Is it written in the stars
Are we paying for some crime
Is that all that we are good for
Just a stretch of mortal time
Is this God's experiment
In which we have no say
In which we're given paradise
But only for a day
"No!" Ken yelled, beating his fists against the shield as Omi fell, anxious eyes turning on Nagi as the boy reached out. For some reason, the child's telekinesis failed. He saw the boy stare at his hand in confusion, then watched as Omi reached for him. The younger boy turned, reaching out to interlock their fingers. Just then, the glowing ball floating between the three women self-destructed, its light whiting everything out. The sheer brightness of it was painful and those in the shield cried out harshly as it seemed to burn into them. Ken clapped his hands over his face, stumbling backwards as the glow ricocheted around his brain, flickering against the backs of his eyes.
He forced his eyes open and lowered his hands, waiting for the blue-green smudge dancing before his gaze to fade. It slowly disappeared, but the sight he was given was dark. The stage was only dimly lit by the sparkles that still fell like snow upon it. It was hard to make out more than the dim outlines and shapes of the five. The women and the two children were sprawled out on the marble surface, and for a sudden, chilling moment Ken thought Omi and Nagi were dead.
Silence passed, each second an eternity as Ken felt his heart beat a rapid, frightened pulse. He let his breath out shakily when he realized he was holding it, aware of Aya and Yohji moving to his sides to gaze out.
~Omi…Omi…~ He did not want to believe the events of tonight. He wanted to close his eyes and open them to find himself in bed. He shut his eyes tightly, willing everything to fade away and return to normal, but things had not changed when he allowed himself to look outwards again. He felt a hard lump forming in his throat and pressed the back of a hand to his mouth, eyes stinging. This wasn't possible. This wasn't supposed to be what happened.
White gauze shifted, sparkling as it moved. Ken stopped breathing again, hope and fear warring in his heart. Had it been the wind? No- there it was again. Relief so great it was painful coursed through his veins.
One woman moved and light rolled off of her in dim waves to illuminate the surface again. It was Fuumi. She turned onto her stomach in a slow motion, unsteadily pushing herself to her feet. Her companions stirred as she staggered towards the fallen boys. Hate washed through Ken as he pressed his hands against the shield, willing her to fall over dead.
"Keep away from them," he whispered hoarsely as she crouched beside Omi, her hands reaching out to brush his hair from his face. Then Omi shifted again, one hand slowly rising to touch his face, the other stretching out at his side so that his fingers dug into the surface of the stage.
Fuumi recoiled, moving fast enough that she lost her balance and fell to her rear a short distance away from the boy. One hand rose to her face, covering her mouth as she scooted backwards with the aid of her free hand.
That movement, that almost fearful retreat, scared Ken more than anything.
He slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, hair falling across his face in silky waves. His eyes fell first on a woman sitting just a short distance away. She was covering her mouth, mixed emotions warring in her eyes: awe, fear, and the darker emotions of built up sorrow. There was a pained look to the backs of her eyes, a look of someone who has finally found something they had been looking for for a long time. He studied her in silence for a long moment. He recognized her; he had seen those eyes before.
Mummy, mummy…A childish voice, curious and sad, lingered in his mind. An image floated before the woman, a child's face tilted back towards him as she was being led past. Her eyes had locked with his for just a brief moment then.
Ah, but Riza was dead. He had seen her mangled body at the base of the stars of Morco'na'ni, had witnessed her last moments as she was sprawled out in a puddle of her own blood.
"My Lord," she choked out, tears suddenly spilling down her cheeks. She pressed her hand against her mouth tightly, as if to still any more words that would come forth. Her entire body was racking with silent sobs and she lowered her head, as if to hide her face from him. Silver glittered around her throat and his eyes dropped to it, tracing the necklace she wore. It was the necklace that was worn by one who acted as priest for the Clan. He had worn it at one point, but had turned it over to the Clan when he had fallen under Bavaar's rule. They had continued to look to him without it, even when it had been replaced by Ara'miza's…
The thought fell unfinished.
He was alive.
She was gasping, trying to control herself, swiping her hands across her face as she tilted her head back to gaze at him. Her voice trembled as she spoke. "We found you, my Lord. We found you, after so long…"
"What…?" a soft voice asked behind Niko. He turned to see a boy slowly pushing himself to his hands and knees, pausing there to put a hand to his head. "Alive?" the boy whispered to himself. He shook his head before tilting it backwards, raising his gaze to take in his surroundings. Their eyes locked, and time froze around them.
"Oh…" The sound left Niko on a quiet breath of air as he felt something deep within him swelling up, threatening to choke him. The boy's appearance was unfamiliar, but those eyes- he would know those eyes even if everything was taken away from him. If his mind had been swept clean of every memory, he would still remember that dark gaze. He tried to speak, but words failed him.
The boy was breathing heavily, body heaving with every breath. The trance shattered that held them in place when Sainan's face crumpled and he drew in a shuddering breath, reaching out to Niko. Niko moved without noticing it, tugging the younger Mage against him tightly, nearly crushing him with the embrace. He could hear Sainan's gasping breath by his ear as fingers dug into his back, could feel hot tears staining his shoulder as Sainan buried his face against his neck. He tightened his arms around the boy, trying to breathe past the lump that had appeared in his throat, pressing his face to Sainan's hair and inhaling deeply.
"Sainan…Sainan…" He realized he was murmuring the boy's name fervently, speaking it over and over as if it were a chant. They rocked slowly, locked in their embrace, souls crying for joy at being returned to their places beside each other.
~I never thought I'd see you again…Never thought I'd be able to hold you again…~
"Stars," Sainan whispered hoarsely by his ear, "I thought…I thought…" He couldn't seem to be able to finish his sentence.
Niko never wanted the embrace to end, but released his tight hold enough that he could get space between them, gazing at Sainan. There was wetness on his own cheeks- tears? How strange; he had never cried before.
He was smiling. He could feel the corners of his mouth pulled wide enough that he thought he would tear his face in two as he cupped Sainan's face in his hands. The boy's eyes slid shut and he raised his own hands to place his hands on Niko's, fingers curling against the flesh in a gentle grip. Niko let out a shaky breath, leaning forward to place a kiss on Sainan's forehead.
~I have you back. You're here with me.~ The thoughts were running in circles through his mind, triumphant and gleeful. ~We've won, Sainan. We've won.~
Sainan slid his arms around Niko's neck, drawing himself up to catch Niko's mouth in a kiss that seemed to set fire to their souls, burning to the tips of their fingertips and toes as they tasted each other, basking in the sheer glory of holding one another again. Niko kissed the tears from Sainan's cheeks before drawing him close again, allowing the boy to burrow himself against his chest. He lowered his head to rest it on Sainan's shoulder, struggling to control his shuddering breaths.
Niko lifted his head slowly, gaze falling upon the woman before him, the Priestess of the Stars, the woman who had returned Niko to Sainan. There were no words he could say to her; there were no words enough for him to speak. She would have to accept his tearstained face and the glow in his eyes and soul, the trembling smile on his lips as he held onto Sainan as if he would never release him again.
The smile on her face was victorious yet gentle as she looked back to two other women who had joined her. There were tearstains on their faces as well as they witnessed the reunion of two souls never meant to be separated from each other.
The Priestess inclined her head to him. "We are the last three of the White Star Clan. We were reborn several dozens of years ago. Observations of the star flows showed that the stars that graced you would be at their peak in a short time, and began searching for the two of you."
"Two of us…" Niko reached down with a hand, cupping Sainan's chin and tilting the boy's face towards him. "Sainan?"
There was almost a defiant look in the eyes that met his gaze. "She killed you, Niko," he whispered, barely able to get the words out. "I would not stay with her. I could not live without you, so I chose not to."
Niko inhaled sharply in horror, bright blue eyes widening. He could hear the choked, startled sounds from the three women as they heard Sainan's words, and saw the way they looked at each other. It was an unpleasant, uncomfortable exchange of glances. "Sainan!" The boy looked away, lips thinning. "Sainan, the punishment for a suicide…"
"I could not!" Sainan repeated hollowly.
"Oh, Sainan…" To kill oneself…The stars dropped one from grace for doing a thing like that! He had witnessed a suicide- and the man's forced rebirth through a ceremony several hundred years later, a ceremony that had taken place without the heavens' support or blessings. The Mage had been reborn as a mere mortal, powerless. He had been an immortal trapped in a mortal's body, and Niko had watched as his mind collapsed under the conflict of soul and body. The rest of the Clan had sent both him and the one who had woken him away as a sign of their disgrace.
One of the Priestess's companions spoke up hesitantly. "Both of you were reborn as mortals," she said, wetting her lips with her tongue nervously.
Both? As mortals? A surge of despair swept through Niko and he closed his eyes, forcing it away. ~Great Stars,~ he pleaded silently, ~be merciful upon us. Have we not suffered enough that we must be denied this second chance to have each other?~
He felt a responsive thrum from the stage and a voice whispered into his mind, gentle words weaving effortlessly into his thoughts: Stars look where mercy falls upon the heads of heavens and mortal love.
~Must you only speak to me in confusing words?~ Niko asked back, tilting his head to press his lips lightly to Sainan's forehead. There was no response.
"And do you hate me for doing what my soul asked me to do?" Sainan asked him quietly. "Do you hate me for choosing the stars' condemnation over a life with Ara'miza?"
"I would have rather you lived then asked the stars to kill you," Niko whispered back. And yet, he knew he would have acted the same. There would have been no purpose to continue to live if Sainan had been killed. Too many things could have happened between Sainan's death and a rebirth.
"There is still hope," the Priestess spoke up eagerly as a notion struck her, tugging her necklace from her throat. "We managed to steal this from the Myrr forty-two years ago." She spun the chain in the air beside her until it began to shimmer and grow. As it expanded, it solidified until it became a long staff with a wicked blade on the end. Sainan recoiled from it. Niko inhaled quietly.
"You were murdered," the woman said, extending the weapon to him. The power stored inside of it was made for him alone to wield and access. Without his touch and command, it would be nothing more than an ordinary bladed weapon. "You could have been reborn as a mortal merely to help the presence of your power slide into the balance of the world easier. Now you may take up your staff and reclaim the power trapped within to transform yourself into your true body and soul. With your strength you should be able to pull Sainan into the immortal's realm by sharing your star."
It was a chance…
He reached out towards it. As he closed his fingers around it, he gazed at it in silence. An unknown number of years ago, he had been killed on its blade. The weapon had betrayed the owner in the end- or had the owner betrayed the weapon, when he willingly handed it over to Sainan as a gift for Ara'miza?
It was cool under his touch and he paused. In his hand it felt like any ordinary object. He should have been able to feel the thrum of the life within it…Dark realization sunk in.
"Cannot?" one of the women repeated blankly.
"There is no power here- no power I can touch." A swirl of confusion battered itself against his mind. His power- it was no longer there. He could search the depths of his soul, but the magic that had been engraved into both him and the tool was gone.
He truly was a mortal. With each breath he could feel this shell of a body dying, decaying around him.
"I don't understand…" the Priestess whispered hollowly, despair and bewilderment swirling in her eyes. "The ceremony- how could it have failed? If the stars had chosen to forsake Lord Sainan, that would be understandable due to his acts of suicide, but you, my Lord?"
Niko flicked her a warning look at her callous disregard of Sainan's situation. How easily the Stars looked away from those fallen from grace. Slowly he set it aside and pulled himself to his feet, tugging Sainan up with him. Mortals…What could they do? They were not meant to be mortals! How long would it take before they began to collapse in on themselves? How much longer would he be able to recognize and love Sainan?
His eyes fell on a small group of people. "And they are?" he asked, grateful for the excuse to abandon his morbid thoughts for even a brief amount of time.
The women followed his gaze and rose to unsteady feet, using each other as supports. It seemed the ceremony had taken a lot out of them. "Captives, my Lord!" the Priestess answered, new hope ringing in her voice. "Sacrifices!" She turned shining eyes on him. "Sacrifices, to make amends to the stars!"
"The girl!" another said, gesturing excitedly. "One of them is the reborn Ara'miza! The stars would love to see her offered up. Surely they would return the kindness with forgiveness."
Ara'miza…He felt Sainan's fingers dig into his arms as the boy sent a hateful look in that direction. The two started towards the group, letting the women stumble along behind them. Niko paused in front of the sparkling shield, gazing through at the ragtag people beyond. His eyes fell on the lone girl. A red haired male was sitting in front of her, purple eyes gleaming defiance- daring Niko to touch her. The two men directly in front of him gazed up at Niko warily. One had despair lingering on his face and pleading in his eyes. Niko dismissed them all, bored, eyes straying to the other three.
His eyes fell and lingered on the two wildest-looking of the group. One, with shaggy white hair, had his fingers curled through his partner's long orange locks. His face was smooth, devoid of any emotion, but his single amber eye bored into Niko with an alertness that was a clear warning. His partner's arm was draped lazily over his shoulder, his own fingers raking at the short, bristly looking hair.
At first glance, the uneducated would take their appearance to be that of friendship or laziness. There was an air to them that declared otherwise, however, and Niko studied them in silence. It was the sense of togetherness, more defiant than affectionate or tender, a sense of completion. It was almost odd to see it; most Stars never coupled so completely. The Stars would pick and choose mates freely. He and Sainan had caught the attention of all the empires and the heavens by the way they had fallen so deeply into each other. So why did these mortals seem to do the same so easily that they could rest so casually?
Niko glanced down at Sainan to see that they had caught the boy's attention as well. He pressed his lips to the boy's forehead again, gazing upwards at the stars. ~Stars look where mercy falls upon the heads of heavens and mortal love.~ What was meant by it? He had asked for mercy. Where did mercy fall upon the heavens and mortal love?
Why did the Stars, the children of the heavens, choose not to love? He raked his fingers gently through Sainan's hair, lips tugging downwards in a faint, thoughtful frown. Why did the immortal people choose to be solitary?
Ah, but what was immortality? Even he, whom everyone claimed would live forever, had to die sometime. His life was generated by his star. And what would happen when his star faded? His soul would do so as well. He would fade from existence, brought in and out with the dawn and dusk of his star.
Where was the mercy for mortal love?
"What happens when mortals die?" Niko asked, breaking the silence with his words. He directed the question to the Priestess, eyes straying across the seven gathered before them.
"The stars might give mercy," she answered readily, thinking he was asking about sacrifices.
"No." He shook his head impatiently. "What happens to their souls?"
There was a long, uncomprehending pause. "I don't know what you mean."
Niko slid away from Sainan, crossing his arms behind his back as he moved closer to the shield, gaze falling on the young man whose eyes begged him for something. For what? To remember. Remember what? He spoke again, this time directing his words at the man. "What happens to mortals when they die? Where do their souls go? Do they fade? What happens to the souls of mortals who love?"
The man glanced at his friends questioningly, then looked back, uncertain. The man beside him, a man with wavy honey-brown hair, answered when his friend remained silent. "People say love is forever," he said, emerald eyes meeting Niko's and holding them.
"Nothing is forever," one of the Priestess's friends countered, voice mocking.
The man sent her a careless look before glancing towards the sky. There was a deep pain in the backs of his eyes, the pain of someone who has lost something dear to them. "Love is not something that just vanishes," he said. "It's said that a strong enough love will outlast all of time. It's the strongest bonding force between souls."
~Stars look where mercy falls upon the heads of heavens and mortal love.~
Was that it, then? Niko turned back to Sainan, studying the boy's face. He had asked the stars for mercy. Had they already given it? If he and Sainan were to be Mages, they could only love each other for so long before they would both fade from existence. By being reborn as mortals, had they been offered the mercy both asked for? As mortals, could they keep each other- for eternity? Ah, but how could they remain as mortals as Niko and Sainan? With their Mage consciousness awakened, they would decay within their bodies and would lose each other when their minds collapsed their souls.
How had they gotten this far in life, then? What had happened since they had been reborn in these bodies? What personalities had their souls adapted to? Had they been the same souls, just locked away from their pasts to keep them sane and alive?
And if they were returned to those new personalities, would they still be able to recognize each other?
"I understand," Niko whispered.
"I don't," Sainan answered, caution lacing his voice when he saw the thoughtful look in Niko's eyes.
"Don't you see, Sainan?" Niko stepped towards him, taking his hands and pulling the boy towards him. "There is a reason why we were born as mortals!"
"What reason?" the Priestess demanded.
Niko ignored her, searching Sainan's eyes. "We have to stay mortals, Sainan."
The boy frowned. "You're speaking madness, Niko."
"No! See, Sainan? This is our mercy. This is our chance." Excitement warred with nervousness. Who could say whether they would ever be able to recognize each other again? "Our souls our tied into our stars. When they fade, we do as well. Immortal bodies have mortal souls. It is the price paid for power. Mortal bodies have immortal souls. They have the chance to hold on for all eternity. If we were mortals, Sainan, we could have our last chance together."
Sainan understood him then and began shaking his head, trying to pull his hands free as he retreated. "No," he breathed. "That's foolishness!"
"How can you remain mortal?" the Priestess asked. "You'll go mad! Immortals were never meant to be trapped within a body that dies."
"How old are we?" Niko asked her.
"You are four hundred and-" she started, confused, but he interrupted her.
"No. These bodies. These people we were reborn as. How old are we?"
"Seventeen and fifteen…"
Seventeen. It was a mockery to all of the years he had lived, but he swallowed it, turning to Sainan again. "For years we have been alive, living as other people, blind to what we used to be. We existed that way. We can exist as such again, if we can place the barrier that locked us from our old selves back where it used to be."
"You want us to forget?" Sainan demanded, finally managing to free his fingers as he whirled away, starting across the stage. Niko moved quickly, wrapping his arms around the boy's waist and yanking him back. "How can you say that? How can you ask us to forget each other?"
~How can I?~ Niko asked himself, arms tightening around Sainan's waist. "Faith, Sainan," he replied. "Faith that our souls will be able to recognize each other. We are connected always. Let us use that bond and rely on it."
Sainan twisted away and Niko let him go. The boy turned, shaking his head again as he closed his fingers on the gauze that decorated Niko. There were tears in his eyes again. "I left you once," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't want to leave you again."
It was hard to smile as he trailed his fingers along Sainan's cheek. "I don't want you _now_," Niko told him, voice soft as he cupped Sainan's face, searching the boy's dark blue eyes. "I want you forever."
Sainan's lips were trembling as he shook his head again, still denying what had to happen. There was a pain in his eyes, however, an agonized understanding of what Niko was saying. Niko leaned down, kissing him gently. When he stepped back, Sainan looked away, and Niko knew that he had won.
"No," one of the women said flatly. Niko glanced towards her. There was anger on her face as she shook her head. "You have to be joking."
"Do I?" Niko asked her.
"All of the reborn Stars have _died_ again to get you back." She waved her arm around, bitter. "So many of us have suffered to return you to the state you are supposed to be in. This is our moment of glory! The Myrr are dead! All that is left is Ara'miza! How can you take away such a costly victory?"
"Mie," the Priestess said flatly, a warning.
The woman grabbed Niko's staff, striding towards the shield. "We have worked too hard for this to just let it end now. Ara'miza deserves to die!"
"She already has," Niko reminded the woman. Why the Myrr goddess was reborn when no Myrr ever had been was curious. He supposed it was her own second chance. The redhead was on his feet, a challenge in his eyes as he watched Mie approach the shield. There was a set to his jaw and a hate in his eyes that said he would defend the girl if it cost him his life. How had Ara'miza ever earned such loyalty? Who had she been reborn as? Personally, he would prefer it if she were dead. At the same time, however…He glanced at Sainan, studying the boy's face. There were too many complications involved with her, too many whispered details to ever want to deal with again.
"Don't touch her."
Sainan sent him a startled look at his command. "What?" he breathed. "How can you say that, after everything she's done to you?"
The redhead was gazing at Niko now, a dark wariness in his eyes. They were the eyes of someone who had had everything taken from him, the eyes of one who had suffered much in his life. The words were hard to speak, as they warred with ancient fear and pain. "Perhaps all of us deserve another chance to make up for past mistakes."
Mie sent him such a scathing look that he wondered where she got the courage. Few dared to ever look at him that way. "If you're not brave enough to kill her, I will do it myself! I did not watch so many of us die just to see you back out of the death of the woman that had our entire Clan murdered."
Niko felt no concern for her bitterness. He had not asked the Clan to revive him. What they had chosen to do was not his problem. Briefly he wondered if he and Sainan would have eventually united without the Clan's interference that allowed recognition between their souls.
What did concern him, however, was the way she dared to talk to him. As the heavens' chosen child and the Ambassador of Kemo, none had ever dared to speak to him such a way. He watched the impudent woman as she circled the shield, one hand out as she pushed it backwards to slide away from protecting the girl. She raised the staff in preparation for a kill.
"Priestess," Niko spoke up calmly.
"My Lord?" she asked hesitantly.
"Let the redhead out of the shield so that he may kill her."
She obeyed him- readily enough that he wondered if she had ever wished the other woman's death- and the shield shifted once more, shoving those inside of it with it as it freed him. The man did not hesitate to consider what had happened but acted, rushing forward to catch the staff as it arched downwards. Niko turned away from the fight, trusting the man to take care of her. He turned Sainan with him to face the two remaining Stars. "Now, Priestess. Do you think the two of you have enough power left to return us to what we were?"
They glanced at each other before looking back. There was a sadness in the Priestess's eyes, but also a weary acceptance and resignation. "I believe so," she answered, "if you are sure that it what must be done."
Niko looked down at Sainan. The boy gazed back, pain in his gaze. "Yes," the younger Mage answered softly.
They gazed at each other as the two Stars began to chant, fingers locked. A swelling of emotion was curling in Niko's heart, an emotion he had only felt twice before in his long life: fear. ~Will I still know you, Sainan?~ he whispered, offering a trembling smile to his young lover. ~Will we still know each other?~
What if he was wrong? What if they never remembered each other?
It was a costly risk, but they had to take it. He wanted Sainan to be his for all time. He leaned down, pressing his lips to Sainan's, tasting the other boy's fear. As everything in view began to fade around the edges, Niko touched cheeks with Sainan, whispering the words he had always been too foolish to admit in his previous life, words he should have told the boy long ago. If he had spoken them, would things still have turned out the way they did? Would Sainan still have left him to seek out Ara'miza?
There was no use in questioning the past. There was only the future now, if they were strong enough to find it.
"I love you, Sainan."
And then there was only darkness.