The Tower of the Phoenix, the tallest building in Phoenix Castle and home to Lord Riou, shook. It wasn't a gentle shaking, either. The castle had stood here for decades, but this tower was new, and maybe, just maybe it wasn't as well built as the other, older parts...
Luc sighed. No, of course it was well built. But there hadn't been a storm like this for years, and it was having certain effects on the stone. Powerful winds rattled the window shutters and in some places, tore the green-lacquered wood clean off the hinges; it danced in the empty streets, whistled around the corners. Rain pounded a loud staccato on the slated roofs and ran in great rivers over the cobblestones, turning stairs into tiny waterfalls.
The storm of the century. It felt like an omen. What would tomorrow bring? Would he meet his destiny then? Or did the wind perchance cry for someone else? All he knew was that tomorrow... he would set out to face another battle. The last, he hoped. Fighting was so... barbaric. Beneath him.
He should sleep. He didn't get enough rest these days; he was well aware of it. But the wind... was something more important. The wind was a part of him, and while it was awake, he could not sleep.
"You there! Stop - oh. Forgive me, I did not notice..."
Luc glared up at the soldier who blocked his path. "Very well. Get thee gone, warrior, and let me pass," he told the man, wasting a good dose of his best sarcasm.
"Sorry, but I can't let anyone in or out - besides, you shouldn't go up on the roof in this weather."
"Thank you." Luc waved his hand tiredly. "But I'm still going to pass you one way or another."
The man considered this for a moment. Then he stepped aside. Luc almost pitied him.
The young sorcerer climbed the stairs. He unlatched the hatch leading onto the roof and stepped out -
The wind was overwhelming. It pulled him, staggering, back, almost sending him over the edge; the rain blinded him, the drops stinging his eyes. He stood his ground and awakened his Rune, twisting the air to circle around the tower, leaving the immediate area free from turbulence. Suddenly the stone stopped shaking; he was standing in complete and utter calm.
He drew a deep breath. The air tasted fresh, much better than inside the musty castle. There was a slight tinge of ozone, and as he noticed that, lightning flashed overhead, followed almost instantly by a thunderclap. The weather gods were really putting effort into this one. Or maybe they were having a big argument. Either way, it was spectacular. Forked bolts danced across the sky, leaving burning purple afterimages in his eyes.
Luc opened his arms wide as if to embrace the storm, threw his head back, and laughed. His concentration slipped, and a gust of wind tugged at him, but he remained standing, enjoying the wind and the rain. This was his life. Wind, and rain. The wind, free, but without roots... drifting aimlessly. Like he had been, until he found her. Or maybe she had found him. He wasn't certain. And then there was rain. Rain for eternal sorrow, rain for the tears he had shed in loneliness and bitter resentment towards humanity. It felt better now, he must admit. Even after these hardships, it still felt better now. He took care not to show it, but he couldn't deny to to himself. It felt better. Not without sorrow, but... better.
Curse it... who am I fooling... I'm only seventeen, I shouldn't be seeing this... Perhaps... no one 'should' be seeing this.
Barbaric. That was what it was.
And the castle seemed... empty. It was strange, how something like that... could strike with such precision at the heart, the spirit, of the group...
There had been countless deaths, but for some reason, everybody felt different about...
He hadn't liked Nanami. Not one bit. He even actively disliked her. Whenever he had heard her voice, he wished she would just go away. And now that she was gone...
And what made things worse was that he wasn't alone. It wasn't fair.
Lightning flashed towards him, and earthed itself in the ground right next to the tower, repelled by the Rune. He hardly even noticed.
Why didn't anyone cry for the hundreds who had lost their lives before her? Why was she so different? He couldn't understand, even though he felt it himself, and it bothered him. He hated not understanding. It made him feel weak, and he hated feeling weak. Even as he loved the rain, he hated it, too, for making him remember his weakness. Weakness! He stood here, commanding a power beyond mortal ken, and still he was weak! He held up his right hand, palm towards him, and stared angrily at the Rune, its intricate lines and curves, its flickering aura of green, cyan and blue. Twenty-seven True Runes in the world, and here he stood, holding the one that symbolised something that in turn symbolised his life; wind.
He could feel the air. It let him. And now he heard it move behind him; long before he heard the voice speak to him.
"Oh. So you are here too." A voice he knew well.
"Oh no, not you again." What did she do, follow him?
He heard the sharp click-tap noise of hard shoes against the stone. "You don't seem too happy to see me."
"I'm not." No point in being anything else but frank. Everybody knew he said what was on his mind. He couldn't put much effort into it right now, however. He crossed his arms over his chest, tucking his right hand under his left arm. He didn't want to talk about it. She was the only one who understood, anyway. No point in trying to talk to anyone else about it.
Lighting flashed. It illuminated their features sharply. In the short moment of brightness, he saw that she was wrapped in a heavy cloak; dark, though he could not discern which colour, and long, brushing the ground.
"What are you doing out here in this weather, this late in the evening?" she asked.
"What are you doing?" He didn't want to talk. What was the point?
"Nothing much. Thinking."
"...yes." He left it at that.
"And watching the storm, of course," she continued, seemingly ignoring the last remark. "I have... always found lighting... fascinating."
He decided to try again. "Be careful not to attract it. I don't have enough strength to protect both of us." Hmph. Come to think of it, he probably had. He could probably banish the storm with a wave of his hand. If he'd only known how.
"But I do."
He turned his head to glare at her, and found electric light glittering in her eyes, the grey turned lightning-blue, and a corona of white fading into deep blue surrounding her hand; the symbol of a Lightning Rune marking otherwise flawless, pale skin.
"Fine..." He turned away before the next lightning bolt could show him looking at her. Maybe he wasn't getting rid of her, but better then to ignore her than to acknowledge her presence. Perhaps she would leave then. Not that he had any great hopes.
"So... what are you... thinking about, then?"
"...that isn't true, is it."
He turned to glare at her again, perfect timing; a bolt striking the ground only a few hundred metres away sharply revealing his scowl. She only smiled back; her silver hair, not tied back tonight, plastered about her head and shoulders; water running down her face, soaking her cloak and making it hug her shoulders. He probably looked worse, he realised. Not that it bothered him. It was only water. The tears of the gods perhaps, but still, only water.
That smile bothered him, though. He had the horrible feeling she thought he was... 'cute', or something.
"...perhaps. Nothing that concerns you, then," he told her, and turned away from that slight smile and the kindness it offered.
"Perhaps not." She didn't sound offended.
What does it take to get rid of that woman?
"But perhaps you would feel better if you told me?"
He sneered. "I doubt it."
"Care to try?"
The offer sounded sincere, and it hung in the air for a while.
She shrugged; something he heard and felt in the air more than saw.
For a while, there was merciful, soothing silence, apart from the clattering of the rain and the rumbling of thunder, but those things seemed far off now; not important enough to notice.
He mourned the loss. His 'life', in the end, meant nothing. He had always known, of course... but he rarely felt it like this. Even standing here, surrounded by things that made him feel truly alive, he felt...
He didn't know what he felt.
For it is the fate of the True Rune bearers, to live forever on, while everything they love withers and dies...
Had he been alone, he would have screamed out his rage to the storm, but he was not alone, so he let it flow out slowly. Tears. He hadn't cried for a long time, but he found it strangely easy... perhaps... it was not so bad after all... crying was something he had feared, but the rain kissed his tears away now...
He felt a hand on his shoulder.
He ignored it. She insisted.
"What?!" he forced out.
"You are shivering. Come, let us go inside. I have some mulled wine, and I'm sure there's enough for the both of us."
"...no... I'm staying." His voice, to his relief, was steady.
Still the hand on his shoulder remained. "If you want. But I am staying here with you, then."
He didn't answer. The wind, long free from his tentative grasp, tore at them, yet neither moved.
"It doesn't get better this way, you know."
He spun around, slipping his shoulder out of her grasp. "What do you know? What do you know about anything?"
Grey, blue-shimmering eyes met brown for a moment.
"No... I do not know anything about you... or your past... or why you come here every time a storm blows to cry in the rain... but Luc... for this, do I really have to understand?"
He broke eye contact and looked down, to the ground; didn't speak.
"If you let me know what you're running from, maybe I can help."
"I'm not running!" He turned back and stared at her defiantly. "I'm never running again! Never!"
A thunderclap punctuated his last word. Then silence again.
He wasn't running. He had confronted Sasarai. He was terrified, but he wasn't going to run.
He'd rather die.
Her hand on his shoulder again. Curse her! Couldn't she ever leave him alone?
"You don't need to tell me if you don't want to." A finger lightly brushed some hair out of his face. "But right now, you need to come inside before you catch a cold. We need you, Luc. We depend on your strength."
How could so few words warm so much, and hurt so much at the same time? He drew a deep breath.
Numbly, he let her lead him down the stairs. The hatch slammed shut behind them. The lone guard saluted them nervously as they passed, but Luc hardly noticed. Nor did he notice as they walked down long, dark and empty corridors, past a few other sentries, until they finally reached the eastern wing of the castle. A door, one like many others in the corridor, opened under a light touch, and he found himself standing in a sparsely furnished room. The room was dominated by a table and three chairs standing in the centre, on a small, pale blue carpet; there was also a cupboard in the closest left corner, a small desk under the window in the middle of the wall opposite the door, a small stove in the far right corner, and a bed behind a screen in the far left corner. Somehow he had expected more, but all that hinted that the room was inhabited was a small pot on the stove, a light grey cloak slung over the back of one of the chairs around the table, and a round, fist-sized crystal on the cupboard; a slight blue-white crackling of energy in its heart. She vanished behind the screen for a moment, and returned with a dry cloak around her shoulders, and a blanket from the bed, which she wrapped around his shoulders before leading him to a chair. He followed her lead and sat down silently. There was a slight scent of perfume in the blanket, but not strong enough to be unpleasant. He didn't even complain as she took a small, flimsy towel and wiped his cheeks and slicked his hair back so it wouldn't fall over his eyes. He watched her stir whatever was in the pot with a wooden spoon, then produce two slender wineglasses from the cupboard and fill them to the brim with sparkling red wine. She handed him one, and he took it, sipping carefully. It was sweet, rich with spices, and warmed pleasantly. He hadn't realised how cold he was. He was dimly aware of how she took a seat opposite him, leaned her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. He concentrated on warming his own hands on the glass, and sipping the warm wine.
He looked up. She was leaning her head in one hand now, and slowly turning her glass with the other; the glass moving against wood making a soft sound that barely managed to penetrate the sound of the rain outside.
"If you do not want to speak of the past, it is your decision. I was wrong to pry into your feelings."
He shook his head slightly. "'t's... no bother."
She smiled. "I'm glad." More silence. Comfortable silence.
Then she took her glass and held it out. "Friends?"
Finally, he smiled. As the spry sound of glass against glass tinkled through the room and he repeated her last word silently, confirming, he found a new, strange thought entering his mind.
Yes... maybe... I have finally found...