Title: The Last Pillar
Synopsis: A man on his deathbed wishes for his granddaughter to have faith in herself and in the good left in the world even while he is dying. Thus, he makes her read the story of the Magic Knights and their final adventure ten years after the defeat of Debonair and the abolition of the Pillar System in Cephiro.
Disclaimer: I own none of the characters written here except for Grandfather, Maud, Calais, Raoul, the cab driver (whose name will be revealed in succeeding chapters), and his daughter. For the rest, we have CLAMP to thank for. Enjoy reading!
Rating: PG-13 (Language and Content)
CHAPTER ONE: Storm Night
The skies were dark and empty. It was morning, as it said so on the clock, yet the darkness that enveloped the land was equal to that of night. Suddenly, without warning, heavy torrents of rain fell from the sky, erasing all view from sight. The sound the drops made were as tiny stones being dropped on the rooftops, multiplied by the number of galvanized iron roofs in the area. The atmosphere was gloomy, dank, and unhealthy. It felt heavily of sickness and waiting death.
He waited for the sound of her footsteps. Even in the deafening sound of the rain... even in the deep of his bed... even in the weakness of his frail body...
Then, he heard the voices. Shouting. Something--- a chair, perhaps--- being dragged across the floor. A door opening so quickly, its hinges almost came off. More shouting. The sound of skin on skin. He winced slightly.
The footsteps he had been waiting for arrived. Up the stairs they went, sounding like heavy sledgehammers being driven into the wooden steps. An upstairs door opened and slammed shut. The vibration caused his head to swim and he closed his eyes.
Moments later, the door to his room opened slowly. He did not have to expect it being slammed shut. He knew his room was her refuge, as it was for everyone else in the household. A cold, thin hand wrapped around his wrinkled ones. "I'm sorry, Grandfather," she whispered.
He opened his eyes and looked up at her young face. He wanted to touch her face, where a rather large welt was beginning to form, but his arms were to weak now to do anything. Except wait for someone to touch it. She smiled sadly. He may be old and physically unable to move but his senses were as strong as they were in his youth. The pained look in her eyes stabbed into his heart.
"What have you been doing?" he asked. His question had a double-meaning. She could answer one way or another.
"Trying to forget and get lost," she replied. He almost smiled. The way she thought and answered has always been similar to his way.
"No one ever really forgets and gets lost, Maud," he said. He saw her roll her eyes, still heavily bordered with dark, black ink. He heard her curse under her breath.
"Grandfather, I have no time for your philosophies," she said rather harshly, taking her hand away from his. He regretted the act and wished he had not said anything. Yet he was old now. He must say everything he has to say before his appointed time has come.
"Tell me what's bothering you, child..." he started to say gently but to his surprise, Maud lashed at him with all her anger.
"Child?!" she screamed hysterically. "Everyone here treats me like a child! No one trusts me! No one tells me anything! Not Father! Definitely not Mother! And you! You never tell me anything that's worth my while anymore, Grandfather! All you tell me are your stupid sayings and your stupid philosophies no one really understands! How could you, Grandfather? How could you just lie there like an invalid and wait to die!"
He now realized what has been bothering his granddaughter. The school must have told her already. Summoning strength in his voice, he said loudly, "Maud!" Thunder crashed and the dark sky was momentarily illuminated. Maud jumped, more from her grandfather's voice than the thunder. The scowl upon her face disappeared and she was humbled. She was standing away from the bed, her eyes wide with surprise. Her grandfather never really shouted. He was always calm and composed, much like her mother unless they were provoked. Maybe now, she has done what no other human being has done before. Provoke her mother and grandfather on the same day.
He waited for his heartbeat to slow down a little before saying, "Everybody dies, Maud. No one can stop it. There would be no life without death. You know that."
Her voice shook when she feebly answered, "I don't want you to leave me, Grandfather."
He did not want to leave her either but his end was near. "All things must come to an end, Maud. Come here."
Maud slowly went to him and sat beside the bed. She wanted to weep in despair but could not. There must be something wrong within her but she could not understand what it was keeping her from showing any other emotion than hatred.
"Everything's so bad and ugly, Grandfather," she told him. "I wish to be in your place. I hate to be alive. There's nothing to look forward to in a world where people hate and kill each other, where people get sick for no reason at all, where people die when they're not supposed to. Now, you're going to die and turn into dust and be forgotten."
"Does that mean you are going to forget about me, Maud?"
Maud did not answer but bowed her head down. He looked at her with sadness and regret in his eyes. How could he have let this happen? In the silence, he could hear his daughter crying and her husband Raoul trying hard to console her but to no avail. He knew she had not meant to hurt her own daughter but she was left with no choice and her emotions got in the way of good reason. She has been distraught over the news of her father's impending death. Her mother was long since gone and now she was going to lose her father as well.
I must do something about this family before I leave forever, he thought as he looked at his granddaughter.
"Will you open that drawer beside you and pull out a large book?"
Maud obeyed, pulling out the drawer from a side-table nearby. Inside, she saw a large, dusty volume and she took it out. Maud saw that it was a very old book; its pages were yellow and brittle to the touch.
"I love that book, Maud. Yet I never finished reading it. I wanted to but never got to the end. Read it for me, please."
Maud sighed. Much as she loved her grandfather immensely above all else, she was not in the mood to read. And her cheek was still smarting.
"Anything for you, Grandfather. Where do you want me to start?"
"From the very first."
Maud opened the cover and she marveled at the intricate drawing inside.
"Rayearth!" she gasped. Maud looked at her grandfather in disbelief. "A story about Rayearth!" Her grandfather smiled and nodded slightly. One of the reasons she enjoyed grandfather's company when she was very little was because he always told her about Cephiro and the adventures of the three Magic Knights. Maud was barely able to read when her grandfather would come to her parents' house, take her on his lap, and tell her tales of wonder and awe. Those times she craved. Now, it was her turn to tell him a story. "Grandfather, it seems quite long. You might get tired---"
He fixed his eyes on her, challenging her. "Me? Tired? Are you up to the task yourself?"
"Then, read, Maud. Read until the very last of the book."
Nodding, Maud turned the page and settled her eyes on the first few words of the story as the rain outside stopped its noisy dance on the roof and was reduced to a slight pitter-patter.
"Ten long years has passed in peace and prosperity in the land of Cephiro..."