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Where shall I look for comfort? Not to you.
Our worlds are drawn apart, our spirit's suns
Divided, and the light of mine burnt dim.
Now in the haunted twilight I must do
Your will. I grasp the cup which over-runs,
And with my trembling lips I touch the rim

- amy lowell

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Go Not Gently
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Chapter Six - Run From Me

 

He woke me up midmorning.

I'd slept badly the night before; it had been a week, maybe longer, and my hand hurt when I lay in bed and tried to close my eyes. It was healing well - just a little sprain - but the days were melting into each other like my cooking. I resolved to start a calendar, to count them, but I was almost frightened by the passage of time.

How long had I been here?

How long was I going to stay here?

Were my mother and my father looking for me? Well, yes, of course, it was an idiotic question - unless they were dead. They could have so easily been killed in the attack on Lindblum, in any more subsequent attacks on Lindblum - I sure as hell didn't know where Tango had gone or been, and he never told me in too many words what he did when he left. Neither did Rain, or Shiny, or Tide.

I couldn't know. I couldn't ask. If he killed my parents, he was dead mage walking. He was dead mage walking anyway, when I was through with him -

He used to sit on my windowsill at night, blocking out the moon, staring out at the desert sands as if they held some wondrous meaning I couldn't divine. Every time I sat up and watched him, he'd shake his head at me, golden eyes unreadable crescents; so I used to lie back down, and get used to it, and breathe in his dusty-feather smell. Sometimes he used to touch my fingers, and bend them very very lightly back as if he wanted to break them, and then saw the whiteness of my knuckles and left. I watched him once, after he dived out my window, and saw him absently flutter and hover like a firefly to let out exquisitely crimson fireballs down at the screaming antlion pits below. The night would smell like charred flesh, and sometimes Rain used to come and huddle on the covers with me.

Tango woke me up midmorning, a rough gloved hand on my shoulder, until I rubbed my eyes and made my angry noises that meant I was waking up. Then he pulled away from me, rustling, walking like a bird, then pacing back and forth wildly in a circle. His wings looked dusty, and his black clothes I could see had burn marks on them, scorched; bits of soot fell to my floor. Two Black Mages were huddled in the doorway, watching, obviously afraid.

He was clutching something in his hand, muttering wildly in the back of his throat, before flinging himself down to crouch and cup it between his fingers. The crazy closed-in animal display was irritating me, because I was as frightened as the Mages; I swung my naked legs over the bed and groped to pull a shirt on.

"Tango? Tango, what's happening?"

"Beautiful," he grunted. "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful."

"What? What's beautiful?"

He stood up abruptly, one hand still clenched shut over something, only giving me a moment to glimpse that it was something that shone. "The morning is, linden-bloom. Your deadfall eyes are. Blood is - "

"Don't fuck with me," I growled in warning, long past the nervousness that Mama would come around any corner to ding me on the ear if she caught me talking engineer's talk. I wish she had. "What's wrong?"

He started to pace again, long leather frock-coat swirling around his ankles. Tango always dressed in scarecrow chic, and I don't believe he ever changed his clothes; long black leather pants, ancient coat studded with cold little iron knobs as trimming, black shirt and black waistcoat and black cravat and layers upon layers as if he was trying to pad his own shape. Black boots, too, and black gloves. Big black hat. No colour, ever, apart from the discolouration of the stains. "So little," he said distractedly. "So so little."

My blood had gone from cool to cold, tight with worry; what had the crazy bastard gotten himself into? Was he hurt?

Why on Gaia was I worried he was hurt, I thought distractedly, he hurt himself every day and nine times out of ten he had done it to himself. Rain had told me the whispers of razorblades, and of bloodfeathers they found broken on the floor, and of Tango lying prone on the ground -

I shook my head furiously, pulling on my sarong and tying it into a knot around my hips, finally decent enough to grab his arm and shake it. I didn't have fear about that, now. I'd long since gotten used to slaps and backhands and fists in my stomach. His arm fell slack, and something fell, shining, to the floor. Like a cat, he scuttled and tumbled away from me, pressing himself into a corner; I bent down to pick up the thing.

It was a necklace.

A pendant, of the Royal House of Alexandria, in fact. I knew the shape. Like the Falcon Claw of Lindblum, but just a little differently shaped; my father and my mother and I all had Falcon Claws. Garnet and Zidane had them, too; and so did Cornelia. Hers was a little different, though; it had a diamond-star in the center, for some sentimental reason I'd forgotten -

The necklace was bloodstained. With stiff fingers, I wiped it off the telltale diamond, tracing the wet red lines of it so that it rubbed off on my hand.

"Where did you get this." It wasn't really a question; my voice didn't tremble.

"From around her little neck." His voice rang out clear and dreamy again. "I had to pull it off, linden-bloom. She was going the colour of forget-me-nots."

"Elia," I said.

He'd gotten in at Elia. The fox had gotten into the chickens, had got into the little chicks, my niece. I was her Aunt Eiko. I had been enjoying my role as the fun aunt, who slipped her candy - but it was her birthday soon - Cornelia -

"You didn't tell me about the little tail." His wings rustled, agitated. "Or the little horn - she looked like you, when you were that age..."

I wasn't listening. He'd touched my niece. He had probably killed my niece. He'd been into Alexandria Castle; why hadn't Garnet taken care of him, Zidane? Were we all that helpless? Was it all that hopeless?

He'd gotten in at the children. "Shut up! Shut the fuck up! Why? Why?! How could you go after babies when you've got your own?"

Black Tango turned around to look at me, standing up, drawing himself to his full height. He had no features, but there was a smile; insane, broad, soft. "Because I could, princess; because I could. I wanted to see. And then I could. What will you do about it, love?"

My insides were boiling, a switch flipped, my blood gone cold; I felt like sobbing, until I realized what the little switch was. I hadn't felt this sensation for so long; it had been years, hadn't it? My organs and brains felt turned to ore. Straining, gasping, as Tango watched in fascination, I pushed for the change; I fell to my knees as I submitted to the rising tide, watching my fingers spark and glow icy-green-white, as if I was being lit up from the inside. I was being lit up from the inside. Oh, Gods, it felt good, powerful, a release, my tears wanting to be from fury and joyfulness both; something popped, half-painful, from my back, and I watched as two white feathered pearlescent things stretched from my back. I never had needed my grandpa's Wings, after all.

The Black Mages - Tango, and the two at the door; was that Tide I saw? - watched, horrified, as I stumbled to my feet, Tranced. My forehead felt much heavier; a Summoner's horn, grown to full majesty.

A noise; from Tango, a sigh, as if he had been watching fireworks that had just come to an end and only now was letting go his breath. "Oh, Eiko," he whimpered. "You're so lovely. Don't make me hurt you. Please. Please."

"Oh, get the hell out of here," I spat, reaching underneath my mattress and brandishing my makeshift wand. It gave a little sparkle of flowerdust as I held it, rolling and flipping it between my fingers, taut all over. I was so tired of feeling the pain that I could have fallen over. "I'm going to hurt you, you monster, once and for all."

His expression was queer, and for a moment, I thought he wouldn't do anything; and then he moved towards the window and pulled a short staff from somewhere inside his coat. It had a squiggle in the end, in ancient Black Mage style; not the large rods I'd seen in the Black Mage Village, with latticed golden fretwork circles at the ends. He shattered the window with a blow and crouched on the windowsill as the wind blew in, hot and dry. "Catch me, Princess," he called out, and took off.

"No!" Tide hollered as I clambered to the windowsill, absently noting that my hair had turned bright green. "Eiko, don't! Please!"

"I love you," I promised him. "Tell the others I love them too, all right?"

"Don't!" he shrieked. "Eiko! Eiko!"

I jumped out of the broken window, having never flown properly in my life.

The antlions were screaming, and I was falling. My new wings flapped wildly, and suddenly I shot upwards as I was caught in an updraft; it hurt, all those new muscles, all the strangeness. Tango was fluttering, hovering quietly in the sky, wings flapping with ease and grace; I was getting buffetted around like a sparrow in a storm. My wand spun around, leaves brushing my hands, as I tremblingly casted Float.

That did it. My legs found purchase on thin air as I was held in place, now just trying to stop the hot desert winds from attempting to rip my clothes off.

"How did you bring that in with you?" His voice was a lazy shout. "I stripped you down, linden-bloom! You brought in nothing!"

"Stop talking!" I shouted back. "I'm tired of hearing you talk, talk, talk!"

His hands spun as he threw his head back, steepled hat a tall black halo, and I saw the fire in them form even before he threw the huge red heatwave at me. My mind racing, my fingers tapped my magics, pain and adrenaline a better key than hours and hours of forced remembrance. Shell, magic-protector, the bubble of no-magic around my body - I still cringed, hands held out rigid with the wand, when the searing ball spattered on my invisible shell. It might have singed my fingertips a little. I didn't care.

"That's the best you can do, princess? Shell yourself? I draw all over white magic, blossom. I bleed black ink over it. I bite it."

"Bite me."

"As you wish."

We came together with absolutely no elegance. The strength of his huge ragged wings rocked me back in a quick somersault, only Float keeping me up, my own so-very-new ones from my Trance beating weakly - stronger now - and carrying me into him. I elbowed his stomach. I shoved my wand into his chest; I kicked and I bit and I scratched and I grabbed like a wild thing, until his staff, his curly-wood Black Mage staff, tumbled down and down into the desert as I locked my arm around his head and pounded his head.

Tango's arms scrabbled for purchase, his holler of pain and surprise barely registering in my ears as I hit him with everything I had. We rolled down together, dropping about forty feet or so in the air until he managed to shove a well-placed boot in my abdomen and kick me off him.

Somewhere on my body, I was bleeding. I felt the hot trickle of it on my stomach, the bruises on my head. I didn't mind, the Trance still burning me on like a firework.

Cornelia. Cornelia. How could Garnet and Zidane let the wolf in the door? Why are we all so helpless against him? Why is he doing this to them? To you? Why is he doing this to me?

"You've gotten stronger," he panted.

"Since when was I weak?"

"I've held your hands in mine and half-broken your wrists, princess. I've pinned down your body and crunched your little bones - "

"Go fuck an antlion," I spat, and leapt forward to start my assault once more.

He raised his hands; my assault was stopped almost immediately as my Shell was breached and every tooth chattered in my head as lightning arced through me, hot and burning and a high electric scream in my ears. My fingers were more than singed as I gripped my wand, falteringly falling back and slowly floating through the air as I spun it forward. He was laughing as I cast reflect-magic, his own hands moving in more magic-signs - and then he was engulfed in his own Blizzaga, the chill of ice-magic startling in the hot desert air.

Tango's scream was not music to my ears. It was high and a kicked-animal wail, bitten-off and leaving him dipping lower and lower in the sky as his wings faltered, heavy with ice. He shook it all off, writhing as he flew, and groggily my wings managed to beat again.

"I should have killed you, Eiko Carol," he called.

Was there enough magic in me? Yes. By Madeen's grace go I; you're not listening, my love, my life, but bless my spellcasting anyway - I stuck my wand out, feeling the wind caress my cheeks. Air, earth, fire, water, wood, metal, darkness.

"I could have killed you, Eiko Carol!"

Green bleached to white. I had enough in me. I could barely see Tango in the hazy waves of magic starting to surround me; he was a ragged little crow, a black seagull sailing on the wind, wings beating out a broken rhythm to stay alight.

"But I didn't - father, I'm sorry, soso sorry, I couldn't, I'll do better, I'll do better, won't fail this time, they all go to feathers in my fingers Father why do they bleed so much they're not supposed to bleed - "

My voice was a cracked shrill scream, even as he slowly rose higher, wings pinned back as he made his descent, and I tremblingly let go the power of my spell a few seconds before he hit me. Eat Holy, Tango.

He tackled me by the waist and it engulfed him, a burning engulfing wave of light whiter than white and both of us scattering pearls as his pounce shoved all the air out of us. We were falling back in an arc, back towards the Palace, and he pushed me out ahead of him as the kinetic power shoved us - him burning, me limp -

- back into the stained glass window of the lower corridor, ruby and peridot and lapis and topaz exploding in shards around us as we tumbled down down down onto the hard marble floor. I felt my back ripped to sheds, the glass scratching fire over shoulders and thighs and feet as, completely unprotected, I fell to the ground like a ragdoll. Black Tango was still burning even as he rolled off me, his moans that of a man consumed by fire, spasming even as my Holy spell receded off his clothing.

My Trance had ended, burnt me out. My wings had disappeared into nothing; the green tinge of my hair had faded back to violet. I had to hold my wand in my teeth, barely able to focus my power as my dispel spell rolled over the room. I was half-fainting, but at least my reflection barrier had gone; that left the way for a pathetic cure that barely closed any of my hundreds of cuts, still bleeding, but at least I could open my eyes.

Tango was a whimpering wreck a few metres away from me, tangled in himself, feathers on the floor and his hands working over himself as they desperately tried to brush off something long gone. I rose up, my feet dragging over the floor, and kicked him viciously in the side. The last rags of my shirt fell to the floor, my clothes a matching wreck for my body.

He just curled up harder. I kicked him again.

"How's it feel to be the one on the floor?"

"Don't," he croaked.

I kicked him again, harder, though I was swaying on my feet and ready to fall. "Why should I show mercy to you?"

"No..."

"Exactly." I stomped down, over where I thought his pelvis was, wanting his being to crack and crumble. The power was as sweet as the pain was bitter, tasting like blood in my mouth. He just gave another pathetic bird's chirp of pain.

"No - "

There were footsteps. The Black Mages. I should have been more conscious of them; imagine the scene, me beating their father to pulp with both hands as they watched, terrified, torn between who to be more fearful of. The room was shrouded with shadows. At least Tango hadn't crashed us into one of the basements; not the ones filled with monsters, and I was half-dead and kicking down a three-quarters-dead mage.

I kicked at his head. His tall steepled hat fell; it skidded across the chipped marble in the dark. Something pale fell from it in strands, and Tango ducked his head against his chest, the pale thing falling all around his shoulders and his clothes.

His voice was a muffled shriek, a child's one, like a tantrum. "Don't touch me!"

There was no blackness. I had expected shadows. Where was the previous darkness? He was sobbing, uncontrollably, body still twitching as if he was braindead. "Don'ttouchdispeldon'ttouch..."

The pale stuff lifted, like a curtain, as he raised his head so that I could see his unmisted face.

I had the sense, at least, to run.

Not just run, but sprint. Down into the darkness, anywhere, catching a glimpse of the small frightened mages pressing against the wall as I made my adrenaline-spurred getaway. My fear was pushing me on, but my legs gave; bleeding and helpless, I fell to the floor, the cold stone of it no comfort to my burning cheeks.

I knew when Tango stumbled down the corridor after me, hat jammed on his head - as if that gave him any protection! - tripped, and all that pale stuff spilled out again as his hat rolled away. His gloved hands groped for it, but then he abandoned it to sit back up, shaking his head as if to clear the moths; that pale stuff was hair, hanging down in long moonlight threads.

I'd seen those locks before. They'd been immaculately groomed, combed to perfection, sculpted to falling feathery spikes on an equally immaculate face. Strength going, Tango crawled towards me, my death, and now I was willing because now I knew and I had to stop crying because it was blurring my sight.

The face was dirty and bloodstained. The skin was the whiteness of the things who live underground and never see sunlight; the eyes were those of madmen, not focusing properly, rolling every which way until finally they focused upon my face. He pressed weak, limp hands to my shoulders, in a mockery of pinning me down; both of us were zombies walking, comatose chemicals. I tried to pull my face away, my body away; but it wasn't working, he was there.

Face hadn't changed. All high cheekbones but no crushed berries to rouge the cheeks or lips, no powders, but more bone; emaciated, thin, wild, beautiful and terrible and foul. The eyes had changed; they were golden like darkened suns, like beaten metal, like his eyes before as the Black Mage, amber like a wolf's. His lips were split and chapped.

"Don't touch me," I gasped, knowing now why, I shouldn't have touched him, oh, Mother, he watched me naked - "You bastard, you bastard, you bastard - "

"Eiko." Why had I not listened to the voice? Why was I so blind?

I forced all my poison into my mouth. If I could have, I would have spat fiery death into his mouth, cast a spell with my tongue. "Kuja."

"No, Eiko," - and he was weeping suddenly harder than I was; "It's Vivi."