thought I saw Schala, only to find the light had tricked my eyes, that it was only a common girl carrying a basket of vegetables down the street.
I took to the skies, drifting more than flying. A flock of geese passed over me, spraying me with jilted feathers, which gave me a grim sense of being in my element. I thought I might fall asleep and wake up as the wind itself, Mune's very aspiration, minus his simplistic enthusiasm. I just wouldn't care.
I soon came across the Epoch again, and before I was consciously aware of it, I was following them, keeping myself out of sight and sleeping high in the trees when the ship was aground. For days, I trailed behind, watching it take off and land, watching the youths run from town to town, era to era. They ate, worried, laughed and cried together as passionately as they had fought together. I wondered how they could spend so much time stepping on each other's feet and not be at each other's throats. Such intense socialization with my peers I could never stand for an hour, much less a week. What business had I to approach them? I, their former adversary, who had completed my objective and no longer needed them? I asked myself, over and over, why I wasted my time lingering in their shadows. Eventually, I wandered off again.
Masamune No More
I remained solitary for years, sleeping in the wilderness or seeking the refuge of quiet caves, all the while continuing to circle the world, passing through village after village in search of my lovely muse, my lovely phantom who still kept me company whenever I quit this miserable plane of existence known as the waking world. I was almost content to waste away, to enjoy what remained of Schala in my own imagination, to fade out of existence somewhere in a high tree or a deep pit. I might have, had I not been woken so rudely that morning.
I had returned to Guardia. I was sleeping against a thick tree, hiding in my cape from the morning light, hoping such a false night would keep me asleep until I wasted away. My cover was suddenly torn away, a crude morning forced upon me, and a sharp poke woke me the rest of the way. I shot upward, pulling my cape back and glaring at the two soldiers in foreign armor, preparing to leave them as a stain of ash upon the ground.
“We're occupying this area!” Grunted one of them, a very short, very portly young soldier with a curled strip of hair under his nose. “Shake yourself back to the village with us!”
“That's right!” said the other, much taller and thinner, and wearing armor the ugliest shade of yellow I'd ever seen. “We've spiced up your backward little country. You've just become a subject of--”
I hissed, and they both went silent. In the far distance, shouts and weapons clashing replaced the usual morning insects and bird calls. Once, these sounds, so familiar, so hateful, might have contented me, even pleased me enough to make breakfast. “How early a death could you gentlemen possibly seek?” I asked. To make my point, I called forth a bolt of lightning and obliterated a tree behind them.
“Yiee! Oh, Oh!” The skinny one cried.
“Shut up!” The fat one said, slapping his companion, though I could see he was equally terrified.
I felt my own expression light up. Idiots. “Now listen,” I told them, “I have no special love for this country, or the humans that frolic around on it. But these woods are mine. Unless you wish to become part of them, I suggest you curl your tails between your legs and scurry off. Bonus points for a healthy, blood-curdling scream.”
They obliged without looking back, and I followed them for a time, concealed once more in shadow, for I had always taken delight in other creatures' fear of things that had no particular interest in them.
Eventually, I lost interest and veered away, following instead a trail of wounded and dead soldiers, most of them Guardian. The air was alive with swords, arrows, and other projectiles from newer, more sophisticated weaponry (for humans). I had to work to keep out of sight, as there were pockets of fighting almost everywhere, and the ground was streaked red. I hadn't seen this magnitude of carnage in quite some time, and though I didn't care one way or another for these people, the stupidity and abandon of it all was disquieting.
I would recognize that sword in any era. Those meddlesome brothers leave a certain trademark any time they combine to form a weapon. As soon as I saw the tide turning in favor of Guardia, with more foreign armor falling to the ground and complementing the native losses, I had no trouble tracing it to the source.
The Masamune's owner was a youth who looked barely old enough to be more than a squire. This was easy to discern, as he was the only of his comrades who wore no helmet, and only the most basic leather armor. I ran toward him, forgetting my cover entirely, as he hacked apart foe after foe. The sword's aura was no longer a bright blue, but a darker midnight color with a subtle shade of violet. I cared nothing for the outcome of these petty wars, but this was wrong. This, I had to stop. “Drop the sword, you fool!” I shouted, running forward until the youth was in easy spitting range.
He took several swings at me before he realized I wasn't rushing at him. “Stay back! Stay out of my way if you're too afraid to fight for your . . .” Recognition crept over his features as he studied me. “You--you're the one talked about in the scrolls! You're my family's enemy!” He swung at me again, and again I dodged. I was confused only for a moment, then I realized he must be descended from the frog. I removed his curse . . . but not, apparently, his hatred. That, he must have passed down, along with . . .
I studied the Masamune again. Four hundred years of resentment and bitterness towards me, from the sword's owners, was taking its toll, twisting the entity into something dark and unnatural. Something like . . . me, I realized, as the sword seemed to take on a will of its own. The youth struggled with it, frowning. “What the--?”
“Watch out!” I shouted at the poor fool as a soldier came up behind, not sure why I bothered. The youth turned, but the sword's sudden resistance slowed him down. A sword broke through the youth's chest, and he toppled forward. Blood pooled underneath him, and he held the Masamune tightly in a death grip, his face permanently locked with an impressive (but unnerving) amount of hatred and fury. This was no doubt amplified by his final vision being that of his country falling to pieces.
I dispatched the youth's killer with a healthy fireball, realizing all too late that I had chosen sides once again. A few of the invader's comrades came at me, and I took them out effortlessly with my scythe. I looked back at the Masamune, its aura now a dark, angry maroon, and I risked prying it from the dead boy's hands. “Masa? Mune? Wake up, you oafs! Are you listening to me?”
No answer. Instead, the sword's cold, organic handle spread loathing through every fiber of my being so instantly, so completely. I wanted to slice open every last human for keeping Schala from me. I would grant Chrono and his friends an especially slow death for meddling in my revenge against Lavos, for claiming a part of that victory as their own, for making me seem like I needed their help. I turned, ready to begin my work.
I threw the sword down, burying it in the ground halfway to the hilt, shuddering as the violent thoughts left me. I turned to the voice that had called me back to what little sanity I clung to. The one called Lucca stood before me, holding a steaming handgun off to the side. “Thank God,” she said between deep breaths, “There's something wrong with that sword. I meant to warn you. I wouldn't go near it again, if I were you.”
“No argument there,” I growled. Meant to warn me? “I'm leaving. There's nothing of use to be done here.”
“Speak for yourself!” she answered, firing at a few more of the invaders. At a closer look, I saw her face was stained with dry tears. She glanced at me only briefly through those ridiculous lenses as she took down soldier after solder, most twice her age and all more than twice her size.
I shrugged, then started walking away, cutting down two more invaders. “Save yourself, idiot girl!” I found myself shouting back. “This kingdom is finished!”
“I'm aware of that!” She answered. I turned back and faced her. Six soldiers were closing in on here. Nobody was left in the area to help her, not even her friend Chrono or that little princess.
Out the corner of my eye, I saw the hole in the ground where I'd stuck the Masamune, only moments earlier. It was gone.
Before I knew it, I had rushed back, and I was dragging Lucca by the arm. “Stupid,” I growled, “Even with my help, you couldn't win against these odds.”
“Let me go!” She pulled at my hand, dragging her feet. “They killed my parents! They killed them! They just walked in and . . . and then they tried to loot . . .”
“Shut up!” I answered. “I'll be happy to knock you unconscious again, if you give me the chance. Or haven't you noticed the Masamune is now in the enemy's hands?!”
“N—NOOO!!” Luca cried, though I wasn't sure which she was protesting against, the Masamune's corruption or me dragging her away from her revenge. “No, no, no . . .” She continued to moan as I dragged her. I could see that she, too, was finally losing her grip on reality “No . . . !”
Hours later, when we were in the clear, she sat across from me in the woods beside her home, sobbing. I sat across from her against a tree, trying to figure out why I'd wasted the energy to save her. A moment later, it came to me: I needed the Epoch to find Schala. Lucca knew more about the Epoch than anyone ever had, or ever would. Yes, that was the reason, I assured myself.
“Listen to me,” I said, “Revenge is a tempting drink. I know it too well. For most of my adult life, I pursued it. And then, the worst event in my life came to pass: I achieved it.” I remembered the emptiness that followed Lavos's destruction, the disappointment that such a victory hadn't felt the way I expected it to feel, or felt like much of anything at all. I remembered wanting to drift away into nothingness, how I somehow expected Lavos's death to return Schala to me, and when it didn't, how I started to lose my faith that Schala even existed at all anymore. “Do I look like someone who's satisfied, someone who sleeps easily and peacefully now that he wears the medal of vengeance?” I frowned inwardly, wondering how these words were helping my ends.
I watched her bury her face in her hands, shaking and crying. This was one of the more uncomfortable moments of my life, as I simply had no idea what to do. “This isn't real . . . this can't be real . . .” she moaned through tears. I felt myself sweating, and for some reason, I felt very, very small. I knew her friends were supposed to be sitting with her, not someone like myself, a shell of a former human who had nothing left to offer. Normally, given the situation, I would make some statement about her friends probably being dead also, but instead, I tried to think of how I might find them, send them here in my place, since they knew how to behave in these situations far more than I ever might.
“It's real,” I said, letting the words flow as naturally as I could. “Hiding doesn't work either. Been there, done that. Lucca . . .” That was the first time I'd ever addressed her personally by her name. “Be thankful you were born to parents who looked upon you as more than a sacrifice to some foolish god. Don't you dare be as weak as the rest of your lot. They wanted you to survive, as Schala wanted for me.”
Soon, she stopped crying and looked up at me. Growing more uncomfortable by the moment, I rose and bid a curt farewell before I was in danger of being thanked.
I kept a close eye on her, doing my best to shield her house from the conquerors' eyes with my magic. I watched her bury her parents in the side yard, talking to herself as if she were talking to them, as if they could still hear her. After that, she spent her days working on the various machines and automata to which she had always had a queer attachment. I watched her without imposing my presence, and whenever she left the house to hunt for food, I made sure her path was clear of undesirables.
One day she was returning to the house, tending to some noxious mechanism with arms and legs that walked pitifully beside her. Why do humans bother creating beings in their likeness that aren't half as capable in anything? Then again, those who believe in God might ask why he created humans.
I edged closer to see why she had stopped in the middle of the path, until I heard a soft crying, the crying of an innocent born new to the pain of existence, the crying of a human infant girl. I watched Lucca creep closer, a mixture of surprise and joy on her face. Something new in me forced me forward – was it curiosity? For a moment, just a fleeting moment, my expression mirrored Luca's as I looked upon this tiny little human lump, with wispy blond hair and features that, though barely making themselves known in this new flesh, were achingly familiar. Something I hadn't felt for a long, long time made me lurch forward, until I caught ahold of myself and scrambled back into my cover. Had Lucca not been so entranced by the infant, she would have turned around.
“Oh my God . . . my God . . . wh--where . . . where did you come from . . . ?” she talked to this bundle with almost the same tone that she sometimes used for that obnoxious automaton. Almost. Her voice was even softer and more . . . well, once I might have said condescending, but now I'm not so sure. In fact, now I'm pretty sure it was one of those more wholesome emotions of which my understanding is so feeble.
I watched as she gently scooped up the infant and walked the rest of the way down the path, careful but obviously excited. “Poor thing, you look almost a year old,” she said in that same tone, “Don't you have any parents? No? Well, I don't either anymore. So I guess that makes us sisters, huh?”
As I edged closer, I saw something around the infant's neck that froze my blood.
Parts of me that I'd forgotten existed began to awaken. My breathing quickened with my heartbeat.
“Oh . . . Hello, Janus,” said Lucca, smiling at me.
I felt my face heating, as I hadn't intended to make myself known, but it was too late to pull back. “Nobody calls me that anymore,” I answered sourly, though most of my tone was only a reflex, a mask. “She's probably hungry,” I added. “You'd better feed her if you don't want her screaming the gods deaf.”
I chose to handle my loss with revenge, hoping it would fill my void rather than create a new one. Lucca dealt with hers in an entirely different manner, which fascinated me. Losing her parents compelled her to seek out other orphans, all far younger than she, and adopt them as her own siblings. This, I suppose, was her way of filling her void, of compensating. Since I was not comfortable with children, I avoided making my presence known when they were up and about.
Lucca named the compelling little infant “Kid”. Her spellbinding lack of imagination is matched only by her technical prowess. Still, none of the other orphans seemed to share my objection, and somehow, I found myself spending as much time with “Kid” as I could without being overly blatant about my interest.
“How do you think the pendant ended up around her neck?” I asked one day, walking through Lucca's front door.
Lucca rolled her eyes at me. “Y'know, It's usually polite to knock, or ask 'May I come in?' before you barge into someone's house. Didn't your mother ever teach you that?”
“My mother was Lavos,” I said.
“Oh. Yyyeah,” Lucca answered after an awkward pause. “Well, I'm going to have to teach you some etiquette. That's my condition, if you want to hang around here. And you have to promise not be here when the children are awake. It's nap time for them. They're good kids, they're asleep because they listen to me when I tell them to go to bed. But if they see you when they wake up . . . they'll be horrified out of their little minds. It'll take hours to calm them--”
“Hey, cool!!” We both turned toward one of the adjacent doorways. Two boys and a girl stood staring directly at me. Their mouths hung open in perfect “O”s. Before either of us could say anything, they bolted right up to me, feeling my cape, looking at my boots, my hair, my ears.
“Are you a magician?” The first boy asked.
“What's your name? Can you fly?” The second boy asked before I had time to answer the first.
“Can you do a trick for us?” asked the girl. “Like, with bunnies?”
“I don't do bunnies,” I answered, though strangely, I found myself racking my brain for ideas.
I could almost see the steam spouting from Lucca's face. “I . . . er . . . um, listen,” she stammered, “That is--he can't--I mean . . . ”
I wrapped my cloak around me, becoming part of the shadows and watching as their small, round faces watched with astonishment. I floated behind them, taking a few moments, then melted back into the light. “Boo,” I said dryly. They turned, smiling and making sounds of delight.
“Do another, mister!” The first boy said.
“No, he's done enough. You're supposed to be napping!” Lucca answered, ushering them back inside. I watched, admittedly curious, as they waved goodnight to me. When Lucca came back, she cleared her throat. “Anyway . . . right, the pendant. I don't know. But her face . . . have you noticed? She's just a baby, but there's something about her . . . ”
“There is, indeed,” I said. “I'd like to look at her again.”
“You've looked at her almost every day since she came to me. Maybe . . . maybe it's time I actually introduced you?”