Night holds Hippolytus the pure of stain,
Diana steads him nothing, he must stay;
And Theseus leaves Pirithous in the chain
The love of comrades cannot take away.
- a.e hausman
Go Not Gently
Chapter Nine - Leaving You Behind
There's a field, with lush green grass and bumpy hills and neat little buildings all set up with the same gentle, tender ramshackle layer-style that characterized the homes of the Black Mages from Black Mage Village; the wind blew threw them, and through the flower-boxes that sat in the windows and outside the doors. There's a hand in mine; I look down to see a little dark-haired boy standing next to me, smiling. The sun rises and the moon fall and the stars come out even as the sun's rising.
The grass is half-mixed with sand - you know the type you get near large bodies of water - and I looked over to see a shimmering lake, glimmering green and blue and white as the waters danced. Vivi comes, laughing, out of one of the houses; he's dressed in simple drawstring trousers and a linen shirt, hair drawn back in a tight braid, and he's bleeding from his mouth and his nose and his ears.
"Don't worry," he says, before I even opened my mouth; before I even thought it. "It always ends soon, linden-bloom."
"Are we happy now?" I ask. "What did we make?"
He beams at the question. "A home in the desert. Something from nothing. Everywhere it was nothing. We should be proud of ourselves."
It's Grand Lake, the Grand Lake of Alexandria; there are remnants of old docks there, a shipwreck in the middle that's old and ancient and rotting. Beneath my feet there are bits of stone.
"But it's all blood now," I say, because the grass has turned red with it.
"We had to burn the trees," he explains, "to make way for the pasture."
The little boy breaks away from me, and he climbs a tree. I try to make him come down but he won't; Vivi comes and takes my hand, but he's Black Tango again, all black-clothed and golden-eyed. I take off his hat and I try to feel for his face again but there's nothing there, like with Rain; I gasp, but then he's there again, scar-shod and bleeding.
"Don't look behind you," Vivi says, and then he kisses me hard and long until my bones ache and my toes are curling up on the long grass. When I open my mouth I take out a lavender flower, delicate and pretty. It all feels wrong, and I know I've forgotten something; I stare at the flower in my hand, still wet with my spit.
"I told you not to look," he says, and then the sun falls and the moon rises again and the stars explode.
When I woke up I remembered Bran Bal, and I didn't know why. I remembered
the darkness ad the pipes and the blank-eyed Genomes and all the fire as Kuja
exploded everything around him, bright red confetti of death on a dying world.
Then I went back to sleep, and I didn't dream again.
Rain brought me breakfast, and I sat him on my lap and we ate together. He seemed perfectly willing to be held, and have his toast cut up into soldiers, and be treated like a toddler than like a little Black Mage; he was as chirpy as ever, but if he had been human I know his eyes would have been red and tearstained. He still hurt over Tide; we all hurt over Tide.
"How'd you sleep?" he asked thickly, mouth full of bread and butter.
"Oh, I slept fine." He must have known I was lying; my hair was like a violet knotty haystack and my eyes had large bags. My hair was too long now; creeping down to my shoulderblades, unwieldy and needing to be tied back, flyaway over my summoner's horn. "I think there was a storm last night."
"Maybe it was the Master." He sugared my porridge, running one gloved finger around the rim of the bowl; it was steaming merrily on the little bluebell flame again. I picked it up gratefully, spooning the hot oats into my mouth. "It's not rain season yet."
I tickled him under one arm until he squirmed, laughing. "I don't know, I think it's Rain season every day."
I ruffled his hat until it fell off; he jammed it over his head, attempting indignance, wriggling off my lap and licking butter-striped gloves. Giggling still at his solemn pouting, I tilted the bowl of porridge and drank it all down greedily until it stained my mouth and nose and cheeks. Eating like Tango, now. Mama would whip me blind.
"What are you going to do today?" he asked, taking the tray and the breakfast things, carefully piling them up in his arms and heavy sleeves so not to drop them.
"Work a bit," I said cagily, standing up. I'd found some ruched trousers in Kuja's closet - thank the Gods, though they seemed more thermal underthings than proper leg-covers - and I pulled them on, not bothering to change my shirt. In a house full of little boy-children Mages and the man who has not washed since puberty, my hygiene was getting more than mildly slovenly at times. Not that I had exactly been clean back in the days of being an engineer (so long ago: months are years now), but I tended to always wash and wear clean clothes. I wiped my mouth on a sleeve. "Is there anywhere I can work, Rain? A nice, big, empty room?"
"Go down to one of the Ballrooms," he suggested promptly. "I'll go check with my brothers, see if there's one clean - "
"I don't care about clean!" I yelled after him. Too late: he'd already trip-trapped off, little boots clomping on the marble tiles as he bounced off somewhere down the stairs.
Kneeling on the ground, I opened my drawers again; I didn't know why I hid my wand now. Vivi knew of its existence, and he still hadn't snapped it in two over my head. I didn't know whether he trusted me. I don't think he trusted himself, most days. The little flowers were slowly, happily puffing white sparkles onto the half-rotting lining of the bottom of the drawer, making it glisten. I tucked it into the top of my trousers and closed the door again. I left my glasses.
Well, I'd eaten my breakfast, I was dressed. Now to dig deep into the fabric of summoning reality and summon Death without having my skeleton seperated forcibly from my skin. All in a day's work, from Eiko Carol-Fabool. Hurray. Huzzah.
Break out the ticker-tape already.
When the world was younger and the Summoners all grouped together, my grandpa used to tell me, they used to extract Eidolons from every young Summoner as a matter of course; they'd be lost to the slipstream of being, whirling around in the abyss where all creatures of that ken went. The Summoner, to get their wings, would go and Call the Eidolons that were hers or his as a test of power. It's always easier to bring home the Eidolons that were born with you, shared a womb with you.
Calling the Others is a different matter. And when you can't even call your Own, well.
I worked with engineering diagrams; they were safe, comfortable, concrete things, lines and angles and mathematical equations. Summoning seemed like trying to plot a dream. I had no idea where to begin.
So I began, down in one of Kuja's ballrooms (who did you throw balls for, Kuja? Who did you invite?) amongst all the dust and decay and the rotting brocade curtains. Things either rotted or dried away out here; Rain was a little desert child, much like I had been, his sleeves puffed and tied at the wrists so that the sand wouldn't get in them. He was sweeping sand out of the doorway when Sunny lead me down.
"It's in awfully good condition," his brother said to me, brightly. Rain loved clean; he loved polishing things, he loved new things, he loved everything that wasn't dying and dead. I longed to lead him through Lindblum until his eyes fell out from all the steam and brightness. "Most of the Palace is, you know. We even repaired the window you fell through, because the lizards were getting in. Master doesn't like lizards."
I thought of Vivi, playing with a lizard in a little patch of sunlight; he never played with his hands, he just watched. He never liked it when I teased ants or spiders or centipedes with a little twig; he liked watching what the little creatures did. I thought of Tango, ripping open a lizard and gnawing on the guts, drinking the eyeballs.
What we did was wrong, Zidane. We should have checked. We should have found him. Should have, should have, should have. Guilt wears weary on your skin -
"You don't mind if I lock the door, Rain?" If, perhaps, I was overcome with a monster from the deep, it would eat me and then go a-rampaging through the Desert Palace. I wanted Rain and the others to be safe.
"There's nothing to lock it with, Eiko." He looked mournfully at the double doors. "It won't shut properly; the right door's swollen with water and it sticks out."
Bugger. "Damn it. All right." I moved over to him, fondly smoothing the folds of his hat. "Rain, if you hear something happening in here - not right, me screaming maybe, possibly gore running under the doors and my intestines hitting the wall - you run grab your father and don't look back."
Run, grab your father. He was their father. He was the only father they would ever have. Odd to think about. He squinted, screwing up his eyes; then, at last, he nodded. "Yes, Eiko."
"I mean that, now." I patted him on the shoulder. "Go scat. What's for lunch?"
"Pie," he answered happily, "a big meat pie."
I would leave him to his big meat pies and his cleaning and his polish, and his brothers and his father. "I love you, Rain."
"I love you, Eiko." He toddled out, big feet careful not to trip on the cracked marble tiles of the ballroom. He shut the doors behind him, faltering on the one that was swollen, pushing it until it was at least wedged against the other.
No more mercy.
I strode to the middle of the room. It was big and spacious and airy, with large glass windows with the curtains pulled aside to let in the hot sunlight. It would do beautifully. There was a warm wind blowing in from some crack, stirring my clothes. The cotton against my skin was soft as clouds; Kuja had beautiful taste in materials.
"Phoenix," I said aloud, raising my wand. "Fenrir. Carbunkle. Madeen."
My wand dragged by my side as I started pacing a slow, measured circle, dropping its sacred flowerdust on the ground; one syllable for each step. "Madeen. Carbunkle. Fenrir. Phoenix."
There was soon shining dust where I walked; my fingers twitched as I acknowledged the directions, tilting my head at every degree. Three-sixty; two-seventy; ninety; north, south, east, west. Concentrate, girl, concentrate; you're on the battlefield with Garnet. You're both Summoning; she gives you that little smile she always does, the one that's far away with other planets, and you feel the power coming off her like a powerfan. She's beautiful, she's your soulsister; remember that feeling, how she made you feel like all your magic was a white-hot nova and you exploded harder than ever. You don't have a piece of pumice at your neck; you don't need it. "Phoenix. Fenrir. Carbunkle. Madeen."
Rhythm and heartbeats. I spun around, widdershins, going the other way, quickening my step. "Madeen. Carbunkle, Fenrir, Phoenix - "
Quicker, now. Louder. "Phoenix. Fenrir. Carbunkle. Madeen!"
Swaying in place, wand not earthed any more; it didn't need it. It was belching white glitterpuffs like a kettle pouring tea, a jug with water. It sparkled in the desert sunlight, electrified.
steiner's dying, dying - garnet can hardly hold her breath for it; there's bloodrust on his armor, and he can't even bellow anymore so give him fire
you always hated earthquakes; they came too often and too hard in madain sari, levelling the earth and giving it teeth: now the teeth are yours, in a wolf's mouth
rubylight; sometimes you are afraid, when the fire engulfs you and there's only the eidolon's light on your skin but you can't trust it when you're tired and cold and it's coming right for you. you would have wet yourself, big girl of six that you were, had there been liquid left in you
there's a girl with long green hair who can't see for shaking and weeping; there's something shifting and purple and white about her, and you remember (though you had never known it): mog was never just your father
They were not coming.
I had attributed the silence in my heart to absence of the Eidolons; now I felt something far sinister, the muteness of mouths that would not open. My heart filled with rage; I fell to my knees, slamming the butt of the wand down on the ground, stirring up the fine particles that swirled all around me.
They were not coming.
I would never do it; I had failed Gaia. Black Tango would stand upon a mountaintop and destroy everything and anything as he laughed and laughed and wept, and Necron would come and he'd destroy himself. Not even Vivi could stand against Death, not by himself, not with me by his side. I would never do it.
They were not coming.
So I threw a tantrum.
"Where are you?!" I hollered, I screamed, dropping the wand and falling to the floor as my hands and feet beat the ground. I saw red, red, red. "Where are you, motherfuckers, I'm CALLING YOU! You're meant to COME! Didn't do anything wrong, I didn'tdidn'tdidn't, so come to me, come to me now, hate you all, hate you all, grandpamakethemcome, come come come - " I was choked up in sobs, angry ones, hardly able to speak, emphasising my words with punches to the tiles until my knuckles felt bruised. My chest heaved against the ground. "I'm yours, you're mine, mine mine mine, get here now, don't understand, need you, need you more'n ever, bitches, bastards, stupid, stupid - " My voice rose in a wail. "Didn't mean to, didn't mean it - why'd you leave me, want my mother: want my father, want Daddy - want, here, want Madeen - "
The voice was commanding; it rebounded around the ballroom, up to the dim crystal of a chandelier as I stared up in tearstreaked wonder.
Eiko, we will not come.
"Madeen?" I breathed. "Madeen - please," I started crying again, out of desperation. My nose was bright red by now, my face swollen; not exactly a picture of Summoning dignity. "Madeen, I need you."
We will not come.
And Carbunkle: We will not do it.
With Fenrir: It is abomination.
Then Phoenix: We are in agreement; we will not come, we will not do this thing.
"But - " My mouth was dry; I desperately needed water. "But I need to, I need to stop him. It's Vivi; and the Black Mages, they've never done anything wrong, nothing but wanting to live - "
We do it out of love for you, Eiko. My motherfather. Let dead things die. To continue down the path you are taking is doom -
"I faced Necron before." I gritted my teeth together, a bad habit. ("You'll have grooved teeth like a seamstress," Mama would always say.) "If my life is forfeit, then so be it. I don't care any more. I never shall again."
The one you name Necron is bound in chains, Fenrir said. His voice was a low, grinding growl, like a howling tornado. To do this thing you would loose his chains.
Chains bind him for a reason, little Carbunkle chimed in. I'd always wanted to reach out and stroke Carbunkle, touch the adorable little jewelbright beauty. He would devour everything that had ever existed, once freed from those bonds. Do not trust the mage; he cannot do this thing, and neither can you.
We will not see you devoured, Eiko. Madeen again. Eiko. Eiko. Do you not see the danger? Were I Bahamut or Ashura, I still would not let you do this thing.
"You can't hold out forever," I whispered. "I know you're there now."
You would force us? Phoenix. You would break us open? We are your brothers and sisters in bondage; the door to the spiritworld is not open to you without us.
"You don't understand!" I could have thrown another tantrum, there and then. "Tango's - Vivi's - he's going to die, don't you see, and so's Rain, and so's Sunny, and the rest - they'll Stop just like Tide. I can't let any more go. I can't. I have to try; please, please, I have to try. Oh, Gods, I have to try or I won't be able to live my life."
This way lies madness, Eiko.
"I'm half-damned crazy already, Madeen."
She loves it. That was Carbunkle, accusing. She loves It; see, she's crazy from it. She said so herself.
How could anyone love that? Fenrir. She does not. She is terrified and upset and easily lead. She loves the children; she loves him not.
"I would prefer it if you stopped talking about me as if I wasn't here!"
They immediately quietened.
Madeen's voice. Kinder. Sensed my tiredness, my despair. What do you want, Eiko?
"You know what?" I said mechanically. "I'd like a hot bath where I can't hear antlions screaming, or mating, or eating, or whatever it is antlions yell about. I'd like to hear an airship. I'd like my own bed. I want my mother and my father and Zidane and Garnet and Elia and the others. I want that."
There was a pause, as if left for whispering.
That, Eiko, we will gladly grant. Do you wish to go home?
Did I want to go home?
Did I want to leave the Black Mages behind, and their lonely little graveyard, to a father who killed them with his bare hands? Without what little protection I could give them? To Black Tango, mad and wild with loneliness and grief, a little boy I'd once loved with all my heart and fought and bled for? Did I really want to leave that?
"Yes," I said.
Then there was Phoenix, rearing up in front of me, filling the chamber with light and warmth and dazzle as the two great wings of light were beaten. It choked up the dust around me; I stuffed my wand in my trousers again, clambering and slipping desperately up until I was safely on its back. Phoenix did not care about doors; we broke up out of the roof, me clinging to my Eidolon's feathers as we shot hundreds of miles into the air. The last thing I saw was a small, ragged, scarecrow figure, wings tucked into his back as he watched us from the top of one of the Desert Palace's towers; then Phoenix took off, as fast as the wind, and took me to Alexandria.
Home. Away from this place. I was free.
And all I could think of was: I've left behind my glasses.