A Kiss before Dying: Prologue

i"Heaven hide your eyes, Heaven's eyes will never dry."/i -Arcadia "The Promise

As humans we long for a great love. It lingers in the unconscious thought and we live half-heartedly until we can find someone to share our ideals and therefore complete us. We search and we do not find, we exist and yet we do not actually live. Our soul can only vaguely comprehend the concept of an all-encompassing love, and often we don't realize it until it truly enfolds us and then gently slips away, leaving words unsaid, gestures undone, and hearts unrevealed.

This is a story of such a love, a love born in circumstance, twined in fate, and consummated by sacrifice and death. Its echoes are faint, floating through an old forgotten Fortress. The musty fragrance of dust lingers about it, along with the scent of lavenders. An odd combination and yet it brings back memories regardless of if you had experienced them or not. A subtle deja vu that affects all who pass through those doors of ancient stone.

The pale gray light of morning brought no warmth to the open courtyard, and the frost-covered walls of Raven's Wing Fortress seemed to stand guard over the silence, so that no mere whisper of air dared disturb the area. Ancient memories make their homes in such places, and the cloaked figure that silently drifted along the stone path through the courtyard was at once part of them and haunted by them. Only the faintest crunch of snow under his boots testified that this figure was not himself a ghost. Not exactly.

It was by the stone bench and the old fountain that he stopped, so abruptly that his cloak rippled, stirring the silence just as the sight of the bench had stirred those ancient memories. As if searching for them, the man lowered the hood of his cloak and cast his senses like a web over the area. If any eyes could see what ancient secrets hung in the air here, they would be his; unreadable in depth, beyond the emotions of the present. He bore the majesty of a graceful predator in those eyes, and in his appearance as a whole. Fine white skin, tinged the slightest pink by the cold, and a rainbow mane of spun silver, purple, platinum and blue that seemed to gather even this muted light and shine.

He knelt and spread his fingers over the stone bench. Before his eyes the thin veil of frost melted off the seat, beyond where the heat of his fingers should have driven it. He noticed then the dried ivy that clung to the bench and the fountain behind it swelling, the gnarled brown vines drawing the moisture from the ground and sprouting buds of lavender. The cloaked figure breathed deep the fragile scent as each bud opened, bringing with it a memory of 'her'. Her eyes, the color of the dark heart of the lavender blossom, bearing the wisdom of the ancients even as his bore their knowledge. And if his hair captured the light and reflected it, hers was the gold white light of morning itself. If he had not believed in angels before her.before she had left his life. then he most certainly believed in them now.

He stood quickly and blinked away the tears that had dared to form in his eyes. The illusion of lavender and ivy was gone; only the dried fountain and bench remained. He noticed that his breathing had quickened, and took a moment to compose himself. The moment was stolen, however, by a whispering voice behind him and the single word it pronounced.


He spun on the voice, knowing even as he met the accusing stares of the stone gargoyles that lined the path that the voice was his. He drew the cloak back over his head and silently cursed himself for being so foolish before walking much more purposefully along the path toward the inner fortress. The walls seemed to grow taller as he approached, and the sky, thick with time and memory pressed down on him, at once vibrant blue and black, sprinkled with starlight of three hundred years ago. Then again the dead gray of this morning.

Why had he come, he wondered. Why now? Perhaps he should leave. Just turn around and go. Leave the memories buried in the depths of this abandoned fortress. "You do love to torture yourself." It was Schala's voice, or maybe Setzer's. It didn't matter who said it or if it was true. He wasn't leaving. Not yet. He gently tugged on a thin silver chain around his neck and pulled a long key from inside his cloak. The voice of doubt challenged him once more as the key slid into the ice-covered lock, but he took a deep breath of resignation and unlocked the past.

In the moments before the doors closed behind him, he stared into the darkness and thought perhaps he had simply outlived the memory of her as he had everything else. Then, as if in answer, his breath caught in his chest and his mind reeled as memories tore at him with weapons too painful to be of the physical world. Voices came at him from the darkness that now engulfed him, full of rage and venom.

Fool. Murderer. Betrayer.

"You shall rue each day you are left alive." .used her.

.used her for revenge. You killed her.

"How can you be so willing to toy with people's lives like this?"

Please stop.

"You treat us like chess pieces on the board between you and Lavos."

Stop.get out of my head.

"How many will it take to destroy before you finally checkmate Him?"

"I.well, you are not like I expected. You are different, and yet so strangely familiar. Those eyes, I have seen those eyes only once before. They were in my dreams."


"Master, must we take her life? Everything we have done up to now seems so hopeless. Perhaps there is another way."

"Ever since I was a girl, I had dreamed of having a loving husband, a warm cozy home and a houseful of children. However my condition prevents that. I won't.live to see the next spring."

"She might be many things but she is not selfish. She will want to die for the good of humanity instead of living a few extra months with you. You must accept that about her."

"My Janus.please.don't do.anything.drastic. I will.be.waiting for.you.for as long...for as long as it takes. And I .I will be wa- watching over you...until the...very.end ."

He might have weathered these memories, but the last one came at him so differently. It was her voice, as tender and loving as it had always been, with no hint of malice or accusation. And it struck him so deeply he felt he might already be dead from it. He fled the foyer, guided only by years of having walked these halls that now blurred past him, parts of a world of dreams he had stopped having. Over a decade he had spent here; here he had plotted the course of his revenge against the one who had destroyed his family. It had happened so long ago.was he as old as he felt?

When he looked up again, he found himself standing before a large and ornately carved set of double doors and shook his head. He almost laughed, and spoke aloud for the first time that day. "They were right, no doubt about it," he said. "I must love to torture myself." Nothing lay behind these doors save more pain, more shame and a deeper realization of his own worthlessness. "I couldn't save her.My Corrine." Too good for this world.she had given him hope, belief in the power of prayer. She had dispelled his fears with a single kiss. She had understood him when no other else could.

The door creaked open as he turned the silver handle. He made a note to remind Ozzie to oil the hinges before remembering that Ozzie had long since left this place.

He breathed a sigh of resignation as he entered the room. He was tiring quickly, for more emotion had escaped him so far this morning than had in the last three hundred years. He kept it locked away, for his own sanity and for the safety of those he cared anything for. His family believed that the change in him resulted from the tragedy of Lavos and from their absence during his formative years. Could they have been any further off the mark, he wondered?

Magus opened the secret panel in the bookcase that revealed the tunnel, still wet and slimy from the natural spring beneath the fortress, and started his descent into the earth.

Magus, please light a torch. I don't like the dark.

He fell against the wall as the memory struck him. He had laughed and offered to hold her hand. How she had trembled; he could not forgive himself now for putting her through that. He almost forgot to intone the words to stop the spell trigger at the far end of the tunnel. The curse that protected his treasure chamber was a powerful and deadly one, and only instinctual self-preservation brought the words to cancel it mechanically to his lips. He did not need the runes of warning that faded before him as he entered, but as their light died out he found himself unable to speak that simplest of incantations, to summon the light that would allow him to look upon the reason for his coming.

When finally he stammered through the spell and soft light illuminated this most private of sanctuaries, he let his gaze drift over the bookcases and alchemical tables, all left untouched since the last time he had been here. Why had he thought anything would be different? What had he been expecting? Then his gaze inevitably fell upon the pedestal in the far corner of the room, and to the glass coffin that lay upon it.

The coffin itself was a work of art. No streak marred the frosted glass, and the silver edging sparkled brightly in the soft light. The master craftsmen who had built this coffin were knowledgeable in the mystic arts as well, and had inlaid every inch of the trimming with arcane runes that warded time away from the contents of the piece, and kept the coffin and the royal purple velvet drape above it free of dust. Although the tang of mildew dominated the room, the withered bouquet atop the coffin still smelled of violets.

And then all at once fear overcame him, and his knees buckled. His hand shot out and latched onto a nearby table for support, but he could not remove his eyes from that corner of the room. He knew all too well what he would see there, but the few steps that would lead him to the pedestal might as well have been steps to the gallows. No, his own death he could face without flinching. This was infinitely worse. However, for as loud as his mind screamed at him to turn back, his feet had developed a will of their own, and moved him shakily to the pedestal.

He resolved to bring fresh violets the next time as he put the bouquet aside so gently that not a petal broke or fell from it. Then he parted the drape. It felt so soft and heavy; it might have been the sleeve of her winter gown. He closed his eyes and smiled painfully as the melancholy of that thought washed over him. Then, taking one deep breath, he opened his unready eyes and looked down into the coffin.

Some unformed sound caught in his throat, and all at once his entire countenance changed to one of tenderness, of love. Such a look no living being had ever seen on him. His voice broke slightly as he read the silver plaque he himself had engraved. "Corrine Nineve Graie." The body of the maiden from Domino Village would forever lie here, so well preserved by his potions and the magic of the casket that one might think she merely slept. The tranquil smile on her doll-like face told of a wonderful, never-ending dream in a world without pain, darkness or hate. Hers was now a world of warmth, of light, and most of all, of love.

The man smiled as he noticed the amethyst and silver circlet that made its home in the platinum waves of her hair. It had been a gift from Ozzie and Slash. Her eyes, had they been open, would have matched the violet of her gown perfectly. That gown, stitched with the most delicate of seed pearls, a peace offering handmade by Flea. On her wrist shone the bracelet of silver and amethyst given to her by the man that could so easily have been her brother, Toma Levin. Each gift was a tribute of their unending devotion to her; in remembrance of the love she had in her heart for them all.

Then his eyes came finally to rest upon the one item he could never leave without looking on; the item which he always saw last. On a silver chain around her neck hung a simple signet ring. Alongside the other gifts it appeared plain and uninteresting, but in the rainy Thursday of his heart it meant more than anything else. It bore his initials, MZ, and stood as a symbol of their bittersweet and all too brief marriage.

He stepped away from the coffin, the cool glass still burning the palms of his hands like fire. His eyes shifted from a stone cold gray to a soft chocolate brown. Sadness claimed him utterly as he fell to his knees beside the coffin. His voice, when it came again, was less than a whisper, and each word a prayer for release from this anguish and loneliness he hid from everyone but her.

"Corrine. If you only knew how I hate myself for that night. Of course you would understand; you have always been like that, so beautifully sensitive and unselfish. I offered you life, but you choose the life of others instead." Upon uttering that final word, the stoic bearing of Magus Zeal collapsed. Tears fell from his eyes to the stone floor as he pressed his forehead against the side of the coffin and sobbed. "I only wish I could have been as strong as you."

The sound of his weeping drew the ancient memories of this place to him, where they would stay forever hidden from the light of the world.