It had taken some time, but Rowen finally figured out how to make himself some clothing. A thatch of shadows pulled from the expanse was molded into a serviceable pair of shorts, and he had made another dress for V, a peace offering if one ever existed. Both sat with a good deal of space between each other, facing each other; if one of them was going to make any sort of move, the other wanted to know exactly what sort of move it was and how to react. Not a word had been spoken in ages, and the rhythm was becoming not so much soothing as dependably annoying. With a nervous cough, Rowen managed to break the mute routine. V looked up, lulled into her dull vigil.
“Sorry,” Rowen coughed.
“Why? You couldn’t help it,” V said, avoiding his gaze.
“No, I--... I’m sorry for what I did earlier. I guess you’re really sorry about what you did to me, if you were so scared.” V nodded and met his eyes. “If there’s some way we could patch things up--”
“Can I sit with you? When Mother starts to digest us, I don’t wanna be alone.” Rowen half- heartedly beckoned her over; she crawled across the darkness and rested next to him, letting him put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against him and closed her eyes. “You’re not as warm as Cye.”
“Do you miss being human?”
“A lot more than I thought I would.”
“Why don’t you look like you did?”
“That was just the vessel. I never had a ‘permanent’ flesh body till now and always used a human body. Every one was different, and you just saw the one, so... I’m sorta happy with the results of this, but it’s not as nice as Ayame.” She reached up and touched his sapphire bangs. “Be neat if I could have hair like this...”
“This hair’s a family tradition, like hating your kids. I plan to break from the latter. You ever have a family?”
“Does Cye count? ‘Cuz he and Aaron were the closest I’ve ever had.”
“I mean, I wanted to look at you guys and say, ‘Here’s my family,’ but you all hated me so much that hope sorta died.”
“Not everyone has loving families. My folks never wanted me and did their best to ignore me. There were times I shoulda gone to a doctor’s, but I couldn’t ‘cuz they were too busy to take me or didn’t really think it was anything serious. So, when I was thirteen, I sorta learned I had asthma, and it shoulda been treated in childhood. And then, when I was old enough to fight back, my dad woul--”
“I know, I remember. It would just be nice to have someone love you unconditionally like a family should....”
“Yeah, I always wanted that, too.” Rowen gave her a sad smile.
*Good to see you’re bonding.....* the shadows hissed. The rhythm stopped, and the darkness around them solidified into a rigid, uneven rigor. *Say your farewells, witch-child... I need your friend...*
A sudden strike from an unknown sharp object drove Rowen to grab his left arm with a pained cry and check it nervously for bleeding. Instead of crimson blood, a splatter of black ebbed from his wound; V’s eyes went wide once she saw the injury. “Mother, stop!” She lunged forward to help him, but a set of cloudy arms clutched her tight and held her away. “Let me go, please!!”
“Let he--” Rowen started before the arms wrapped around him as well; he struggled slightly, ceasing once he noticed how one of the arms originated from the black substance in his wound. He stared numbly forward, occasionally glimpsing V’s vain thrashing out of the corner of his eye.
*....Don’t you want to help your friend, make him stronger?......* Mother Night asked as Rowen’s body began to lose physical sensation. *.....He needs your strength...... Don’t fight against it, for Sage’s sake....* Rowen gave a pitiful glance to V, who returned it in full; there was no way they could fight this and avoid hurting someone, so it may as well be themselves.
Cye hurried down the crowded streets, his open blazer flapping gently as he rushed along. He was an hour late for work, and this wasn’t the first time he was tardy; he could be fired if he lagged another day. He tolerated this job too much to lose it so quickly, and nothing would stopping him from keeping it--except the massive arm that jerked him harshly backwards. Cye stumbled back and stopped once he had hit the thick frame of his assailant. Kento smiled at him, satisfied that his efforts had finally paid off in his favor; he was oblivious to his estranged friend’s discomfort. He looked different, having paled in complexion a tad, let weary bags form under his dimly cheerful eyes, and noticeably lost some weight. Cye was almost tempted to force a smile in return, but he couldn’t muster the nerve or energy.
“Geez, Cye, didn’t think I’d getcha,” Kento said happily. “Where’ve you been?”
“Look, I can’t talk right now,” Cye returned, oddly impatient. “I’ve got some important things to do.”
“Sorry, I just wanted to get a hold of ya and see how you’re doing. It’s been a while, that’s all.”
Cye looked at his watch and glared sharply at both the time and the waste of time standing in front of him. He sighed heavily and shook his head. “You don’t get it. I don’t want to talk to you,” he said forcefully.
Kento’s happy facade fell, and his eyes fell towards the ground. “Sorry. Just thought you’d be glad to see one of us.” He turned away and retreated back into the crowds; he paused only to turn his head back over his shoulder and look back at Cye. “If you ever wanna call or visit, it’s okay--you know that. Just hope you remember the number. See ya around.”
Cye watched numbly as Kento vanished. He had been so lonely and homesick, and he tossed away his chance for relief for a minimum-wage job? He wanted to hit himself--or at least apologize. “Kento!” he yelled as he ran through the other people, trying to catch up with his upset friend. “Kento, wait up!” Kento turned around and just stared at him, understandably confused. “Look, I--” Cye froze, literally. A sudden, unexplainable fit of hypothermia crippled him; his jaw convulsed with cold, and he shivered violently, his lips steadily turning blue. He couldn’t feel his extremities, and his limbs felt too heavy to move, forcing him to his knees. Kento ran to help him back on his feet. Cye looked up at him, terrified. “Wha......” His breath evaded him; he gasped desperately and loudly. What was happening?
“Cye?!” Kento yelled, trying to alleviate his pain. He tossed his heavy jacket over Cye’s shoulders and cradled his trembling form up into his arms, his normal strength oddly absent. “Don’t worry, buddy, I’ll get you to a hospital, you’ll be fine..” Kento started to run back towards his van when he noticed the gasping had stopped. Cye was breathing normally but had slipped into a sound sleep. He hardly noticed as Kento secured him into the passenger’s seat of the van and gave him a sad smile. Whether he wanted it or not, Cye needed his old life back, for his survival’s sake.
The light was warm, and it held onto the two’s forms despite the encroaching shadows that gnawed at them. Rowen’s eyes flickered open as its soothing heat pulled him from the painful darkness; his nearly bare body let the light clean out the numb corruption of the digestion. He looked over at V; she was in a similar state, but the look in her eyes told of a recognition. Rowen knew that odd glint in her gaze. Ayame.... The two stared at each other blankly. They were still ‘alive’ but.... why?
*Perfection....* Mother Night hissed angrily as the light started to fade. *Which one of you has touched the Perfection? Who is it?* V looked at herself; the light was fading slowest around her. She knew the Perfection; she had seen him survive earlier attempts to destroy him, and he had saved innocents from her line’s insatiable appetites; she had allowed him to bond as closely as a human could to her. Mother had to know, too. *Tell me, ungrateful witch-child! Tell me, or I’ll hurt you!*
“Sorry, I’m not intimidated, Mother,” V said, hunching her knees close to her chest.
*Fine, then.* A shadowy arm grabbed Rowen by the throat and held him high above V, letting him struggle in the manual trap. *You’ll have another brother unless you tell me who the Perfection is.* He screamed as the fingers dove into his form, pained beyond physical capacity; tears drifted down from his grimaced face, hitting V’s arm. She stared down at the damp droplets and tried her best to shut out the shrieking. Mother would take him no matter what, and there was only one thing she could do to save him.
“Mother,” V began, her voice in the same nervous tone as Ayame, “I’ll only tell you if you assume me. And you HAVE to let Rowen go. You’ll know everything I know, and I know a LOT about humans.” No sooner had V finished her words than her flesh started to dissolve; it pooled pink against the darkness as her last terrified gasp echoed in the expanse. Rowen was dropped, landing near the puddle. His hands unwittingly fell into the liquid, the dripping red fluid staining his fingers. He stared in shock; this was for him..... She had given up her very existence for him.
The Darkness around him laughed at his cruel surprise. *Do you see what’s in store for you?..... My son will join her, and so will you, once I get rid of the Perfection....... Our line will live forever....*
Cye woke up, still shivering slightly as he sat up. The blankets slipped off his chest and pooled down around his waist, along with the lightly weighted figure of Sparkle. He picked up the soft plush dolphin; where was he? A quick study of the familiar room answered his question--Mia’s. He stood up, still shaking from some unknown internal loss and still holding his comforting Sparkle. The sound of voices long absent in his life carried up the stairs and baited his curiosity. He walked down the halls, trying to remain unnoticed; the only person he wanted to see right away would notice nothing, however. Cye slid into Sage’s room and jumped a little. Sage was sitting in bed and eating his supper of thin soup, his eyes looking up at his visitor with a surprised, lively light.
“Cye?” Sage asked, his voice not quite right. “You look like a child.”
“How long have you been up?” Cye asked, his tone giving away his nervousness.
“I’m not up,” Sage laughed lightly. He placed the soup back in its space on the nightstand and reclined on the collection of pillows that lined the back of his bed. As soon as he settled, his eyes glazed over, and his vitality fled.
Cye quickly slipped out of the room and shut the door. He stood in the hallway for a moment, clutching Sparkle and trying his best to forget the bizarre spectacle. “That’s not right,” he whispered to himself. He turned his attention to the conversing voices downstairs.
“Where did you find these?” Kento asked.
“Some valley. But do you know what this means?” Ryo nervously proposed. “Ro’s gone.”
“You can’t say that. We can’t just give up on Rowen like that.”
“Kento, he wouldn’t leave this behind if he was alive. You know that.”
Cye finally mustered the nerve to walk down the stairs; both Kento and Ryo turned to look at him, each struck with looks of intermingled relief and distress. “What are you talking about?” Cye asked, still hugging his dolphin. He waited for answer, letting his eyes drift to the coffee table; a pile of Rowen’s shredded clothing and his armor crystal rested in a heap, covered in a long settled coating of dust. “What are those?”
“You didn’t hear?” Ryo asked; his eyes held a shadow of lost hope and sorrow, prompting a shudder in Cye. “You better sit down.”
“No, I’m okay right here,” Cye contended, hugging Sparkle.
“You passed out in the middle of the street, man,” Kento argued. “You’d better sit.”
Cye resigned his meager resistance with a shrug and sat on the couch beside Kento. “What happened?” he squeaked out as he settled.
“With you or with this?” Kento asked, indicating the table.
“You fainted. You came back to say something, then you seized up and fainted. You’ve been out for a while--it’s almost midnight.”
“I was out that long? Wow, I, um..... Thanks.”
“No problem, man. Just glad to see you’re okay.”
Cye leaned forward and picked up the ragged shirt. “What’s this? What happened to Rowen?”
“I wish I knew,” Ryo sighed. He picked up the armor crystal and stared down at it as it rested in his palm. “Rowen’s been gone for over a week, and this is all we found. I don’t think we’ll ever find him.”
“I was gonna ask you to keep an eye out earlier, but you didn’t seem interested,” Kento said. “I still don’t think he’s gone.”
“I’ll keep an eye out if you want,” Cye said, carefully replacing the shirt on the table. “But I’d like to go home first and take a bath.”
“Really? I thought you might wanna hang out a little,” Ryo offered. “It’s been a while, and I wanted to ask you something.....” He produced Cye’s armor crystal and held it out.
“I can’t take it back, and I can’t stay,” Cye said, mustering as much nerve as he could. “I don’t deserve to.” He stared at the two, waiting for the usual protests to start. Instead, an uneasy silence engulfed the room until Kento’s frustrated sigh shattered it.
“Just tell me where to go, and I’ll take you home,” he sighed as he pulled on his jacket and grabbed the keys to the van. Cye stood up and followed him. Maybe his friends finally accepted his desire for a new life; maybe now they could be part of it, too.
“Sage?” Rowen weakly asked. The shadows around him lightened. “Are you okay?”
^.... You have to forgive me. I don’t have much of a choice for what I’m gonna do...^
“What are you talking about?”
^I won’t hurt you, I swear, but I can’t take this anymore..... I have to get the Perfection before she does.^
“What are you going to do? You can’t control your body.” The shadows darkened. “Sage? SAGE?!”
Back to Ronin Fics page