Another fic on a character who shouldn't have died just like that.

Disclaimer: I don't own The Wind on Fire series.


Marius Semeon Ortiz had never truly understood the tantaraza.

He knew the steps to the complicated dance by heart, for Madame Saez had taught him well, but still he failed to meet his dance teacher's expectations. "Why must you keep forgetting the little steps here and there? It is key to the tantaraza!" she often chastised, interrupting their practice sessions with a frustrated sigh. "Again! Acha!"

Ortiz accepted her criticism graciously, much as her advice confused him. Madame Saez was always telling him how he had to practice endlessly to perfect the most difficult dance there was to offer, and yet, once she had told him quite the opposite.

In an uncharacteristically dreamy tone, she had said, "If two hearts beat with the same rhythm, the steps will come. There would be no time to think, no need to think. Ai, the feeling of it done right is... magnificent. Like magic." Here she had stopped wistfully, as if remembering days long past.

"But you!" The dance master had suddenly turned to him with a fierce glare, as though blaming him. "You do not yet understand!"

There had been nothing for him to say at the time because it was true that he did not understand.

"How am I now, Madame?" Ortiz asked, during the final lesson before the wedding. He was confident of his abilities, but then again, perhaps he did not know nearly enough about dance to make a judgment.

Madame Saez sniffed, "Passable. You have mastered the steps, yes, but there is still something missing." Then, she said affectionately, with an air of surrender, "I hope your bride can appreciate the tantaraza. Perhaps she will help you understand what I could not show you."

"Perhaps, Madame Saez," Ortiz agreed, smiling. Somehow, he was thinking not of the Johdila, but of the servant girl beside her. It was quite perplexing.

In the end, it was not all his dance lessons that taught Ortiz the tantaraza. No, only love could possibly have moved him in such a manner.

He knew then that it was not the steps but the feeling– that feeling of absolute bliss– that was the heart of the tantaraza. With thousands upon thousands of spectators watching on, Ortiz discovered what Madame Saez had tried to teach him with her passion for dance.

He and the bride danced to the music, rising and falling in time. They were free, and they were the wind. He did not know who she was, or even her name, but it did not matter for now, for they danced like lovers, perhaps sharing an intimacy even beyond that. Together, they were the sky, the earth, the seas, the wind, the light, and the dark. Two parts of a whole. They were themselves happiness and love.

Ah, if only that moment would never end.

But in a storm of applause, just as he had leaned forward to kiss her, she had flittered away, beyond his surprised grasp. Fickle, fickle love.

And then trapped by his own desires, Ortiz cried; the tears would not stop. In seconds, he would kill that immortal dance with his own sword, stain the purity with blood.

He obeyed his Master. He loved her. He obeyed his Master.

The sword would fall and she could not be saved. Ortiz felt himself crumbling, as though he too were about to die. He held her against him tightly, half in loving embrace, half in an enemy's unbreakable grip. The servant girl tensed, but she did not show fear. He loved her even more. Yet, there was no choice; she would have to die.

Ortiz would drive the blade with all his strength, first through her body, and then into his.

They would die together, and their dance would live forever, an eternal dance. For without her, his life would be meaningless. Never again would he be able to forget that joy, that intense freedom, even if he lived a hundred years. Yes, no one but her could help him recreate that beautiful feeling.

Still he fought, his hand trembling as it came closer and closer to her chest.

Then, like a miracle, the Master's will faltered and faded, and the sword was allowed to halt. Ortiz wept again, this time in relief. He loved only her now, this mysterious dark eyed girl who meant more than life to him.

He would never let go of her now that she was in his arms...

There is beauty in dance, beauty in love, and beauty in death.

---

Ortiz scarcely believed that she was finally here, and that they were really speaking to each other. For years he had waited until she truly died along with Bowman. Never was there a minute where he had not thought of her. But at long last, she had come.

"Are you sorry for what you did?" the dark eyed girl asked, almost emotionlessly. Her voice was cold.

"All I have done, I have done for my Master," Ortiz replied, automatically speaking the old pledge of loyalty, although he had been free for many years now.

"Are you sorry now?" she pressed, dark eyes piercing.

Ortiz hesitated for but a moment before he answered, "No."

The right answer, he supposed, should have been 'yes', but he could not lie. Not when he had truly believed that the Mastery was the way all cities should have been run. Within, life was peaceful; even the slaves were happy. It had been a perfect system, and the Master had been a perfect ruler. Years of believing could not be erased.

The girl did not answer. The silence suggested that she was disappointed and unsure of what to say.

Ortiz felt a tugging at his heart. Impulsively, he stepped forward, towards her. Wistfully, he said, "But I do regret letting you go. When we danced the tantaraza, I knew that it was you and not the Johdila. Even when I moved to obey my Master's wishes, I knew that you were the one I loved."

Replying without hesitation, she answered, "But I don't love you. I will never love you." There was an angry spark in her eyes now.

Vaguely, Ortiz thought back to many years ago, back when the Mastery still existed. Then, he had been a young warrior eager on capturing slaves for his Master. Only after death did he realize that she was Bowman's sister and a survivor of the terrible burning of Aramanth. She had been witness to the destruction of her home at his hands.

Sometime ago, Ortiz had learnt all this from Bowman himself.

Upon meeting again in death, his former truthteller had finally told him the truth, smiling calmly at his shock. "Kestrel will never love you, you see," Bowman had explained, though not without sympathy.

Ortiz was devastated. He had always expected for the slaves from Aramanth to eventually leave their hate for him and the Mastery behind. But they had not, it seemed. Sadly, he had asked, "Do you hate me still? Did you wish me dead then?"

Bowman, now wiser from his many experiences in life, had replied simply, "Once, I did. Once, Kestrel did as well." With a smile, he looked at Ortiz's handsome, still youthful face and marveled at the innocence there. The tawny hair and hawk-like eyes were the exactly same as when he died. "But now... I don't anymore. The Mastery, as much as you loved it, was unhealthy for anyone. I cannot forgive you entirely, but I don't hate you. I'm sure Kestrel feels the same way."

Kestrel could never love him? Ortiz did not think about it further. All he wanted was to go back to the glory days of the Mastery, where she had been his bride, even if it had been only a disguise.

Ortiz was quickly brought back to the present as Kestrel continued, "Do you see? Now you know why it isn't possible. Even if we have eternity together, I just couldn't love you."

Ortiz paused; he knew that it was true. For all that he had done to hurt her, he had no excuse. Then he only had one last request. He ventured slowly, hopefully, "That may be so, but still... May we dance together? Just once more?"

It was an odd request. Kestrel thought deeply, then she smiled, understanding. In the tantaraza, reality had no say. In it, there could be at least a semblance of love.

No, she amended, There was love.

In the brief time where she had danced with him in the past, she had loved him as she had loved the steps and the music. For those fleeting minutes, they had been closer to each other than anybody else had ever come. Yes, they had been in love, with the dance, with life, and with each other.

Such was the magic of the tantaraza.

Kestrel laughed; maybe he was not as stupid as she had thought.

"Yes, why not?" she answered joyfully, already forgetting that she should hate the man who she had just accepted as her partner. It had been so long since she had last performed the tantaraza, and this was just one dance... It would do no harm. "But you won't let me fall, will you?" Kestrel asked, though she already knew the answer. She came to him willingly.

Ortiz chuckled, reaching out to take her hands, "Of course not. How could I?" He meant it with all his heart. This time, he promised himself that he would not let her down.

And so they danced, as though the very music that had once played in the Mastery guided their feet. One dance became many dances; they became birds on the wind.

Together, they reached the happiness that one could not have possibly found alone, for as long as their bodies moved with the same rhythm, they were in love again.