This fic was first written in French, in an endeavour to reconnect with my mother tongue. However, since I figured that only a few people would be able to understand it, I decided to translate it in English. Some phrasings might feel a bit French-y as a result, but hopefully that will not be too distracting.
As always, I am using the original terms for places and character names:
Zmey = Zumay, Elise = Elize, Musee = Muzét
Ajur = Auj Oule, Kalakh Shal = Sharilton, Il Fan = Fennmont, Gandhara = Gandala, Khan Baliq = Kanbalar
The room was dark. The only source of light, a small dirty window, did not allow much sunshine to filter through. However, this did not seem to bother its inhabitants as they quietly ate their meager meal.
Silence would have normally not lasted long. Agria would have soon complained about the taste or lack thereof, and Wingul would have impatiently told her that now was not the time to be picky. Jiao would have produced some candy out of his huge pockets to cheer her up, and Presa would have observed them with a sly smile, awaiting the perfect occasion to make a jab at the girl. It would have quickly turned into meaningless banter, a way to relax a little and strengthen their bonds. Wingul and Presa were particularly fond of this sport, and would often send the other a look that said "well done" every time one of them made a witty remark.
Such a scene was rare nowadays, and should it happen, they would only participate half-heartedly. It was as if they had lost the will to smile. This was not entirely wrong, really; none of them had truly laughed for a year, not ever since...
Wingul gulped down a big spoonful, trying to interrupt his train of thought.
...Ever since Gaius's death.
His spoon fell into his bowl, spilling some soup on his shirt, but he paid it no mind. He got up and walked up to the window. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Presa was looking at him.
"Are you thinking about Gaius again?", she asked.
The other two immediately stopped eating and looked at him too. He did not answer at first, but feeling their intense gazes, he gave in.
"I'm always thinking about Gaius," he whispered.
Jiao put his bowl on the table.
"Me too. I always wonder how it would be if... if he were still there."
Agria loudly hit the table to interrupt them.
"Stop whining. He's gone, all right? What's the point of getting hung up on what could-have-beens? His Highness is gone, and it's up to us to move on and protect the country for him. Wingul, you're such a moron. You're our leader, damn it, pull yourself together already!"
"Agria is right, you know," Presa added. "I understand how you feel, but we can't give up. We owe him as much..."
"I know!", Wingul snapped back. "I'm trying, but I... Memories always come back unexpectedly."
He was no stranger to loss. There had been his cousin, first, and then his father, and his uncles, one after the other. Then there was his poor mother, who had not been able to bear the string of tragedies any longer, and had attempted to poison him before ending her own life. There had also been countless comrades, and then Nils, his servant and best friend, only three years ago. All these deaths had marked him one way or another, but up to now he had always been able to move on.
In Gaius's case, though, it was different. Gaius had been more than his king, more than a comrade. Gaius was the man he had loved passionately for thirteen long years. His life felt empty, meaningless now that he was gone. He could not bear the thought of moving on without him. Yet, he would not give up. Gaius's dream was his dream, and he had sworn to pursue it to the very end. It was his and the Chimeriad's way to honor his memory. The four of them had taken up the task of ruling Ajur together in his place.
They had first tried to complete the unification of Rieze Maxia that their king had started before his passing. However, his murder had caused unrest all through the world, and they had quickly realized that trying to appease two countries at the same time was beyond their abilities. Rowen J. Ilbert had then stepped in and dedicated himself to restoring order in Rashugal. He, too, had faced many hardships. Part of the nobility and military had tried to take advantage of their king's death to increase their privileges, and the country split into two factions: one led by Sir Ilbert from Kalakh Shal, and one led by a Albert O. Zmey, who had taken over Il Fan. As far as Wingul knew, both sides were still fighting for the control of Fort Gandhara.
In Ajur, the situation had stayed stable in the capital, partly due to their prestige among its population and thanks to the people's will to make their late king proud. That was however not the case in remote areas of the country, where some clans were looking to take their independence. Every new day brought more bad news, and Wingul was painfully aware how different things were without Gaius. Gaius would have found a solution. He would not have lost control so easily. Every day, Wingul felt increasingly powerless. Every day, he missed Gaius more than ever.
"I sometimes wonder if there is a point to what we're doing," he whispered to himself.
He heard Agria get up, probably to make him regret his words in a way that would stick, but movement outside caught his attention and his stance stiffened. Agria noticed the change and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Did you see something?", she asked, her wrath forgotten. Behind her, Presa and Jiao quietly got up as well.
"There is someone outside."
He wiped the window with his sleeve to get a better view of the people who had suddenly appeared in front of the temple's gate. When he recognized one of them, his blood went cold.
"It's her," he spat.
Agria's reaction came first.
"I'm gonna destroy her!"
"Agria, are you out of your mind?", Presa called to her. "She's the one who's 'gonna destroy' you if you attack her blindly. Ajur needs us; we cannot afford to lose our lives on a whim."
"She is not alone," Wingul interrupted her. "There is Ilbert and the girl... and two strangers: a young male and another little girl."
"The girl... You don't mean Elise? Oh no..."
Wingul frowned. What were they doing here? Did they go after her? No, that was not like Ilbert to get children involved – or to fight alone, in fact. Could they have come to meet them, only to find her instead? Whatever the reason, their presence changed everything.
The four of them were probably no match for her. But if they could get Ilbert's help... Wingul weighted his options. Should they favor safety and hide until she was gone, even if it meant losing an occasion to end things with her? Or had the time to risk everything come?
He turned to his companions and looked at each of them in the eye. Agria was burning with the desire to end it. He knew she loathed this game of hide-and-seek they had been playing for a year. Jiao looked worried, almost panicked. He probably did not want to leave Elise face the monster alone. Presa looked resigned. Whatever his decision would be, she would follow him with no hesitation.
As for him, if he had to be honest with himself, he wanted nothing else than to kill her. Even though he knew his booster would not let him last long, he wanted to fight.
Their lives, their country, their desires... Everything rested on his choice.
Slowly, he nodded.
They ran down the stairs silently and went out from the back door, which led them to the temple's eastern side. They could take her by surprise, provided she did not sense their approach. The plan was simple: he would separate her from the others with a wind arte, which would allow Jiao to place himself in front of Elise to protect her and request her and Ilbert's assistance. Agria and Presa would then follow with a barrage of fire and ice artes to force her back into the woods and block her way to the sky.
Things worked as planned, at first. However, Wingul's expectation that Ilbert would join them at once was not met.
"Hey, it's the Chimeriad!"
"Woah, Musee's getting toasted!"
They seemed more surprised than he'd expected. Wingul faced them and was about to call to Ilbert, but he was the one who spoke first.
"Wingul, what are you doing?"
"I could ask you the same. Why are you not joining us? Don't you wish to avenge Jude and the others?"
"Oh no!", Elise cried out, "He thinks we're from this world!"
...'From this world'...?
Wingul had no time to ask her what she meant, because Musee had broken out of Agria and Presa's combo and was coming towards them. Surprisingly, she had not attacked them yet.
"My, my. What kind of barbarians attack defenseless people out of the blue? Did Gaius teach you no manner?"
She should not have said that.
"How dare you?"
Wingul was shaking with anger, hatred and despair. His booster was activated before he even realized what he was doing.
"Aiba dedin yaio spun'ek aus metun!"
He vaguely heard his companion call his name, but he was no longer in control. Abandoning himself to murderous madness, he threw himself at her and swung his sword, again and again and again. Lightning was surging in every direction, and he himself had no idea of what was going on. His body was moving on its own with only one goal: destroy her.
His mind had taken a trip back in the past, to one year ago, on that fated day that had ruined everything. He could see the lifeless body of his lover, bathing in his own blood, his sword still in his hand. He could see that gaping hole in his chest. The horror on the passerbys' faces. His empty eyes. The lights from the lumen trees, which were giving the scene an eerie look. The blood. The hole. The blood. The blood.
And he could see her. Her joyful expression. The way she floated above him, triumphant. And he could hear her laugh. Her sweet, happy, innocent laugh. The laugh of a child. The laugh that haunted his nightmares for a whole year.
His anguish turned to rage and guided his blade.
And yet his rampage did not last long.
His booster had reached its limits, and he could not use it for long. He had stopped using it after last time one year ago, because he was afraid that the thing would turn against him before he had accomplished anything. And indeed, his enhanced state left him as quickly as it came.
Strength left his body, and he fell down in the snow. His vision was blurry, and he could not see what was going on around him, but he could hear Musee moaning in pain. He must have hurt her. However, her cries sounded more like the cries of a child who had stubbed their toe on furniture than like the agony of someone who was going to die. It probably would not be long before she healed herself.
He felt Jiao crouch down behind him, and let him sit him up. He could not even sit without support anymore, now. He could vaguely see Agria and Presa standing in front of them in a protective stance. There would be no more attacking, now, and he suddenly regretted losing control.
It was exactly like last time. Just as he had done just now, he had also lost control to the booster back then, and had attacked Musee with everything he had. And like now, his booster had not held for long. The Chimeriad, who had been fighting alongside his crazed self at the time, had immediately changed strategies upon his defeat. Jiao had picked him up in one arm and Gaius's body in the other, and had started to run away. Presa and Agria had followed not far behind, slowing Musee down with their artes. They had eventually managed to outrun her – or perhaps she had given up the chase to nurse the wounds Gaius had inflicted her – and they had returned to Khan Baliq to heal him and prepare their king's funerals. In a way, it was because of him that they had all survived that day.
He felt tears of frustration fall down on his cheeks. He cursed his own powerlessness. If only he had been the one to die that day. He should have been quicker; he should have been the one to take the killing blow; he should have given Gaius an opportunity to strike her down. He would not have hesitated one second to give his life for him, and yet he was the one still alive today. And he was not even strong enough to avenge him.
A few moments later, Elise walked up to them and started to heal him, to her companions' surprise.
"Hey, why are you healing him?", the other girl asked her. "He's the one who attacked first!"
"I can't leave him like that, it'd be too sad," Elise replied.
He felt his headache fade and his sight come back to him.
Elise then talked to him.
"Please, stop attacking Musee. She means you no harm."
"The hell?!", Agria cried out, incredulous. "Are you fucking kidding me? Did you forget what that bitch did to us?"
Something was wrong. Why were they defending her? It made no sense whatsoever. They had lost a lot because of her as well. They had first lost Maxwell, who had sacrificed herself to save them all (what would she say if she could see them now?); then Jude Mathis and Leia Rolando were killed in Ni Akeria, along with half the village. And there had been no sign of Alvin after they left the Zirnitra. Musee must have gotten to him too. Ilbert and Elise were the only ones from Maxwell's group who had managed to escape her. They had kept contact, and they would sometimes send news to each other about what was going on in their countries. It was hard for Wingul to imagine that Ilbert and Elise would betray them and join Musee. Besides, they must know that she would turn on them as soon as she fulfilled her goal.
Moreover, Musee's behavior itself was strange. On closer look, she did not seem hostile at all. She was very different from the Musee he knew, the one who would go at them like a human at a fly, laughing with childish mirth. This Musee had only defended herself so far, and in fact she did not seem to understand why they had attacked her.
He did not have to wait long for an answer.
"My, my, what is going on here?"
That voice, that tone, that little laugh... Wingul knew who he would find above them even before he looked up.
But how? There was already one Musee here, on the ground. Was this all a ruse? Or were there truly two spirits of the same form and name, seemingly identical in everything yet different? The other Chimeriad seemed as unsettled as he was.
"I thought I'd heard something," the new Musee continued, "but I wasn't expecting to find you lot, all together, at that. Looks like our game of cat and mouse is going to end today, tee hee."
Then her eyes fell on the other Musee.
"Wh... What? How... Who are you?"
If this was a ruse, she was a good actress, because she seemed genuinely as surprised as he was to see the doppelganger.
The first Musee got up, now completely healed, and slowly flew towards the other.
"Who I am? Do you really want to know?"
"No, it's impossible... I'm the only one... The only one to serve Lord Maxwell! I am Musee, and I am unique! Get out of my sight, impostor!"
All of a sudden, she started to emit a dark aura. The situation was becoming even more surreal by the minute, but he and the other Chimeriad seemed to be the only ones who did not understand what was going on.
"It's the catalyst!"
"Musee again? I'm starting to wonder if she's really on our side."
"That's not very nice, Elle. When have I ever done anything to make you doubt me?"
"Musee hosts one of the Waymarkers to Canaan. That must increase her chances to be the catalyst."
"Silence, mortals! I will end you!"
The ensuing battle was so chaotic it was hard to follow. Ilbert, Elise, the young man, and the Musee he had attacked all fought together against the new Musee. After a few moments, Presa and Agria decided to act first and worry later, and joined them in the battle. Both Musees were particularly vicious to each other, and spirit artes were exploding everywhere.
Wingul was not in a state to fight anymore, and had little choice but to stay behind and watch. Jiao had decided to stay by his side and support him. With his help, he could now stand, but he still felt too dizzy to move. He picked up his sword and sheathed it. He would not need it anymore, now. The little girl joined them on the sidelines, probably hoping that Jiao's large body would provide good cover in case the battlefield moved closer to them.
"I'm Elle," she introduced herself. "And he's Ludger," she added, pointing at the young man currently fighting. "He's my partner."
Wingul was in no mood for conversation, but Jiao talked to her.
"Nice to meet you, Elle. My name is Jiao, and this is Wingul. Stay with us and I'll protect you if the bad lady comes near us, ok?"
"I know who you are," Elle replied.
Before Jiao could answer, Presa and Agria took a hit that sent them hurtling in their direction. Agria got up just fine, but Presa seemed to have broken something when she fell, to Agria's displeasure.
"I can't believe you. What the hell are you doing, old hag? I need your help to kill the bitch!"
"No need to insult me. Just help me up, I can't do it on my own. I don't think they need us anymore anyway."
Indeed, the first Musee had trapped the other under her own gravity spell, and she was now lying on the ground, motionless.
It was now or never.
Wingul let go of Jiao and took a few steps forward, unsheathing his sword once more.
"Let me do it!"
Ilbert heard him and turned to him.
"Wingul, be reasonable. You are in no state..."
"N-No, you don't understand. I have to kill her! I..."
Was he so weak that he could not even finish her off? Was he unable to even be the one to avenge Gaius?
His legs seemed to agree with Ilbert, for they suddenly failed him. Jiao, who had predicted what would happen, caught him before his face met with the snow again. He felt hatred surge through him once more; hatred for her, and for himself too and how weak and incompetent he was. Agria, lending her shoulder to Presa, walked closer to them. She seemed as furious as he was, but Presa, on the other hand, looked worried about him. Unable to bear the humiliation, he averted his gaze. On the other side, the young man – Ludger – was approaching Musee.
Elle suddenly ran up to them.
"Say, you guys are the king's friends, right?"
The question took them by surprise.
"How's that any of your business?", Agria retorted, irritated.
The little girl looked at them intently for a while, then, looking like she had just taken a decision, she suddenly grabbed Presa's arm with one hand and put her other arm around Jiao's leg, holding tight.
At the same time, there was a flash, and the last thing Wingul saw before everything turned black was Ludger running Musee through with his lance.